Thursday, June 29, 2017

Love and Other L Words

Sometimes people of different opinions seem at cross purposes. We talk past each other. And we won’t get anywhere good that way. So sometimes I work on words, and wording, in the hope that it may help.

Yesterday I came across a short piece at United Families International, by Erin Weist, talking about the phrase “Love wins.” It’s used by the LGBTQ… lobby to attack defenders of marriage and family. It’s a good example of talking past each other.

Who’s against love? No one is saying LGBT people shouldn’t be loved, or shouldn’t love. As Weist says, “Who doesn’t support loving each other?  But I suggest these statements are straw man arguments, meant to invoke intense passion for the subject without actually addressing the subject at all.”

It's hard to know the motivation of everyone who uses the phrase. Some are probably doing it purposely to manipulate the argument—to demonize anyone who disagrees with them. Some are those who have fallen for the manipulation and then repeat it without thinking it through.
We celebrated a lot of
real love that day, at
daughter Social Sphere's wedding

That second group might be someone we can eventually communicate with, if we get a chance to have an actual dialogue.

Weist offers some historical perspective on the word love:

First, love comes in many forms.  Men can form bonds with each other, women love friends in their social groups, children love each other, adults love children and find themselves concerned with their well-being because of that love.  Ancient Greeks believed in at least 8 different types of love, some of them among friends and having nothing to do with a marriage relationship.  Each of these forms of love is different based on the particular relationship.  Traditional marriage supporters generally believe in many different forms of love–but especially that physical love is one particular kind meant to be kept between 2 opposite genders and ONLY in a marriage relationship.  This doesn’t deny selfless love or familial love that we feel for others around us.
I got curious and looked up what those 8 Greek words for love are, and how their meanings differ:

·         Eros—erotic love, sexual passion or desire
·         Philia—friendship affection, between equals
·         Storge—familial affection, no sexual attraction
·         Ludus—playful affection, flirtation, infatuation
·         Mania—obsessive love, eros or ludus unbalanced and desperate
·         Pragma—enduring love, matured love, as with long married couples
·         Philautia—self love in its healthiest form (not narcissism), caring for self
·         Agape—unselfish, unconditional love, altruistic love

Only a few of these relate to potential sexual relations. Several are clearly free of that connotation. But when the LGBT lobby talks about sexual relations, they frequently use the word love, as though that is what sex always is. But it isn’t.

If sex always meant love, then we would consider rape a beautiful offering of connection between two people—but it isn’t. Nor is incest, child molestation—or any molestation. Nor is prostitution or any form of sex trafficking.

We’d be hard put to agree that one-night stands or orgies are about people caring deeply for one another in any way that could be described as actual love. Promiscuity is selfish and carnal; it has nothing to do with love.

A better word would be lascivious. It means wanton, lustful, lewd, arousing sexual desire without love. It’s a good, Biblical word that we seem to under-use in our modern society.

I have a long-time friend (Happy Birthday, Friend!) who has been married coming up on 40 years soon. I remember when they met and started dating. It was a blind date, to a dance. She was fighting a cold, and didn’t think she’d been that impressive on their first date. But on his part, it was practically love at first sight. He went home and told his parents, “I’m in lust.” And to their shocked expressions he replied, “I only just met her, so how could I be in love yet? So I must be in lust.” 

Whatever it was that first date, he pursued it. Using the Greek words above, I’d say he felt ludus, and pursued the relationship toward marriage so they could enjoy eros, and eventually pragma. And I’d add that, in a mature love, there’s a lot of unselfish agape as well.

Children came out of that marriage. I’ve lost count of how many grandchildren; they keep coming. The latest family photos take up an entire wall. There’s something beautiful that comes from that bond of love—a love that isn’t expressed sexually until the covenant of marriage has been made, that then provides safe growth for children, and long and happy companionship for the couple.

In my fairly civilized world, that kind of love shows up frequently. It’s what most of my circle of friends are striving for, and mostly succeeding.

I’m not against that kind of love for anyone willing to put into it enough unselfish love to make it work.

But those who keep thinking they’re going to find it if they just have enough sexual encounters—they won’t. Every time they engage in sex without eternal commitment, they aren’t giving actual love, and they aren’t receiving it. They are choosing lasciviousness instead of love.

As Weist ends her piece:

Marriage may be all about love but the arguments in favor of same sex marriage reflect a different kind of love–less concerned with a stable society or the next generation and more concerned with self.  So saying “love wins” is indeed a straw man.  No one is arguing against love, just which kind is most important. 
Often the argument takes place at a distance, and doesn’t much resemble a conversation. But if the opportunity does come up to talk things through toward understanding, maybe we can ask, “What kind of love is winning? What do you mean?” And if they believe they’re talking about some kind of real love, we can ask, “What makes you think any of us is against that?”

Maybe there will be some who come to see, we’ve been in favor of real love all along, and maybe we even know how to find it.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Opposite to the Stated Goal

Whenever government attempts something beyond the proper role of government (protection of life, liberty, and property), it causes unintended consequences—usually exactly opposite to the stated goals of the interference.
That is an axiom of the Spherical Model. It comes up often when we’re talking about government policies. Today we’ll look at an example from this past week.

This US Senate came out with their version of “repeal and replace,” which, pretty much like the House’s version AHCA (American Health Care Act), doesn’t repeal, and only slightly modifies the original, inaptly named Affordable Care Act.

The ACA—or Obamacare, since it’s on him—claims to want to provide more affordable health insurance for the uninsured. It did so by astronomically raising insurance costs, reducing choice, forcing Americans to make a purchase whether they would choose to or not, and added in forcing companies to pay for practices against their beliefs (which the courts have somewhat corrected after attacks on nuns and others whose religion finds abortion unconscionable). People lost the health insurance they had. People lost their doctors. People found health care scarcer and more expensive. And the whole system is spiraling downward.

Let’s add that the ACA claimed it had the right to force all citizens to purchase health insurance as “a legitimate exercise of its expressly delegated power to regulate commerce among the states. The trouble is that the mandate does not regulate commerce at all. Rather, it forces people into commerce on pain of a financial penalty,” quoting Robert George in the Prager U video "Why We're Losing Liberty." 

Another helpful video on today's topic is "Why Is Healthcare So Expensive?" A good 2 1/2-minute summary:

Meanwhile, since the ACA's partisan late-night scurrilous passage in March 2010, Republicans have been promising to repeal the whole of Obamacare and replace it with free-market reforms.

But now that they are in power, they hesitate—because the Democrats, amplified by the media, which is lopsided in favor of Obama and his ilk, announce that getting rid of the higher costs and less care of Obamacare means they want to kill thousands of people. Lies seem to have an effect on weak seekers of approval.

So, from the House we got the AHCA, American Health Care Act. At least they didn’t call it affordable. But it doesn’t actually provide health care either. It intended to adjust a few minor things. And it certainly wasn’t a repeal of the ACA as promised from 2010 through the election of 2016.

The freshly named BCRA, or Better Care Reconciliation Act, which is what the Senate is calling their version, does nothing to provide better care, or more affordable care—with a few provisos mainly put off until past some other election or decade. Nor would I say it reconciles reality with the pretended goal of more affordable health care for all. (The real goal of government, when it steps beyond its proper role is always to wield power.)

The BCRA will not pass with any help from Democrats. That means it requires all but possibly two Republicans to vote in favor. (There are 52 Republican Senators, plus VP Mike Pence to break a tie.) But Senators Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Dean Heller, Ron Johnson, and Mike Lee all oppose it as currently written. Senator Heller thinks it needs more money going to Medicaid than any previous version, so let’s set him aside for now. The other four want to keep their promise to repeal the ACA and replace it with free-market ideas.

There are many who think they should just give up on their principles and go along to get along, even people I respect generally as conservative (Hugh Hewitt, for example).

I think it would be instructive to hear what these holdouts have to say. Together, they said this: "There are provisions in this draft that represent an improvement to our current health care system, but it does not appear this draft as written will accomplish the most important promise that we made to Americans: to repeal Obamacare and lower their health care costs."

Senator Cruz said, "Of course I'll compromise, if—and the 'if' is critical—we're moving in the right direction, if we are expanding freedom, if we are improving economic growth, if we are defending our nation."

Senator Lee wrote an op-ed giving his reasoning. I’ll just share parts of it:

No, the Senate healthcare bill released yesterday does not repeal Obamacare. It doesn’t even significantly reform American healthcare.
It cuts taxes. It bails out insurance companies. It props up Obamacare through the next election. It lays out plans to slow Medicaid spending beginning in 2025, but that probably won’t happen. And it leaves in place the ham-fisted federal regulations that have driven up family health insurance premiums by 140 percent since Obamacare was implemented.
As the bill is currently drafted, I won’t vote for it.
He’s not against compromise entirely; he’s been there done that:

[A]s one of the most conservative Republican Senators, I would have to compromise with the least conservative Republican Senators to get something done. And compromise I have!
At the beginning of this process, I wanted a full repeal of Obamacare. Despite campaigning on that very thing for eight years, my Republican colleagues disagreed.
So then I called for a partial repeal, like we passed in 2015—and which conservatives were promised by our leaders in January. A partial repeal would at least force Congress to start over on a new system that could work better.
Again, no.
So then I advocated repealing Obamacare’s regulations, which have been the primary drivers of spiking premiums. I repeated this suggestion at every single meeting of the working group, and at every members’ lunch for several weeks. Yet when the Better Care Reconciliation Act was unveiled yesterday, the core Obamacare regulations were largely untouched.
What would make this clearly bad bill palatable to vote for?

Conservatives have compromised on not repealing, on spending levels, tax credits, subsidies, corporate bailouts, Medicaid, and the Obamacare regulations. That is, on every substantive question in the bill.
Having conceded to my moderate colleagues on all of the above, I now ask only that the bill be amended to include an opt-out provision, for states or even just for individuals.
Here’s his reason:

The only hope for actually solving the deep, challenging problems in our health care system is to let people try out approaches other than the ones a few dozen politicians thought up inside the D.C. bubble.
And so, for all my frustrations about the process and my disagreements with the substance of BCRA, I would still be willing to vote for it if it allowed states and/or individuals to opt-out of the Obamacare system free-and-clear to experiment with different forms of insurance, benefits packages, and care provision options. Liberal states might try single-payer systems, while conservatives might emphasize health savings accounts. Some people embrace association health plans or so-called “medishare” ministry models. My guess is different approaches will work for different people in different places—like everything else in life….
To win my vote, the Republican health care bill must create a little space for states and individuals to sidestep Washington’s arrogant incompetence, and see if they can do better.
Recent history suggests they couldn’t possibly do worse.
Just make a little room for choice. Allow a free market to try to find solutions. It doesn’t seem like that much to ask. And maybe he’ll get it.

I don’t know how to get policy passed that would do what is needed—but I do know what is needed. If we want affordable health care, we need government out of the way. The free market eventually leads to innovation and lower costs. Every time it’s tried. If only we tried it more often.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Challenges of Our Day

I watched a 5-minute video clip of a talk given in 1978 by one of my favorites: Neal A. Maxwell. His words are beautiful—extraordinarily well-phrased—and the ideas he speaks of are even more beautiful.

As happens on YouTube, other videos of him popped up. So I thought it might be worth spending a day sharing quotes from a couple of his archived speeches.

“Meeting the Challenges of Today” 

This first was a Devotional Speech (regular campus-wide weekly speeches at BYU] from 1978. I was there the day he delivered this address. I have a stack of 3x5 cards I kept notes on, and I managed to capsulize his 40-minute speech on two sides of a card. I need a magnifying glass to read it, but several of the quotes below are in there. This was 39 years ago, and looking at our world today, it appears both relevant and prophetic. Here is the 5-minute clip. Then come the quotes.

We are now entering a period of incredible ironies. Let us cite but one of these ironies which is yet in its subtle stages: we shall see in our time a maximum if indirect effort made to establish irreligion as the state religion. It is actually a new form of paganism that uses the carefully preserved and cultivated freedoms of Western civilization to shrink freedom even as it rejects the value essence of our rich Judeo-Christian heritage.

Brothers and sisters, irreligion as the state religion would be the worst of all combinations. Its orthodoxy would be insistent and its inquisitors inevitable. Its paid ministry would be numerous beyond belief. Its Caesars would be insufferably condescending. Its majorities—when faced with clear alternatives—would make the Barabbas choice, as did a mob centuries ago when Pilate confronted them with the need to decide.

[Quoting M. J. Sobran]: It is startling to consider that a clause clearly protecting religion can be construed as requiring that it be denied a status routinely granted to educational and charitable enterprises, which have no overt constitutional protection. Far from equalizing unbelief, secularism has succeeded in virtually establishing it.
What the secularists are increasingly demanding, in their disingenuous way, is that religious people, when they act politically, act only on secularist grounds. They are trying to equate acting on religion with establishing religion. And—I repeat—the consequence of such logic is really to establish secularism. It is in fact, to force the religious to internalize the major premise of secularism: that religion has no proper bearing on public affairs. [Human Life Review, Summer 1978, pp. 51–52, 60–61]
A religious conviction is now a second-class conviction, expected to step deferentially to the back of the secular bus, and not to get uppity about it (Human Life Review, Summer 1978, p. 58).

In its more harsh forms, as is always the case with those whose dogmatism is blinding, the secular church will do what it can to reduce the influence of those who still worry over standards such as those in the Ten Commandments. It is always such an easy step from dogmatism to unfair play—especially so when the dogmatists believe themselves to be dealing with primitive people who do not know what is best for them. It is the secular bureaucrat’s burden, you see.

There is occurring a discounting of religiously-based opinions. There may even be a covert and subtle disqualification of some for certain offices in some situations, in an ironic “irreligious test” for office.

Our founding fathers did not wish to have a state church established nor to have a particular religion favored by government. They wanted religion to be free to make its own way. But neither did they intend to have irreligion made into a favored state church. Notice the terrible irony if this trend were to continue. When the secular church goes after its heretics, where are the sanctuaries? To what landfalls and Plymouth Rocks can future pilgrims go?

Will we be able to rely for counterforce on value education in school systems that are increasingly secularized? And if our governments and schools were to fail us, would we be able to fall back upon the institution of the family, when so many secular movements seek to shred it?

It may well be, as our time comes to “suffer shame for his name” (Acts 5:41), that some of this special stress will grow out of that portion of discipleship which involves citizenship.

[This next quote references Lehi’s Dream, which I mentioned in my last post.]

To go on clinging to the iron rod in spite of the mockery and scorn that flow at us from the multitudes in that great and spacious building seen by Father Lehi, which is the “pride of the world,” is to disregard the shame of the world (1 Nephi 8:26–27, 33; 11:35–36). Parenthetically, why—really why—do the disbelievers who line that spacious building watch so intently what the believers are doing? Surely there must be other things for the scorners to do—unless, deep within their seeming disinterest, there is interest.

Let us have integrity and not write checks with our tongues which our conduct cannot cash.

Before the ultimate victory of the forces of righteousness, some skirmishes will be lost. Even these, however, must leave a record so that the choices before the people are clear and let others do as they will in the face of prophetic counsel. There will also be times, happily, when a minor defeat seems probable, that others will step forward, having been rallied to righteousness by what we do. We will know the joy, on occasion, of having awakened a slumbering majority of the decent people of all races and creeds—a majority which was, till then, unconscious of itself.

Even when we face stern challenges and circumstances, “these are great days”![i] Our hearts need not fail us. We can be equal to our challenges, including the aforementioned challenge of the secular church.

When in situations of stress we wonder if there is any more in us to give, we can be comforted to know that God, who knows our capacity perfectly, placed us here to succeed.

“Behold, the Enemy Is Combined”  

I probably also heard this address live, broadcast rather than in person. But no notes; I had three young children then, so my hands were full. It is from the April 1993 General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I recommended this speech and included the video in a post I wrote in May.

We must not be intimidated or lose our composure even though the once morally unacceptable is becoming acceptable, as if frequency somehow conferred respectability!

Today, lust openly parades as love, license cleverly poses as liberty, and raucous sounds mockingly masquerade as music. Evil even calls itself good and often gets away with it!
While I would not shrink the circumference of freedom, the size of that circle is not the sole measure of social well-being.
Hence, to exult, as some do, over how much decadence is permissible at the edges ignores the erosive effects of such grossness upon all within that circle.

Attributed to historian Will Durant are these relevant words: “If the hunger for liberty destroys order, the hunger for order will destroy liberty.” In this connection, how can there possibly be a disturbing loss of individual impulse control without a corresponding loss of collective freedom?

No wonder the adversary steadily promotes all the ancient sins, not because he is uninventive but because his harvest is so constant.

In their search for identity and belonging, too many supposedly savvy teens are now confined to the solitude of a lonely gang. What is the lasting advantage of becoming streetwise if one is on a street to nowhere?

We are lathered with soap operas in need of nothing so much as soap—for the scrubbing of themselves! Some seriously maintain that media violence and sleaze leave consumers untouched. But revenue is received from commercials precisely because of their influence. Either we deserve reforms, or sponsors deserve refunds!

Those who mock the traditional moral values should heed this lesson of history from the Durants:
“A youth boiling with hormones will wonder why he should not give full freedom to his sexual desires; and if he is unchecked by custom, morals, or laws, he may ruin his life before he matures sufficiently to understand that sex is a river of fire that must be banked and cooled by a hundred restraints if it is not to consume both the individual and the group.” (Will and Ariel Durant, The Lessons of History, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1968, pp. 35–36.)
Lasciviousness wrongly celebrates the capacity to feel, so that people lose their capacity to feel!

Even with its flaws, the family is basic, and since no other institution can compensate fully for failure in the family, why then, instead of enhancing the family, the desperate search for substitutes? Why not require family impact studies before proceeding with this program or that remedy, since of all environmental concerns the family should be first? Hundreds of governmental departments and programs protect various interests, but which one protects the family?

Only reform and self-restraint, institutional and individual, can finally rescue society! Only a sufficient number of sin-resistant souls can change the marketplace.

We can have love at home, even though the love of many waxes cold in the world. (See Matt. 24:12.) We can have inner peace even though peace has been taken from the earth. (See D&C 1:35.)
We can keep the seventh commandment even though others break it and mock it. We can render individualized, humanitarian service even though the mass of human suffering seems so overwhelming.
We can use our tongues to speak the truth in love, while refusing to use them to bear false witness. (See Eph. 4:15; Ex. 20:16.) We can stand fast “in holy places” even though in the world “all things shall be in commotion.” (D&C 45:32; D&C88:91.)

Yes, “the enemy is combined,” but when we are combined with the Lord’s “chariots of fire,” then “they that be with us are more than they that be with them”! (2 Kgs. 6:16–17.) Furthermore, the divine promise is that no weapon formed against the Lord’s work shall finally prosper; this “is the heritage of the servants of the Lord.” (Isa. 54:17; D&C 71:9.)

[i] Quoting Winston Churchill, from an address at Harrow School, October 1941, found in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, p. 923.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Making Good Appealing

I read a piece the other day, “The Taste of Strawberries,” by Jeffrey Bilbro for The Imaginative Conservative, about Tolkien, pointing out that his writing does something not easy to do:

One of the reasons that Tolkien’s stories continue to inspire us is that he does something few authors are able to do: he makes goodness compelling and desirable.
Bilbro (I’m delighted that his name sounds like he could be from the Shire) reminds us of the good places Tolkien created:
The Shire, in New Zealand
image from here

We long for the rich life experienced by the hobbits in the Shire, the elves in Rivendell, the dwarves in Moria and their kingdom under the Lonely Mountain, and the men in Rohan and Gondor. These places are not perfect, but their vibrant communities offer rich visions of shalom, of beautiful, harmonious ways of life.
I think he’s right. We don’t often come across imaginary creations that are truly good, yet are beautiful and interesting—never boring. More often we get depictions of good that are less than artistic, and often boring, even contrived.

We have a set of animated videos for children, intended for our grandchildren’s entertainment and learning, particularly on Sundays when we’re separating ourselves out from the world. I think they’re well done. They include music that is often worthwhile beyond the video. These videos depict scripture stories or historical characters. But my granddaughter, in a pique one day, refused to have those boring videos forced upon her. Sigh!

But I kind of understand. So much of literature—including movies—is about conflict, or other things more exciting than the good.

As Tolstoy points out in the beginning of Anna Karenina,

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
I’ve always bristled against that. I don’t believe it deep down. Unhappy families come from people doing uncivilized things—lying, cheating, being unfaithful and disloyal, jealousy, coveting, stealing, selfishness, abuse. There’s not really that much variety.

But inventing bad things does seem to be easier. As Bilbro points out,

In many of our movies and stories, the good characters are rather insipid, while the evil ones are much more fascinating. Think about the character of the Joker in The Dark Knight, Walter White in Breaking Bad, or Darth Vader in the Star Wars series. These characters are complex and compelling—they draw us into their struggle.
Even the bad places are fascinating, though often morbidly so. Think The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, and plenty of other dystopian series. And in historical literature, we’re drawn to the extremities of war and oppression—hopefully with the uplift that comes from overcoming the evil, but still that’s where we dwell: the German holocaust in Schindler’s List and others, the Armenian Genocide in the recent movie The Promise, the Japanese prisoner of war camps in Unbroken, the story of the survival of Louis Zamperini, or the martyrdom of Bonhoeffer.

It’s not that these aren’t stories worth telling. It’s that there must be stories of good that also ought to be told, and told well. But we’re not good at finding them—or telling them.

Even the way we talk about heaven isn’t appealing—floating about on clouds, playing a harp, singing praises. Most of us (including me) would say that sounds boring if that’s all there is for the rest of eternity. It’s not how I picture heaven.

So how do we picture heaven—or as close as we can get to it here on earth?

There’s a story from the Book of Mormon that uses the image of a tree of life. I’ve met people from other religious traditions that have a tree of life too. In ours, it appears in First Nephi, near the beginning of the Book of Mormon. The prophet and patriarch of the people, Lehi, has a dream. In it there are paths, obscured by a dark mist, on a narrow path alongside a gulf of filthy water. But there’s a rod of iron alongside the path. Those who hold onto the rod and stay on the path get to a beautiful tree, with fruit that is sweet above all that is sweet:

a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy./ And it came to pass that I did go forth and partake of the fruit thereof; and I beheld that it was most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted. Yea, and I beheld that the fruit thereof was white, to exceed all the whiteness that I had ever seen./ And as I partook of the fruit thereof it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy; wherefore, I began to be desirous that my family should partake of it also; for I knew that it was desirable above all other fruit. [1 Nephi 8:10-12]
Lehi's Dream
painting by Steven Lloyd Neal

In this vision, many people seek the happiness of the tree. Many get lost along the way. But those who taste it—you’d think that would be the finale. For some it is, but others, even after they taste the sweetness, fall away from the tree after they notice ridicule coming at them from people pointing and mocking from a large and spacious building. There’s a lot to this dream we could apply as allegory to our lives.

Even if we find the best way to encourage people to seek and taste the good, that’s not the end. But at least we’d better start there.

In Bilbro’s piece, he says (and quotes C. S. Lewis as saying) that portraying an evil character is easy, because we can imagine an exaggeration of the evil already in us. But it’s harder to depict an extraordinarily good character, which we’ve never been. What Tolkien does that succeeds is putting decent but ordinary characters who are drawn to exceptional good and beautiful places.

In the words of Lehi’s Dream, they are people who seek that tree and taste the fruit—and then they remember the taste so clearly that, even when they might be placed in far distant circumstances, they will live for the day they can return and taste that fruit again. As Sam Gangee says to Frodo,

Do you remember the Shire, Mr. Frodo? It’ll be spring soon, and the orchards will be in blossom; and the birds will be nesting in the hazel thicket; and they’ll be sowing the summer barley in the lower fields; and eating the first of the strawberries with cream. Do you remember the taste of strawberries?
So if I had to describe good in a way that would draw everyone to it, I’d say those sweetened-on-the-vine best spring strawberries.

In the Spherical Model, we use this description for good, or civilization. There are happy families, economic prosperity, living in peace, creativity and innovation in the arts and every other area of endeavor. We could use Bilbro’s words and say civilization is “vibrant communities [that] offer rich visions of shalom, of beautiful, harmonious ways of life.”

It’s just a description, not an enticement, really. There’s beauty in civilization. If you can picture it, it’s hard not to want it. But it’s not dramatic. If people are going to visualize it—and, better yet, want it and seek it—they’ll probably need both real-life and literary examples.

I recently spent a week watching a Netflix series based on Anne of Green Gables—a series I’ve read multiple times, and also enjoyed the 30-year-old PBS series. There’s a lot for the new version, Anne with an E, to live up to. But going to that beautiful world (which I’ve been to in person) was worth giving it a chance. The casting was excellent. The scenery, of course, was beautiful. And the parts of the story that actually came from the original were nicely done.
That's us at the Lucy Maud Montgomery home
on Prince Edward Island, in 1985

But then the people who created this new version decided what they needed was drama. So they added things: Anne getting sent back to the orphanage after a brooch goes missing and is assumed stolen (the brooch incident is in the book; getting sent back is not); quitting school because others don’t accept her; saving someone from a fire so that her bravery wins acceptance; willing to go back to school because of feminism (I’m rolling my eyes); a mortgage on the farm; a heart attack for Matthew so he can no longer work the farm (he does have heart problems in the books, but doesn’t get incapacitated in her first year, nor is the farm ever in jeopardy); going to the big city to sell all the household goods, and the horse—and the farm helper who goes along to sell the horse gets beat up and the money stolen; they decide to take on a boarder—who happens to be the thief of the horse money; add in a possible love interest for Matthew, and a near suicide, plus a lot of parenting angst and self-doubt for Marilla.

So, maybe in some other story the drama might add something. But what we love about Anne Shirley is just watching her be herself in that beautiful Prince Edward Island setting that she appreciates so thoroughly. The books are episodic, rather than dramatic. But we don’t mind. Episodes like dying her red hair accidentally green, and floating in a sinking boat to enact “The Lady of Shalott,” which are practically iconic parts of the book, were left out of the new version. What a loss!

We need portrayals of good, or, as Bilbro calls it, shalom, that are enticing enough that adding drama for the sake of drama is unnecessary. Stories still need drama, and contrast, and layers of rich meaning. But we have plenty of depictions of evil.

I think, if we’re looking for stories of the good, we’ll find stories about happy families, with lots of humor, along with facing the challenges that happen just because we’re experiencing earth life. Sometimes dads and moms are the heroes who ought to be “put into songs and tales,” as Sam Gangee would say.

So, I’m on a search—I hope you’ll join me—for the good that will be as memorable and enticing as strawberries in the Shire.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Flags and Symbols

Things have meaning when we imbue them with meaning.

It’s useful to have a symbol that means something larger. Instead of describing, each time, that the United States of America is a nation based on a Constitution that limits government, and is intended to give people freedom while protecting their rights—kind of a mouthful—we have a symbol. A flag. It represents those larger ideas, plus some of our history.

The thirteen stripes represent the original colonies—the founding states. For a while there was an attempt to add a stripe with each new state, but that soon got unwieldy. The stars, though, do represent each state, so the number changed frequently until its current arrangement of fifty stars.

The red, white, and blue colors themselves add meaning. White stands for purity and equality. Red stands for valor, or courage. Blue stands for vigilance and justice.

Flag Day, June 14th, is actually the US flag’s birthday—which came about nearly a year after the Declaration of Independence, giving Washington's army a symbol to rally around.

When we “pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America,” we are using the word flag to represent all those ideas that are America. We even go on to clarify that we are also pledging allegiance to “the Republic for which is stands.” We mean all those states that make up our “one nation under God,” along with the ideas “indivisible” and “liberty and justice for all.”

Allegiance is related to the word ally, also align. When you offer your allegiance to the flag, you are allied with the ideas the flag stands for. In the case of this nation, we stand for some lofty things. The government doesn’t always meet up to that lofty standard. We love the country anyway. Like loyalty to family, we stand with, want the best for, correct as necessary; we don’t say, “You’re not perfect, so I’m abandoning you.”

You’re free to do that, of course. You can leave, become a permanent ex-patriot. But you can’t, by definition, be a patriot if you feel no allegiance to the place and those beautiful ideas the flag symbolizes.

Flags surrounding the Washington Monument

A flag is a piece of cloth, with colors. But it’s much more, because of the meaning it carries. When we see our flag blowing in the breeze, we see it as beautiful. Aesthetically it is, but the beauty we feel is the loftier meaning it symbolizes.

We can imagine what Francis Scott Key felt, after the battle at Ft. McHenry, during the War of 1812, when the smoke cleared and he could see the colors flying. That "star-spangled banner" was beautiful because it meant that freedom won that battle against tyranny. And that is always a beautiful thing.

This is from the American History Museum, in Washington, DC
where there's a display about the flag over Ft. McHenry, that
Francis Scott Key wrote about, which became our national anthem.
The actual, huge flag is on display, but no photos allowed.

One other symbol got notice this week. Do you remember when President Reagan spoke the forceful words, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall”? It has been 30 years since that speech, given June 12, 1987. The wall was a physical barrier between East and West Berlin, But it was larger than that physical thing. 

The larger thing was called the “Iron Curtain.” It represented the oppression of Communism, keeping millions of people trapped under Soviet communist rule. The wall was intended to keep people captive, separate from the Free World.

Two years after the speech, the day finally came when the wall was physically torn down. The meaning of that was more than just disassembling a structure; it meant renewed freedom. Families who had been separated for decades could freely visit one another again. People who had been held captive under tyranny gained visiting privileges to the rest of the world.

When I visited Washington, DC, I saw a piece of the wall, kept in a museum. It's not a pretty thing. But I'm glad we can see the symbol—that symbol we do not feel allegiance to—and remember what it meant, so that we can rejoice that the ideological barrier also fell that day.

Fragments of the Berlin Wall,
in the American History Museum in Washington, DC

Monday, June 12, 2017

Ninety-ninth Father's Day

Yesterday would have been my Dads 99th birthday. He was late to fatherhood—39 when my twin brothers finally showed up, and 40 when I came along barely over a year later. We had him around a good long time. He was 91 ½ when he passed away in late 2009. But the age gap meant we were relatively young to lose our Dad, especially so for my sister, who is eight years younger than I am. I have a lot of friends a decade or more older than I am who still have their parents. That’s part of the variety of life.

My Dad, WWII Army photo

Anyway, since Father’s Day is coming up this week (which began in 1910, eight years before my Dad was born), I thought I’d go ahead and honor fathers—with their civilizing superpower, today.

I’ve written about fatherhood, and Father’s Day, fairly regularly here. There’s an even larger list related to strong families, but we’ll focus mainly on fatherhood today. So here is the collection, after which I’ll pull out a few highlights:

·         Honoring Fathers, June 17, 2011
·         Building Better Families June 20, 2011 
·         Dad Rules, June 18, 2012 
·         Fathers, June 15, 2014 
·         Being a Dad, June 22, 2015 
·         Depend on Dad, June 17, 2016 

From “Fathers

In an interview about the study, Dr. [Brad] Wilcox said,

After kids come along, men are more likely to be engaged civically in their communities in activities ranging from youth soccer to church. Furthermore, they typically work harder and earn more money after they become dads, provided that they live with the mother of their children. One study found that “married, residential, biological fatherhood is associated with wage gains of about 4 percent, but unmarried residential fathers, nonresidential fathers, and stepfathers do not receive a fatherhood premium.” So, men become more engaged at work and in civil society in the wake of assuming the role of fatherhood.
Mr. Spherical Model carries sons
Political Sphere and Economic Sphere
Many of the outcomes of good fathering reinforce what sociological studies have been showing for some time. Additionally, though, Dr. Wilcox says having an involved father in the home actually leads to better mothering from mothers—assuming the father is doing his job well. He said, “It’s crucial for married fathers to do their best to be attentive, affectionate, engaged in the practical work of the home, and thankful towards their wives.”

From “Honoring Fathers

There’s a summary of family research I often turn to for data, called Why Marriage Matters. I’m going to list some of the conclusions here, to show how important it is to children and to civilization for fathers to be present in the family. (Please go to the original for sources and more details, available through 

1.     Marriage increases the likelihood that fathers have good relationships with their children. (Children of divorce report having much worse relationships with fathers.)
2.     Cohabitation is not the functional equivalent of marriage. (Outcomes for children are equivalent to single-parent households, with higher incidents of abuse.)
3.     Growing up outside an intact marriage increases the likelihood that children will themselves divorce or become unwed parents.
4.     Marriage is a virtually universal human institution. (It is a significant factor in every civilization in history.)
5.     Divorce and unmarried childbearing increase poverty for both children and mothers.
6.     Married couples seem to build more wealth on average than singles or cohabiting couples.
7.     Married men earn more money than do single men with similar education and job histories.
8.     Parental divorce (or failure to marry) appears to increase children’s risk of school failure.
9.     Parental divorce reduces the likelihood that children will graduate from college and achieve high-status jobs.
10.  Children who live with their own two married parents enjoy better physical health, on average, than do children in other family forms.
11.  Parental marriage is associated with a sharply lower risk of infant mortality.
12.  Marriage is associated with reduced rates of alcohol and substance abuse for both adults and teens.
13.  Married people, especially married men, have longer life expectancies than do otherwise similar singles.
14.  Marriage is associated with better health and lower rates of injury, illness, and disability for both men and women.
15.  Children whose parents divorce have higher rates of psychological distress and mental illness.
16.  Divorce appears significantly to increase the risk of suicide.
17.  Married mothers have lower rates of depression than do single or cohabiting mothers.
18.  Boys raised in single-parent families are more likely to engage in delinquent and criminal behavior.
19.  Marriage appears to reduce the risk that adults will be either perpetrators or victims of crime.
20.  Married women appear to have a lower risk of experiencing domestic violence than do cohabiting or dating women.
21.  A child who is not living with his or her own two married parents is at greater risk of child abuse.

The study summary ends with this conclusion: 

Marriage is more than a private emotional relationship. It is also a social good. Not every person can or should marry. And not every child raised outside of marriage is damaged as a result. But communities where good-enough marriages are common have better outcomes for children, women, and men than do communities suffering from high rates of divorce, unmarried childbearing, and high-conflict or violent marriages.

From “Dad Rules

A Dad will:
·         Spend time, more than money.
·         Work hard for and with his family.
·         Enjoy playing with his family.
·         Love the mother of his children.
He can be athletic or not. He can be good with a grill or not. He can be loud or quiet. He can be polished or a little rough. He can be himself, whatever that is—if he’s trying to be his best self.

Here are a few of the quirks we’ve observed in our household Dad, Mr. Spherical Model.

·         Vacations are for doing things you don’t normally get to do, or see things you don’t normally see; so there’s no excuse for wasting a minute. You fill every minute. Ten+ miles a day should be minimum.
·         Sports are for girls every bit as much as for boys—and Dad will just about always be the coach (which explains why daughter Social Sphere learned basketball instead of dance).
·         A dad that is big enough to intimidate just by walking in a room and looming over everyone gets the luxury of acting friendly to the kids’ friends.
·         Being considered an honorary teen for several extra decades is better than a lot of worldly honors.
·         It’s good to be one of those dads/grandpas/neighbors who loves holding babies and is sure he has the secret formula for calming fussiness.
·         When you say no to a daughter and she texts back that she hates you, you can be sure that she doesn’t really hate you and an apology is forthcoming; but you can save the texts to illustrate the amusing anecdote later.
·         Sure, save for a daughter’s wedding, but no matter what, it will cost more than you ever envisioned—but if you’ve been a good Dad all along, then she’s probably choosing the right groom, and it’s worth it.
·         Never swear around the Mom or kids, and the kids won’t swear around their Mom either (and maybe not around their friends either).

What are some of the ways to make a family more successful? Here are some of the ideas from yesterday’s lesson:

·         Pray together daily as a family.
·         Study scriptures together as a family, and teach your children your religious beliefs.
·         Do things together as a family—recreation, work.
·         Have family meal times and hold family councils.
·         Attend church meetings together regularly.
·         Keep a family history; share stories about elderly family members and ancestors.

Some years ago I had a lesson to give in our children’s auxiliary on Father’s Day. I wanted to be sensitive to any child that day who didn’t have a father, because if we made something to give to fathers and they didn’t have one, they could feel excluded. So I looked at the list of 60 or so children—and there was not a single child not living in an intact two-parent household. In our world today I know that’s rare. I know it’s rare even within my church. It was a snapshot. But it was telling. In that little community parents were doing many things right. The odds continue to build up against us, but the solutions to stopping and correcting the decay are known. They just have to be chosen.

And one final quote:

“One father is more than a hundred schoolmasters.”—17th Century English Proverb