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21 October 2016

Psalm 14: Fools

This is another chapter that it took some time before it really spoke to me. Doing a series on every single Psalm is interesting, in part because of the way that it makes me really focus deeply on the message of each chapter; if I'm going to blog about each one, I've got to have something worthwhile to say. That isn't something that I can always do immediately, in fact it's frequently challenging, and I feel like spending the time necessary with each chapter to get to know it well enough to comment on it is turning out to be far more difficult than I'd anticipated -- and it's changing the way that I see the whole Bible, and deepening my relationship with God. I wasn't really thinking of that kind of change when I started this; I just felt I needed know the Bible better, and this seemed like a likely way to get there. But changing the way we see scripture, and the way we relate to our Heavenly Father is one of the fundamental purposes of scripture study of any sort: it's supposed to be transformative. I realize that; I'm not sure why it caught me off guard.

So. This was another chapter that I had to read and re-read, trying to get it to speak to me. After a while, I started to write it out, thinking that might help me to slow down enough. It worked; I only made it through the first verse that day, and was totally captured by the first line of the Psalm:

The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.
-Psalm 14:1

One of the things that has been a consistent challenge for me in reading and blogging about the Psalms is that there are significant portions of them that feel... negative. This passage, for example, is one of several that was off-putting at first: it feels like name-calling, like an insult, and isn't that supposed to be one of those bad things we don't do? It's hard to reconcile that being in scripture. It's uncomfortable. Discomfort is good; we're not looking for smooth, easy words. But. My tendency is still to gloss over this sort of thing, and to instead linger over passages that are more pleasant to read. Things like Psalm 23, which I'm really looking forward to studying when I eventually get there. There's so much joy and hope and happiness in the scriptures, it's not hard at all to focus on those instead instead of looking closely at sections that are challenging. We had a Relief Society teacher tell us a while back that, when she finds a fault in herself, she studies it in the scriptures. I so admire that; it's not easy to deliberately delve into the uncomfortable parts of the Gospel. But this project, writing about every single one, doesn't let me stay with the familiar, pleasant parts. It's hard, but it's deepening my understanding of the scriptures; the gospel has some difficult aspects, and they are also important.

So, I wondered about this word, fool. We don't use it a whole lot anymore. The 1828 Webster's entry for fool has a number of interesting things to think about. I've bolded my favorite parts:

1. One who is destitute of reason, or the common powers of understanding; an idiot. Some persons are born fools, and are called natural fools; others may become fools by some injury done to the brain.

2. In common language, a person who is somewhat deficient in intellect, but not an idiot; or a person who acts absurdly; one who does not exercise his reason; one who pursues a course contrary to the dictates of wisdom. ...

3. In scripture, fool is often used for a wicked or depraved person; one who acts contrary to sound wisdom in his moral deportment; one who follows his own inclinations, who prefers trifling and temporary pleasures to the service of God and eternal happiness. ...
4. A weak christian; a godly person who has much remaining sin and unbelief.
O fools, and slow of heart to believe all the prophets have written. Luke 24. ...

1. To play the fool, to act the buffoon; to jest; to make sport.
2. To act like one void of understanding. To put the fool on, to impose on; to delude.
To make a fool of, to frustrate; to defeat; to disappoint.  To trifle; to toy; to spend time in idleness, sport or mirth. Is this a time for fooling?

1. To treat with contempt; to disappoint; to defeat; to frustrate; to deceive; to impose on.

There's a richness of meaning, when you look at the verse with all these different nuances: The fool, either unable or unwilling to reason -the effect is the same- says there is no God. He acts contrary to sound wisdom in this denial, preferring trifling pleasures to the service of God, whom he treats with contempt.

It is interesting, too, that Webster includes the weak christian in his definition, and the passage he cites is fascinating, as well as unsettling, in its implications: he points to where Cleopas and his friend on the road to Emmaus see Christ, but don't know Him, and are rebuked -called fools by the Lord- when they still do not understand the events they are experiencing. Always before, I've thought more on what a privilege it was for these two men to walk with and be taught by Christ, Himself, even if they did not realize it at first, they would look back, knowing it was Him. And their response, once they do understand is admirable: they book it back to Jerusalem immediately and find Peter and the others. I'd never focused on the one sentence that is recorded of Christ's actual words to them; just wished that I could have been walking there with them, to learn from the Master. But that's a pretty stinging rebuke. Joseph F. Smith talked about this episode, and pointed out how the disciples, even Peter, at this point had not received the Gift of the Holy Ghost, and what a profound difference that makes for them as they try to work through these events that must have been so confusing and troubling. That makes me think, again, of Webster's definitions - without reason, or unwilling to reason. Being without the Holy Ghost, or unwilling to live so that we can have his assistance, the effect is nearly the same, and any of us can fall into that trap if we are not consistently vigilant. Rather than seeing in this verse only a rebuke to nonbelievers, I started to see in it a caution to complacent Christians, along the lines of the conversations about the differences between believing in Christ and believing Christ that you sometimes see.

So I started looking for other passages that talk about fools. And I was stunned by how many there are. Over 60 in Proverbs alone! You could spend a very long time studying what it means, scripturally, to be a fool, what their actions are, what the consequences are. And, it looks like, at least in Proverbs, these things are often taught by contrasting them with wisdom, so you'd learn a lot about wisdom in the process. I started looking through a few of the references to fools to see what I could learn, what I ought to avoid doing.

•Fools indulge in prattle -empty, excessive babble. (Proverbs 10:8)

•Fools hide hatred with lies and speak slander. (Proverbs 10:18)

•Fools enjoy -find sport in- causing trouble for others. (Proverbs 10:23)

•Fools rage... wait. What does that mean? 

A wise man feareth, and departeth from evil:
but the fool rageth, and is confident.

The comparison in this verse appealed to me right away, but I wondered what, exactly, is it to "rage"? So I looked it up in Strong's Concordance; pretty interesting stuff. The Hebrew verb here, âbar, usually is rendered something along the lines of "to cross over" or "to pass over". Jacob crosses over the Euphrates to escape Laban (Gen. 31:21). God made the wind pass over the flood waters (Gen 8:1). Between those two phrases there's close to 300 times this verb is used... and I was really scratching my head, trying to understand what on earth is going on here in Proverbs after looking at several examples like this. 

But Âbar also sometimes is used in the sense of "passing over" a law or covenant as if it's not binding (see Num. 14:41). According to Strong's, certain forms of the verb are only used in reference to sin: the offender "passes beyond" the limits set by God's law and falls into transgression. In this sense, it made much more sense to me, and called to mind the awful gulf that separates the wicked from the Tree of Life in Nephi's vision (1 Nephi 15:28). And, at this point, this seems to apply most to the overconfident believer: 

A wise man feareth, and departeth from evil: 
but the fool [crosses into temptation], and is confident.

This brings to mind the contrast between Joseph in his dealings with Potipher's wife, and the overly rosy assessment of the Jews by Laman and Lemuel. We read that, when faced with insistent temptation, Joseph "fled and got him out" - exactly what Proverbs recommends. Laman and Lemuel, on the other hand, in spite of the testimony of many prophets to the contrary, are quite confident that "the people who were in the land of Jerusalem were a righteous people" and they wish they had not listened to their father, and remained at Jerusalem.

I've been intrigued by Laman and Lemuel and other scripture villains for a while now. A significant number of these villains are members of the Lord's church, and in several cases they are leaders who, it would seem, have crossed into temptation and fallen out of step with the Gospel, but they don't always leave the church. Once I started to see them, I discovered that there are a sobering number of stories and passages that in various ways warn of the dangers of being at ease in Zion. The often-repeated admonition to endure to the end is no idle warning, and the effects of failure to adequately guard ourselves, of slipping into overconfidence, are amply illustrated in the Standard Works.

The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.
-Psalm 14:1

That got me thinking, since so many of these verses seem to be directed at believers at least as much as nonbelievers, how we might act as if there is no God. Certainly, atheism and agnosticism qualify. But do believers do this? If I'm really honest with myself, I think I may see myself in these words occasionally. Don't we sometimes behave as if God is more of an abstract, impersonal thing, rather than a beloved Parent who is intimately familiar with and concerned about everything to do with us? Laman and Lemuel did not ask God about their father's vision, instead looking to Nephi for explanation. Isn't not asking questions, not requesting blessings, not seeking Gifts of the Spirit, saying something along the lines of, "There is no God, not for me." Because we believe ourselves to be too broken, too insignificant, too worthless, too whatever, to be worthy of His attention. It's not true. But I know I've done it. And I've seen it in people, good people, around me. The world is very good at teaching lies about our value. Our value to God is intrinsic. It's not in our grades, our goodness, our talents. It's not in our accomplishments or our trophies. Not even in our service and sacrifice. Our full value is in ourselves. In our nature. In our being. But we can be fooled into believing otherwise. 

Lots to think about. Lots to discover. I want to remember this stuff, and to be reminded when I come across these passages, so I built a scripture chain to bring me back to these thoughts, to help me remember. The first two passages kind of anchor the whole thing, because of the notes I made in the margins this time, from Webster's and Strong's.

Psalm 14:1
Proverbs 14:16
Genesis 39:12
1 Nephi 17:22 
1 Nephi 15:28
Luke 24:25
2 Nephi 28:24-25

It's really pretty remarkable, how no matter how much I have learned from the scriptures, I constantly feel like I've barely scratched the surface.

Almost Pets

Hero, for one of his Webelos projects, needs to have a plant. And he needs to learn about reasons why plants are good. NASA did a study on what plants filter the air most effectively, and I had him read an article on the study. Then we went to the store to see what they had.

I wanted to check out the Mother-in-law's Tongue, but it's much larger than I realized, and they wanted $80 for the one they had in stock. Wow. Probably going to be a while before I have one of those. But they had other things. Ferns and Pothos and succulents and ivys and all kinds of fun plants. I love looking through the plant section.

We set out to get Hero a plant, but it quickly became apparent that Dragon was going to be crushed if he didn't get one, too, and what the boys do, the girl must do, so Peanut wanted one, too. I wondered what this little excusrion was going to cost, but we were in luck: they had some tiny plants in pots maybe 2 inches across for $2, and I let Dragon and Peanut choose one of those. Hero, needing it for a project, got to choose one that was in a 4 inch pot for $4. Not too bad. But all those plants needed to be repotted. Happily, we found some pots that were on clearance, so each kid got to choose a colored pot. And we found trays to put under; those were more than I'd hoped for, and kind of oversided for the pots, but with kids watering, I don't think we'd be ok to do without. All total, it was just under $15, which I feel pretty good about!

So. Now we have plants. Two of the three got names. Hero has a Silver-Veined Fittonia that he's dubbed "Silvy." Dragon's is a Hypoestes. The tag didn't say, but the store people told us when he asked. Anyway, it's got green and pink leaves, so he's calling it "Grink." And Peanut chose a mini spider plant, but didn't name hers, at least not yet. Last night a friend stopped by, and he very kindly consented to introductions to all three plants; the kids were so excited about it, and he was a great sport. Upstairs to the boys' room to inspect two plant-pets there, and then down to the kitchen: I persuaded Peanut that her plant needed more light than is available on her dresser. Which means that I can also see it, and that will help me remember to help her water her plant-pet. I think the kids are almost as excited about these plants as they would have been if I'd got them a puppy or a fish!

This morning, I reminded Dragon that after he got dressed the window needed to be opened so the plants could have some light. No problem. The window was opened before he woke up, and he'd just get dressed in the bathroom so that his plant would be happy in the light.

These kids are so sweet; they crack me up.

19 October 2016

Snapshots From Our Day


Last week we read about writing in Mesopotamia; this week we're playing around with trying some. Dragon was pretty into it. 

We just used play dough this time, not baked clay like when I did this with Hero, but it's still a fun project. 

12 October 2016

Counting Blessings

I feel cranky this evening. A little bit whiney. (I hate whining.) So I'm making myself count blessings. But they're not in any particular order.

*I am married to a fantastic man. He works super hard to protect and provide for our family. And he's my best friend. So glad I married my best friend. 

*I get to stay home with my kids. 

*it rained today. I love water from the sky. Bonus points for the way it makes the trees' colors extra vivid. More bonus points for not needing to go anywhere in it. 

*Food is yummy; cooking delicious food for people I love is fun. 

*I have mismatched socks that make me smile. 

*The kids wanted to do watercolors this morning. We abandoned most of the schedule for an art day. It's been a while, and it felt good to put paint on paper, even if I didn't finish yet. 

*My banjo is so pleasant to play. And the 5 minutes here and there are starting to add up a little: I sound halfway credible on a couple of songs, not just Twinkle Twinkle Little Star! 

*I've got a whole bunch of copies of scripture. There's my basic English paper set that's the entire standard works. And the Church's app that's got the whole kit in my pocket to peek at whenever. That's also got the Tripple in Japanese (plus a bunch of other languages, but I don't use those). I've got a paper Japanese Bible, though it's still pretty hard for me. And the Welsh Book of Mormon. That one's cool because Welsh was the first language it was translated into, and it kind of looks like they've never updated it: it doesn't even have verses. I'm not so hot at Welsh, but once I get started, I'll do part of my reading there. 

*My house is heated. I have running water. Which means I get hot showers, more or less daily. This is a luxury that I appreciate. 

*I have children. There was a time when I wondered if that would happen for us. Now we have three

*I have a yard for them to play in - and for me to dig in. Dirt is good for us all. 

*Yoga is fixing my scoliosis. Pretty amazing, given that I was told its incurable. 

*Learning about herbs has dramatically decreased the trips we take to the doctor. We used to get every cold, all the flus. They'd turn into sinus infections, bronchitis, and pneumonia pretty routinely. And sooooo many ear infections. Now we hardly ever get sick enough to be miserable, and it's been ages - probably over a year - since we took any of that stuff to the doctor or had antibiotics. Herbs are a pretty remarkable blessing for us. 

Ok. That's hardly a comprehensive list, but I feel better, and there's some other things I want to do before bed. 

October Watercolor Challenge

The logo this month is Hastings at Sunset, which was painted by Albert Goodwin(1845-1932), a British painter. You can read more about it here

This month's chapter from our book is The Blacks and the Grays, which apparently are better to mix than to buy. He's got "recipes" for making several kinds of black and a whole mess of grays, which he demonstrates on some very cute elephants. So, we should practice our mixing and make some grays and blacks. Then, try a painting using some of the colors you practiced. Here's a couple ideas to get the creative juices flowing.

The thing that struck me, as I was looking for speed drawings to include this month, is the way that these artists have a pretty clear idea of what they're going to do with their painting before they start: they know the end from the beginning, at least in this small thing. I thought that was an interesting thought, that painting could be used to no only express some of the heritage we have from being the children of an infinitely creative Heavenly Father, but also a way to further develop one of His traits, as we learn to plan and carry out our own creative projects.

I hope you enjoy painting with this month's materials; don't forget to stop by and share your work with us!


09 October 2016

Fall at Our Park

Schedules are finally settling down a bit, and we made it back to our park with our nature study buddies. It was so nice. This time, we started with some bird watching at their feeders. Mostly, my phone doesn't do well with the birds; they're too far away. But this cute little Downy Woodpecker came close this time, and I got him.

There was a lot of birds; I saw a Red-breasted Nuthatch for the first time, plus several Chickadees, some White-breasted Nuthatches, House Finches, and a pair of Cardinals. After a few minutes, the kids were done with the birds so we headed to the pond. First thing we found was this cool Oil Bug. Turns out it's probably just as well he was dead: these little beauties secrete an oil that causes painful blisters. Happily, nobody got blisters, but it did give us a chance to remind the kids to be careful about what they touch. 

It was a beautiful day. Definitely fall; most of us had jackets. But not cold, yet, even with the breeze. 

We found this cool mushroom; no idea what it's called. 

We visited the "Stick Shack".

The big kids are banned from this tree, both Moms believing that it's too small to hold them, and the temptation to get on the Stick Shack is just too much for most of them. It is, after all, right there. Peanut, however, is petite. We just met her cousin from Colorado. The one that's 9 months or so younger than her. He looks a fair amount older. I forget sometimes how tiny she is. And tiny people can climb small trees. She was pretty delighted by that.

Right in the same area was this pretty cool seed cluster. No idea what the flower used to be. But the seeds look awesome.

Migration is going on. I saw nearly 100 Canadian Geese while I was standing there watching the kids play in the Stick Shack. And almost 20 crows. I don't think those are migrating, though. We get those all year long.

Even as late as it is, there's still flowers. And they're still beautiful.

I love Nature Study.

08 October 2016

Scripture Chains

I realized when a friend asked me about them that I often share scripture chains in my posts about the Psalms, but I've never explained what I mean by that. So here is a quick tutorial on how I find and mark scripture chains. I can't take credit for the technique, and I can't remember where I learned it, but it's one that I'm glad is in my "toolkit".

When I build a scripture chain, it usually grows out of topical study - and I make a lot more of them now that I'm writing down the things that I read to share with the Bible Study group, though I did occasionally make them before that. But the written format of blogging about scripture has really been encouraging them. It doesn't always happen that way, though. My scripture journal has also helped me to collect the verses that I study into a list. Because this technique starts with a list.

I made this list when I was studying humility: it's actions that humble people take. (Notice that beating yourself up is NOT on the list.)

However, today I'm marking a different list of scriptures, one that comes from my most recent Sunday School lesson, about keeping commandments and explaining them to people who don't necessarily share our beliefs. This is the list I shared with my class: 

Most of the scriptures on the list come straight out of the lesson's list, or the talks, but I also added at least one that suggested itself to me. There could probably be a lot more, but this was already more than we were able to cover in a single class period. When I go to mark them in my scriptures, I just start at the top of the list.

A quick note between the verses tells me where the second verse is. I like to mark in the space at the end of the verse if it's available, and save the margins for longer quotes or other annotations. I typically mark most things in black, and if there's a lot of black, I've got a blue; my red pen is just for doing scripture chains.

I just continue, going down the list, putting the next citation by the current verse, then flipping to the one I just wrote.

I have a tendency to get lost in the middle of the list, so if I'm working with a paper list, I'll often check them off after I've marked them. On a computer list, sometimes I'll change the font color as I go along.

So you just go down the list, referencing each verse with the verse just beneath it.

If the verse doesn't have a lot of space at the end, I will sometimes write in the center column, especially on a page like this one, that get referenced a lot: the wider margins are valuable real estate for the larger annotations, and a fine line pen can write pretty small. The space for annotations was the main reason that I switched from small to standard size scriptures the last time I bought a new set, even though I really liked having the little scriptures: I can write small (practice helps!) but there's just so much more space in the standard size.

Here, with a slightly longer passage rather than just a single verse, I debated putting the next reference at the top, but decided on the bottom, so that it's right there where my eye is when I'm done reading the passage and ready to go to the next.

With this verse split between the bottom of one page and the top of the next, I debated a bit before finally placing the reference. I was concerned that, if I wrote in the center, I wouldn't be able to write small enough to keep from running into the line at the bottom, which makes it hard to see, and there's not much room at the top of the next page, so I did put this one in the actual margin.

Third Nephi is the last of the citations on my list, so instead of marking the verse just under it in the margin, I link this one up to the verse at the top of the list. That way, no matter where I bump into the list in future study, I am able to find the entire set off of any of the verses in it.

So far, I don't have any scripture chains that use the same scriptures, so having a single color for just scripture chains is working nicely, and it's become a favorite way that I study and link up verses addressing a single topic or principle.

Enjoy your study!


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