Sunday, June 25, 2006

Firefighting II

 We have a newly formed community fire brigade, Indianola Volunteer Fire Department. Our crew is designated as Sanpete County Fire Station 18. We are assigned to cover the eight local subdivisions and all of the public and private lands in the north end of Sanpete County.

We have a 1000 gallon tanker truck with pump that we call our light water tender, and a pickup truck with 200 gallons that serves as light brush truck. Next week we are getting a 5000 gallon water tender that is being retired from a Moab fire department. Eight residents in our community are certified for wildland firefighting, and we have a number of other enthusiastic but less formally qualified volunteers.

On Thursday night we responded to a fire alarm in our area. Six members of our department reported to the fire scene at Skyline Mountain Resort with our two engines. It was totally dark by the time we arrived at the fire. There were about 20 vehicles of various types there, with 50 or so firefighters working to put down the flames.

A campfire had gone out of control at one of the many cabins in the area. It started spreading in the deep cottonwood fluff that accumulates like snowdrift in the shady canyon bottom under all the tall old cottonwoods. People who own these homes obviously love the big old trees, but they also make for a serious fire hazard. Anyway, apparently big clumps of burning fluff were drafted up by the quickly growing flames, spinning away on the draft, and spreading more than a dozen spot fires along about half a mile of the canyon bottom. Our crew pulled into one of the nearby home sites and put out one of the bigger spots just alongside the stream. It was burning in a big pileup of dead logs alongside the stream. There was also a nearby cottonwood tree that was actively burning all along the trunk up to about 40 feet high. The tallest flames were too high up for us to reach with our water, and it was too dangerous to run chain saws in the dark to cut it down, so we hosed down what we could reach and stayed away out from under the burning tree.

We worked on putting out flames and wetting down hot spots until just after midnight. Then rolled up the hoses and came home.

Then, on Friday morning we went back to do the mopping up. We spent several more hours in the canyon, searching the area for remaining hot spots that might flare up again.

In fact the entire Skyline Drive area of the Manti-La Sal Forest is currently in a stage where old dead trees predominate. People love those big old trees because they are so picturesque, but most don't realize that they represent a forest nearing the end of life. Sooner or later the whole forest will burn, mostly all the range over 8500' elevation, an area over 100 miles long and 30 miles wide. All those aging Engleman spruces and subalpine firs -- old and susceptible to bark beetles. The growth habit of this forest ecosystem tends toward cycles of new growth, maturation, senescence, bark beetle infestation, fire, and regeneration, over a period of a couple of hundred years. Right now, we are waiting for a really big fire. There has not been a very large scale fire on this range in recorded history.

Some forest ecologists believe humans have disturbed the natural cycle by putting out fires too quickly. Not too long ago this interrupted cycle balanced out the logging and clearcutting practices we used to harvest timber. But timber cutting is much curtailed these days, as many environmental groups find such fault with cutting down forests, and tend to sue everyone that tries. The US Forest Service has been developing a "fire use" policy for some time now. The idea is to let moderate to small wildland fires burn, with emphasis on monitoring and containment to protect developed areas. Some think it is already too late, and the only thing that can happen now is massive fires all over the west, on the scale of the Yellowstone conflagration.

The Millburn and Oak Creek areas are our neighbors -- the southern end of our Indianola Ward, though our communities are separated by an undeveloped mountain ridge between us. Happily for them, their firefighting duty is covered by the Fairview FD, which is better manned and equipped for the job. Up until a month ago, we had to rely on Fairview to cover our fire calls. In most cases their response time for this area was almost an hour. Mostly they would show up to help comb the ashes. We're hoping to do a lot better, given some time and a bit of practice.

This summer we are bidding on a work contract up in the Joe's Valley area. The project is to spray weedy species that thrive in areas where cattle have heavily overgrazed for many years.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Female genetic study

This is one of the most intriguing bits of information yet, from current studies of the human genome.

In female mammals, most genes on one X chromosome are silenced as a result of X-chromosome inactivation. However, some genes escape X-inactivation and are expressed from both the active and inactive X chromosome. Such genes are potential contributors to sexually dimorphic traits, to phenotypic variability among females heterozygous for X-linked conditions, and to clinical abnormalities in patients with abnormal X chromosomes. Here, we present a comprehensive X-inactivation profile of the human X chromosome, representing an estimated 95% of assayable genes in fibroblast-based test systems. In total, about 15% of X-linked genes escape inactivation to some degree, and the proportion of genes escaping inactivation differs dramatically between different regions of the X chromosome, reflecting the evolutionary history of the sex chromosomes. An additional 10% of X-linked genes show variable patterns of inactivation and are expressed to different extents from some inactive X chromosomes. This suggests a remarkable and previously unsuspected degree of expression heterogeneity among females.

This does have some really fascinating implications.

Here's a fun article that discusses the function of X inactivation in producing tricolor female cats.

One thing that makes the new chromosome study so intriguing...

"Early in embryogenesis in mammals, all but one X chromosome are functionally inactivated through a process called X chromosome inactivation. Because this inactivation occurs randomly, all normal females have roughly equal populations of two genetically different cell types and are therefore a type of mosaic. In roughly half of their cells, the paternal X chromosome has been inactivated, and in the other half the maternal X chromosome is inactive. This has a number of important biological and medical implications, particularly with regard to X-linked genetic diseases."

This article reflects conventional thinking about X inactivation. But the latest study indicates that it isn't nearly this simple -- in human females, the X inactivation is incomplete and shows quite a range of variability. Apparently even in the cells within an individual.

Blascho's Lines revealed under UV

Part of the import is that alleles which are heterozygous may be pathogenic -- something like the possible adverse results from conditions like trisomy. It is pretty confusing to me when I try to think of exactly what happens when multiple different alleles in the same cell are actively transcribing to produce the same protein, but if they're very different, it seems obvious that the results will not be good.

At the very least this might explain why I have such a hard time understanding the female of the species.

Anyway, where this is taking me --

Imagine an organism with such fundamental characteristic capriciousness built in, from the level of chromosomes on up.

Little wonder that women should reserve the right to change their minds. Their very constituent cells are explicitly built, from the ground up, upon that very theme.

In more recent studies of genetic variation, it has been observed that males of the species exhibit a wider range of genetic variability than females, and this accounts for major gender differences in the relative level of intelligence.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Popular misconceptions regarding agency

From a General Conference address.  (May 1992 Ensign,  Our Moral Environment, President Boyd K. Packer)
While we pass laws to reduce pollution of the earth, any proposal to protect the moral and spiritual environment is shouted down and marched against as infringing upon liberty, agency, freedom, the right to choose.

Interesting how one virtue, when given exaggerated or fanatical emphasis, can be used to batter down another, with freedom, a virtue, invoked to protect vice. Those determined to transgress see any regulation of their life-style as interfering with their agency and seek to have their actions condoned by making them legal.

People who are otherwise sensible say, "I do not intend to indulge, but I vote for freedom of choice for those who do."

Regardless of how lofty and moral the "pro-choice" argument sounds, it is badly flawed. With that same logic one could argue that all traffic signs and barriers which keep the careless from danger should be pulled down on the theory that each individual must be free to choose how close to the edge he will go.

The phrase "free agency" does not appear in scripture. The only agency spoken of there is moral agency, "which," the Lord said, "I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgement." (Doctrine and Covenants 101:78.)

One of the mistaken ideas we often hear associated with the "free agency" term is that it implies some ideal state of borderline anarchy. I'm pretty sure this idea has been sorely abused since Joseph Smith spoke the words, "I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves."

Joseph never taught that it was wrong for those who know and follow the correct principles to "impose" their ideas of righteousness on others. Support for government and respect for the law are explicit principles in church doctrine. The most common associated complaint we hear from those of liberal persuasion is that we cannot exist with true freedom unless people of faith keep their mouths shut about their beliefs. We shouldn't be forcing our religion on others. We cannot legislate morality. Blah blah blah.

Apparently they believe God expects everyone to make up our minds and commit to good or evil in a sort of moral vacuum. Heaven forbid that we should ever pass laws that actually reflect the true values we understand based upon commandments of God. Unthinkable -- that would be depriving others of their "free agency"!

It seems almost a cliche among those who favor this thinking that implementing laws which impose moral values epitomizes "Satan's Plan". Thus the ultimate evil consists of telling someone else how to follow the laws of righteousness. If there ever was a more backward approach, it is difficult to imagine what it would be.

One of the most important teachings I know on this issue is found in 2 Nephi  chapter 2. The idea of opposition is very well understood, but another important principle stands out:

Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other. (2 Nephi 2:16)

Clearly an important implication here is that "enticement" is an essential element in our exercise of agency. This rather contradicts the notion that true agency requires us to operate from an exclusively intrinsic base, with no external forces influencing our choices. Most of us with experience at the primary level of church education understand very well that we must be guided in our choices by the Holy Ghost -- "Choose the Right" is our motto. We choose the right by inspiration. This is our "enticement" to good. And of course there are also always evil enticements drawing us the other way.

This is the cost which enables our agency. There is no principle in the gospel that can be construed to dictate that the environment in which we are required to practice our agency must be free from rules and laws that guide our thinking and acts. Indeed, a clear view of church history with regard to civil government would seem to indicate just the opposite. The church has always promoted strong government and the passage of laws based in principles of righteousness.

In fact, under the common misapplication of the term, "free agency" actually exists nowhere. Many of us live in bondage of various forms that constrain our ability to freely make choices. I believe we must ultimately be judged for our actions based on the options available to us, and the enticements we were subject to at the time.

Elder Packer's point is a legitimate one. Moral agency is never "free" in any way. It always comes at a cost, and it is always compromised by the enticements of the world.

What is "temple divorce"?

The term seems to be rooted in Mormon folklore.

On divorce in Mormon culture from Encyclopedia of Mormonism

I have never heard a satisfying explanation for "temple divorce", and in fact I'm not sure the church even uses such terms formally.  Elder James A. Culimore considers this question in a 1975 Church publication.

Temples are not about divorcing. "Divorce" itself, it would seem, really has only temporal connotations, so in terms of binding covenants sealing for time and all eternity, it does not seem like the appropriate term.

I understand the church offers an administrative action referred to as "cancellation of sealing". But I am still not sure I understand what that means. How can an eternal covenant be "canceled"?

Do the participants kneel together at the same altar in the temple where their sealing was pronounced, and somehow un-promise?

Specific counsel from Elder Dallin H. Oaks somewhat illuminates this discussion, which frequently generates more heat than light.

Monday, June 19, 2006

The real threat...

Difficult to predict where attempts to legitimize homosexual marriage will lead. Though there currently seems to be very strong popular opposition, it seems like such issues have a way of being forced upon us without being ratified by the majority. If we have legalization of homosexual marriage, then homosexual marriage would no longer be a subset of a sexual relationship outside of marriage.

This is one of the points that can be confused, because as of today, church policy is based on the "legally and lawfully married" standard. I believe there are even church members who have set their hopes that the church would be forced to recognize and even perform such marriages, under the law of the land. I think this will never happen. If what is legal and lawful under civil laws becomes something that is obviously contrary to the laws of God, a change in policy would be needed to draw the obvious distinction.

I think the arguments for homosexual marriage are contrived, but then I also feel that this whole discussion passes by most everything that really matters. If homosexuals wish to attempt false emulation of the true order of marriage, so what? They cannot through rule of law or by practice become something that they are not. They will simply be like the false priests of pharaoh who aspired to the priesthood, though it was denied to them (cf Abr 1:27). Counterfeit marriage, like a counterfeit priesthood, will never be recognized or blessed by Heavenly Father.

I am certain that even if it were legal, homosexual relationships would never achieve the kind of importance in the structure of social relationships that traditional families do.

Of course, the real matter of importance is how such issues reflect on traditional marriage. The move to legitimize perverted sexual relationships is just one facet of this problem. Traditional marriage, is weakening in many other areas, some of them with much greater significance.

The normalization of widespread divorce and illegitimacy, to name two items, are real threats to social stability. As these problems escalate, we are effectively performing a huge experiment with human populations that far transcends the potential impact of global warming. In the space of one or two generations, every human life will be a product of this experiment. There are no controls or predictions on possible outcomes. Unlike global warming predictions, there are few scientists that even seem to recognize that any such threat exists, let alone to create theories and computer models and argue at conferences.

With us, unlike the rest of the world, we have the witness and warning from inspired prophets. They have foreseen the calamities of the last days. Perhaps some of the worst trials are for us yet to face, if the time comes that we cannot even promote true moral values and correct principles to children.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Memorable moments of early fatherhood

Mental image of firstborn son Jim. (He used to share my name. I don’t know what he calls himself today.)

At the instant of birthing, he emerged with skin colored bright blue. Shocked, unexpected, wondering what went wrong. The first breath, feeble cries, and quickly turning healthy pink. The most incredibly full and dark mane of thick black baby hair running halfway down his back.

Weeping with joy, filled with the most intensely overwhelming emotion.

A photo of son Jim, just a toddler. In an unsupervised moment, him standing in the unfinished basement room, the current family project. Beaming brightly, his little hands and arms raised high, coated an inch thick up to the elbows with heavy yellow sheet rock mud.

Hustles off to the shower.

A handful of boys at play in the sandbox. Son Robert, five or six years old. Shouting, “By the Power of Greyskull!!!”. Unsheathes a long butcher knife from hiding down the back of his t-shirt, and strikes a pose emulating the tv hero He-Man, brandishing the knife as his invincible weapon, threatening his foes in the sandbox.

Frantic parental intervention.

Another vignette of Robert, several years older. Unaware that he is being observed, standing on the sidewalk contemplating as neighbors drive by. He finds a big rock and launches it at Randy Jones passing in his truck. Strikes a bullseye. Randy stops abruptly with a squeal of tires. Looking at me — “Better do somethin’ ’bout that, slick.” “Oh yeah, I will”. Randy continues on. Robert takes to his heels, dad following into the house at a slightly more leisurely pace.

Intensive father/son discussion on why we don’t throw rocks at cars.

A landscape moment. Striving to make the desert blossom. Mother and children huddled around the front porch, watching in shock as dad wrestles with the ditch-witch that won’t. Frustrated and enraged beyond control, temper long-lost, cursing and swearing a blue streak.

At a later sandbox session, father overhears the interplay where one of the children announces that his name is “Dammit”.

Sincere father/son discussion about how we sometimes say things that we know we shouldn’t.

Son Thomas, eleven, suffers a serious leg fracture at the roller-skating party. Shocked at such an unexpected turn, the father secretly weeps tears of fear and anguish. “Father in Heaven, please, let the pain and suffering come to me — please spare my children!” Thomas spends miserable months in wheelchair and full cast

What a fragile thing our lives really are.

Son Joseph, the most sensitive of the boys. He is so enthralled with Nintendo and Super Mario Brothers that he has a prolonged tantrum when his games are interrupted.

Some soul-searching for an answer. The game is retired.

Dad goes to summer camp with the older boys. Along the hiking trail, son Robert is separated from the party for a brief time. Searching, praying, franticly looking for some clue that he might have passed this way, through the thousands of acres of wilderness surrounding. Shortly thereafter, as he is found — “I couldn’t find you guys anywhere!”. Trying not to show the tears of relief and gratitude.

Dad and son wrap their arms around each other, for a brief instant understanding and acknowledging everything that it means to be dad and son.

Discussions about what to do when we are lost.

Son Joseph, retired to his bed early, suffering from flu, feverish. The rest of the family is eating dinner together.

Some strange signal from the children’s room alerts that something is wrong. “Distress! Help!”, the urgent message, unuttered, yet clearly received.

Hastening into the room. The child’s body is distended and racked with convulsions. His skin is dusky, ashen gray — impossible. No living person can turn that color. Shock condensed into one horrified frozen moment.

Suddenly comprehending the need to act, a frantic summons issues for ambulance and paramedics. Confusion over what to do, not knowing what might be wrong.

Then, a few quiet seconds, like the eye of the hurricane passing over.

Father gently takes the infant son in his arms. He quietly pronounces a priesthood blessing.

Moments later, the paramedics arrive and the calm is broken. Amid noise and haste, the child was carried away to the hospital.

Tense hours followed. Doctors performed diagnostics and made recommendations.

But everything turned out okay. And the father knew, assured from the moment of the blessing, that it would be so.

And I believe that somehow, though he was unconscious, the son knew it as well.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Looking back at Mormon-l

It has been many years since my encounter with Mormon-l, once hosted at Brigham Young University email servers. The way some of the former members talk about it, you'd think it was a den of evil snakes, right from the start. Yet, at the time I first engaged there, it was one of the most enthralling and uplifting experiences I had ever had, in any church-related activity.

After nearly forty years of church membership I felt like I was suddenly lit on fire with the spirit of the gospel. Ever before that time, my attention to the church seemed shallow and perfunctory, and probably so routine that it became rather boring. Most of my church associates invested neither time nor interest in the issues we discussed every day on the list. The only similar experience I ever had prior was with teaching young adult gospel doctrine, where some of the kids wanted to learn! the gospel. The enthusiasm level on the list seemed comparable. The Mormon-l experience was new and exciting.

I had a lot of positive impressions from those early days of email. For all the earlier decades, it had felt as though I longed for a group of intellectual peers with a common interest in the gospel. Especially dealing with contemporary issues. The talk tended toward sophisticated ideas, and often prompted intense critical thinking. I studied things that had not so captured my attention since I was a college student.

Initially, Mormon-l seemed like a dream come true. For me the experience was a reawakening and a rebirth.

The problems we encountered really evolved fairly slowly. Gradually the list membership came to represent certain interests that I had never before encountered in the church. I will never understand why that group acted as such a magnet. But at the time there was a very popular interest among that class of people with liberal thinking and feminist philosophy. It seemed to me that we were suddenly in a war with a race of space aliens who seemed to harbor a vicious hatred for everything I thought I loved. But it wasn't like that every day, nor all at once.

Some of the people involved in supporting and promoting the original list were just as shocked as I was by the way things evolved. As things started going downhill, I had conversations with charter list members and with the list sponsor. They were uniformly sympathetic at the consternation and complaints, but that did not alter the tone or direction of discussions.

The dialog was eventually predominated by what I characterize as "evil speaking of the Lord's anointed". That, and a constant thread of base humor that seemed so incongruous with the original tone of the list. I thought there were several major list contributors who so prided themselves on being open-minded that they had basically allowed their brains to fall out.

Some of the feminist activists on the list were as distressed about the developments as I was. I felt like Lynn and David Anderson were my friends, but there was a great wedge of difference driving us apart. Terry Day was very kind to me personally, but many of his general comments on the list were insufferable. It was as if a great crowd of these people had followed some path and suddenly ended up in the great and spacious building, mocking the faithful saints of God.

I think the original Mormon-l served a good and useful purpose. But I had no doubts when the time came to move on. When my friend John Redelfs invited me to his new email list, I felt like a lost soul walking into the light again. And in spite of some bumps here and there, the Zion list experience has been fulfilling, far beyond my expectations.

Even a lifesaver for me, in more than one instance.

Martin's Cove settlement

The ACLU continues to harass the church in cases with very little basis for preserving "civil liberties".

This week in an out-of-court settlement the church basically agreed to demands from the ACLU to cease any form of acknowledgement that the historic Martin handcart company was actually a group of faithful Mormon pioneers, and in the future they will be referred to as habitationally-challenged communal seekers of a higher metaphysical plane, seeking refuge from traditional patriarchal tyranny".

ACLU lawyers demanded that all signs and artifacts related in any way to Mormon faith be removed at least a mile from the site, which will be designated a "religion-free zone". Visitors to the area will be subject to random interrogation to ensure that harmful religious ideation is not being wantonly encouraged or promoted. All persons or vehicles entering or leaving the monument site will be subject to security checks, and any religious contraband will be confiscated. Those criminals apprehended in the act of speaking about the Mormon religion will be subject to fines and imprisonment. First-time offenders will be permitted to attend an ACLU sponsored anti-religion sensitivity training course in exchange for shorter jail sentences.

ACLU lawyers praised the agreement, saying that it was a significant victory for first-amendment rights, marking a new era of progress in the fight for freedom from religion.

Martin's Cove settlement

Thursday, June 08, 2006


We had a forest fire in our back yard yesterday.

I mean, it was a fire. And it was in the forest. That makes it a forest fire -- right?

Okay, it was really little, for a forest fire. But it was all ours. :-)

Dad and I were working in his garden about 3 p.m. when a huge clap of thunder nearly knocked us out of our boots. (Fortunately I was wearing Tevas.) We saw the flash of lightning on the mountain. After a moment of stunned silence we looked at each other and both said, "Wow, that one was CLOSE!"

Shortly thereafter, dad noticed a smoke plume tendrilling up from the trees on the mountainside north of us.

We called the local fire chief of our just-getting-started volunteer fire department, and notified him that a wildland fire was in progress within our jurisdiction. I hurried and got my boots on. Then my dad and brother-in-law and I loaded our firefighting gear and shovels and chainsaw into the SUV and went wheeling up the mountainside trying to spot the fire.

We found access to the area that was burning, from a rocky road high up on the mountainside, then hiked down through the pinyon pines and junipers searching for the fire. It smelled smoky all around us, but the fire was actually several hundred yards from the road, so we scrambled down the hill covering the area in a search pattern.

As we located the fire and arrived at the spot, there were flames smoldering in the light debris on the ground, and one single old juniper, trunk about 18" in diameter, was actively burning along the trunk and several major limbs. It was clear that lightning had struck the old tree near the top, some 15 feet up. A big stripe of bark was peeled away and blown to oblivion, and a deep scar marked the burning trail running down the trunk. One of the large limbs on the side of the tree had been nearly detached by the blow, and as it burned it was spreading burning twigs into the ground fuel. The ground fire involved a circle at the base of the tree about ten feet across.

We scattered the burning fuels on the ground with our shovels, and smothered the flames with dirt. But much of the fire involved the burning tree, higher than we could reach. So we fetched down the chainsaw and proceeded to fell the tree.

The saw had been pretty well used for last years firewood season, so the chain wasn't in very good shape. Juniper wood is very dense and hard, so we made a long job of it.

I discovered that the chainsaw exhaust port very thoughtfully directs the exhaust stream away from the operator. Which in our case, by coincidence, also happened to be in the general direction of a big tree trunk that was currently on fire. We'd smother the flames down and saw a bit, then the exhaust stream would fan up the flames again. Made it pretty interesting for a while.

While we were gnawing away at the tree, one of the neighbors showed up on his 4-wheeler. He had a better chain on his saw, so we turned it over to him, and finally got the tree tipped over. Naturally it hung up six different ways, so it still took a bit more work to finally put the trunk onto the ground, but we eventually prevailed.

In the mean time, our local fire department team had started up the big tanker truck and were lumbering up the hill. Two local firefighters brought backpack sprayers down to mop up the fuels that were still hot and smoking.

It looks to be a lively fire season shaping up in the area.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Write it down

In the opening chapter of Mosiah, one of the striking ideas raised is that even Lehi would have forgotten to instruct his people about many important truths, if they had not been written down.

Book of Mormon, Mosiah 1:1-5

Last spring I had some time to wander through several areas of Utah's remote deserts. Several times I stopped to look at petroglyphs and rock paintings left by some unknown people ages ago. Some of the figures are suggestive of the familiar, but most of them are only vaguely recognizable at best. It takes a bit of imagination to try to project meaning into these images. Who can guess what the artist was trying to communicate?

Our translations of the scriptures are testimony of King Benjamin's prophetic wisdom. I think it is no coincidence that the publication of scriptures corresponds exactly with the advent of the greatest epochs of expanding human knowledge over the course of history. If it isn't written down and available for study, it will all too soon be forgotten.

Answers to prayers

Why are we sometimes frustrated or doubtful about praying to God?

I cannot speak for others, but can add some personal reflections.

My suspicion would be that there are people who are honest enough about themselves to understand why God would not respond to their personal prayers, though these may be uncommon. This is where I usually count myself. If my prayers don't work it certainly isn't God's fault. I generally apply Mark Twain's model as presented in Huckleberry Finn to help understand why my prayers fail -- "You can't pray a lie." Twain's wisdom, illustrated through Huck Finn's experience, is an insightful glimpse into many attributes of human nature.

Huckleberry Finn on prayer -- recommended. You Can't Pray a Lie

I will also acknowledge that I am not expecting to change the order of the universe simply by taking the thought to ask. It would seem that one of the prerequisites for granting prayers is that my request has to be in accordance with the mind and will of God. The essence of successful prayer seems to be in asking for the right things. I believe Elder Eyring touched on this point in his conference address.
Heavenly Father, it doesn’t matter what I want. I don’t care anymore what I want. I only want that Thy will be done. That is all that I want. Please tell me what to do.  (Henry B. Eyring, As a Child, Ensign, May 2006)

For those of us who have on occasion dedicated our most fervent pleas, as in the case of asking for God to heal the sick, the nature of answering seems very different from the case where someone found their glasses through divine guidance. Where I prayed and people died anyway, I found assurance that the passing of loved ones was will of God, and that in the sight of Heavenly Father, the death was neither an unforeseen tragedy nor an untimely event. While my prayers did not save the life I prayed for, they did return a greater understanding that helped me through the sense of loss and mourning. In this I suppose I trust Heavenly Father to bless me with what I need, not necessarily what I ask for.

If that is not an answer to prayers, I don't know what is.

Monday, June 05, 2006

The deceivers who tangle the web...

Interesting SLTrib article today, from outspoken church critic RB Scott.

Mixing religion and politics: Oh, what a tangled web . . .

Ron starts off on the wrong foot with his blatantly inappropriate and offensive poetic title, and just naturally flows down hill from there.

He flatly -- and mistakenly -- insinuates that church leaders are practicing deceptive tactics in order to play a political game. Stirring up controversy, sowing the seeds of confusion and discord -- these are exactly the kind of reaction Ron always seems wont to provoke.

President Hinckley is not a liar by any definition. He needs no defense from people like Ron, who always manage to twist things to serve their own point of view.

I personally am certain that Ron will find, sometime in the future, that editorializing against the church carries a far greater cost than he can afford.

I have been following the reaction of various church members toward the First Presidency statement. It makes a fascinating study.

For the most part, in the general body of the church I think there is little controversy or question in our minds. When Church leaders counsel us to act, we act. Since we already support and sustain members of the first councils of the church as prophets, seers, and revelators, when they speak with authority, critical analysis can wait.

There are many, however, for whom some deliberation is apparently warranted. They demand to test inspired counsel against the philosophies of men, to satisfy their own intellect, or simply to show their own politically-correct approval or disapproval.

Whatever the reason, this small but vocal minority can always be noticed in such matters. They take the forefront in media coverage. They seem to love to "be seen of men". And, I believe, because they hear their own voices echoing in the silence, they presume to represent the rest of us.

I have no objection to others voicing their opinions, but I take exception when they presume to issue moral or intellectual judgments against the church or in opposition to Church authority. Those of us in the silent but faithful minority need to participate in the public forum, so as to avoid leaving the impression that dissenters and dissidents represent any significant segment of the faithful disciples. While it goes against my natural inclination to be outspoken, I have learned through sad experience that if we fail to protest when we are misrepresented, many of those who view things from without will assume that we have no opposing views and nothing to say in such matters. Apparently, from the legalistic perspective, it is true that "Silence gives assent".

In case any are mislead by the attempts so sow doubts about the legitimacy of religious groups engaging in political activism, at this link some of the guidelines are nicely illustrated.

It is a specious red-herring to insinuate that the tax-exempt status of the church is in jeopardy, or to suggest that the church would fail to take imperative action or unequivocally express an official position on issues with clear moral implications. This misinformation has often been perpetuated by the doubters and naysayers as justification for advocating non-involvement or avoidance of politically sensitive issues, but it is clearly contradicted by the facts. Those asserting that the church is putting tax-exempt status in jeopardy are apparently more interested in sowing the seeds of doubt than any loss of tax status.

When there is an issue upon which the voice of the Lord has been heard, the church will let it be known, in clear and unmistakable terms. Those with ears to hear, let them hear.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Advocating righteousness: No Apologies Necessary

I have seen a surprising picture developing out of recent controversy regarding LDS Church leaders supporting the proposed constitutional marriage amendment. It would seem that there are a number of people associated with the church, who feel guilty to promote unequivocal opposition to homosexual behavior.

In fact, a whole lot of them seem downright apologetic.

And, in fact, there are a significant number who presume to criticize the church for its continuing opposition to anything resembling approval for or sanction of homosexual "lifestyle".

It is a confusing position to advocate, because many of the proponents feel justified by their understanding of principles of "compassion" or "tolerance". They seem unable to discern how temporary concessions under that "compassion" rationale ultimately compromise the quality of life for everyone involved. Every experience through the history of human existence testifies that it is never compassionate to compromise with evil.

To me this ambivalence is difficult to reconcile. In my experience the church has never offered the slightest concession to those entangled in sexual deviance. Such sinful misconduct has always been unacceptable and condemned in the strongest terms. It is my understanding that church membership is automatically severed for individuals engaged in homosexual behavior. To me, this policy seems unremarkable and consistent.

I don't expect anything to ever change in this respect. But it would seem that quite a number of church members are even hopeful that it will.

Who thinks we owe the sinners an apology for advocating repentance and righteousness?

Friday, June 02, 2006

Health care is sick

Why do we spend so much on health care?

According to Henry J. Aaron, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, in his editorial "A Healthcare Prescription That's Hard to Swallow"  the US currently spends 16% of GNP, more than $2 trillion, on health care costs. Some projections predict that costs will exceed 30% over the next 25 years. The article does not answer the question, but it does present some of the unpalatable diagnosis.

In many other countries with less expensive health-care systems, costs are controlled through various means that are also available here, and "the result typically is dramatically less surgery, less high-technology medicine and much lower healthcare spending — but not poorer overall health outcomes. The British, for example, live slightly longer than Americans yet spend 40% less per capita on healthcare than we do."

On the other hand, I have heard that many of the wealthy natives of countries that economize in health care costs come to the US to get their doctoring, whenever they want something expensive.

Is it too troubling for such a wealthy society to admit that we assign a dollar value to human life and the quality of life? The Terri Schiavo case certainly raised public awareness and sensitivity to end-of-life issues, but it seemed to quiet down soon after she died. Doubtless there are many other similar cases that never get such public scrutiny.