Thursday, January 24, 2008

Happy, joy.

In a quiet corner of the Internet, I found one of my favorite people watching chicks hatch in paradise.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

The summer we graduated from high school my friend Wendy invited me to go with her to England, where we stayed with her uncle and his wife, Jean, in a little village in Cambridgeshire. It was their generosity that made it possible for two girls with puny bank accounts to afford the grand six-week adventure. The day after we arrived, Aunt Jean sat us down and helped us arrange our dreams in schedule form, then took us into the city and helped us choose our bus tickets. She made up the guest room for us with fluffy new duvets and sent us out each morning with cheese-and-chutney sandwiches (in case we couldn't afford both souvenirs and lunch).

One weekend she took us on a day trip across the Channel to Bruges where we she instructed us in stern tones not to look at the chocolate breasts in the store windows, for fear our Mormon mothers would think her a poor protector. When I insisted on taking a daylong solo excursion to Leicestershire to my ancestors' village, she rehearsed every bus and train transfer with me over breakfast and then fidgeted and fretted until I reappeared that night. She was patient with the decadent American teenagers when they asked to have their jeans dried in the dryer rather than on the clothesline and made us a traditional English country breakfast so we could say we'd had an "authentic" food experience (mmm! fried pig! fried eggs! fried tomatoes! fried bread! don't waste that fat! remember the War!) She went off to work each day while we played, and demanded very little of us besides helping pull some weeds in her beautiful, carefully tended little backyard garden. She was an affectionate mother hen during my first hesitant steps out of the nest, and we have kept in touch ever since.

Then a few years ago, out of the blue, her husband ran off with their mutual friend. She had had no idea he was having an affair. I was in shock for days after hearing the news -- it was impossible -- they had seemed such a jolly couple. No -- impossible -- there must have been a misunderstanding! Besides the emotional blow, this meant she had to come out of retirement and start over late in life. The ugly news added fuel to my mistrust of malekind and I began to suspect that if a marriage survives, it's only because the husband never got a good chance to trade up before he croaked. How could anyone leave Jean? Such a good and kind and life-loving person? The mother of his three children? Every time I'd think of her alone, working past retirement with no idea of what her future would be like, I'd feel the urge to a) cry or b) go punch an XY.

Then last year she remarried. Wendy said the new husband seemed be a nice man, but (I thought to myself), so had the first husband. I hoped for the best, but I was wary -- both for her and for me -- because if I learned that she'd been hurt by Husband #2, I wasn't sure I wouldn't turn in my dance card and go lesbian. Her Christmas letter this year sounded happy -- I learned that she had moved to the village where her husband lived and she sent me pictures of the beautiful orchards and sheep and wide green spaces that were her new home. I guess we'll see, I thought. Skeptically. Very skeptically.

Then the other day, on a whim, I Googled the name of her new village in hopes of finding more pretty pictures. Much to my surprise I found that her new husband had his own page on the village website -- sort of a lighthearted local human interest commentary. His love for his village, his lambs, his fruit trees, his children, his grandchildren, his wife bubbled up through the casual and humorous prose.* I could almost see his smiling eyes as he described the odd tensions between The Old Ways and The New Ways, how intently Jean watched by the side of the incubator for the chicken eggs to hatch, and how sadness always gives way to new hope. By the end all doubt was burned out of me -- Jean has found a good man, a happy and kind man -- an even bigger garden to fill with pansies and koi and pole beans.

I was sniffling at the public computer as I read, and little chicks started chirping in my cold, cold heart.

*My favorite bit: "Talking of Chick did you see in the paper his bit where he swam thro Cambridge as an old boy in 1951.52, and 53. I know Anne used to do that swim as well, but that had to be stopped cos the water got too polluted. I don’t spose that’s no more polluted now than that was then we’ve all just got softer and there’s all this daft nanny state legislation. We shall soon wrap everybody up in sterilised cotton wool when they’re born. Then when they stink a bit we’ll assume they’re dead and bury them."

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

If they pollute their inheritances, they shall be thrown down...*

This summer I attended a BYU alumni conference in Sandy. I don't normally spend my Saturday afternoons voluntarily attending lectures, but I showed up because I wanted to hear a presentation by one of my former professors. As it turned out, the lecture I came to hear was not very interesting, but I wandered into another lecture that really struck me.

The topic was Mormons and Environmentalism. It's not hard to find doctrinal and scriptural support for a strong Mormon environmentalist stance, but I liked that his presentation focused on several reasons Mormon culture has largely shied away from the environmentalist movement. Below I've listed several "reasons" he'd heard offered by church members to explain their disconnect from environmentalist concerns. I had heard all of these myself over the years and even used to believe a couple of them. After each reason I've listed my own response, which in some cases was very similar to the presenter's response.

If you're not LDS, you may not find this interesting. Even you Mormons may find it dull. But too bad -- it's my blog, and I'll drone if I want to.

1. We believe that we are living in the "Last Days" and that at some point in the not-too-distant future the earth will be purged of the pollution (both spiritual and physical) that man has inflicted upon it, and resurrected into its perfect and eternal form. Therefore, why lose sleep over treating the earth well when we know it's headed for its new life anyway? Why fight prophecy?

-- This viewpoint bears a disturbing resemblance to the "eat, drink, and be merry" philosophy that Christ condemns both spiritually and physically. The Mormon doctrine regarding the sacredness and eternal nature of the human body specifically condemns mistreatment of the body during mortality, even though we know that we will all be resurrected into our perfect form one day no matter how we treat our body in this life. Such mistreatment of the body is a sin, we are taught, even though any damage is ultimately reversible. This is because such maltreament betrays a lack of respect for life and the God who gives life, and this is a serious spiritual lacking. To say that the earth is any different from the body is morally insupportable, especially given that LDS doctrine also teaches that the earth is a living thing in its own right, and not just a stage for living things to move around on. As far as the "why fight prophecy" question, there is a logical fallacy amongst Mormons (and Evangelicals and other Bible literalists, for that matter) that if God has said something is going to happen, he is happy about it and wants you to help facilitate it. Hence our embarrassing support for the modern state of Israel, despite its violence and racism.

2. Environmentalists have historically been in favor of population control measures that conflict with Mormon doctrines regarding God's intentions for human life on the planet. (Tangent: Remember how in the silly Saturday's Warrior play/movie from the 80s, what made the evil gang evil was that they wanted to "decrease the surplus population"? Not drugs, not violence -- they were a Planned Parenthood Gang, out to persecute the hero's big Mormon family!)

-- Presenter's response (I didn't have a response for this one): This attitude is much less prevalent than in the past. Environmental studies of recent years have shown that it is not population alone that causes environmental stress, but much more the kind of children we raise. Honest environmental scholars have had to admit that is entirely possible for a family of thirteen to leave no significant environmental damage, so this historical conflict between the environmentalist and Mormon camps is fading. On a side note, he mentioned that it has also been found that divorce tends to have a high environmental impact per capita, what with shuttling children between parents year after year, needing to provide two of everything for the child in his two homes, etc. In short, scholarship on environmental issues no longer condemns large families as a basic part of its principles. Rather, training children to be environmentally responsible is the key.

3. Our prophets have said little specifically over the pulpit about environmentalism. If it were really that important, wouldn't they say more to us and more often?

-- This is possibly because environmentalism has historically been a highly charged political issue, and so speaking of it over the pulpit could have easily violated the Church's efforts to keep leaders from taking overt political stands in church meetings. Admonitions have often been less overt, and have appealed to the spirit of truth that should guide each of us as we seek personal inspiration. However, some prophets have been very overt about our environmental responsibilities (notably President Spencer W. Kimball) and have simply been ignored by most church members. Also, Joseph Smith said the role of prophets was to teach people correct principles and then let them govern themselves, and revealed that we are to use our agency to do good in the world whether or not we've been specifically commanded to do it. Elder Neal A. Maxwell, who consistently focused on the importance of conscious and careful discipleship said, “True disciples would be consistent environmentalists –caring both about maintaining the spiritual health of a marriage and preserving a rainforest, caring about preserving the nurturing capacity of a family as well as providing a healthy supply of air and water...Adam and Eve were to 'dress the garden,' not exploit it."

4. Mormons are largely Republican, and the Republican party has typically ignored or opposed the environmentalist movement, which has typically fallen under the banner of the Democratic party.

-- This is very true, but as the matter becomes depoliticized and more and more thinking people realize that it is a universal concern, political party will likely play a much smaller role in affecting Mormons' stance toward environmentalism. And of course, I think a lot of Mormon Republicans are currently rethinking their party affiliation in light events. A brief history lesson on the relationship of the Mormon church with the two major political parties might also open people's minds, but that's the topic for a different discussion...

5. The word "environmentalist" calls to mind too many extremist images that are not in keeping with the gospel's message of wisdom and moderation.

-- It can be hard for people to get over the negative associations they have with the word "environmentalist." However, in Mormon doctrine we have powerful doctrines and commandments linked to the words "steward" and "righteous dominion" that can help us craft our own vision of how God expects us to treat the earth and its creatures, or at the very least help us not break out in hives when we hear the word "environmentalist."

6. We believe that God gave Adam (and mankind, as his descendants) "dominion" over the earth, which means he wants us to use the earth and its resources.

-- Similar to the last answer; yes, this is true, but again we are taught clearly that moderation and stewardship are the keys in whatever power and authority God gives us, whether it's church callings, how we steer the lives of our dependent children, or how we appropriate the earth's resources. We are also taught that we were given dominion over people and things in this life as a practice to see if we will be worthy to take on greater dominions in the eternities. If we fail to use wisdom and self control in our use of the earth's resources, we will prove ourselves unworthy for greater responsibilities. There are many LDS scriptures that we may skim over (eating meat sparingly, eating foods that are in season, for example) that can be considered ahead of their time environmentally, if we choose to pay attention to them rather than waiting to be spoonfed them by our leaders.

7. The scriptures say that in the earth there is "enough and to spare," so to rein in our consumption is to deny God's statement about the earth and its ability to provide amply.

-- "Enough" means that there is sufficient to meet the basic needs of everyone. We don't know how much "spare" there is beyond that -- it probably depends on how many people there are at a given time on the earth. It has long been clear that if part of the earth's population takes much more than it needs, there is NOT enough for the rest to survive on. To me, that "enough and to spare" scripture sounds like God saying, "don't blame me that there are starving children in Africa -- I've given you what you need to provide for everyone, and if you deprive your brethren through your greed [cringe] or indifference or supporting leaders in your own nation who uphold oppressive foreign regimes and foreign policies, then the sin be upon your heads."

8. I think there was an eighth one, but I can't remember it at the moment.

-- But I'm sure I would've had a really long-winded response to it.

Anyway, I don't have much more to say on this. I'm far from perfect. I'm still addicted to lots of things that I don't need that my children will one day reprimand me for having used in my youth. They'll ask me how I could have done X, Y, and Z, even though I knew that it would make the world smoggier, grayer, and bleaker for them. They'll ask how, as a good Mormon, I could have continued to drive my car to work and produce a bag of garbage per week, and I don't know that I'll have a satisfactory answer for them. But I do want to be able to say that I choose to change before I was forced; that I mulled over these questions and came to my own conclusions based on my own reasoning and the doctrines of my faith, regardless of the tides of my culture. That even if I didn't behave perfectly or go carbon neutral overnight, that I was willing to be inconvenienced in order to start carving out a new way of being so that the next generation will be able to take it for granted that green is the Only Way to Be. I don't care if the cocky little brats get all morally superior with me -- as long as there are still a few polar bears floating around on a few icebergs...somewhere.

* Doctrine and Covenants 103:14

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

January is the cruelest month...

I have this longtime deal with God -- if I die a spinster and can make a good case that I tried hard to find a husband, He has to give me Gerard Manley Hopkins in the next life. By the time I check in at the front gate I'm hopeful they will have managed to program the celibacy glitch out of him and I will woo him by reciting his poetry back to him. I currently have six of his memorized, and can deliver them with great feeling. I think we'll go for a short engagement.

I rarely go into a true depression in post-Christmas winter, but every year the darkness and chill always make me think about illness and death and fading youth and I get this bone-aching craving for poetry that I feel no other time of year. The one I reach for most often in my winter mood is by my beloved Gerard:

MÁRGARÉT, áre you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves, líke the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Áh! ás the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

It cheers me right up. Works me through the fear, looking it dead in the eye, and finding the beauty behind the ache. I noticed just last year that most of my memorized poems are of the melancholy kind. Here's a list of my current repertoire, for what it's worth (this IS my vanity blog, after all!) I'm available for weddings, wakes, and bar mitzvahs.

I always have one or two new poems taped up in my bathroom -- the inside of the medicine cabinet door is ideal, if you have a medicine cabinet. The idea is this: you memorize them as you brush your teeth, and the challenge of memorization encourages you to prolong your brushing sessions. This in turn improves your oral hygiene, making you more attractive, and improving the chances that you will not, in fact, find yourself still a spinster in your 73rd winter, stroking your aged cat and reciting the words of dead poets to an empty room.


Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Three, two, one.....SQUAWK!

What do you mean, What are you supposed to be?? Don't you know your Russian fairy tales?

I'm the Firebird, of course! The Fenghuang! The Phoenix!

Can you see it now?

Howzabout now? Say "yes," or I'll peck you to death!

New Year's is a pretty pointless holiday, except when you get to preen yourself to a shimmer, attend a masquerade ball in full Regency attire, and dance the night away with the girls. It had everything but a Austen wedding finale. Ah, well. But maybe 2008 will be the hap-happy year? If I don't save my rose-gold eyeshadow just for dancing days? If I wear red, red lipstick at all times and toss my head confidently like a rare bird who nearly never cries?

Hope springs eternal.

Happy New Year, all y'all. May it be a bright one for you and yours. If you are mated, may your nest be warm with your lovebird. If you are flying solo, may your song hear its echo one day soon.....