Why do they cover the bridges? Anyone know?

Monday, April 15, 2013

Close to Home

I was stopped in my tracks about 20 minutes ago when my friend Karen called me and asked if I had heard. Heard what, I asked, thinking she had probably been awarded the fellowship she had applied for recently. Two bombs at the Boston Marathon. "You better call your friends who were running." But I can't. The phone lines are jammed. Three friends running the Marathon. Various others volunteering. Certainly their families are panicking, desperate to get through and make sure they're OK as well. But that isn't the story I wish to tell. I wasn't in the U.S. for 9/11 (on my mission in Chile), although I volunteered at the memorial here in 2011. I didn't experience that moment personally. And I'm very aware that two explosions at the Marathon finish line (and two others that were dismantled by police), with two dead and 23 or so injured, can't even begin to compare in magnitude and tragedy. Except that, for me, I feel angry and indignant as if I were attacked. I feel solidarity with Boston. It feels like home, and my home has been attacked today. Attacked on its day of celebration, Patriot's Day. Like the September 11th strike in New York, these bombs attacked Boston at its heart. I don't mean to be melodramatic - as far as I know, all my friends are fine, and I'm certainly fine. But I am angry at the brazen cowardice and calculated absurdity of this attack. And I take it somewhat personally. To intentionally hurt oblivious, well-intentioned people - people who have worked and sweated and trained to accomplish this moment, and the people who came to cheer them on - is despicable. I'm angry. I am also, at this moment, a Bostonian. Angry as a Bostonian. Angry as an American. And angry as a human: why do so many of us represent our race in such a contemptible way? These thoughts swept through me as I drove home from campus. And I thought I'd share. Thanks for listening. You'll be glad to know that my friends are all OK as well.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Thoughts on Israel

Please note, I just barely finished a really fine piece of work on this perfect weekend.  But the extra time the snow afforded allowed me to ponder and write a bit on how my perspective on Israel has developed over the last couple of years.  I hesitated whether to share it, but I think it might be interesting to a few of you.  But make sure you read the post before this - it's a lot more fun!

February 8, 2013

I believe I need to take more time to record my thoughts on my studies, on my life pursuit. I find the further I go, the less clarity I have. I suppose that is true of most things – the more you learn, the more there is to learn. The more you know, the more you realize you don't know. The more I learn about Israel, the the only thing that consistently becomes clearer is the immensity of the problems, with seemingly endless scholarship to accompany them all; plausible conclusions or solutions are hard to come by.

I entered this field with only a couple of things I solidly believed. The first was that Israel is a legitimate state with a legitimate right to exist. The second was that the Palestinians also had a legitimate right to their own state. I believed that the Jewish people was and remains God's chosen people. I still believe that. But what has become increasingly difficult for me to reconcile is how God's chosen people can be so thoroughly wrong in their approach to the problem.

This shouldn't surprise me, I suppose. The Bible alone exhibits ample evidence that God's chosen people rarely get it right. I wonder, does being God's chosen people mean you are chosen to be downright idiotic? Perhaps the danger of being chosen is the very real possibility (as evidenced by history) of becoming overwrought with your own grandiosity, convinced of your own rightness, never second-guessing.

And yet, I must interpose here and contribute a personal note: it's my own tendency to step back and consider that often stops me from acting – even when I should. Is it, then, better to leap before you look? Don't consider or dither too much? That is a question that one so prone to thought as I cannot possibly answer. And it is a digression.

A passage in 1 Nephi 15 has caused me to reflect on the possibility of God's chosen people being always remembered in the covenant, but perhaps only chosen upon conditions of righteousness. Verse 16 speaks of the House of Israel (referring to Lehi's seed in the Promised Land – but certainly it may also apply to the Jews) as being grafted back in, as a natural branch. This is after they have “come to a knowledge of their redeemer” and His gospel. So, it would seem their covenant might be in effect only in that condition. After all, Doctrine and Covenants 121:34-37 teaches that chosenness most certainly operates only on conditions of righteousness. They (the rights of the priesthood) can be “conferred”, but when they are used for personal gratification, “to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness” the authority is gone.

So the question is whether this applies in the case of the Jews as the chosen people. Are they, as the inheritors of the covenant, the seed of Abraham (but then, the seed of Abraham is as “the sands of the sea” - and it is beyond question that the Palestinians are also the seed of Abraham), the true heirs of the land? And if so, what of the Palestinians? If not, have we interpreted prophecy all wrong? Did Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Ezra Taft Benson?

If it is the case that they are fulfilling prophecy, how can its fulfillment be so entirely unjust to another people? I find this irreconcilable, at the moment, at least. But, again, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and of Moses, was a God that I don't understand either. Complete demolition of the Canaanites is beyond my comprehension. It is less immediate to me now, and therefore, less distasteful. And I also realize that I am looking at a finite picture, while God sees eternity. These are merely blips on the radar. I do trust that all will be made right in the final, eternal unravelling. But it is difficult, with my finite perspective, to see the suffering of a people, believe that it is part of God's plan, and understand all of it. In many ways, then, I feel more unsettled than I did when I began.

Practically Perfect in Every Way

It's 11:05 (and will be much later by the time I finish), and I have to get up at 6, but I just got done praying and realized how much I am grateful for this weekend.  It's been some time since I posted, and by golly, it's time I checked in!  Let me tell you about my pretty perfect weekend.

This was the weekend of the big storm.  Most people ran to the store and bought every possible supply, hunkered down in their homes, and waited, grim-faced, for the storm to hit.  I also waited anxiously, but I was excited.  I keep learning new things about myself, and one of the things I am learning is that I am thoroughly exhilarated by the power of nature.  I love to experience it full-force (from the safety of my warm home, I add with a sheepish smile).  I want to feel the forceful gusts, see the pelting snow or rain.  I suppose that's why I took Dovie out during Hurricane Sandy, and why we made a similar trek early Saturday morning.  I was truly thrilled.

At first the storm seemed likely to disappoint - as have most of the storms I've experienced here.  The winds were only semi-boisterous, and the flakes were small, even though they were steady.  But during the night things improved (or worsened, depending on your perspective) and by morning, we had some good, deep, powdery snow.

I ventured out with Dovie, but I was one of very few.  Like I said, most hunkered down and waited it out.  But when the storm was over, people emerged.  And this is where the real magic of the weekend began.  We were like little squirrels coming out after a long winter, surveying the world again.  We had survived nature's blast, and were anxious to begin life again.  And we were all out together!  The storm forced us out together, to be neighborly, help each other shovel (boy, did I shovel!), check in on each other, and for me, get to know my neighbors' names.  Yes, I'm ashamed to admit, other than my landlord and their family, I didn't know any of my neighbors' names.  But this kind of event forces our lives to stop.  No one was even allowed to drive (not that anyone could!  My car was entirely buried - I'll post pictures when I figure out how to download them from my phone - as were everyone's who doesn't have a garage, and the shoveling took hours), so no hiding in the cars and then darting to your house without even a friendly word was not an option.  Mother nature forced us to get out of the holes of our lives and be friends.

And she forced us to stop for a day or two and play.  An unexpected, universal vacation.  At home.  It was really remarkable!  My friend in Cambridge went cross-country skiing down Mass Ave (the biggest and longest street in Boston - it was Carri, Christy Spencer).  Another friend made a snowman with the neighbors.  I met with all the dog people around here and we had a dog party at the park.  Dovie was in heaven - bounding through the snow like a porpoise in water.

And then church was cancelled - the parking ban in Cambridge remains in effect - and even when it is lifted, good luck!  People spent an hour or more digging out a parking spot, and they mark it with chairs, cones - anything - and woe be to the person who takes that spot!  Don't know what we'll do if it doesn't melt!  But Arlington ward did hold Sacrament Meeting, so I made my way up there, and then hustled home to go snow shoeing with my friend Joe.  Again, there were all kinds of people, out sledding (I had to keep Dovie away from the sledding hill - he still chases intensely anything that moves), walking their dogs, etc.  We trudged happily through the woods and chatted.  When do I ever get to do that?

So, with much of my studying caught up, sore but happy muscles, and a tuckered out dog, I am really pleased with this little gift in disguise provided by Mother Nature.  And did I mention that Tyson got his mission call to Eugene, Oregon?  Really, I must say, it has been a pretty perfect weekend.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Boston in the fall, take 3

Friends: it turns out I didn't actually finish or publish this entry (from clear back in early October).  But it's kind of fun, and all true, so I'm going to publish it as is.

I can't really say whether it is because my expectations have lowered, or because this year the colors of the trees really are better, but I just can't help but come to the conclusion that this fall Boston is much more vibrant than the other two with which I can compare it.  My vantage point is also much better (from the 3rd floor of the Mandel Center, at the top of the already-tall Brandeis hill).

The weather is certainly nippier than last year as well.  But that didn't stop me from a quick dip in Walden the other night.  It was a bit of a jolt at first submersion, but then our bodies acclimatized and we treaded water comfortably for quite a few minutes.  It was a glorious night, even though it was my first night as the leader, and I led us a bit astray for the first little while.  That, along with my headlamp that kept blinking out on me, made the finding of the pond a great relief!

Elder Taylor

I just got off Skype with my brother James.  He is officially Elder Taylor.  He will enter the MTC tomorrow at 1:00.  I won't be there.  My heart hurts for that.  But it also rejoices in that day.  I can hardly believe it is here!  He will be such a wonderful missionary.  He is full of hope and strength and real experience and appreciation for the Atonement of Jesus Christ.  He is also nervous for his own weakness, and a bit prideful.  But he also humbly acknowledges his weakness, and knows where to find true strength.  I am so excited to share this journey with him.

I am also filled with excitement for him to experience the MTC - a place so dear to my heart.  And to experience the intimate tutelage, growth and faith developed on a mission.  If only he could know how I pray for him.

Already his choices for good have blessed his brothers.  On Sunday, at his own farewell, James' older brother Tyson was announced to be ordained as an elder (news to all of us in the family, except for Tyson, of course - he never communicates!).  And tomorrow (they got a rush appointment) he will go in to receive his Patriarchal Blessing, before they head down to drop of James.  Wow.  Big week for the Taylors.  Big blessings.  I am equally excited to see Tyson progressing, learning who he is, learning to trust his goodness and embrace it.  I hope, and believe it is quite possible, that Tyson will soon follow his brother, and Cisco will follow shortly thereafter.  Who would have thought!

I must get back to my final, but I wanted to share more joy.  Thanks to all of you who read and share it with me.  Boy!  The day of miracles has not ceased, but is here!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

I find myself with a couple of extra minutes this morning and thought I would take a moment and share with you some thoughts.  They will be brief, but they have been meaningful to me, and hopefully to you as well.

I spent Thanksgiving with my family in Wyoming, where I had occasion to bask in the joy of a miracle all week long.  As some of you know, Thanksgiving marks a year since my brother James visited me for Thanksgiving last year.  He came because he was in a dark place and wouldn't speak to my parents.  I have been very blessed to maintain, even through his most angry and rebellious times, a good relationship with my brother, and my parents thought perhaps he would agree to spend Thanksgiving with me - he certainly wasn't willing to spend it with them.  

I knew this was an opportunity, but I also knew that if I tried to tell James that where he was going was leading to misery, in the wrong way or at the wrong time, when he wasn't ready to hear it, I would not only entrench him further, but risked hurting my relationship with him - the last strand linking him to our family.  I prayed long and earnestly for the right moment.  

That moment came as I drove him to the airport to go home.  The entire time he was here, I simply loved him and remained silent.  But he began to ask me about some of the things going on in his life, the issues with my parents, and so on.  I don't remember well what I said (but I do believe I wrote it in my journal), but I remember being amazed at the conversation we had, and his willingness to hear hard things.  

Shortly after that he informed me that he had gone to talk to his bishop because he wanted to go on a mission, and needed to change his life. He confessed he was worried that he couldn't maintain a righteous life for a whole year (he had developed some really bad habits) before he would be eligible to go.  I told him I would write him a letter every week to help remind him of why he is doing what he is doing.  I have done that (with a couple of missed weeks where I had to write two letters the next), and have received so many blessings.  It has been beautiful to share this with him, and I have become so close to him.  That is one blessing.

But the miracle is his change of heart.  His testimony of the Atonement is real and personal and powerful; his desire to serve is deep and tender.  He is by no means perfect, and still has some of the tendencies toward arrogance and anger that led him down the wrong path before.  But he is recognizing it and growing toward better things.  

Before I left him (he leaves on his mission in two weeks), I had the opportunity to ask him what kind of missionary he wants to be, what he wants to be remembered as.  He told me, and I encouraged him to write it down, put it somewhere he would see it frequently, and live to become that every day.  I also shared with him Ether 12:27 and testified that as he comes to the Savior (which is what a mission is about anyway - truly coming to the Savior by doing His work: bringing others to the Savior as well), he will find his weakness all over the place, in everything.  It will be difficult and frustrating, but if he will bring it to the Savior, he will become strong.  He will become the missionary and man he wants to be.

Today (at this very moment, even), James is in the Temple receiving his endowment.  I can hardly believe the blessings.  He will enter the MTC in less than two weeks.  He could still use all the prayers we have to spare, but I truly believe he will be a powerful servant in the Lord's hands.  I also have great hope and faith that his brothers will follow suit.  Tyson is talking about the possibility, and Cisco is trying to figure his future out, but both are on a fairly decent path.  I loved being with my family, and I love the closeness I have felt to my brothers of late - I haven't felt that ever, not really.  But now I can and am so happy.  

Anyway, thanks for sharing in my joy.

Monday, October 29, 2012

I've been telling everyone else, and I suppose I might as well write down and record my recent ponderings and self-realizations.

Some context (as if you already don't have enough): I have never been especially good at questions. Well, I suppose that isn't altogether true. As a child, I was particularly good at pondering the world around me. But the vapid school system, and my desire to be “good” and not push limits or think the wrong thing, succeeded in quenching my thirst for knowledge, and I lately find myself being challenged by my stunted ability to question. Just question.

I'm still pretty good at pondering, as long as it doesn't require reaching outside of myself for answers. That is where I fall short. My research skills – and ability to just know what's going on around me – really are lacking. It's a frustration that I am trying to overcome.

But in the midst of this ever-present lack, I have also felt myself growing. True, it is by meager steps – and I'm sure it would be much faster growth if I could just discipline myself to study in a more dedicated, efficient way. But I am growing. I feel as if I have entered a new and exciting phase of my life, and I want to talk about it.

As I struggle to think more critically about the things I'm learning (interesting note that I should have known before, but somehow didn't really understand – the more knowledge one has in a topic, the more one is able to think critically about a certain piece of literature or scholarship relating to that subject. Hence, one needs to really immerse oneself in the subject – be it the gospel, Israel, or any other topic), I am finding that it is OK to question. This is a new and wonderful realization. It is so liberating and sweet. I can remain firm in what I know, and question elements of it at the same time. It doesn't mean I have a weak testimony, or that I am not a good member of the Church. A publicly-acknowledged feminist can be Stake Relief Society President to a staunchly conservative Stake President. She can work successfully within her bounds, while at the same time questioning and pushing those bounds. I can have a place and work within the kingdom and still make waves in that kingdom. I don't have to just fit a prescribed image of womanhood and femininity. This is big news for me.

I am finding that I can be OK with me – something I have been striving to achieve for a long time. I have begun to heal from past wounds – both those I inflicted on myself, as well as those inflicted on me from a very young age. I am learning to love myself, to see myself as more than what I did as a young child (oh the irony of that – most of us want to return to the innocence of youth, while I would simply love to erase much of the memories of mine).

In my youth I questioned and thought – and that is something I lost. That I can return to. I rejected the traditional style of girlhood, but as I approached adulthood, I began to repress that side of me, believing that, in order to be the right person, I had to embrace the image I thought was the proper LDS girl, for the most part. Granted, I have always been my own version of that, but to a large degree I have lost some of my youthful questions and sense of difference - and joy in difference. I was persecuted for years for my difference, and instead of embracing it, I conformed. Now I am learning to think again, to relish my difference, and it is joyous.

Here are some photos of fall for you to enjoy.