Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Book Review - Remembering Wholeness by Carol Tuttle

Wow!  My head is spinning!  This is quite a fun book to read.  Carol Tuttle and her style are certainly unique to Mormonism.  It was both motivating and distressing and before I can fully settle on what I think about this read, I'm probably going to have to read it again.  Overall, I'd say Tuttle is more influenced by Depak Chopra than by Thomas S. Monson.  More influenced by The Secret than The Book of Mormon. While this may not be true, it is certainly the impression I get from the book

It seemed like Carol Tuttle had a hard time deciding who her audience was.  There were moments when it seemed she was writing to Latter-day Saints specifically, but overall, it was as though she was shooting for the broader audience.  Those more intimate LDS moments could have been so much more meaningful had she cited Scriptural and prophetic references.  As it is, the book seems watered down in that regard and I found myself thinking why not just read Chopra or some other New Wave guru?  Oh, that's right, I already have.

There is a Pollyanna-esque mood in the book that also, both inspired and distressed me.  (This could be a reflection on me.)  I gathered from what Tuttle was saying, that affliction, hardship, difficulty are not necessary in mortality.  At least from here on in.  I'm not so sure that rings true.  While I believe that I can choose my own response to the things that happen to me.  And while I can accept that I do attract negativity into my life on occasion - and that I could choose to attract more positiveness; I'm not so sure life can be as entirely blissful as she wants to paint it.

I wish I could more clearly place my finger on that which is unsettling about this book.  Something disturbs me for sure.  It is not the kind of disturb I got from say, The Miracle of Forgiveness.  More like the unsettling feeling that came when I read Embracing the Light, to which Nibley responded with Embarrassed by the Light.  It just doesn't ring true, entirely.  Carol Tuttle teaches that by our beliefs, feelings and thoughts, we attract good things or bad things into our lives.  Which makes me wonder what she thinks, believes or feels that is attracting this rather negative review?


Saturday, May 19, 2012

Book Review - Falling to Heaven by James L. Ferrell


James L. Ferrell has done it again!  If you thought his The Peacegiver or The Holy Secret were good then you'll love this one.  Once again, Ferrell's intuitive, out of the box, doctrinally sound thinking has stirred my heart and opened my eyes.

This time Ferrell addresses the preponderance of paradox in the gospel.  As we commonly, here in the West, have trouble with paradox, we too often ignore it and it's implications.  We'd rather sweep it under the rug than bend our minds around important, but confusing principles.  Brother Ferrell has a knack for making things make sense and paradox is no exception.  

Be prepared to see a lot of things in a different light.  Here are a few favorite quotes to wet your appetite and give a few hints into the priceless gem that is this book:
But make no mistake, when I as the harmed party respond to this request by giving up my resentment and my grudge, what I am doing is repenting - repenting of my failing to love.  Forgiveness is simply a word we use to describe this kind of repentance.
Being guilty before the Lord did not keep me from his love.  On the contrary, it was the guilt that he helped me to see that invited me to him.
To any who might wonder how the Spirit could attend those who are in the throes of sin, I would say, we all are in the throes of sin.  The question for us, and the issue upon which the presence of the Spirit depends, is whether we are in the throes of repentance.  I love all the humble, broken, contrite, confessing souls who have taught me that truth.  Their honest contrition and heartfelt repentance have been invitations for me to walk in the direction they are resolutely traveling - toward the Lord...
I read this book before April Conference.  In the book Ferrell pointed out that we ought not to be in the business of forgiving ourselves.  Then in Conference, President Uchtdorf encouraged us to forgive ourselves.  I've intended to go back and review, what seemed to be conflicting advice.  I'm glad I reviewed the book and finally got that done.  I think I can reconcile the difference when I see forgiveness as repentance, and thus it is again, the Lord, who is the forgiver.

There is of course much more, but you'll just have to read it, won't you.  Unlike The Peacegiver, Falling to Heaven is not written in story form.  There are stories, but cited as individual examples.  While the style is different, the content is every bit as rich, enlightening and encouraging.  The Gospel is true and Ferrell helps its paradox make perfect sense.  I am so grateful I read this book!


Book Review - Being George Washington by Glenn Beck

I think Glenn Beck is a remarkable writer.  I've enjoyed his novels and his 7 Wonders That Will Change Your Life is a must.  This one is good too, but not necessarily for its writing.  No, the writing's good, its just a bit convoluted, disjointed and cobbled together.  If the author had purpose in the organization of the material, it completely escaped me.  The book has a great, and I suspect, pertinent quote from G. K. Chesterton:
I've searched all the parks in all the cities and found no statues of committees.
Ironic.  Because this book seems to have been written by a committee.  It's like collections of research cards that got collected into a paper in no particular order.  Couple that with a unusual number of spelling and other printing errors and the book looks like it was sent to press in a rush.  Observing Beck from afar it looks like he is in a mad dash to produce, produce, produce and in this instance, it shows.

That said, I came away with a deepened respect for, heightened awareness of, broadened gratitude for the father of our country.  Beck's purpose was to motivate his audience to emulate the qualities of character so abundant in this one, pivotal figure in our history.  In that, with me, he succeeded.  I was not aware of the depth of character required to accomplish Washington's singular and monumental task.  Upon his personal integrity the entire success of the revolution and resulting Constitution and Nation were hung.  Incident after incident made him truly the indispensable man.  While I admire Franklin and Adams and Jefferson and several others from that crucial period, none could have succeeded without this one man among men.  While it is true, to some degree, the same might be said of the others, the difference is degree is phenomenal.

Washington was know for courage and leadership and inspiration, but I came away most grateful for his humility.  After citing several examples Beck had this to say:
The lessons for us today are clear - question with boldness.  I know I'm like a broken record, but if you think that your version of the truth is all that exists, then not only will you fail in pursuing your agenda, but you'll also fail in motivating anyone else to join you.  The search for truth is a lifelong quest without a destination.  Don't fall into the trap of believing so deeply in your own ideology that you cannot even see the flaws in it.
When the Constitutional Convention convened every man had is agenda.  To the man, they compromised.  Had they not, the Constitution would not have endured as long as it has.  Each man had to be humble enough to listen to the position of the others and to sacrifice a few personal darlings for the good of the whole.  No one understood or practiced this as well as did the reluctant chairman of the Convention, George Washington.  Today, compromise seems to have left our collective vocabulary and the results seem to be approaching catastrophe.  It could all be resolved if each of us were like George Washington.

While the book is not as well composed as I'd like, for it's content alone I highly recommend it.


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Book Review - The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny

I never cease to be amazed at what Louise Penny can teach me about myself in her novels.  This one is no exception!  I loved reading it a second time where, knowing Louise better and knowing her characters better, I better saw myself in the pages.

April is the cruelest month because it is so unreliable.  It sets you up with pretty warm days, where, trusting, you think you might step out of hiding; then it blasts you back with frigid winds and snow.  Back into to the safety of concealment.  Such it is with life, living and of course love.  So guarded, so concealed we make ourselves sick.
"Our secrets make us sick because they separate us from other people.  Keep us alone.  Turn us into fearful, angry, bitter people.  Turn us against others and finally against ourselves."
Louise offers a wonderful observation about why we keep secrets and what we do to others while keeping them.  She calls it three couplings:  Attachment masquerades as Love, Pity as Compassion and Indifference masquerades as Equanimity.  If we are keeping secrets we are masquerading as something other than what we are.  Consequently, our emotional connection with others is also costumed as something attractive, but is, in reality something else, something destructive.  Her principle protagonist, Chief Inspector Gamache, doesn't keep secrets, doesn't hide behind a mask and this little quote is so very telling as it describes the result:
"She looked at him.  She often felt foolish, ill constructed, next to others.  Beside Gamache she only ever felt whole."
 This is, of course, because of Gamache's open, honest character, which only ever displays the real deal.  Love instead of attachment.  Compassion, not pity.  And Equanimity, certainly not indifference.  Wow! the contrast is stunning.  And quite observable in my own life!  I absolutely love this notion and it is so motivating for me to be more authentic, honest and forthright in my own relationships.
"Strange in Canada, we talk all the time about the one thing we can't control.  The weather.  We can't stop a killing frost and we can't stop the flowers from doing what they were meant to do.  Better to bloom even for an instant, if that's your nature, than live forever in hiding."
Better for everybody.

Thanks again Louise for a wonderful lesson in life.


Friday, May 4, 2012

How We View Ourselves

These days there's a lot of talk about body image.  Many of us are dissatisfied with the way we look when compared with the world's standards.  Even when shown that TV and magazine models are air brushed and digitally "corrected" in pursuit of perfect beauty, we tend to ignore reality and press to emulate this unrealistic standard of measurement.

Lately, too, I've noticed, not a few, folks in the church who are caught in a similar trap.  In fact even I, have been prey to an unhealthy dissatisfaction with what I might call my perception of my spiritual performance image.  When compared with a misshapen concept of what a successful Latter-day Saint might look like I begin to act in unhealthy ways to make myself appear to meet the standard.  I have practiced Spiritual Anorexia, others have fallen prey to Spiritual Bulimia and many other disorders that are just as dangerous and misbegotten as their physical forms.

In modern society we are trained from a very early age to make comparisons.  We are measured by comparison, graded by comparison, described by comparison and of course, judged by comparison and yes, rewarded by comparison.  God, of course, does not do this.  Caught in this mortal sphere, it is rather hard to grasp God's perfect nature in this regard.  Much of what we do in the LDS church is designed to limit comparison.  In the temple, for example, all wear white clothing, limiting the distinctions that come with our differences in status or circumstances.  All are equally invited to "Come Unto Christ" as the scripture beckons bond or free, male or female, rich or poor, black or white.

Still, there is much in our culture that subtly counters this.  Cultural behaviors that in no way make deliberate distinctions or at least have no malicious or divisive intent, but which still, because of our cultural training, discourage, depress, dishearten and even destroy.  Things like unthinkingly asking a newcomer where he served his mission (kind of hurts when you didn't.)  Or inviting brethren to sit in the Eagle's Nest at a Court of Honor, making no allowance for those, who likely, through no fault of their own, did not achieve the rank of Eagle.

This month for example, the Conference Issue of the Ensign Magazine, by implication, subtly sets some pretty lofty standards of appearance and performance, which if not observed with open eyes, might lead one to believe he is not measuring up.  Toward the end of the magazine are a number of brief biographies of newly called General Authorities.  These are wonderful, successful, Latter-day Saints whose lists of accomplishments are truly remarkable.  Doctorate Degrees abound.  Successful businesses and influential careers are the norm.  All have served diligently in many important capacities in the Kingdom and appear to have sound marriages and exemplary families.  The Church needs these accomplished individuals.  It requires their specialized skill sets and depends upon their deep spirituality.  I in no way wish to demean or diminish neither their goodness nor their worth to the Lord and His work on the earth.

But, if we as rank and file members look to them as the yard stick by which we measure our own worth, or place in the Kingdom; if we compare our positions and performance with theirs, we will likely fall into an unhealthy place that will render us less, rather than more, useful to our Father in Heaven.

Part of me wishes that beside each of those biographies were the biographies of regular members of the Church.  Not because I wish to demean the Church Leaders, but because I would like to elevate our recognition of the goodness of so very many who are right where we are.  Something like this:
Newly called as Nursery Leader in Himni, Utah 4th Ward is Sister Rosa Valero Cooper.  Sister Cooper was born to an impoverished family in southern Philippines.  At age 15 she was sold by her parents into sexual slavery and was taken to Olongago where she was subjected to prostitution near the Subic Bay US Navy Base.  There she met her future husband, a Latter-day Saint, in a brothel.  They fell in love, married and after some difficulty made their home back in Utah.  Rejected by her in-laws and eventually abandoned by her husband for another woman, Rosa has raised and educated her three children alone.  She has made a fine career for herself as a house cleaner, where she could set her own schedule and be at home when the children were not in school.  Being largely uneducated herself, Rosa impressed the value of education on her two sons and her daughter.  All have finished High School and are working their way through college.
Sister Cooper joined the church in 1983 as a result of the kind friendship of a handicapped neighbor.  Amid their loneliness and personal affliction these sweet Sisters had reached out to one another. She has served for 15 years as the Young Women's Camp Director.  Her testimony and deep simple faith have profoundly influenced the lives of dozens of young women in her Ward.  Rosie has also been Compassionate Service coordinator in the Relief Society and a councilor in the Ward Primary Presidency.
Sister Cooper's second son served a Mission to the Philippines where he was able to bring the gospel to his Grandparents.  His Grandfather now serves as the Branch President of the Cotobini Branch.  Rosa has consistently sent money home to her family greatly facilitating their prosperity and the education of her siblings.  Now she occupies her free time caring for a neighbor lady, her former Mother-in-law,  who suffers from MS.
"God has been so very good to me," says Sister Cooper.  "I don't deserve such wonderful blessings."
Would you not agree that Rosa Valero Cooper is a wonderful, successful, Latter-day Saint whose accomplishments and contributions are worthy of note?  Even emulation?  Of course!  Let us not assume that the General Authorities have not suffered severe affliction, neither that they have not had sore need of repentance and the application of the Atoning Blood of Christ in their lives.  Nor should we assume that every great Latter-day Saint had to overcome such horrendous circumstances as Rosa did.  Each of us has a story of ups and downs; opposition if you will.  And the reflection of our spiritual performance image ought to have nothing to do with the performance of anyone else.  Anyone else, that is besides Jesus, whose personal perfection, while wholly incomparable, enables us to rise above the lumps and bumps that make us each, far less than perfect.

I wish, at church, we spent less time painting a picture for each other of the perfect Mormon and more time painting a picture of the Perfect Christ.

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