Happy Halloween

October 31, 2004

Here’s a picture of the girls at Gardener Village with the witch of their choice. Granted, this was a couple of weeks ago (it’s snowing today here), but it was still a Halloween outing for us.

We love autumn in this household! Posted by Hello

Mortality and Sensitivity

October 30, 2004

Poring over a motion for summary judgment on Thursday in my office around 6:00 p.m., I glanced up as the janitor, Luciano, came in to empty my trash can. He is a great guy, a little younger than I am, an undergraduate from Brazil studying business just working as a janitor to get through school (not too shabby, by the way, to be hooked up as a janitor in this building). He is married and has two kids. I have spoken with him occasionally when I see him around.

When he entered my office, I was too preoccupied with writing this motion that I didn’t think twice about the fact that he was unshaven and sort of slumping a little. In retrospect, it was the first thing that entered my mind, almost a prompting for me to notice it so vividly, but I ejected it summarily, too eager to finish my mundane task. I simply greeted him and made a comment about the weather, without looking at him again.

In the hallway right outside my office door, Luciano began speaking with one of the staff on my floor who encountered him as he left my office. I heard her ask after his wife, how she was doing. I thought, that’s right–his wife’s expecting at the end of December, I’ll remember to ask him how she’s doing tomorrow when he comes for my trash. But even as I thought this, I overheard Luciano say that things weren’t well at all, that his wife had been rushed to the hospital that Tuesday. I heard him say that she received a priesthood blessing but that the baby was born dead shortly thereafter. The shock was obvious in the voice of the woman with whom he was speaking and she asked him how he is coping with it. He said it is very hard–he doesn’t know how he is coping or what he will do–but that this must be a lesson that he needs to learn.

I just couldn’t work on that motion anymore after overhearing that and rushed home to be with my wife and children. In reflecting on that experience, I am first disgusted by my own lack of sensitivity towards what he was facing. Things were obviously not status quo for him and I even noticed it. But I ignored it and didn’t take the time to speak with him. I don’t think I could have said anything that could haved eased his sadness, but I might have shown him that one more person cares about what his experiences are, especially with his and his wife’s families so far away in Brazil.

This also caused me to reflect on mortality and its adversity and trials. John S. Welch (Rosalynde’s husband) recently published an excellent article in BYU Studies that takes an innovative look at the problem of human suffering. John is a medical doctor and approached the question informed by his hands-on experience day in and day out with the suffering of those whom he tries to help. What is unique about John’s analysis is that he focuses on the role that chaos continues to play in mortal existence and in the plan of salvation generally. Essentially, the physical “creation” is not yet fully complete; chaos is still allowed to affect us and our existence and to shape us into one of God’s perfect creations as we experience its capriciousness.

Of course, this is all very removed from the actual suffering that Luciano and his wife are experiencing at this time, but this adversity will indeed teach them something about themselves, the plan of salvation, and perhaps many other things that are hard to discern at this stage for them. They will likely always carry an empty place in their hearts for this daughter they didn’t get to know. Chaos has struck and perhaps there is no reason in the sense that God caused it to happen that way; rather, it seems more likely that God allowed Chaos to take its course in this process of creation, even though it meant a tragedy for this one family. I hope that Luciano will seek the Lord in this time of hardship and that the Lord will succor him as He has promised to succor those who confess his name and who have entered into his covenant.

Greek life

October 28, 2004

This news from the University of Michigan (where I am a student) simply confirms my view towards fraternities and sororities– they are a bad, bad bunch. . .

Univ. of Michigan union happenings

October 28, 2004

Stop on by Life According to Jordan for a report on current goings-on at the University of Michigan Graduate Employees’ Organization (the union Jordan belongs to).

Mir war es wie ein ewiger Sonntag im Gemuete.

October 28, 2004

The above quote comes from Aus dem Leben eines Taugenichts by Joseph v. Eichendorff, a German romanticist. As I recently re-read this wonderful piece of literature, this line stood out to me. I contemplated moments when I, like the Taugenichts, also felt to say this phrase.

One such duration in my life came as I dated my wife. At that time it was always “mir . . . wie ein ewiger Sonntag im Gemuete.” The sun seemed warmer, the world seemed kinder- indeed heaven itself seemed to be smiling down on me.

The other day, walking through autumny colorful leaf-strewn Ann Arbor, I felt a similar feeling. My time in Ann Arbor is coming to an abrupt end when I graduate from Law School in just under two months. Life here has been good- we have learned and grown so much. Two of our three children were born here. Andrea and I both got a lot of experience in life, in the Church, in education, as parents. All in all, we feel as though heaven itself has been smiling down on us during our final life-preparatory time here in Ann Arbor for the last nearly five years.

Thus, although a beautiful autumn is underway, both in the air and in the duration of our time remaining in Ann Arbor, I felt compelled to say in my heart as I walked campus the other day that “mir war [meine Zeit in Ann Arbor] wie ein ewiger Sonntag im Gemuete.”

Indeed, as Eichendorff’s character sings in the next few lines:

Wem Gott will rechte Gunst erweisen,
Den schickt er in die weite Welt;
Dem will er seine Wunder weisen
In Berg und Wald und Strom und Feld.

Den lieben Gott laß ich nur walten;
Der Bächlein, Lerchen, Wald und Feld
Und Erd und Himmel will erhalten,
Hat auch mein Sach aufs best bestellt!

*note for those who don’t read German:

“mir war es wie ein ewiger Sonntag im Gemuete” = To me, it felt like an eternal Sunday in my countenance.

My translation of the poem, however, would not do it justice.

Some Reflections After the First SLC Bloggernacle Gathering

October 24, 2004

My Sunday School teacher quoted J. Golden Kimball today in her lesson about pondering the words of Christ and his doctrine. In a 1926 General Conference talk, Elder Kimball said:

Think of God. How many of us think of God thirty minutes out of twenty-four hours? There is not one out of five hundred that actually thinks of God and His Son Jesus Christ thirty minutes a day. I do; but the first thing I know, my mind wanders off on something else.

Last night at the first Bloggernacle gathering, which was held at my house in SLC and which was very enjoyable, those who came discussed the Bloggernacle in meta terms, wondering about its origins and more importantly, its future. When I heard this quote in SS this morning, it turned my mind to the time I spend in the Bloggernacle. Let me explain.

In the meta-blogging discussion, there were different views on the future of the Bloggernacle but I noticed that I really only had positive things to say about the Bloggernacle sites that I visit regularly. Of course, Times and Seasons figured prominently into the discussion since I assume that it is what brought most of us that were there at my house last night together. I have very much appreciated T&S as a forum to engage in discussions about a vast array of Gospel-centered topics (even in the overtly political threads, topics are analyzed in light of the Gospel). This is, in my estimation, a very positive opportunity for anyone interested in discussion about how the Gospel might apply to all areas of life and culture from many different perspectives.

My wife expressed some of her consternation at the time that I spend participating in the Boggernacle at last night’s gathering. She lurks on some of the blogs but never comments (so far). I want to accommodate her by spending less time online and more playing with the kids. But I also want to note that the exposure to great minds and debate in the Bloggernacle is in itself valuable. Today’s SS lesson helped me realize a little more why I enjoy participating in the Bloggernacle and why the time, for me, is well spent:

(1) I spend at least 30 minutes in the Boggernacle per day. J. Golden Kimball’s quote in SS made me realize that the time I spend in the Bloggernacle each day helps me to focus of Christ and his Gospel every single day for a sustained amount of time, much like Kimball’s 30 minutes.

(2) The people with whom I interact in the Bloggernacle are for the most part faithful Latter-day Saints and truly conform to Jesus’ words in 3 Nephi 12:13. In that verse, Jesus states

Verily, verily, I say unto you, I give unto you to be the salt of the earth; but if the salt shall lose its savor wherewith shall the earth be salted? The salt shall be thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out and to be trodden under foot of men.

As I sat with other fellow Bloggernackers at my house last night, I was struck that these people, each a Latter-day Saint with quite different perspectives and views from each other, really are the salt of the earth and I am grateful to be counted as a Latter-day Saint together with them. It was a savory evening, as are the discussions I have in the Bloggernacle.

Baptists at our Barbecue

October 19, 2004

I received this email a few days ago from Christian Vuissa, and old mission buddy turned filmmaker. Since it is a general kind of email, I wanted to post it here to stump for his movie. Perhaps the Baron has already seen it and could tell us his take on it:

Hi everyone,

I just wanted to let you know that my film “Baptists at Our Barbecue” is opening today in Utah! The film won the Best Picture Award at the Hope and Dreams Film Festival in New Jersey. It also won Best Comedy and Best of Festival at the Fiery Film Festival in New Mexico. This is a quirky, romantic comedy about charmingly flawed small town Mormons.

If you have a chance to see it this weekend in Utah, I’d love to hear your response. Some of the characters will probably remind you of people in our mission. I promise it’ll make you smile.

Anyways, I hope to hear from you!

(Elder) Christian Vuissa
Germany Leipzig Mission (1994-96)

P.S. If you’re not in Utah, look out for the film in the upcoming months. Also, there will a festival screening at the ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywood this Saturday at 9.30 pm. The film will also play at festivals in Florida, Michigan and New Hampshire.

To see the trailer, theater listings and other info, go to the official

I am looking forward to seeing it! 🙂

Sorry Jim Faulconer

October 14, 2004

I almost didn’t post this merely out of respect for Jim Faulconer, and many of the other fine professors of philosophy that I have actually known (I’ve never actually met Jim Faulconer). But this was just too entertaining and somehow accurate that I couldn’t pass it up, especially considering Jim’s comment in the current discussion of Nietzsche at T&S.

I relish John Mortimer’s Rumpole of the Bailey series and am enjoying his Second Rumpole Omnibus at the moment. Rumpole is a crusty old English criminal defense barrister who works mostly down in London’s Old Bailey, defending society’s worst reprobates, solving mysteries, psychologically battling She Who Must Be Obeyed, imagining himself a good father to his son Nick, and deluding himself of his own prowess and intellectual ability. He does make it out of London, on occasion, to try a case elsewhere. And in the case of “the gentle art of blackmail,” Rumpole makes his way out to Oxford to defend a young man against charges of using a homosexual affair to blackmail Sir Michael Tuffnell, Oxford University Professor of Philosophy. Even though Sir Michael happens also to be Principal of St. Joseph’s College at Oxford (Rumple’s old college from his school days), Rumpole does not spare him his characteristic caustic mental evaluation upon meeting him. Rumpole describes him thus:

Sir Michael Tuffnell, Oxford Professor of Moral Philosophy, Principal of St Joseph’s College for the past five years, was a popular guru known to millions. He was a grey-haired and distinguished-looking old party, with a twinkling eye and a considerable sense of humour, always ready to be wheeled on to the telly or ‘Any Questions’ when anyone wanted a snap answer on such troublesome points as ‘What is the meaning of meaning?’ Or ‘Is God dead?’

Sir Michael was a person, certainly, of the utmost brilliance and respectability, whose grasp of the Nature of the Universe was such that God no doubt relied on him to tell him whether or not He existed, a question that Sir Michael answered with a respectful and tentative negative, meanwhile keeping his options open.

John Mortimer, “Rumple and the Gentle Art of Blackmail,” in The Second Rumpole Omnibus 48 (Penguin ed. 1988).

Brilliant, really, I must confess. This description of an Oxford professor of philosophy–or a professor of philosophy generally, or an Oxford professor generally, for that matter (believe me, I met a few like this while a student at Oxford)–seems just too fitting, and thus very funny. I guess the reason that it is funny is that it encapsulates some of the frustration of non-philosophers with philosophers generally. . . .

An Election for Idealists

October 11, 2004

As I watched the second debate, the thought occured to me that this really is an election made for idealists. This is an ironic observation considering the lip-service that I am hearing from many on both sides to the effect that this election is a choice between the lesser of two evils. Although this statement has merit for those in the middle, it is patently untrue for those on the political extremes. In crass, oversimplified terms, here is what I witnessed on Friday night in the debate:

(This is how those on the idealistic extremes would have viewed it.)

Bush: The Conservative Ideal

Bush personifies the very core of the ideal conservative. He is the rugged individualist American from the wide west (i.e. Texas), the land of the free and the brave and the last frontier where every man thrives or fails according to the management of the creature (i.e. their capacity for hard work and self-sufficiency). He is brash and confident in his own moral certainty. He believes that every American is entitled to the product of his or her own labor–but he sticks by that as the limits of entitlement (i.e. a meritocracy). He is deeply religious and adheres to ultra-conservative religious doctrine–doctrine that is associated with the very Pilgrims who fled to America. Responsibility is as important as rights. The federal government is evil and must be stopped and limited wherever possible.

Kerry: The Liberal Ideal

Kerry personifies the very core of the ideal liberal. He is cultured and sophisticated. His worldview is nuanced and complicated. He is the soft collectivist from the populous and civilized Northeast (i.e. the heart of it all–Boston), the land of the liberated and the smart where every person thrives or fails according to the management of the creature (i.e. their intellectual prowess and capacity to earn seven figures). But he doesn’t disparage those who can’t cut it in his world: for the millions who have failed to manage the intellectual creature, they’re okay too (except for conservatives who are stupid). He is diplomatic and confident in his own moral superiority. He believes every American is entitled to receive a certain standard of living and collection of rights in a world of entitlements and empowerments. He is culturally religious and adheres to an open-minded view of religion–none is more right than the others, and nothing guarantees that any of them are right at all. Rights trump responsibility (i.e. everyone is entitled to their growing litany of inalienable rights). The federal government is the champion of civil society and should administer to the needs of all.

Pretty broad and likely insulting to both sides, but this stark contrast really came out on Friday night. I think that it was intentional–they need to distinguish themselves and appeal to their bases. What better way to do it than to project the ideal of their respective ideal while battling it out. Or maybe it was merely a function of that battle itself.

Does Bush’s invocation of Dred Scott trump?

October 10, 2004

During the second presidential debate on Friday night, I could hardly believe my ears when President Bush, upon being asked what sort of Justices he might appoint to the Supreme Court, replied that he wouldn’t pick a judge who would decide another Dred Scott. I was beside myself because not only was Dred Scott decided about 150 years ago, making it practically ancient history, but it has also been overturned by at least three amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

(For those who don’t know, Dred Scott was the decision where Justice Taney in 1857 declared that all blacks, both slave and free, were not and never could become United States citizens. Specifically, because Scott was black, he was not a citizen and had no standing to sue.)

I thought, “why in the world would President Bush use THIS case as an example of the sort of judge he would not appoint?” Thanks to Heidi and, via Heidi, Paperwight’s Fair Shot, I think I now understand. Far from being incredibly uninformed and ridiculous, Bush’s answer was actually quite clever. After reading Heidi’s post and some dissenting language in an abortion decision, I am certain that Bush, by invoking Dred Scott here, was really saying that he intended to install Supreme Court judges who would overturn Roe v. Wade.

Indeed, as noted by Paperwight, pro-life advocates have been comparing Roe v. Wade with Dred Scott for years as an example of abhorrent Supreme Court jurisprudence. Scalia sums up that position nicely in his dissent in Stenberg v. Carhart (where the Supreme Court in 2000 struck down Nebraska’s attempt at a partial birth abortion ban):

I am optimistic enough to believe that, one day, Stenberg v. Carhart will be assigned in its rightful place in the history of this Court’s jurisprudence beside Korematsu and Dred Scott. The method of killing a human child- one cannot even accurately say an entirely unborn human child- proscribed by this statute is so horrible that the most clinical description of it evokes a shudder of revulsion . . . The notion that the Constitution of the United States, designed, among other things, “to establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, . . . and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,” prohibits the States from simply banning this visibly brutal means of eliminating our half-born posterity is quite simply absurd.

Telling, isn’t it? Indeed, as illustrated by the words in this dissent, for legal conservatives Dred Scott has become a sort of code for Roe v. Wade.

So President Bush, in effect, was basically saying that he would appoint judges to the Supreme Court who would overturn Roe v. Wade, which to conservatives represents just such bad jurisprudence as that found in the infamous Dred Scott. President Bush was not just being ignorant in saying that, but was very cleverly submitting a message to his base.

Now, consider this counsel from Elder Oaks regarding abortion:

The Church opposes elective abortion for personal or social convenience. Our members are taught that, subject only to some very rare exceptions, they must not submit to, perform, encourage, pay for[note: didn’t Kerry say in his portion of the debate that he would not hesitate to provide abortions paid for by our tax dollars? And does that constitute Church members “paying for” an abortion?], or arrange for an abortion.

In today’s world we are not true to our teachings if we are merely pro-choice. We must stand up for the right choice. Those who persist in refusing to think beyond slogans and sound bites like pro-choice wander from the goals they pretend to espouse and wind up giving their support to results they might not support if those results were presented without disguise.

. . .

Some Latter-day Saints say they deplore abortion, but they give these exceptional circumstances as a basis for their pro-choice position that the law should allow abortion on demand in all circumstances. Such persons should face the reality that the circumstances described in these three exceptions are extremely rare. For example, conception by incest or rape—the circumstance most commonly cited by those who use exceptions to argue for abortion on demand—is involved in only a tiny minority of abortions. More than 95 percent of the millions of abortions performed each year extinguish the life of a fetus conceived by consensual relations. Thus the effect in over 95 percent of abortions is not to vindicate choice but to avoid its consequences. Using arguments of “choice” to try to justify altering the consequences of choice is a classic case of omitting what the Savior called “the weightier matters of the law.”

. . .

If we say we are anti-abortion in our personal life but pro-choice in public policy, we are saying that we will not use our influence to establish public policies that encourage righteous choices on matters God’s servants have defined as serious sins. I urge Latter-day Saints who have taken that position to ask themselves which other grievous sins should be decriminalized or smiled on by the law due to this theory that persons should not be hampered in their choices.

Dallin H. Oaks, “Weightier Matters”, Ensign 13 (Jan. 2001).

That was a long quote, perhaps too long, and I hope you are still reading. Because Bush as much as said that he would appoint Supreme Court judges who would overturn Roe v. Wade if given the opportunity, and because Senator Kerry basically said that he would allow our tax dollars to fund abortions, I wonder if Elder Oaks counsel makes a compelling case for Latter-day Saints to vote for President Bush in November, despite the other important issues on which President Bush has perhaps failed the country.

And that, people, is my current quandary. Does the mandate to oppose abortion trump other important policy considerations for Latter-day Saints? I personally am one who does not think that President Bush has been terribly effective as President. I think that our country is worse-off than it could be after 9/11 because of his Presidency. Americans need health care and jobs, and the top income earners don’t need a tax break. But I feel very strongly against abortion, against allowing it in this country, and ESPECIALLY against my tax dollars funding such a heinous act.

So which issue trumps?