Thursday, July 25, 2013

'Context' and Motivations Part 2

My last post was more of a focus on Teyla and Michael from Stargate Atlantis. This post takes a look at the same relative story but with a focus on Ronan. While I'm posting in reverse order than the title would lead one to suppose, the Michael and 'motivations' part is needed precursor to understand the concept of Ronan. I suppose you could imagine the words being out of order conceptually but not alphabetically...

As I stated in Part 1, Michael was a wraith turned 'human' by means of a virus and it's all Ronan can do to not kill him each time they come into contact. Initially, this seems a disturbing extreme since the viewer naturally identifies with the people from Earth where we have not grown up under the horror of half our population being killed by wraith feeding. Even Teyla, who has lived under that distress, tries to overcome the natural prejudice (not fully successfully, but consider that she tried). So what's up with Ronan? Why such an extreme reaction? Hatred? Why?

As you enter season 3 of Atlantis, we are reminded of his personal story. He had served in the military trying to protect his planet from wraith depredations. They did not succeed. Rather than escape with the unscrupulous military leader, the woman he loved stayed to help in the hospital and was killed in an explosion. Then he was captured, and when they discovered some fluke meant they could not feed on him, they tagged him with a transmitter and set him loose. Whether for kicks or training or psychological warfare, they hunted the runners down (much like Zaroff hunts Rainsford in "The Most Dangerous Game" by Richard Connell).

While runners did not normally survive for very long (the wraith held all advantage in the hunt) Ronan's military training allowed him to survive for seven long years before meeting the crew from Atlantis. Survival in that galaxy already required avoiding the wraith, but for him it went deeper - hunted day-in and day-out, every wraith was a fight to the death. Kill or be killed. And there was no help from the people who also feared the wraiths' revenge should he be helped. Until, that is, the Atlantis team stumbled upon him. They got the tracking beacon out of him and neutralized it and invited him to join them.

The 'brain' of the group often referred to him as the 'caveman' for his roughness and reliance on brawn, but taken in context with where and what he came from, it makes perfect sense that a man who had to live alone, fighting, hunting his hunters for survival for so long would exude certain character traits. Likewise, the instinct that allowed him to survive is precisely what is seen when he reacts so violently to Michael. There can be no moral condemnation for what created those instincts. Indeed, it is admirable that he restrained himself at all. That is not to excuse the fact that 'us verses them' mentality will always lead to conflict and potentially death, but it does give insight into the difficulties involved in bringing opposing parties to peace. (Consider Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country and how hard it was for Captain Kirk to overcome his distrust and dislike of the race that killed his son - and that was only a single trauma event!)

I am reminded of an event in Mormon history that is not well known and often mis-perceived. While I have not studied up on this event, I have discussed it with a teacher who has and I think it could be enlightening. The 'Mountain Meadows Massacre' is a negative point in Mormon history that media and anti-Mormons like to exploit against us. It is not an event condoned by the church leadership, nor the general membership, and while some claim it was instigated by the Brigham Young, the leader at the time, there is not proof of that and indications otherwise. The point is not to excuse or argue the details, but rather to point out some elements for consideration.

Like Ronan, the Mormons had gone through some pretty nightmare-ish times trying to build a place of safety where they could practice their religion in peace. They would build up one city only to be driven out to find and build up again. From New York, to Ohio, to Missouri where the violence and hatred got so bad the governor issued an 'extermination order' against the Mormons to drive them out or kill them. You see, Mormons didn't support slavery and they were an industrious, religious people. At the time, Missouri was the edge of the frontier and to see good, solid houses and towns built up by a people who don't hold with the loose life-style made them feel rather insecure in their future prospects of continued debauchery. (This is pulling from a general profile of those who participated in the constant attacks. Try looking up the 'Haun's Mill massacre' to get a whiff of the truth of it.)

Before the Mormons were driven out of Missouri in the middle of winter with what little they could carry, some angry members decided they didn't like the treatment and foolishly made things worse by instigating their own attacks and retaliations. Ultimately, it didn't make a difference and they made their ways to the swampy banks of what became Nauvoo, Illinois. There they had some few years of peace but the hatred followed them there as well. After the prophet Joseph Smith and his brother, Hyrum, were martyred, the local militias again drove them from their homes. Many died on the trip across the plains and they thought that, leaving America for the Rocky Mountains (actually part of Mexico territory at the time) might give them a chance for security. Once again, they had to build up an existence from the wilderness - this time the desert.

Ten years of relative peace, and suddenly the United States government decides the Mormons can't be left to themselves. Military presence and immigrant trains from their old tormentors tapped into that decades long fight for survival. Belligerent comments others would ignore triggered the trauma of past realities and the local leaders involved in the massacre, like the foolish Danites, decided they were going to claim the position of power this time. Somehow they thought it was legitimate and convinced themselves certain 'teachings' proved it. (Consider that such distortions and twistings have happened time and again throughout history. An earmark of foolish people rather than flaws in the material.) In the end, some 120 people were killed.

This is not an excuse for what happened. Rather, like Ronan's history allowed for understanding where he had come from and the difficulties that meant for wraith relations, consider that there are similar contextual insights for why and how such things happen. Consider how recognizing and being patient with past traumas rather than scraping at them will better serve the desires for peace for all. It seems that many problems occur because each party is actually only interested in their own situation and either disregards the other or recognizes and taunts the traumas of the past in some perverted idea that it gives them a higher standing by dragging the other down. When the traumas are as deep as these situations, it will take more effort on both parties, but imagine if we actually tried to build everyone up and not just ourselves? Imagine if we set aside our pride of place (it'd have to be awfully lonely on the top...) and sought to lift rather than debase.

Like Part 1 of the post indicates, we can't control the other party. We can only try to open the dialogue. It may work, it may not. But if, like Teyla's ultimate hope that turning the wraith into man would bring peace, our ultimate goal is for good, I think we would do well to consider the contexts and motivations of the parties involved. It will serve to put us on a much more solid ground as we seek that end.

Context and 'Motivations' Part 1

I managed to complete my collection of Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis seasons a few months back and have finally had focus to finish watching them. I have heard from both my recent Star Trek and Stargate behind-the-scenes watching the idea that science fiction is particularly well-suited to allow us the ability to consider various elements in our reality from a safe distance. Then we can explore potential meanings, decisions, outcomes in a sort of simulated experience which will hopefully give us pause to reflect and evaluate our own situations. This is actually how I approach all stories, but today's posts are particular to Stargate Atlantis.

A brief context for the story. The stargate 'is an alien device' which allows the user to be transported from one gate to another. Once found and put into use, a reference was found to 'Atlantis' and once found, a group went to set up something of a base. The thing is, it's not in the same galaxy which means it's pretty well cut-off from Earth. In their galaxy, they all-too-quickly discover that humans are not alone on the top of the food chain. In fact, the 'Wraiths' think they hold that position. Kind of like the Brendan Fraser Mummy, these beings suck the life out of their victims as their food source, but they use their hand instead of the misty sucking you see from Harry Potter dementors. Whatever the case, the wraith have been pretty much the undisputed kings-of-the-galaxy until our people show up.

Properly disturbed, they never-the-less have no intention of serving as another herd for the wraith to harvest ('cull') and between fighting off attacks and seeking ways to eliminate the danger to all humans on whatever planet, the largest source of conflict in the story is understood. Like SG-1, there is a main team of adventurers/explorers who venture from Atlantis built up of four members - the alpha-hero, the brain, the heart, and the muscle. There is also the leader and the doctor filling out the primary cast. Teyla, the 'heart', and Ronan, the 'muscle', both come from different home-worlds in this new galaxy - Teyla as a leader of her people, and Ronan as a former military man from a world wiped-out by the wraith for fighting back.

Ok. That should be sufficient to follow the thoughts of these two posts. By the end of season two, the doctor has put together a type of virus designed to try to turn the part-human wraith completely human. In the episode 'Michael', a wraith is captured and forcibly turned to test how well the virus works. Initially, 'Michael' cannot remember anything upon waking, but the viewers see that something unusual is happening and there is much debate about how much to tell him. Teyla tries to befriend him, and Ronan actively has to fight off the urge to just kill him. Ultimately, 'Michael' realizes something is wrong and comes across proof showing his original state.

This happens to be one of the seasons I already had access to and each time I see this episode, I am rather frustrated with the way things play out. It is true enough to real-life, which makes it fully legitimate, but that is part of what frustrates me. There are a few conversations between Michael and Teyla after he learns the truth where he asks what right they had to do that to him and she missed a critical opportunity that could have led toward peace. When Michael, understandably hurt for all the lies his brief time as innocent human held, asks 'why?' Teyla answers from an also understandable but unproductive psychological state saying it is better to be human because 'the wraith are evil'. This motivation allows the debate to be about rights to existence which must ultimately rule in favor that all have a right to exist on the simple fact that they do.

Instead, the better answer would have been that making the wraith human would ultimately benefit everyone, instead of just the already humans. Instead of denying the right of wraith existence, however correct it is to seek to preserve the human existence, the best answer is not found in seeking to 'destroy the enemy' but rather to eliminate the impetus for fighting. When the ultimate motivation is for peace rather than destruction, actions that are 'selfish' in the above scenario become an honest attempt to bridge the gap and create an intermediary for peace. Then, should the wraith decline a peaceable solution and continue to prey on humans, at least they would know they had done the best they could have and there would not be such condemnation that 'us verses them' inevitably brings.

I suppose it is ultimately the 'us verses them' mentality where I see this being so applicable to real life. I see it on the global scale of religious fightings, moral arguments, and political machinations down to the individual arguments within families and communities. I see it in feuds and debates and the continual seeking for dominance by one group over another. And I think of the broad strokes of the battle between the Lamanites and the Nephites in The Book of Mormon.

From the very beginning, there is a hatred of the Nephites by the Lamanites. The former have and generally accept Christ and follow the Law of Moses until Christ comes and the latter have no inclination for the religious but are obsessed with their supposed right to dominate and dictate. Not all Nephites are good and the ones who are bad have a bad habit of stirring up the hornet's nest and bringing the war back again and again. The Nephites, when they are living righteously, just want to live out their lives and have peace. This is their motive. The Lamanites, like the wraith, see it as their natural course to prey and take and kill the lesser beings.

In one of my most favorite parts of The Book of Mormon, Ammon and some others from the Nephite side not only want peace for their people, but want to share that possible peace with the Lamanites. While they did not have to worry about becoming food if they were caught, they did venture bravely and boldly into Lamanite territory to try to bridge the gap. Ammon was caught and managed to talk his way into being a servant to the king instead of the morning's entertainment. Because of his willingness to see the 'humanity' in the enemy, a goodly portion of the Lamanites came to recognize that just because they'd been raised to see murdering Nephites as a normal, acceptable way of life, that was not actually so. Thousands literally laid down their weapons of war and buried them as a symbol of turning away from the bloodshed.

The wraith and the Lamanites are not exact parallels, but I imagine that the continuation of the book of Alma (where the story of Ammon is found) would be similar to how the wraith story could have played out. Not all the Lamanites wanted peace and they hated the Lamanites who accepted it. After killing a good thousand or more of the now peaceful ones, a guilty conscience brought more to the ways of peace and anger drove the rest to greater hate for the Nephites. Years of war and battles (which would have happened either way) and the Nephites ultimately survived because they fought from the side of the moral right. When they lost the ability to claim pure motivations, they did not survive.

Like the people of Atlantis, I think we often come into trouble with a conflict between a good goal and faulty motivations. Making Michael was not in-and-of-itself a bad thing so long as it was approached with the proper direction. But when motivated by fallacies, it leaves the realm of acceptable and enters dangerous ground. Instead of making a friend of Michael, they made an enemy - one that did not need to be made.

The good news is, Atlantis and Michael are fiction. We are perfectly able to slow down and consider, examine ourselves and our motivations, and I would particularly encourage you to do so whenever interacting with an 'enemy'. It may not go your way at first, or at all, but there is great strength that comes from peace of conscience in knowing you did the best you could. And for more good news, if we do happen to mess things up, we can admit it and literally through the grace of God have the ability to try better next time with hope that it can make a difference.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Families (with Writings from 2011)

I find myself in a somewhat confusing position. If you have been following my posts, you have likely noticed that I don't happen to come from a happy family situation. I also come from a church that puts prime importance on families and their ultimate roles in achieving the highest joys possible in the life to come. That's not the part that confuses me. It is rather that I somehow have two different responses to the idea of 'family' at the same time. Experience has left me with a great difficulty in believing that anyone will be a real part of my life for any real length of time - everyone drifts away so why expect anything more? At the same time, I have something of a burning sense inside that families are supposed to be something of immense value with the ability to have incredible sustaining power throughout the individual's life.

There are studies on the value of having both parents involved in a child's life and most mainstream religions put import on respecting the family. In a society of personal entitlement and a general dismissal of purity in adult or child, it seems there is little respect for either. Our world is straying from the ideals we claim to embrace by teaching each other that no one should expect anything according to a morally obligated outlook because that interferes with the individual's wishes and the individual is now the focus of the western governing world. In the eastern governing world, the pendulum tends to swing too far towards the dictates of the governing powers. Both are incorrect extremes.

America was built on a foundation which could only be solid for a moral and religious people who respect their position as imperfect people striving, with the help of God, to become better, purer, more like Him (John Adams). Such mentality and direction is built in the home, family by family. It is not the role of the government to take responsibility for the moral training of its people and should not be trusted therewith, as we have all witnessed how easily corruption is found hiding in its ranks. Families can't give up its rights and obligations to reinforce and strengthen each other and then be surprised when the failings within start infecting the functioning of larger units in society. And America's failings aside, she is not the only nation to have troubles. (I love what America is supposed to be; I am saddened that her people are straying from that ideal.)

This may seem to put excessive weight on the import of the family, but consider the following section, one of my "Writings from 2011".
Season 5, episode 15. "Guilt Trip", Numb3rs
Charlie Eppes, brilliant mathematician who helps his FBI agent brother solve cases, is troubled in this episode by the reactive nature of law enforcement. No matter how many criminals they can catch and convict, there are always more. He makes many comments towards wishing for a pre-emptive (read 'preventative') means to lower crime rates. He used a parallel story of Emergency Room doctors finding that the best way to better 'treat' crash victims came from promoting safety belt use.
Charlie's nature is to turn to math for hope and possible solutions. Fictional character though he is, I found myself wanting to tell him that we already have the answer.
In "The Family: A Proclamation to the World" there is a paragraph near the end indicating that the breakdown of healthy families is in direct correlation with the breakdown of society. This is not just some random religious position either. Run a statistics check or even ask a neighborhood officer about the kinds of families that create most of the criminal clientele, especially those that start out young. In a word? Broken.
A lot more evidence and arguments for this position can be found in a simple google search of "broken families crime" online.
So where does that leave us? Returning to the concerns of Professor Eppes, it doesn't take a genius to reverse engineer the situation and discover where the desired solution can be found. The campaign for seat belt use becomes the campaign for stable homes and families. A mother and a father caring for and providing for, nurturing, teaching, and loving their children is the best crime prevention possible.
Unfortunately, we get the family we happen to be born into and they aren't always picnics and happy holidays. Sometimes they can be closer to Nightmare on 13th. Mine was probably closer to Cinderella without the Prince Charming rescue and escape. So how do we connect our broken home backgrounds to create a stable home future? The operative word there is 'create' and the Proclamation gives valuable insight and direction into what makes an ideal, healthy family. All I can say is I expect I'll have to refer to it regularly myself whenever I happen to get the opportunity to build my own family. I have also spent years considering where I've come from and paying attention to what I do not want to have with intentional permission to and request that God's Holy Spirit will knock me upside the head if I start falling back into original patterns. I think maybe it has a lot to do with the desires we have deep down inside and our ultimate willingness to step aside from what vanities and pride we may have that prevent us from admitting we might actually make (or be making) mistakes, new or old.

My biggest hangup will likely be a huge difficulty in trusting enough to enter a family relationship in the first place. I can only hope whatever family my future husband has will be patient and welcoming and be openly loving to each other enough that I can try trusting them with me. Also, I have long stated that it would be better for me to stay single than to bring children into the same kind of family I grew up in. I intend to marry at some point in the future, but I am not so desperate for human connection that I will accept a man who will not live up to being a good husband and father. After all - I have seen the influence they have on their families.

Monday, July 15, 2013

"It's Abstract"

I cannot explain why my brain likes to kick into writing gear as I'm getting ready to go to bed. Were it a two-year-old, it would make sense. However...

Some ten years ago, I spent time working as a summer camp counselor. Another counselor, a ceramics major in college, would often remark on various incomprehensible attempts at artwork saying, "It's abstract." It is this idea of 'abstract' that I have been pondering since second grade and wish to explore here. I can't say whether I'll manage an ultimate conclusion, but continue to read and perhaps you will understand why that is. And maybe you will have insights that can help me pin down the abstract.

As I mentioned, this kinda (I'm a fan of understatement...) started with something I remember my second grade teacher saying. She said that kids tend to think more in images where as they mature and get older, develop more, it shifts to thinking in words. I remember remembering this in Junior High, High School, and more frequently as I have gotten older and I have concluded that I must lie rather outside that pattern. This may not be readily apparent as a lifetime of much reading has created a rich vocabulary to pull from, but the large majority of my thinking that does not relate to interacting with people is done without language. It is, in essence, abstract.

I'm sure that many people use non-lingual processing at times here and there, but as I have tried many times this past year to try explaining what I've been pondering with little success, it seems to be less common than the literal thinking that language creates. (This idea finally helped me understand what the critical theorist, Jacques Lacan, might have been getting at when he claimed that 'Language Speaks Us'. I.e. Our ideas are shaped by the language we have available to process our world and influences our realities more deeply than our natural perceptions. Not fully legit, but I finally get what he was thinking...) Language is naturally structured meaning thoughts in language form automatically have some level of inherent structure. They may have horrible grammar, metaphorically speaking, when they race and jump about, but they have a definable structure none-the-less.

So what do I mean by saying I tend to think in the abstract? How do I think without a reliance on words? If you have seen the recent BBC version of Sherlock Holmes series, think to the episode where they explain his method for remembering and processing details and information. Sherlock says he builds a memory mansion - castle? palace? house? I forget the classification - and stores the details away in that house in a way that makes sense to him. When he is pondering the mystery at hand, he focuses inward to this mental creation and wanders through the memories till he has puzzled out how it all fits together. The episode even gives a visual representation of him doing so. This is a step approaching the expression of abstract thinking. There is the concept of space, movement, image, and connections between objects of ideas.

Now go look at the last paragraph again. See the part where I stumbled over what the proper classification was? That is evidence of my abstract processing. I think it was not called house because the sense of the designation is large, grand. And it is a living location. But I do not need the words to have the concepts. That means when I try to put what I process or file in abstract into words, I actually have to translate from one 'language' into another. It makes for difficulties in communicating and has been a direct cause of problems as people have assumed my first pass at trying to translate is what I actually meant. But if it is considered a rough draft at translating (which it is) it can be understood why I am often inclined to adjust what I'm saying as I realize the words I had picked did not give the meaning I was aiming for. And in direct communication, there is not time to puzzle everything out over weeks to ensure the closest translation possible. It can be quite frustrating.

If you have been following my other posts, perhaps you can look back and see more evidence of this. In the ones I had pre-written, I had time to focus and simplify and make my thoughts as direct as possible. In the posts that are written as I type, they tend to pull on multiple thoughts weaving about with perhaps not every connection explained in a direct, literal way. It can also be seen in how often I will use multiple words separated by commas to express the essence of an idea. That is because the single word does not completely express the sense of the abstract in my head. I do actually think in language, mainly when I think of talking with someone (such as to you unknown readers), and most of what I have written about are things I have considered and pondered over many years. These have helped with the translation process. It also helps to try to translate, express abstract considerations to others to get a gauge on how close I manage it. Doing so, with feedback, also lets me make my thoughts literally accessible.

It may seem that abstract thinking is too divorced from the actual to be of any real value, that it would rather be a hindrance. As with the translating troubles, there is some truth to that, but it's not as problematic as you may assume. In some ways I believe it made school easier for me. Being an abstract processor, I do have a rather hard time remembering details like lists of names, dates, places (more problematic when I tried being a history major...) and my brain often doesn't file away lists of facts or memorizations (though I can bully it into some short-term filing). Instead, as I sat in classes, did homework, and processed the information, my brain metaphorically converted the information into pieces of a giant machine where everything new learned helped fine-tune the mechanical workings. Once each piece was in the right place, I no longer had to think about it. When I took tests, like the In-Out function machines, the question posed went in one end and the pieces directed it through to the appropriate answer.

Like those science flow charts where it asks if this or that is or isn't present and based on the answer it sends you to the next test until you are finally presented with the outcome. Only, in my head, it feels more like movement and the sense of testing against other sensed but not necessarily worded entities. Like a wood maze where the tests determine whether the ball should drop or not and the ultimate drop defines the answer. Or like high-speed flying through space where the gravities of relative concepts create small shifts in the overall trajectory till you come to an ultimate destination.

A recent recognition of abstract processing came while watching my favorite movie, The Avengers. It can also be seen in any of the Iron Man movies as it was recognizing that the displays in Tony Stark's helmet with multiple gauges and readings would require a certain level of abstract removal to process the needed information. Consider everything he'd have to concentrate on - the mental link to control the flying, the power levels, the suit/body functioning, altitude, location, communication with others, and then throw in some level of tactical attention to fighting off whichever bad guys happen to be attacking at the moment.

Now Iron Man is a fictional character, but consider the other places where a person must actively process multiple shifting variables in order to accomplish a task. I think of pilots with tons of gauges, soccer and hockey athletes, even police officers, firefighters, and active-duty military personnel. You may consider it more of a trained 'instinct', which has some accuracy, but that 'instinct' operates by processing in the abstract. It is quicker. It bypasses the definitives which slow things down.

I can keep trying to express and define the abstract, but it clearly becomes rather ponderous. There are reasons we use symbols to represent ideas. They become simplified enough to use in communication. Ultimately, I am interested in any thoughts you, as the reader, might have regarding this idea in any respect. As I said at the beginning, I have been trying to process this concept for many, many years and still have trouble trying to simply translate the concept. Other ideas are difficult, but are inherently more accessible than the meta-abstract.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

'Fail' With Glory

There was a long time in my earlier years when I was so overloaded with responsibilities, demands, and expectations that I could hardly keep my head above water, so to speak. I had a constant gnawing worry that I wouldn't be able to juggle everything and knew there would be no mercy if anything slipped up. Or so I thought. At home, at school, and at work, this was true. I suppose it should not be a surprise that church provided the one source of breathing space.

There was one sacrament meeting where the speaker related a simple parable that began a slow process of understanding. In the story, a Master instructs a servant to push a giant rock as his task while the Master goes away on other business. The rock is much larger than the servant but the servant loves his Master and wishes to do all that is asked of him. But the rock won't budge. The servant works and strains and tries everything he can to move the rock and becomes more and more distressed at the thought of the Master returning with the rock still in place. Ultimately, he does return, and the servant is devastated to report his failure. Then the Master asks him a question. "Did I ask you to move the rock? No. I only asked you to push it, to give all the strength you could in doing so. I did not expect the rock to be moved. My purpose, rather, was that you gain strength for another task I have for you. Now you are prepared for that one."

This comes to mind now from a few verses I came across in my scripture reading this morning. In Isaiah 49:1-4, Isaiah laments that all his efforts have meant nothing. No one has really listened or cared about the warnings he's been instructed to give. He's tried so hard to help the people he loves, the people the Lord loves, to help them see that their actions were going to bring hard things upon them. But if no one listens, what good did any of it do?

There are two places that come to mind in the Book of Mormon that show relative parallels with Isaiah's concerns regarding the responsibility of leaders. In Mosiah, King Benjamin is reporting at the end of his reign on his efforts to lead the people righteously, well. In chapter 2, verses 15 and 27, it reads:
15 Yet, my brethren, I have not done these things that I might boast, neither do I tell these things that thereby I might accuse you; but I tell you these things that ye may know that I can answer a clear conscience before God this day.
27 Therefore, as I said unto you that I had served you, walking with a clear conscience before God, even so I at this time have caused that ye should assemble yourselves together, that I might be found blameless, and that your blood should not come upon me, when I shall stand to be judged of God of the things whereof he hath commanded me concerning you.

Likewise, some 300 or more years earlier, Jacob, brother of Nephi (first author in the Book of Mormon), has this to say regarding the responsibilities of his ministry. (Jacob 1:19)
19 And we did magnify our office unto the Lord, taking upon us the responsibility, answering the sins of the people upon our own heads if we did not teach them the word of God with all diligence; wherefore, by laboring with our might their blood might not come upon our garments; otherwise their blood would come upon our garments, and we would not be found spotless at the last day.

Clearly there is a responsibility and Isaiah's anguish over the lack of response to his efforts becomes more clear. He feels like he is failing even though he has tried so hard. It hasn't made a difference. Or so it seems. Perhaps reading the verses above through one more time will help make the actual issue more clear. In verse 15, King Benjamin has worked to the ultimate end that he can have a clear conscience when he finally stands before God. That clear conscience does not require that everyone under his authority lived perfectly and that his society had no troubles to work through or disturbances. It only required that he did the best he could, worked honestly, and gave it all that he could give. Isaiah did not manage to prevent the captivity of Israel. Their actions were ultimately their own choices and therefore their own responsibility. Isaiah's responsibility was rather to make sure they had access to the information necessary so that it really was THEIR choice. (A choice isn't really a choice unless you understand there are different options available.)

I think of Oliver Granger, mentioned in only 4 verses of the Doctrine and Covenants in section 117 (12-15). Elder Boyd K Packer gives a clearer understanding of the import of those verses in his talk "The Least of These" from the 2004 General Conference. If you read the links, you see that he was given a task and asked to do the best he could, but ultimately, it was one were he couldn't really succeed. And yet, in verse 13, it says:
and when he falls he shall rise again, for his sacrifice shall be more sacred unto me than his increase, saith the Lord.
His best efforts, relatively ineffective as they were, were really all that the Lord was asking for.

I have always loved the sounds of fanfare which will help explain to some extent why I've always liked the hymn "God Speed the Right". One line in the second verse always bothered me, though.
If we fail, we fail with glory.
How could failing anything be related to the idea of glory? Wouldn't the appropriate award for failure be shame? That's how I always felt when considering how hard I'd try and yet have little outward evidence to show for it. As I said before, understanding the concept that I'm writing about is one that has taken and still is taking me a long time. Literally just now as I pulled up the text to link it here and reading through it, I realized that the whole song is pretty much about this idea. We keep going. We give it our all. And if we 'fail' insomuch that we don't get the results we were aiming for, it is still of great worth to God because we did give it our all. And ultimately, we are succeeding in the thing that matters most to Him - strengthening and purifying ourselves so that we will be prepared to go home to Him at the last. Talk about 'glory'!

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Science Misnomer

It has come to my attention on more than one occasion that our world has a curious fallacy when it comes to 'science'. According to a general reading of's definition, science is systematic knowledge, fact. I would propose to you that 'science' is actually just our interpretation of what 'facts' we have managed to gather in any particular field, some more accurate than others.

"Whoa, there! You probably don't believe in evolution, do you? Even with all the evidence!" As a matter of 'fact' I don't see why God couldn't have used evolution as part of His creation process. And I think that we don't actually know as much as we claim. Where's my 'evidence'?

Let me ask you a question: Does considering make it so? Is not the Scientific Method a series of hypotheses, experimenting, and evaluation of gathered data? Has an accepted 'fact' ever proven incorrect upon more research? And how often does that happen when we presume to know more than we actually do?

Case in point. Years ago I got a swine flu vaccine. The next morning, something fritzed and I woke up looking at the library ceiling. With a concussion from my trip to the floor. Since then I have had many visits with many doctors trying to figure out what it is that's not working right to begin trying to figure out how to fix it. Partly due to long-term concussion effects and partly due to a common mistaking of what they expected was a neurological problem (though my doctor would point out here that there is some sort of neurological connection), a fair number of those doctors were neurologists. Now we know it's a blood pressure dropping problem but then they were looking at possible seizure activity or random rare diseases of the nervous system.

I spent five days in the hospital checking for said seizure possibility some time back. In one visit with the neuro doc, he indicated that if all the tests they have run and were running still came back negative, it would mean my health problems were due to the psychological trauma of my past reaching out into the physical realm - psychosomatic. So I asked him two simple questions. One: I've been told that the neurosciences, the brain, is the least understood of all medical sciences, that you guys only understand a small fraction of it, correct? (Yes.) Two: Then how is it that you guys automatically assume that if you can't figure out what is wrong, it must mean it's all in the patient's head? (That thought had clearly never occurred to the good doctor before. He had no answer.)

Lest any of you wonder, what we have discovered is that the sensor in my body that's supposed to regulate blood pressure fails to do so properly. Where normal people can have fluctuations with little to no effect, my body does not compensate as it is supposed to. In people with normal 'fainting' problems, the body drops the person and does something of an automatic reset. It also sends out bad data to the brain as though the body needs to adjust when it really doesn't. Of course, I have never been inclined to be like most people around me so not only do I have an uncommon situation opposite the general health concern, I also have a rare variation of it where my body is too sensitive to blood pressure drops, but it doesn't just do a pass-out reset. It simply can't keep the pressure high enough to function properly. And as blood carries the oxygen and nutrients needed for functioning, the more it drops, the longer it is lowering, the less my brain and muscles are able to work. It's quite exhausting. And it limits much of what I can do until we figure out how to remedy the problem. Sadly, science is only to the point where it knows this happens, but not really why and therefore not what to do about it.

Now please don't get me wrong. I think we should try to learn as much as we can about our world and how things work and why. I just think we need to remember that something labeled as 'Science' does not mean that all things are known, or that all interpretations are fact. And I think that the more we are willing to step back and admit what we don't actually know, the more we will be able to recognize the path that will lead to true learning.

Friday, July 5, 2013

How I Know that God is Real

Our first article of faith reads:
We believe in God, the Eternal Father,
and in His Son, Jesus Christ,
and in the Holy Ghost.
A statement of belief for the church does not, however, constitute knowledge for the individual. As far back as I can remember, I've always known inside that God is real but only recently has it occurred to me to ponder how it is I know that. Last night, I realized a large part of the answer.

I know that God is real because He answers my prayers. There are, I'm sure, more examples than I am presently remembering, but I will share just a few of them with you.
*   *   *
Some seven years ago I had taken a break from college due to a combination of burn-out and a need for enough work to pay bills. In my searching for a job, I happened to apply to a staffing agency on the off chance they could find something. Eventually a potential option was made known to me but it was more by way of the company setting up with the agency for possible future needs than because they needed anything right then.

But I did. I hadn't managed to find a job yet and it seemed, by far, the best option I'd come across. I'm a pray-throughout-the-day kind of girl anyway, but with this carrot dangling just out of reach, I became more specific in my prayers. I couldn't pray in good conscience that someone be fired so there would be an opening for me. Instead, I began praying that someone would find or be offered a better job than what they had so that there would be room for me.

Three to four weeks later, I got a call that I was going to be taken on as a temp-to-hire. After I started working, I asked about the lady I'd replaced. They told me she'd gotten a job at a bank with hours that worked better for her. I only worked there for five weeks (I later ended in a job I knew I needed to be in) but it was in that place where I became aware of having any actual skill in writing.
*   *   *
My second example happened about a year later on the 4th of July. One of the effects of an abusive home has been in trying to correct many seriously flawed thinking patterns I was raised to. I'd gone to a parade that morning, then went back home and fell asleep. I woke up caught in something I call a memory loop. This is not unusual even now. Something - a dream, a random reference, a surfacing memory, a stray thought - will trigger a cycle of thought and memory tied to the messed up past and it just loops over and over. It's not so easy to break out of.

That evening, I found myself in a loop remembering a seminary lesson about 'the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.' We'd been given a little, grey 'price-tag' and asked to fill in what we imagined our worth to be. All the feelings I now associate with PTSD triggers flooded through me that day in class. I wanted to put $10 down but knew the teacher wanted us to understand that we are all priceless. At the same time, I was terrified about what dad would say if I dared put that down and he saw it. In some way or other, he would make it clear that I had no right to think anyone should be expected to give anything for me. Rather as if Mahana's father demanded she pay Johnny Lingo to be her husband. Ultimately, I placed a smiley-face on the tag (though truly I just felt sick and scared) as a safe way to avoid attention about expectations I couldn't meet from either direction.

Such was the loop that afternoon and the heart-ache and tears. My prayer, that day, was wondering if I even had anyone who'd think I was worth the $10 I'd been too afraid to put down, and if it was at all possible that, if so, that someone would invite me to something that night so I wouldn't be alone while everyone else celebrated. Maybe half an hour later a friend called to invite me to a concert. When I hesitated, worried about the potential cost, she said they got last-minute discounted tickets and she was happy to pay my way as she valued my presence more than a silly ticket price. I'm not sure if I've ever told her the story that came before.
*   *   *
The final example was another year later. I'd left my home-town area in a need to get away and had been considering the issue of my personality. You see, I didn't actually know what it was. All my energy had always gone to surviving and trying to meet dad's ever-increasing demands while also trying to avoid triggering his anger and avoiding giving him extra things to use against me like hopes and wants. In many ways, I was a human trying to be an automaton in fear of being determined useless and therefore sent to be decommissioned.

Living a few hundred miles away and preparing to go back and finish my degree, I found myself safe enough to be able to wonder and want to know what I'd be like if the rigid, once-needed self-restriction disappeared. I began praying that I'd find myself in a place - a new job, or a show, or something - where I felt so safe that it wouldn't even occur to be guarded. Where I wouldn't get in my own way. That was the only way I could think of to get a clue to what my natural personality was.

Being a smaller University town, I was unable to find a job and was not brave enough to seek out the local theater options. Though I'd prayed the things above many times over about six months, I actually forgot about it. Then my return semester began and our ward had an influx of students.

I started noticing that something unnerving was happening at church and activities. Despite the same burden of fear and hurt from home, it seemed like something was stifling it at church. I'd laugh and joke and make almost silly comments to catch people off-guard. Compared to a life-time of super-seriousness, I felt almost an air-head for all the sudden playfulness (though my IQ was still apparent). I could tell it wasn't bad thing so I didn't fight it, but I didn't understand what was happening and it made me nervous. After a couple weeks, the Spirit reminded me of my previous prayers.

The sneak-peak really only lasted that first semester and as time went on, the weight of the divinely repressed burdens returned, but it gave me the destination to shoot for in overcoming those burdens. It taught me something I had never imagined - that I could have fun and like being me. As the years have passed, I've worked my way back and have even returned to my home town to finish it. For I knew that coming back would set me back a ton and if I could regain that ground in the worst place of my life then I could handle anywhere. And you know what? I have. And I will be quite happy to move on and leave it all behind.
*   *   *
In all three cases, events played out in ways I can only see as direct answers to prayers. They were not always immediate or answered the way I'd thought to ask, but they were answered in ways I could not have brought about on my own. The fact is: they were answered. And to have been answered, there has to be someone answering. And that is my evidence of how I know that God is real.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Avengers

So I don't actually have regular TV access, but thanks to the generosity of a friend, I do have access to Netflix streaming, and last week I discovered The Avengers. For the first time in I know not how long, I actually have a favorite something. I've always been more inclined to having lists of favorites, but never to have one top out. The Avengers did it.

I have always responded to the epic good-vs-evil survival stories and there are many great ones out there. I think they do so well because the people of our time recognize our world is kind of a big mess and it wouldn't take a whole lot to push everything out of whack. What with 'wars and rumors of wars' and the ever increasing number of natural disasters, I think the collective sub-conscious is a bit nervous. And the Christian not-so-sub-conscious sees them as warnings preparatory to our own end-story. Hero stories, therefore, reinforce the idea that all is not hopeless and that, even if the meager humans we are can have little appreciable impact on such massive happenings, others with more effect than us can avert catastrophe. Some of them even show how a normal individual can make a difference. (There are lots of stories that fill such roles and one does not need to be a geek or a nerd to appreciate them.)

It is fitting, then, that the movie's problem came from a source rather reminiscent of the Christian fallen-angel-devil Lucifer of similar name: Loki. Brother of one of the Avengers, Thor, his 'imagined slights' over his life-time had previously led him to try to overthrow the ruling structure in his own favor through intrigue, manipulation, and murder. When that didn't go his own way and his father did not see things in his favor, Loki 'let go' and turned his back on the principles that his world was ruled by. It seems in the time between Thor and The Avengers he gravitated towards those who would support his desired reality as it would also benefit their own desires for gain and greed, power and glory. "And the humans - what can they do but BURN." They like to think that no one is as great as they imagine themselves, but as one old man pointed out, "There are always men like you."

The heroes have to face not only one who considers himself a god, but they have to deal with their own egos and issues. Who of us doesn't have to do the same? Used to working on their own, starring in their own shows (our own lives),  they don't mesh automatically. At some point, in Jr. High School, I believe, it occurred to me that there was a parallel between the earth's crust and human nature: when faults collide earthquakes happen. In the case of the heroes, they happened with each character judging another in their ranks and condemning the others' faults. One wonders how much damage in the middle of the show could have been avoided had they been working together instead of fighting each other.

Many look at the Christian, or religious mentality in general, as one that expects us to become mindless servants with no will or individuality or intelligence. Instead, becoming one, finding unity, is not about becoming the same. I would quote 1 Corinthians 12 but the applicable part's practically the whole chapter, so please read it through the link. The point is not in everyone being identical. That would actually be rather worthless in getting anything besides the one purpose done. The point is supporting each other by adding all the skills, talents, abilities together until the sum is greater than the parts. You know, that whole synergy thing that happens when two cows together can pull more weight than two cows individually can pull added together?

They also have to realize that they have a reason to work it out. You'd think the whole 'the world's gonna end if you don't pull it together' would get them into gear, but those faults, the little things they focused on and thought were more important, got in the way. How often do we see something that really needs to be done and we recognize we have responsibility towards it, but we really don't want to be bothered with it? At one point, a regular man out-matched to his own demise told Loki that he would not win despite Loki's apparent encompassing advantage because, "You lack conviction." Those who are willing to recognize the existence of good versus bad must consider if they have conviction in the strength and ultimate victory of good, even in the face of that individual's life. The man died. The heroes remembered why they were fighting.

You can see this same idea in history. The Spartans, warriors from birth to death, decided they liked what their neighbors, the Athenians, had and wanted to take it for themselves. They figured that the soft, intellectual, traders of goods and ideas had no chance against their obvious military advantage. Yeah. Didn't quite go as planned. Why? Because just as the good guys need and can claim the power of conviction in defense of their lives and families, the bad guys can't claim the same. Oh, sure, they are and have to be committed to their schemes to get where they do, but the ego of self can only be a weak imitation of the power found in fighting for others, in being willing to sacrifice your own well being to protect another.

We see it in those who dedicate their lives to public service. We see it in the scripture stories. We see it in the hero stories. We see it in the greatest hero story of all: Christ. And while heroes are not always thinking of such things and the writers of such stories may not always intend such parallels, the populace responds to it never-the-less.

The movie could be considered visually stunning with the amount of detail and effects that had to go into pulling off the great battle at the end. And yet, despite all that, I almost don't notice. Instead, I see the heroes accepting the lead from and old-fashioned God-fearing man who directs them according to the strengths of each individual. Furthermore, as each one fights off their particular monsters, there is almost always one of the others who shows up and lends a hand, or hammer, such as it is. They are paying attention to the others around them rather than going it alone. And they accomplish as a unified group of six what they could not as  six individuals.

Some consider such stories as escapist, avoiding reality and of no actual intrinsic worth. As one who consumes stories for understanding, (intellectual, emotional, spiritual even, food), I must think that those who claim such things must not be inclined to considering the world and the things therein for the good that can be found. Not only is this movie visually stimulating, exciting, full of pretty people and fantastic situations, with well-fitting music that I greatly like, well composed both in writing and directing/editing, with many great and funny lines and moments, it has a depth of ideas that speaks to my core. Symbolically speaking, "Why to fight" and "How to fight". As one who has only made it to this age by fighting to overcome such things as abuse, illness, discouragement, betrayal, loneliness, and temptations, perhaps you can see why it would register so deeply.