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

Saturday, December 31, 2011

One Last Charity of 2011

Far be it from me to fall into cliches, but I can't believe we have already reached the end of 2011!  That's crazy.  So, end the year well - donate to Partners In Heath.  PIH was founded by a doctor and is one of the most effective charities fighting poverty in Haiti.  They do some really great work - so on this last day for tax deductible donations, try donating to Partners in Health.

Visit the Partners in Health website.

Wiki! Pedia!

This one's for you - you know who you are.  Donate to Wikipedia, the world's online dictionary.  If you've ever used it, stop being a freeloader and contribute.

Read more here.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Books are Mightier than the Sword

The days of giving continue!  I'd like to feature a charity that advances a cause near and dear to my heart: childhood literacy.  First Book is a charity which provides books to children in poor communities.  I have blogged about it before here.  Here's a link to their website:


You should support them - literacy is a very important gift!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Give Local

So my first "Day of Giving" advice:  Give local.  Find your local food bank and donate to them - whether it be money, food, or time.  You may not be able to feed millions, but that doesn't mean you can't make an impact.  With the current economic environment, many people need assistance with the basic necessities.  Food is a basic need that you can help provide.  Find a local food bank that serves needy people in your area.  You can often donate money online.  Even if you don't have money, you probably can buy an extra can when at the grocery store, and donate that.  If that is beyond your means, then you still have time to give - donate some of this very precious resource.  Food banks need people to help pick up donations from local grocery stores, organize the shelves, and take care of back office needs.

Get on the mailing list for your local food bank so you can find out what their needs are- they may surprise you.  My local food bank has asked for computer programmers, accountants, chefs, and drivers over the past year - your specialized skills may be needed and you can give those.  Use the website below to locate your local food bank.  I truly believe this is an urgent need for so many of our brothers and sisters who are going hungry right here in America.  So my simple advice is: Give.


Monday, December 26, 2011

Navigating Charity

As your friendly neighborhood tax accountant, let me inform you that you have only six days left to donate to charity and deduct it on your 2011 tax return!  In honor of that, I'm going to feature some of my favorite charities over the next few days.  Even if you don't itemize deductions (and therefore don't get a tax benefit from charitable donations), you can still donate to awesome charities and help save the world.

Before we begin, here are some tips from the IRS about gift giving.  Also, I generally like to make sure that my charity dollars are effective.  I like to donate to charities that spend a small percentage of their money on administrative tasks like fundraising, etc.  I personally don't like to donate to charities that pay a bloated salary to their CEO.  Sites like Charity Navigator, GiveWell, and GuideStar provide information about charities and ratings to help you donate to the most effective charity for your dollar.  Over the next couple of days I'll feature charities I like and provide links to their sites.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

"For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord." - Luke 2:11

My Mom's outdoor manger scene, lit up at night

Merry Christmas Eve, 2011

So this is an epic scripture post - just a bunch of scriptures about light arranged in rough (and overlapping) categories.  I picked those I liked from my scripture study on this topic.  Feel free to add any I've missed!

Light is righteousness!
Proverbs 13:9 The light of the righteous rejoiceth: but the lamp of the wicked shall be put out.

Psalms 37:6 And he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday.

Psalms 97:11 Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart.

Isaiah 5:20 Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!

Matthew 6:22-23 The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!

John 3:20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.

Romans 13:12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.

God is light
Psalms 4:6 There be many that say, Who will shew us any good? Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us.

Psalms 18:28 For thou wilt light my candle: the Lord my God will enlighten my darkness.

Psalms 104:2 Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment: who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain:

Isaiah 60:19 The sun shall be no more thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee: but the Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory.

James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.

1 John 1:5 This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.

Mosiah 16:9 He is the light and the life of the world; yea, a light that is endless, that can never be darkened; yea, and also a life which is endless, that there can be no more death.

Blessings Of Light
Psalm 36:9-10 For with thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see a light. O continue thy lovingkindness unto them that know thee; and thy righteousness to the upright in heart.

Isaiah 58:8 Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rereward.

Isaiah 58:10 And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday:

Colossians 1:12 Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light:

Alma 19:6 Now, this was what Ammon desired, for he knew that king Lamoni was under the power of God; he knew that the dark veil of unbelief was being cast away from his mind, and the light which did light up his mind, which was the light of the glory of God, which was a marvelous light of his goodness—yea, this light had infused such joy into his soul, the cloud of darkness having been dispelled, and that the light of everlasting life was lit up in his soul, yea, he knew that this had overcome his natural frame, and he was carried away in God—

Alma 26:15 Yea, they were encircled about with everlasting darkness and destruction; but behold, he has brought them into his everlasting light, yea, into everlasting salvation; and they are encircled about with the matchless bounty of his love; yea, and we have been instruments in his hands of doing this great and marvelous work.

Doctrine and Covenants 88:67 And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things.

Light- Way, Truth, and Knowledge
Psalms 119:105 Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.

Psalms 119:130 The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple.

Acts 26:18 To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.

2 Corinthians 4:6 For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 5:13 But all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever doth make manifest is light.

1 Peter 2:9 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:

2 Peter 1:19 We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts:

1 Nephi 17:13 And I will also be your light in the wilderness; and I will prepare the way before you, if it so be that ye shall keep my commandments; wherefore, inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall be led towards the promised land; and ye shall know that it is by me that ye are led.

2 Nephi 31:3 For my soul delighteth in plainness; for after this manner doth the Lord God work among the children of men. For the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding.

Alma 32:35 O then, is not this real? I say unto you, Yea, because it is light; and whatsoever is light, is good, because it is discernible, therefore ye must know that it is good; and now behold, after ye have tasted this light is your knowledge perfect?

Doctrine and Covenants 50:24 That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.

Doctrine and Covenants 84:45 For the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light, and whatsoever is light is Spirit, even the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

Christ’s Light
Luke 1:79 To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Luke 2:32 A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.

John 5:35 He was a burning and a shining light: and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light.

John 8:12 Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.

John 9:5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.

John 12:46 I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness.

Alma 28:14 And thus we see the great call of diligence of men to labor in the vineyards of the Lord; and thus we see the great reason of sorrow, and also of rejoicing—sorrow because of death and destruction among men, and joy because of the light of Christ unto life.

3 Nephi 18:24 Therefore, hold up your light that it may shine unto the world. Behold I am the light which ye shall hold up—that which ye have seen me do. Behold ye see that I have prayed unto the Father, and ye all have witnessed.

Doctrine and Covenants 34:2 The light and the life of the world, a light which shineth in darkness and the darkness comprehendeth it not;

Doctrine and Covenants 45:7 For verily I say unto you that I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the light and the life of the world—a light that shineth in darkness and the darkness comprehendeth it not.

Doctrine and Covenants 88:7 Which truth shineth. This is the light of Christ. As also he is in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the power thereof by which it was made.

Doctrine and Covenants 88:8-12 As also he is in the moon, and is the light of the moon, and the power thereof by which it was made; As also the light of the stars, and the power thereof by which they were made; And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings; Which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space—

Doctrine and Covenants 93:9 The light and the Redeemer of the world; the Spirit of truth, who came into the world, because the world was made by him, and in him was the life of men and the light of men.

Light as an Example
Luke 8:16 No man, when he hath lighted a candle, covereth it with a vessel, or putteth it under a bed; but setteth it on a candlestick, that they which enter in may see the light.

Luke 11:36 If thy whole body therefore be full of light, having no part dark, the whole shall be full of light, as when the bright shining of a candle doth give thee light.

John 12:36 While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light. These things spake Jesus, and departed, and did hide himself from them.

1 Thessalonians 5:5 Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.

Ephesians 5:8 For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light:

Light Isn’t Always Easy to Follow

2 Corinthians 11:14 And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.

2 Nephi 26:29 He commandeth that there shall be no priestcrafts; for, behold, priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion

Moroni 7:18 And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully; for with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged.

Light’s Effects on Us
1 John 1:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.

1 John 2:9-10 He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him.

Mosiah 27:29 My soul hath been redeemed from the gall of bitterness and bonds of iniquity. 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.

Alma 5:7 Behold, he changed their hearts; yea, he awakened them out of a deep sleep, and they awoke unto God. Behold, they were in the midst of darkness; nevertheless, their souls were illuminated by the light of the everlasting word; yea, they were encircled about by the bands of death, and the chains of hell, and an everlasting destruction did await them.

Because I’m Immature, I found These Funny
John 11:10 But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in him.

John 12:35 Then Jesus said unto them, Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

In Thy Dark Streets

Of course, with my blogging theme this year, these lyrics from "O Little Town of Bethlehem" stood out to me:

Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The Everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight

In what is probably an understatement of the effort required, Luke 2:6-7 records Mary's contribution to this everlasting Light:  "And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.  And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn."

On a young woman rested these "hopes and fears of all the world."  Eve, a woman, had been the first to partake of the forbidden fruit and bring sin and death into the world.  By doing so, she also gave all of us a chance to come here.  Mary, also a woman and descendant of Eve, had brought forth the everlasting Light that would shine in dark places and redeem us from the effects of that Fall.  Thank you Eve, Thank you, Mary.  I don't know if "silently, silently" is how this "wondrous gift" was given, but I am grateful for it nonetheless.

Full Lyrics (only the first three verses are in our hymbook, but I like the rest):

O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee to-night.

O morning stars, together
Proclaim the holy birth!
And praises sing to God the King,
And peace to men on earth.
For Christ is born of Mary
And gathered all above,
While mortals sleep the Angels keep
Their watch of wondering love.

How silently, how silently,
The wondrous gift is given;
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His Heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still,
The dear Christ enters in.

Where children pure and happy
Pray to the blessed Child,
Where misery cries out to Thee,
Son of the Mother mild;
Where Charity stands watching
And Faith holds wide the door,
The dark night wakes, the glory breaks,
And Christmas comes once more.

O holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us, we pray!
Cast out our sin and enter in,
Be born in us to-day.
We hear the Christmas angels,
The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Happy Winter Solstice!

Yep, today is solstice, which is the shortest day of the year.  This means this is the day with the least light - so from here on out, more sun!  Hooray!  Around this time of year, I become seriously grateful for the sun - grateful for its warmth and its light.  Here's to you, Sun - I hope you'll stick around for a long time!

This is a really cool set of pictures of the sun throughout the year:

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Let Your Light So Shine

"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your father which is in heaven." - Matthew 5:16

Sometimes I am vaguely uncomfortable with this scripture.  It seems to say that we should puff ourselves up, showing our good works before mankind.  Generally I prefer to do good things anonymously.  I think it's probably connected to my inability to take compliments or thanks well.  I want to do good works, but do not want to have my inevitable social awkwardness intercede in the giving of the gift.  It's also probably connected to this scripture:

"But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth." (Matthew 6:3)

Those two scriptures seem to contradict each other, but I think part of the answer to this apparent contradiction has to do with this scripture:

"Therefore, hold up your light that it may shine unto the world.  Behold I am the light which ye should hold up - that which ye have seen me do..." (3 Nephi 18:24)

When we are letting "our" light shine, it's not really our light - it is the light of Christ.  We are not glorifying ourselves, and saying to the world "Hey, I'm awesome, worship me."  Instead, we should be saying, with our works, "Christ's grace, love, and mercy are awesome!  Worship Him, our Savior."  Every person lets this light shine in a little different wavelength or shade.  We each have unique "lights" to shine, we each have that divine spark within us.

I think that is connected to why church leaders have asked us to create profiles on mormon.org - to show the light of Christ in its multitudinous forms.  Sometimes that ad campaign seems to be proclaiming "Mormons are awesome, therefore you should be awesome too and join the church."  However, I think it is actually trying to portray the diversity of Mormonism.  While it's not the most diverse religion, there are many different people from many different countries who worship our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and come to know him better through the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  If we all add our voices to the internet conversation about the church, the quality of that conversation can only improve.

So, here's my profile on mormon.org.  I believe in Christ, and I'm grateful for the light and knowledge that comes to me as I continue my membership in this church.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Happy Hanukkah!

Yep, I'm not Jewish, but I can sympathize with them during this holiday season - it's gotta be hard to see Christmas decorations everywhere, hear the schmaltzy Christmas music everywhere you go, and know that even when people are wishing you "Happy Holidays" they're really just saying a politically-correct Merry Christmas.  So, tonight is the first night of the Festival of Lights, which celebrates the miracle of the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem, when oil intended to burn for only one night lasted for eight nights.  So, Happy Hanukkah!  (Which as it turns out, is spelled with two k's and only one n!  Who knew?)

The classic holiday song celebrating Hanukkah with much reverence:

Monday, December 19, 2011

Help Us Find Our Way

What do we follow?  Two millennia ago, wise men chose to follow a star.  Today the verb "to follow" often refers to a Twitter feed, but that is a much more passive activity than actively seeking wisdom.  Who or what are we following?  What are we seeking?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Light of Personal Revelation

Elder Bednar says it much better than I ever could, so I'm just going to share from his talk in April 2011 General Conference, "The Spirit of Revelation":

I invite you to consider two experiences most of us have had with light.

The first experience occurred as we entered a dark room and turned on a light switch. Remember how in an instant a bright flood of illumination filled the room and caused the darkness to disappear. What previously had been unseen and uncertain became clear and recognizable. This experience was characterized by immediate and intense recognition of light.

The second experience took place as we watched night turn into morning.Do you recall the slow and almost imperceptible increase in light on the horizon? In contrast to turning on a light in a dark room, the light from the rising sun did not immediately burst forth. Rather, gradually and steadily the intensity of the light increased, and the darkness of night was replaced by the radiance of morning. Eventually, the sun did dawn over the skyline. But the visual evidence of the sun’s impending arrival was apparent hours before the sun actually appeared over the horizon. This experience was characterized by subtle and gradual discernment of light.

From these two ordinary experiences with light, we can learn much about the spirit of revelation. I pray the Holy Ghost will inspire and instruct us as we now focus upon the spirit of revelation and basic patterns whereby revelation is received....

A light turned on in a dark room is like receiving a message from God quickly, completely, and all at once. Many of us have experienced this pattern of revelation as we have been given answers to sincere prayers or been provided with needed direction or protection, according to God’s will and timing. Descriptions of such immediate and intense manifestations are found in the scriptures, recounted in Church history, and evidenced in our own lives. Indeed, these mighty miracles do occur. However, this pattern of revelation tends to be more rare than common.

The gradual increase of light radiating from the rising sun is like receiving a message from God “line upon line, precept upon precept” (2 Nephi28:30). Most frequently, revelation comes in small increments over time and is granted according to our desire, worthiness, and preparation. Such communications from Heavenly Father gradually and gently “distil upon[our souls] as the dews from heaven” (D&C 121:45). This pattern of revelation tends to be more common than rare and is evident in the experiences of Nephi as he tried several different approaches before successfully obtaining the plates of brass from Laban (see 1 Nephi 3–4).Ultimately, he was led by the Spirit to Jerusalem, “not knowing beforehand the things which [he] should do” (1 Nephi 4:6). And he did not learn how to build a ship of curious workmanship all at one time; rather, Nephi was shown by the Lord “from time to time after what manner [he] should work the timbers of the ship” (1 Nephi 18:1).

Friday, December 16, 2011

Let There Be Christmas Lights

I'm going to share with you some pictures from that series-of-tubes known as the interwebs (or is it internets?). Click on the links to see the Christmas craziness.

I like this picture of Christmas lights!  And this one and this one.  This one is also cool.  And if you think that you've seen a house with too many Christmas lights, you should see this, I bet it's worse.  Enjoy!

P.S.  Don't tell my brother (who's a computer engineering major and therefore gadget geek), but I am getting him this for Christmas.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


This is beautiful.

I love verse 3, here are the lyrics:
Find him at Bethlehem laid in a manger: Christ our Redeemer asleep in the hay. Godhead incarnate and hope of salvation: A child with his mother that first Christmas Day.

Sorry for the lame posts - I'm trying to make it through Monday night - if I can make it to that point, I promise to have lengthier (and possibly better?) posts!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Light in Your Eyes

This post was going to be so much more awesome, but oh well.  I was up late last night making Christmas decorations.  Here is a song I like.  We'll discuss later.


So...our office is having an office decorating contest, and I may have decided to get creative.  Here are the pictures of my decorations.

Charlie Brown (in case you couldn't tell)

Snoopy, rocking the Santa hat!


I will also have a branch from my Christmas tree as the tree from the Charlie Brown Christmas special with some lights on it and blue fabric wrapped around the bottom to be Linus' blanket.  I want to add Schroeder and piano, Snoopy's dog house, and Woodstock, but the contest is Monday so I don't know if I'll have time.  We now know that I am dorky enough to make these decorations.  The question remains: am I dorky enough to put them up?  Should I be dorky enough?  I do want the people I work with to take me seriously.  What are your thoughts?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Be Thou Humble

I have never been a science geek.   Let's just say that I took the minimum requirements for science classes in both high school and college, struggled with all of them, and never even considered a science-based major.  One thing that I do manage to find fascinating about science is the science of light.  Since Aristotle, scientists have debated the nature of light - is a wave or does it have substance as a set of particles?  Okay I'm now going to oversimplify the whole debate.

Scientists in the 19th century thought they had it figured out through a set of experiments that proved that light had wave properties.  But then another set of scientists proved that light ALSO exhibited properties associated with particles.  These discoveries led to what is called the "wave-particle duality" theory of light.  This means that light is both a wave and a particle.  I like this story because it shows that scientific pursuits contain an essential element of humility - you have to be willing to be proved wrong.  You have to be open to new ideas that partially or completely negate ideas or tenets you have held your entire life.  I also like the dual nature of light - it isn't necessarily one side or the other, it is both!  We tend to think in black and white too much - so often life is not in the neat little boxes we like to think it is.  So, be thou humble in thy lightness - be willing to accept new ideas :)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Christmas Carol!

Tonight some friends invited me over to read "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens - we read an entire play version and it was a really fun experience.  Actually, the sad part is that I kind of identify with Scrooge.

Here is how Dickens describes Scrooge's manners toward others:
"Nobody ever stopped him in the street to say, with gladsome looks, 'My dear Scrooge, how are you? When will you come to see me?' No beggars implored him to bestow a trifle, no children asked him what it was o'clock no man or woman ever once in all his life inquired the way to such and such a place, of Scrooge. Even the blind men's dogs appeared to know him; and when they saw him coming on, would tug their owners into doorways and up courts; and then would wag their tails as though they said, 'No eye at all is better than an evil eye, dark master!' But what did Scrooge care? It was the very thing he liked. To edge his way along the crowded paths of life, warning all human sympathy to keep its distance, was what the knowing ones call 'nuts' to Scrooge."
Generally I like to "edge my way along the crowded paths of life."  When in a large group of people, the deep introverted person inside me wants to edge along the wall and out the door, or fall through the floor.  I tend to overcompensate for this by being incredibly awkward, so hopefully I'm not as misanthropic about it as Scrooge, but I can empathize with the desire to "warn all human sympathy to keep its distance."  I like being alone.

Here's another quote that ties in with the "light" theme.  The words are from the ghost of Jacob Marley:
"At this time of the rolling year...I suffer most. Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode? Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me?"
For me it is easy to walk with my head turned down - I kind of prefer it.  It takes courage to ask for inspiration to know which "poor abode" we should visit to help.  It takes even more courage to actually do it - to raise people to the blessed Star.  But that is a marvelous light to follow - and we should look up and be inspired by it!

Here's a great hymn about the wise men (although it does have perhaps the strangest lyric ever about Christ, calling him the "wondrous little stranger"!)

P.S.  You can (and should!) read the whole text of A Christmas Carol here.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Christmas Cheer

It would always seem to hit unexpectedly.  Suddenly there would be mounds of delicious rolls, ziploc bags, Christmas bows, and a delicious smell of baking bread emanating from the house.  Our kitchen would take on an assembly line mentality.  It was time to deliver Christmas rolls!  My mom makes the best homemade rolls on this planet (I know this with every fiber of my being).  As long as I can remember, there would be a night of deliveries of a dozen fresh homemade rolls each to friends and neighbors around Christmas time.

In the house that I grew up in, there was a holly bush, and I remember standing in the cold with scissors to snip bits of holly to adorn the deliveries.  When we were littler and cuter (and terrible singing was therefore more easily forgiven) we got to carol amidst our deliveries.  We delivered to neighbors, ward members, piano teachers, and my dad's co-workers.  There's something about it that feels so home-y and warm, even though it's organizational chaos coordinating who is going to which houses and deciding who makes the cut - we can't deliver rolls to everyone!  Although sometimes it feels like we try.

So anyway, I love that about Christmas - the deliveries and sharing that take place!  In a small way I got into the Christmas spirit with a meager three pans of rolls today (chump change).  I hope someday to be as awesome as my mom and as generous with my time and talents.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Come Darkness

When I lived in California, there was a bike path that wound through the town we lived in.  On this bike path was a tunnel, and it was kind of creepy.  As I recall it from my 13-year old memory, it was dank and wet and there were no lights (I make no representations that my teenage memory is accurate, btw).  But on the other side of this tunnel was a gorgeous California hillside, to my mind one of the world's prettiest places.  I knew that I had to just keep pedaling through the tunnel and I'd get to the end.  It sure was a lot less scary when biking with someone else, who could go ahead and report that the tunnel was clear.

I really like this song (random pictures alert!).  In order to appreciate the light, I think we all need moments of "darkness."  There will be times when we aren't happy, or aren't sure that we're in the light.  There will be moments of doubting.  When we feel dank and a bit hopeless.  But we need to hold on to those bright shining "Alleluia" moments from our memory, and have faith that there's a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.  It helps when there's someone else who you can lean on.  But even when there isn't, we can just come.  Sometimes it's all we can do to just keep pedaling.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Spirit of Christmas

Tonight I spent some time wrapping Christmas presents. I really do like finding things that I think will be the perfect gift - it's so fun to anticipate the recipient's joy! Hopefully as we get older, Christmas becomes less about what we GET and more about what we GIVE. I wanted to share some really good quotes I heard tonight about the Spirit of Christmas and giving.

"True happiness comes only by making others happy--the practical application of the Savior's doctrine of losing one's life to gain it. In short, the Christmas spirit is the Christ spirit, that makes our hearts glow in brotherly love and friendship and prompts us to kind deeds of service. It is the spirit of the gospel of Jesus Christ, obedience to which will bring "peace on earth," because it means--goodwill toward all men." - David O. McKay

This quote is much longer, from Hugh B. Brown's Book, The Abundant Life:

Christmas time with its cargo of love is the greatest of all anniversaries for those who worship the God of love. It brings peace of mind to millions who, for one day at least, think more of others than of selves; more of giving than of getting.

This is the secret of the popularity of Christmas. It is the best day of the year, the most joyous because we seek the happiness of others rather than of ourselves. It is the day when love takes command, and men, women, and children, by losing themselves, find joy and peace. For one day, at least, Christendom practices Christianity.

For fifty-one weeks most men desire to wring personal profit, economic, social or political, out of every situation, often without regard to the effect on the lives and happiness of others.

The Yuletide is to many people an annual seven-day Sabbath. It is a holy season when men rest from the agitating business of getting and relax into the serene joy of giving.

The spirit of Christmas creates interest in others, minimizes self-serving interests and activities, and searches for opportunities to make others happy. The spirit of Christmas illuminates the picture window of the soul, and we look out upon the world's busy life and become more interested in people than in things. We see people struggling and competing with each other and wish we could somehow touch their lives with the joy and gladness of Christmas. The Spirit whispers, "They are your kinfolk, and their happiness is your concern."

During this joyous week we apply the brakes to the driving power of self-interest and, like the propeller on an airplane when its blades are reversed, the pull is in the opposite direction. When speed and altitude are reduced, the details and beauty of life refresh the soul and inspire gratitude and a desire to serve and partially repay our debt to the Giver of life.

And after the Christmas season has passed, we discover an amazing paradox. We ourselves have experienced more joy while seeking to bring happiness to others than we have known during all the other weeks of the year when we were so selfishly seeking it. How strange it is that, despite this annual lesson, men continue to try to find joy where it has never yet been found--in self-aggrandizement, the gratification of appetites, following after pride and vain ambition, or attempting to snatch some advantage from others. During this one week when we lose ourselves we really find ourselves as the Savior promised, and in this discovery we find enduring satisfaction. We become servants, voluntary servants, and thereby find a joy we have not known through the balance of the year.

The compass of the spirit of Christmas points constantly toward others, never toward ourselves, except to beckon us into the realm of service and comradeship. The spirit of Christmas is ever buoyant, never earthbound or grounded by accumulated mundane things. It soars by the lifting wings of love and distils its blessings, even as the dews from heaven.

This richest of all seasons extends its joy into the New Year but is sobering and humbling; it causes introspection and self-analysis which result in resolutions for future conduct, especially toward other people.

To catch the real meaning of the "Spirit of Christmas" we need only to drop the last syllable of the word, and it becomes the "Spirit of Christ." It beckons us to follow Him and become worthy of the blessedness which He promised to the most unlikely people--the poor in spirit, the sorrowful, the meek, the seekers after righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peace makers, and even the persecuted and the oppressed.

It is a blessed spirit and is available to all, not alone to the rich, the influential, the heralded or popular. It may pervade the humblest cottage or the palace of the king, but only when it is in the hearts of men.

Let each man examine his own heart as he gives thanks for the peace of this Christmas and try to discover his true feelings toward his fellow men, toward those who are his neighbors, his brothers in the Church, his new friends of an allied country. Let him vigorously weed out all envy, jealousy, greed, and hatred and undertake to radiate the spirit of goodwill, of love of fellow men, not for the season only but throughout the year.

If this formula for happiness--love one another--is effective for one day, may it not work at other times, at all times? If by giving we receive, and by dividing we increase, why not make happiness permanent by carrying the Christmas spirit throughout the year? May we all enjoy the spirit of Christmas for the next 365 days. (The Abundant Life, p.305-307)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Words of Light

Isn't funny that, when you are thinking about a topic, you start to see it everywhere?  Such is light!

I like this poem by the Persian poet Rumi (of the 13th Century!!!).  I found a couple of translations online, and since I doubt any of my readers understand Persian, I thought I'd pick my favorite English translation.

There is a candle in your heart,
ready to be kindled.
There is a void in your soul,
ready to be filled.
You feel it, don't you?
You feel the separation
from the Beloved.
Invite Him to fill you up,
embrace the fire.
Remind those who tell you otherwise that
comes to you of its own accord,
and the yearning for it
cannot be learned in any school.

(From Hush Don't Say Anything to God: Passionate Poems of Rumi, translated by Sharam Shiva)

One of the things I love about poetry is that everyone can interpret it differently.  What do you get from this poem?

Here's a funky youtube video with the words of the poem and random images:

A Light to Those in Darkness

So I was going to throw a bunch of awesome facts about this subject at you, but I have reached the end of the day much faster than anticipated.  And this post is late.  Instead, I ask you to imagine what your life would be like without electricity.  Can you think what that would be like?  You would be unable to do almost anything after dark!  You wouldn't be able to read this blog.  In fact, this blog would not exist, not least because computers wouldn't exist.

I am really grateful for electricity in my life, and I wanted to talk about the Tennessee Valley Authority - it was a rural electrification project that was part of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal.  To me, it's an example of the good that government can do - it brought electricity to poor rural areas that didn't have it before.  True, it wasn't (and isn't) perfect, but no human endeavor really is - any large bureaucracy has its issues.  At its best, however, it remains a popular program that met a need in an underdeveloped area of America.  I believe that government can do great good - yea, verily, it can bring a light to those in literal darkness.

Read more about the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) here:


Monday, December 5, 2011

A little Christmas before-and-after!

Before (a blank canvas):


I love Christmas!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Props to my roommates and our friend Britney for doing all the actual work, while I was doing laundry and making cookies.  Come to think of it, my roommates own all the lights and ornaments, so this tree would be pretty dull without them.  They light up my life, and I'm grateful to be celebrating my second Christmas with these wonderful ladies!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Here are some thoughts about light that stood out to me today.

From John 3:19-21:  And this the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.  For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.  But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.

The last verse of Silent Night:
Silent Night, holy night
Son of God, love's pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth

From Psalm 27: The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?  the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?...Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident....Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.  (verses 1, 3, and 14)

Sorry, I am too tired to add any commentary.  If you want some inspiration, though, check out Henry B. Eyring's talk as part of the church's Christmas devotional at www.lds.org.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Festival of Lights

Maybe it's time to do a Christmas post, as this series of posts about light is ostensibly inspired by Christmas.  This year I decided to make it to the Temple's Festival of Lights early in December, as last year I missed out and didn't get to it at all.  So here are a few pictures, it was beautiful!  My camera is kind of fuzzy when it comes to night pictures, but you get the idea.

I liked how they outlined the trees - they really stand out against the darkness.
So colorful!  Sometimes I like that, and sometimes I feel like I would prefer just the classic white.

The above picture looks like a bit much!  A true "riot of color."
By contrast, the Temple looks so peaceful.

So, making it to the Festival of Lights was great.  Even better, got to go inside the temple and do a session and feel that spirit which urges "peace on earth and goodwill towards men," and even got to attend along with many friends from my ward.  Best of all, saw a college friend who I hadn't seen in years at my session!

If you're in the D.C. area, check out the Festival of Lights - the performance schedule can be found online (click here), along with much better pictures of the Festival.  Even if you can't make it to a concert, check out the beautiful lights!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Tell all the Truth

One of the things I'm learning as I study light in the scriptures is that light is often used as a metaphor for truth.  More on that another day, for now, here's a poem by Emily Dickinson about light and truth:

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant -
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As lightening to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind --

Do you think that's true?  Do we need to be eased into truth so that it won't blind us?  Or can we adjust to handle it once it's granted to us suddenly?

Random note: If I was a writer, I would love to write a book comparing and contrasting Eliza R. Snow and Emily Dickinson - both born in Massachusetts and both became poetesses.  Unfortunately we accountants don't have much writing ability!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Brightly Beams Our Father's Mercy

This song has nothing whatsoever to do with Christmas, but I love it, and its message.  I think it speaks strongly of how we are changed by love.  Once we have felt the mercy of Heavenly Father, it's easier to share that mercy and love with others.

Here are the words:

Brightly Beams our Father's mercy
From his lighthouse evermore,
But to us he gives the keeping
Of the lights along the shore.

Let the lower lights be burning;
Send a gleam across the wave.
Some poor fainting, struggling seaman
You may rescue, you may save.

Dark the night of sin has settled;
Loud the angry billows roar.
Eager eyes are watching, longing,
For the lights along the shore.

Let the lower lights be burning;
Send a gleam across the wave.
Some poor fainting, struggling seaman
You may rescue, you may save.

Trim your feeble lamp, my brother;
Some poor sailor, tempest-tossed,
Trying now to make the harbor,
In the darkness may be lost.

Let the lower lights be burning;
Send a gleam across the wave.
Some poor fainting, struggling seaman
You may rescue, you may save.

Sometimes I feel like my lamp is very feeble indeed.  But we never know who around us is struggling against crushing waves.  Even our small light can help and strengthen others.  So, share the light of love with those around you!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Trip the Light Fantastic

Over the past two years, Christmas is generally a time when I dust off the keyboard and get a-bloggin' (see the archives for 2009 and 2010 December posts).  This year will be no different - since I'm at the war chapters in Alma, I've decided to take a break from my re-reading of the Book of Mormon cover to cover.*  I'm also inspired by several friends who have been participating in Nablopomo, a challenge to post every day in November.

This year's Christmas posts will be a study in "light" - how the word appears in the scriptures, hymns, politics, and science, along with any additional random thoughts on anything tangentially related to light.  Light is such an interesting concept to me.  One of the only Sunday School lessons from high school to stick with me is the analogy of coming to Christ being like coming towards a really bright light bulb - as you come closer to Christ you are able to see your own imperfections clearer and clearer.  It's been a reminder that whenever I feel discouraged about my own weaknesses that Christ is the light, and as I move closer towards him *of course* I come to know how imperfect I am, and how much I need his light.

One of my favorite "light songs" is "This Little Light of Mine."  Someday I would love to see a rocking Mormon gospel choir sing it in church.  Until that day I'll have to be content with surfing YouTube versions of it.  This one's pretty good:

So, join me as I trip the light fantastic for this Christmas - hopefully without actually tripping over anything.  Hopefully I will light up your life, help you to lighten up, inspire you to let your light shine before men (and women), assist you to see the light, or at least shed light on why I am obsessed with light.

*Don't judge me.  Sometimes I skip 'em.  I think these are some of the only passages in scripture that I have actually enjoyed less as I've gotten older.  Any suggestions on making the war chapters less of a chore would be most welcome.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


It's my 100th blog post!  Cue the confetti!  I know, two blog posts in one day, no less!  For this special post I thought I'd share with you some random memories about elections, as this week was election day in Virginia.

Also, I wanted to share a random quirk I have: I hate it when people, Republican or Democrat, run unopposed.  It's antithetical to the democratic process when people don't have an opponent.  So, if someone is running unopposed, I write someone in.  Just so they don't get 100%.  This year, I wrote in my dad for county district attorney, my roommate for delegate, and my other roommate for school board.  I think healthy opposition is important!

The first memory I ever have related to elections is 1992, when my dad was surprised to learn that my mom had voted for George H.W. Bush.  Both my parents are Democrats, so it was surprising that she would vote for Bush.  He obviously voted for Clinton.  I don't remember my dad being angry, as he doesn't really get angry.  I just remember that it was somewhat of a bone of contention between them.

In 1997, I remember that my mom took me to the inaugural parade for Clinton's second term.  Sadly, I don't remember *anything* about it, other than getting on and off the bus at the bus stop near my house.  I guess I also do remember getting some sweet campaign buttons, which I think I still have lying around somewhere.

In 2000, I was in high school government class and so I remember paying attention to the debates and election with a seriousness I had never had before.  While watching the debates, I remember thinking that George W. Bush was such a lightweight, there was no way he'd be elected.  I stayed up late on election night as the results poured in.  I remember the aftermath - battles over hanging chads and voting machine malfunctions.  My favorite memory related to this was camping out in DC at the Supreme Court for a chance to hear the arguments in Bush v. Gore - it was crazy fun and I was glad I had a spontaneous mom who was up for it!  Unfortunately we didn't get to go in for the whole time, but my brother did.  We did get to go in and observe for 10-15 minutes, it was pretty awesome to see the Supreme Court in session.  I've always meant to go back, it would be neat to see a whole case presented there.  I've often wondered since then if the Supreme Court had it to do over again, would they make the same decision?  Of course, there was some great election related humor that year - the SNL debates with Bush and Gore are classic.

In 2004, I missed much of the campaign hoopla because I was in the MTC.  I did vote absentee (my first presidential vote!).  The day I flew out of Utah to my mission was election day, and I can't say I was very successful at tuning out CNN in the airport - I was hungry for the news I had been missing.  Looking back, it may have been a tender mercy that I got to learn a little bit about current events.  It was a sad day when we were sitting down to breakfast with my mission president and he informed all of us (gleefully) that President Bush had been reelected.

2008 was a much better year - I attended a day-before-election-day rally with then-candidate Obama, which was an amazing and inspiring experience.  I got to vote on election day for the first time, it was so cool to be in a "swing state" where my vote actually could turn the tide of the election.  My mom had a "soup kitchen" party to watch the election results roll in, and it was FANTASTIC to see President Obama win it all - looking back, we were so full of hope and excitement, it seems almost naive.  Then I got to attend the inauguration, and hear the President Obama expound on his vision for our future.  It's been hard to watch the slow progress and process that has followed, but I still think that President Obama is the best choice for 2012.

And, I just wanted to say I'm grateful for this blog.  It's part journal, part political therapy, and part bloviation, and mostly randomness, but I do like doing it!  Here's to the first 100 posts, and more to come!

3 Things I Didn't Share in My Relief Society Lesson

In case you didn't already know this about me, I'm a history nerd.  I love reading and learning about different time periods in history!  Which is one of several reasons why I loved teaching a Relief Society Lesson about Relief Society history, specifically about Daughters in My Kingdom, a new book put out by the church about the history and purposes of Relief Society.  For those of you who don't know, Relief Society is the woman's organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Every woman in the church, 18 and older, automatically becomes a member of Relief Society, which seeks to teach the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  It was organized in 1842 and has since been involved in many great endeavors of service (and a few endeavors of politics, like women's suffrage).

On balance, I like the book, even though it is "history lite" in that it's not a rigorous examination of Relief Society history, it is more of a broad overview.  There are a lot of great and inspiring quotes in the book that built my testimony about this great organization.  I also started reading Women of Covenant, a more thorough book covering the history of Relief Society in a lot more detail.  However, I didn't get to share EVERYTHING I learned, as the lesson was short.  So I decided to talk about three things that I didn't talk about in my lesson, for various reasons.

The Gift of Healing
Although not included in Daughters in My Kingdom, sisters in the church have a history of exercising spiritual gifts such as the gift of healing.  At times this was done by the laying on of hands, such as the case of Persis Young, who laid her hands on Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, suffering an infection after childbirth in Winter Quarters, after the Mormons' difficult trek from Nauvoo, Illinois.  Sister Whitney said of Sister Young: "She had been impressed by the Spirit to come and administer to me, and I would be healed...she laid her hands upon my head with my mother.  She rebuked my weakness, and every disease that had been, or was then, afflicting me, and commanded me to be made whole, pronouncing health and many other blessings upon me. ...From that morning I went about to work as though nothing had been the matter.  Thus did the Lord remember one of his unworthy handmaidens and fulfill the promise that had been given by the gift of the Holy Ghost."  (Women of Covenant, pages 67-68)

And in 1914, the First Presidency wrote a letter stating that “Any good sister, full of faith in God and in the efficacy of prayer” could administer to the sick.  Sisters “have the same right to administer to sick children as adults, and may anoint and lay hands upon them in faith."  And, as late as the 1920s and 1930s, reports circulated of women anointing and blessing other women in preparation for childbirth (See Women of Covenant, pages 220-221).

To me these stories are very empowering, but I think we don't talk about them because we are afraid that these blessings will be confused with the Priesthood, which also administers to the sick by the laying on of hands.  But I think we are smart enough to realize the difference while still celebrating the power of a prayer of faith by faith-filled women of the Church.  I wonder if any of this still goes on in the church, but just isn't talked about in public?

I didn't talk about this subject because I didn't want to.  To say the least, I am very ambivalent in my attitude about polygamy.  It's an uncomfortable subject for a lot of reasons, and I didn't want to get into it.  In fact, I was surprised that Sister Tanner, who wrote Daughters in My Kingdom, put in a few paragraphs about this period in church history.  I have polygamous ancestors (so I guess it's thanks to them that I'm even writing these words), but I still think this is a very difficult period in history and I have so many unanswered questions about it that I didn't even have the courage to bring it up.

Yep, bet you weren't expecting this subject.  I liked this quirky little story from Women of Covenant, from a time when Relief Society was trying to standardize its accounting books.  One Relief Society received a contribution of two ducks from a poor member in the early 1900's.  This was in a time when the Relief Society received contributions in goods from its members and every member was expected to contribute something.  The ducks ended up running away or getting killed, and the local Relief Society president felt terrible about it.  The stake president wrote: "Now she feels that this woman and the books should have credit but she doesn't feel that she could dig up with $3 or whatever it is to pay for the ducks.  Hard to fix this on the books, both for the credit of the ducks and then the money received in the disposal of them" (Women of Covenant, pg. 196).

It seems silly but I liked this story - so often in the drive for standardization we lose sight of individuals.  Sometimes I feel like all I have to offer is a metaphorical "pair of ducks" - I am poor in spirit and don't have the offerings others have the ability to give.  But what's important is that we recognize the value of each individual's contributions.  It's part of why I love Relief Society: women coming together to worship God, each woman bringing her fears, faith, and personality - in short, bringing herself.  As we come together in a worldwide sisterhood, we learn from each other and grow together in love.  We struggle, but we have each other to lean on.  We learn of our enormous potential as Daughters of God.  I'll close with my favorite quote from Daughters in My Kingdom expressing that potential.  It's from Joseph Fielding Smith, 10th President of the church:

“It is within the privilege of the sisters of this Church to receive exaltation in the kingdom of God and receive authority and power as queens and priestesses.” (Daughters in My Kingdom, pg. 133)

Derr, Jill Mulvay., Janath Russell Cannon, and Maureen Ursenbach Beecher. Women of Covenant: the Story of Relief Society. Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1992. 

Tanner, Susan W.  Daughters in My Kingdom: The History and Work of Relief Society.  Salt Lake City, UT: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2011.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

I Don't Think You're Evil, I Just Think You're Wrong

I agree with the Occupy Wall Street Movement's goals.  I do think that wealth and influence in our country are becoming concentrated in the hands of a few at the expense of the many.  Democracy depends on a diffusion of power, and everyone should have an equal say.  An increase in inequality also suffering and poverty, which reduces opportunities for our fellow Americans.  However, I realize that different people have different views.  I don't necessarily think that someone automatically becomes "the devil" because they don't have a problem with income inequality (this seems to be the default mode of any protest: demonize your opponents).

Similarly, I don't think that anyone who proposes flat taxes, national sales taxes, or reduction/elimination of corporate taxes is intentionally TRYING to increase income inequality or has an intentional agenda to screw the poor.  Maybe I tend to over-simplify people's motives, but I like to assume, as a starting point for rational debate, that the other side is NOT evil.  They simply have a different view of the world.  However, in the case of the ideas mentioned above, I do believe they are the wrong policy choices, and will end up increasing poverty among the 99%.  

I also want to point out that conservatives often rail high tax rates.  They seem to get riled up about the top corporate tax rate, which currently stands at 35%.  This is a red herring, because while 35% may be the "statutory rate," or the rate on the books, let me be the first to tell you, if you don't already know, that very few companies actually pay tax at that rate.  This graph shows that in terms of "effective rate" or the rate at which corporate taxes are paid compared to income, the U.S. actually has an incredibly LOW tax rate.  And let's face it, corporations should pay taxes - these companies use the roads, courts, and educated citizenry paid for with our public money.  They inure incredible benefits as a result of our government's actions, and they should be a part of paying for those benefits.   The same deal goes for the richest Americans, whose income is taxed at a statutory rate of 35% but whose effective rate is a much lower 25.8% (see here).  Again, I think that because the rich disproportionately benefit from our capitalist society, they should bear a disproportionate share of the costs.  They'll still be plenty rich, trust me.

So, I don't think the rich are evil.  I bet most of us (for varying reasons) would like to be rich some day - some of us would like to buy the biggest yacht while some of us would like to be able to give it all away to worthy causes.  Let's not demonize those who disagree with us, let's just listen to each other.  I believe progressive taxation is the right way to make sure the disadvantaged and poor don't live a life of grinding poverty simply because they're unlucky.  If you don't agree, then I think you're wrong, but you're not Hitler.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Never No Never

Just to be clear: I have never called anyone a "Gentile" in my life.  Having spent almost three decades in the church, I also don't recall anyone else using this term in reference to people of other faiths.  It's semi-hilarious (and/or silly) when serious articles about Mormonism attempt to tell me that Mormons call people who aren't Mormon "gentiles."  Nope.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Let He Who is Without Sweeping Generalizations Cast the First Label

Have you heard the biggest religion and politics story of the past few days?  Here's Anderson Cooper's interview with Robert Jeffress, the pastor who said Mormonism is not Christianity, but instead is a cult.

I have a few reactions to Robert Jeffress:

Anger: How dare he claim to know and understand MY religion!

Disbelief:  How can you call a church "not-Christian" when its name is "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" and the Christ that you claim you believe in taught love and acceptance of others?

Skepticism:  Is Jeffress serious?  Or is he just using inflammatory language to get attention?

Cynicism: It's yet another example of using your beliefs to browbeat your political opponent.

Yet, Jeffress' assertion that Mormonism is a cult (not a "sociological cult" but a "theological" one, as if the media is able to make such fine distinctions) is not unusual.  It's part of what I call the "Mormon Weirdness Factor" - we have "secret" temple ceremonies, believe that Joseph Smith saw God and Jesus Christ, and call our church leader a "Prophet."  Any way you slice it, Mormons are weird to a lot of Americans.  We like to think of ourselves as peculiar in a good way, but we are simply very different than mainstream Americans and many other Christian churches.

What Jeffress said was just plain wrong.  When I hear this story, however, my prevailing sentiment is pity.  How tragic that Pastor Jeffress can't see past his own labeling.  Does someone who's "Christian" by Jeffress' definition automatically get his vote?  What a sad way to live.  How often do we label others because of their background?  Haven't we all, at one time or another, made sweeping generalizations (and yes, that is a broad generalized statement!)?

Fill in the blanks:

Liberals are ____________.
Families with a lot of kids are ________.
Conservatives are __________.
University of Utah students are ____________.
Young people are ___________.
Fat people are ____________.
Gay people are ____________.
People from the east coast are __________.

It's a lazy way of categorizing - assume that one group has certain characteristics, and it allows you to write off an entire group of people without knowing them.  The more I read about Jeffress' statements on Mormons, the more I want to avoid judging.  I want to have charity towards all, and malice towards none.  I want to have enough humility to admit that I do not fully understand others' religious beliefs, but I respect them as sincere people of faith.  I want to see others as my brothers and sisters, who are earnestly striving to live by the light they have found.  I want to avoid labeling other people.  Anyone who wants to call themselves Christian?  Let 'em!

Monday, September 26, 2011


Having spent little over 15 minutes on Goodreads.com, a book rating website, I discovered about 20 books I want to read.  I am slightly addicted to reading.  Is addiction always a bad thing?

Here are my addictions, in no particular order:
- Chocolate
- Reading
- Law & Order Re-runs
- Solitude
- Broadway Musicals
- Wheat Thins (and Peanut butter)
- Quiz bowl trivia
- The Black Hole Known as the Internet
- Tax Reform (a bit wonkish, but true)
- Seasonal earrings

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Mormon(s) For President

Now that two Mormons have entered the Republican primary, it seems inevitable that we'll have a lot of hoopla over this question: "Is America willing to elect a Mormon President?"  I was reminded of this by a recent article at Feminist Mormon Housewives, which provided an overview of the anti-Mormon arguments being made.  You can read the article here - it links to some of the anti-Mormon articles in various places.  I do hope, as an American Mormon, that someday there will be a Mormon President (I just think it should be a Harry-Reid-type Mormon, not a Mitt-Romney-type - but that's another post).  A significant number of people are less likely to vote for a Mormon, but that number has been dropping in recent years, which I think is a sign of progress.

There shouldn't be a religious test for office - any other argument on this matter is simply bigoted.  Any Christian, Muslim, Jew, Atheist or Agnostic should stand or fall on his or her political arguments.  It's part of what makes America great: equal opportunity and separation of church and state.

The question essentially asks: how do Mormons prove their "loyalty" to America?  How can we prove we are not a bunch of robo-tronic zombies secretly intending to create a theocratic state with President Monson as supreme potentate?  The thought that we are mindless minions of Monson stems from the church's involvement in the Proposition 8 fight in California, which created the illusion that all members think and act alike, and do so at the behest of church leadership.  I think, paradoxically, the Utah immigration debate may help prove that American Mormons are not tools of their church in the political world.

It seems simple: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints put out several statements saying that compassion was needed in the immigration debate, and supporting the Utah compact on immigration reform (read the statements here and here).  If Mormons really were the blind followers that the bigots claim, it seems like the Republican party in Utah (overwhelmingly Mormon) would toe the line and support the Utah compact.  However, recently Republicans voted to strike down one of the key provisions of a the Utah compact, a guest worker program.

It's sad that a lack of compassion by Utah Repblicans for the plight of illegal immigrants might end up helping Romney or Huntsman, but I think they can point to this as an example of how Mormons do not think or act in lockstep with church political statements.  Also, it's sad that they even have to make a case for Mormons at all, because we should be judged at the ballot box on our political ideas and plans, not on our religious beliefs.  Being Mormon isn't relevant to how a person will do as President.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

America, Of Thee We Sing

It's the Fourth of July!  Well, almost.  But it feels like the Fourth of July - I saw fireworks on my way home, it's muggy firefly weather, and I have watermelon in the fridge.  So, in honor of America, its glory, its imperfection, its promise, and its contraditions: here are some great patriotic videos.  I do love America, with all it has achieved and all it must still achieve.

Schoolhouse Rock (one of several good ones about American History)

Ray Charles (with Hebrew subtitles?):

Aretha, belt it out, girl!

Did you really think you could get away without the Mormon Tabernacle Choir?  No, sir!

So, Happy Fourth of July!  Be safe, and enjoy the barbeque, apple pie, and/or chocolate chip cookies while you catch the fireworks!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Bonus Round Book Report

I am on track with my goal of reading a book per month, but I am not counting the books that I read for my two book groups, as I consider those "required reading" as opposed to free reading.  But, I just HAVE to put a plug in for a book one of my groups read in May: "I Capture the Castle" by Dodie Smith.  It was a DELIGHTFUL read.

It tells the coming of age tale of Cassandra, a young girl who lives in a dilapidated castle with her impoverished family.  Cassandra narrates the story and I love her funny and beautiful observations about life.  This book made me laugh out loud, and I stayed up late reading it.  I highly recommend this book if you are in the mood for a light and fun read.

Epic Book Report Saga Continues

As promised, over the past few months I also read two books on American women.  The first was "America's women: 400 years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines" by Gail Collins, a liberal opinion columnist at the New York Times.  The second one was "Leading Ladies: America's Trailblazers" by Kay Bailey Hutchinson, a conservative senator from Texas.  As you might imagine, the books differed widely in focus and writing style.  Let me say this clearly: Hutchinson's writing is terrible.  At times her sentences were painful to read.  If she didn't get someone to ghostwrite this for her, she should have, and if she did get someone to ghostwrite it for her, she shouldn't have paid them. 

Collins' book has a narrative arc which focuses on the journey of women throughout America's history.  She theorizes that American women were actually more valued when they were viewed as a productive part of the household - in the early days they were responsible for making candles and soap, spinning thread and making cloth, and other vital household duties.  Once people could buy household necessities in stores, women were devalued and, Collins argues, idealized.  Men began to focus on how women were delicate and needed protection - they were soft and unable to hand the hard stuff (an argument that would have been pretty foreign to the settler women of frontier America - they endured much hardship and worked alongside their husbands).  Collins argues that this was when men began to emphasize women's role as mothers and placing them on a unattainable pedestal.  

Many of the anecdotes Collins relates are charming and she really does tell a fascinating story of the courage of women throughout American history.  On the other hand, she seems to delight in pointing out the flaws of those she chronicles - she focuses on these flaws a little too much, in my opinion.  For example, one of the main point she makes about Dorthea Dix, who was a mental health advocate and Superintendent of Nurses during the civil war, is that Dix was anti-Catholic.  While this seems to be true, it ignores the great good accomplished by Dix both during the civil war and as a mental health advocate.  But I did enjoy that she didn't over-idealize the women she portrayed.  She knows these women are heroines, but they are flawed beings just like us.  

Hutchinson, on the other hand, seems loath to make any negative remarks about anyone.  She gives every one of her "Ladies" a patina of goodness that leads you to think all the women she talks about are saints worthy of a halo.  She never mentions anything controversial - I assume this is in order to appeal to the broadest audience and sell more books, but it gets old after a while and makes me long for the controversy Collins focuses on.

Hutchinson also organizes her book differently than Collins' - she has chapters based on topic, focusing on famous women scientists, Nobel laureates, First Ladies, writers, and other groups.  Hutchinson's book did make me want to read (better-written) stories about the women she portrays - I still need to read Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring," for example.  I was also glad to learn about the women Nobel prize winners and their struggle for acceptance.  

Here, in no particular order, where some of my favorite quotes/stories:

- Speaking about a trailblazing writer, Edgar Allen Poe stated: "Humanity is divided into three classes: Men, women, and Margaret Fuller." (Collins, page 101)
- Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring, spoke at a national book award ceremony and said "Wonder and humility are wholesome emotions, they do not exist side by side with a lust for destruction." (Hutchinson, page 248-249)
- When a line of immigrants was waiting for food at Ellis Island, the guards insisted "Ladies First."  When this was translated for the women, who came from male-dominated societies, an old Slovenian woman cried out, "Long live America, where women are first!" (Collins, page 259)
- "Take your stand and hold it; then let come what will, and receive the blows like a good soldier" - Susan B. Anthony (Hutchinson, page 176)
- The famous former slave orator, Sojourner Truth, entered Indiana and rebel sympathizers threatened to burn down the hall she was scheduled to speak.  She responded: "Then I will speak upon the ashes." (Collins, page 178)
- Jane Addams said in a 1897 speech: "I am not one of those who believe-broadly speaking-that women are better than men.  We have not wrecked railroads, nor corrupted legislatures, nor done many unholy things that men have done; but then we must remember that we have not had the chance." (Hutchinson, page 313)
- When told that it would be easier for Wyoming to become a state if they stopped giving women the right to vote, the state legislature telegraphed to their Washington negotiators: "We will remain out of the union a hundred years, rather than come in without our women." (Collins, page 236)
- Prudence Crandall started a school for black girls In Canterbury, CT.  The state legislature passed a law making it illegal to start a school for out-of-state black children.  Prudence was arrested, and averred: "I am only afraid they will not put me in jail."  Eventually her students were terrorized into leaving, but a few of the black girls she taught went on to become teachers themselves.  (Collins, pages 163-165)
- Barbara Bush, speaking at Wellesley College commencement, ended her speech with this gem: "Somewhere out in this audience may even be someone who will one day follow my footsteps, and preside over the White House as the president's spouse.  I wish him well!" (Hutchinson, page 117)
- Mother Jones, a union organizer, was imprisoned in Colorado in 1913 at age 76.  She said of her ordeal: "I had sewer rats...to fight, and all I had was a beer bottle; I would get one rat and another would run across the cellar at me....I fought the rats inside and out just alike." (Collins, page 288)
- Lindy Boggs, a member of the House of Representatives, was part of the Banking and Currency committee when they were writing a bill to end discrimination in banking.  Lindy added the phrase forbidding discrimination on the basis of sex or marital status, and said to her fellow committee members: "I'm sure it was just an oversight that we didn't have 'sex' or 'marital status' included.  I've taken care of that, and I trust it meets with the committee's approval."  Later, when she was buying her first house alone, the loan officer wrongly tried to turn down her loan, making up federal requirements that did not exist.  Lindy told the loan officer: "My dear, I am the author of the law that forbids this type of requirement for female persons and the elderly.  You are not complying with the federal regulation, you are in defiance of it." (Hutchinson, page 342)
- "If there's a book you really want to read but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it." - Toni Morrison (Hutchinson, page 127)

American women are awesome!