Wednesday, March 26, 2008

An experiment.

I find many passages of scripture to be poetic, but I find the numbered verse format to be rigid and stifling, and not conductive of the lyrical beauty that I'm convinced is often there. After amanda's recent post soliciting thoughts on light, I've been thinking about one passage in particular. Here's an experiment with line breaks---an attempt to bring out the rhythmic beauty I hear in these words.

Doctrine and Covenants 88:6-13.

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.
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 earth also---
and the power thereof,
even the earth upon which you stand.

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—

The light
which is in all things,
which giveth life to all things,
which is the law by which all things are governed,
even the power of God
who sitteth upon his throne,
who is in the bosom of eternity,
who is in the midst of all things.

What say ye?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A dumb euphemism

So my new calling is to teach Sunday school to the 12-18 year olds. Yes, that's right, all the youth are in one class. One of the many joys (I'm saying this seriously, not ironically) of a small ward. It can be a challenge to teach in a way that is both interesting to the older kids and not boring to the younger ones, but sometimes I do it.

Anyway, this past week went really well. We studied Jacob 1-4 in the Book of Mormon. We talked about how Nephi got old and decided that separation of church and state seemed like a good idea, anointed some nameless dude to be king, and consecrated Jacob (and Joseph, as a footnote) to be preachers. We talked about how Jacob took his calling as a preacher very seriously and we talked about the three main sins he preached against: (1) love of riches/pride, (2) sexual sin, and (3) racism.

As I prepared the lesson, though, I noticed how the manual only once uses the word "sexual" and only once uses the word "unchastity". Instead, it refers repeatedly to "immorality." First, I just thought this was strange. It seemed like some kind of weird, harmless, victorian squeamishness. Then I started to think about the (probably unintended) implications of this particular euphemism. The manual says

"After warning the people about pride and the love of riches, Jacob called them to repentance for their immoral behavior. How were the Nephites rationalizing their immoral behavior?"

It then asks

"Why is it important to be morally clean?"

And then this:

"What must a person do to be forgiven of immorality?"

My problem with this particular wording is that it implies that "pride and the love of riches" are not "immoral behavior," that avoiding sexual sin is equivalent to being "morally clean" and that there is some kind of different, harder kind of repentance to be forgiven for sexual sin than for other kinds of sin.

The danger of this euphemism, I think, is that using "immorality" as code for sexual sin allows us to let ourselves off the hook too easily. And it reflects, I think, a larger problem. We are so obsessed with sex in our culture, that at times (especially for the youth) it begins to eclipse every other sin. The danger is that we may begin to think that if we're not fornicating, we're doing just fine. I'm all for being more optimistic and I believe strongly that discouragement and guilt are almost always diabolically inspired. One of Satan's most effective lies is that forgiveness is too hard. But his other lie is that it is too easy.

If a prophet says "don't do anything immoral" and I think, "well, I may be a hypocrite and grind on the faces of the poor, but at least I'm not a fornicator, so I'm alright," then I'm not in a good position. Of course if I listen to everything the prophets say, then I'll probably get the message that there's more to it. But in our sound-byte world, that may be asking a lot. For example: how many times did we hear the phrase "tender mercies" in 2005? Now we even have a song about it. Now, how many times did we actually read or discuss the talk Elder Bednar gave where he quoted Nephi talking about the tender mercies of the Lord? I even heard people talk as though Elder Bednar had authored the phrase rather than Nephi. I don't fault Elder Bednar for the fact that people listened to only one phrase of his talk, I just think it reflects the fact that our society does not do well remembering anything longer than a sound-byte.

Now I'm sure that the CES committee that wrote the manual didn't use the "immorality" euphemism with some ill-intent to make it easy to justify ourselves. I'm sure they really were only motivated by an odd, perhaps subconscious, victorian aversion to speaking of sex. But the point is that words matter. See, e.g., Elder Holland. We can't afford to be careless with our words. We should be precise and accurate, we should speak in a way that we cannot easily be taken out of context and twisted, confused, or misremembered. All sexual sin==immorality, but all immorality=/=sexual sin. I bristle at this euphemism. Let's just call it what it is. As Nephi said, I glory in plainness.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

When did the NYT hire Speilberg as a photographer?

If it weren't for the fact that what's happening in Pakistan really is a tragedy, this would be hilarious. As it is, it's just funny. The other day I went to the NYT website to keep abreast of of world events, and as the page loaded, I beheld this.

Now, is it just me, or does this picture not look like a poster for a bad action movie? I can hear the trailer voice-over: "In a world where no lawyer is safe, how can one man in a black suit survive? How can he find the woman he loves when barbed wire and tear gas are stacked against him? Will they escape? Will he shoes be unscuffed? Coming this spring, an fast-paced, high-stakes action adventure, 'Justice without Mercy,' starring a low-budget Bollywood Burt Reynolds look-a-like."

Read the story here. Turns out it has nothing to do with Burt Reynolds.