I'm sitting on my back deck right now, typing this entry on my laptop. It is a beautiful, cool night. I can hear frogs and crickets and birds, and other night animals. It's late, but there are a few fireflies still out. The stars are sparkling above me in a clear sky.
I'm sipping Ginger Ale as the scent of a citronella candle keeps the bugs at bay. The miracle of wirless internet allows me sit on my deck furniture and type this. In a few minutes, when I'm done, I'll go inside my house and use the wireless to watch a movie that streams from Netflix.
The fact that I have the opportunity to do this is, historically speaking, a miracle. That we live in a society prosperous enough to have the ability to create non-necessary consumer goods is really quite stunning. The fact that a school teacher can live in his own house on his own wooded parcel of land is equally stunning. Simply put, we do less work for more reward than ever in history--and the work we do tends to be more intrinsically rewarding, less dangerous and grueling.
I am not sure we contemplate or consider what a miracle we live today and how the vast majority of humanity, both those living now and especially those in the past, would be stunned at the fact that here and now, the middle and even lower classes to some extent, live better in many respects than the kings and chiefs that ruled them.
In these relative terms, life is very good for us, all our problems notwithstanding. I don't believe this is accidental. I don't profess to be a historian, but I enjoy reading, and it seems to me that a pretty clear case can be made that the exceptional circumstances we enjoy have come about mostly because of the trajectory of freedom over the last few centuries. We are feasting on freedom's fruits today (if also coping with some cultural indigestion because of unwise consumption of the same fruit).
This is one reason I passionately love this country. To me, America is an incarnation of freedom, the idea given form. As with all practical embodiments of an idea, it's imperfect, but glorious nevertheless.
The 4th of July is one of my very favorite holidays and I want to celebrate with some thoughts, stories, and songs. You know, sort of a 12 Days of Christmas, but for the 4th of July. I hope you'll join me.
Here is the first story and song.
In 1893, five-year old Israel Baline stood and watched a mob burn his family’s house down. The Balines were Jewish, and in turn-of-the-century Russia, that meant persecution, oppression, and even death. Still, his family was lucky. Although the mob burned their home, the Balines were alive. Many others were not so fortunate.
Chased away by growing persecution, the Balines joined the human flood of immigrants pouring out of Eastern Europe and made the long, dangerous voyage to America.
Once there, they joined the swelling population on the Lower East Side of New York City and began trying to make a life in a place that was so foreign it was more like a different world than a different country.
When Israel’s father died three years later, the nine-year old boy quit school to get a job to support the family. He began by selling newspapers. He worked hard and endured difficult conditions for years and years. Finally, he got a job as singing waiter. Although he didn’t have the best voice, he quickly gained a reputation for his clever satires of contemporary songs. Using the piano in the back of the restaurant, he taught himself to play the piano. Eventually, he got a job with a music publisher as a song plugger, and then managed to get a song published.
When his song was published, his name was misspelled. Rather than correcting, it, he decided to use the more American name his publisher accidentally gave him.
He continued to write songs and people continued to buy them. In the next 60 years, he wrote the words and music to approximately 1500 songs, becoming famous, rich, and a major part of the culture of his adopted land.
During World War I, he wanted to support his country by writing a patriotic song, but he was unhappy with the results, so he put the song away instead of publishing it.
Years later, when World War II broke out, he pulled the song out again. He made a few adjustments, and felt that the song now fit the circumstances. He published it and it became a hit--and then moved to iconic status. Here are the words he wrote.
When the storm clouds gather far across the sea,
Let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free.
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer--
God bless America, land that I love.
Stand beside her and guide her
Through the night with the light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairie, to the oceans white with foam
God bless America, my home sweet home.
(Below is a video of Kate Smith singing the song. I like her version because even though she's not my favorite singer and is a bit over the top, she was the one who performed the sung back when Berlin first published it, so I see her performance as being significant)
Irving Berlin was the young Jewish boy who watched his home burn in flames, and later became a famous American songwriter. When he talked about a blessed land, and land he loved, he knew what he was talking about and didn’t speak in theoretical terms. For him, America was a the place that had given refuge to his family. A place that had provided an uneducated boy with a chance to work hard and become incredibly successful. A place that had provided an immigrant a chance to become one of the most quintessential Americans ever.
To be continued....
In my two previous posts on civility in our larger society I detailed why I think it's important and proposed some small steps that I have found useful in enhancing my own level of civility--and I say that as someone who has strong opinions on political and cultural issues.
I have a few final suggestions on steps to take to help bring about a more civil tone in your own life. Again, these are based on things I've tried and found useful. The steps I suggested in my post yesterday were fairly small and require a few mental adjustments. These are a little more challenging and require a bit of action--although not all that much.
1. Get out of the echo chamber. Yes, it can be comforting and entertaining to be around people who think like you do. I'm all for that. I spend a lot of my time with others of a like mind. Part of that is a natural result of the way we organize ourselves in society. I also tend to consume media that comes from a similar viewpoint. But try getting out of the echo chamber. A steady diet of talk radio or MSNBC will confirm you in your opinion of the rightness of your opinions. Sure, it can be entertaining and satisfying to hear your views expressed forcefully and I'm not saying it's wrong. But, honestly, it's the intellectual equivalent of marrying your cousin and it can have the same effect--intellectual inbreeding. Keep listening to your favorite radio station, reading your favorite blog, whatever. But, occasionally, try reading a column by a thoughtful, intelligent person on the other side of the spectrum. You don't have to agree, but just try to listen and understand their argument and point of view. You can still disagree, but at least take the trouble to know you know what you are disagreeing with.
This is hard. I started trying to expand my diet of information and some of my views were challenged. It was uncomfortable and I didn't like it. Some of my views changed. Some didn't. Incidentally, those that didn't change are stronger because I challenged them.
If you are really enlightened, try making friends with someone who disagrees with you and ask their opinion about something. Just listen. Don't argue or try to convince.
Bonus: I double-dog-dare you to learn to say, sincerely, "That's a good point."
2. Related to this: Realize that you are probably just as ideological as the next person. Your news source is really probably just as biased as those on the other side who you abhor. Fox News has a viewpoint. Undeniably. So does the New York Times, NPR, National Review, The Nation and so on. It's the reality of human nature. We all have biases and prejudices and complete objectivity is not possible.
In my doctoral program, I was trained in qualitative research. A fundamental tenet of this research is that the researcher needs to constantly be aware that he or she is likely to be biased, but that these biases will be unconscious, and therefore, difficult to detect. The way to counter this is to write a statement in which you describe in detail your feelings about the subject you are studying. You put this at the beginning of your research and that way, a reader knows where you are coming from and can judge your results accordingly.
Why not do this? Just admit that you are probably biased. As flawed mortals, we cannot see perfect Truth. So, just acknowledge that you are coming from a certain place and that your news sources probably are too. That doesn't mean they are wrong or evil or untrue. Just be aware of it and balance it out.
3. Okay, here's a big one. If you are religious: render undo God's the things which are God's, and unto Ceasar the things which are Ceasar's--in that order. Neither the Republican nor Democratic parties (nor the Libertartians, Greens, or anyone else) is God's Kingdom on the Earth. I could use the Bible and make a pretty good case why the conservatives are right on some issues--and I could do the same for the progressives on other issues. It defies reason that any one party or school of thought is going to be right 100% of the time on everything. So, let's demonstrate a bit of humility. Try letting your religious convictions drive your political beliefs instead of vice versa. This has the effect of grounding your politics in a moral sensibility and takes away some of the harshness. If you're not religious, let your larger moral framework drive your politics rather than vice versa.
Be consistent in this. If adultery is wrong, it's equally wrong when it's a Republican or Democrat and the penalty ought to be the same. Period.
Please, if you are a Mormon, take this seriously. I will admit a pet peeve of mine is people who use the Church's teachings to buttress their political positions--and then conveniently ignore other teachings that don't square so well. Maddening.
4. Don't rejoice in another person's tragedy. If your primary reaction to someone's misfortune is that it advances your cause, or embarrasses your opponents, you are losing your humanity.
5. Don't arrogate to yourself the power to define the parameters of the debate. This happens a lot with individual people basically deciding that they simply won't accept ideological contradicting evidence and will simply not allow it rather than considering and responding to it. Don't scoff at the sincere, considered beliefs of others. If you end up attacking your opponent's personal traits or beliefs instead of his or her arguments, you are being intellectually dishonest and lazy.
These are all fairly simple things and I don't pretend they are deep or profound. However, to the extent I've applied them, they have had a profound effect in my own life.
I blogged the other day about why I am worried about what I think is an increasing lack of civility. You can read my reasons here. Today, I want to make a few suggestions about some modest steps anyone can take to help with this problem.
Here's the genesis of this: I have strong thoughts and convictions about politics. I also profess to worship a loving God and believe that all humanity are my brothers and sisters. I noticed, several years ago, that my political feelings were leading me to be angry, sarcastic, and suspicious of people. As I thought about this, I realized I wasn't the only one. It's a pandemic, and let's be honest: it's on both the left and right.
I decided that I was going to try to become more civil and respectful. I wanted to live the old cliche and find a way to disagree without being disagreeable. So, I took several small steps. Baby steps, you might say. But I found that they were helpful and they had a cumulative effect on me.
I haven't changed my opinions or views. But I have changed the way I view others, and that has had a positive effect on me. I think I am more civil to others. But, just as importantly, I am different. I feel more temperate, more balanced. I'm more confident expressing my views because they are thoughtful conclusions that don't rely on invective, sarcasm or bombast. In other words, civility has essentially polished and refined my views--burning away the dross. So, I'm not advocating being mushy and checking your opinions at the door. To the contrary, I'm suggesting ways to engage in dialogue and debate without being destructive.
Here are the things I've found helpful. I'm not naive enough to believe that these are silver bullets or fairy dust, but they've made a big difference in my own experience.
1. Use proper titles of people with whom you disagree. President Obama--not Obama. Speaker Boehner. Justice, Senator, Governor, Representative, Secretary, Mr,. Mrs., Ms. It's amazing what a difference this makes. This week, I've been teaching my musical theatre students how emphasis on a single word can change or enhance the meaning of a song. Tiny things make huge interpretive differences. Using titles automatically helps temper discussion.
2. Use the names your ideological opponents choose for themselves. If someone opposes abortion, chances are they are deeply concerned about unborn life. I know a lot of these folks and they really are acting on that concern. Calling them "anti-choice" or "anti-woman" is just not accurate. Likewise, I know very few people who think abortion is just a wonderful thing. The pro-choice people I know are exactly that--they have concluded that personal freedom is important. They aren't murderers.
In the old days, when a gentleman's honor was impugned, he would challenge the offender to a duel. The one who was challenged often chose the weapons. It was the code.
Why not update this code? Let's disagree all we want to about important issues. But how about letting our opponents choose the terms by which they want to be known? If someone styles themself pro-life or pro-choice, then let's do the courtesy of granting them that title. Then, we can let the merits of our argument carry the day instead of trying to score cheap points by giving them names that reflect shallow stereotypes. The problem with defining our opponents is that we then judge their motives--which we really can't do. Which leads to the next item--
3. Assume good faith. I know people who want the government to raise taxes. I know people who want the government to slash taxes. Both parties are sure that their prescription will help the economy and is the morally right and reasonably sound thing to do. The tax-raisers are not socialists. The tax-cutters are not wanting to throw old people out on the street.
Let's assume that our opponents are people like us--good people who are advocating for what they really believe is best. Then, let's argue strenuously about which policies are best. However, the quality of the argument is enhanced because I am saying, "This policy is bad because abc" instead of "This person is bad because xyz." This approach is more difficult because it requires thought, study, facts, and persuasion. The other approach is incredibly lazy--not to mention corrosive.
Ironically, casting aspersions on our opponents makes it difficult to effectively point out real evil. If Bush or Obama are Hitler/Stalin/the Devil, then those words cease to mean anything and when a real Hitler comes along, our language is impotent and we are unable to combat genuine evil.
4. Connected with number 3, don't define your opponents by their most extreme allies. Are there bigots who hate gay people? Yes. Does that make everyone who has concerns about gay marriage a bigot? No. Just as not everyone who is pro-choice relishes the thought of killing babies. Are there some gay activists who want to push society into a radical gay agenda? Yes. But are there also a lot of gay people who sincerely want to be married and have no intention of destroying traditional marriage? Yes.
The fact that a wacko votes for the same person as me doesn't make me crazy. Every--and I mean EVERY--group has extreme elements in them. I would wager that everyone of us belongs to some group in which there is someone who makes us cringe a bit--someone we don't really endorse. But, in our culture wars today, we take the most extreme examples of the other side and hold them up as if they are the norm. It's sloppy and lazy and it betrays either a lack of confidence in the virtue and power of our own arguments and positions or else a mean-spiritedness that is disturbing.
Okay, I have a few more suggestions, I'll post them later.
Okay, want to know what really worries me? Not hyper-inflation or national default, not global warming or even Islamic terrorists. Don't get me wrong--all of these are sobering and cause me concern. However, Americans have faced--and conquered--worse challenges in the past and I believe that our united efforts could win the day against the litany of our current woes.
The thing that really scares me is the "united" part. I worry that we, as a country, are becoming so deeply polarized and divided that uniting on much of anything will prove to be impossible.
I have strong convictions on our whole range of current issues, and I'm convinced I'm right (if I weren't, then I'd have different opinions, right?). I'm not advocating that we pretend we don't have opinions or differences. That's nothing new. American history is full of spirited, sharp-elbowed discussion, even contention. But still, in the past, when push came to shove, we were generally able to rally around a common cause and find our fundamental commonalities as Americans.
This is, I fear, fading. We see every issue through partisan lenses--again not new, necessarily. But what is new, as least in my opinion, is that there is a louder and louder yelling at each other rather than an honest debate and exchange of ideas. We have heated, knock-down, drag-out presidential elections where we pursue a scorched earth policy against opponents. 51% of the people vote for a candidate and immediately, the other 49% start doing every thing they can to diminish and demean the person who won. Liberals did it to Bush and Conservatives are doing it to Obama--and each side believes they are absolutely justified. Perhaps, perhaps not, but carried to it's logical end, isn't this the recipe for chaos eventually?
I'm worried that we are slowly, surely, and consistently shredding the fabric of our body politic, the common bonds that transcend our political differences. I worry that we may somehow solve all our problems--only to find that we are essentially two nations with irreconcilable differences.
One of the glories of America is the fact that people of all religions, races, creeds, and backgrounds were historically able to find a common identity or at least portions of a common identity. In the Venn diagram of our national character, there were historically a few overlapping areas.
Now, it seems like there are fewer ovelapping areas. That's where civility comes in.
In my opinion, civility and respect are the glue that can hold us together when we encounter the gaps in the Venn diagram--the places we don't have anything in common.
But instead, we have moved from disagreeing with each other's opinions and ideas to demonizing each other's intentions.
Civility, I hasten to add, has to be a real, two-way street. It has been recently abused--grossly so--as a club to beat one's political opponents. Civility is good sauce for the goose and gander. And let's be honest: both sides employ rhetoric that is over the top.
Civility, in addition to being a Christian virtue I think everyone should strive for, is simultaneously a mark of confidence and humility. The civil citizen is confident in his ideas--he doesn't need bombast to make a point because he believes his ideas are superior. But he is also humble enough to realize that his best opinion may still miss something and that his greatest wisdom is still human and therefore fallible.
So, I'm starting a civility challenge. I'm going to take it, and I'm inviting anyone else who is concerned about the future to take it, too. I'm going to suggest some baby-steps for increasing civility in our day-to-day lives.
Be warned, though. It's not as easy as it sounds. As I've been trying to do this, I am surprised at how hard it is--how counter-intuitive and challenging. But it's very satisfying. I haven't changed my opinions, but they feel cleaner, healthier, and less toxic and I feel better about expressing them. Tune in next time for the suggestions since this post is already too long.
I really wanted to hear something today or this week and I didn't. So, instead of hearing it, I guess I'll be the one to say it.
What I wanted to hear (but didn't) was an unabashed, unqualified celebration of fathers and fatherhood. I wanted to hear a full-throated tribute that was unmixed with either an exhortation to be better, a reference to all the dads in the world who have dropped the ball, or an implicit stance that men are genial but foolish beings far below the standard of their much more intelligent wives and children.
I didn't hear that ever--not online, not at church, not anywhere (that's not true--my wife is good at that). And that is kind of sad.
The contemporary way of celebrating Father's day, and this is fairly consistent from the President of the U.S. to columnists to speakers in church, is to start by noting how many fathers out there don't live up to their responsibilities and then to call on everyone to step it up and do better. There is usually a short anecdote thrown in at the end about the speaker/writer's own father or husband, who was a wonderful, loving man.
Here's what I want to point out. All these writers and speakers have a wonderful example to point to, and yet the implication is that he is sort of an exception. But, if all these people had such wonderful dads, that's a lot of exceptions!
I wonder if we could simply take one day of the year and celebrate those fathers that love their kids and wives and do all they can to care for their families, whether they are breadwinners or newly-unemployed stay-at-home dads.
Is that really so much to ask? One day a year when we don't look at deadbeats or abusers and instead look at the good guys and say, "You rock!" Not, "You need to do better," or make nudge-nudge-wink-wink jokes about how goofily sweet and clueless dads are. I think dads deserve better than that.
As a teacher, I see an awful lot of dads. I meet them when they I show them around our school during the admissions process. I meet with them in parent teacher conferences. I see them building scenery or gathering props for the plays. I see them there every night of performances with flowers for their daughters and I see them supporting a son who has chosen to do theatre instead of football. I see them coaching their sons and daughters in every sport you can name. And when I don't see them, it's because they are usually at work trying to pay for their children to go to a private school and have access to piano lessons, karate, horseback riding, and so forth.
These are good, decent men. They aren't perfect but they are stand-up guys who are doing all they can to provide for their families in a world where that is increasingly difficult.
In my capacity at church, I work with 9 congregations, from middle TN up into Kentucky. I have met hundreds of men over the past years. Good, honest, God-fearing men who volunteer thousands of hours in lay ministry. This includes helping scouts, visiting the sick, doing home repairs for widows, donating money, chaperoning the annual camp for young women, humanitarian work, and dozens of other endeavors.
They do this while holding down jobs and/or going to school. They take care of their families and try with everything they have to be good husbands and fathers.
I fear that the rotten view of fathers, fatherhood, and men in general that is pandemic in pop culture has started to seep into our culture at large and that's a shame. There are an awful lot of good, decent, hardworking family men out in the world today. They don't get sit-coms, they don't show up in news reports. They don't have press conferences and the fact that they are so reliable means that they are taken for granted for a society that leans more heavily on them than anyone realizes. If all these good guys were to go away over night, we would notice: as families, as communities, and as a country. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal noted just how valuable the presence of a father is in the lives of children. It is no small thing to have a father. That makes it no small thing to be a father. And I'd say the same thing to those who fill father-like roles--teachers, coaches, scoutmasters and on and on.
So, Happy Father's day to all you guys who are working and trying and doing all you can. You're not perfect but you don't have to be. Thanks for everything you do and God bless you in your efforts! I feel quite sure that the Father of us all is really happy and grateful for all you do to nurture, protect, teach, guide, provide and all the rest. Whatever your religion or lack thereof, your background, politics, and all the other things we use to divide each other: Happy Father's Day. You rock.
Sorry, this one's kind of long.
Growing up, I was not good at, or interested in sports. I hated Boy Scouts. To be honest, I was a very much an ugly duckling with nothing to do and no real interests, beyond reading every Hardy Boys book I could get my hands on.
Then, I found theatre. I found something I liked and something I was good at. And that changed my life. I started acting and at 15 I started directing. I did that until I went to college. During this time, I would save every penny I could and go down to Pegasus music in Bountiful and buy anything I could find out of their small "soundtracks" section. This was how I became familiar with hot new shows I couldn't go see like Phantom, Into the Woods Cats, and Les Mis as well as older shows like Mame, Camelot, and Brigadoon and so forth.
I did theatre like most kids did sports--played them, watched (in my case listened to them) them, read about them, and I thought about them almost all the time. I read everything I could find about Broadway and musical theatre. It became a part of me.
I grew up and while theatre continued to be part of me, other aspects of my identity grew as well. I spent two years on a mission for my church and in the crucible of illness, discovered that the things I had been told all my life, the things I had accepted, were true. I became a committed--though deeply imperfect--follower of Jesus Christ.
I came home, went to college, got married, went to more college, had kids, and went to more college. All this time, I also did a lot of church stuff.
Here I am now, almost forty, with three degrees and a job in theatre, especially musical theatre. I am also active in my church. Next to my family, these two things compose the largest part of who I am and what I do.
So, it's interesting (to me at least) that these two things have collided somewhat.
The Book of Mormon Musical just swept the Tony awards, which are Broadway's equivalent of the Oscars. Produced by the creators of South Park, this musical is supposed to be both incredibly coarse and crude (most of the songs could not be broadcast on the television for the Tonys, nor can the lyrics or even some titles be printed in newspapers) and yet also rather sweet. Full disclosure: I have not done my habitual thing where I buy the cast album and read all about it because there are elements that sound offensive. So, I'm going largely on what I've read in the NY Times and heard from a few theatre people. It's about Mormon missionaries in Africa. It apparently ridicules religion but shows the missionaries as being devoted, decent chaps (that's my understanding--again, I haven't seen it, so I'm trying to be fair).
So, here I am a musical loving theatre guy and an active Mormon. What do I make of this show that everyone loves? It's not just that people like the show. It's apparently a very well done-production, and has actually been credited with bringing back my beloved musical theatre as an art form. At the same time, this show treats my faith and beliefs, one of the deepest parts of my identity, as a joke.
I'm pretty much a first amendment absolutist. I believe that a country that provides protection for missionaries preaching about The Book of Mormon also needs to allow people to mock those beliefs. That's just the way it is.
I don't think it's productive to get upset or boycot or things like that, either. The Church's official statement is a one sentence thing that basicaly amounts to: "Meh."
Personally, I think we all just need to grow a thicker skin and stop being offended at everything. Freedom of Speech is an incomparable gift and the cost is that we might hear things that offend us.
I just wish this were practiced more equitably. Why is it ok to mock Mormon beliefs and things we hold sacred, but jokes about other more favored minorities. are immediately off-limits. Imagine if people made a Koran: The Musical! or a musical making fun of feminists or homosexuals. First of all, it would NEVER be done. No one would back the show or agree to be associated with it. But if it did somehow get through, it would be boycotted, bashed, and denounced loudly and often. But Mormons--that's another story. It's just good clean fun and if they don't like it, then they need to lighten up and develop a sense of humor--that's the cultural subtext I'm reading.
In the early days of the Church, it was legal in Missouri to kill a Mormon (true story). The early Mormons eventually walked across the United States, from Illinois to Utah because they were murdered, beaten, raped and eventually driven out.
So, one potty-mouthed Broadway musical is not that big of a deal in the long run. To be honest, I'm not all that bothered by it, and I'm not bothered that people like it. I've just decided to ignore it and go about my business.
The Book of Mormon is a volume of scripture that goes along with the Bible in testifying that Jesus Christ is real, powerful, and personal. The two books have changed, and continue to change my life.
I think it's wonderful to live in a time and place when freedom to information is so great and the freedom to produce information is so great that you can find The Book of Mormon online. The corollary to that is that there will the freedom to make fun of it.
So, here's my advice to Mormons: don't get your hackles up. You don't have to watch it, like it, listen to it or go see it. You don't have to pretend to laugh at something that is offensive just to show you are hip or cool or not stuffy. Just ignore it. If the gospel is true, and it is, then this stuff will happen. But it can't really hurt us and it can't stop the work from progressing. But let's please not join the tiresome ranks of the joyless, humorless Politically Correct.
If you aren't a Mormon, and you like the show, then enjoy it. But be aware that your Mormon friends or co-workers might not share the joke. Chances are they won't be upset that you saw it, but may not see the humor in it themselves. You might also read a bit about The Book of Mormon and what it means to an active Mormon. There is a short summary here (you can order them for free online here and some missionaries will bring you a copy like in the play. Or, just ask a friend to give you one--we have lots). Here's a quick video clip where a living Apostle explains a little about the book (note: it won't be nearly as entertaining as the BOM musical!) but it might help you understand where we're coming from.
Okay, now I need to go to my summer musical theatre camp and teach the next generation of rising Broadway stars!
UPDATE: Ok everyone, I appreciate all the hits and the comments I've received for this post. I've had far more hits today than I ever get.
My intent with this post was just to share some personal thoughts and feelings on a phenomenon that has had some interesting implications for me.
I'm not really trying to start anything. In fact, my hope was to sort of contribute to peace by suggesting Mormons not get too upset by the play and to suggest that those who aren't Mormons possibly understand why their Mormon friends might not find it as funny as everyone else does.
I seem to have missed the mark on that and appear to be generating more heat than light here. Don't get me wrong, I think there's a place for spirited debate in our society. But that's not really what I wanted to start on my blog today.
One of the things I like most about my life is that I have a lot of people I care about from all religions, no religions, as well as different backgrounds, races, and regions. I love them all equally and would like to keep the peace.
There are plenty of other places to discuss this issue, so I think I'm going to turn off the comments for now.
Have a good night!
This interesting post from the WSJ is, I think, thoughtful and measured. A children's book critic and a mother, she explores darkness in YA books (eg violence, sex, language and so on). Agree or disagree, I think she raises some good questions and contributes to a discussion on the subject.
Worth a look. However, be warned: some of the examples she cites are fairly ugly and may be offensive to some readers.
You can find the post here.
Unless you're living in a cave, you've heard the latest economic numbers are bad. Which just bolsters the case of those who say the glory days of the U.S are over. A lot of people think it's just a matter of how we manage the decline. My friends on the left think we live in an unsustainable, unjust nation. My friends on the right are pretty sure we are a few steps away from socialism and total moral decay.
I'm not making fun of any of these positions--things are difficult now, and a lot of people are hurting. And I understand we face serious problems, and I can find myself getting worried and nervous, too.
When I feel collected and gathered and together, I feel calm. We've been through rough patches before--and we've made it. Maybe this time is different. I can't say for sure. But if I had to lay my money, I'd bet on America to come through again.
This song isn't about America, but it's a lovely song with words composed by a writer who lived in a time of great cynicism and doubt. The words he wrote make sense in the context of the play (South Pacific) but they also capture his personal credo. And I think it's worth thinking about.
Whatever else, it also expresses how I feel. Especially on a summer night when the mist is out and fireflies are flickering. It's a lovely song, sung by the talented Kelli O'Hara.
Heather B. Moore has written another book based on a famous story in The Book of Mormon (for more info on The Book of Mormon click the link). With seven novels and one non-fiction work based on The Book of Mormon, Heather is uniquely qualified for this project and I jumped at the chance to review her latest book (full disclosure: I was given a complimentary copy, although that didn't influence my opinion).
Ammon is the story of a rebellious prince, heir to a kingdom who fought against the church his father had helped organize. He and his brothers and friend organized themselves in opposition to the church and began actively working to tear it down and persecute the members. An angelic visit led to his conversion and sparked a missionary zeal that lasted for all his life (yes, there are echoes to the conversion of St. Paul in the Bible) turned him around.
Moore's book begins as the newly converted Ammon and his brothers leave each other to go preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a wild and ferocious people in a neighboring kingdom. The action of the story recounts Ammon's experiences.
Moore had a delicate task. She had to weave together the well-known episodes that every Mormon child knows. At the same time, the account doesn't give enough information for a complete narrative. Consequently, she had to use her imagination to fill in the gaps in a credible way. It seems to me that it would be much easier to either write about someone you create from scratch or about some historical figure where there are enough data to create a narrative. Moore's characters essentially give her the worst of both worlds--she can't let her imagination have completely free reign, but she has to do a lot of imagining.
This is a task she does deftly. Ammon is a well-imagined, well-crafted book. She managed to keep the tension up with some plot twists that grabbed my attention. Even more admirably, she created a hero who is virtuous and good without being one-dimensional or shallow. I found the character Ammon likeable and well-fleshed out, and I believed him as a human. Moore also did an excellent job creating a believable milieu for her book. She has clearly done a great deal of research on Meso-America and was able to include enough historical, cultural, and geographical details to provide texture to the story without becoming pedantic.
Ammon is an enjoyable read by a skillful author who knows her craft. I look forward to reading more of Heather's work.
Watch the book trailer here.
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