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.

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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.