Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Happy Halloween!

A couple of Sundays ago, Edison was given a picture to color at church. The kids who received the picture were not only supposed to color it, they were supposed to draw faces on the faceless characters. With Halloween coming, Eddie decided to draw scary faces. I think he succeeded:

And now the sweet message printed at the top of the page sounds like the tagline to some demented horror film. Something tells me you don’t want these guys to forgive you!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

God Watches R-rated Movies

For the ways of man are before the eyes of the Lord, and he pondereth all his goings (Prov. 5:21)

According to LDS theology, human beings have the potential to become (through God’s grace) like God Himself. Mormons take it quite literally when the Bible proclaims that “he that overcometh shall inherit all things” (Rev. 21:7) and be “joint-heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17). They also believe that “the glory of God is intelligence” (D&C 93:36) and that “whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection” (D&C 130:36). Understandably, knowledge is a high commodity among the LDS people. The Mormon prophet Brigham Young went so far as to say “our religion is simply the truth … it embraces all truth, wherever found.”1

A couple of months ago, I got into a debate on Facebook concerning whether or not the LDS Church has prohibited its adult members from watching R-rated movies. I paraphrased much of the debate in a series of posts to my blog (see here, here, and here). All three of these blog posts provided an exegesis of various quotations from general authorities of the LDS Church, while the most recent post went further and examined what it means for something to be an official policy of the Church. I feel these posts—particularly the latter—adequately demonstrate that the Church has not prohibited the viewing of R-rated movies among its adult population. Even so, I want now to consider a very different take on why the viewing of R-rated movies may be acceptable. Although my current approach is quite different from what it was previously, I think it has merit.

To begin, I need to present a couple of facts:

     (1) God watches R-rated movies.
     (2) God loves us.

These facts are related. More specifically, fact (1) is a direct consequence of fact (2). God wants to be involved in our lives, and He wants to understand us. His omniscience allows Him to do this. If He weren’t all-knowing, He would not be God. If He weren’t all-knowing, He could not love us completely and perfectly. Thus, God is in a situation where watching R-rated movies is a must. He cannot avoid R-rated movies and remain God. His glory and power would be diminished were He not to watch R-rated movies.

I’ll stop here to preempt an obvious objection. God does not “watch” movies in the way that you and I watch movies. When you and I watch a movie, we must devote the majority of our cognitive capacities to it. If we pay adequate attention, watching the movie becomes a prolonged, isolated, mind-usurping endeavor. Often, we watch the movie with the foremost purpose of being entertained. It is doubtful that our experience of watching a movie is anything like God’s. To say God “watches” the movie may imply that He is temporally bound and/or cognitively restricted in the manner that we are. Clearly, I do not mean to suggest these things. However, it remains true that God is aware of every detail of every movie that has or ever will be made. On a traditional Judeo-Christian view of God, God is also pristinely aware of our experiences as we watch the movie. Nothing that enters into our experience is lost on God. Because any detail pertaining to the watching of any R-rated movie is encapsulated by God’s omniscience, I will continue to speak of God “watching” R-rated movies. I trust my message will remain clear, rhetorical license notwithstanding.

Now, let us suppose that God does indeed want us to become like Him. Two essential components of God’s character are His perfect love for humankind and His omniscience. As mentioned, God could accomplish neither of these things if He (per impossible) avoided R-rated movies. Does it yet make sense to suppose that God wishes for us to refrain from watching R-rated movies? The difficulty in answering this question has much to do with the differences between God and us. In our mortal condition, we humans will never become omniscient or perfectly loving of each other, no matter how many movies we watch. But if we take the teachings of the LDS Church seriously, the majesty of God’s plan will not be realized until each and every one of us knows R-rated movies just as well as He does. In that respect, watching R-rated movies in this lifetime can be an investment in one’s eternal progression. After all, our fullest potentials will not be reached until we learn everything: “for there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known. Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops” (Luke 12:2-3).

Something must be said about the attitude with which we watch R-rated movies. As I have suggested in a previous post, R-rated material may be detrimental if a person isn’t adequately prepared (emotionally, psychologically, and otherwise) to handle it. And so, let us once more consider God’s approach. One of God’s primary purposes in watching R-rated movies is to understand and know His children. This is because He loves us. Likewise, we can watch R-rated movies with a desire to understand and know God’s children. It may sound presumptuous, but I truly believe that this is often part of my motive when I watch movies. In the first place, we often learn something about life, the world, and the people in the world when we watch movies. They can unite us, increase our understanding of each other, heighten our sympathies, etc. In the second place, most movies are the product of many people coming together to produce something that they want to share with others. I consider it a loving thing to acknowledge their efforts, to welcome their art, and to find whatever beauty in it that I can. Granted, some movies are produced with base and selfish intentions and probably aren’t worth our mortal time and attention. But I find it absolutely sad to think that because a certain word gets uttered a few times onscreen, certain moviegoers will dismiss everything else a film has to offer. I can’t help thinking that, if we were more Christlike, we could look past the human frailties and embrace whatever good there is.

I actually started writing this post nearly two months ago. It has since sat dormant until today. I’ll tell you why I decided to return to it and post it, even though it could undoubtedly be polished up and developed a bit more than I have done. Last weekend, Melanie and I went to see Argo, a recently-released film about the Iran hostage crisis of 1979-81. The film is one of the best I’ve seen in recent years. But it is not just an excellent film. I’d say it is an important one. Coincidentally, it is also rated R due to a handful of instances of strong language. While watching the movie, I found myself thinking what a travesty it is that some people will not see the film because of its rating. I found it upsetting to think that someone would consider avoiding a half dozen mutterings of the f-word to be more important than learning about and sympathizing with one’s fellow human beings. And yet that really seems to be the point, doesn’t it? What other basis could a person have for avoiding a movie that is R-rated but otherwise an incredibly moving film? I was reminded of a woman who recently asked me, “Would you watch that R-rated movie if Jesus were sitting right next to you?” Watching Argo, I found myself answering that question with an enthusiastic “yes!” Jesus didn’t shun people who weren’t perfect. Why, then, should I feel a need to shun movies that feature imperfect people? Speaking boldly, I believe that unconditionally avoiding movies that are R-rated is equivalent to shunning people who aren’t perfect. It’s that simple.

1 http://www.lds.org/manual/teachings-brigham-young/chapter-2

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Limping for Two

It’s been just over five years since I was condemned to limp for the rest of my life. I’m fairly used to it by now. I’m not even sure how pronounced of a limp it is, since I myself don’t think much about it anymore. Sometimes my attention is drawn to it. My left ankle is sometimes more stiff than at other times, and I’m consequently much more “limpy.” I think my limp is usually on the mellow side, but it’s always there. I assume you’d notice it if you thought about it.

By last Wednesday night, my gout started to flare up in my right foot. It’s been quite a while since I’ve had to deal with gout, and this has been one of the more persistent flare-ups. It was at its worst on Friday night, when I lay in bed moaning at the pain and unable to do anything about it. Ibuprofen, which is supposed to help with gout, hasn’t done much for me this time around. Alas, I woke up on Saturday morning feeling immensely better, a fact that filled me with false hope. The improvement was vast enough that I fully expected the swelling beneath my right big toe to disappear entirely by Sunday or Monday morning. Unfortunately, it has not. The discomfort is fairly minimal if I keep my foot up, but of course I can’t always do that. Today was my first visit to campus since the flare-up intensified, and it wasn’t all that fun. I felt like a slow poke, limping with the pain in my right foot, and then limping lightly with the surgically reconstructed heel of my left foot. With the double limp, here’s hoping I just looked like a merry old cripple, skipping to class with enthusiastic glee. Maybe I was even an inspiring sight. If so, it’ll be a shame if this gout flare-up ever goes away. But that’s a price I’m willing to pay ... hopefully sooner than later.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Nighty Nightmare

I didn’t sleep all that well last night. I had a prolonged nightmare that involved someone trying to kill me. It’s someone I’ve written about before (for eerily similar reasons), but those of you too lazy to click on the link will have to wait a minute to learn who it was. First, I think I know why I had such a miserable dream. Before going to bed, Melanie and I watched a movie that involved someone dying at the end. Then, as I lay in bed, I finished reading a biography of Joseph Smith, including all of the details surrounding his murder. Those facts may explain the theme of murder in my dream. Additionally, at some point before the horrible dream began, Peter had climbed into Melanie’s and my bed and was sleeping right next to me, wearing his arm cast. Broken bones also factored into my dream, so I assume Peter is responsible for that. Anyway, here’s what I can remember of the dream:

I was in my parents’ house. The house wasn’t based on any particular house I’ve seen in real life. It was unique to the dream. It was on the large side, with lots of windows, especially in the kitchen area. At some point, I was talking to my sister, JoAnna, who was lying on her bed in her room upstairs. While I was talking to her, our next-door-neighbor, Mr. Schulz, who was inexplicably in the room (and who in real life was both JoAnna’s and my fourth-grade teacher), lay face down on top of JoAnna. (I’m so sorry that you just had to read that, JoAnna.) I pulled him off and asked him what in the world he thought he was doing. I can’t remember exactly what he said in response, although I remembered it for a while after I woke up from the dream. Anyway, I know the response was rather pompous and didn’t really explain what he was doing. Whatever he said, I think it implied that he had the authority to do whatever he was planning to do. I was pissed and ended up shoving him forcefully down the narrow stairway right beside JoAnna’s bedroom door. The fall broke his arm. I believe the dream basically skipped ahead at that point, and I knew Mr. Schulz now planned to kill me. He had friends who were going to help, too. Dreams never sound as scary when you recount them, but realize that my dream self was experiencing all of this in a very real way. I felt trapped in my parents’ house and had to figure out how to get out and flee to safety, all the while knowing that Mr. Schulz was probably outside with his henchmen, waiting and watching the windows. I ended up in the kitchen, ducked down behind an island counter, thinking that if I peeked out at all, I would probably be shot right in the face. I was basically doomed.

The dream lasted a lot longer than my description suggests, particularly the part of my dream with me trying to stealthily maneuver around my parents’ house and find my way out. A foreboding sense of Mr. Schulz waiting and watching for me, probably just around the corner or right outside of my view, accompanied my every move. It wasn’t pleasant. What a way to kick off the Halloween season.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

What About Love?

I’ve been thinking a lot about love lately. I’ve wanted to write a blog post about all of my thoughts, but they are so scattered. Despite love being a common theme, the ideas aren’t connected enough for me to write a cohesive and sensible post that addresses all of them. I suppose the next best thing is to write a post that says just how incapable I am of writing a post about love. But that’s not what this is, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding. Rather, I’ve decided to focus on one particular aspect of love that I have been thinking about—namely, the conspicuous absence of love from society at large.

Before anyone rips my head off for deeming the world unloving (although such an attack may help to prove my point rather than to refute it), I should say that I don’t consider society at large to be cold-hearted. And I know that in the midst of tragedy, people have a tendency to bond together and help those in need. I know this happens, and I don’t question the motives behind this apparent altruism. But on a day-to-day basis, I think it’s quite clear that many people—and perhaps the overwhelming majority of people—offer very little love to those around them. At the very least, people are much more selfish than we’d typically like to admit.

It saddens me when I look at our society (by which I mean American society) and recognize just how little patience, and even tolerance, people have for each other. It seems there is no such thing as civilized disagreement. While the current presidential campaign did not originally enter into my thoughts on this matter, it is a prime example of what I’m talking about. I’m so fed up with the political diatribes posted incessantly to Facebook. From what I can see, Obama supporters do little other than berate Romney and paint him as an idiot. Romney supporters do the same in return. Nobody that I’ve seen tries to address issues in a meaningful or productive way. And while I do not wish to dwell on politics, it provides a perfect example of what I’m talking about. People love to hate each other. And that’s not love.

Underlying this problem, I think, is the arrogance and self-ascribed superiority that our culture touts as virtues. Confidence is great, but that’s not the value instilled in us by modern society.  Instead, our current culture tells us that, as individuals, each of us should be able to say, “I’m great! So f--- you, you f---ing loser!” I realize that the message isn’t always presented in such an offensive and caustic way. But it’s there. Just watch any half-hour sitcom. How much of the humor is based on insults, derogatory comments, and other forms of degradation? Even when someone isn’t being overtly ridiculed, chances are the laugh track is cued by someone being a buffoon. Granted, this has a long history in comedy. I’m a big fan of the original Pink Panther series, Dumb & Dumber, and many other movies that use dimwitted characters to garner guffaws from the audience. But slapstick, as these films primarily are, strikes me as different from, and less mean-spirited than, situation comedies that seek laughs by showing how the normal, cool person must deal with the inept losers in the world. We’ve seen it a million times. The main character is set up on a blind date, only to have the blind date—egad!—wear glasses and be overweight! The main character must then endure the torture of being polite to an ugly person for thirty minutes! It’s comedy gold!

T-shirts, bumper stickers, and other slogan-based merchandise also demonstrate the kind of unloving attitude that I have in mind. For the purpose of providing some examples, I went to an online t-shirt retailer (Snorg Tees) and briefly perused their wares. Much of the merchandise was innocent enough, but consider the implicit attitude underlying the following t-shirt slogans:

  • I can’t hear you over the sound of how epic I am
  • Either you like bacon or you’re wrong
  • Don’t act like you’re not impressed
  • Warning: if zombies chase us I’m tripping you

I know these t-shirt slogans seem relatively harmless. I know that I run the risk of being viewed as an extremist for suggesting there is anything wrong with them. I know that. I’m part of this society. I’m not immune to its failings. I even kind of like the bacon t-shirt. But what attitudes underlie each of these silkscreened slogans? In brief, each of them says, “I am somehow superior to you. If you disagree with me on any matter—yes, even on something as trivial as the taste of bacon—then you are less valuable, you are stupid, and you should be dismissed (if not literally killed).” Again, I know I sound like an alarmist. Perhaps my condemnation of these t-shirts itself seems comical. But I wouldn’t be so disturbed if the arrogant attitudes portrayed by these shirts weren’t so common. Admittedly, there are much worse t-shirts out there—“Your boyfriend wishes I was his girlfriend” and that kind of crap. My only concern is that no matter how smothered in wit and whimsy these messages become, they are still getting out there. They are still embraced. We are still clinging to, accepting, and promulgating them.

Another repository of ill-will is, of course, the Internet itself. Internet anonymity perpetuates mean-spiritedness. I recently read an article on Wall Street Journal about this very thing. In trying to relocate that article for the purpose of linking to it in my post, I stumbled upon this post by a non-professional blogger who makes the point even more succinctly (and in a more personal way—I urge you to read it). Imagine how different things would be if we used the Internet to teach each other, to engage in meaningful dialogues, to learn, and to build each other up. Sure, some people do that. But they are swimming upstream. If we used this technology to better ourselves and not just to entertain ourselves and give ourselves carte blanche in terms of what we say and how we behave, we’d be in the midst of another great renaissance. It’s a shame we’d rather engage in pissing contests than contribute to collective intellectual development.

The thoughts I’ve shared here today were originally inspired, in part, by my reflections on marriage and why so many marriages fail today. I’m not an expert on such matters, and I don’t pretend to be. But I’m amazed at how differently I see my own marriage in comparison to how many others see theirs (at least from what I can tell). It made me wonder if most of society even knows what love is. Most people think they know what love is, but I wonder if they really do. I’m worried many don’t. In this case, I hope I’m wrong.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

My Birthday Weekend, 2012

At least since I was a teenager, I’ve had the goal of always writing a journal entry on my birthday. I’ve failed to do so consistently. This year I again did not write anything. I had a very good weekend, but the abundance of free time that I’d looked forward to wasn’t quite as indulgent as I’d hoped it’d be. LDS general conference ate up a lot of my time, and somehow surprisingly little fit into the remaining cracks. Friday night was great, of course. Melanie and I headed to Outback Steakhouse at about 5:30pm. We were seated promptly and brought a Bloomin’ Onion appetizer almost immediately. Melanie and I suspect the Bloomin’ Onion had not been made especially for us, not only because it was delivered to our table staggeringly quickly after we’d ordered it, but because it was lukewarm. It tasted good, but it had clearly been created more than a minute or two earlier. Whether they’d prepped several appetizers in advance, anticipating that they would need them, whether a previous order had gotten canceled, or what have you, I don’t know. I would’ve preferred to wait a few extra minutes and have a fresher one, but I didn’t complain. It wasn’t a huge deal.

Melanie and I enjoyed our meals. Melanie got the Alice Springs Chicken, which is delicious, and I opted for a sirloin (cooked medium) and coconut shrimp combo. I was surprised that I could eat as much as I did without feeling massively uncomfortable. By the time we got our check, it was perfect timing to head to the Tallahassee Mall to see the 7:30pm showing of Looper. The movie wasn’t quite what I expected, although it was quite good. A bit more graphically violent than I’d anticipated, and also a bit more horror-ish than I would’ve thought (which might be misleading, but if you ever see it, I think you’ll understand). And yes, I bought popcorn. I wasn’t the least bit hungry, but I knew at some point during the movie I’d wish I had it. It also didn’t seem right to go to a movie for my birthday and not get popcorn, so I bought some. I didn’t attack it with my usual voracity, but by the movie’s end, very little of it went to waste. (Now, how much of it went to waist is another question! LOL!)

I don’t even know what much to say about Saturday. We went out for bagels in the morning. We went to Panera, where Melanie and I both tried a pumpkin pie bagel with New York cheesecake cream cheese. It was very good. The bagel was smaller than their other bagels. I don’t know if that’s on purpose because it’s a special limited-edition bagel, or if they just happened to turn out small this time around. Either way, it worked out well, because it made for a relatively light breakfast after Friday night’s indulgence. Besides going to Panera for breakfast, I spent Saturday watching conference and doing a little bit of recreational reading. Originally, I’d hoped to spend a good chunk of the weekend watching movies and reading books, all for fun, but it feels like I hardly did any of that. All in all, I read something like 35 pages of a new book (Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind). That’s not much for a weekend of supposed rest and relaxation. But overall, Saturday was calm, and that was nice. Things got a little more hectic around 8pm, when I was heading off to church to watch the general priesthood session of general conference. Right when I was about to go, Creegan poured out nearly a gallon of milk onto our table and carpet and Peter discovered a leak by our air conditioner that had led to a swollen bubble of water inside of a rapidly softening wall. “I love you!” I said to Melanie as I left her to deal with the disasters. I took my exit as an early birthday gift to myself. By the time I got home shortly after 10pm, peace had been restored. The milk was cleaned up, and maintenance had made an emergency visit to take care of the water problem. Nice.

Sunday was officially my birthday. Melanie spoiled me by having me decide all three meals, which she graciously prepared to my specifications. For breakfast, we had oatmeal pancakes and scrambled eggs. For lunch, we made mock Bagelry sandwiches. The Bagelry was one of the best eateries in Utah but has sadly disappeared since Melanie and I moved away. Our homemade version of The Bagelry’s best sandwich is not identical, but it captures the essence. Our knock-off sandwich consisted of turkey, provolone, bacon, spinach, tomato, avocado, dried cranberries, and strawberry cream cheese on miniature ciabatta rolls. (The Bagelry’s version was served on an Asiago bagel, came with romaine lettuce rather than spinach, and featured cran-raspberry cream cheese instead of strawberry.) Dinner consisted of pot roast cooked with miniature carrots, crescent rolls, “funeral potatoes,” and peas. And for dessert, Melanie made apple cobbler and served it à la mode. Amazing, right? It was a delicious day.

Note: tall candles tip when they start to melt inside of hot cobbler.

Fairly early into Sunday, Melanie and the kids presented me with gifts. I first opened a gift from Melanie’s parents. They sent me a stylish necktie and some gift cards. Peter then presented me with a pair of CDs—No Doubt’s brand new Push and Shove and a box set collector’s edition of Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream that contains a bunch of extras. Edison then gave me a pair of Blu-rays—a fancy box set of Milos Forman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (again with a bunch of extras) and Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown. And finally, Creegan gave me a pair of books—Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita and J. K. Rowling’s new novel aimed at adults, The Casual Vacancy. It was an awesome boon of gifts, none of them expected. Melanie’s idea was to have a theme—something old, something new. She wanted to give me something I would consider a classic from the worlds of music, film, and literature, and then also to give me something new from those same categories. She did well. Siamese Dream, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and Lolita are all among my very favorites. The only glitch is that I have seen Jackie Brown, which Melanie somehow misunderstood. She thought she was giving me a movie that I hadn’t seen from one of my favorite directors. She was a bit saddened to learn I’d seen it, but I’m totally happy to have it. And really, it’s been 15 years since I’ve seen it (I saw it in theaters in 1997), and I’ve only seen it once. It may not be a brand new movie to me, but it’s as close as you can otherwise get.

And that was my birthday. It was largely a calm day spent at home. Which is good. The end.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Looking Forward to the Weekend

It’s my birthday weekend. Melanie and I are kicking things off by going on a date tonight. We’re going to Outback Steakhouse and then to the movie Looper, which I’m hearing very good things about. I had half a mind to see The Master, the new Paul Thomas Anderson movie that is based largely on the founding of scientology, but I thought a “popcorn” flick seemed more appropriate for celebrating. Also, The Master is two-and-a-half hours long, and I’d undoubtedly have to go pee in the middle of it. So there’s that.

It’s good timing for it to be my birthday weekend. I just got done grading a bunch of a papers, which I spent plenty of time on. There are no pressing demands, so I should be able to take this weekend pretty easy. And I plan to. I’m super excited about it, treating it as a mini-vacation, at least mentally. I hope to be a bit more frivolous with my time. It’ll be nice. Of course, it’s also LDS General Conference, which means there are 10 hours of meetings to attend and/or watch over the next couple of days. Melanie’s and my birthday both often fall on conference weekends, which can be a bummer if you want to do something grand but also want to participate in conference. Your hours are restricted, if you really want to do both. But I always look forward to conference, and it sounds so relaxing in comparison to what I usually do that I’m not the least bit bugged about it this time around. I’m very happy. It sounds soothing.

I guess I don’t have much else to say at the moment. I just wanted to blog while I felt like I had a good opportunity (and excuse) to do so. Probably I should say something about Peter, since my previous post alluded to the possibility of surgery and I’ve said nothing about it since. That’s partially because I know 99.9% of my readership is family and friends who have already heard everything via Facebook. But, to keep my own record semi-complete, Peter did indeed have surgery on Tuesday morning. They put three pins in his arm to hold the bone together in the desired way. Overall, Peter’s been doing incredibly well since then. He’s often in very good spirits, although he does complain of pain from time to time and the splint he wears can be heavy and obnoxious. Early next week, the doctors will check his arm and then put him into a full cast if all is going well. He’ll be in that for another two or three weeks. As a kid, that’s going to be such a significant chunk of time that he spends without being able to use his arm! I can’t help but feel sad for him. But he’s okay, and he’ll be okay. That’s obviously all that matters.