Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Easter Sunday Talk

When Br. Layton asked me to speak on Easter, I immediately thought of this painting called the "Light of the world" that hangs in St Paul's Cathedral in London. 

Then when the roof of Notre Dame caught fire, I haven't been able to get it out of my head.  I first learned about it from Connie Willis' four time travel novels about WWII. She obsesses over the efforts of the Firewatch to keep the 700 year old wood roofs from catching fire during the Blitz.  

"The Light of the World" is an allegorical painting made by William Hunt in the 1850's.  Jesus stands at an overgrown door - without a handle, holding a lantern and his other hand raised to knock.  A visual metaphor for Rev. 3:20:

"Behold I stand at the door and knock, if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him and will sup with him, and he with me."

The characters in her books comment that the tone and character of the painting seems to change each time they look at it.  As if the message it conveys is different each time.  I think the scriptures can be like this.  You can read the same stories at different times with different needs and get a different message.  This year's study and focus on the New Testament has been a good one for me and I have noticed different messages as I have struggled some with my faith throughout this year.  It has felt like the scriptures seemed tuned to that frequency.  Many of the stories that leapt out to me seem to each had a focus on faith/doubt.

For example, Mark 5:30:

"He asked, What is the kingdom of God like or with what may we compare it?  It is like a mustard seed, which when it is sown in the earth, it is the smallest of all the seeds of the earth, but when it is sown, it sprouts and becomes greater than any of the plants, and it grows great branches, so that the birds of heaven are able to rest under it's shade."

It intrigues me because mustard seeds are not the smallest in the world - that probably goes to orchid species that have seeds that are like dust and blown in the wind they are so tiny. Mustard plants aren't even the largest plant - that certainly are trees that are larger than that.  Mustard species are winter or spring annuals so they require reseeding each year, although they may survive over winter.  This parable I don't see as simply as I once did.  Faith like a mustard seed might need to be replanted to grow enough to sustain the birds of heaven.  

And again, just a few verses later, they are in a boat and a storm rose.  The apostles were afraid and Jesus was asleep in the back of the boat.  They woke him because they thought they might die - He rebuked the wind and it stopped.  The storm listened to his words and obeyed.  Then he kind of rebuked his disciples. " Why are you fearful? Have you no faith?" And they were afraid.  

It is not as easy for us to believe as it is for the wind that knows its creators voice.  Even the disciples that walked with him and saw the miracles seem riddled with doubts and sometimes even deny that they knew him.  Peter did three times, because he was afraid.  Did his faith falter at that moment as well?  I think it must have.  I think even Jesus must have been frustrated and alone when people didn't seem to understand his teachings.  Either the writers of the gospels intentionally used the disciples incomprehension as a narrative device to explain to the reader the meaning of parables and teaching, or much of Jesus' life he taught students that didn't understand him.  He certainly felt alone and abandoned in his last moments in life.  

 I am not sure that as Mormons we are that good at Easter.  I attended my friend's Easter Vigil on Saturday and it was striking how important this religious holiday is to them. I once was in a ward where we planned out the topics and speakers for talks a year in advance.  But Easter is not a fixed date on the calendar and somehow we missed it.  The topic that week was from the Family Proclamation, not a word planned for Easter.  The last speaker kind of paused, realizing that she was the last speaker and no one was going to address it if she didn't - put down her prepared remarks and bore her testimony of Easter and the resurrected Christ.  

Why is Easter a wandering holiday? It is based on a lunar calendar to align with the commemoration of Passover an even older holy day that has double meaning for Christians during Easter.  We on this day remember:

The miraculous deliverance of Israel from slavery of the Egyptians. 
  1. 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. 
  2. That they had to leave so fast that they had no time for leaven bread and ran for the sea.  
  3. That the lord stood between them and the pursuing army like a pillar of smoke and fire. 
  4. 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.
The last days of Christ's life and his resurrection
  1. 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. 
  2. On this day we remember that he was betrayed and delivered to his enemies to be falsely accused, beaten, tortured and killed by crucifixion. 
  3. 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."
  4. 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.
  5. 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!"
  6. 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.  
  7. 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.  
This brings me back to the "Light of the World." This is what we celebrate this day.  That the lights that went out on that terrible Friday afternoon came back brighter than ever on the Sunday morning.  In the painting the door is overgrown with weeds.  It is not in prime condition.  Christ waits and knocks even if we have struggles, especially then.  If we feel like we are alone or full of doubt.  He still stands at the door.  On the darkest nights, or our most depressing days, he stands with his lantern bright, waiting for us to hear his call and open the door.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Memory vs memoir

I saw this book on Bill Gates' reading list and was intrigued for two reasons: one because he raved about it and because it was the story of a Mormon woman from Eastern Idaho - which in my heart is still my home.  Leila rightly teases me a little because when someone asks me where I am from I almost always say that I am from Teton, ID, but I have not lived in Teton since I was 11 years old.  I spent my teenage years in Boise, and my grandparents both lived in Nampa.  My mom and siblings still live in Boise and I am sure that if you ask them where we are from, it is Boise.  But for some reason I can't articulate, in my heart, I am still from Teton, ID.  

I haven't lived in Idaho for over 20 years.  In 1995, I moved to Provo, UT to go to school at BYU, like the author of the book.  Unlike her though, I was not raised in an isolated homeschool environment. I got a superb education at Boise High - we had many teachers with PhDs, took all the AP courses I could handle, and lived on campus of BSU when my mom was a student.  I was most comfortable and happy in a classroom.  We moved from Provo to Texas where I worked on my PhD after finishing my masters at BYU.  Then we moved to Indiana, then Iowa, and now St. Louis.  

My life was very different from Tara Westover's - although there are some connections. Her brother Travis was in our stake in Indiana where he was working on a PhD and we were friends with some of the same people.  I am pretty sure that I met him at some point, but don't remember any conversation we would have had.  She went to BYU, but long after I graduated and our home life was not the same at all. I felt reading this book though some kinship with her - maybe because we both leveraged education to build our lives, and also because even though my life is very far from that of my childhood in Teton I can't really shake it.  Somehow, for the rest of my life, no matter where I move or what I do, I will still be the kid from Teton.  

Her writing in this book is compelling, and I appreciated her treatment of memory and its complicated relationship with the truth.  She has some pretty strong memories of the time when her brother was burned severely helping her father in the junkyard.  She remembers him alone coming to the house and he does not.  He remembers their father helping him and the entire event is different from her telling.  I tell a lot of stories to my kids about when I grew up and I bet if my siblings were here they would contradict many of the details.  I don't know why memory is so malleable, but I really do believe that we must have grown up in alternate realities.  That was driven home when I met my Dad in Hawaii after not seeing him for years and years.  His memory of what happened when he left us, was contradictory to mine.  It hurt to hear a version of the past that absolved him of some of the blame and put it on us.  

I have thought about writing a book - part popular science and part memoir about quinoa and my short time in Bolivia and studying quinoa and pairing that with the rise of quinoa as a superfood and an international household word.  But I worry about the reliability of my memory - not that I have any neurological problem, but that it is affected by the telling. That by building a story that is compelling and rich that I am overwriting the more complex reality and that once that story is told the original memory is deleted.  I think it is a compelling story to tell, but it does change with the telling. 

Monday, December 31, 2018

2018 in review

I am not sad to say goodbye to 2018.  There have been many good things about this year, and mainly difficult because I have struggled with depression and feeling overwhelmed.  I have struggled with some of my core religious beliefs and work has been overwhelming and not as much fun as it used to be.

At one of my project reviews, my boss's boss's boss told me that he thought I would come to work for free, since I was having way too much fun. Science may be boring at times, but it makes me happy when I have had my whole heart in it. This year has been a lot more of the management of science and less of the excitement of discovery.  Even though the team has done a ton of great things that unfortunately I can't talk about here. I am working hard to make changes that will bring back the things I have loved about being a scientist.  I have explored this year a bunch of different options from changing how I do my current job to changing jobs.  I don't have anything I can really announce here, but if you call me I can tell you about the options that we turned down and what could be in the future. You can follow me on twitter if you want to see what science I think is interesting: 

The news of the year has been not so great.  Too much Trump and pretty petty political drama.  I will leave Dave Barry to summarize the year.

The last two years I have interviewed the members of my family to see what were their favorite memories of the year.

Here are the highlights. 

  1. Becca - 6. Loved eating donuts after swim team where she swam the 25 yd freestyle without a kickboard! She loves kindergarten with Ms. Lewis, her new friends, and celebrating all of the holidays.  Recommended TV show: Sophia the First. Food: Tamales, hot cocoa, Dad making dinner.
  2. Kate -  9. Rocked the backstroke and freestyle in swim races.  If you remember that last year Kate almost didn't get baptized because she was too afraid to put her face in this is a miracle that keeps getting better every year. She started playing the violin and last year did daily announcements for her job.  Recommended TV: Crash Course mythology and Phineas and Ferb - Which she is still angry is not on Netflix any more. Books: Wings of Fire, Amulet, and Fairy Tale Reform School. Food: Rolls, Tamales, Orange Bread, Bagels, Donuts
  3. Colleen - 11. Loved swim team this year and endured water polo.  She almost beat Natalie and swims all of the events and getting so fast.  She can beat her Dad at backstroke and butterfly.  She loves her friends Natalie, Liam and Drew.  She quit the viola, but has joined honors choir at school.  Recommended Books: Goose Girl, Dragon Slippers, and Forest Born. Recommended movie: Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse. 
  4. Aleah - 14. Unlike her sisters, her favorite memory of swim team was when she was able to skip swim meets.  She hates the last week of middle school because everything has to be done at once.  Her favorite moment in school was when the band tried to have a democracy. In short, it didn't work very well.  She loves her art class.  Recommended media: Wreck-it Ralph 2, My Hero Academia, Short films on youtube. Books: Ghost, Skin Full of Shadows, Nimona, Fan fiction - Yesterday upon the stair. Food: Giant sandwich from El Toluco, Chinese takeout, and pies. 
  5.  Emily - 18.  Freshman at Truman State majoring in Art.  Graduated high school in June.  Her favorite class was AP Studio Art last year.  She worked at Crazy Bowls and Wraps and liked everything at Girl's campe in spite of all of the ticks. We traveled together to Mexico City and spent four days walking through all of the markets and eating great food: nopales and blue corn huaraches, fried tamales, ceviche, refrescos in the morning, churros, all the fruit, and tacos made from all the parts of the pig's head. Recommended media: The Expanse, Drag Race, Chris Fleming on youtube, Star Wars Movie - you had to be there.  Podcasts: Reply All.  
  6. Leila - Becca started school this year and Emily went to college.  That means no more late nights helping Emily with homework and time to focus on improving quilting business - design, website, teaching, writing, email lists, and patterns. Travel - France - especially Versailles, the Emerald Coast, and quiches in the morning. Iowa State Fair with the kids and to take photos for book/website.  San Diego - while Brian was at a conference - especially the San Diego Zoo. Mexico - the unvacation, work trip.  Quilting retreat in Hamilton. Find Leila's old blog here and keep an eye open for her new one. It is pretty great . . She also has an etsy shop with great patterns. Or find her on Instagram, Pinterest. Favorite food memories: Graduation party food, orange clove pull apart bread, eclairs, all the food in France.  Recommended books: Martin Luther biography, so many audio books.  Podcasts: Jenna Kucher - Gold Digger. Media: Great British Bake-off even with the new hosts. 
  7. Brian - Bayer finally finished buying Monsanto and we added some great new people to my team.  For work I travelled to Winnepeg and Guelph in Canada, Louisville, KY, Huxley, IA, San Diego for PAG meetings and presented at a Gates Foundation meeting.  Leila and I traveled without kids!! to France to celebrate our 19th anniversary.  I had come to France once before for work, but that trip was mostly corn fields and a conference in Claremont Ferrand and not a lot of touristing. This trip we hit all of the best tourist spots - the Eiffel tower, museums in Paris, Versailles, Chartres Cathedral, Dinan, the Emerald Coast, Honfleur, Mont. St. Michel, and so many more places.  France was so good.  I also went with Emily to Mexico City and hit all my favorite food places.  Recommended Books: Murderbot series by Martha Wells, Educated by Tara Westover, The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette, The Chosen - Chaim Potok, The Best Science Fiction of the Year edited by Neil Clarke. Media: The Expanse, Crash Course - Theater and Philosophy, Vlogbrothers, Bon Appetit Youtube videos. Food memories: homemade bagels, Pizza cooked on charcoal barbecue, poached eggs on salad, Rye bread, tacos in Mexico, bread in France, chocolate from Honfleur, Indian food on a date with Leila, Dinner at PAG with the Gates Foundation, bibimbap with friends from work,and  steamed puddings.