Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Processing the Election, Hillbillies and Two and a Half Men

Well, we guessed wrong.

The only questions were whether it would a close election or a landslide, and whether Trump would concede, and what to do with the angry people when he didn't concede, and how Clinton would start a presidency with such ill will. We didn't anticipate this.

We didn't, in fact, a Trump candidacy. I feel as though the whole nation is now as blindsided as the GOP was when Trump starting picking off establishment Republicans from Jeb Bush to Ted Cruz (man, did I just write Cruz was establishment? weird...). How could we not have seen this coming?

The "it" book of the political season Hillbilly Elegy is part biography, part political commentary and does a good deal to describe the hidden America of migrants from Appalachia who settled into the steel towns of Ohio and Pennsylvania, then got lost as a changing economy made it impossible to get a good-paying job without a college degree. The book is lauded from across the political spectrum as it comes to a variety of conclusions about who these people (read: voters) are: Democrats let working class voters down; "personal spirituality" fails to provide the safety net organized religion does; the information economy leaves undereducated people in the dust; drug treatment facilities are under funded and arrest drug users does nothing to help them or their families; etc. For many people, this is the first time someone from the so-called hillbilly culture has let them into their world.

I'm not the first (hundreth) person to point out that we live in a cultural echo chamber, but this election has reminded me of what I called the Two and A Half Men blinder. Two and a Half Men for those of you who don't know (my likely readers), was a profane and insane sitcom that I could only stomach for fifteen minutes, once, at the gym. It was also the most popular show in America. I didn't get it. I literally did not know a single person who watched the show. And I asked around.

Alternatively, all my friends, and I mean all of them, watched 30 Rock. Even the people who bragged about not watching TV had seen a few episodes. And while 30 Rock did okay for itself, it was notorious the "also-ran" of ratings. Talking with my friends, I would have thought 30 Rock would be the most popular show on TV--it was funny, smart, politically aware, but not too preachy.

Two and A Half Men should have predicted this election. We should have been more aware that "our" America isn't just ours.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Simple and Powerful Discipleship /or/ You Don't Have to Become a Martyr to Be a Saint

The following is the talk I wrote for church last week. I stayed up until 1 am because I got so excited to write it. It's called Simple and Powerful Discipleship, but I like to call it, "You don't have to become a martyr to be a saint."

I’m Mary Hedengren Perez and my husband Krystian and I moved into the ward just a couple of months ago. He spoke last month. I serve as Primary secretary and Krystian works with the Priests and Cub Scouts. We were extremely grateful to receive these callings because, due to a series of unusual circumstances, we had gone the nearly 4 months since we were married without callings in the church. This disappointed us because we were looking forward to serving in a family ward. We certainly had “real callings” in our singles ward, but we were eager to widen the range of our service. We speculated endlessly, wondering whether we would serve the youth, the children or even the babies. We spoke with friends of ours who had callings like  Stake Youth Dance DJ, callings which we had never even contemplated.

The church affords us many opportunities to build the kingdom of God through callings, serving our families and developing personal spirituality. This work is increasingly urgent.

Bonnie Oscarson, the Young Women’s President, reminded us in this most recent general conference that we are blessed to have the fulness of the gospel, but we are also beset with “perilous times.” Under such circumstances, half-hearted work in the kingdom will not suffice. What, then, should we do?

First though, President Oscarson points out, we need to strengthen our own testimonies in the basics of the gospel. We need to develop unshakable testimonies in the divinity of Christ and His role in the plan of salvation. We need to be able to bear strong witness of Joseph Smith’s prophetic role in bringing forth the restoration of the gospel. We need to seek and find the significance of our temple covenants and blessings. Though powerful testimonies of Christ, the restoration and the temple ordinances, we can serve and teach with a powerful spirit.

It’s not enough just to have testimonies, though: we must commit to the acts that will demonstrate our conversion. Just as we need to develop powerful testimonies, we need to commit to powerful acts of discipleship. That was one of my favorite things about Bonnie Oscarson’s talk: she emphasized that these are not the days for rinky-dinky discipleship.

Before I dig into the ways that Sis. Oscarson called us to actively follow Christ, let me take a sidebar to say what these powerful acts of discipleship are not. Powerful acts of discipleship do not make you needlessly a martyr. They do not need, even, to take far more time or effort than what you currently expend. They are always about what matters most.

Pres. Utchdorf has wisely counseled, quote “An acceptable sacrifice is when we give up something good for something of far greater worth.
Dedicating some of our time to studying the scriptures or preparing to teach a lesson is a good sacrifice. Spending many hours stitching the title of the lesson into homemade pot holders for each member of your class perhaps may not be.
Every person and situation is different, and a good sacrifice in one instance might be a foolish sacrifice in another.

How can we tell the difference for our own situation? We can ask ourselves, “Am I committing my time and energies to the things that matter most?” There are so many good things to do, but we can’t do all of them. Our Heavenly Father is most pleased when we sacrifice something good for something far greater with an eternal perspective” end quote (“Forget me not”).

If you find that you frequently get caught up into this trap, sacrificing unnecessarily until our callings or other service opportunities become heavy burdens and sources of relentless guilt, may I recommend Eld Ballard’s 2006 General Conference talk “O Be Wise”? In this talk, Eld. Ballard gives clear guidelines in creating balance in our callings. He prays that we will “focus on the simple ways we can serve in the kingdom of God.” Simple does not mean weak. Simple does not even mean easy. But it does mean that we don’t run faster or labor harder than we have strength or unnecessarily complicate things.

I propose 4 ways we can strengthen our discipleship without, perhaps, significantly increasing our time or means.

The first principle is demonstrated by a mother Sis. Oscarson describes. This mother “chooses a topic each week, often one that has generated a lot of discussion online, and she initiates meaningful discussions during the week when her children can ask questions and she can make sure they’re getting a balanced and fair perspective on the often-difficult issues. She is making her home a safe place to raise questions and have meaningful gospel instruction.” Pres. Oscarson doesn’t say, but I suspect this mother has family home evening, family dinners and maybe even family scripture study. But she doesn’t just try to get through a chapter, or through an hour: she makes the content meaningful and takes advantage of the time she has to each her family.

Setting aside fifteen minutes a day for scripture study, two hours a month for home teaching, or a day a week for worship and rest will form worthy habits. But to magnify the impact of that time, it’s not enough to just go through the motions. The some of most meaningful scripture study I have done has been to research a real question or concern, seeking for answers and inspiration.  I felt this urgency most acutely on my mission, where I filled this notebook with questions I either heard or anticipated from the people we taught and I dug deep to discover the answers. We do not have time, brothers and sisters, to simply “get through” a lesson, a family home evening or a Sunday. We need to make the most of this time to discuss the crucial, even uncomfortable, truths of the gospel. So principle one, and perhaps the one on which the others stand, is to simply use the time we have more meaningfully.

The mother in that story thought about the needs of her children in gospel learning, as did Sis. Marffissa Maldonado, a youth Sunday School teacher in Mexico. Bonnie Oscarson relates that Sis. Maldonado set up a social media page for her students, and texts them their assignments, connecting with them in ways that are natural to them. She used social media and text to communicate with students rather than, say, paper handouts.  Instead of doing things that felt natural to her, she sought to do things that were more natural to those she taught. Now, posting on a Facebook page takes less time, not more, than creating a paper handout, so she wasn’t needlessly complicating her calling, but she was thinking about the ways her students communicate rather than what worked for her. So, principle two is to serve in the way others need, not in the way that is comfortable.

When Sis. Maldonado when  was called, there were only 7 students regularly attending her Sunday School class. Now there are more than 20. When President Oscarson related her amazement, she reports that Sis. Maldonado modestly said, “Oh, it wasn’t just me. All the class members helped.” And they did. The class members reached out to less active members and even initiated missionary work that resulted in the baptism of a new member.

I’m not sure exactly how Sis. Maldonado did it, but I suspect it included inspiring them about the significance of what was happening every week in class as well as providing them opportunities to reach out to their classmates. What a great blessing for those teenage saints to be enlisted in the work of bringing souls to Christ! Instead of seeing her Sunday School students as passive, she empowered them to do great things. If you think about it, this is what God, Christ, the prophet, the bishop and the auxiliary leaders all do when they extend callings to us, and we can extend invitations to serve to those around us. So the third principle is to enlist the help of those around us, even those we serve.

Finally, for the last principle, I want to especially address my primary kids, but it holds true for youth and non-youth, too. Do you come right away when called for family home evening or prayer? Do you volunteer to say the prayer over the food, or, when you are called to pray, do you do so without complaining? Do you share the lessons you learned in church each Sunday? You can be powerful examples in your family and beyond!  Sis. Oscarson says that “even the very youngest in this audience can rise up in faith and play a significant role in building the kingdom of God. ... All children and young [people] can encourage family home evenings and be full participants. You can be the first one on your knees as your family gathers for family prayer. Even if your homes are less than ideal, your personal examples of faithful gospel living can influence the lives of your family and friends.”

If your families, roommates, friends or coworkers are not all united in living gospel standards, the temptation can be to live the gospel shyly, being embarrassed of your discipleship the way you might hide belonging to a Justin Beiber fan club. Christ commands us to let our light shine before the world.  Don’t be ashamed of your goodness! The world and your family need your goodness. If you’re reading your scriptures, it’s okay if you read your scriptures in the living room as well as the bedroom. If you had a good Sunday, you can share it with coworkers just as proudly as if you had a good Saturday. If there’s a quote you love from General Conference, you can post it on Instagram, hang it in your office, or print it on a t-shirt just as deeply as you engrave it in the fleshy tablets of your heart. We’re not doing this to be holier-than-thou, but because this is who we are and we have no reason to be ashamed of who we are.The final principle is to live the gospel boldly.

To summarize, we can magnify the efforts we are already making in gospel living when we:

  1. Make meaningful use of time set aside for gospel learning
  2. Serve in the way that is needed, not in the way that is comfortable.
  3. Enlist the help of those around us, even those we serve.
  4. Live the gospel boldly.

These principles are not easy. You may feel set in your ways and find it difficult to try something new in the way that you study the gospel or serve others. You may hate the feeling of helplessness when recruiting others to do something you feel you can do better yourself. You may be shy or feel self conscious about sharing outside the things you feel inside. But I promise that as you do so, you will see the benefits in those around you as well as within you. We don’t need to do more, but we do need to do better, and with inspiration from the Spirit and a willingness to try, we can. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Read a Banned Book

Every year, the American Library Association promotes Banned Books Week, which tricks kids into reading literature under the guise of being rebellious.

I'm not saying this as a criticism. I, myself taught one of a dozen sections of Banned Books and Novel Ideas at my old university, helping students fulfill a fine arts credit and feel like a literary bad-asses. But, looking around at my colleagues' syllabi, I realized that everything has been banned and nothing was. There were books, certainly, like Harry Potter, that had been banned by some fundamental evangelical librarian in some small town in Ohio, and there had been works that have been "soft banned," like when South Carolina's House of Representatives tried to cut funding because Fun House, a graphic novel about coming of age as a young lesbian was required reading for incoming freshmen, but outright bans have been rare in this country. I ended up taking an international approach with my reading list, looking at banned books from the U.K., Germany, El Salvador, South Africa, Iran and Vietnam.

The bans are different in the United States.

I once had lunch with a friend of mine who I admire continually, and we got on the subject of books we pulled off the shelf when we were too young for them.
"I read Anthem," I said, laughing, "when I was ten just because it was skinny."

The mood suddenly turned sober.

"You've read Anthem?" she said with distaste. "What were your parents doing owning Anthem?"

"Well," I said, realizing I had somehow mistepped. "They were in college during the Cold War, and they never sold back any of their books--I'm not sure it's a thing people did back then."

But it bothered me. Look, I don't agree with Ayn Rand politically one bit, but preteens reading Anthem will find all of the hallmarks of classic YA distopia, complete with the insistence that I Am The Special One. It's juvenile philosophy, which is why most of us grow out of it, but reading it didn't make me a fascist any more than reading Fun Home created a generation of lesbians in South Carolina. What's disturbing is that, culturally, we are uncomfortable with listening to--or reading--someone we don't agree with.

Foucault's most famous, probably, for the idea of the social panopticon. The panopticon was a jail system that formulated a couple of hundred years ago, where the prisoners are always being watched and judged by someone standing in the middle of the jail, and by each other. Foucault pointed out that we are always policing each other. In fact, he expanded carcerality to include not just policemen, but schoolteachers, preachers and anyone in the society who is watching each other. This, not outright bans, is where I feel books in America become banned.

Physicial books, in the digital age, have become markers of who we are, as much a signifier of position and rank as the pictures on our walls and the neighborhoods we live in. I've never put E.D. Hirshe's book about cultural literacy on my bookshelf at work because I didn't want my colleagues to think I was racist.  Hirshe's racism is itself debatable, but I didn't want to be guilty by association. Having a physical book on your shelf has become a badge of What You Believe, rather than a sign of What You've Read.

Most of my examples here have been about more conservative books, the reverse is true, too: I can read books by people I disagree with, even read them attentively, and it will not necessarily radicalize me. In fact, how can I know I disagree with them until I read their book and figure out what, exactly, it is that I disagree with.

So what I'm saying is, this Banned Book season (which also overlaps with Election season), maybe read something that your group, whoever they are, would deplore. And it's even okay if you deplore it, too. You don't have to like it, you don't even have to finish it, but you do need to understand it.

It could be memoir of someone you don't agree with (I read a biography of Golda Meir in high school that I still think about sometimes when I think about Zionism), or fiction that promotes a philosophy you don't ascribe to (I adore Turgenov and Poe, but I'm not nearly so gloomy), but go out there and find something someone tells you not to read and read it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

AcrWriMo #3: the Funnel

Some people like to work on one project at a time, seeing it through to completion and then starting the next one. While focusing on one thing at a time can be an effective way to work, there are many advantages to thinking about your writing as a funnel:

______________________________ (here's all the ideas for projects you have)
   _________________________ (here are the projects you're collecting research on)
         ___________________ (here are the projects you're drafting)
                ___________ (here are the projects you're revising)
                         ___ (here are the projects you're submitting)

One nice thing about the funnel is that when you submit, you can always turn your attention to the revisions you need to make for the next thing, which keeps you from agonizing about the article or chapter you just send off, as Dr. Clay Spinnozi pointed out in our publishing workshop. You are always submitting because you are always writing!

Another advantage of the funnel is that you know what your next project is instead of casting around for ideas.  You might consider writing down all the ideas you have at the top of the funnel somewhere. This is especially nice when you're revising your dissertation: keep a list of ideas for the book version, and you can cut them from the dissertation without feeling bad.

Now not everyone is as easily distracted as I am, but I personally really enjoy being able to shift between the projects in the funnel. "A change can be as good as a rest," as my grandpa used to say. When I'm burned out from revising an abstract theory-heavy section of a chapter, I can move to the more concrete practice of coding responses from another project. If I just can't outline a new chapter right now, maybe I can edit the bibliography of an article. If I sit down to do my sustained writing and I just really don't want to do one task, I can coax myself into writing by beginning with another task *

* This task has to be in the funnel, though: writing long comments on a YouTube mash-up video or crafting the perfect response to a Facebook argument doesn't count.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

AcWriMo Advice #1: Environment

There are a lot of people who will tell you can you (read: they) can only write in the ideal place: quiet, surrounded by books, often in an oak-and-leather study with filtered afternoon light. Sounds great, but that's not the only place that can be effective for you. Stacey Pigg (2014) found that one of the great unteachable skills for undergraduate writers is learning where you personally can focus. Because you can be so flexible as a graduate student, you're fortunate to have a wide range of options: coffee shops, libraries, home, etc. Try a couple of these and find what works best for you.

But also recognize that just as there are different kinds of writing, there are different kinds of writing environments. For example, I'm sitting at the reception desk of Austin Pets Alive! which is a noisy place where I'm frequently interrupted; it's a bad place for be to do the sustained, focused- writing on a book chapter, but it's great for grammar-checking the proofs my editor sent me and writing you all an email. I'll do the quiet work in my office later today. Just because you're stuck in a dentist's waiting room or there's a tornado warning or you left the book you need at home doesn't mean you can't write: you might just have to do a different kind of writing.

You might also consider what goes into a writing environment besides just the space around you. You might invest in noise-canceling headphones or earplugs, or use an ergonomic chair or put your laptop on a cabinet to stand and write, as some of my colleagues have.  Environment also might include digital resources--do you need to turn off the internet or disable Facebook or set your phone to airplane mode?

Ultimately you can be successful in any place where you can write. I wrote a big chunk of my dissertation in the Walmart auto waiting room because it was the only place close to my house that was open in the very early hours. I put on headphones and hunkered down and no one asked me if I was waiting on a tire change. 

Friday, July 31, 2015

The Sabbath Day Talk

 Intro, who I am. I really want to be good.
 I want to honor my fathers and my mothers, and my ancestors back as far as I know them and then I want to discover even more of them to honor. I want to care for the poor and needy, visit the sick and afflicted and those imprisoned by earthly authorities or their own doubts and addictions. I want to mourn with those that mourn, comfort those who stand in need of comfort and to be a witness of him at times and in all things and in all places. I want  to feast upon the words of Christ and becoming willing participants of his grace, tuned to hear the speaking of the still small voice and committed to follow its directions. In occasions of questions, struggle or need, I want to fast in order to strengthen our ability to hear his word and feel his comfort. Above all, I want to be  part of a holy people, consecrated unto him. I want to be, in God’s words, “unspotted from the world” (D&C 59:9)

            But I live in this world where I am busy with so many things. So many times I have wanted to be a consecrated person, but I thought, “I can’t do it now—there’s no time.” I get caught up in this mortal world, instead of sacrificing for eternity.  I know that, as Bruce R McConkie once said, “Sacrifice involves giving up the things of this world because of the promises of blessings to be in a better world”— but it can be hard to find time to keep myself unspotted from this world.

In order to help us to become consecrated, God gave us the time to practice the things of another world when each week he gives us the Sabbath Day. Since, as Christ said, “the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27), we should take advantage of this day as a way to step away from this world and enjoy a more celestial life.

Elder Clayton, in a press meeting for the Church just a few weeks ago said, What we hope is that the Sabbath will become a delight for people at home, that they'll love what happens in their homes on Sunday. It will be a time to draw apart from the world, to just give ourselves some rest from the things that are always before our eyes the other days of the week, all the things we worry about.”

The Sabbath Day was instituted by covenant since the beginning of time and in modern days is requisite for preparing a divine people. It is a perpetual covenant (Exodus 31:16-17) and God’s people keep it. In the end, we must keep the Sabbath holy by being holy. We cannot be holy if our minds and our actions are focused on wealth, selfish pleasure and the things of this world.

If we aren’t in the world, I’d like you to think of the Sabbath as a combination of two different kinds of “unworldliness”. The first kind of unworldliness is in the past, from when the Sabbath was originally ordained, after God created this world and humanity and then rested from his labors (Genesis 2:2-3). This is the part of the Sabbath that reminds us of Eden and what it would be like to live in Eden. The second aspect of the Sabbath reminds us of Zion, a time that has occurred in pockets here and there, but we know will someday cover the whole world These two ways of living, as in Eden and as in Zion, can be practiced at any time of the week, but on the Sabbath we especially have the time to practice this way of living to keep ourselves “unspotted from the world.”

Let us speak first of Eden.

In Eden, Adam and Eve didn’t yet have to work hard and earn their bread by the sweat of their brow.  The Sabbath gives us a chance to reclaim this Eden. In Jesus the Christ, Elder Talmage writes, “To the many who profess to regard the necessity of toil as a part of the curse evoked through Adam’s fall, the Sabbath should appeal as a day of temporary reprieve, a time of exemption from labor and as affording blessed opportunity of closer approach to the Presence.”

On the Sabbath Day, we can rest from the labors of the week. Six days have been given us to do our work, but on the Sabbath we can enjoy peace. Many of us now work what has been called a “post-Fordian” work schedule. This means we can do our work anywhere. Instead of having to go into an office, we find that all we need is a computer and an internet connection to be doing and worrying about our work. Sometimes we don’t even need that—a smartphone will do. Under such circumstances, it can be tempting to work all week long, not resting and not recognizing that there is a life beyond work.

Prophets have declared that when a nation grows careless in observing the Sabbath Day, all aspects of life are affected, and they might have forseen how easy it is today to work at anytime  and thus begin to feel that we need to work all the time.

Many countries now find that their workers are suffering from a constant preoccupation with work. Germany is “considering new ‘anti-stress’ legislation, banning companies from contacting employees out of hours” [Stuart, 2014],  stating that “there is an undeniable relationship between constant availability and the increase of mental illness” [Nahles, 2014].

In May 2014 Japan invented a new national holiday, Mountain Day, to pry workers away from their work. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, “"In Japan, there is of course paid vacation, but people don't take it," says Seishiro Eto, a member of the governing Liberal Democratic Party who led the push for the holiday. "I hope with Mountain Day, people will be able to take more of their vacation."” All Japan and Germany really need, though, is a Sabbath.

The Lord knows that it can be hard not to focus on the work we love to do, or feel we need to do, and by instituting the Sabbath, he has done for us what these governments are now hastily attempting—forcing us to slow down, take a break, and enjoy our lives, our families and the world that the Lord made before he rested.

The other way that the Sabbath can be an Eden to us is in giving us the space and time to approach the presence of God. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve dwelt in the presence of God. They could receive direction from him in person and learned of his plan for them.

We know how important it is to pray, to read scriptures, to fast and to worship, but on the Sabbath, we can put away the things of the world and focus more fully on our spiritual lives. Brigham Young said “When a people assemble to worship, they should leave their worldly cares where they belong, then their minds are in a proper condition to worship the Lord.” True Sabbath keeping seeks to communicate with our father more fully and obey his commandments. I was struck by the story Brother Burton told a couple of weeks ago about how his family used to go get ice cream every Sunday evening. Later, his mother, acting under the spirit and under wise counsel, decided that it was more important to be obedient and be in a position to receive the spirit than to enjoy ice cream at a parlor.  What a great example of putting God first on the Sabbath!

All of us can renew our commitment to focus on God on Sunday, and follow the spirit to know what things we should put away on this day. At the last General Conference, Elder Nelson said, “when I had to make a decision whether or not an activity was appropriate for the Sabbath, I simply asked myself, “What sign do I want to give to God?” That question made my choices about the Sabbath day crystal clear.” We return to Eden when we use the Sabbath to strengthen our relationship with God and seek him more diligently.

Imagine a world where everyone kept the Sabbath as if it were Eden. What if everyone within reason was able to have a day of rest, to see themselves not as workers, but as people? What if everyone could spend time each week with their families, in introspection or in spiritual exercise? What if everyone could be given time to pray, to meditate, to take long strolls, call home, and to read the words of the Lord? Wouldn’t that be an Eden?

Now let me jump ahead from Eden to the future, to the Zion that we will see. Zion has existed in pockets at various times.

At one time a prophet named Enoch led Zion. In this city “the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.” How were these people of one heart and mind, dwelling in rightouesness and caring for the poor? They did God’s work.

When we seek Zion on the Sabbath, we do God’s work rather than seeking our own pleasure.  We care for each other in ways that the Lord would care for us. We serve faithfully in our callings, visit the sick and the sorrowful, visit the captive. We are all needed. We all have something we can do to build the kingdom of Zion. As President Faust once said “You can be powerful instruments in the hands of God to help bring about this great work. You can do something for another that no one else ever born can do.”  

On one Sunday, November 30, 1856, , Brigham Young read a letter describing the plight of handcart pioneers who were stranded out on the plains –look, this just became a Pioneer Day talk!—cold and starving. At this time, he called the people to action. “Prayer is good,” he told the Saints at morning worship service, “but when baked potatoes and pudding and milk are needed, prayer will not supply their place on this occasion; give every duty its proper time and place.” The people responded right away: some of the women in the congregation leaned over and pulled off their socks right there to send with the rescue efforts.

They began right away on that Sabbath to do good and we can too. The Sabbath Day is a day to “deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him” (Isaiah 58:7).

 Sometimes the good we do on the Sabbath will be of a more invisible sort—doing home and visiting teaching to make certain that every person in the ward feels loved and watched over, teaching the gospel to our friends and family members, turning our hearts to our fathers—but when we do the work of the Lord, we build Zion.

Again I’d like you to imagine a world where everyone took time at least once a week to do the good they mean to do. What would it look like if everyone had time to write thank you notes to those who had influenced them for good or visit the elderly and sick? What would happen if every week the spiritually and physically poor were attended to? Wouldn’t that be Zion?

If all of this seems too idealistic, if it seems like the sort of thing that human beings just can’t do—well, you’re right. We can’t. Not alone, anyway, but then we were never asked to do it alone. If the Sabbath Day is a chance for us to be consecrated, to make us holy, it is imperative to remember that we can be holy only with the great sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

For this reason the sacrament is the climax of the Sabbath Day and all the days preceding and following it. In this action we make ourselves more unspotted from the world by letting Christ’s Atonement cleanse us, remind us of our covenants to be his consecrated people. We let his grace work in us as we promise to take his name upon us and always remember him. If we are to build little Edens and little Zions, then we can do so only with the power of Jesus Christ. The sacrament reminds to overcome human nature and be more like Christ, more holy, and the rest of the Sabbath Day gives us a chance to practice being more Christ-like.

And when we become more Christ-like, then the Sabbath becomes a delight. Let me read the scripture that line comes from. It’s Isaiah 58:13-4 : If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words:
Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.

I like the second verse just as much as the first. We call the Sabbath a delight when we delight ourselves in the Lord, when our wills are aligned with his and we no longer think about strict lists of dos and don’ts, but engage in a weekly practice of becoming more like Christ, in re-creating Eden and Zion in a fallen world. 

Before ending, I’d like you to take a minute right here and right now to review the past: are there practices that you have engaged in on the Sabbath that have sent you back into the world and away from seeking the will of the Lord? I encourage you to commit to stop them. Are there things you have done which have filled your soul with the approval of God? I encourage you to cultivate them.

Some of you will commit today to doing more and seeking righteous industry; some of you will commit to doing less and seeking peace. This Sabbath, though, take time to meditate on how you can build a Sabbath of Edens and Zions in your own life. I know as you do so not only will you be blessed, but our whole ward will be stronger, our families will be stronger and we will bless everyone around us until this world becomes a heavenly world.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Class Outside and other Mysteries

It is lovely weather lately. Texas' best season is March and April and I will always stand by this: the bluebonnets are out, the leaves on the trees are fresh and young, the sunlight is swept by the rain. This year, because of the rain we've gotten the past couple of weeks is perhaps even better than usual. The past week, everytime I've been inside I've wanted to be outside. In class the other day, we opened the windows to let the cool breeze in and it was lovely in part, so I wanted it in whole.

So yesterday I told my students to grab their bags and come on outside. There's a courtyard right next to our building with steps and sometimes we hear students rehearsing Shakespeare out there and it seems an ideal way to spend a spring afternoon.  Instead of sitting in a dark room, looking at a screen, I could print off copies of the sample paper I want them to look at and we could sit outside and have an enriching discussion on the grass.

As soon as we get out, the steps look unlikely--they are covered in dry leaves, and even if they weren't the direct sun is hotter than it seemed in class. "Can we go back to the air conditioning?" a student jokes. Kind of. Someone points out a nice cool spot of shade in the grass, so we head over there and sit down. Cross legged, kind of sideways. One of my students is in a skirt. Another sits and and then immediately stands up, "Don't sit there!" she exclaims, "There are lots of prickles there."

Finally everyone gets situated and it goes pretty much as I planned: I take their questions about the forthcoming assignment. I have them read silently the first model (my own writing, in true National Writing Project fashion) and then we identify how it relates to their own projects. Good discussion. Then it's time to read the next model, a student paper of their forthcoming projects. One long-legged student stands up. "Is it okay if I sit over there on the benches to read?" He's been squirming for a few minutes now.

"Sure," I say, because I can't think why not. "We'll take around 10 minutes."

As usual, some students finish early, some later. No one really chats, though; we're all sitting in a circle, so I can look them in their eyes. Also,  it's outside. I say we're going to regroup and the students who sought out a bench come back. We talk about the model. I point out what I think are the strengths of the paper. They identify characteristics that relate to work we've already done in class. I have to shift around too, and, more often than I like, I find myself talking about something supportive and encouraging while tearing some innocent clover or leaf of grass into atomic particles.

We want to listen to a sample student project, a podcast a previous student made, so I play it off my laptop and we all strain to hear. The students on the far edge (near the prickles) cup their ears to hear, but I think they get it. After a discussion of that part, then, I hand out the last handout and describe the homework for next time. The clock tower chimes the quarter hour and we unbend and wander off.

A student sneezes. "I think I'm allergic to Texas," he says, more cheerfully than he sounds. Today, I will learn later, is one of the worst allergy days of the year. Several of my students, it seems, have allergies.

So I don't think I'll go outside again. Class Outside is one of those great forbiddens, more lovely because they are forbidden and like all great mysteries, you find that the actual experience of it includes pluses and minuses. The distance romanticizes it. These mysteries are sometimes well worth it--marriage springs to mind, and traveling the world. Sometimes, though, it's better to open the windows and let yourself be tempted instead.