Monday, October 19, 2020

Civilization and the Lies We Love


Let's see if this actually works.  Blogger is getting buggier all the time. 

I have realized some of my favorite youtube/podcasters are as much sermons as they are entertainment.  John Green worked at a hospital as a chaplain.  LeVar Burton went to seminary to become a priest.  At the end of LeVar Burton reads for example, he talks about some of his challenges and experiences.  They are moments of vulnerability and insight that I am surprised at every time.  

You could easily make this into a Sunday talk - add a few scriptures and done.  I think there is such light and inspiration in so many places.  

Monday, September 07, 2020

Not Knowing It All

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

Parasites, cholera, dengue fever, and Covid19



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.

I was sick most of my mission.  I had diarrhea from intestinal parasites, E. coli, Giardia,  or food poisoning pretty much the entire time. The lowest moment was when I was in Grenada about half way through and it was really hard. I was also leading the mission district, the church district and the branch. We had almost no local leaders - the district president had used all of his budget to help a family whose son committed suicide and then tried to cover for that by using all of the budget from the branches, and then tried to cover that up and made such a mess. One of branch presidents confessed to me that he had an affair and that she was pregnant. Another had invested the budget to keep it out of the district presidents hands into the local farm coop, which went bankrupt.  His daughter was also either possessed or severely mentally ill. He was probably mentally ill. His whole family had a history of violence and hechizeria. That is a long story in itself. We ended up releasing all of them and calling all new leaders and I was stuck with the job of finding those new leaders. 

The other missionaries just added to my stress. Elder Hernandez, a missionary in my district, hated me and tried his best to make me look bad and to make my life miserable. One of the missionaries that I lived with tried to kill himself and then ran away to Honduras. All of that on top of being so sick. I was losing weight. I had a cough that wouldn't go away, diarrhea, a skin rash, and a fever that simmered and kept me awake at night.  My companions during this time were pretty good, but between my health and the stress I was breaking. I wasn't sleeping and physically I was falling apart. At the worst point, I dropped to almost 110 lbs and must have looked like I was dying. The mission president's wife saw us while she was driving to Managua, pulled over, ordered us into the car and drove me straight to the hospital.  At the hospital the doctor checked my symptoms - fungal infection on my skin, in my lungs, parasites, bacterial and amoeba infections, and losing weight. Plus on top of that I had gotten this terrible, terrible haircut so I looked like Tom Hanks from the end of Philadelphia. He came to the only logical conclusion - I must have HIV.  I did not have HIV.  He checked. But, I did get medicine for all of the things, and orders to stay at the mission home until I had gained some weight and got some help dealing with all of the mess in my area.  

I did get better, but we were usually dealing with one of us being sick - sometimes with malaria, dengue fever, but mostly intestinal problems from bad water or food. We worked at hospitals as volunteers and saw a lot of really sick people. One of my areas was hit pretty hard with cholera.  The water system was a mess and so we only had running water a few hours at a time.  Many people used river water or contaminated well water. The river in Matagalpa was bad enough that all the fish died while I was there and I can remember watching them float on the top of the water from a bridge while sipping fresco de malacuya.  Dengue or malaria was a problem for us and the people in Nicaragua.  I never got either, but some of my companions did. I did have a fever once so high that I began to hallucinate - seeing ants crawling all over people and things around me. I still have health impacts from that time. I have serious liver damage, possibly started from either the diseases or treatments that I had during those years.  

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.  

Covid19 quarantines are obviously hurting businesses and people that have lost their jobs. So many are closed and so many people unemployed, but I think some of the other impacts to the economy are because of the psychological impacts of people being scared - of the disease, of other people, of the government, etc.  Scared people are not rational and that encourages conspiracy theories. I think that is why Facebook is flooded right now with Plandemic and other nutjob videos. It is fear that is behind the protests where people bring their guns to the capital. Rational people can have a discussion and disagree amicably.  We aren't there right now and that is scary.  Nicaragua was that way too. Everyone polarized and tons of absurd rumors spreading that encouraged people to vote for strongmen like Daniel Ortega. Scared people don't want democracy - they want someone strong and are susceptible to extremism.  

The uncertainty also hurts the economy.  I feel this in my own life.  I want to plan summer vacation and activities, but I can't because I don't know what summer will be like.  Will we have the pool open? Will church open? Will I travel for work? I don't know.  I feel this at work.  Projects that require travel or international recruiting or investment - at a standstill.  Reduced capacity for lab and field work.  Prices dropping for corn, soy, meat. Animal production reducing herds and flocks. You can't invest confidently without the ability to make a plan and expect those plans to happen.  Nicaragua was full of this.  I understand now better people's unwillingness to make plans.  You just can't when so many things are out of your control.

There are some interesting differences.  Most of the diseases that we worried about were spread by a vector that we couldn't shut ourselves away from.  Mosquitoes were everywhere and we had mosquito nets and bug repellent, but they will bite you.  You can't hide from them completely and they spread many of the diseases - Malaria, dengue, now also Zika.  The water carried E. coli, amoebas, giardia. The food carried hepatitus, parasites, and bacterial food poisoning.  This disease is really carried by us. We are the vector.  We are the host and the carrier.  Quarantine and lockdowns does prevent infection and spread, where most of our diseases in Nicaragua we worried about were not something we could shut ourselves away from.  We could avoid eating street food, but we couldn't avoid eating and drinking entirely, and after a few weeks it was clear that no food was really safe, so I ate street food indiscriminately.  As annoying and potentially detrimental global shutdowns, travel restrictions, and quarantines are they do slow or prevent the spread of this virus.  

At some point we will have to figure out how to live with this disease.  The lockdowns will have to end and my guess is that the disease will not disappear. We will have to figure out how we can better test for, treat, and live with Covid19 like we live with other diseases.  Hopefully there will be a vaccine developed that will prevent infection.  Vaccines are a miracle.  When I worked in the hospital and saw measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, diptheria, hepatitus, etc in real life, it really cemented how amazing vaccines are.  I hope one of the long term impacts of Covid19 is the end of the antivax movement.  But, even with a vaccine, we will need to learn to live with that risk and to face those fears.  Nicaraguans lived with a lot of fear every day - the economy, disease, crime - all worse than now, but still bravely and almost everyone we met were happy and worked so hard taking care of each other.  Besides a vaccine, that I think is the solution - we can combat fear through action. I don't mean arming yourself with a stupid gun.  Action - look for people that are hurting and help them.  Chose to live bravely in face of fear.

Monday, May 04, 2020

Chile Earthquake and COVID-19

By Esteban Maldonado from Santiago, Chile - Terremoto
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

2019 Highlights



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! 

Some things are the same, but feel more manageable somehow.  I still have struggled with my faith this year, but have really enjoyed reading what is left of the mormon blogosphere (ldsblogs.org, ByCommonConsent, Wheat and Tares, and Times and Seasons) and the New Testament this year.  I taught Elder's Quorum and directed the choir.  The Elder's quorum lessons I used a bit of a formula to make teaching based on a conference talk interesting and informative for me breaking down each talk to the principles behind the talk, the scripture background of those principles, stories or examples to illustrate the principle, and the potential applications of the principle with the chalkboard divided into a square for each.  So that as the lesson progresses I can take notes in those areas and direct the class where I think we haven't covered. I have done kind of a terrible job directing the ward choir.

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:

  1. 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.  
  2. 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 
  3. 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. 
  4. 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. 
  5. 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.    
  6. 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.
  7. 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

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.