Monday, January 29, 2007

#160 - How to Effect Miraculous Healing in Children - UPDATED

Jelly slept on the couch last night. She's been fighting nasty allergies since Saturday, and began running a fever around about bed time last night. So we let her sleep on the couch. This way she can be relatively close to Mommy and Daddy without actually invading Mom and Dad's turf.

I was actually up until nearly dawn myself because I'm under another nasty deadline. I'm always under some nasty deadline or other; a condition exacerbated by the fact that my team of five programmers has over the past 18 months been whittled down to two. The other programmer is just as busy as I am and she's about to go on a short medical leave next month. If that works she'll be out on maternity leave by the end of the year. Whee.

So I watched my daughter sleeping restlessly while her fevers broke, returned, and broke again. Finally she appeared to be winning her battle. I had my own victory in the form of a delivery to my customer at around 4:00 this morning, so I went in to bed.

Jelly has all the earmarks of allergies turned to flu or cold. She's been listless all day, dozing on and off on the same couch and grimacing appropriately whenever Daddy presents her with the nasty orange-flavored (loosely speaking) medicine. She has also been upset because our plan was to take the girls to Toys-R-Us tonight and let them cash in their Christmas gift cards from Grandma and Grandpa Z.

After Jelly's somewhat longer afternoon nap, I decided she was probably feeling enough better that a little motivation might be in order. Mommy led off. "Well, Daddy, what do you think?"

"Oh, I think we probably ought to go."

Like a shot, Jelly catapulted from her sick bed and began dancing around the house. She bounded into her clothes, threw on some socks and shoes, and wondered why, oh why was no one ready to leave?? Like, NOW?? The rest of us grumbled about needing potty time and (for Mommy and Daddy) a chance to stretch our stiffened musculature.

It's by no means a complete victory. Jelly is still pretty shnuffly. She's just much happier right now.

The miracle of modern medicine.

UPDATE: Mrs. Woody reminded me that the story is not entirely accurate; or, at least, that I left out one critical element of the story. Jelly did not obtain what she was looking for last night. We went to Toys-R-Us, then Target (right next door), then ultimately had to order the item online. I'll be stopping by the Walton Family Empire on my way home from work today to see if they have one.

The point is, she remained bubbly - if somewhat disappointed - for the remainder of the evening. Especially when Doodle let her big sister help play with her new toys.

My kids are terrific.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

#159 - Evolution of a Testimony

I've been meaning to address this for some time now, but events have overtaken us here in Woodyland and I can only claim extreme distraction as my defense.

Mark Hansen, who blogs over at "Mo' Boy Blog," wrote a piece back in November that discussed the evolution of Richard Dutcher, the one-time "king" of Mormon cinema. The piece talks about Dutcher's apparent journey into spiritual confusion after making one or two films that had, at the time, gigantic spiritual impacts for many who saw them and appreciated his "testimony on film" work.

Dutcher has evidently shifted now into someone whose testimony has become the sort of nebulous worldly philosophy that so many artists seem to acquire over time. He is ambivalent when asked about his Mormon roots. He claims to have taken a "more universal" view of religion and now believes that Mormons have "no special claim" on heaven.

These are sad things, to be sure. In the Church we tend to go through a sort of grieving process whenever someone falls away into any sort of personal apostasy. The higher profile the individual, the harder the grief. I remember when Elder Lee of the Seventy left the Church many years ago over the Church's teachings regarding the Lamanites. It was my first experience with someone who was ostensibly in a position to "know better" leaving the Church because of some perceived offense. At the time there was quite a stir among Church members. This was the sort of thing that happened in the earliest days of the restoration when even members of the Twelve were (frequently, it seemed) found lacking of the faith required to endure to the end.

Then we got over it. After all, we all have our own testimonies to look after, no?

Since then, I've watched the LDS arts community with only limited interest. I'm acquainted with plenty of LDS performers. I suppose I could even consider myself to be one, although a very, very minor player. LDS artists have for some time been attempting to create a sort of LDS pop culture that would offer itself as the logical antidote to the worldly pop culture that seems bent on destroying anything and everything of value in this life. From my view, the results have been tepid, at best.

Probably this is more because I personally have been raised and trained into the classical genre from my youth, and the "pop" elements of our culture (either the LDS culture or the worldly culture) just haven't caught fire with me. I'm far more interested in what Mack Wilberg is up to these days than anything that guys like Mark and his peers might be up to. Mrs. Woody has more of an ear for that sort of thing, and so I really don't mind it whenever she's in a mood to tune in and listen. For the most part, though, it just doesn't speak to my soul like classical music and the anthems of the Church always have.

The Dutcher case, then, is only interesting to me as a study in what happens when we try too hard to immerse ourselves in artistic pursuits without paying more attention to our own spiritual development. And I say this as one who has occasionally considered himself an artist first, and a spiritual being second. Life is not pretty whenever I've been in that mode.

In their purest form, the arts are expressions of the dreams and passions of the performers. We perform the work that we feel best reflects our view of the world around us. Whether that view is realistic or notional really makes no difference. If I perform a piece of music, I want that music to lift and edify. I'm not interested in glorifying any of the ugliness in the world around us. What's the point? Don't I get enough of that from the news and/or 90% of the drivel that Hollywood produces?

I think, in the beginning, Dutcher's intentions were not so different from my own as I've just stated them. He was a gifted filmmaker who was battling the odds to produce high quality entertainment that the LDS community could both enjoy and take some pride in. Hey, look at what we just did! We made a film, and it's cool! It seemed that here we had someone who had finally taken President Ezra Taft Benson at his word and attempted to tell the LDS story through the arts. Producing films loaded with a common testimony of the gospel seemed just the ticket.

Since then, unfortunately, Dutcher seems to have bought into an almost stereotypical artist's perspective on life. Suddenly it's less about one's belief in the pure gospel of the restoration, and more about influencing his audience through his own work. In other words, he wants to sway the audience's opinions through the film, rather than letting the Spirit do that work in conjunction with the film.

It wouldn't have been an overnight process. It would have been the glimmer of an idea, supported by his own successes, and the pride he felt in his work would have shifted from a humble gratitude to a more self-centered reliance on his own genius. If true, this would go a long way to explaining Richard Dutcher and his current "crisis of faith." A crisis even he can't acknowledge might exist.

For the rest of us a valuable lesson is had. It's part of the world that we live in, but should keep ourselves separate from, that we watch our celebrities and make them the barometers for our own lives. When we do that, we lose sight of the most valuable barometer ever given to man in this life; the gift of the Holy Ghost. It should make absolutely no difference to my own spirituality that a man like Richard Dutcher (or George P. Lee, or Paul H. Dunn) should struggle with his testimony of the gospel. If I feel anything for Dutcher it would be a feeling of one who is concerned with someone else's spiritual journey, just as I might for one of my home teaching families. My faith will not suffer just because Dutcher claims his own testimony is one that Mormons like me wouldn't really understand.

The arts are valuable when they lift and edify. The Lord and his prophets throughout time have always understood and taught that. We should not turn the arts into substitutes for a true testimony of the gospel. It just isn't done that way. The testimony should come first, and the arts should then reflect that. Not the other way around.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

#158 - Adieu, RoboMom

I've been putting this day off for about six years now. It was just over six years ago that my wife's mother, RoboMom, was diagnosed with a very rare but mighty nasty form of melanoma in her sinus. I've put this off because there are no feelings quite as tender as those related to the passing of a loved one. I've also put it off because RoboMom has always been a fighter and we chose to believe at various times that she could by heck fight this thing. Maybe even beat it. In the end, though, it seemed all too inevitable that she should ultimately lose this battle.

But not the war. Most definitely not the war.

RoboMom passed quietly into eternity very early in the morning of New Year's Eve. We were blessed (can I use that word in this context?) to have been there. We had been together for one last Christmas as a family. Even Mrs. Woody's brother and his family were visiting from Utah, which meant that the entire family - RoboMom, her kids, and even her former husband - were able to pose for one last family photo. RoboMom is smiling, but she's having to fight to do so.

Not four days later we were back, and then there was no question in anyone's mind. RoboMom's time had come. Everyone accepted it by that time. We began to pray fervently for a quick and sweet release.

I call her RoboMom for the simple reason that this woman was constantly on the go. She was always and forever doing something. Mrs. Woody has been going through photo albums the past several days. She is on a crusade to rescue the photos from the evil grip of those old "magnetic" photo albums with pages and adhesive that literally turn your precious memories into near-colorless gobs of goo. One thing that stood out in so many photos was RoboMom on the move. There she is, building a sun deck with her Dad. Look, now she's travelling to Hawaii with her son-in-law, the Beach Boy. Here she is, painting one last piece of furniture with her granddaughter. Photos of playing with grandkids, baking with grandkids, laying brick at one child's house, painting rooms at another's. Go, go, go. Rest? Hah. No time for rest. Got things to do.

Even now, I'm certain rest is not on her agenda. Isn't there some tile to be laid in my celestial kitchen? Shouldn't we be painting that heavenly mansion before my kids get here? No, I don't know where your hammer is, but I'd look in that cabinet across from the guest room if I were you.

At the memorial yesterday (she absolutely did not want a funeral!) all the right people showed up. All the folks that Mom would have expected to show up were there. Friends of her daughter and son-in-law both from the community and from their vast network of musicians. Family. Loved ones. And those who chose to say "just a few words" all said the same thing: this was a woman who accepted everyone for who they were; especially we few interlopers who married her children. My own words were that we spouses of her children owed her the greatest happiness that we had ever known. We will be eternally grateful.

Her children mostly didn't trust themselves to speak last night. No one blamed them in the slightest.

In the end, the legacy this woman leaves behind is vast, diverse, and wholly undefinable. We are all of us just as different as night and day. Our one thing truly in common is RoboMom. Fortunately, she may have left us for a while, but we can still be together as an extended family and remember everything good and wonderful about her.

Her real name, by the way, is Joy. In our hearts, she will ever be the epitome of that wonderful word.

God bless you, RoboMom.