29 June 2006

Beauty and A Really Old (-Fashioned) Love Story

I am not usually the type of person for love stories. Perhaps because I have little (read: no) experience in them myself, they've always seemed far more fantastic and unrealistic than the sci-fi and fantasy I prefer. Also, I usually don't empathize very well with the heroines: either charming or naive, but always beautiful, none of which I have pretensions to. I've always defined myself based on a fairly gender-neutral intelligence. Pretty much, I think Jane Austen is boring, and my favorite chic flicks are IQ and You've Got Mail, mostly for Einstein and the witty construction (respectively) rather than the love story, which gets in the way for me.

Leave it to Orson Scott Card to write a romance that I could really enjoy. I'm only half-way through Rebekah, the second in his Women of Genesis series, and if there was anyone who could improve on the beauty of that story in the Old Testament, then it's the OSC. As a friend of mine said (John, this means you) Card is so amazing at understanding people that he makes you feel like a genius just to be witness to his analysis. In Card's religious fiction (Women of Genesis + Stone Tables), I have been continually impressed with his ability to flesh out these iconic figures into realistic characters while still remaining faithful to their place in the religious cannon. Without ruining the story for anyone who hasn't read it, Rebekah has shed much light in my mind on the issue of beauty.

He made me remember that for some beauty can be as much a curse as a blessing when looking for a relationship. (As Tevia would say, may God smite me with it, and may I never recover.) I had sort of realized this in the character of Lina in Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants--kitschy, I know, but true in feeling. Beauty--true beauty, and not just good grooming--is unlike almost any other trait in that it seems to happen almost as an accident, not being an essential part of a person's character. Rebekah's realization of her own beauty and subsequent panic were quite enlightening--I've never had the same worry that someone might want me not for myself but for some accident of birth.

Some will object that beauty is not so much looks as a way of behaving, and this is the other thing Card brings out. As Rebekah meets a particular woman for the first time, she is shocked to realize that though she is as beautiful as this woman, Rebekah has none of the grace, charm, and social skill necessary to really use this to full, feminine advantage. And so she sets out to learn and acquire the ability to make small-talk, flirt (such as it is in biblical times), etc. Until recently, I had mostly assumed that people were either just born with this grace or without: I had never really contemplated it as a skill to be acquired.

Now that I think about it, this is one skill that I could really use, considering my natural tendency is to be blunt or outspokenly passionate about everything. A little charm or grace could do a lot to mediate the bad effects of these two things. I've always avoided being too feminine, but maybe it's time to dabble in that area. I won't hesistate to say I feel quite silly though.

(Aside: I find it ironic that I finish this post while listening to "Astonishing," the song from the Little Women musical in which Jo's refuses Laurie's proposal. Pretty much the antithesis to the woman aspiring to marriage, and currently one of my favorite songs. Hmm.)

27 June 2006

The Real Independence Day: Primary Thoughts

IMAGE_043So I voted today in the primaries . . . did you? Probably not, considering only about 10% of Utahns actually vote in the primary. I find it fascinating that the same people that couldn't be bothered to vote today will next week be celebrating the ideals of our nation. It's fairly ridiculous that such a small percentage of the people actually care what happens in the primaries. In a politically lop-sided state like Utah, it seems that most elections would be pretty much decided in the primaries, since most Republican candidates are shoe-ins in November (with notable exceptions). You missed out on the real ceremony if you were waiting for the 4th to celebrate your American-ness.

And granted, some primary elections seem trivial: I don't understand the big hoopla over the Cannon/Jacobs race. The race is not over issues, since the candidates agree on almost everything. I mean really, the only argument in this race is whether experience is more productive than change. Why are people wasting all this campaign money to replace one representative with another who will do exactly the same things? Seems like a big waste of time to me. (Luckily for those of you who care, I am registered at home, not in the Bubble, so I didn't vote on this race anyway.)

Also, I was quite suprised at the ignorance shown by the candidates in the Jordan School District Prescint #3 race: two of the candidates didn't even bother to create websites, or ones that I could find anyway. You would think that in this tech-saavy world that would be a given. I did all my voting research online, and their lack of online information pretty much cost them my vote.

Oh, and if anyone out there was worried that electronic voting would be confusing, it's not. It is the most absolutely wonderful thing ever! Okay I exaggerate, but it definitely outranks punch cards--which even I found confusing--by a mile. And I say this not just from my tech-saavy perspective: my tech-backwards mother (sorry Mum!) was able to easily figure out the system. I enjoyed the large print option. Even though I didn't particularly need it, it was nice not to have to put my nose next to the ballot in order to read it. The only step that might be confusing is the double-confirmation of the ballot, since some people might forget the last step and just walk away. But the machine won't give you back your little ID card thing unless you do, so it should be fairly easy to spot and take care of.

25 June 2006

Pros and Cons of Being Martha

This wasn't what I originally intented to write about, but I need to write it down before I forget what it was about. So Saturday's intended blog entry is being put off indefinitely.

As this semester has come to a close, I've noticed a problem I have that's always been lurking in the back of my mind, but I never really bring out and conquer. It's one that should be obvious, but for some reason I manage to always ignore it. The problem is this: I am always living waiting for something to end, for the future, I guess, but mostly for change.

In particular, during the semester I tend to rationalize the fact that I have no time to do what I want by the fact that it will soon be over. This semester has really been the worst: I literally go to school everyday, come home, eat, do homework, and sleep. When I do have free time, I spend it vegging out in front of my computer because my brain and will are simply so fried that I can't do anything else. When the semester ends, I spend a few days just hibernating in my apartment recovering. But then, I don't learn from my experience and simply load myself up again with way more than I can handle.

I probably get this from my dad: he tends to go in this same full-throttle/crash-and burn cycle. He'll work a sixty hour week, perhaps staying at work for even 48 hours straight. Then he comes home and crashes through the weekend. I know this is not a good way to live; as I said to my dad, I don't want to live waiting for my life to be over.

So while I've been pondering this, I came across in my scripture reading the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10. When people discuss this story, we talk about the problem of being too busy to stop and listen to the gospel. The work Martha is doing is something that needs to be done, but sometimes it is more important to stop and listen to the gospel. Mary is symbolic of the quiet listener, Martha the overworked and distracted disciple.

However, this time as I was reading this story, I looked up a cross reference and read in John 11 the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. I hadn't ever read this story focusing on the Mary/Martha aspect, but when I did, I noticed another aspect of this relationship which caused me to reconsider the meaning of the story. When Jesus comes to Bethany, Martha immediately comes to him, and when asked if she believes Christ has the power to raise the dead, she immediately says yes. But when Mary comes to the Lord, she seems, at least to me, to be in total despair, lacking the hope that Martha seems to have in the gospel.

The conclusion I came to was this: living a busy and less active life sometimes leaves little time to contemplate the gospel, but I think it gives us a testimony of the principles of the gospel in action in our lives. By sitting around contemplating the gospel, we can gain a deep understanding of the principles involved, but it doesn't necessarily give us a testimony of their truth. The gospel is not something that can be studied in isolation; we cannot learn the gospel without having something to apply it about. The most boring and least strong members of the church are those who spend all day studying the gospel. Really, it becomes a sort of inbreeding: you have no substance to live the gospel about and your belief in it becomes founded only on your study of it. But when you live, you see the application of the principles in your life, and your testimony grows stronger even though you may not have as much time to study.

So, as seems to be the conclusion of the most of my posts lately, it's all about balance. I need to find the point in my life when I won't be so overwhelmed that I don't have time to contemplate, but also be busy enough to have experiences and deepen my testimony of the gospel.

24 June 2006

Brittany McComb: A Question of Scale

Well, I had another blog topic for tonight, but after reading about Brittany McComb on Ben's blog, I guess I'll put off that post till tomorrow. It'll make a good Sunday post anyway.

So here's the short and fast story of Brittany McComb. Brittany becomes valedictorian. She writes a valediction about how Christ and God have changed her life. The administration, fearing legal ramifications, edits out of her speech all references to Christ and scripture. Girl tries to give original speech anyway, but the microphone is cut by the administration. Legal ramifications and talk shows ensue (see link above).

Now, keep reading, because I don't think I'm going to take the side you expect. In keeping with my Circle of Knowledge theory, I can see that each side in this debate has some truth behind it, and the conclusion I've come to seems to be somewhere in the middle. Keep in mind, I am not really interested in the legal aspects behind this, but the moral ones. After all, we can only have just laws if we truly understand the morals they should be upholding.

But the relationship between law and morality is another topic for another time. Back to the subject at hand.

Two opposing experiences keep coming back to me as I think about this issue of eliminating Christ from public. First, I remember sitting in my Theory of Knowledge class in high school listening to a girl explain how her belief in chakra energies and related religious concepts had healed her life, and were really much better than western medicine. Being from Utah, my high school did have quite a large percentage of LDS students (probably 50%), but since it was part of the IB program, it had a little more of an international flavor than most. This particular class I knew contained quite a few agnostics/atheists, several Jews, and at least one Hindu and one Muslim. But despite our apparent diversity and tolerance at other times, the feeling in the classroom was extremely uneasy, and the students in the class were clearly not comfortable with what she was saying to us. But none of us were willing to say anything about it.

I still wonder why we were uncomfortable. Was it the mere action of advocating a religious view in a classroom that made us uncomfortable, or was it that the philosophy being advocated? Had it been a Christian (or more particularly LDS) student speaking about Christ and the atonement, would we--by which I mostly mean I--have felt the same way? I know I have sometimes felt uncomfortable at the way other Christian religions proselyte. But if it were my own religion being preached to a crowd of essentially captive unbelievers, who hadn't asked to hear about it, would I feel the same way? Essentially, I think the delimma boils down to this: can we, or should we, separate the act of proselyting from the beliefs being proselyted? To this, I would hope I could say yes, that I could look at the act of proselyting from an objective point of view, even if it was my own religion. But this is something you may have to convince yourself of.

Once we admit this separation, and that proselyting can cause discomfort in an audience, we can see how there is some valid point for concern over public religious expression. It boils down to the same debate of the ages: individual rights versus public security. I mean, we have laws against verbal harassment for the same sort of reason: even though it does no physical harm, it can cause discomfort in other ways. In the same way, I hate being harassed by the protestors at General Conference or at the Manti Pagent. It is extremely disconcerting, even heartbreaking, to be forced to listen to your religion be thrashed and trashed, even indirectly by those who are simply preaching other views, in a place where it is not wanted.

Which leads me to the other experience I keep thinking about. This one I didn't experience personally, but did hear from a first-hand source. A German-language teacher at my school used to occasionally have a free reading period in class as a reward after quizzes or tests. However, when some students began to read their scriptures during that time, the teacher ordered them not to do so because it violated her freedom of religion. (In the end, she was not allowed to ban specific religious texts from the period, and instead decided to do away with it all together.)

I would hope that anyone reading that story would realize that what the teacher did was completely irrational. Having someone else read a certain book in your classroom is nearly impossible to rationally construe as a violation of your rights. Clearly there is a matter of degrees here. What Brittany McComb did is not on par with what the garment-waving protestors do at General Conference. A general scale of the relationship between religious practice and the public goes something like this, from most-easily acceptable to totally unacceptable:

  • private religious practice
  • public religious practice
  • expression of beliefs in public
  • proselytising and advocating a belief system
  • denigrating/descriminating against someone else's belief system
What the Brittany McComb incident represents is a confusion of this scale. Much of the civil rights movement worked hard to prevent the descrimination aspect of this scale, which I hope every rational person could agree is the right thing to do. And the Bill of Rights clearly protects the first two, the right to religious freedom. But what to do with these middle two is the problem.

I firmly believe that we do not live in a society that wants to eliminate expression of beliefs and proselytising all together. There may be some extremists who actually do believe that, but being an eternal optimist, I must believe that the majority are fairly reasonable people such as myself. The thing is that these reasonable people have noticed, as I have, that religious speech is a delicate issue, that at some times it is appropriate to voice belief and at others it is not. Even Christ said, "neither cast ye your pearls before swine" (Matt. 7:6), which I take to mean that we don't need to proselyte in every conversation (which bothers me to no end about some evangelicals), but we should instead reserve our expression to appropriate moments and audiences.

So in the end, after reading the full text of Brittany McComb's speech, I must agree with the school's decision to edit her speech. I disagree with the idea that there is no place for Christ in a graduation speech, but I think that the way she did so was not appropriate. Her speech focuses on her conversion to Christianity rather than her school experience. Her talk might actually fit in at an LDS testimony meeting, but not a graduation. Had she done as she claimed to have done and simply cited her religion as one of the influential factors in her life, in a quiet statement of belief rather than proselytizing, then the school board might have been in the wrong (morally, though perhaps not legally).

(However, after that, I must add that I do agree that this suppression of religion movement is targeted towards Christians. Notice in my two experiences that although there was discomfort in both, action was only taken in the situation involving a Christian religion. I however do not believe this to be due to a particular hatred of Christianity. Rather, it is due to two factors. First, other religions still fall under the protection of our fear of being accused of discrimination. We fear that our actions to preserve our own comfort will be miscontrued as racism or beliefism. Witness how the media deals with Islamic extremism--overly careful to make sure that the audience knows they are not against the religion, but merely some of its expressions. The second factor is simply the nature of Christianity. We are a missionary religion, and therefore we feel the need to speak about our beliefs more, which in turn gives us more opportunities to speak out in the wrong times and wrong places. Again, there may be some who do discriminate against Christianity, but not a majority, by far.)

22 June 2006

The "Same Old Thing"

Another post inspired by The Screwtape Letters. Sheesh, CS Lewis is such a genius. Anyway, on my way to school today, I was reading letter 25, in which Screwtape advises Wormwood on the use of the "Same Old Thing" philosophy to distract people from what they should be doing. Here's a description of this concept straight from the book (if you haven't read the book, note that this passage is written from the point-of-view of a devil, and thus the "Enemy" is God and the goal is to get man away from Him):

The horror of the Same Old Thing is one of the most valuable passions we have produed in the human heart--an endless source of heresies in religion, folly in counsel, infidelity in marriage, and inconstancy in friendship. . . . [T]he Enemy (being a hedonist at heart) has made change pleasurable to them, just as He has made eating pleasureable. But since He does not wish them to make change, any more than eating, an end in itself, He has balanced the love of change in them by a love of permanence. . . .

Now, just as we pick out and exaggerate the pleasure of eating to produce gluttony, so we pick out this natural pleasantness of change and twist it into a demand for absolute novelty. This demand is entirely our workmanship. . . . Only by our incessant efforts is the demand for infinite, or unrhythmical, change kept up.
I've personally been thinking about this problem a lot, both in the church as a whole and in my own life. A particular example of this problem which has been bothering me comes from a sacrament meeting in my ward. The subject of the meeting was to be on the resurrection, one of the most basic, beautiful, and essential doctrines of the gospel. The first speaker was from our student ward and the second was a high council speaker.

When the student got up, he started with the usual banter about being nervous, the bishopric calling him to speak, etc. But when he got to his topic, he said that he was supposed to speak about the resurrection, but that was a boring topic since everyone pretty much already understood that, so he decided to talk about a "personal resurrection" (his term for a change of heart) instead. I was first disappointed: I was really looking forward to hearing a talk about the hope afforded to us by the resurrection. But I decided to make the best of it and enjoy this talk anyway. Conversion and change, after all, is something we all need to work on. But as I was listening to the talk, I became even more annoyed and bewildered. Almost all of his talk came from self-help books, secular leaders, or popular sayings. When I started keeping count a few minutes in, I noted only one reference to Christ and possibly two scriptures or General Authority quotes.

To make matters worse, the High Council speaker had a similar problem: though he did sort of talk about the resurrection, there were even fewer quotes from General Authorities or scriptures in his talk. Instead, he spent the entire fifteen minutes listing a whole bunch of "faith-promoting rumors" about people who had survived near death experiences, and how this somehow proved that there was life after death, which sort of proved there was a resurrection, and wasn't that nice? The next week was fast Sunday, and my mind was probably still on this problem because all of the roommate-imonies, good-book-imonies, something-I-learned-in-class-imonies, and BYU-religion-department-imonies bothered me a lot more than usual.

It's a problem that seems to be unusually magnified at BYU, since we are surrounded by the gospel not only for 3 (more like 5) hours of meetings on Sunday, but in class, at home, at work. Theoretically, this should be a good thing: we are supposed to make the gospel a part of everything in our lives, like the foundation is to a house. But this massive exposure seems to have the side effect of causing some people to be "bored" with the gospel, bored of the same, simple "Sunday School" right answers--though the fact that such simple answers exist is, to me, one of the most joyous parts of the gospel. And when they are bored, they start looking for ways to make the doctrines of truth into new, novel concepts. (From this concept, we can infer the evolution of what is now the LDS publishing industry. Seriously, every time I walk into Deseret Book, I want to gag at the consumerism of it all.)

As much as I love CS Lewis and other inspiring figures, the main focus of our meetings should be on the basic doctrines of the gospel as taught by the scriptures, General Authorities, and the Spirit, no matter how long we have been in the church. Yes, I realize that the GA's occasionally quote world leaders, CS Lewis, and even Fiddler on the Roof. I have two answers to this: first, they tend to do so in moderation, spending the majority of their talks on scriptures and personal testimony; second, they are GA's, so they have a greater ability to discern truth out of these non-cannonical sources than your average church member.

What I mean is, we should be teaching out of sources that are "safe." When you are dealing with your own spiritual growth, sure, seek learning out of the best books, and the spirit will guide you to discern the truth. But when it comes to teaching others, what the spirit uses to teach you may not be what they need. So stick to the basic sources recommended to all members of the church. Don't make your home teaching thought a quote by Nelson Mandela. Yes, this happened to me. Innovative as it was, I would have much preferred one from the Ensign, or the scriptures.

My personal way to make sure that I stay on the the strait and narrow in my teaching is the SQRT formula: for every concept I want to teach, I look for a personal Story, a GA Quote, a scripture Reference, and give my personal Testimony. This keeps it simple and doctrinal, and keeps me from teaching out of the Book of Liz to those who don't need it or aren't ready for it.

No, the doctrines of the gospel are not new concepts, but why should they be? People through out all ages of history face basically the same problems, and the Lord doesn't need to invent new answers to problems He has already given us the answers to. Give me a meeting where we "preach nothing save it were repentance and faith on the Lord, who had redeemed his people" (Mosiah 18:20). Every time we are called upon to give us lesson, let us put it to the test of 2 Nephi 25:26:
And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.

12 June 2006

Crimes of Passion: A Geek Manifesto (of sorts)

So, I took the Geek Test, scoring a delightful 27.7%. (Miserable compared to my Harry Potter Obsession score, though the quiz is slightly outdated. . . . I think I get bonus geek points for actually thinking about rewriting that test.) And oddly I am only ashamed that my geek score is not higher.

Why do I enjoy being a geek? Actually, the question is why is being a geek so out of fashion? In my modernism class, we talked about our society's obsession with entertainment. One of the most important qualities we look for in people is if they are funny (ie entertaining), and the insult that can stop anything flat is "boring."

And yet, we also strangely avoid all semblance of being entertained by anything. Oh sure, you can say you enjoyed a movie, or like a particular song. But if you go much further than that, express any real enthusiasm for anything, much less anything academic, and you are labeled a fanatic (from which we get 'fan'), nerd, perhaps narrow in your interests. In other words, a geek. Really, the word geek encompasses so many interests--science, math, games, literature, music, history, philosophy, movies, theater, band, choir, books, sports--that it has come to mean anyone an abnormally large passion for anything.

And we scorn geeks.

Thus, our society has come to laugh at people who care. This can't be a healthy thing. Though some people might call geekhood an "unhealthy obsession," I certainly think over-indulging in the things you enjoy is much better than this repression of passion that we have in modern society. At least geeks are willing to admit that they care about something, and to follow through with the things they care about. They are willing to be happy, and not because of the big things either. We don't have to wait to get perfect grades, a huge raise, a trip to Hawaii, and perfect relationship to enjoy life. Geeks can enjoy themselves by learning a new word, figuring out that physics formula, watching a new TV show, getting a new RSS feed, or playing dress-up for-goodness-sake! Why does the modern world insist on being so hard to please, when happiness can be found in all these small things that geeks see everyday!

Which brings me to the centerpiece of this blog entry, which I found the other day and made me feel immensely satisfied, especially considering recent posts. I found out about this geek dating website, Geek2Geek, (not of my own accord--it was advertised on PotterCast . . . oh, never mind) built for the express purpose of getting geeks together. Now, I'm not advocating internet dating here. I bring up this website because of this list:

Top 10 Reasons Why Geeks Make the Best Catch

It’s not generally realized that geeks (male and female) are the best catches. Americans focus on the glamor of the good-looking, the male jock and the statuesque female, and tend to make fun of second banana characters like Urkel. Yet, geeks (a.k.a. nerds, etc.) provide the opportunity to have much longer, more stable, and happy relationships. Here are the top ten reasons:

1. Geeks don't cheat. Geeks know that the grass only seems greener on the other side. They instinctively stay devotedly loyal to their lovers through thick and thin. Their social skills are also not well developed enough to support an affair.

2. Geeks appreciate their mates. Since you are likely to be one of the first persons a geek has ever had a significant relationship with, you will be treated well. A geek knows that there aren’t a whole lot of other possibilities. Frankly, geeks aren't quite sure how they ended up with the person they have attracted. When you date a geek, you know that geek will be yours for as long as you wish.

3. Geeks haven't formed bad relationship habits. After years of dating other people, the socially successful have become too confident to be intimate, think of partners as being only for their self-gratification, and focus on making themselves happy. None of this is true of a geek. The lack of past romantic partners allows the geek to approach lovers with the zest of a neophyte. Geeks are not full of romantic confidence. However, once encouraged, they are eager to please and enjoy their relationship.

4. Geeks are good at the things they try. Every geek has skills passionately developed over a long period of time. It could be role playing, chess, hacking, playing video games, or the ability to properly assemble a computer. So you know that geeks won't quit until they have learned how to make their relationship the best.

5. Geeks are not interested in status. Geeks became geeks because they chose to spend their time doing things that would not necessarily make them popular with everyone else in school, like sports and fashion. The ability to resist peer pressure is important to geeks. This means that a geek is more interested in your happiness than in looking good to others.

6. Geeks have imagination. Boredom is important to avoid to the game playing geek. A geek will seek new and creative ways to play, and this translates to relationships as well.

7. Geeks are happy and successful in their chosen field. No matter what their education level, geeks are able to make good incomes doing work that they enjoy. That eliminates one of the most frequent causes of relationship problems, since people who don’t like their jobs may take it out on their significant other.

8. Geeks are analytical. If they don’t get it right the first time, they look at what they did and figure out what to change. And when they DO get it right, they still keep finding ways to improve on it.

9. Geeks can concentrate. Geeks can focus their energy on one task with total intensity. Granted, the task they are focusing on may have more to do with writing new software for their Blackberry, but the fact remains that a geek, once set upon a task, tirelessly sets about to achieving a goal.

All of which means that…

10. Geeks want to be the best at what they do. So they try harder. And they never stop trying.

Amen to that. This list can really apply to anything geeks do. In summary, geekhood may not be the only path to happiness, but it certainly is one that works. Geeks have the power. Embrace your inner geek.

(If you need somewhere to start, you should check out Avant Game, which was recently highlighted on Blogger's Top 10 List. This whole pervasive gaming idea is awesome! I've been doing some geek-like exploring of the genre, and found several really cool ideas. If you'd like to get started on alternate-reality gaming, try one player games like Planetarium or Conspiracy, go in deep with EDOCLaundry, or start out small with this riddle game (I'm still stuck on #1).

Anyone for Tombstone poker? I'd have to learn poker first, or modify it for another card game, but it might be worth it.)

Seriously, be a geek. You will feel better.

09 June 2006

a little fall of rain, a house of grace

"I" goes out with the smell of rain,
the skin shed from a snake
exposing a new layer

i see
Angel rings
in the pool.

if only I could be--

fastest rising highest
That I might be healed

Ripples fall
faster and faster
i have no chance
can't get, run, catch,
already too late to begin

So many ripples
but not for me

no ripples--
yet surrounded

could there be rain,
make flowers grow
inside the withered soul?

false expectation,
disgust & fatigue
setting myself up.

There could be rain,
it is waiting

i see it waiting
but I am hiding
Afraid of finding what I seek.

After Poem Wind-Down, in Prose

Funny how sometimes when you think you know just the right person to cheer you up or help you out, the universe sends the exactly wrong person. But today, he ended up being the right person because he made me realize all that I am not. I am not hopeless, clueless, or alone. That I do have skills, that I could be likeable, that there is hope for joy.

And I know the answer to my poem is in What the Thunder Said. But how does one get there from the Wasteland? (Sorry for the literary reference, but if you haven't read it, you should. And then you should talk about it with someone who has, or it won't mean anything.) My life is so centered on being lost, different, and alone that it's difficult to see the pathway to being part of something. I seem to have an idea of the bridge, in which I'm sure Christ is involved, but the path is still hazy to me.

Perhaps this all comes about from reading the Screwtape Letters. Or it's another factor anyway. I know, I should hardly dare to put CS Lewis on my interests list if I haven't read it before, but there's a first time for anything. But that part about keeping our beliefs in the theoretical, thinking it is enough to simply think about action, and allowing that to lead us to complacency, that hit to my core. That's me--living in the world of my ideals.

A sign on a professor's door in the Benson building reads:

Theoretically, there's no difference between theory and practice.
Practically, there is.
And that sums up my problem: I know a lot about people and relationships theoretically, but practically is another matter. I am not good at risking myself, trying, caring, being there. And I feel I should be, despite the fact that I have never done so. As a child, I never played games until I was sure I could win (which probably explains my aversion to sports). That continues to today. I have never actually played Risk, but I have watched it so many times. Video games, same deal: I've seen them all, played none. Never played DDR, but I like the idea of it. Ultimate Frisbee, definitely not at all. And relationships, where it's not a game, are much worse. How can I possibly learn how to win before I start?

In order for me to ever find what I seek, I must be willing to "take chances, make mistakes, and get messy." But I am not. I need to find a way to be able to. I could try locking myself off, but clearly that's not something I would do. I try to keep my self at the surface, but as a result I have to be very cautious or I can break. Do break, actually, but we try to keep the damage down.

07 June 2006

Growing Together

Sort of a follow-up to my "Weary of Well-Speaking" post: As I said in the comments, one of the reasons I am irritated by debaters is they are taught to win arguments, not to search for truth. The more I think about it, the more I see the reoccurance of this problem in society. Aside from the obvious example of politicians, I am specifically thinking about this principle as it applies to marriage and other personal relationships. At institute tonight (the Marriage and Family series--no great wonder), we discussed at length the yoke metaphor used by the Savior in Matthew 11:28-30:

28 ¶Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
One implication of the metaphor struck me as particularly relevant to what I've been trying to get at recently: If one ox in a yolk pushes too strongly for his own way, rather than following the Lord's way, not only does the team deviate from the path, but they can end up going in circles. When we fight too hard for our own ideas and decisions, it is often at the expense of progress, change, and growth. If instead we are meek about our own ideas and work with the Lord, He will guide our progress in the desired direction.

Of course, this analogy translates not only to our relationship with the Lord, or to a relationship with a future spouse, but really to any relationship in our lives, including parents, roommates, siblings, and friends. Really, the point where we seem to get into trouble in a relationship is where we want things "my way" without bothering to understand the possibility of an "our way." Talking escalates to contention when we set as our ground rule that we are right.

In most arguments of my experience, the phrase "Listen to me" or "Are you listening?" or some variant usually comes up. Well, that's a silly question. If you weren't listening, there wouldn't be an argument going on. What they really mean to ask is "What you are listening for?" Are you listening merely to catch the weak points of their position, so best to plan your next attack when they finally finish, and, assuming they ever stop spouting such utter nonsense, you'll set them straight on the facts? Or are you listening with understanding, to truly comprehend what has led to your differences in position, to find the common ground, the truth behind the conflict? When we are seeking for a good solution for both parties, arguments dissolve into discussions, contention into compromise, confusion into construction.

It's similar to the idea behind my Circle Theory and Habit #4 of Covey's Seven Habits. The secret behind both greater intelligence and more successful relationships is the same: learning to think of opposing views not as the enemy, but as a partner, realizing that compromising can be growth instead of loss. When instead of attacking our political opponents, we sit down with them, get to know the beliefs behind their views; when instead of becoming frustrated with our parent's pushy-ness or old-fashioned-ideas, we understand their motivations and principles; when we not only understand others' beliefs, but come to believe them as well, it is then that the true growth starts.

If we continue to divide humanity into smaller and smaller groups according to who agrees with us, we will end up with nothing. But when we seek to include others, and most importantly the Lord, in our search for right, our ability to grow together borders on the infinite. Division is only necessary for definition of problems, not for truth. Once we have divided, it is our duty to once again build and grow together. If we are not one, well, you know. . . .

02 June 2006

The New Development is Orange with Bunny Ears

I just found out about the One Laptop per Child project on Slashdot. An excellent summary of the latest model can be found here. The basic concept is to make a cheap, highly functional, low-end laptop to be purchased in bulk by governments for use in schools, particularly in third world countries. For countries without a power grid, some sort of human power generator (foot pump, or hand crank maybe) would be provided. These laptops will perform all the basic functions of our "obese" laptops, except for massive data storage. Besides basic word processing and internet capability, built-in functions include wireless access, the ability to easily form ad hoc networks, microphones and speakers for chat and music, a tablet-PC-like mode, and durability. At a price of about $100 each, schools might soon be able to afford to check out laptops to students each year. Plus, it looks so cool: orange with bunny ears indeed.

Some may wonder why people are even concerned with access to laptops in countries where basic needs are not always met. I actually think that this is one of the best things for development that I have seen in years. I wrote a topic booklet for RHSMUN a while back on this very subject: access to modern technology is often better at increasing a country's development status than direct efforts. According to the World Bank's 1998/1999 World Development Report, the countries that saw massive increases in development status from the 70's to the 90's (Singapore, Korea, and other Asian nations) focused on their population's acquisition, education, and production of modern technology.

In other words, it is a huge mistake to think that a country must pass through all previous technological states before arriving at modernity, that once they address basic needs they will catch-up. One of the new buzz words in development is "leap-frogging": with the invention of wireless technologies, many less developed nations can skip over the expensive infrastructure of analog and go straight to wireless. By getting modern technology into the hands of the children in these countries, we greatly increase their earning power in the modern world, and thus their ability to help their country grow. It's the "teach a man to fish" philosophy in action! It feels so completely empowering.

Or perhaps this project simply appeals to me because the idea of each student having a laptop reminds me a lot of the "desks" in Ender's Game. :D

01 June 2006

Weary of Well Speaking

I have a terrible bias against good public speakers. Here are some possible reasons for this:

  • Perhaps this is because I am not one. My presentation tends to be terrible, given that I tend to cry when I am nervous or discuss anything I care about. People who can remain unemotional when discussing something important lack passion or conviction in my eyes.
  • To me, good speaking tends to indicate a lack of substantial ideas, glossed over with flowery language and anecdotes. Unlike much of the international community, I actually find comfort in the fact that President Bush is a terrible speaker, because it indicates to me he is sincere in his thoughts, elected for his ideas, not for his charm. One of the main reasons I would never have voted for Kerry was his speaking ability: smooth, eloquent, and able to speak about nothing for hours. Very typical of the modern career politician, and in my view, the main enemy of progress in government. Politics (and by extension, life) seem to be so much about how you say things and who you are, rather than the actual ideas you have. Rather than consisting of plans and positions, so much of any speech is just vague filler statements, the kind that I would slash through with my red pen if it were an essay.
  • Debaters. Bad experiences with debaters. Something seems so wrong to me with the idea of debate competitions. We teach students to argue either side of an issue, as if your personal convictions, or actually truths, about right and wrong are not really that relevant. They are taught to cut into flaws in evidence and presentation, undermining their opponents not by superiority of ideas but by seeming technicalities. They ignore, or cover up, the valid points of their opponent, pitting the worst of their opposition against the best of their own thought. This seems to me a short, sloppy, and least-effective method of argumentation. If you really want to prove something true, you must take your opponents' best arguments, rather than their worst, and you must acknowledge the weaknesses of your position. Only if you can convince someone in spite of both of these things have you truly found truth.
Does anyone else feel this way?