30 January 2007

a scripture chain for you. tracing it last night made me feel better; hope it makes you feel better, too.
  • alma 5:7 speaking of a people in captivity to the lamanites: god '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.' such a beautiful idea, that our souls can be 'illuminated' even in the 'midst of darkness.'
  • d&c 50:24-25 in which we learn that light, when it is received and when we continue in god, creates more light--that it 'groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day. . . . and i say it that you may know the truth, that you may chase darkness from among you.' i love that--that if we know the truth that light increases as we receive it, then we will be able to chase darkness away.
  • d&c 93:36, 39 in which we understand that 'the glory of god is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth' and that, by implication, if 'the wicked one' takes away light and truth through disobedience, then obedience brings light and truth. and i read obedience not as simply doing what we're told; since this is presented in the context of knowledge and truth, rather than simply performance, i think that obedience refers to living in keeping with god's will because we understand it--because it is a part of us.
  • 1 john 2:4-5 in which we learn that truth is not in any man who claims to know christ but who does not keep his commandents; that god's love is perfected in she who keeps the commandments. and in verses 8 through 10, we learn that we abide in light when we love our brothers and sisters.
  • light then is a result of obedience. and in my reading of these verses, obedience takes the shape of love (which is, after all, the heart of the two great commandments--to love god and to love our neighbors as ourselves). so as we love others, we are filled with light--even in the midst of darkness.
  • d&c 115:5-6 in which we are told to 'arise and shine forth' not only that our light (our love, not our selves) may be a 'standard for the nations,' but also that our 'gathering together' and our stakes (in other words our communities) will be a source of defense and refuge from the darkness of the storm.
i love these ideas. that as we do the will of god, we will be filled with light. and as we let that light shine forth--as we live the truths we know, as we love, actively making our world better--we will build communities which will have the power to 'chase darkness from among [us].' that our souls will be enlightened by the word, the word which is christ, christ who is love incarnate--that our souls will be illuminated even in darkness.

29 January 2007

i finally watched iron jawed angels this weekend. i'd seen bits of it with caroline, but had never watched it all the way through. it tells the story of alice paul and lucy burns, who sought and were given control over the national american women's suffrage association's congressional committee and their later break with NAWSA and formation of the national women's party. it depicts paul and burns's efforts to push for an amendment to the consitution granting women the right to vote, including their picketing of the white house, demonstrations and parades, and their unjust imprisonment and the resulting hunger strike.

i was frustrated with the opening 45 minutes or so of the film. it felt too caught up in its snazzy soundtrack and its quirky camera work, both of which i felt detracted from the power and importance of the story the film was telling. and i have little patience for things like gratuitous lesbian kissing and masturbating scenes that do little if anything to develop character or story.

but. it is good. and worth watching, in spite of the weakness of the opening half. it brought to life the extremes to which these women were willing to go in order to make their voice heard. and it beautifully demonstrated the hypocrisy of the men who were willing to sacrifice human life in the name of preserving democracy even as they flatly refused to change laws in order to extend the rights and privileges of democracy to half of the american population. watch it. this history needs to be remembered and understood. and the film does present a succinct representation of that history.

perhaps the greatest praise i can give it is that it moved me to resolve to do better. to make use of the opportunities and rights that women who lived before me did not have. and to resist the myriad ways in which my own society confines, limits, and stymies women. i have watched commentary on hillary rodham clinton's upcoming (current?) presidential campaign with a mixture of interest and distaste. not because of any dislike for her on my part, though i think it would be a horrible mistake for the DNC to nominate her. nor because i have even one little tiny reservation about a woman's ability to fulfill the office of president, with all of its responsibilities. rather because of the kinds of criticisms i have seen of her. not so much by professional commentators; more from average, generally mormon, americans. she is criticized for wearing the pants in the family. for not leaving her husband when he cheated on her. i have heard her simultaneously criticized for betraying her sex by using domestic settings and for being a cold, unfeeling, unnatural woman--both criticisms coming in response to the same clinton statement, from the same person, practically in the same breath. when she makes a statement that, were it to come from a male politician would be lauded for its restraint, she is accused of being catty (the statement in question was "after six years of having bush in the white house"). but if she were to not level any criticism at all, she would be called weak. which is another critique i have heard--that she's too soft to handle the difficult foreign policy issues facing our nation. this in spite of her support of military action in afghanistan and her initial support for the invasion of iraq, two foreign policy actions supported by those who typically oppose her. and in spite of the fact that president bush, who most of her critics seem to support, appointed a woman to be secretary of state.

the long and the short of it is that this presidential campaign will throw into stark relief the ways in which women are held to standards radically different from those of men. that opinions of women are governed in large part by continuing stereotypes about which social realms they have the ability and right to influence. if anything can demonstrate the hypocrisy of our society's views on women, it will be a woman running for president. in my opinion the battle fought by women like alice paul will not be fully won until women can not only elect their representatives, but be their own representatives at every level of government.

16 January 2007

i ruined a cake last night. it was monday--specifically the monday on which i was in charge of family home evening for my mid-singles group. and i had arranged for a friend of mine to come do a presentation about the perceptions of race in the mormon church and the 1978 revelation regarding blacks and the priesthood. over the course of the weekend, i had an email interchange with one person who was put off by what he believed would be an exercise in blaming and criticizing the church. "liberal indoctrination" i believe he called it. and then i got a message yesterday from a church leader reminding me that all presenters need to keep their comments appropriate. i was frustrated. i was trying to do something interesting and different rather than the typical mediocre fare and it was being treated like something borderline sacrilegious when nothing could be further than the truth. and it felt like i had been put in a difficult position between the speaker i had invited--a man i respect very highly and who i trust implicitly to read his audience accurately and plan his presentation accordingly--and people at church.

i had forgotten to arrange for others to bring refreshments, so i decided i would make some dessert. and it seemed like it was one problem after another. every egg i broke got shell into the bowl--one egg even spurted egg nastiness onto my sweater. and when i went to put the cake batter (of cake number two) into the pan, i plopped one spoonful in and stood looking at it. it was superthick, and i knew i had done something wrong. a quick look at the recipe revealed that i had put an extra quarter-cup of flour in the batter. and that was it. the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back. it felt like no matter how hard i tried, whatever i did just got screwed up.

i stood there for a moment, staring at that cake with all of my self-criticisms flooding into my head and all of the stupid little things that don't matter at all building themselves up into damning evidence of my ineptitude. true, the fact that my hair is really long and takes far too long to manipulate into something resembling a style isn't really evidence of inability, but the fact that i let it frustrate me seemed to be. and a rogue egg splatting onto my clothes doesn't demonstrate my incompetence, but the fact that it made me swear and slam a few things around seemed to be. it's amazing how these little things can undermine our best efforts and intentions and abilities and make them all seem meaningless in the moment.

my cake turned out. it was delicious, in fact. in spite of--or, if you ask my mom who has been saying for a couple of years that that particular recipe needs more flour, because of--my adding too much flour. the FHE was fantastic--an informative presentation, several people asking provocative questions, and almost everyone thanking both armand and me for making it possible. and maybe--just maybe--i'm not an utter failure after all.

11 January 2007

this morning i took my brother to the doctor. we left home about five minutes after we were supposed to and right in the middle of rush hour. i got on the freeway and worked my way into the carpool lane. once i was there, josh looked at me and said "i don't know any other girl who could do that"--a compliment of my ability to assertively merge, accelerate, and change lanes all at once with no hesitancy or passivity. i just laughed and reminded him that i am our father's daughter (our mother's too, as she's no pansy when it comes to driving--they didn't call her parnelli pat for nothing; but it's our dad who's driven a sports car for thirty years and has drag raced everything from said sports cars to the family passenger van).

the interchange was particularly funny in light of the fact that last night i took this brain sex test. the test struck me as a bit hokey here and there, but it was still entertaining. and it told me that i was exactly in the middle--leaning neither towards a female nor a male brain. maybe that's why i can make my way into the carpool lane so beautifully.

09 January 2007

you know how i said i keep changing my mind every time i make this decision? well apparently that part hasn't changed. right about now i'd like someone to tell me what to do. anyone?

08 January 2007

this has been a long time coming. long as in years. i've been making this decision for so many years that i'm not sure when i wasn't already making this decision. which is fitting somehow. always already. the catch phrase of late 20th century literary criticism.

what decision? the one to leave my program. no phd. after years of planning on completing graduate education and choosing not to go on and then changing my mind and going on anyway, i think i've finally made a decision that will stick. i'm withdrawing. looking for a job that will pay the bills in the short term. and a teaching position at either a junior college or private high school for the long term.

those are the basics. the reasons why are not quite as basic. or maybe they are. it boils down to loneliness. and circumstance. i spend so much time feeling alone. i don't like it. and i wish i could change it. but i can't. i cannot exist in isolation. it makes me feel little and meaningless. and there is nothing that makes me feel more alone--desolately alone--than the kind of research and writing required by my program. and that very thing is what would make the career i had been planning on secure. so when i think about finishing the program and getting a job, it feels like all i have to look forward to is isolation with the limited connection that teaching would allow me. and i can't do that.

i think the thing i've realized most clearly in the last few weeks as i've thought through this decision is that such choices cannot be made in the abstract. it seems so obvious when it's stated like that. but i find myself thinking that the fact that i have a certain ability and desire and that those things are good means i am failing or quitting if i don't pursue them with no consideration for my emotional and psychological circumstances. allowing those circumstances to influence my decisions feels like weakness, like i'm just not strong enough to overcome the need to belong. what i have continually found myself battling is the idea that if only i had the strength of character and will, i would be able to do it in spite of my circumstances. it's toxic.

i've decided that that approach is foolish. how could proceeding in spite of circumstances be a strength? how is it good to ignore realities in pursuit of an ideal? i am by no means asserting that ideals should be ignored. nor that our abilities and possibilities should not play a role in making choices about what we will do with our gifts. just that ideals and reality should temper each other. my reality is that i am alone in many, many ways. and i do not have the emotional strength to make myself alone in other ways when i could choose a career path that would allow me to interact in such meaningful ways without the isolation of the research.

so. i'm withdrawing. with master's degree number two. and i'll look for a teaching job. and i know i'll lose some things i love because of it. and i know i'll deal with some things that will drive me batty because of it. but i believe it will make me happier. and that it will allow me to fulfill other dreams without the costs--costs that have become a bit staggering--i think i will have to pay if i continue in the direction i have started.

06 January 2007

until a month ago, i had never spent much time thinking about the gifts of the wise men. all i knew was that they represented great wealth and that we exchange gifts at christmas partially in honor of the fact that the magi brought gifts to the baby jesus. historically, the arrival of the magi was celebrated on january 6—twelfth night or epiphany (in some traditions, this was seen as the actual day of christ’s birth) and the twelve days between christmas and january 6 were festival days. so i thought i would share what i learned to celebrate twelfth night.

last month when i began preparing a lesson about the christmas story, i started exploring the connotations of the gifts the wise men brought to the infant jesus (or the toddler, as my father believes he was by the time the magi appeared). gold, frankincense, and myrrh. the only one i’ve ever understood on any level was gold, the precious metal we continue to value as a symbol of wealth and status and, when we occasionally think figuratively, purity. so i spent a little time looking up these gifts of the wise men and was struck by what i discovered.

the aromatic resin frankincense was not only used in perfumes, but also in the holy incense used during sacrificial rites. myrrh, another resinous substance, was even more valuable than frankincense—sometimes worth more than its weight in gold. like frankincense, myrrh was used not only in perfumes but also in holy incense and ointments. it was used specifically in ointments for healing and in rites of purification.

certainly these gifts brought to the baby jesus meant much more than their monetary worth. this child had come into the world as the ultimate sacrifice. the frankincense the magi brought marked christ’s willing self-sacrifice that all mankind might be cleansed of sin and live again. his ministry and atonement both brought healing beyond any that could have come through the medicinal or ritual value of myrrh. and just as myrrh represented purification, christ’s atonement promised all men and women the possibility of absolute purity.

gold is perhaps the most interesting of the three gifts the magi brought. gold was used anciently in many of the ways it is used now—not only as a marker of wealth, but also as an ornament of places and tools with cultural and religious significance. it can be easily dismissed as a relatively simple symbol of reverence, if not already dismissed as nothing but a marker of wealth. but gold presents itself throughout the bible not only as a marker of wealth and respect for things sacred, but also as a symbol of evil. the false idol the children of israel built in their weakness was a golden calf. the love of money is the root of all evil. the gold the magi brought represented not onlychrist's purity and the magi's devotion to and worship of the son of god. i believe it also represents a willingness on our part to sacrifice our own pride, our evil tendencies, our false gods so that we might instead take up the gospel of christ. when we do so, we will be motivated not by wealth or pride or evil, but by the desire for healing of our hurts and a return to purity. and we will strive to help others find that same healing and purity. these sacrifices—christ’s sacrifice of his own life and blood and our sacrifice of our pride, sin, and egocentrism and the dedication of our lives—together make peace, love, and hope possible. may the new year be full of these gifts as we do his work.