Saturday, December 26, 2009

Thursday, December 24, 2009

When on my day of life the night is falling,
And, in the winds from unsunned spaces blown,
I hear far voices out of darkness calling
My feet to paths unknown,

Thou who hast made my home of life so pleasant
Leave not its tenant when its walls decay;
O Love Divine, O Helper ever-present,
Be Thou my strength and stay!

Be near me when all else is from me drifting;
Earth, sky, home's pictures, days of shade and shine,
And kindly faces to my own uplifting
The love that answers mine.

I have but Thee, my Father! let Thy spirit
Be with me then to comfort and uphold;
No gate of pearl, no branch of palm I merit,
Nor street of shining gold.

Suffice it if -- my good and ill unreckoned,
And both forgiven through Thy abounding grace --
I find myself by hands familiar beckoned
Unto my fitting place.
... John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892)

President Marion G. Romney, who served as a counselor to President Spencer W. Kimball, is a wonderful example of someone who asks faithful questions. I particularly want to share an account of how President Romney responded when his wife, Ida, suffered a stroke in early 1967. She lay in the hospital for weeks giving no sign that she recognized President Romney when he visited.

During this period, following priesthood blessings, fasting, prayer and nevertheless a continued worsening of Ida's condition, President Romney's response was one of great reticence to counsel the Lord. If His will was to take her, President Romney did not want to pray for something else. And yet, he had said on numerous occasions about his wife "She is the best part of me. I could never carry on alone."

He searched the scriptures and fasted to develop his faith and learn how to demonstrate it to the Lord. He didn't directly ask the Lord to heal his wife, though this was never far from his heart. Rather, he worried whether he had the right to ask for this blessing. He observed that the Lord hadn't healed President McKay who was very ill. "He hasn't healed others who are in as great a need as I," he said. "Who am I to ask for a blessing? Why should the Lord answer my prayers?'" (p.140)

He struggled with this internal conflict for some time, continuing to read, to pray, and to fast. One evening, shortly after returning from a visit to Ida in the hospital where he had found her unchanged, he went to the Book of Mormon and began to read. He read in the Book of Helaman about the prophet Nephi who had been falsely condemned as he sought to teach the people. A particular passage in this account touched his heart more than he had ever felt before. The scripture read

"Blessed art thou, Nephi, for those things which thou hast done; for I have beheld how thou hast with unwearyingness declared the word, which I have given unto thee, unto this people. And thou hast not feared them, and hast not sought thine own life, but hast sought my will, and to keep my commandments.
And now, because thou hast done this with such unwearyingness, behold, I will bless thee forever; and I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works; yea, even that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will." (Hel. 10:4-5)

President Romney felt personal confirmation that the Lord accepted him. He felt that by "refusing to ask a special favor without first ascertaining the will of the Lord he had unknowingly demonstrated the quality of his faith." He knew that his faith had not been found wanting. Brother Howard writes: "With awe, [President Romney] fell to his knees. The scripture was the direct answer to many prayers. More than anything else he wanted to know the Lord's will for Ida. He was willing to let her go or if need be he would care for her in whatever condition the Lord wanted her to be in. As he concluded his prayer with the phrase 'thy will be done,' he seemed to feel or hear a voice which said "it is not contrary to my will that Ida be healed." (pp. 141-142)

Quickly he put on his coat and tie and went to the hospital. Arriving there at 3:00 am, he entered her room and placed his hands upon her head. Brother Howard records what happened next. "She didn't move or give any sign of recognition. He then invoked the power of the priesthood and pronounced a simple blessing upon her, uttering the incredible promise that she would recover her health and mental powers and yet perform a great mission upon the earth. Even though he did not doubt, [President Romney] was astonished to see Ida's eyes open as he concluded the blessing. He sat down on the bed and listened to her frail voice ask 'for goodness sakes Marion what are you doing here?' In total surprise he responded 'Ida how are you?' With a flash of humor which showed that she was not totally unaware of her circumstances, Ida Romney replied 'Compared to what Marion, compared to what?'" (p. 142) Thereafter, Ida recovered fully and miraculously.
--Marion G. Romney, His Life and Faith, Bookcraft, F. Burton Howard, 1988.

today's moments in history: the sepoy mutiny

I'll never forgive myself for the Sepoy Mutiny, whose cause ranks as the most insensitive act of cultural imperialism ever committed by the usual suspects, i.e., Anglo-Saxons. In 1857, the new Enfield rifles that England distributed to her native Indian troops (sepoys) required greased cartridges. The manufacturer was supposed to use mutton fat, but to save money had used instead the cheaper fat of cows and pigs. Since every sepoy soldier was either a Hindu or a Moslem, certain defilement awaited any man who so much as touched an ammo box. Do you wonder that I can't sleep?
--Florence King

Saturday, December 19, 2009

"Truth would quickly cease to be stranger than fiction, once we got as used to it."
--H.L. Mencken

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

It seems as if every week somebody comes up with a study that shows the number of people who will die from exposure to second-hand smoke, or from some obscure chemical present in vanishingly small amounts in the air or water, or from who knows what, unless the government imposes some tiresome measure they've dreamed up. I've often wondered how they manage to make those calculations and where their information comes from.

However, I don't have any problem at all believing that lower income causes you to die sooner. Numerous studies have shown that life span and mortality rates are directly correlated with average income levels. The higher the income, the longer people live, and vice versa. So it follows that any measure taken by the state that lowers income will shorten life spans and kill an undetermined number of people.

These days you have to file an environmental impact statement for just about any kind of project that involves breaking ground, estimating the environmental damage it will cause. Why not require the state to file an economic impact statement estimating the number of Americans a new tax or regulation will kill?
--David Wright


grade the speech

[H]ere we come to what was for me the most revolting part of [Obama's Nobel Peace Prize acceptance]speech. And perhaps the most significant too. All the cant about America's altruism and "enlightened self-interest" in killing millions of people...was just par for the rhetorical course. But I don't think an American president has so openly and directly traduced the work of Martin Luther King Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi before. (And to do it while accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, no less! Oh, that sublime brass....)His words about King and Gandhi drip with scorn and condescension.

"I make this statement [about the moral justification for war] mindful of what Martin Luther King said in this same ceremony years ago: 'Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: It merely creates new and more complicated ones.' As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King's life's work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there is nothing weak, nothing passive, nothing naive in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.

But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is."

Here, Obama indulges in a trope that is pandemic among his apologists: the idea that he was somehow forced to become the head of a militarist state waging endless war around the world, that he has somehow woken up and found himself "the Commander-in-Chief of a nation in the midst of two wars." But of course he chose to pursue this kind of power in this kind of system--chose it, pursued it, fought like hell to win it. It's what he wanted.

He then goes on to give the lie to his previously stated admiration for Gandhi and King: "A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al-Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms." Thus, King, Gandhi and any practitioner of non-violent resistance to evil are, ultimately, naive, ineffectual--weak.

Are the American people now threatened by Hitler's armies? Are al-Qaeda's paltry forces--less than 100 of them in Afghanistan, according to Obama's own war-wagers--the equal of Hitler's armies of millions of men?

But there is a deeper untruth beyond these cheap rhetorical tricks. For it is blatantly untrue to say that "a nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies." First of all, one cannot make that statement because this approach was never tried. Doubtless it would have cost millions of lives; but as Gandhi himself pointed out, the violent resistance to Hitler's armies also cost tens of millions of lives.

But Obama's formulation--a hackneyed one indeed--only deals with one view of non-violent resistance to Hitler: i.e., from the outside, resisting his armies as they poured across the borders. There is another way in which a non-violent resistance movement without any doubt could have "halted Hitler's armies": if it had taken root and spread throughout Germany itself, including among the armed forces and its supporting industries.

In the event, this did not happen. But it was not, and is not, an impossibility for humankind to pursue such an approach. Therefore it is fatuous and false to state what cannot possibly be known: whether non-violent resistance would have thwarted Nazism, and whether this would have been more or less costly than the way of violence.

Similarly, it is false to say that "negotiations cannot convince al-Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms." The only response to this bald statement is: How do you know? Has anybody tried it? No. Therefore you cannot call it an impossibility--and then use this supposed, untested "impossibility" as your justification for laying waste to whole nations.

But of course this is precisely what Gandhi did: he sat down and negotiated with the representatives of an empire that had caused the deaths of millions of his own people. He negotiated with them in good faith, with good will, despite what they had done and were doing to his people--and despite the fact that many of his interlocutors, such as Winston Churchill, hated him with a blind, racist fury. And he was successful--although again, not without cost, both before and after the liberation. But Gandhi, and King, knew the costs of non-violence–because they were genuinely savvy, and genuinely realistic about the nature of evil.
--Chris Floyd

watch that face

Tony Blair, visiting lecturer at Yale Divinity School

As one of his illustrious countrymen once put it: "Murder, though it have no tongue, will speak with most miraculous organ."

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Letter to a Funeral Parlor

Dear Sir,

I am writing to you to object to the word cremains, which was used by your representative when he met with my mother and me two days after my father's death.

We had no objection to your representative, personally, who was respectful and friendly and dealt with us in a sensitive way. He did not try to sell us an expensive urn, for instance.

What startled and disturbed us was the word cremains. You in the business must have invented this word and you are used to it. We the public do not hear it very often. We don't lose a close friend or a family member very many times in our life, and years pass in between, if we are lucky. Even less often do we have to discuss what is to be done with a family member or close friend after their death.

We noticed that before the death of my father you and your representative used the words loved one to refer to him. That was comfortable for us, even if the ways in which we loved him were complicated.

Then we were sitting there in our chairs in the living room trying not to weep in front of your representative, who was opposite us on the sofa, and we were very tired first from sitting up with my father, and then from worrying about whether he was comfortable as he was dying, and then from worrying about where he might be now that he was dead, and your representative referred to him as "the cremains."

At first we did not even know what he meant. Then, when we realized, we were frankly upset. Cremains sounds like something invented as a milk substitute in coffee, like Cremora, or Coffee-mate. Or it sounds like some kind of a chipped beef dish.

As one who works with words for a living, I must say that any invented word, like Porta Potti or pooper-scooper, has a cheerful or even jovial ring to it that I don't think you really intended when you invented the word cremains. In fact, my father himself, who was a professor of English and is now being called the cremains, would have pointed out to you the alliteration in Porta Potti and the rhyme in pooper-scooper. Then he would have told you that cremains falls into the same category as brunch and is known as a portmanteau word.

There is nothing wrong with inventing words, especially in a business. But a grieving family is not prepared for this one. We are not even used to our loved one being gone. You could very well continue to employ the term ashes. We are used to it from the Bible, and are even comforted by it. We would not misunderstand. We would know that these ashes are not like the ashes in a fireplace.

Yours sincerely.

Lydia Davis