Lots of people have already talked about Newt Gingrich’s recent comment about Palestinians being an “invented” people. I don’t have anything new to contribute to that conversation except to highlight a nice post from cynicalarab.org. It’s a collection of photos of Palestinians before the creation of Israel in 1948. I don’t know what Newt expected to prove from his statement other than to reaffirm that he’s an obtuse chump. People aren’t invented. Descriptive terms might be, as seems to be part of Gingrich’s point, but people aren’t invented. Besides, I don’t see how pointing out that Palestinians are just Arabs disqualifies them from their land and excuses Israel’s aggressive presence and behavior toward Palestinians. It’s like calling Native Americans an invented people because they weren’t “Native Americans” or “Indians” until Europe showed up. It’s a stupid thing to say.
Photos are from Photographium, an interesting photo archive worth poking around in.
I took this picture with my lame camera phone, but it’s still one of my favorite pictures. God bless the Utah Republicans for letting us know what our values are and where we can find them. And God bless the unknown good Samaritan who made such simple yet profound improvements to the Republican ad campaign. I’d buy that person a cookie.
I’ve been on a religious reading kick this past month. Here are three books – two being specific to Mormonism and one that is not – that were interesting to me and might be of interest to you.
1) Mormonism and Evolution: The Authoritative LDS Statements by William E. Evenson and Duane E. Jeffrey. Here’s a short, quick, fascinating dip into how the LDS Church has dealt with one of the most controversial topics among religious circles. Here, the authors have compiled statements by or approved by the First Presidency of the Church. Most of these statements are in the 1930′s (when controversy was particularly hot), but the Church’s position hasn’t changed much since then, hence why little has been said in the last 70 years by the Church leadership. The general consensus is that the Church of Jesus Christ is neither for or against evolution, and it isn’t relevant to a person’s salvation anyway.
2) Mormonism for Dummies by Jana Riess, PhD and Christopher Kimball Bigelow. In the spirit of any For Dummies book, it’s both an informative and funny crash-course in Mormon theology, history, culture and anything in between. It does a good job of showing the official doctrine of the Church, as well as some of the oddities of some LDS members. While the Church of Jesus Christ may have the road map to salvation, that doesn’t keep some members and aspects of Mormon culture from being rather strange. A nice read for both Mormon and non-Mormon alike, proving very informative for anyone looking to learn about the Church of Jesus Christ more closely.
3) I Was a Stranger: A Christian Theology of Hospitality by Arthur Sutherland. This was my favorite of the three – probably because it addresses an important aspect of Christianity that might not be getting the stage time it deserves. Hospitality is a fundamental aspect of what it means to be Christian and so essential that Sutherland goes so far as to say that it determines whether the church (any Christian church, I’d say) stands or falls. This is a short read, but leaves us with a fresh perspective on our relationship to strangers and how to more properly view and care for those around us. You don’t have to be religious for the principle of hospitality to have relevance; it is a principle that goes beyond religious circles and is just plain decent living.
I should probably come clean and say that the phenomenom known as urban sprawl is a fairly new thing to me. I first learned of the actual term and what it was at the House of Art (Kunsthaus) in Graz, Austria about 18 months ago. I don’t know what kind of problems Austria has with sprawl, but it turns out that the United States has been enjoying(?) sprawl and its effects for some time now.
If you’re also just discovering sprawl, or looking to hone your already seasoned sprawl-spotting/identifying superpowers to a new level of precision, then be sure to check out perhaps the most accessible book on the subject: Dolores Hayden’s A Field Guide to Sprawl. The book was first published in 2004, but as of 2006 is now available in paperback, which should be good news for people, like myself, who love saving a couple of bucks, but who are rarely able to.
This book is a quick, enjoyable – at times amusing – read that identifies with beautiful color photos by Jim Wark the different types of sprawl, then gives a simple definition and explanation of what you’re looking at. After reading this book you will possess the necessary skills to then begin participating in the “Great American Pastime” known as Sprawl-Watching! Impress your friends with such sophisticated, high-brow terms as LULU, Ball Pork, Pod, and Boomburb. Believe me, they’ll be impressed – or not speak to you ever again. Either way, don’t miss noticing the wonderful, spreading world of sprawl.
Marc Rothemund’s film Sophie Scholl: The Final Days, which was released in 2005, is a wonderful German film on the resistance movement in World War II Germany. The film focuses on the last days of Sophie Scholl (Julia Jentsch), who, with her brother, Hans (Fabian Hinrichs), was arrested for distributing anti-Hitler pamphlets at the university in Munich. Their capture, interrogation, trial, and sentencing are depicted here with a believability and simplicity that few films are able to capture. The film holds very true to the actual events.
The film plays out almost like a theater performance, with much of the film taking place in prison cells and the office of Robert Mohr (Gerald Alexander Held). In these tighter quarters the feeling of being directly in the room with the characters is often more strongly felt, making the whole experience that much more personal.
Sophie Scholl gives us a part of World War II which is sometimes seldom seen or recognized. Yet this story, as well as others like it, is as significant as the other aspects of the war which have already been put on the screen time and time again. The resistance movement within Germany during the Nazi regime is an often inspiring study and those who were a part of that movement do deserve recognition.
I do believe that much can be learned from people like Sophie and Hans Scholl. They loved their country, Germany, and when they saw the principles on which that country stood being destroyed, it caused them to act – pointing out the atrocities that the Nazi Party to that point had committed. In doing that they were branded as traitors by the regime. Yet few today would claim that Sophie, Hans, the other members of the White Rose student resistance group, and all other resistance fighters in Germany were wrong in their decision to stand up to the government rather than put the blinders on and ignore the crimes committed by their leaders.
Much could be written on how this film and the events portayed are pertinant to current issues and events here in America. I won’t go into that, except to say: when times like those in the film arise, I would hope that we have the will and desire to stand up for the ideals that we may see crumbling around us, and will strive to see our own county avoid losing itself as has happened at times in the past, both within America and in other countries. Just see the film and draw your own conclusions. I found it inspiring and I hope your viewing experience will be equally memorable for you.
Most Christians at some point during their lives hear the familiar verse in Christ’s famous Sermon on the Mount which goes: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father, which is in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48).” There has been and continues to be much discussion and debate in the Christian world about what this verse and others like it mean.
I do not intend to jump in on that discussion, but simply wanted to pass on some good input on the subject. What I’m posting here is simply a link to a Brigham Young University Devotional Speech by Dr. Joseph D. Parry entitled, ‘On Being a Christian Perfectly‘, which can be downloaded in text form or as an mp3. This is a wonderful talk on the subject and gives us some points to think about when it comes to how Christians can apply the teachings of Christ to their daily lives. Whether you’re religious or not, one can hardly say that the ideals and principles addressed in this talk are bad things. Check it out; you’ll like it.
It has now been a year since hurricane Katrina did her natural disaster thing down on the gulf coast. After having seen the great disaster that Katrina was and knowing that it was the most expensive or costly natural disaster in United States history, the question arises as to how prepared the American people are for the next great disaster and if we aren’t ready, are we making efforts to become ready?
TIME Magazine recently posted an article addressing the issue of preparedness in America, or more accurately, the lack thereof. It seems that the greater majority of Americans – 91% according to a study by the Hazards and Vulnerability Institute at the University of South Carolina – live in moderate-to-high risk areas for natural disasters. That makes sense since we live in a natural world. Yet a frighteningly low percentage of Americans – 16% of a TIME poll – feel that they are prepared for the next big disaster.
Perhaps American optimism is not working in the people’s favor when it comes to natural disasters. More and more development is happening in coastal areas. All of this development isn’t making the disasters go away. In the gulf coastal areas it’s quite the contrary, since development eliminates wetlands, which act as buffers to hurricanes and the like and also increase the amount of damage done when a hurricane strikes these areas. We can’t blame the storms for destoying things – like they consciously decided to target populated areas. We put the people there, knowing that such an event was possible, but I guess we just hoped, prayed and maybe believed that nothing would happen.
There is a general feeling of invulnerability among the American people, which seems to get us into trouble when the storms come, the fires start and the earth shakes. Many don’t believe that such an event could happen. If something then does happen, pride kicks in, or a warped stubbornness and determination not to be out done by Mother Nature and we’re then fixed on not being pushed around. So we build right in the exact same place, having not learned a thing from our mistakes. That is, of course, only one possibility as to why we continue to drop the ball on emergency preparedness and efforts to avoid disasters of Katrina’s scale from happening again.
Now to say that America has done nothing to improve things and prepare for future disasters is untrue. There have been actions taken and some have even been effective. For those things we should be grateful, but we shouldn’t settle on only improving a couple of things. The system can be improved upon and needs to be. There is a whole lot of work that still needs to be done.
The lack of preparation and concern by the general public is a strange phenomenon and there are a lot of factors involved, but what continues to be certain is that earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, volcanoes, floods, and all the other creations of Mother Nature will continue to be alive and kicking across America. Those things aren’t going away.
I have always been fascinated with the way cultures and countries view one another. It is quite interesting and enlightening to learn and hear about a culture from a foreign standpoint, and then enter that culture and experience it for myself. Sadly, I haven’t been able to do that as often as I would like, but the opportunities that I have had have been nothing but amazing.
Alexander Sokurov’s one shot wonder ‘Russian Ark‘ sparked again the question of how we view our global neighbors, as well as our own country, people and culture. The film does this by taking us on a tour through the Russian State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersberg and through 300 years of Russian history. Intense? Maybe not for everyone. Yet this 96 minute, single take experience touches on some good topics, one being the relationship between Europe and Russia and the opinions held by both cultures to the other.
We have the Stranger (Sergei Dreiden), a European, moving through the rooms of the museum and making comments on Russian art, architecture, fashion and so on, while our unseen, Russian narrator or Time Traveller responds to or sometimes explains some of those things to the Stranger, but we wonder if the Stranger is listening.
Sokurov also stresses the importance of culture and history and the need to preserve it. The weaving in and out of Russian history and seeing many of the landmark figures of those times emphasizes the need for us to hold onto those times now past. When looking at an ever-changing world, it becomes apparent just how difficult a task it sometimes is to hold onto something like a way of life. If we don’t watch carefully, it may slip away from us.
I like seeing people wanting to hold onto and preserve those things which make a people great, as well as dispel or confirm perceptions of one country to another. I like being reminded of those things, for it helps keep my own focus on the things that matter most, as well as keep me looking for those praiseworthy elements found within all the cultures of the world.
A famous chapter in The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ helps to explain the importance of the gift of agency, which has been given to all people. We read in the book of 2 Nephi, chapter 2 of man becoming free to act for himself, also meant as being able to choose between good and evil. An often quoted phrase in the 26th verse is of mankind having the ability ‘to act for themselves and not be acted upon’. I have often heard people say how they ‘are free’, that they ‘have their free agency’ and ‘can do what they want’. All true statements, but when we pause and consider the words of the prophet Lehi in this chapter, we come to realize the immense responsibility that comes along with being a ‘free agent’.
Most people – religious and non-religious alike – I believe, are working to be good people and make good choices. From a religious – or more accurately, an LDS – standpoint, choice is seen as the governing factor in our personal growth and development as human beings, as well as spirit children of God. Elder Robert D. Hales, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, in a General Conference address in April 2006 said, “How we choose to feel and think and act every day is the way we get on the [strait and narrow] path, and stay on it, until we reach our eternal destination.” Choice becomes then the defining factor of our character. We become who we are as a result of our daily decisions, be those great or small decisions. Those same choices which shape us potentially influence and shape those around us.
Seeing as our goal is to become better individuals through each days experiences, one can see how important it is to be moving in a constant forward or upward direction. The rate of forward/upward progress isn’t so much the issue as is simply making progress. This appears to be a daunting task, given the state of the world, but we cannot expect such excuses to hold up, when our goal is constant progression and the correct use of agency. Elder Neal A. Maxwell, a former member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles made the statement in a General Conference address in April 2003 that “Though ours is a time of conflict, quiet caring for ‘the life of the soul’ is still what matters most. Though events set up the defining moments which can evoke profiles in righteousness, outward commotions cannot excuse any failure of inward resolve, even if some seem to unravel so easily.” Our purpose must remain firm and true. To compromise our standards in times of trial and difficulty is said to be human, but are we here to settle for something less than the best we can do or be? Is our standard of excellence to be average or perhaps mediocre, or are we striving to become the very best that we can be and thus become masters of ourselves and a strength to those around us?
Now when I say ‘better’, I don’t mean that we are in competition with those around us. We aren’t looking to be better than our neighbors. It’s a quest for self improvement, where you have only yourself to compete with. We all have a personal average within us and the object is to go beyond that to develop ourselves, not out do the people around us.
An examination of holy scripture shows the desired approach to life and choice to be one of action. We are to be pro-active in our daily doings and through that act rather than be acted upon. In the Holy Bible James speaks of us being ‘doers of the word, and not just hearers only’ (The General Epistle of James 1:22). He speaks further saying that a hearer of the word ‘forgetteth what manner of man he was’ (James 1:24). In the Book of Mormon we have the prophet Jacob say that the seeking of riches should be with ‘the intent to do good’ (Jacob 2:19). The prophet Nephi also explains that the words of Christ ‘teach all men that they should do good’ (2 Nephi 33:10). In a revelation given to the Prophet Joseph Smith we are told, ‘seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and faith (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118). It does appear that God expects us to be using our agency, this gift from Him, for the betterment of ourselves and others. Within each person lies the desire to do good – for that you don’t need a belief or faith in God. Yet we do see the message of holy scripture as one of reaching for something higher and grander than we now have.
Our choice to ‘seek’ to do good and make correct decisions can only build us up and be a means of bringing peace to an often troubled and tired world. Proper use of our agency has the power to mend and heal, in essence, create. With such possibilities, is it no wonder that this is such a precious gift.
For the complete address given by Elder Robert D. Hales, click here.
For the complete address given by Elder Neal A. Maxwell, click here.