Saturday, December 31, 2011

Missing things I never had ...

I'm half Greek.  I know, I'm blond, but so were the "fair haired Achaeans."  I have a grandfather and a grandmother who were both born in Asia Minor.  But my mother was estranged from her family, something with her dropping out of college and catching a train to run off to California to marry my father.  I met my grandparents only once.  My uncle died young, I only met one aunt through letters, the other once when they were in New York.

My father was in the U.S. Air Force.  We traveled a great deal.  My brothers and sister had some time in California where they were able to meet other family members (such as my great aunt who was like a second mother to my parents), I only got to meet my aunt and uncle (it is from my catholic Aunt Mary that I have such fondness for Catholics).

My grandfather traveled a good deal, even after he was retired and sent home to die.  He thought he would make the most of it until death took him.  He later told my brother if he had realized he wasn't going to die shortly, he would have made a second career of the time he ended up having left.

We saw them on occasional holidays, but usually we were out of reach due to time and distance, as were they.  I remember visiting them fondly, and writing back and forth, but my grandfather's greatest professional strength was also one that led to problems in prolonging discourse.  He could not express himself directly.  To learn what he thought you would answer his questions, what you believed afterwards was probably close to his opinion.  If you lacked the base knowledge to work with, he had a very difficult time communicating, even the simplest of things.

I read posts and remembrances, such as and I miss having a culture.  My mom quit speaking Greek for World War II as part of being "American."  She never spoke it with us.  My dad taught us "oh, you were born in a boat" but then thought better of teaching us more Greek.

"Home" was southern California of my father's youth and the beaches.  His dream was to retire to the empty high desert of his childhood days when he found freedom and emptiness there.  So he retired to Lancaster, which had over a hundred thousand people and was not that empty.  His post Air Force employment was disrupted as the Air Force refused to let him retire on schedule, and he ended up working for government contractors.

That meant my parents could not attend my wedding (unable to get exist visas).

He and my mom then started serving missions.  So, they made one funeral, missed others.

We had them briefly, living down the street from us in a home we helped refurbish, but my father was in the end game of Parkinson's' Disease then.  I had time with him, as I would help him exit the bath (he could not do it himself and my mom was not strong enough), and as we talked some, but it was not time with him fully present.

My mom could not take living in the house after he died, and so sold it and moved.  Now she is serving another mission.  Worked through some phone problems, now we can talk from time to time.

But my children do not have the same grandparent experiences.  Myself, I feel such a void where my grandparents should have been.  I feel I have a heritage, but all that I have from it is short height and strong calves. 

So, on this New Year's Eve, I find myself missing things that I never had, but missing them anyway and in a way, missing myself.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Chinese Food for Christmas Eve

When Win and I were engaged, I visited her family for Christmas (my parents were in Saudia, unable to get exit visas).  Her mother had tried a change in the way she made chicken, going from fried to breaded and my father-in-law to be did not like it.

So, we offered to go get some KFC.  We drove what seemed to be forever and no KFC was available in Walnut Creek or the environs, but we came across a Chinese Restaurant.  We used a pay phone (remember those?) and called back, asking if Chinese food would be a good substitute.

It was, so we picked some up, came back and had dinner.  Win and I then read the Christmas story from the Bible together.  Every Christmas Eve we now have Chinese food as a family tradition, except the one time it turned out that the Chinese restaurant in Chewelah had closed, and there was none to be found, so we bought KFC (!it was open in a neighboring community!) and brought it back, along with some Chinese food from a Wal-Mart.  The joke was that we had come back with the promised KFC, only about twenty-five years late.

Makes a great tradition, one we follow wherever we are.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Lessons from Job, Comforting those who Mourn

Job has some wonderful lessons.  For example, Job's sufferings are not complete when he loses all of his possessions.  They don't reach a fullness when his children die.  No, as he sits in the ruins of his house, covered in ashes and using a potsherd to scrape the boils from his body, his suffering reaches its peak when his home teachers show up to badger him into submission.

Doesn't everyone know that when you have grief or sorrow, what your life really needs is someone to shout at you?

Of course what they are really doing is trying to make sense of Job's problems.  They want:
  1. The universe to make sense.
  2. The universe to make sense in a way that assures them that they are innoculated or protected against bad things happening to them.
  3. Job to get over it so he is not a cloud in their lives. 
  4. To "help" without actually having to do anything.
To do that they are quite willing to increase his suffering, accuse him wrongfully, ignore the truth and mock God.  Which is why when God speaks from the whirlwind at the end, he condemns the so-called friends.

It is useful to compare the "friends" to a typical sister dropping by a meal packaged up so that there is nothing that needs to be returned.  Quick stop, a kind ear, food, and maybe a second sister with her to take turns with children or light cleaning while the other sits and listens.

Not that there are not women in the Church who act like men.  And not that there are not Riley Scott type men (he doesn't read blogs, so I can talk about him.  But I'm sure, when Christ comes, Riley will be there still helping people. I find in him a role model for many things I should do so much better) who drop by, fix things that you did not know needed fixing, and let you know that they care. 

But when I think of someone shouting at someone in grief or sadness that they have it wrong, doing their best to drown out the world and badger the sad, the lonely or the grieving into submission, I think of men or manlike women.  Guess I'm falling into stereotypes, since I don't think of the slimy, backstabbing gossip types as necessarily female.  The one I wrote a poem for was a man.

I'll rethink that (the don't act like a man in giving advice and comfort).  Maybe I can find something to criticize in Job's wife to even it out.

I think better is to think about, and suggest, that more of us act like a real man, like Riley Scott.

I know I had a series about how we all can't be like Jack Green or others.  But you know, we can all be more like Riley Scott.

And that is a good place to be.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Thinking of Christmas

I go to thinking about the Christmas I bought a small live tree, Heather Nicole Marsh kept it in her room and Allison Del Rio made ornaments out of the foil covered Reeses Peanut Butter Cups they have for Christmas. We've a tree and some decorations out, but emotionally, it feels like it did then this year.
 I've been asked to do a manuary post on grief and related topics, couldn't sleep Friday night/Saturday morning.  But I got it out of my system today and into rough draft.
This is the time that it is, no other.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Chinese Rituals

Michael Lyons got my attention years ago with some of his research and work. It was almost in parallel with Nibley (and yes, Michael did end up illustrating some of Nibley's work, so they drew together a bit over time).
An ancient painting of Nüwa and Fuxi unearthed in Xinjiang.
In the underground tomb of Fan Yen-Shih, d. A.D. 689, two painted silk veils show the First Ancestors of the Chinese, their entwined serpect bodies rotating around the invisible vertical axis mundi. Fu Hsi holds the set-square and plumb bob … as he rules the four-cornered earth, while his sister-wife Nü-wa holds the compass pointing up, as she rules the circling heavens. The phrase kuci chü is used by modern Chinese to signify “the way things should be, the moral standard”; it literally means the compass and the square. (Temple and Cosmos pages. 91-132 at page 115)

 There is a good deal more on the topic, though not Michael's research, at:

I also ran across the original printed volumes of
But fascinating.  Ward was a colonial official and a Mason.  He joined the Triad lodges in Hong Kong, and then, when the British made them illegal, participated in confiscating their material and regalia.  He felt no remorse at publishing a three volume set on their rituals, which I later reworked as a heroquest for a project I was working on.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Confession in context -- why we make confession

I was reading someone who wondered why people were not out there confessing minor sins to their bishops and keeping anything significant to themselves.  It occurred to me that they really needed a significantly better understanding of confession, the LDS Church and life.

Then I thought of this quote, from a 12-step program on step 5 (step 5 is:  Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs).

This is perhaps difficult, especially discussing our defects with another person. We think we have done well enough in admitting these things to ourselves. There is doubt about that. In actual practice, we usually find a solitary self-appraisal insufficient. Many of us thought it necessary to go much further. We will be more reconciled to discussing ourselves with another person when we see good reasons why we should do so. The best reason first: If we skip this vital step, we may not overcome drinking. Time after time newcomers have tried to keep to themselves certain facts about their lives. Trying to avoid this humbling experience, they have turned to easier methods. Almost invariably they got drunk. Having persevered with the rest of the program, they wondered why they fell. We think the reason is that they never completed their housecleaning. They took inventory all right, but hung on to some of the worst items in stock. They only thought they had lost their egoism and fear; they only thought they had humbled themselves. But they had not learned enough of humility, fearlessness and honesty, in the sense we find it necessary, until they told someone else all their life story. -A.A. Big Book p.72-73


Having taken my personal inventory in step 4, I am now ready to share that inventory. I share it with my God, with myself and with another human being. This allows my history to become more real with me. It begins to become in my mind what it truly is, namely "my history". By sharing it with another person, I begin to pull down the fake truths of my life - the facades and the games - and I begin to be who I truly am and build my life with others on the basis of honesty and truth.
- From


Some people seek an easier and softer way by doing a "general confession" to God alone. They are not about to name specifically the humiliating, "awful" thinks they have done out loud before another human being. But this act of specifically confessing things is what often leads to serenity. The more afraid you are to tell about a certain act or thought in your Fifth Step, the more likely it is that confessing that particular thing will put a new crack in your denial and free you in a new area. There doesn't seem to be an easier, softer way, and people who seek one apparently don't understand the tenacious and tricky nature of this spiritual disease we are facing. Step Five is to help us see, to grasp, to understand specifically how the disease has permeated our lives in ways we usually cannot see any other way.
- A Hunger for Healing, p. 91-92


The Fifth Step is the key to freedom. It allows us to live clean in the here and now. Sharing the exact nature of our wrongs sets us free to live. After taking a thorough Fourth Step, we have to deal with what we have found in our inventory. We are told that if we keep these defects inside us, they will lead us back to using. Holding on to our past would eventually sicken us and keep us from taking part in this new way of life. If we are not honest when we take a Fifth Step, we will have the same negative results that dishonesty brought us in the past.
- Narcotics Anonymous Basic Text, Chapter 4/Step 5


This may be one of the most challenging steps we face in our recovery process, but it can also be one of the most fulfilling in terms of removing us from our isolation. In order to accomplish Step 5, the three-part sharing it endorses must take place. That is, all of what we discovered about ourselves in our Step 4 inventory is to be freely admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being.
 - Serenity, A Companion for Twelve Step Recovery, p. 45,46


The purpose of confession is to help us heal, to help us find freedom.  It does not exist to clutter up lives (or why Brigham Young wrote and preached a good deal on how minor confessions ought not to be heaped on church leaders -- those only increase our burden and theirs -- and how confession and repentance involves us leaving those things in the past, leaving them behind).

There is a lot of value in understanding confession, and in admitting to ourselves, to God and to another human being the exact nature of where we went wrong.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The why and what of equality (from an economics view)

I recently read " In any case, Equality to me is also equal rights, equal justice, and equal opportunity."

I'd been thinking about equal rights again.  The largest problem with the various "isms" is two-fold.  First, "others" are not different enough.   If they were, then discrimination would make sense.  Would probably still be resented, but it would at least make sense.

Second, discrimination tends to be inefficient.  Skipping academic institutions, businesses with affirmative action programs out-perform those without.  This indicates (though does not prove) that there is enough discrimination without such programs that such a program makes a business a more effective competitor.  Which means that those without such programs are underutilizing their human capital.

Which leads to the economics of equality.  Proper equality leads to more efficiency in markets.  Mechanisms to promote equality are regulations of the market to improve efficiency and to improve the accuracy of information and transactions.

People tend to forget that much of what goes on in regulation exists to improve the efficiency and accuracy of information in the market.  Markets work better as the information flow is clearer, more accurate and more reliable.

That is a core duty of government, but one I rarely see invoked when analyzing equality and what it should mean or how it should be approached.

It has weaknesses (e.g. the arguments for keeping men from playing in the WNBA are very similar to those for keeping Blacks from playing in the NBA), but it adds another layer of understanding, one I think is valuable.

And no, before someone goes all Coase invariance theorem on me, governments are a method by which people negotiate rights, and I suspect that slavery, racial inequality and the rise of feminism all reflect the generational nature (and inefficiency) of private parties attempting to negotiate rights of of the type covered by equal rights theory and laws. 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Mormons and Monsters, a review (part one)

Ok, thought I would review Mormons and Monsters (or Monsters & Mormons), given I reviewed the Catholic equivalent (Infinite Space, Infinite God) collection of short stories a while back.

The volume is large -- an advantage of eprinting --  and contains a wide variety of formats, styles and genres.  I'll comment briefly on the various stories which for the most part cross Mormon or LDS settings with fiction, mostly science fiction or fantasy, though one detective story as well.

Monsters and Mormons and the Deseret Book -- almost seems like it is another forward.  And it is, but it is also a short story.

Other Duties, is a story about the "other" agent bishop.  Has a nice twist at the end, made me smile. (With short stories it is hard to say much without spoilers).  Would qualify as a Mormon themed urban fantasy, almost pulp, not quite noir.

The Living Wife, polygamy, seeing the dead and how love can accommodate and endure. Haunting in its own way.

Baptisms for the Dead is a Mormon Zombie Apocalypse story.

Pirate Gold for Brother Brigham is another urban fantasy, very Mormon themed, but also a modern ghost story.  The plot twist is what makes it both urban fantasy and a ghost story and that kind of prevents me from more comment.

First Estate is an interesting science fiction story with a nice culture clash, and real character interaction.  Could easily be resold to a wider market.  Not sure if it is all that Mormon but it was very well done.

Fangs of the Dragon is an old style pulp story.  Having recently had to read several fantasy pulp anthologies from the 1970s, I can say it fits in well with the genre, and is a great Porter Rockwall story from start to finish.  More of a novella than a short story.  By chapter 25 you could almost call it a short novel, in the style of that era.

The poetry in the collection was not to my personal taste, so I won't review it, in order to be fair to it.

Charity Never Faileth was great as urban fantasy or as light modern urban horror.  It will help  you have a better perspective on jello.  I'd love to see it get a wider audience.

I'll continue this review in part two. 

A worthwhile charity (A Leap of Faith)

Opening Doors… Report

Or just watch the video, below:

Guess it is just that time of life

To just quote the facebook feeds ...

just received word that Teresa Mouser Rainbow has passed away. Sad day for all that knew and loved her, Terry you will be missed.

    • Jeanne Merritt Terry fought a long battle with breast cancer, her sister said she was doing really well and just passed away in her sleep Sunday night.
      17 hours ago ·

Sorry to hear about Roxie Mink passing. Does anyone know what happy? Had she been sick?

 Christine Smith Allard
for those who may not have known ~
Online obituary for Kelly Wolfe. Read Kelly Wolfe’s life story, offer tributes/condolences, send flowers or create a Kelly Wolfe online memorial.
    • Karen Ganger Thanks Christine for letting all of us know. He was truly a very gentle gentle person.
      November 10 at 1:25pm ·

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Qutting, audience and other things

I've been thinking about this general topic for a while, then I listened to this podcast:

You know the bromide: “a winner never quits, and a quitter never wins.”
To which Freakonomics Radio says … Are you sure? Sometimes quitting is strategic, and sometimes it can be your best possible plan.\

To help us understand quitting, we look at a couple of key economic concepts in this episode: sunk cost and opportunity cost. Sunk cost is about the past – it’s the time or money or sweat equity you’ve put into a job or relationship or a project, and which makes quitting hard. Opportunity cost is about the future. It means that for every hour or dollar you spend on one thing, you’re giving up the opportunity to spend that hour or dollar on something else – something that might make your life better. If only you weren’t so worried about the sunk cost. If only you could …. quit.
There is a large cast of characters in this episode, ranging from prostitutes and baseball players to former government officials and a couple of Amish women who left the fold. You’ll also hear Steve Levitt talk about his quitting strategies, and I describe my life as a serial quitter, having abandoned, in order: the rock band to which I had devoted my youth; Catholicism; and The New York Times.
I am still thinking about it.

Much of the question as to quitting has to do with audiences and how much being my own audience for some things is sufficient if the external audience is not "large enough."  I find that differs dramatically for different things.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Lawyers with singing careers

Since I made my youngest cry when she was a baby and heard me sing at church, obviously not me.

Just ran across the website for someone I knew, in passing, in law school: -- her latest on youtube

(Note, the title of the post originally had a typo in it and said "signing" rather than "singing" careers.  There are a number of people who have careers signing for bar review classes, courts and such that involve lawyers.  But there is a difference between singing and signing.  My apologies).

P.S. Yes, there was a guy in a class before me who dropped out to try to become a rock star and who came back to law school in a class after me.  His change in grades (vastly improved) got my attention.

But that is a different story.

Building a tree fort with my daughter

Who wants a style of her own, including a lack of 90 degree angles and slightly off level surfaces.  We are working on compromises now.

Which is much of life.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Politics and Religion -- should a party displace Christ in our choice of doctrine?

One thing I appreciate about grief support groups and 12 step groups is the "express no opinions on outside issues" stance -- based on hard lessons learned.  If you are a parent whose child has died, I don't care if you are a Republican, a Democrat, a Maoist or a Randian, you are in pain.  The shared pain binds us together, the other matters are not relevant.

It becomes more significant as you cross the country.  Arnold, the Governator, was a conservative governor of California who favored gay marriage, was pro-choice on abortion, and raised taxes.  Probably opposed the death penalty.  In Texas, I've met a lot of Democrats who are pro-life on abortion, oppose gay marriage, are pro-death penalty and want to reduce taxes and regulation.

I've often noticed that many of the liberals I've met in Texas were to the right of the conservatives I knew in California.  In California I went to school with Libertarian Marxists, in Texas I've yet to meet any libertarians who encompass Marxism.  But then I haven't met any cute Trotskyist Socialists either in Texas.

The LDS Church used to be overwhelmingly Democratic.  David O. McKay's sons for example.  At least one of his grand daughters I met at BYU as well.

Spencer W. Kimball's book, The Miracle of Forgiveness, had very strong things to say about social equity, e.g. -- things that informed my willingness to volunteer and involve myself in soup kitchens, rape crisis centers, pro bono work and child advocacy centers at various times.

That seems to have changed in some areas, mostly driven by demographics and other issues, as well as by fault line issues.  As a result, the LDS Church keeps a couple "officially Democrats" general authorities who are asked to address the Church from time to time on the topic of political neutrality and that there really is not a quasi-official "holy" or "appropriate" political party with all of the truth.

It was hard for Republicans (and still is in some places) in the 1960s and 1970s, it can be hard for Democrats in some areas now (though Harry Reid and others manage just fine).

I think that a church, like a 12 step program, or a grief recovery group, is well served by returning to care for itself and the needs of its members and avoiding embroilment in political discourse that deprives us of the support of each other.

Lest we forget Christ and replace him with someone else.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Privilege, thoughts, and what exactly is the right phrase

I've seen a lot of discussions about "privilege" in passing, including a rather long diatribe about neuroprivilege (or the way that those who lack certain psychological afflictions are privileged), that pretty much biased me on the point.

But then I was reading a post that I very much agreed with when I hit this in the comments:  one of which pointed out that discussing things in terms of privilege carries with it "an embedded implication" that the things that people are excluded from are a "privilege, not a right" -- when most of what is discussed in the "privilege" discussions is the denial of rights.

In the cases that come to mind the most, they are life without fear (e.g. the gay men I've known who lived their lives with a constant fear of being assaulted, or women who have had similar worries).

The best comment on the entire thread was:

I don't think that many of these discursive spaces were intended to be anti-woman. They just ended up that way, because they were built by men, and women's experiences weren't considered. It's like a game of basketball where the participants split into teams of shirts and skins. And as long as it's an all-male space, that doesn't bother anybody. But when a woman wants to join the game (and wants to keep her shirt on), suddenly this norm becomes potentially problematic. It's not that it was necessarily meant to be exclusionary, but it's a norm that was put into place by men for a game played by men.
Anyway, making me think. 

And in addition, a much longer post at 

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Public education, home schooling, unschooling


Recently I read the autobiography of someone whose learning curve was different from the norm and who may have had some ADD (attention deficit disorder).  His final post in the series was at:

Some background

Many of the experiences he had, I had as well.  My third and fourth grade teachers were trying to "mainstream" a developmentally challenged child by encouraging the rest of the class to not score better than the colonel's child on tests -- i.e. discouraging anything better than a C on any test.  I entered third grade reading at 95%+ at a six grade level while a year younger than anyone else.  I started fifth grade not having learned anything for two years.

I also have as a hobby a field that has a lot of self taught people in it.  Since the field (ADR -- see my website for some details) was pretty much created from scratch in a movement with accelerated evolution over the past 20-30 years* (I go back to 1986 or so with it) you can obviously create something from teaching it to yourself. 

But many, many clueless people in the field think they have taught themselves things that they are disconnected from.  Somewhat like pro se litigants.  Some know their stuff.  Some miss key concepts (like the guy I had in a suit who was just certain his lead case, which had reversed sua sponte en banc, was still good law).

Some times there are important concepts people miss from isolated learning.

In addition, my first exposure to private schools came from parents wanting to take money from public education to fund schools that were really sub-par.  I still have a deep and abiding love for some of the public school teachers I met in Wichita Falls who went above and beyond.

The issue

There are several overlapping issues.

First, not every teacher in a public school is a Sarcione or a Bell.  Great teachers combine covering the curriculum (so points are not left out) with a measure of self-directed learning (where students are able to learn in their own way).  My government/history teacher my senior year at Mtn Home High School did that for me.

Second, there is a lot of pedagogical science that is just ignored.  Teaching is work.  Making students teach themselves while the professors amuse themselves (a/k/a bad socratic method); every teacher making up their own curriculum; etc.  That is just abusing kids.  Shamus (the author of the post and series I've linked to) was obviously abused.

Third, just letting kids run loose without supervision or direction can be a terrible mistake.  So can overdirection.  I'm in a school district that has many hyper-competitive parents.  All of them want to have their child skipped a grade.  My youngest got skipped.  In fact, they would have done it again if we had not stopped them.  My approach was "benign neglect."  Allowing her tools and encouraging her, but letting her use them.  Now, if left to her own devices, that would mean reading YA books and Schlock Mercenary 24/7.  Howard Taylor is good, but I still think she needs to do her honors math homework rather than another recursion through Schlock (though that is what she is doing this morning). 

Fourth home schooling can be as good or as bad as other approaches.  I've seen it where parents just cut out huge areas of learning (as one mother put it to us, "girls don't need math, I didn't like it, so we just skip it" -- after all, who needs to be able to calculate percentages, fractions, unit costs for groceries or anything like that).  I've known "unschoolers" who believed children should be wild and free (that is, let children educate themselves if they choose that, on the child's own time, without help or parental input.  Otherwise, put kids to work herding goats, etc.).

Apparently there is another movement that uses the same term "unschool" to mean, let kids be more self-directed, learn by doing rather than by lecture/textbook -- but still have parental involvement, discipline and work.  The semantic contamination with the term is obviously an issue.

Fifth, there are supports for home schooling that are not obvious (such as "charter schools" which are actually homeschooling cooperatives which redirect public funds to homeschoolers to use for resources).

Where I am

Now we have been blessed with some excellent schools locally and some wonderful teachers.  The librarian who offered to just tutor my child every day if they did not have her skip a grade since she no longer fit into her class comes to mind.  But I'm also aware of worse schools, and worse teachers (which tend to go together with worse parents so that the kids are not catching a break).

We have also considered homeschooling or partial homeschooling for our child, given her Tourette's Syndrome and the associated penumbra cause her some issues


I don't have many.  I think the public school system is essential.  I agree with Milton Friedman that the schools should include elements of what has been called a liberal education (teaching the core cultural matters) -- the same as  Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know by Hirsch -- strange how the left and the right wing can agree on some things.

I realize the current system fails some and needs alternatives -- but without gutting the current system.

But it is an area worthy of some thought and consideration.  I'd welcome your comments on the subject.


* Yes, I know ADR goes back further, and I don't mean just the stuff from the 1950s (after all, the Saga of Burnt Njal is really the story of an ADR guy who gets burned alive by the traditional legal system and there are various traditional systems that go back thousands of years, or can claim to).  But the modern system, with some very specific adaptations, is a modern creation.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Latest from Tumbleweed Tinyhouse Company

I know, this looks like an advertisement. I know, this is a copy of an advertisement. But (1) no one is paying or compensating me to post this and (2) it is really neat stuff.  So, I'm sharing it.

For an alternative to these tiny houses,


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-Brittaney Yunker, Homeowner at 25 years old

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Wednesday, November 02, 2011

What can I say to comfort you? 

That is a fair question and a good one, that Matt asks.  You can read all of this, or you can jump down to where I answer the question directly rather than explain why, in some ways, it is harder than it looks.

There are some problems. That is why the problem is harder than it looks

Some people refuse to be comforted.  They just aren't ready.

Some people refuse to accept that what comforts them does not comfort others. 

Much of what passes for "comfort" is actually the speaker explaining why what every causes you to need comfort will not afflict them, or making your problem right or solved in their mind.

To give comfort ....

First decide if someone needs friendship, companionship, counseling, advice, witness/confirmation, guidance or comfort.  Those are different things.  For example, we had a dear sister in a ward I was in who had some mental problems.  In addition to medication, she needed to regularize her sleep and get mild aerobic exercise.  A member of  her ward by the name of Sister Davis got up every morning and walked with her.

She did not offer advice or guidance.  It wasn't friendship or counseling.  It wasn't comfort.  But with companionship the other sister was able to get up early (which meant she went to bed early and regularized her sleeping) and walk (which meant she got the exercise she needed).

In law school I felt like I should volunteer to help a friend's booth at some activity on the main campus.  So, I manned the booth for several hours.  Ended up talking with someone whose mother had committed suicide. What they needed was the spiritual witness that she had died as the result of illness (which she had) and was not damned.  Which is what the Spirit testified to her (and, observing, I learned a lot about the subject I had not known about).  That was not counseling (she had had that) and it wasn't really guidance or comfort.  It was witness/confirmation of the Spirit.

Some times that helps.  But sometimes the force of the pain or grief is just too much.

So, what can you do to comfort, when other things are not right, do not help or there is too much pain for them to work?

First, realize that when you have a large congregation, some will need friendship, companionship, counseling, advice, witness/confirmation, guidance or comfort -- maybe all, maybe none.  Preaching a sermon on repentance (which is an essential part of the gospel) will help some and not others.  It may even give comfort.

The same is true of sermons on standards.  Some times it gave me comfort to hear someone talk about the value of standards I upheld and what was what I really needed.  Sometimes it just bored me.  Even the same person can be someone with different needs at different times.

Second, your audience needs to accept that they are not the only audience, at least when they are part of a congregation.

Given that, how do you provide comfort, one on one?
  • Comfort the other person, not yourself.
  • Listen before you talk.
  • Express sympathy, admit that you do not know what to say.  "I'm so sorry, I don't know what to say" is not a bad start.  "Tell me about it." is a good follow-up.
  • Avoid advice unless asked or unless you have professional grade ability or better.  Most advice or explanations are really just comforting yourself, not the person who needs it.
  • Realize that while it makes you feel good to offer support or commitment to future acts, you probably will not really follow-through on anything.  Don't make offers you can't keep.  (I still remember some offers from people, and when all I needed was an e-mail returned, they were too busy).
  • Do not use the phrase "you don't need anything do you?" or anything like it.
  • If you talk about God's love, avoid turning it into a circular platitude (God loves you, so you don't really need comfort from anyone else).
If you listen, you can hear.  Much of comforting is just providing someone with a safe place to be listened to.

If you really intend more, then " let me know you don’t forget about me the instant I’m out of your line of sight. The physical, practical challenges of life I can handle by gritting my teeth and pressing on; it’s the aloneness that I can’t cure on my own" -- that comment captures it very well.

If you are in a group setting (such as speaking from the pulpit), much of comforting comes from the image of Christ as the man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.

But, before you try to comfort someone, decide if you are really willing to comfort them or if you just want to comfort yourself.

Friday, October 28, 2011

So, what is scripture?

That is the topic I address at:

I think it is both more and less than many people use it for, wider and narrower than what they accept.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Catching up

I've taken to using LinkedIn updates as a stepping board for looking for old classmates on Facebook.  Slowly, but surely touching base with the people I can find from high school through law school.  For the most part I'm just curious about how they are doing.

But then I get comments like "what a nice looking family you seem very happy."  My response is always something soft.  I'm glad my family looks nice and these days we are happy.

There is a time to be happy.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Difficult advice

Recently, in Feminist Mormon Housewives, the “Mormon Therapist” asked a question about what a child should do it they had gone to their (step)mother about being sexually abused by their brother, the (step)mother had taken them to the bishop and the bishop had sent them to CPS (Child Protective Services) but the stepmother had not gone out of fear at what CPS would do to the family.

It was easy enough for me to say “call the nearest Child Advocacy Center.

It is easy enough to say “call CPS [by yourself].” Obviously a child advocacy center, which specializes in providing a safe, protective environment and coordinating things is going to be an easier first step.

But, well, there are some caveats. In the “YFZ” case (the one where they had the mass seizure of the FLDS children in West Texas), the children at issue were more likely to engage in underaged sex with adults either as a statistically average resident of Austin, Texas or as a child in custody in the CPS system. A lot of sexual assault goes on in foster care situations, there are a lot of baby daddies in Austin. Typically the mothers are underaged, the fathers are older than 18, often in their mid-twenties or older.

Typically, if the perpetrator is in the household, and if a parent has knowledge and has failed to protect, the intervention may well be robust. Sometimes that is a very good thing, but parents often do not deal well with children being removed from the household and placed into the system. The step mother is right that the CPS probably would have taken some of her children away from her.

It is the same with family violence. I used to do a lot of volunteer work and other work with getting protective orders and divorces for abused women. Received some awards.

The hardest thing to deal with was people who decided to back into a life of abuse after considering the alternatives. The people I was proudest of where those who cut themselves free. I was lucky, almost everyone I was sent was ready to cut themselves free and make a life on their own terms, without abuse.

In seeing other people’s clients I saw people who preferred relative wealth (sometimes a lot of it, sometimes just usually regular meals) to the loss of it. People who were on their third or fourth divorce from the same person. Someone in on their fifth year of protective orders (since they had not cut the ties or the relationship, but tried to use the orders to negotiate the terms of it).

With adults it is always easy to tell them: “You have to embrace the risk, the loss. Anything but freedom is really death.” With children, especially given the state of the system they will end up in, it is much harder.

Now the cases where I was an ad litem? I was lucky. The kids I dealt with often had terribly messy legal issues (that is how I got approached to be an ad litem in the first place, to untangle a complex ball of estoppel and a court of appeals decision no one understood), but blessedly positive outcomes. Life changing positive outcomes. Part of that I have to attribute to CPS workers I dealt with who, in retrospect, were saints. The rest to luck.

But with what I know now, it isn’t always as clear cut, always as easy to tell a child what to do.

So sure, I can tell a therapist to make a referral to the agency designed to make the outcome as good as possible (Child Advocacy Centers were founded to have someone who stood for the children in abuse cases, so that the system did not create as much trauma as the assaults – something that was distressingly common in some places). But they, and CASA (a related NGO group that assists children in the system) still have limits.

Not all CPS workers are saints. Not all foster homes run out of love and care. Not everyone has a relative they can flee to for refuge.

Which means I don’t know the answers. At least I don’t know the easy ones. I know the legal ones, in my jurisdiction. I just report any abuse I’m aware of, there is a state run 800 line. Once I do that, I’ve done what the law requires.

But it is a long time from the days when the law required I keep confidences and I paid for a kid to go to a therapist who I knew would discover and treat the child so that they would stay in a safe place and not be returned to an abuser. I can’t guarantee that the children will be in safe places, will get just the right therapist, be protected and never be exposed to risk.

I wish I could. Sure, I can tell you that as a general rule, all things considered, you should just always report, always send people to CPS. But can I promise people that is going to be the best thing, each individual time? I don’t know, I’m glad I’m not in a place where I deal with it now, and I’m glad I’m in a state where there is mandatory reporting.

I only wish I could be glad I knew the answer in each individual case, rather than the general rule.

It’s a good rule though. If you are the victim and you are a child, call the nearest Child Advocacy Center. If you are anyone else, report to CPS and advise the victim to ask CPS to call the Child Advocacy Center for them.

Then pray that this time, this very time, it will be for the best and not an exception to the rule.

I don’t have any other advice.

Remembering Owen Tipu // Mental Illness

I knew Owen while I was at law school.  Later I heard that he had done a typical days work, where he put in some voluntary overtime so he could share money with someone in need, had stopped by the widow next door to fix her porch and then had gone home where he was shot to death by police officers in his own kitchen.

Obviously there was more to the story.  Owen had been in an automobile accident and suffered brain trauma which resulted in mental illness.  The medication that the Court had ordered had side effects he found hard to tolerate.  The orders had expired.  A judge had reviewed things, the mental health system had approved a much more effective drug that also has dramatically less intrusive side effects (though it costs a good deal more) and issued an order.

The police were just there to carry it out.  Owen, who had been a world class martial artist (as in competing internationally and winning) dropped to officers in two seconds and the others who were just not prepared for what actually happened, shot him.  If he had not, they would have all died.  It was the mental illness, the paranoia.  Owen in his right mind would have shot himself rather than see a peace officer die.

I was watching a movie about mental illness and I thought of Owen.  Interestingly enough, of course, the Soloist of the title does not recover.  He is not necessarily better off at the end of the book.  There is some preaching, but without much of a point.

The Soloist

There are many mentally ill homeless who would rather be on the streets than in residences or mental health facilities.  The movie captured that well (for example the cameo by the character who says: "when I take my lithium, the voices go away, but when I'm not feeling well, the voices comfort me, and they aren't there for me when I take the lithium").

How much do we respect those decisions?  How do we deal with the collateral issues (homeless camps are scenes of a great deal of violence and crime)?  How do we deal with the fact that we can not force results (I was impressed with the character who pointed out, when the author/editorialist was demanding that something be done, that all of the people in the room had already been diagnosed, prescribed treatment -- that wasn't working -- so he was doing what he could that did work).

Haunting story, based on a true story.  Owen's story is more telling, at least because I knew Owen, cared about him as a friend, was there at his funeral, worry about his wife, his children and Talo (his brother) and miss him still.

Without any easy answers.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Need to do another bloggersnacker

Or just a house party.  We've had a couple FMH bloggersnackers at the house, those were fun, but there were lots of people who just wouldn't come to one that I linked to FMH.

So maybe just call this one a free range bloggersnacker or something.

Next, figure out a date for it.  Then the menu (for various special food needs).

Saturday, October 22, 2011

West Side Story's visit to Dallas, kind of meh, but ..


West Side Story Dallas |

We went last night, to finish up the night at the state fair with a musical rather than Randy Travis.  I'm not that much into country-western, but I think it was close to a real mistake.

Someone decided to translate a number of the songs into muddled Spanglish to be sung in a rather muffled, opaque way to where the words kind of blended into hash.  Toss in some, err, interesting sexuality sub-texts (that were never developed) it came across as hashed up by the director's conceits rather than by any artistic vision.

On the other hand, strong choreography, great sets, fun kvetching from the people around  us (the guy to my left had his girl friend leave at the intermission and decide not to come back) and heavily discounted tickets ...

Fourteen hours spent on the state fair yesterday.  All of it entertaining, one way or another, good family time this morning.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Cain, controversy and why I'll never be president

Lets be honest.  I oppose abortion.  I am very "pro-life."  But, like Cain, who is running for president, I really think that the decision, at the end, is between the woman involved and God, with others having a duty to do many things, including letting the woman involved have the final choice.

Now, I believe in informed choices.  I was struck when reading about an abortion clinic in Dallas that drew a lot of protestors (all the usual reasons, run by a lesbian, financially on the edge, etc.) that they gave everyone who came in counseling and care and that only about half of those who came in planning on using their services did so.  That is far less than many other places.

But, regardless of what criticisms you had of the owner/doctor in charge, her goal was to give women choices, and to give them the knowledge they needed to make the choices be their choices and not anyone else's.

So, I'll never be president.  As pro life, I'd offend too many people.  As someone who really believes that in the end, other than making certain that the decisions are made with understanding, the government doesn't belong as the final arbiter, I'm open to all the criticisms that Cain draws.

Am I right?  Probably not.  I'm as bad on this issue as I am on the death penalty (I favor it, I'm just not willing to put any other parent's child to death.  I know, that is terribly flawed.  No pro death penalty person would like that position "won't apply it" and no one who opposes it would like it either "in favor of the concept").

Don't even get to what I would do with your taxes.  I'd raise the gas/transport tax (the highway trust fund needs more money).  It has been unadjusted for inflation for much too long.

Anyway, I'll never be president, so my thoughts don't matter.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Death, loss, it is just part of turning 55 ...

Was talking with a friend and he said that about the time you turn fifty or so you need to accept that with greater frequency the people in your life will start dying or becoming incapacitated.

Early on in my life I had the misfortune of having a number of people who liked me very much and believed in me a good deal who were also at the end of their work (and often personal) lives.  In my late twenties and thirties I went through the loss of a number of mentor figures who died or failed before they ever got to mentor me (though they had successfully mentored many others).  Then I lost almost ten years with the deaths and moves and such.

I came back to awareness, so to speak, and now, about ten-fifteen years later I'm in that age group.  But people I know, or grew up with, or worked with are in the group who are dying or aging out.  Three suicides this year of people I had worked with or been in a group with. 

A number of people in my parents generation (people in their seventies) are dying or becoming disabled on a regular basis.  Lost my dad to Parkinsons not too long ago.

I experienced a lot of death and loss outside of its proper time in burying three children over five years. Now I'm starting to experience death and loss in its time and season.

It is happening just as I hit the next stage in grief recovery and become much more able to feel emotion.

In some ways, more than I ever did as before I began to experience grief, or recovery, I had distanced myself a great deal from emotion as I grew up.  It was so painful, most of the time.  The first real breakthrough I ever had in feeling emotion was in getting married when I was 29.

So now I'm 55.  People in my parents generation are dying or becoming disabled much more rapidly (and yes, Suzette Haden Elgin is in her 70s, about the age of my mom).  I've blogged a little about some of the deaths that have touched my life this year, especially Raymond's passing.

Its funny, in a way.  When I went to my law school reunion a while back I sat and listened to   talk about all the people who had died.  It was only a sprinkling, but still, I listened.  Did not tell her anything about myself or my losses, that wasn't why I was there.  I was trying to hear and listen, and it was about what she had to say about my classmates, not about myself.

 But it is going from news of a scattering over a twenty-five year period to the steady drum beat of judges I've known and admired, friends and allies (some of whom died and I missed the news), people like John Tison who died suddenly of cancer (the week of his diagnosis or so) and who used to visit once a year when he was in town to serve as a marshal or judge at a golf tournament, and others.

It is just starting to sink in that this really is that time of life and will be for the next twenty or thirty or forty years (if I live that long).  That it is suddenly just a normal part of life.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Suzette Haden Elgin -- status update

Regarding Suzette Haden Elgin I was asked to "tell everyone that she's really sorry, but she just can't communicate anymore. She just can't focus on things well enough to even answer an email, let alone talk to anyone."

I'm certain she would be grateful for prayers, but she is not always lucid and can not take the strain of communicating with people.

Believing the Bible

It can be hard to believe in the Bible.  For example, it says:
When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
It also says:
And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.
 12And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
 13And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.
And finally:

Matthew 7:21-23 “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enterinto the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is inheaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied inthy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done manywonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: departfrom me, ye that work iniquity.” Luke6:46 “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?”

Which is why Christ said:   
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

Those who love and make lies are in one camp, no matter how much they call Christ "Lord, Lord."  They just don't believe the Bible or what Christ said.