Friday, May 29, 2009

Scientific Evidence for Modesty in Clothing

A study at Princeton* found that when men see pictures of women wearing bikinis, the part of their brain associated with using tools activates, and the part associated with assessing a person's motivations deactivates. The conclusion is that men see scantily-clad women as objects. This is a bit of evidence that suggests what the Lord's servants have been saying all along: that modesty is important if a person wishes to be seen as a person and not as an object.

Being a bit of a scientist, myself, I would like to see a few more studies before drawing any meaningful physiological conclusions:
  1. Men's reaction in various American cultures to sleeveless shirts and/or short skirts.
  2. Men's reaction to pictures of women they have a romantic relationship with, fully clothed and less clothed.
  3. Women's reaction to similar and analogous images.

It does indicate that the argument that men should simply deal with women dressing how they want to dress might have a few holes in it.

No pun intended.

*National Geographic

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

More Than Two Years

I have been writing in this blog for nearly two and a half years, now. I have 168 posts, all but twelve published. It now averages 50-70 views on the days I post new, and receives more than half its views from direct traffic and search engines. "Self-hatred", "fear" and "joy" are among the most searched-for terms, and those searching for these three terms tend to spend the most time here. I don't watch statistics religiously, but I do check them now and again for curiosity's sake, and to see what people yearn to hear about. I also don't write slavishly, posting mostly when the spirit takes me, or when I feel particular concern about some topic. I'm not given to much thinking about my blog and the traffic, because I blog first for myself, to vent and explore my thoughts (selfish creature I am) and secondly in the hopes that someone, somewhere, some time can benefit from the lessons I have learned in the gospel, and feel the peace and love of the Lord.

Out of curiosity, I created a Wordle of the topics I have posted on during the life of this blog.

Wordle: Rains Came Down

It is rather revealing, I think. It shows very much the thoughts of my heart, things I think about all of the time, which weave in and through daily chores, loving my daughter and trying to be a good wife and mother (which topics I have largely kept out of this blog intentionally in order to separate it from my far newer and less frequently posted "mommy blog"). I have changed in the past two years, been humbled and hopefully am a little wiser than when I began. I hope I have dedicated myself a little more fully to discipleship, been humble in accepting the pruning of God.

This is by no means a good-bye, just a musing of the sort most people do in January. But to me, the year truly begins in spring. Observing life struggling once again to fill the earth causes me a little contemplation. If I could speak the desires in my heart, I would speak poetry indeed, but I rarely find words for my gratitude and aspirations.

May I focus more firmly on my Light and Salvation, and be as successful in living the things I hold most dear as well as writing about them.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Every Mother's Prayer

Although it is a bit late to be making a Mother's Day post, I have had a song not far from my thoughts for several months, now. I find myself even dreaming it, but could not remember where it came from until I searched for it this morning. It is called "A Mother's Prayer", sung by Celine Dion in Quest for Camelot. It captures perfectly how I have been feeling, and the more I think about it, the more I see how it beautifully illustrates the divinity of Motherhood.

"I pray You'll be my eyes,
and watch her where she goes.
And help her to be wise,
help me to let go.

Every mother's prayer
every child knows:
lead her to a place,
guide her with Your grace
to a place where she'll be safe.

I pray she finds Your light,
and holds it in her heart.
As darkness falls each night,
remind her where You are.

Every mother's prayer
every child knows.
Need to find a place,
guide her with Your grace,
give her faith so she'll be safe.

Lead her to a place,
guide her with Your grace
to a place where she'll be safe."

I feel that when a woman touches this love, she touches the divinity and priestesshood within herself, the power equal to and complimenting the Priesthood in men. Bearing children helps the natural woman access this power, but it is possible to reach without actually carrying a child. (And it is possible to carry a child and never feel it.) In this, a woman forges a partnership with the Divine: unconditional love fused with the wisdom that understands true love is found in agency—in choice and accountability.

And, in letting go.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Harsh Reality of Faith

I usually have difficulty in discussions of the pioneers. Not because I think their trials were not hard nor that their sacrifices were not great, but because we discuss them the same way every time, praising them with beautiful phrases such as "faith in every footstep" and almost worshiping them for their sacrifices.

Recently, as I read an account of Emma crossing the frozen Mississippi with her children, I realized something about faith in reflection of my own life. It isn't pretty. It isn't a matter of overcoming despite all odds, of courageously surmounting one's foes. It is about doing what has to be done because the alternative is so much worse.

I have tasted just a little of what Emma must have felt, gazing across the frozen river, children clinging to her skirts and hanging heavily in her arms. She looked upon a frightening, dangerous journey with little to no hope of warmth or deliverance at the end of it. She would not be rewarded for it, and wouldn't even be praised for it until long after it ceased to matter to her. But she took it because what lay behind her was worse.

Physical adversity has a way of boiling one's soul down to what is most important. Wondering how one's children will eat, facing the reality of their possible and immediate deaths, losing one's hard-earned home or one's cherished dreams allows a person to see what is most important. The pioneers joined the Church despite persecution, and crossed the plains despite likely death not because they were brave, but because, when all came down to it, they knew it was true. It did not matter what others said, it did not matter that they were able to gain enough support to kill the prophet. All their ridicule and power on this earth could not change what was true. The choice of the faithful was between facing that danger, and denying what they knew to be true.

In the end, there was no contest.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Learning Humility and Charity

Most of you don't know the particulars of what I am going through right now, though I have alluded to it when posting. Although I do not yet feel at liberty to discuss even the generalities of it, I would like to share a few things I have learned.

Before I found myself in this situation, I looked down at others in similar situations with pity and judgment. I felt that their troubles were brought on them by their own mistakes and choices, and a part of me even suspected that they deserved what they got, though I would never have actually passed that judgment.

And now I find myself where they are. I cannot even say it is through no fault of my own, because I am far from innocent in the matter. I have made mistakes, huge mistakes which have illustrated some of my biggest and ugliest character flaws. Because of those mistakes, I find myself in a place which is close to the last place on earth I would want to be. I have betrayed my own deepest held values. My fondest dreams and ideals are trampled into the dirt, beyond my own power of recovery. Ironically, my mistakes were all made in an atmosphere of trying to do the right thing. Worst of all, my mistakes will affect my family and my children irrevocably, and there is nothing I can do about it now but to try to discern the lesser of great evils.

Yet, even in the midst of paying for my mistakes and seeing my children pay for my mistakes, I see how I have been blessed.

I can no longer look upon the sorrows of the human situation in the same way, even those sorrows which people bring upon themselves in their ignorance and pride. I am much more likely to view others with a soft heart and open arms. After all, I know now that "there, but for the grace of God [go I]." I have learned that no one is immune from consequence, it is only that the grace and blessings of God keep some from realizing the full depths of it.

I no longer view the Atonement the same way. Now that I have needed it in a way that goes beyond repenting for relatively small sins and errors, I understand a little more. Now I am in a situation that I can never make better, no matter what I do. I no longer see the Atonement just as a gift bestowed upon us by a generous God, but as a lifeline, just as vital as air. Without Christ's Atonement, I would have long ago given in to despair. Now I know what it means to trust God, to trust Him to care for my children when I cannot, to trust Him to grant me the desires of my heart despite my unworthiness, to trust Him to protect me from the storms of my own making.

Nor can I view the scriptures in the same way, particularly the New Testament. Now that I have been falsely accused, I perceive the strength in Christ when He remained silent. Now that I am bleeding from unseen wounds which I can't heal, when I feel dirty and unclean, do I understand the faith and courage shown by simply touching the garment of Jesus. Now I can see how it must have felt to be accepted and forgiven by the Savior, despite sin. They are not just stories any more. Now, they are real to me.

How I yearn for such acceptance from my Savior! Now, I want to be there for those who feel as I have felt, broken, lost, alone and filthy. Now, I long for a way to lift others from the filth of sin, to embrace them as brothers and sisters, to help them feel loved.

All my previous understanding of scripture, all my previous attempts to learn were nothing compared to this. I hope that I might retain this lesson in my heart, and repent.

Monday, May 4, 2009

I Believe in Missionary Work

Articles of Faith #11
We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.

This may seem like a strange title for this Article of Faith. It seems to be saying, "Eh, you do what you do, and I'll do what I do, and no worries!" which is seemingly in direct contradiction to the idea of missionary work, which is to preach one's beliefs to others. The more I've pondered it, however, the more my mind kept being drawn back to missionary work.

I see missionary work differently than many, I suspect. I have seen missionary work addressed in two main strains: either the gung-ho, sling-the-Books-of-Mormon style (which has its place) or the member-example style (which also has its place). My purpose is not to belittle either, as I believe both can be effective in the right circumstances, but to explore a somewhat different approach.

On my mission, I was a bit of a proselytizer for a rather odd style of missionary work, in a time when we were being taught lesson memorization, sales tactics and literal foot-in-the-door techniques in Zone Conference. I had to memorize the first discussion, word-for-word, in German in order to be considered a "real missionary". It was expected that the other discussions would also be memorized. The more I thought of it, the more I struggled with the idea of teaching through memorization. I was not an expert in the language, despite previous German experience, but I still felt that missionary work should come from the heart and not the tongue. I felt that the words would take care of themselves, so long as a missionary did his/her best to study and learn the language. I also felt that sales tactics such as preparing a door approach, focusing on the "free book", or handing out pamphlets, tended to diminish the work, not enhance it. However effective sales tactics might be in the right hands for getting baptisms, and despite being taught such tactics nearly every district and zone meeting, I felt that baptisms were not the purpose of missionary work. The purpose was to bring people closer to God, to give them a chance to feel the Spirit, and let the Spirit teach them what God wanted them to know. If that ended in baptism and eventual exaltation, excellent! If not, then at least we had done what we could to bring the Spirit into someone's life and give them the chance to choose for themselves.

A book that strongly influenced this take on missionary work was Teaching by the Spirit by Gene R. Cook. Ironically, this book was given to me in the first two months of my mission by my mission president. It confused me at the time that the meetings were always so sales-oriented, that my outlook was so dramatically different, and yet the mission president never corrected me, never spoke against my outspoken rebuttals of what was being taught and actually had me speak on more than one occasion. Now I think I understand a little better, and I think the reason is held in this Article of Faith.

Sales tactic missionary work can help people who would otherwise do nothing out of fear or laziness. However, this style must eventually be softened by an understanding of agency and choice. A person cannot be allowed to worship "according to the dictates of their own conscience" if they are never taught their choices, if their conscience is never given a chance to dictate. If a person labors under misconceptions or ignorance, they cannot choose for themselves.

Nor do I believe that we will be held accountable for someone not hearing the gospel. We should not be motivated to engage in missionary work out of fear of punishment. We should engage out of love. If we really believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed to Joseph Smith, really believe and understand it, we will want to share it because it is so amazing and healing. Then, not only will we be able to respond with love and patience when our gift is rejected (allowing all men the privilege to worship how they choose), we will be focused on actually offering a real gift to a real person in a way they will most likely be able to accept it.

That "way" will differ as widely as people will differ, and cannot be taught in a classroom. It is entirely directed by the Spirit, by One who knows the other person, their concerns and their heart. Therefore, the "tactics" which should be focused on are dedicated discipleship, purifying oneself to receive the Spirit, and prayerfully gaining knowledge so the Spirit has plenty of tools to utilize. When we are in tune with the Spirit, we will be given what to say and do. And, when and if the person chooses to reject the Spirit, they will be rejecting God, not us. We as messengers will be free to sorrow for their choices, but not to feel afraid or angry. We will be free to allow them their choice.

If we fail to follow this Article when we share the Gospel, we do not understand missionary work. We do not understand the meaning of the Book we are handing over, nor the principles we claim to share.

So yes, share the message in true love and consideration and then let go. We allow all to worship as they will (barring harm to the innocent), and we allow it by sharing what is in our hearts, by demonstrating love and conviction, and most of all by following the guidance of the Spirit and allowing Him to tell us what to do. Sometimes that may be handing over a book. Sometimes it may be mowing a lawn, or being a good example. Sometimes it may be something never dreamed of before.

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