ponder…

Forgive everyone everything! Now! — Mitch Albom (Morrie), Tuesdays with Morrie

on the shelf...

Planned books:

Current books:

  • Earth Unaware (The First Formic War)

    Earth Unaware (The First Formic War) by Orson Scott Card, Aaron Johnston

  • The Jungle Book

    The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling

Recent books:

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Lesson 6: Adversity

Lesson 6:  Adversity Can Help Us Grow

Key Concept:  We need to come to see our trials and troubles as opportunities to grow, expand, and learn about ourselves and our divine nature.

Adversity is tough.  There’s no getting around it to be sure.  However, as a popular proverb amongst sailors points out: “We cannot control the wind, but we can adjust the sails.”  This basically means that while we cannot always choose the means by which adversity will come or the severity of it, we can control how we react to each trial as it comes to us.  This is not new advice by any means, but hopefully we can present some interesting ways that it might be met and understood in this lesson.

20120205 lesson 6

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Lesson 5: Mortality

Lesson 5:  Mortality:  A Time to Learn Through Experience

Key Concept:

Mortality is a time for us to gain a physical body, and through it to learn and experience the things that this life has to offer so that we can gain the knowledge, understanding, temperance, and control we need to be able to return to our Heavenly Father.

Many times, we get bogged down in the aspects of our daily lives that require immediate and complete attention.  One of the goals of this lesson is to try and develop ways we can always retain some focus on the greater, more eternal aspects of our lives so that we can become more in tune with those aspects of our natures and allow them to help influence our reactions to different situations.

20120129 lesson 5

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Lesson 4: The Atonement of Jesus Christ

Lesson 4:  The Atonement of Jesus Christ

Key Concept:  Help gain an appreciation for the Atonement of Jesus Christ and its role in enabling us to gain exaltation.  Help everyone to understand that the Atonement is the idea of becoming “at one” with our Heavenly Father and that is was designed from the beginning to help us return to him and overcome the Fall of Adam and Eve (see Lesson 3).

Key Scriptures:

20120122 lesson 4

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Lesson 3: The Fall of Adam and Eve

Lesson 3: The Fall of Adam and Eve

Key Concept:  The fall of Adam and Eve allowed each of us to enter into mortality.

20120115 lesson 3 Presentation and Notes

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Some Nathaniel Philbrick…

I had the pleasure of listening to a lecture by Mr. Philbrick in the winter of 2011 at the Mary Washington Great Lives lecture series I so often refer to in these pages. He presented on Custer and Sitting Bull and I remember being captured by the depth of the subject matter and the ease and accessibility with which it was presented to the assembly. Since then I added some of his other books to my list and recently got through these two. While I can’t say that he is my favorite biographer– a title which is held solidly by Simon Winchester– I affirm that he writes in a manner which keeps attention and delivers a depth of material efficiently and interestingly.

Be warned that he does have a bit of an agenda which can come to the surface from time to time. This doesn’t bother me because I expect that from all writers, but if you’re someone who expects “just the facts, Ma’am” then you might want to keep that in mind.


Title: Mayflower. Nathaniel Philbrick.
Format: Audiobook (Unabridged). Thanks to Simply Audiobooks.
Rating: 2.7

I learned a lot about the conflict of King Phillip’s war which figured prominently in my education in New England but I admit I didn’t know much about. That said though, the bulk of the book reads like a history of the battles themselves and one finds only the occasional nugget of “higher” considerations throughout. The last section however, which covers the history of Plymouth after the region has grown a bit is quite interesting and well handled. Worth it. If for nothing besides the characterization of Miles Standish…



Title: Sea of Glory. Nathaniel Philbrick
Format: Audiobook (Unabridged). Thanks to Audible.
Rating: 2.8

I own to knowing absolutely nothing about the US Exploring Expedition before embarking on this book. To that end I found it both interesting and of immense use in plugging some obvious holes in my understanding and knowledge — especially with regards to expansionism and exploration during the American period of Manifest Destiny. Add to that the founding of Smithson’s famous institutions and it makes for quite a read. Definitely recommended.

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Safe Haven…

Title: Safe Haven. Nicolas Sparks.
Format: Audiobook (Unabridged). Thanks to Audible.
Rating: 3.1

I like Sparks. I probably shouldn’t and I am sure that some of you out there are going to insist that I can’t possibly appreciate him but I do. I don’t mind formulaic writing if it has an agenda and does a great job of getting you there. Sparks is like that. Of course I expect the themes to be there, but they are executed well and the plot turns the pages. This was no different. I also admit that I am drawn to the North Carolina shores where most of his pages take place … I guess it gets cold and landlocked in Omaha.

Anyway, Safe Haven did not disappoint. While some of the supernatural elements might turn off some of his devoted readers, and I admit that they gave me a start when I encountered them in this book, I think they do move the story and help to provide the catharsis needed to move Katie/Erin along to where she needs to move. We all have a little magic we count on from time to time and I think it was interleaved well into the story. Perhaps not in the ways Alice Hoffman might work it, but certainly with precision and skill.

Check it out.

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Lesson 2: Agency: The Power to Choose

A discussion of our moral agency — a gift given before the foundation of the world — and its relation to each of us as Heavenly Father’s children.  The importance of understanding how our choices influence who we are and what we become, and a conversation about how we are not free to choose the consequences of our choices.

Principles of Agency

  1. Law
  2. Knowledge of the Law
  3. Opposition — Good and Evil
  4. Freedom of Choice
  5. Responsibility for Choices

20120101 lesson 2

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Thoughts on Doctrine and Covenants 10:45-52

Verses 46-52 are some of the most interesting scriptures I’ve read lately. I’d not spent much time thinking about the way in which the specific teachings and stories of the Book of Mormon were abridged until I read this recently. What the Lord says here, is that the prophets who are in the abridgment specifically prayed that the tenets of the gospel they concentrated on would reach our day. The Lord grants that prayer (verse 52) and the result is the Book of Mormon. This also means then, that the work of Mormon was truly as inspired as the translation of the Book of Mormon by Joseph Smith was. He had to be tuned to the spirit not only to derive the right choices for the work itself, but also to add the right commentary and clarifications along the way.

Likewise, I am astounded at the order of the Lord in his work. It is Mormon’s responsibility to abridge the work. But it is Moroni’s responsibility to care for and oversee the safekeeping of the Book of Mormon itself. He tells us this in Ether 5 (verse 6 specifically). This is likely why it is Moroni who brings forth the message and the book to Joseph. Not merely because he is the last prophet to handle the plates, but because he holds the keys to the handling of the Book of Mormon itself. Joseph also returns the plates to Moroni when the work of translation is accomplished, and Moroni holds the plates in his care still (JSH 1:60).

I wonder how much the “passing down” of the plates from prophet to prophet might have been a specific calling with priesthood keys… I digress.

Finally, I am reminded and strengthened in my testimony of Joseph Smith. His role is one of translation, and ultimately he carries the weight not only of Mormon, but of all the prophets of the Book of Mormon on his shoulders to faithfully tell their stories and relay their messages according to the dictates of their hearts and prayers.

The Lord keeps his promise to “grant unto them according to their faith in their prayers” (D&C 10:47) and conveys that promise through all time and through all of his servants. A miracle. Indeed he tells us that much in his own words: “For behold, I am God, and I am a God of miracles: and I will show unto the world that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and I work not among the children of men save it be according to their faith.” (2 Ne 27:23).

Now it’s up to us … we have proof that our prayers in faith matter to the Lord. He changes everything to bring about righteous desires of his servants. Give it a try… and see what He can do for you.

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Several backdated reviews

Author/Title: Anthony Powell. A Dance to the Music of Time (Part 1).
Format: Audio (Unabridged)
Rating (of 5): 2.7

I’m trying hard to enjoy these as they come so highly recommended, and I admit there are times when the story engrosses me. But 40 pages illustrating the mechanics of greetings at a party demonstrate not only omniscience in a character which would be difficult to portray in real life without having everyone about you worried they were on camera all the time, but gets to be downright boring. I do admit though, that the interior attention to detail cannot be ignored and the story is engaging. I’m told that the second 3 volumes are better so I’m sticking it out. (Besides, I’m an INTJ — I have to stick it out no matter what anyway. It took me over a year to read Eco’s The Island of the Day Before (awful 0.5) but I made it through in the end.)

————-

Author/Title: Christopher Paolini. Inheritance.
Format: Audio (Unabridged)
Rating (of 5): 3.1

Book four of the Eragon stories. I was definitely gripped by the story and found myself urging it forward throughout. I was also impressed that Aria managed to remain true to Aria throughout the life of the story as we have it. I suspect though, that a hundred years down the road, things might change for the two Riders and the “shippers” out there will finally get the wings to their story they’ve needed.

Paolini seems to have grown up a bit in his world view, but in a way which concerns me. The former books maintained a reverence and awe for the mystical side of alagaesia which I always admired. This one shows him tearing down walls, religions, borders, relationships. Almost with abandon. I know the tales are tough to write, and even tougher to grow into manhood while writing them … but be careful Mr Paolini, and don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Worth the read.

————-

Author/Title: H. Richard Niebuhr. The Kingdom of God in America.
Format: Paperback.
Rating (of 5): 3.0

I’d originally read portions of this book back in Divinity School. Niebuhr was something of a small legend there when I was attending and so he tended to come up in conversation. I do like the history of the book a great deal, and I think he follows a solid thread through puritanical New England successfully. I can’t say that he really captured much of the Second Great Awakening as it reflected widely in the frontier of the United States, but then, I don’t think that was really his aim. I can’t be sure if that was a lack of awareness or of familiarity, but I definitely found it lacking.

That said, I think if for no other reason than to help modern Americans understand that there is much more depth to Jonathan Edwards than simply his fire and brimstone “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” sermon, it’s worth the read. The puritan legacy is one that is both damning and shining and he doesn’t shy away from that. It made me do a lot of reading into some of these men who carried the burden of legitimizing American theology on their shoulders and for that it’s hats off.

————-

Author/Title: Ann Patchett. This is the Story of a Happy Marriage.
Format: Audio (Unabridged)
Rating (of 5): 1.1

This was the Audible Christmas gift this year. Meant to be a series of ruminations on family and the things which are important in life, it is really more of a justification for divorce and resettling. Now I’d never be out there saying that sometimes divorce isn’t justified, and it sounds like this is one of those cases to be sure, but I think we could do without the sadness and rehashing and concentrate on the better things. Especially around the holidays.

This is probably just me ranting though … I want the world to spend less time focusing on the negative and aim solidly for the positive all the time. Yes, the world is a tough place. Yes, bad things happen. (They’re supposed to after all!) But the takeaway is that there are may wonderful things in this world too and we need to open our eyes. To (mis)quote Captain Sisko “It’s life [people]]! If you don’t look up once in a while you’ll miss it!”. Indeed.

————-

Author/Title: Erin Morgenstern. The Night Circus.
Format: Audio (Unabridged)
Rating (of 5): 3.2

I enjoyed this book a lot. Save the one completely unnecessary curse, I think it paints an interesting, phantasmagorical picture which sets an interesting story and has likable (if a little flat) characters as well. Too much commentary will ruin the illusion, and I think that’s probably the best thing going for this one. Jim Dale as the reader for the audio version was a perfect choice as well — he brings the right amount of class and imagination to the role and I believe he brought out some of the characters even more than the printed version would have allowed. Go and read it — it’s enjoyable for sure.

Certainly all of my Harry Potter, Twilight, Inheritance, etc. readers out there will find in it things worth remembering and recommending. Fun.

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Review: The Dalai Lama’s “Beyond Religion”

Author/Title: The Dalai Lama. Beyond Religion.
Format: Audio (Unabridged)
Rating (of 5): 2.7

Honestly, I think the idea behind the book has some merit: reach out to those folks to whom the very notion of religion is a turnoff and begin talking to them about behaving ethically and considering “deeper” matters when going about the world around them. The problem though is that groundless ethics are, well, groundless. I personally floundered for quite some time with the idea that morals were relative to the culture around me. To be honest, I still have problems with it — especially in the workplace and especially when I am in California. For all its good intentions, California seems to have decided not so much that “anything goes”, but that all pressure is wrong. This feels the same way to me. It’s fine to urge everyone to behave in the right way, but I think you have to give them a reason why that is the right thing. Ethics, which can certainly provide a roadmap towards better treatment of the world and those within it, can be tricked quite well when there is no base structure behind it. As Kant pointed out in his own struggles, even something as simple as “keep your promises” can be fraught with difficulties in the wrong situations.

So, I’m going to say: if you’re already a moral relativist, you will like this book, but it won’t tell you anything you don’t already know. If you’re spiritual in any way, you will feel that the Dalai Lama has gone far out on a limb to extend an olive branch to a world who, let’s face it, has had ample opportunity to take it already. I don’t think this really gets us closer to having even more relativists on board.

If read for the nicety of what things could be like if folks were “ethical”, it paints a great picture though and so has value in the “what could be” even if the road to getting there has some seriously soft shoulders.

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