switching places

As a thought experiment, consider a world in which the roles of religion and science are switched.  One would ascribe to a particular branch of science the way we currently connect ourselves with religious sects, often with a binary attitude:
"I used to be a laser physicist, but now I'm a non-denominational physicist."
"I'm a hydrologist, but I grew up as an astronomer and converted in college."
"I know that Mathematics is True."
"Everything Neuroscience taught me was a lie."

Similarly, we would explore religion in the context of all the other religions:
"I really want to major in Christianity, but I know that I need to study Judaism first."
"I'm a Buddhist, but I geek out about Hinduism."
"I'm really struggling with this Lutheran problem.  Do you know any books on Protestantism that could help?"

Some newly established or more social-science-y disciplines might be regarded as cults. We already see things like psychology being dismissed as not a "real science."  As an aside, did you know that Genetics is younger than Mormonism?  Take a look at this Google N-gram: (The scientology/neuroscience and Unitarianism/Zoology ones are interesting too.)

So what can religion learn from science?  That each approach is a different perspective of the divine to be respected and explored, and understanding other disciplines or denominations only improve the comprehension of your more narrow path.  And what about the other way around?  Science can learn that no matter what the topic, there are emotional biases in humans based on what is familiar to them. Ironically, folks get very passionate about logic. This human side needs to be remembered as not all knowledge comes from books.


Matilda the musical

NWC and I went to see Matilda the musical this week, and it was the best musical we've seen in a while.  We've been singing When I Grow Up and some of the others ever since. The acting, singing, and dancing were all excellent, especially considering that such a high portion of the actors were under ten years old.  (They were all pretty adorable.)  The stage magic was very clever and the tunes were catchy.  And, of course, the story is a classic.

The Smell of Rebellion sung by Miss Trunchbull was also a treat.  At one point, she gets on a desk, and is surrounded by a slow, sparkly spotlight, and sings a curious mononlogue involving a dwarf called Zeke living in a cottage telling you not to let them steal your horses.  It was totally off the wall in a way that could only be pulled off by a man in drag.  Revolting Children (about 4:30) was a fun play on words with lots of energy. The video clip on this page is also pretty good at giving an overview of the production.

All in all, Matilda is one of the few musicals I wouldn't mind seeing again!


street manners

We were in Manhattan recently and I had one of those short experiences that left me intensely frustrated and wishing that I was more quick with my tongue.

We were turning left on a crowded sidewalk and staying to the left until there was space to walk elsewhere, since you can't very well teleport across the sidewalk. Then, an older lady encountered NWC, who was walking in front of me, and said with what seemed like all the venom she could muster: "You're supposed to walk on the right, Stupid." I paused, and turned and saying, "Excuse me ma'am." I wanted to say that there was no excuse to be that mean about it. She had behaved like a five year old, calling people names.

She had passed, but another older lady, presumably her friend, turned as well to say something to the effect of: "No, she's right, there are protocols." My objection wasn't to her correction, but to her rudeness. Yes, there are protocols, but the purpose of them is to be polite, which she violated in spades. Everyone walks on the left side occasionally. But, of course, I couldn't come up with the right thing to say as quickly as needed (I managed to stammer out "We were just..."), so I just threw my hands up and rolled my eyes before diving back into the crowd.  Mine was a seven-year old response, besting her in maturity by all of two years, and not making my point in the slightest.

So I'll make my point now: the purpose of courtesy rules is to be courteous.  If people violate them, be polite, and possibly firm, in your corrections.  You may argue that the purpose of these norms is to speed up transit, etc., and those are good side effects, but never of such great value to permit rudeness.


Answering the Temple Recommend Interview Questions, Part 2

Originally posted at Zelophehad’s Daughters.

This is a post in a series in which I give my personal, longwinded and rambling answers to each LDS temple question, since the actual interviews do not allow for elaborate discussion. The first post is here

It's taken me a while to get to this second post, in part because I didn't like part of my answer to the last one.  I wrote that I was most comfortable praying to a male or joint-gender god due to my upbringing, and I'm happy to report that I am now equally comfortable praying to Heavenly Mother as I am to Heavenly Father.  I've even had one of my Teyve-style (out loud, casual) prayers to/with her in the celestial room, which, by the way, is my all-time favorite part of serving in the temple—getting the room completely to yourself.

The other reason I've been putting this off is because I wrote an answer to the second question a while ago, and was thoroughly unsatisfied with it.  It wasn't that I was inarticulate (nothing can help me there, save an editor), but that I didn't like what I had to say.  I've been so focused on God in general and also with particular issues with the LDS Church that I had neglected the more middle-ground of Christianity.  Thus, I did some soul-searching, found some peace, and am now ready to answer #2.

Question 2: Do you have a testimony of the Atonement of Christ and of His role as Savior and Redeemer?

When I was a little girl, at some point my dad mentioned how to cast out demons in the name of Jesus Christ, and that really stuck with me.  I used it to dispel the scary monsters of my imagination: skeletons reaching out from under the bed, creatures in the mirror, and the like.  (One of the Poltergeist films played a role in some of this.) To this day I still think of Christ's name as something I can use in a practical, physical way.

I also attempt to use the ordinance of the Sacrament in a practical way; I have never prayed directly about the Atonement, but I have prayed to use the Atonement.  I try to identify the things I might have done hurt people accidentally—these are the things that you can't really apologize for because too much time has passed, it's too trivial, or they might not have been offended at all, in which case you certainly don't want to point out how what you said could have been offensive.  I mull these over, apologize to God, and think of how I could be better.  I also meditate during the Sacrament, trying to focus on God's love for us.  When I'm being good, that is.  Sometimes I just make faces at kids from the back row.

One thing that I know I can do, but don't engage as often as I should, is using the Atonement to help with negative emotions not necessarily associated with sin.  Guilt and anger can be caused by something you've done wrong, but they can also be associated with other things.  One might feel guilty for not doing something good because they chose to do something better.  One might feel angry because they were wronged.  Fear, sorrow, stress, doubt, and jealousy are other emotions we might want to rid from ourselves.  I view praying for relief from any of these as engaging Christ's Atonement to lift our burdens.  The few times I've prayed in this way, I felt gentle, subtle comfort.

The problem with using the Atonement like this is that we have to be very self-aware, and when we are sufficiently self-aware to use the Atonement, we're also usually aware enough to use other mechanisms, like talking with friends or therapists, or simply doing something about our emotion, like working to relive stress.

I am by no means perfect, and I don't really know how I would behave in the presence of God.  I might fall to the floor, cover my head, and cry for mercy.  I might try to argue the reasons for my decisions, claiming I did the best I could.  I might arrogantly assume that I've passed whatever test and I should be rewarded without any more thought.  I might stand tall, but bow my head, take responsibility for my misdeeds, and submit to God's will.

All of these possible scenarios reveal different attitudes I have toward the Atonement. Sometimes I know I've messed up and I know that I would need some kind of saving grace to return to God. Sometimes I think my imperfect actions are justified. Sometimes I think that imperfection is just part of mortality and that as long is we make it to a certain point we should be fine. Sometimes I feel like I want to take the full responsibility for my actions.

For I while I wondered if the Atonement of Christ is strictly necessary in order to repent from sins. The definition of sin isn't always clear to me either—I usually define actions as sinful or not retroactively based on the guilt, etc. I feel about taking them.  For things I haven't done yet, I imagine how I would feel.  With this in mind, I've come to define sin as something that keeps me away from God such that I need the Atonement in order to be worthy to re-enter God's presence.  It's kind of tautological, I know, but the point is that there are some actions that are sinful in this sense, making the Atonement necessary.

I believe that Jesus of Nazareth was a good man and with inspiring teachings. I believe it is possible that he acted as a Christ in performed some kind of atoning sacrifice for each individual who has ever and will ever live.  I believe it is possible that I personally need to use an atonement of this kind in order to be with God, therefore saving and redeeming me. I believe that the concept of Christ is powerful; it is humbling to think that I must depend on another in order to become better or even perfected.

I am comfortable sharing my experiences and feelings with others, but again, I prefer to share with those who are anxious to hear.  The only real knowledge I have is that utilizing the concept of Christ's Atonement has made me a better person, and that I have felt peace in doing so.

So is that a yes to the original question?  I think so.  Do I still have a hard time being dependent on a third party for my salvation?  Yes; I want to be able to do it myself, but I'm becoming more okay with it, since it restores much needed mercy while maintaining justice.  I take comfort in the fact that Christ will teach us to be perfect, to eventually be able to stand on our own, but that we can't get there instantaneously and we can't get there alone.  Even still, I can't help but think: perhaps the goal isn't to stand alone, but to stand among the Gods, all leaning on each other.  If that's the case, my independent self would just have to get over it.


Google fonts

Perhaps this is old news to some folks, but not being a regular web developer, I've only just discovered Google Fonts.  Find your fonts, link to Google, and edit your CSS—it's so amazingly easy. No downloads and no worries about compatibility. Why haven't I heard about it until now?  Is there something I'm missing?  Do people just not like fonts?  Silly question.  If anything, people in general love fonts too much.  I know I'm a glutton.

P.S. Drooled over Lettering: A Reference Manual of Techniques recently.


gender identity in young children

After nwc watched this documentary on Josie, a transgender child, we started talking about transgenderism in young kids.  I have no problem with people transitioning to the opposite gender, but with children it is a bit more complicated.  Certainly some children really do feel like they are in the wrong body, but there are others for whom it might be a phase or influenced unduly by environment. How are parents to know?  How can the children even understand their own wants and needs and the long-term implications?

Parents have a responsibility to provide a structured environment in which to teach their children.  It's their responsibility to say no often.  But on transgenderism, how are they to know if they are just being indulgent or if they're helping their child embrace their true identity?  There are no easy answers.

For me, the essence of this problem is restrictive gender roles.  Heterosexual boys can like pink.  But, even in modern western society, boys who like pink are usually expected to be gay or transexual, which makes very little sense.  Girls have it a little easier, as tomboyishness is more socially appropriate, but get too macho and middler schoolers will start calling you a lesbian, even if your behavior has nothing to do with your sexuality.  Children are making decisions based on the signals of gender, instead of the more hidden implications of sex, which are different.

Regardless of a child's gender identity, I think it's important to protect children from gender stereotypes as much as possible.  This means choosing media with the right gender messages, talking about gender, and providing plenty of gender-neutral toys (e.g., puzzles, model animals, blocks).  We need to stop emphasizing things like how pretty girls are and how emotionally removed boys are.  Even for cis-gender children, these expectations can be damaging.

If we stop swallowing gender stereotypes hook-line-and-sinker, transgenderism in children becomes less of an issue, because it would carry less baggage.  A kid could say something like: I like dinosaurs, ballet, and chocolate muffins; I have long hair, and I'm a boy.  Gah, that's starting to sound eerily like the I'm a Mormon campaign.


Princeton on ice

Last night's ice storm left us in the closest thing to a "winter wonderland" that I've ever seen.  There were icicles dangling off individual pine needles.  It was fun to tromp about today and take macro photos of the ice everywhere.