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17 June 2019


Early this month, I saw a post on Facebook from a lady that was doing something to track wildfires in her nature journal; I wasn't real clear on what it is that she was doing: wildfires are not a thing in our neck of the woods. But she had it in a circle, and it was colored different shades of red, and it was really quite striking.

I thought, what if I did that with the daily temperatures?

So I built a chart.
In a circle, because I loved how that looked.

And, because it was already the fourth, and because I don't actually have an outdoor thermometer to look at, I grabbed some data from the Weather Underground. Which is pretty cool, actually, because that means that I've got the actual high and low for the day, rather than just whatever it is whenever I remember to look at the thermometer. This also meant that I have a range of colors to represent each day, which turns out to be quite striking, even after only a couple of days of data. I got the kids into the project; it totally counts as math!

Each day, I look up the minimum and maximum temperatures for the day (or two) before, and pull out the colors that I've assigned to that range, and blend them into that day's wedge of the pie: low temps are at the center, and I make a gradient to the day's high. It's kind of fun how that's ended up making something of a gradient around the inside and outside of the circle, too. I thought by now we'd been into the reds, but it's been a very wet and cool June: I wore my jacket to church yesterday, which was odd! 

I shared my graph back to the Facebook group that I got the idea from, and to my surprise, one of the presenters at the upcoming John Muir Laws conference wanted permission to use my photo to show how data can be used in a nature journal. Cool! (Even more cool: the conference is supposed to be on his YouTube sometime after the fact.) And someone else wanted to share it to another group they're in. And I started thinking: "Wouldn't it be fun if this idea had a hashtag so that we could see each other's ideas, and be inspired some more!"

So, if you like it, and you post something similar, please tag your post, or come drop a comment: I'd love to come see what everybody comes up with!

12 June 2019

Claim Their Anointing

Scripture study is a funny thing. In the middle of following this question, I'll realize that it's related to that thing over there, and next thing you know I'm lost in the "rabbit hole" --but typically happy as a clam about it.

That's kind of how it went this time. I got to the adult session of Stake Conference early, and was thumbing through my Scripture Journal, and decided to fill in some of the things that I've found about lineage in the last little while as I waited for the meeting to start. There's this unexpected connection between lineage and priesthood that I've been noticing, though I haven't really explored it all very well. But I searched "lineage" in the scriptures, and one of the verses that came up was this one:

...by virtue of the decree concerning their right of the priesthood descending from father to son, they may claim their anointing if at any time they can prove their lineage, or do ascertain it by revelation from the Lord...
-Doctrine and Covenants 68:21

And I though, hold on here, bishops are anointed? It's not just a regular ordination?

So when the meeting was done, I went up front to see if I could ask the Stake President real quick (he's a friend of mine, and I couldn't see any of the bishops), and I ended up getting the attention of the visiting Seventy instead. Since I thought he might know, I went ahead and asked, not about regular Bishops, since I was 95% certain they just get regular ordinations, but about the Presiding Bishops. He said no. So I asked if he knew what the verse was talking about, and he didn't. Which was neither surprising nor distressing; it's not one that gets a lot of attention, and I was as much making sure that I hadn't missed something obvious as anything: I didn't really expect that either he or our good Stake President would know much about it; it just doesn't get discussed. But you don't know, really, until you ask.

So here I am, trying to learn more about anointings. Way back when, Elder Bednar shared a technique for scripture study that I think of as "Brother Bednar's Cut and Sort" technique: he looked up all the forms of his word, and then put them in a document, then cut them up, and sorted them into piles. I tried this with the word humility once. It completely transformed my understanding of the topic, and I never even really finished. It seems like a likely technique for learning more about this.

There's only 367 instances. ...  How hard can it be? ... right?

 Here I thought this would be simple: there's just a handful of references in the Topical Guide.


There's some useful things you can do: the search on the Church's website defaults to showing the most relevant results.

I set it to sort by book, so that it shows them in order. That makes it easier to keep track of where I'm at as I work. In this case, looking at "anoint", that means we'll start in Exodus.  The search already automatically brings me the word in its various endings and conjugations, so I don't have to search all that individually.

The next thing that I did was set up a document to hold all these 367 uses of the word anoint. Last time, I did it in strips. They were long and super skinny, which was annoying to work with. So this time, I'm doing columns. I need to be careful to keep things from crossing columns, because if I actually cut things apart that would get annoying; I may cut, but I don't want to tape! And I started to copy and paste. And learn.

Right off: anointing is a process that makes things holy.

It's interesting: here is a thing that apparently allows a lineal, familial claim to a process that makes us holy. (The previous verse makes clear that it's conditional, which is to be expected: he's got to be designated by the First Presidency(!), found worthy, anointed, and ordained -again by the First Presidency.) While most families, currently at least, don't have this lineal claim to the Aaronic Priesthood, it is customary for fathers to perform ordinations for their sons where possible which, maybe not so incidentally, gives the son the same priesthood lineage as his father.

Perhaps it's not surprising that, immediately after this verse that talks about these lineal blessings, we have a serious warning to parents:

And again, inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized, that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents.
-Doctrine and Covenants 68:25

So I'm reading in Exodus and Leviticus, and this verse is pretty typical of a lot of them:

And if thou bring an oblation of a meat offering baken in the oven, it shall be unleavened cakes of fine flour mingled with oil, or unleavened wafers anointed with oil.
-Leviticus 2:4

And I started to wonder: why does oil make it holy? Then I remembered: this isn't just any oil.

And thou shalt command the children of Israel, that they bring thee pure oil olive beaten for the light, to cause the lamp to burn always.
-Exodus 27:20 (emphasis added)

Olive oil is a powerful symbol of the Savior:

It is poignantly symbolic that “blood [came] from every pore” as Jesus suffered in Gethsemane, the place of the olive press. To produce olive oil in the Savior’s time, olives were first crushed by rolling a large stone over them. The resulting “mash” was placed in soft, loosely woven baskets, which were piled one upon another. Their weight expressed the first and finest oil. Then added stress was applied by placing a large beam or log on top of the stacked baskets, producing more oil. Finally, to draw out the very last drops, the beam was weighted with stones on one end to create the maximum, crushing pressure. And yes, the oil is bloodred as it first flows out.
-D. Todd Christopherson, Abide in My Love

In the ancient temple, Aaron and his sons after him became priests as they were anointed, not only with olive oil, but also with the blood of the sacrifices, symbolism which points directly and viscerally to the sacrifice of our Lord: the sacrifice which makes us holy, redeeming us from our fallen state through His Grace. In the ancient temple the priests were anointed: specially prepared olive oil was put on them by one who had authority to do so. This set them apart and hallowed them, or made them holy, for His work. In much the same way, the Savior, being prepared and authorized by the Father, wants to put His blood on us, which cleanses us and is the process by which He makes us like Him: holy. He is our great High Priest.

It's still really just a beginning, and I have yet to discover the connection, really, the lineal nature of the priesthood, particularly as it applies in our day. There's also some interesting tie-ins to this week's Come Follow Me lesson, which is all about the Last Supper and Christ's sufferings in Gethsemane, and I'd like to explore that some more, too. But I am learning a lot about anointings, and about the temple, and the symbols that point us to Christ, and that is no small thing.

This post is part of a series.
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07 June 2019

Making it Safe to Not Know

I no longer remember precisely what it was that got me thinking about it, but:

It's really important that we create an environment where it is safe to not know something.

Not in a neglectful kind of way, where we're complacently not trying, but in a the sort of way where it's ok not to know yet, and it's so ok to ask questions, to try out incomplete ideas, to say the sentence half in your native language, half in the one you're studying, to take a stab at it, and try -even knowing that your effort is going to be half-baked and incomplete.

Because there is so much learning in the trying.

01 June 2019

Commonplace: May 2019

A sample from my commonplace book, and brief instructions for how to keep one.

A commonplace is a traditional self-education tool: as you read, grab a notebook. Write down things that embody Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Write down notable quotes, with or without your own thoughts about them. Write down the questions you have as a result of the text you are reading. You will find the book becomes a record of your own growth, and it becomes a touchstone for memory of things you have studied in the past. This is what Mother Culture is all about: self-directed, conscious self-education. 

True education is a form of repentance. It is a humble admission that we've not read all that we need to read, we don't know all that we need to know, and we're not yet all that we need to become. Education is that unique form of discipleship that brings us to the place of admitting our inadequacies.
-George Grant, "Repentance"

But one of the worst results of being a slave and being forced to do things is that when there is no one to force you any more you find you have almost lost the power of forcing yourself.
-The Horse and His Boy, p137

31 May 2019

Math as a Window to God's Character

I got asked today about how it is that I came to see math as a window into the character of God. I'm not sure how to show what I've learned, other than to tell how I came to know it.

* * *

I did not enjoy math in school.

The way I was taught, math was arbitrary: a never ending pile of largely unrelated formulas that must be memorized perfectly and then worked flawlessly. Close doesn't count; it's right --or it's wrong. Teachers seldom had an answer for "When are we going to use this?" They assured us that the upper math has value, but never seemed able to articulate what that value was.

I graduated from high school with a huge sigh of relief: the pre-calculus course I'd taken that year had not gone well, and the hit to my grades carried a heavy cost at scholarship time, and I figured that I'd reached the ceiling of what I was capable of in math. Though I briefly flirted with studying astrophysics, in the end the math intimidated me out of the dream, so I went with Japanese, which required no further math at all.

Then we decided to homeschool.

This meant starting over in math, from the beginning. I was intimidated, not considering myself to be very good at the stuff, but I figured that if I had a particularly "mathy" child, we could outsource math classes when I started feeling like I was in over my head.

But elementary math shouldn't be so hard. I headed to the forums to read about various math curricula. In the process, I ended up discovering how it is that people come to love math: math is patterns. And patterns are both beautiful and fascinating. Math is patterns that can be approached in many different ways, taken apart, and played with, and put back together. On occasion, I got so into a problem -a pattern- that I continued to work it even after my son's interest was spent. (This emphasis on patterns is also the core of the "new math" that everybody hates: my experience was far from unique, unfortunately, and the new "constructivist" approach to teaching math is difficult for parents who were taught with the algorithms only method, like I was.)  We started with Miquon math, which in spite of some weaknesses, taught me as much as it did my children, and then when my oldest outgrew it we continued with MEP, first because it's free, but then afterward we stayed with it because it's just excellent at teaching the kids to find the patterns. And we've all learned a lot about how to see the patterns. I find that I'm actually excited to find out what happens as my oldest gets into the "higher" maths: I am looking forward to the chance to try my hand at it again, this time realizing that there is an underlying pattern, a Real Idea, some bit of reality, that is being described by each type of problem.

I should not have been so surprised by the beauty; math is full of Truth about the world around us, and Truth, Beauty, and Goodness fit together, so where you find one, you'll usually find all three. But the idea that math could be beautiful was so different from the grind of algorithms that I'd always experienced. The reality is, algorithms are only a relatively small part of the story, and if you can work the formula, but you can't see the pattern that makes it function, then you don't really get it, and you haven't learned what it has to teach.

01 May 2019

Commonplace Book: April 2019

A sample from my commonplace book, and brief instructions for how to keep one.

A commonplace is a traditional self-education tool: as you read, grab a notebook. Write down things that embody Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Write down notable quotes, with or without your own thoughts about them. Write down the questions you have as a result of the text you are reading. You will find the book becomes a record of your own growth, and it becomes a touchstone for memory of things you have studied in the past. This is what Mother Culture is all about: self-directed, conscious self-education.

"I need space --thought space."
-Cheryl Swope, The Classical Teacher, Spring 2019, p48

"I remembered a quote I heard a number of years ago from F.W. Boreham. He was speaking of the events during the Napoleonic wars in the early part of the 19th century:
'. . . men were following, with bated breath, the march of Napoleon, and waiting with feverish impatience for the latest news of the wars. And all the while, in their own homes, babies were being born. But who could think about babies? Everybody was thinking about battles. . . .
. . . in one year. . . between Trafalgar and Waterloo, there stole into the world a host of heroes! . . . in 1809. . . Gladstone was born at Liverpool; Alfred Tennyson was born at the Somersby rectory . . . Oliver Wendell Holmes made his first appearance at Massachusetts . . . and Abraham Lincoln drew his first breath at Old Kentucky. Music was enriched by the advent of Frederic Chopin at Warsaw, and of Felix Mendelssohn at Hamburg. . . Elizabeth Barrett Browning [was born] at Durham. . . . But nobody thought of babies. Everybody was thinking of battles. Yet. . . which of the battles of 1809 mattered more than the babies of 1809? . . .We fancy that God can only manage His world by big battalions . . . when all the while He is doing it by beautiful babies. . . . When a wrong wants righting, or a work wants doing, or a truth wants preaching, or a continent wants opening, God sends a baby into the world to do it. That is why, long, long ago, a babe was born at Bethlehem.' (F. W. Boreham, Mountains in the Mist: Some Australian Reveries [1919], 166-67, 170)
"As was the case with the Napoleonic wars, during the years of World War II the news and the eyes of the world were on the battles and not focused on the babies. Yet in 1940, the year many of the western European countries fell and the air over England rained destruction during the Battle of Britain, babies were being born. Three of the babies born that year, you are familiar with. They are, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Quentin L. Cook, and one who is the commencement speaker today, Jeffrey R. Holland. The eyes of the world were not on these babies in 1940--they were following world events--but the Lord's eyes were on them because He knew they would be called upon to help change the world."
December 17, 2011
Paul V. Johnson
Commissioner, Church Education System


16 April 2019

Death and Rebirth: Easter Ponderings

So, Palm Sunday I didn't feel well. Actually, for several days before that I wasn't feeling very good: stress headaches, migraines, insomnia followed by nightmares... my emotions clearly had the upper hand, and I was quietly freaking right out, which is not my norm; my best friend once laughingly observed that I tend to be "a drama-free zone". And I do try. But last week I had drama enough that it made me ill.

So Palm Sunday. One of the things about a lay clergy is that sometimes everything is beautiful and perfect, and other times we get to exercise charity and patience. Don't get me wrong; the talks were excellent: one even successfully managed to relate fishing for eel in New Zealand rivers to following the prophet and the Lord; outstanding talk, the kind that people will remember and benefit from for a long time. But every speaker overlooked that it was Palm Sunday; it wasn't mentioned until the classes after Sacrament Meeting. And I was so hungry for a deep dive into the Atonement of Christ; I needed His healing: it had been a tough week --and the next day I was going to dig up my basement.

It felt like breaking my sanctuary: if life is like tag, my home is "safe". Only, it didn't feel very "safe" anymore. It felt broken. That's what I would tell people: "We're breaking the basement."

"I hope your week is less interesting than mine," I said to the guy at the rental place where we got the concrete saw and the mini jackhammer they called a "breaker" (that saw was HUGE). And he laughed, which was the intended effect. But I was whistling in the dark: it wasn't really funny to me. I was trying to put the best face on something that pulled me way out of my comfort zone.

02 April 2019

Commonplace Book: February & March 2019

A sample from my commonplace book, and brief instructions for how to keep one.

A commonplace is a traditional self-education tool: as you read, grab a notebook. Write down things that embody Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Write down notable quotes, with or without your own thoughts about them. Write down the questions you have as a result of the text you are reading. You will find the book becomes a record of your own growth, and it becomes a touchstone for memory of things you have studied in the past. This is what Mother Culture is all about: self-directed, conscious self-education. 

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt yuo
But make allowance for their doubting, too,
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk to wise;

If you can dream --and not make dreams your master,
If you can think --and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make a heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them, "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings --nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much,
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours in the Earth and everything that's in it,
And -which is more- you'll be a Man, my son.
-Rudyard Kipling

Dust if You Must

Dust if you must, but wouldn't it be better
To paint a picture or write a letter,
Bake a cake or plant a seed,
Ponder the difference between want and need?

Dust if you must, but there's not much time,
With rivers to swim and mountains to climb,
Music to hear, and books to read,
Friends to cherish and life to lead.

Dust if you must, but the world's out there,
With the sun in your eyes, the wind in your hair,
A flutter of snow, a shower of rain,
This day will not come round again.

Dust if you must, but bear in mind,
Old age will come and its not kind.
And when you go -and go you must-
You, yourself, will make more dust.
-Rose Milligan

Cease endlessly striving for what you would like to do and learn to love what must be done.

A Psalm of Life

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream! --
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each tomorrow
Find us further than today;

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world's Broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe're pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act -act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o'erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o'er life's solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.
-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.


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