25 April 2007

Farewell, My Friends, This is Where My Story Begins

Dearest family, friends, and assorted others,

As you may/may not have heard, I'm going on a study abroad program to England this spring. I leave tomorrow (April 26) and I'll be back on June 22. I probably won't be checking my email (or blogging) as often as you are used to, so I apologize if I don't respond to your desperate pleas for my attention.

If you're interested in following my journeyings in England, here are the places to do it:

  • Official program blog -- http://greenpleasantland.blogspot.com/ -- updated by a group coordinator.
  • My personal travel blog -- http://www.mytb.org/lizmuir -- updated by me regularly as I can. There will be lots of maps and pictures. On the main page, there's also a button you can use to subscribe to have everything I write emailed to you so you don't have to check the page all the time. (There's also an RSS feed for those of you who know how to use that.)
I'll say hello to England for all of you.

All the love I have,

19 April 2007

Final Thoughts on Nibley

In the fine Spherical Chickens tradition of stealing homework for blogging material, here's some excerpts from my Writings of Hugh Nibley final, mostly my overall thoughts on the man and his message.

What sets Nibley apart from any other person you've known or read about?

For me, what sets Hugh Nibley apart is his sincere desire to seek out truth and righteousness, without regard to convention, expected party lines, or consistency with past conclusions. There are a lot of people out there who claim to be objective seekers of truth. I’ve found that most of the time this statement just means they’ve decided to go against convention and therefore feel the need to justify themselves. As you continue to read their writings, you find that what they’re really doing is trying to find something new rather than something true. In their quest for the new, they’ve thrown out the true parts of tradition, simply because they are traditional. What I like about Nibley is that he says what he thinks is true, regardless of whether it fits expectations or not. His conclusions may fit the conventional thinking of the Church; they may not. And you’re just as likely to find him on one side as the other.

What is the most important thing later generations could learn from his life and teachings?

Perhaps the most important thing we could gain from Nibley is to be confident in the truth of the gospel. During Nibley’s life and research, he was challenged many times with things that would seem to conflict with gospel teachings. A less intense man would have take the easy road out of conflict and said, “Well, the gospel must be untrue, or at least flawed then.” But Nibley never took the easy way out. He would always think harder about things and find a way that all the things he knew were true could work together—you see this especially in his reconciliation of science and religion in “Before Adam.” This principle of starting from the truth of the gospel and letting all other knowledge stem from that is extremely important for a modern audience. In a world where sincere religious belief is becoming less and less popular, it’s easy for the first conflict with our faith to send us into disbelief. Nibley’s way of holding on to the truth even in the face of doubt provides a path for us to both seek learning and live by faith.

Why do you think Nibley had such a fondness for Abraham?

I think Nibley sees a lot of himself in Abraham, especially in that they are both seekers of truth. As we see in Abraham 1, Abraham dares to ask the big questions, the ones that other people would think presumptuous or assume that they aren’t knowable. Especially Abraham 1:2 reminds me of something that could be Nibley’s motto in life: “having been myself a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and to be a father of many nations, a prince of peace, and desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God, I became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers.” Nibley also has Abraham’s same attitude of trust in the Lord—I can see Nibley being someone who would be willing to sacrifice Isaac even though he did not understand the reason.

How have Nibley and his writings changed your life or thoughts during this semester?

The major way that Nibley has influenced me this semester is that he’s gotten me into thinking a lot more about the importance of the temple and the ritual of ordinances. I’ve often wondered about the importance of physically getting baptized, especially when the changes that make the ordinance effective have to take place in your mind and heart, not just physically. And yet we put such emphasis on the importance of immersion. Nibley’s articles about the importance of tradition and year rites have caused me to think a lot more on the importance of these things in the modern Church. Although I have yet to go to the temple for myself and probably won’t be going very soon, I feel as though reading Nibley has prepared me for some of the things that members say they often find strange on their first time through the temple. He’s made me confident of the importance of these things by showing that they have existed since ancient times in much the same form. For some reason, the ancientness of it now seems more important than ever—probably because oldness was something that Nibley valued. As a result of reading his writings, the temple has become infinitely more important in my mind because of the opportunity to participate in these traditions, to be part of the great pageant of humanity.

How will you most likely spread the 'legacy' of Hugh Nibley to your family and others in the future?

Well, I’m going to be working with Brother Welch this summer on the CWHN project, which is very exciting. And I’m going to be reading more of his articles on my own. There are so many, I’ll never run out. (Yay!) I’m also going to continue to write about Hugh Nibley on my blog. It’s always interesting to hear what people have to say about him. And I think I’m going to start asking for volumes of the Collected Works for Christmas and my birthday . . . . *hint hint*

17 April 2007

HP7 Predictions: Who Will Live? Who Will Die?

So back when the title of the seventh Harry Potter book was released, I said I'd like to start some sort of coordinated Harry Potter predictions blogging challenge. But it looks like Scholastic is saving me the trouble--they're releasing seven key questions in the days leading up to the book release and encouraging people to vote on what they think.

Well, we can do better than that. We can blog about it.

So, if you're at all interested in Harry Potter, I encourage you to blog along with me. Answer the seven questions and cast your final predictions for the end of an epic which Orson Scott Card called "the most significant event in English language literature in decades."

So without further ado--

Question #1: Who will live? Who will die?

The deaths in book seven worry a lot of fans, especially since JK Rowling's comment that "one character got a reprieve, but I have to say two die that I didn't intend to die . . . ." A lot of my predictions are based on my perspective as a student of literature and as a writer. Here's the rundown:

  • Harry Potter--Live. First, the series contains so many elements of the typical hero cycle--the reluctant hero, thresholds, tests and trials, mentor figures, a final battle in which the hero stands alone. Each book is a mini-cycle, but the whole series is one as well. And the only way to properly end a hero cycle (as JKR would know) is with the hero returning triumphant from the "underworld." Second, the whole focus on Ginny/Harry would be a total waste if he died. Third, JKR likes him too much. No way she's gonna kill him, despite threats to the contrary (to avoid "non-author written sequels"). And even if Harry's a horcrux, Orson Scott Card has a theory to take care of that problem.
  • Voldemort--Die. See hero cycle argument above. The Dark Lord will die, though several of his minions will likely escape to avoid a Disney-esque ending wouldn't be fitting for any HP book after book 2.
  • Snape--Die. Snape, after all, turns out to be good, but in order to completely rid himself of any doubt, he must be killed fighting for the good guys. Unless he turns out to be evil--then he lives. But I doubt it. (As I'm guessing "Is Snape evil?" will be one of the later questions, I'm going to withhold my argumentation on this topic until later.)
  • Ginny--Live. Ever since going deep into the Harry Potter fandom, I've been a major proponent of the One-Big-Happy-Weasley-Family (OBHWF) theory. Plus all the great build up of Ginny's character as a suitably strong woman for Harry would be completely wasted if she ended up just being the weeping girlfriend of the dead hero. (I love the contrast between Ginny and Cho Chang, which I explored in my IB thesis entitled "Gender Roles in Harry Potter.")
  • Ron--Live/Die. I'm still torn over Ron. On the one hand, the OBHWF theory says that he should live. On the other hand, he gets his middle name with his uncle Bilius, who died after seeing the Grim.
  • Hermione--Live. No good reason for book-smart Hermione to die. She'll be orchestrating behind the scenes. Plus OBHWF.
  • Neville--Die. The parallels to Harry practically beg JKR to kill him off. It's got way too much tragic potential to waste. (Sorry, Mom. I really love Neville, I do, but he has to die.)
  • Hagrid--Live. Um, no one cares. He's cute for about the first two books, but I think people have gotten sick of him. Also, he didn't really have that big of a roll in book 6--why should he matter in 7?
  • Draco Malfoy--Die. Another tough one. If Draco really decides to renounce his father's ways, he will die like Snape in order to prove his loyalty. On the other hand, if he remains evil, he could escape. But maybe the scales are a little more in favor of death.
  • Others:
    • The Weasleys--Die. Unfortunately, there are far too many of them for them all to make it through the novel. Assuming Ron and Ginny live, my bet is that one of the twins or Percy will die. Arthur injured, but he pulls through.
    • Lupin and Tonks--Live. For obvious reasons.
    • Dumbledore--Still Dead. Just checking.
    • Luna Lovegood--Live. Goes on to commentate on many quidditch matches. In case you were wondering.


I'm sitting at my house in Salt Lake today instead of at my apartment in Provo. Why, you ask? Well, because I'm broken.

On Saturday evening, I was at a ward activity at a park up the canyon and we were climbing some of those little eight-foot rock walls they have there. George was trying to help me get down, and I guess I just sort of lost my hand-holds. So I fell probably about six feet, which wouldn't have been a big problem if I hadn't landed mostly on my elbow.

After about six hours of waiting and four x-rays, I finally got to go home (with some fun pain medication!). Apparently the impact cracked the ball part of my upper humerus from the shaft part. They can't really put a cast on it since it's basically at my shoulder. I went in to the doctor yesterday for a CT scan and today I get to find out if I need surgery. Yay.

So if I blog less that usual, it's only because I'm trying to take finals, write essays, prepare a creative writing portfolio, and pack for England . . . with a broken arm.

This is not the way I intended to go.

Update: Yay, I don't need surgery, and I'm still going to be able to go to England! Hurrah! I just have to go to a British hospital half-way through the trip.

13 April 2007

Teach Your Children Well

Today, I was walking past the JFSB on my way home from campus and ended up behind a professor and his son, who was probably about 9 years old. The father was holding his son's hand and as they walked, they had the following conversation:

Professor (didactically): So they're called the bourgeoisie.
Son: Burr-jwa-zee?
Professor: Bourgeoisie. That's like us. And then there are the proletariat.
Son (mumbling to self): Proletariat.
Professor: Yes, proletariat. So Sam and John are part of the proletariat.
Son (swinging his dad's hand back and forth): Proletariat, proletariat, proletariat.
I have no idea who Sam and John are, but it took all my effort to keep from laughing. My first reaction was to wonder if Marx's Communist Manifesto makes a good bedtime story. Then I wondered why this professor was teaching Marxism to his son at age nine, when he's clearly not going to encounter it in school for a while. I was reminded also of Hugh Nibley who, according to his biography, taught his kids all sorts of crazy stuff at Family Home Evening. Apparently, they used to play games where you would recite a line from Shakespeare and the next person would have to give the line that followed.

Which made me think about what things I've learned from my parent's degrees. My parents are both overly educated types, though neither of them went into academia. My mom has two bachelor's, one in computer science, one in English, and a master's in English, and Dad has degrees in political science and business. (I can never remember which is undergrad and which is grad, though.) At first glance, I don't feel like I learned a lot from their degrees. It's not like we had political theory discussions at dinner.

But then again . . . .

Though Mom never explicitly taught us literary analysis as kids (no marking the scansion on poetry for FHE or anything), I'm pretty sure I've picked up a lot of how I think from her training in literature. Last winter, my parents came to watch me give a talk in my singles' ward. Afterwards, my mom pointed out how much I speak and teach exactly like her--that way she has of dealing with things in a literary way. And the more I think about it, the more it's absolutely true. I have her inflections and intonations, her penchant for looking up definitions and analyzing words, her way of looking at everyday things with new eyes, of searching for patterns. If I pay attention when I teach, it's like listening to her.

My dad is harder--obviously the business sense completely passed me by. I barely passed the IB Business test (which is supposed to be a piece of cake). But I think I developed my idealism from him. Dad has an aptitude for coming up with huge plans--for trips, for businesses, for life--which I see so much in myself. I like to build schemes for almost everything. Systems are my thing. He also trained into me a hunger for current events knowledge, a philosophical passion for rightness, and a loud mouth about it. We both love a good political debate, though my views are often moderated by my literary need to see from all sides (Mom again). I like to have my views heard, and for some reason I think confrontation is a normal mode of conversation. Some people fail to understand this--I'm not arguing, per say, I just want to know the truth.

I've always been on the nature side of the nature/nurture debate, but now I wonder if I should be so sure.

11 April 2007

Getting to Be More and More Well Known

Wow, I'm feeling famous lately. First my blog starts showing up everywhere (relatively speaking--I guess the bloggernacle isn't that big). Next I get to present at the AML conference. Now I'm in the BYU paper (The Daily Universe) as officially the geekiest Harry Potter fan on campus. If you're at BYU, pick up a paper and turn to page seven to see yours truly in full Harry Potter regalia. :D The article doesn't appear to be online yet, although my Harry Potter interview from last year is.

Ah, geekiness in the springtime. Nothing like it.

Update: The article's online!

09 April 2007

Portrait of the Artist as a College Student

I'm walking home
reading Tess of the D'Ubervilles
with Lesile Norris' poetry in my pocket
and Nibley on the Timely and Timeless in my bag
along with a heavy organic chemistry textbook
which is causing a pinched nerve in my neck.

I stub my toe on the steps
as I shortcut through the administration building.
I look down and see
red blood seeping onto black flip flops
and think

I'm going to blog about this.

Borrowed Rituals

This Easter weekend has been an interesting one for me. On Good Friday, I watched The Passion of the Christ for the first time ever. I'll leave you to your own decisions on whether to watch it--it was a very overwhelming experience, and at least this first time, I felt more shock than spiritual uplift. The discussion it incited was certainly enlightening, but I'm not convinced that it's something everyone needs to experience. (If there's interest, I can blog more about this, but I'm sure it's pretty much been worked to death, no tasteless pun intended.)

I've also been enjoying the Holy Week poetry over at BCC. I especially liked the John Updike poem they chose for Easter. Now that's what poetry's supposed to be--not obscuring things but simplifying them to the point where emotions are undeniably shared.

Incidentally, the whole Holy Week thing is another part of that sense of tradition--which I've determined should be more properly termed ritual--that I sometimes long for. This is something I meant to blog about a long time ago--at the beginning of Lent, actually--but never really got around to it. I've noticed at BYU that a lot of Mormon young adults (particularly the more liberal leaning types) like to practice traditions that belong to other religions. My freshman year, I remember there being a craze with the idea of Lent. I mean literally half the ward was giving up something for Lent, without any particularly organized prompting to do so. And then you have the annual Passover celebrations/demonstrations at BYU, the huge groups of students attending activities at the Hare Krishna temple in Spanish Fork, the world religions classes which require students to attend the worship services of other faiths. One friend of mine finds it particularly amusing that he's skipped sacrament meeting three times this semester to attend mosque.

And I wonder what this fascination with other religious traditions means. Is it simply missionary curiosity, wanting to know how others think about God in order to better engage them in theological discussion? Or (as with Passover) is it doctrinal curiousity, the need to put our beliefs into context? Is it the same desire for a sense of oldness, of ritualism and formalism that I've been feeling? Or is it a symptom of widespread dissatisfaction with the "cold, corporate" feeling of the Church? I've been thinking about this last question for a long time, ever since reading about Katherine's experience with Evensong in Cambridge. I've sometimes felt the way she describes about sacrament meetings--that I've built up a resistance, that it's so familiar that it means nothing. On the other hand, I don't think worship services necessarily ought to be aesthetic experiences--the appreciation of beauty is one of those feelings which becomes too easily confused with the Spirit. Beauty, while a part of religion, is not precisely what religion is. And I sort of like the fact that sacrament meeting usually yields only what you put into it.

I used to be very against Mormons usurping other religion's holidays. Sometimes, I tell myself that it's because it feels disrespectful. Practitioners of other faiths really believe in their rituals; it seems rude of me to participate in it like a tourist experiencing the native culture. I mean, do I want someone who doesn't believe in Mormonism participating in our sacrament? Perhaps the analogy works better if you think of the temple--we limit its use to committed members because it's something serious and sacred. To allow participation by non-believers--or even casual believers--would cheapen it, would imply it's not real. Isn't it disrespectful of me to do that to another's religious services?

But sometimes I feel my real reason went something like this: we're the true Church; why should we need to borrow worship practices from false (though virtuous) religions? It felt something like idol worship, perhaps, or "Christianity and water" (to steal a term from C.S. Lewis, but change the definition). To my mind, somehow borrowing traditions somehow implied the Church was less than true. I was quite appalled at the Lent craze my freshman year. Passover I had less resistance to, so long as it was done in a purely academic manner.

Oddly, I've become less opposed to it over time, which I'm not sure is a good thing. I even thought about giving up the snooze button for Lent this year. But then something inside me said, just five more minutes . . . .

05 April 2007

Science and Traditions: A Nibleyesque Musing

I know I said I'd do something cool for post #201. Turns out it's just another Nibleyesque Musing. Oh well.

The way that Brother Nibley harmonizes science and religion in “Beyond Adam” is very interesting. As a chemistry student and a firm believer in science and the scientific method, I’m always grappling with these same issues in my life. For the most part, my solution has been what I call the “everything and nothing” approach—I seek to learn everything that’s true, believing everything that’s true comes from God, and that once I understand everything, nothing will be in conflict. As Nibley points out, science has an entirely different point from religion, so of course there will be some things that appear to conflict. But both are true frames for viewing the universe, and the real thing includes and supersedes both. Science and religion are both maps that tell us how to get to specific goals, but to insist that a map is reality is clear nonsense.

But back to Nibley’s thoughts on evolution—I liked the idea that a lot of the early destructions of massive numbers of people in the Bible might have had something to do with other forms of human beings. I find it very comforting that Nibley doesn’t feel the need to deny the possibility of evolution or something like unto it. I’ve never felt that there was any need for all this conflict. Why shouldn’t God work through evolution? “My ways are not your ways.” The promise to keep the seed of Enoch through Noah always on the earth makes a lot more sense when you have the idea that there might have been other types of humans to compete with. It also covers a lot of the ideas about giants and such that we read in the Old Testament. Sure, the timing of all this doesn’t seem to fit together quite yet, but I have a firm belief that it will all shake out in the end. Who knows how many things about our perceptions of both science and religion need to be corrected in the end?

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of “How Firm a Foundation! What Makes It So.” Nibley starts out listing the necessary qualities that characterize the true gospel, but then wanders, in typical Nibley fashion, through the idea of consecration and into environmentalism, particularly discussing pollution in Utah. I enjoyed the list of characteristics of the true church: like Nibley, I was amazed that “I had no idea at that time how vast and solid the foundations of the Church really are.

I’m not sure how to phrase what I’m going to say next, so try not to take it too seriously if it’s overly offensive or odd. Although for the greater part of my life I’ve had a very strong testimony of the truth of the gospel and the Church, I’ve always felt a little bashful about the fact that it’s, well, so new. I mean, 170-odd years is really not that long for the existence of a religion, and though we of course claim that we are a restoration of ancient things, the very modern feeling of the Church has always made me feel a bit uncomfortable. I sometimes find myself wishing we had that long line of tradition in the same way as the Catholic Church or even better Judaism. Reading a lot of Nibley has helped me recover a sense of tradition—that Joseph Smith didn’t just make it up in 1830, but that the practices of the Church go far back, especially when it comes to the temple. Perhaps my thirst for tradition will finally be quenched when I go through for myself.

03 April 2007

On Journaling

Yay, a third BCC post! Happy days!

Update: What? This is the 200th post? How lame. I better do something cool for number 201.

02 April 2007

On Money

My second post on BCC. And I only have one day left! Gah! Better churn out something else tomorrow.

Paper Scraps

My fortune cookie from PF Chang's:
Your troubles will cease and fortune will smile upon you.
(Please let this mean that finals are not going to kill me.)


Officially the best line from general conference:
"It is by words that every being works when he works by faith." - Elder Jeffery R. Holland


From the AML Conference schedule:
Mormon Rhetoric
Katherine Morris (chair)
Liz Muir, “Inspired Speaking:
An Overview of Early
Mormon Rhetoric”
Sarah Pearson, “‘After This
Manner Therefore Pray Ye’:
A Discourse Analysis of LDS
(A whole 80 minutes?! What am I going to do?)


From Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets:
"Because that's what Hermione does" said Ron, shrugging. "When in doubt, go to the library."
(Good solution.)


From an article on 19th century preaching rhetoric that I'm reading to expand my paper for the AML conference:

Americans were never made to write;
Their genius leads them quite another way,
It is in arts and labors they display
Themselves, like other nations bright,
Perhaps in many things a little brighter,
But then there never was a good American writer.
(I am doomed.)

Gender Unity: A Nibleyesque Musing

So, I'll get around to an obligatory conference post eventually today, but I'm restraining myself from writing anything fun until I do the Nibleyesque Musing that was due last week. Unfortunately, the only way I can motivate myself to do it is by posting it on the blog, so you'll just have to bear with me. Hey, it's on gender roles instead of obscure doctrine, so that should be fun.

Patriarchy and Matriarchy” was an interesting approach to the question of gender equality in the gospel. I’m not sure I agreed exactly with Nibley’s characterization of Adam and Eve. He seems to switch back and forth on who he “blames” for the Fall (assuming it’s something to blame for). He attempts to make Eve a conscientious actor (“It is she who perceives and points out to Adam that they have done the right thing after all.”), a deceptive trickster (“But Eve, who in ancient lore is the one who outwits the serpent and trips him up with his own smartness, defeated this trick by a clever argument.”), and finally an innocent victim (“The first daring step had to be taken, and if in her enthusiasm she let herself be tricked by the persuasive talk of a kindly "brother," it was no fault of hers.”). It seems that Nibley wants to have it all ways at once, to blame Satan, Adam, and Eve each for the fall in successive turns. After all, I suppose all are to “blame,” but I don’t think Nibley does a good job of pulling all three problems together into a coherent vision. Instead, his description of the Fall seems to remain fragmented and confused.

However, I do like Nibley’s final conclusion about apparent gender issues in the gospel. The problem with the Fall, he says, is not that it was a wrong choice. It was that the choice was made by Eve alone, rather than in conjunction with Adam and especially without consultation with God. He goes on to conjecture that the real problem with the matriarchy/patriarchy issue is that it shouldn’t be an issue. We shouldn’t be choosing one or the other, but both and neither. The problem is that we set it up as an issue at all, that our society is so concerned about who should be first. As Nibley explains, “the suffix archy means always to be first in order, whether in time or eminence; the point is that there can only be one first.” The problem is that we insist on trying to find out which gender is superior or better, or trying to find the exact nature of either gender, under the false assumption that one can really exist without the other.

Nibley’s explication of the loss of gender identities in Macbeth clicked an image in my mind of gender identity and struggle as a sort-of circle. At the bottom of the circle, we have those societies who, like Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, have lost their gender identity in a quest for power and authority. Here is the raw power sought by either pure patriarchy or matriarchy, complete chaos and domination by one set of principles or the other. Moving up to the middle of the circle, we have a society of opposites: extremely different and polarized gender roles, where we have given up some of our desire for power in order to achieve a more balanced society. Some would think this is the society the Church advocates, with men in the workplace and women in the home, each minding their separate spheres. But what the gospel really calls for is at the top of the circle, where gender becomes both extremely essential and also totally unimportant. As we move to the top of the circle, we move from a society desiring power to a society desiring progress—eternal progression. We give up our desire for absolute agency (being able to make all the choices ourselves) for the greater gift of unified action. Gender at this level becomes infinitely important, because society must be run by a man and woman working and deciding together, but also irrelevant, because of the perfect unity achieved. The two have become so one that both can do everything, and yet nothing, without the other.

(Long time readers may catch the definite allusion to one of my favorite posts on this blog, The Circle: A Theory of Knowledge. Like I say, everything relates to it!)