Monday, October 19, 2020
Monday, September 07, 2020
My name is Brian and I am a chronic know-it-all. The character I most relate to from Harry Potter is Hermione Granger. I built an academic and professional career out of being the guy with all the answers. For the last few years I have struggled with my faith, and landed in a place where I no longer know it all and I am beginning to feel like that is OK.
I already wrote about my 11th grade English teacher, Mrs Olic-Hamilton. She made us write and write, and we flew through a novel every couple of weeks. She sent me home with her type writer so I could type my essays. I was way into that class. Part way through the year she pulled me aside after class and asked me if I could do her a favor. I was eager to help. She asked if maybe I could wait to make comments in class until she called on me, that she appreciated that I had such "insightful" opinions, but that it would really help my fellow students if I would keep quiet most classes. She promised me that if I waited for "especially tricky discussion points," she would call on me for "my insightful ideas." I ate that stuff up, because I was also an insufferable know-it-all.
In college, my favorite class was Genetics taught by a graduate student (Polly Randall), while the professor was on leave. It was such a great class. Before each class I read all the chapters, did the homework, and came eager for the lecture. Leila and I were in a study group together for the class. We usually sat together. She used to wack me on leg and shoot me dirty looks during class because, and this is embarrassingly bad behavior, I would answer questions from students before Polly had a chance to. That and I would roll my eyes and sigh when people had dumb questions. Because I was also an impatient and annoying know-it-all.
There are many other examples, but mostly as a grown up I try not to be an obnoxious know-it-all, but to leverage it to be a successful researcher and scientific leader in my very small and narrow field.
Regarding religion, I did serve a mission for the LDS church and taught people that it was the one and only true religion on the face of the earth. I had prayed about this and it felt . . OK. I can't say I was totally sure even then, and I struggled to find where I believed. I wanted to know.
Sometimes I felt like I did. And other times I certainly did not. I almost didn't serve a mission. I was at BYU and that seemed like the thing to do so I put in my papers. When you got your mission assignment and call in those days you were supposed to send back an acceptance letter. I wrote mine declining the mission call, because I wasn't sure I was sure enough. I didn't have the guts to actually mail it in though. It sat in my backpack in the folder with my notes for a week or two. One night my orchestra gave a fund raising concert for the BYU foundation and Pres. Hinckley was the keynote speaker. I sat behind him with the letter like the telltale heart beating loud in my mind all night. I felt so strongly that if he was a prophet, and he had called me on a mission, that I should go. So after the concert I rewrote my letter and I went.
I got to Nicaragua and dove into learning the language and teaching. My mission was hard in lots of ways - I was sick a lot from parasites, living conditions were sometimes primitive, and there was always danger from crime and plenty of other risks from a country that was just getting on its feet after years of civil war and strife. For example, the tallest building in Nicaragua then was a rather short skyscraper that was still broken and empty after the earthquake in the 1970's. We didn't always have electricity or running water. I was robbed multiple times, saw a lot of protests, and sometimes had to walk because the roads were blockaded. But, we never lacked people to teach. We were welcomed into people's homes and they were eager to learn about our religion. Many did join. I loved teaching and felt like it was the right place for me to be, but even then there were questions and doubts that I had and set aside. I saw the church grow from just a few members to be ready to have stakes in the short two years I was there.
Then I came home, back to BYU, met Leila in that fateful genetics class, and flew through school. I got a masters at BYU, then a PhD at TAMU. We had five daughters and one son stillborn and buried in Bryan, TX. That was a low point in my faith. I took that really hard. My journal is silent though. I didn't write. I don't even have super clear memory of that time, but my memory of the feeling of the time is one of anger, bitterness, and not really finding comfort in my religion. My bishop at the time made come comment about he knew that our son was in a better place and that he knew that we would see him again. And if there was one thing I knew at that time it was that I didn't know that. I felt like I had lost and I didn't feel the comfort of faith - the surety of knowing that there would be a second chance.
But, life keeps churning and somehow I am now 43, and pretty sure that I don't know what I thought I knew about many things. I look at my personal history and my church's history and there are many things that I find faith in, but then other things that are jarring. I have doubts or problems with pretty much all of the LDS church essay problems: polygamy, the Church's racist past, Book of Mormon historical evidence, Book of Abraham translation and others like LDS 100+ billion dollar endowment or the church's LGBT policies or the crazy Adam-god stuff Brigham Young used to teach. It shakes me. I don't know today with the surety that I seemed to have when I was a 19 year old missionary. I read some of my journal entries from those years and I was so sure of so much. I have wanted to know with that kind of surety again, and I have felt guilty for doubting - for not doubting my doubts.
I guess where I am now, after living with that guilt for a couple of years, is to let that guilt go. I can remember the sense of relief when I came to the simple conclusion that I didn't have to squeeze my beliefs into the box I felt like the Church had given me. Maybe, it was OK not to know, or agree. Maybe not believing, was OK and I didn't have to doubt my doubts to have my faith. Though the consequence would be that accepting my beliefs that didn't fit in that box and not ignoring that or feeling like I should force them to. And I am beginning to feel like that is the right thing. It means I can disagree with the Church's stance or policies or doctrines. I get to decide what I believe is true.
Some of my doubts aren't really doubts even. They are beliefs in themselves - like evolution. For example, I don't really have doubts about Adam and Eve or Noah being real people, I am pretty sure that they were not. That as myth there is meaning there, I believe, but I don't know if it is the same one I once thought it was. Evidence shows that the earth is old, that plants and animals evolved over time, and that protohumans evolved in Africa and then spread throughout the world. I don't know for sure, but that is what makes the most sense with what I know now.
In true Know-it-all anonymous fashion, I am not sure where this will lead, but I think it is better to not know it all, than to be a know-it-all.
Friday, May 08, 2020
The other thing I keep thinking about with Covid19 is my mission in Nicaragua.I had a great mission. It was fun, it was life changing. I made friendships that changed my life in so many ways. I lived in Nicaragua from 1996 to 1998. the economy was still a mess and the church was really new. We had a short period where we had to stay home and not go out because of unrest around the elections in our area, but mostly I think about how disease impacted me personally and the economy.
What does this have to do with Covid19 and our current quarantine conditions?
It was the first time that I lived with pretty real risk of getting sick from serious diseases. It was also clear how overwhelmed the health care system was. For the first six months of my mission we volunteered in the hospital in Leon most mornings. All the beds were full - sometimes with two people/bed. The hospital didn't have enough supplies or medicines. Patients had to bring their own medicines most of the time. The Russian equipment was old and not always functional. They only had one set of electrodes for the EKG machine. That we were even allowed to work as nurses, orderlies, record keepers, etc with no training really showed how desperate they were for help. Most of the time we did intake, helped set bones, moved patients around between departments, helped with minor surgeries, cleaned up after patients and treatments, ran errands for the doctors or nurses, and whatever else was needed.
The impact of having these diseases was a drag on the economy as well as the physical health of people. Nicaragua's economy was the worst in the Americas with high unemployment, educational problems, system corruption, a weak and unreliable democracy, but having a pretty high rate of malaria, dengue, cholera, yellow fever, parasites, poor water, etc. made it worse. I think another impact of disease was more subtle. Just knowing that there was this risk changes behavior of people and investments. If you know that to go to Nicaragua you are encouraged/required to get a whole list of vaccines and potentially take medicine to prevent malaria, treat all liquids consumed as potentially contaminated and that food wasn't safe to eat, you might reconsider visiting Nicaragua. You may choose to go to Costa Rica instead. You would stay in different hotels and eat different food. You might not do business there or send your kids to study there.
Monday, May 04, 2020
27-FEB-2010 Vespucio Norte 23,
CC BY-SA 2.0,
I was in Chile in 2010 to look at corn plots in Rancagua. In the middle of the night my room started to shake - but it was slow and at first I thought, "what are the people next to me doing?" Then it sped up and got strong enough that I could hear glass breaking, ceiling tiles falling down. The mini-fridge pulled away from the wall and walked across the ground. I sat in the doorway of the bathroom while the water splashed out of the toilet and thought - I could really die.
Then, spent the rest of the week worrying about how we were going to get home and looking at corn plots. Restaurants were closed, gas was rationed, power was out, cell service was poor or nonexistent, the airport was closed, and there was some real damage - old buildings downtown, some of the older bridges and overpasses, a huge storage tank of wine broke near the farm spilling thousands of gallons of red wine. People died.
There was a surreal moment when we were driving and there was a film crew along the side of the bridge filming the collapsed older bridge next us. That is the image that was shown on TV - not the new bridge engineered to withstand a 9 point earthquake. It would have been a better story to me to show both bridges - one made to withstand the stress and one that did not. Buildings like my hotel were built with earthquake dampening features that made them safe even with strong stress.
The coverage of covid19 reminds me of that. It was both true that the earthquake had big damaging effects, and that the country was resilient and prepared. Both things were true. The same here. We can withstand this, but only if we take in that whole picture. I was really impressed with how the Chileans I worked with dealt with the aftershocks and the aftermath of the earthquake. They helped each other, they cleaned up, they waited in line, they rebuilt with stronger and better bridges. They didn't freak out. They knew this was a risk and knew that it probably would happen again.
We can do the same here. Quarantine will end, the disease will probably come back or there will be a different one. How do we look around - see who needs our help and what institutions need to be rebuilt on a better foundation? If we do that, then we will be prepared. I have seen a number of posts on all sides about how wrong the quarantine is or how the federal government screwed this up or that. In reality - we need to keep track of what we did wrong or right, but it doesn't do any good to be angry about it. Of course we didn't handle this right. No one involved really has done this before. What I am most interested in is how do we clean up from this mess and then get ready for next time.
Saturday, December 21, 2019
As I look back at this year and compare to where I was last year, it is refreshing to realize that I am doing better this year. It was a good year. It had its ups and downs, but I feel like the future is brighter.
A couple of reasons for that. First, my health is better. Leila made me take a sleep study. I told the doctor how tired I was, but that I didn't have sleep apnea. I was wrong. I totally had sleep apnea - probably for years and years. During the sleep study, I stopped breathing on average 40 times per hour. Getting a CPAP was like one more step into middle age, but it is nice feeling awake and with more energy. Even from the first night I could feel the difference. I also kept swimming and running this year. Although I haven't lost any weight, I was in shape enough at the end of the summer to swim 2.5 miles in an open-water swim event here in St. Louis, do a small triathalon, and long runs during all my travels. Leila also kept me supplied with business and self-help books and I really enjoyed the Happiness course from Yale I took on Coursera.
Most of this year and the end of last year, we were on again and off again about moving to Scotland. In the end it did not work out for this year, and it was frustrating to be on the verge of making that big change, and then not doing it. However, it looks like we may be on track to really move next summer. Hopefully Scotland doesn't leave the UK and Brexit doesn't throw a wrench in the whole deal. Cross your fingers. I will be working still with Bayer, but at the University of Edinburgh - you can take a short course with the new institute members (including me) in April!
At work, I need to do a better job at juggling my many responsibilities and calendar that overflows with meetings, but I like the new members of the team and although I traveled quite a bit felt like it was manageable.
I still worry about too many things like climate change with effects on continued habitat loss, extinction of so many species, ocean temperatures, coral bleaching, etc. I worry about immigrants and refugees. I worry about the oak trees in our neighborhood. I worry about my job and whether I am doing the right things. I worry about my kids and about Leila. Our politics are still a mess. I hope we aren't looking at 4 more years of Trump, but am resigned to it if it happens. But, I look at people and the world around me and I see things that make give me hope. We found four turtles in our yard this year. There are American Chestnut trees now resistant to disease. More farms are growing cover crops. The economy is pretty good. Electric cars are more common. Oysters are making a comeback with help around New York. The Chesapeake bay is getting cleaner. If we can keep wild places - nature will find a way. Look at all of the wildlife in the demilitarized zone in Korea or around Chernobyl.
A lot going on with the rest of the family. For a snapshot:
- Emily - now a sophomore at Truman state and well on her way to full grownup-hood living off campus in a house with four friends, her cat (Baby), and girlfriend (Celia - who totally won over the sisters by teaching them to play Magic the Gathering), This year she loved making a 30 inch coiled pot in Ceramics, her photolithograph her watercolor still life of ingredients to her favorite breakfast (grits, spinach and eggs) in Printmaking. She worked at BP gas station and TacoBell this year. Book recommendations: "Neither wolf nor Dog". Media recommendations: Narcos, The Expanse (with her dad - because he is so cool), and My Hero Academia.
- Aleah - is in 9th grade at Central High and also growing up too fast. She will always remember her first debate and has enjoyed the climbing team. Her favorite thing this summer was walking with Grandma Brenda and her cousin Eliana's play. She has been interested in house plants. Her strawberry plants keep dying, but has a prolific ivy, two spider plants, an avocado tree that made it almost all year, and cactus. She looks forward to getting her driver's license next year and is glad finals are over. She also has mastered making pancakes, hot chocolate with Pero, chocolate cookies and snickerdoodles
- Colleen - Sixth grade at Central Middle School where she has been busy in student council, makeup crew for the plays, started playing the french horn in the band, and is proud that she can do her own fancy braids. On swim team this summer she got faster in the older age categories with tough competition and really excelled at all her events. Her only regret is that one front flip off the diving board that went wrong and ended with a back flop. She also started taking tumbling and rock climbing - lots of cart wheels and hand stands. She is almost done with Personal Progress. She is looking forward to all the fun summer things - girls camp and swimming. Book recommendations: Dragon Slippers - sooo good. Media: Dr Who, Monk, Studio C - but they haven't been posting much she says, and Dragon Prince.
- Kate - Fifth grade at Riverbend this year. Her Granddad gave her a chess set when we went to visit this summer and she has enjoyed beating us all and joined chess club at school. Emily was her last victim today and lost twice in a row. She did great in swim team this year learning butterfly and racing multiple events. She loved visiting grandparents this summer. Scotland was not her favorite because it was was too noisy and made it hard for her to sleep. Book recommendations - Harry Potter, Wings of Fire, Percy Jackson, Magnus Chase. Media: Doctor Who, Dragon Prince.
- Becca - First grade at Riverbend and has loved making new friends in Kindergarten and again in first grade - especially Cindy, Navea, Mika, Natalie, Lydia, and Bruce the dog. Becca's favorite things about school are meeting Natalie and learning to read. She lost her front teeth and is a little bit toothless right now. She was in heaven when we visited the wolf sanctuary to see real wolves. She wants a pet dog or wolf soooo bad. She also started gymnastics, climbing and progressed a ton on the swim team this summer learning freestyle, butterfly, backstroke, and and butterfly. Recommended books: Harry Potter (J.K. Rowling's books are magic - it has been so fun to read them with fresh eyes with her and see Becca fall totally under their spell.) and Red - the True Story of Little Red Riding Hood. Media: Dragon Prince, Wild Kratts - to whom she wrote a letter and got a signed postcard and picture in return.
- Leila - Leila launched her new website: Leilagardunia.com, started selling patterns, and a popular newsletter. She also went to quilt market, took courses on making web pages, InDesign, and quilt conferences. She loved visiting Scotland over spring break with the kids and I. This summer she returned from Girls camp energized, learned to play the ukulele, started exercising and ran a mile for the first time since 9th grade, and is training for a Tough Mudder race next summer. She is looking forward to moving to Scotland and doubling the size of her business, designing the 2021 block of the month for Michael Miller Fabrics, and the Tough Mudder race. Book recommendations: so many audiobooks. Media: The Good Place.
- Brian - I already wrote a lot about me but if you have made it this far, I put on some miles this year travelling: Scotland (2x), Nigeria, San Diego, France, London, Georgia, North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Idaho, and Washington. My first patent on Haploid chipping published. I kept swimming at the YMCA, did two open water swims - 1.25 miles and 2.5 miles in Simpson Lake, and took 2nd place in our neighborhood mini-triathlon, even with accidentally, maybe, probably, possibly running an extra lap. I was in a car accident this summer - totalled my Nissan Leaf, and decided to not replace my car and to instead bike to work or take the bus on days when it is icy and slick. Book recommendations: Murderbot - by Martha Wells. I reread the novellas all over again this year. Ancillary Justice. The huge biography of Stalin I read for my book club with Greg. The Chosen again. The Binti novels. The Adventure of Hermana Plunge - A mission memoir. I also read Dune and four Harry Potter books in Spanish. I read Rough Stone Rolling about Joseph Smith - but mostly came away upset at the complicated mess that polygamy made of the early years of the church. Media: Yesterday, Knives Out, The Expanse - Season 4 is awesome. The VlogBrothers and all things Nerdfighteria including CrashCourse, Into the Microverse, Poetry reading, the Anthropocene, and SciShow. The Radio Ambulate podcast, Reply All podcast, Levar Burton Reads podcast, Bon Appetit Youtube videos, and am back reading more blogs on an RSS reader to cut back on other social media and internet time wasting.
Tuesday, April 30, 2019
- The night where the Angel of Death took the firstborn from all the houses in Egypt without the doorposts marked with the blood of an unblemished lamb.
- That they had to leave so fast that they had no time for leaven bread and ran for the sea.
- That the lord stood between them and the pursuing army like a pillar of smoke and fire.
- And that coming to the sea, the Lord parted the sea and the passed on dry ground with the walls of water on either side, which crashed down and drowned the pursuing Egyptian army.
- On this week is when Jesus blessed bread and wine and told his disciples to remember his blood and his body. He reminded them that he was like the Paschal lamb, unblemished and with the power to deliver them through his sacrifice.
- On this day we remember that he was betrayed and delivered to his enemies to be falsely accused, beaten, tortured and killed by crucifixion.
- We commemorate on this day that he knelt in prayer, wanting to know if the bitter cup could pass, but willing to do his father's will and as described in D&C 19:16 "For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all that they might not suffer, if they repent. But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I. Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore and to suffer both body and spirit and would that I might not drink the bitter cup and shrink - Nevertheless, glory be to the father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men."
- And this day we remember that the women that loved him came to anoint his body and finish the hurried burial arrangements, but the tomb was empty.
- We remember Mary Magdalene in the garden, crying, "Where have they taken my Lord" to the two angels that sat where the body had been and that Jesus appeared, asking her " Whom do you seek? Women, why do you weep? She thought he was the gardener and said to him, " Sir if you have taken him, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." Jesus said to her "Mary" She turned and knew his voice and called him "Teacher" He urged her not to hold him back because he had not ascended and she came and told the disciples, " I have seen the Lord!"
- We remember that he returned and walked and talked with his disciples. That he urged them to teach each other and the world about his doctrine's and history. That he did overcome death.
- And for me, I remember Thomas and the other disciples that did not have a perfect faith in even the words of their friends and fellow apostles, but needed to see Christ for themselves, to hear his words, to see him eat and drink, and to touch his hands and feet.