Monday, May 28, 2012

Philly Crosswalk Robots

I've seen some cool things in Philadelphia that have been on my to-do list for a while. Yet waking back to the hotel after our stroll through some of Philly's neighborhoods provided a veritable pearl of great price right below my feet at the corner of 12th & Market: a little robot on the crosswalk. Initially I thought it was masking tape. In reality, I think it's made of crosswalk paint tape (one can't pause very long to inspect this kind of medium by nature of it's placement....and the fact that a city bus could be barreling down on you). Either way it is not supposed to be there.

What was 1 robot soon morphed into many of different styles and colors. On the aforementioned corner I discovered a series of 3 robots each at a different crosswalk; all were unique. As I explored the city I found more than a dozen. They are all mysterious, anonymous and somehow captivating. One is smoking a pipe and has an unintelligible plaque next to it. Someone went to great lengths to create them and inconspicuously place them in a conspicuous place and secure them.....permanently. For me this street art was so creative and incredibly provocative. Nobody knows who does it and no one takes credit. It is art for the sake of art. Nobody is getting rich, but thousands see it each day and many take note.

President Monson's now famous advice to Elder Carl B. Cook of the Seventy (after a rough day at the office) was: "It's better to look up." (General Conference Oct 2011) Perspective is sometimes the only thing that gets us through a day. But President Monson also said: "Let us relish life as we live it, find joy in the journey." (General Conference Oct 2008) This trip taught me that joy in the journey can exist at street level.

Thank heaven for art for art's sake. Thank heaven that God gives us the opportunity to find amusement and distraction on a journey and--depending on our perspective--full-blown joy and wonder at little things. As we look to Him, I think we can be given the grace to find joy in almost everything.

Crosswalk Robot (aka Stikman) next to a Toynbee tile
close-up of above shows pipe-smoking robot

Same robot at a different intersection

For more information on crosswalk robots, stikman and street art take a look at the Wikipedia entry on Toynbee tiles as well as  this blog.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Hidden Treasure

Yesterday I visited an awesome exhibit on the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. It was fantastic. I got my fill of Biblical antiquities and then some. I was flooded with all kinds of great impressions which will keep me thinking for a while.

I was captivated by a coin hoard of Tyrian Shekels discovered under the foundation of a dwelling in Qumran. It contained hundreds of these shekels and would have been worth a fortune. Today a high quality example goes for about $1500. This was the only coin with a high enough silver content to be acceptable as payment of the temple tax that every Jew owed. However, because it had 'graven' images (Melkart = Hercules on obverse and an eagle on reverse) the Sadducean aristocracy required it be changed into temple currency before payment (and in the process got even richer -- see Matthew 21:12-13).

In the Qumran community they considered everything about Jerusalem and the the temple as a corrupted form of their true faith. They felt that temple worship and priesthood authority was corrupted by selling out to the Kittim (Romans). This is part of why they were living in isolation from the rest of their people. Why someone would then hoard the official temple currency is all the more puzzling. It is difficult to coneive the circumstances and the hardships associated with the accumulation and concealment of this coin hoard by someone 2000 years ago. Laying before me was a fortune of the highest quality silver of the time--the totality of some man's worldly accumulations. But it never did that person or his family any good. Now they are all dead and their story is long forgotten.

The Lord taught: Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:19-21).

I'm more guilty than most in loving my treasures. Ive even got a few Tyrian Shekels in my hoard. It is indeed sobering to occasionally come across a priceless treasure that was left behind as its misguided owner went on to meet his Maker. It begs the question: what good did it do him and did he also have treasure waiting in heaven? Am I any different than him?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Devil in Our Pockets

I've always carried a pocket knife. I kind of feel lost without it. This quote got me thinking about the things I love to keep in my pockets.

"No, there is no escape. There is no heaven with a little bit of hell in it--no plan to retain this or that of the devil in our hearts or our pockets. Our Satan must go, every hair and feather."
--George MacDonald

I have always been impressed with King Lamoni's willingness to empty his pockets at the prospect of knowing God, and tasting his salvation.

"O God, Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee, and that I may be raised from the dead, and be saved at the last day. . ." Alma 22:18

Lamoni's offer to give away ALL his sins is in fact a prerequisite step for having God manifest himself to us. No unclean thing can abide his presence. There are many kinds of sins we fill up our pockets with. The devils in our pocket may be big or small, trendy or scandalous (quite probably all of the above), but in the end they've all got to go. I guess its kind of like going through a TSA checkpoint at the airport when the guy shouts 'your pockets must be completely empty.'

“Brethren, each of us must surrender our sins if we are to really know Christ. For we do not know Him until we become like Him. " (Ezra Taft Benson, in Conference Report, Oct. 1983, 63; or Ensign, Nov. 1983, 43).

“When we too are willing to give away all our sins to know him and follow him, we too will be filled with the joy of eternal life” (Howard W. Hunter, in Conference Report, Apr. 1993, 80; or Ensign, May 1993, 64).

“Giving away all our sins is the only way we can come to know him. In contrast, those who hold back some of their sins will be held back.” (Neal A. Maxwell, in Conference Report, Oct. 1991, 42; or Ensign, Nov. 1991, 32). [Shades of the TSA checkpoint . . .]

I still plan on carrying my pocketknife...I don't see any problems with that. But I definitely must work on evicting the devil in my pockets and finally tossing those favorite sins which I'm so fond of. Why are we so sentimental about these things?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Solar Eclipse

Last time I saw one of these Tiff was in labor with Robyn--18 years ago in Boston. I only left her side for a few minutes to see how dark it got (she hardly missed me thanks to the Nubain). I didn't see much, but noticed that it got dark. I was too nervous to hang around and rushed back up to Labor & Delivery.

This time we made a pinhole camera at Randy & Tara's which worked like a charm. You could even see the eclipse on reflections on Rachel's t-shirt. So amazing.  Pictures are not too shabby for an iPhone.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Neal A. Maxwell on Surrendering

At the risk of belaboring a point . . . 

Neal A. Maxwell said: 

So many of us are kept from eventual consecration because we mistakenly think that, somehow, by letting our will be swallowed up in the will of God, we lose our individuality (see Mosiah 15:7). What we are really worried about, of course, is not giving up self, but selfish things—like our roles, our time, our preeminence, and our possessions. No wonder we are instructed by the Savior to lose ourselves (see Luke 9:24). He is only asking us to lose the old self in order to find the new self. It is not a question of one’s losing identity but of finding his true identity! Ironically, so many people already lose themselves anyway in their consuming hobbies and preoccupations but with far, far lesser things.” 

He went on to saythe submission of one’s will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God’s altar.” (Maxwell, Neal A. Swallowed Up In The Will of the Father, Ensign, November 1995).

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

C. S. Lewis on Surrendering

Gargoyles from Brataslava, Slovakia
Screwtape & Wormwood

The quote from Seneca has had me thinking about the idea of surrendering our will to God. C. S. Lewis is one of the greatest Christian apologists of the modern era, and weighed in on the subject in  Mere Christianity: 

Christ says 'Give me All. I don't want so much of your time, and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. . . Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which your think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked--the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.'

The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self--all your wishes and precautions--to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead.  For what we are trying to do is to remain what we call 'ourselves', to keep personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time be 'good'. We are all trying to let our mind and heart go their own way--centered on money or pleasure or ambition--and hoping, in spite of this, to behave honestly and chastely and humbly. And this is exactly what Christ warned us you could not do. As He said, a thistle cannot produce figs.

As our will becomes God's will, we become like God.  That's the whole point of Christianity. Yet the whole notion of surrendering our autonomy and will to anyone or anything is abhorrent by today's standards. Any religion that suggests we do so is colored in the most extreme shades of radicalism by contemporary thinkers. Yet this is precisely what Jesus Christ taught we must do:

And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it (Luke 9:23-24).

It's pretty tolerable to lose your life for Christ's sake when the time suits us.  It's an entirely different matter when it's 'time for me'. C. S. Lewis points out so well that incomplete surrender will not cut it. For most of us, that's pretty problematic. We rationalize this dissonance within by softening the doctrine in the interest of 'balance' and 'moderation in all things'. But we do so at our own peril. Said the devil Screwtape to his understudy Wormwood: A moderated religion is as good for us as no religion at all--and more amusing (C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters).

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Seneca & 'The Crowd'

The Flavian Amphitheater (Colosseum) - Rome 2004

In a letter to his young friend Lucilius, Seneca gave some sage advice:

“What do I think you should avoid in particular? The crowd! You are not yet capable of entrusting yourself to it with any confidence. At least, I must confess my own weakness: I never return home the same person. Something I’d managed to pacify is disturbed, something I’d driven out comes back.”[1]

He was relating his feelings after attending gladiatorial games in Rome, something that disquieted him greatly. But Seneca might well have been talking about any activity that encourages us to surrender our identity to that of the crowd. Today, we tend to redefine it as peer pressure, but it really is the same package with different wrapping paper.

Somewhere within most of us is a desire to entrust our will to that of 'the crowd', only to be carried wherever it takes us. Usually that is not a good place, and certainly not a place that brings lasting happiness.

"Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness (Romans 6:16-18)."

"Behold, the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind; and the willing and obedient shall eat the good of the land of Zion in these last days (D & C 64:34)." 

Surrendering our will to God is the polar opposite of entrusting ourselves to 'the crowd'.  On the one hand we are loved "with an everlasting love" and on the other we are just another nameless face. The great challenge for us is finding the confidence within to entrust our will to Him.

[1] Meijer, Fik. The Gladiators: History’s Most Deadly Sport.  Translated from the Dutch by Liz Waters. Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press: New York, 2004

I discreetly snapped a picture of this dude.
He's a dead ringer for Vespasian.
Vespasian (69-79 AD)
Judaea Capta Sestertius
Rome, 71 AD

Saturday, May 12, 2012


I decided to spend a few minutes working on my SS lesson today. Made the mistake of sitting down for a minute and Mochi put a quick end to anything productive--unless naps are somehow productive. Even after a power nap she makes it SO difficult. Still, it's hard to imagine a more lovable cat.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Stunned Banana Co-Efficient

As we celebrate mothers I've been thinking of mine and the 12 years that have gone by so fast since she passed. Spending time with my sister brought back many memories of her.

My mom was a about the most kindhearted person I know. The harshest thing I ever heard her say of someone was 'he's a real stunned banana'. I would find this SO FUNNY--especially coming from my dear mom. I'd conjure up some slack-jawed goof that was oblivious to everything. This certainly wasn't the usual way she used the phrase. I think the jist of her comments usually referred to someone that just didn't get it and was not likely to figure things out in the near future. It was her way of recognizing the tragedy of unrealized potential and loss of opportunity.

I will occasionally throw the phrase around now & then. But in reality it would probably do me some good to ask myself how mom would assess me on the stunned banana scale--especially from the perspective of eternity she now holds.

Am I so stunned by the tasks and routines of the day that I miss the opportunities of living each day fully? How long will it take me to clue in? Does the mire of this life bog me down so I miss the opportunities that await me in the eternities? Do I mistake the transitory nature of worldly gains for the unlimited potential that awaits those that really get it and embrace the Lord to secure their eternal future?

There are times when my stunned banana co-efficient is pretty high. I'm working on it. That's not to say there aren't some days when my jaw is slack and my gaze somewhat distance. We'll chalk it up to thinking deep thoughts . . . wink-wink.

Thanks and love to my mom for her ongoing influence for good on me, and parenting skills that transcend the grave. Happy Mother's Day.

Monday, May 7, 2012

A Quote For The Flawed Man

It's sometimes challenging when we are faced with the unmitigated success of those around us. They seem to have the Midas touch where everything turns to gold. We are sometimes left feeling like an utter failure.

For most of these perfect people, things simply aren't as idyllic as they portray them--they just cover it well. Other's just need time for their trials to take root. There are weeds in every garden. I love this quote for the flawed man--championed by Marvin J Ashton.

"Don't burden the rest of us with your successes."

In a talk at BYU, Jack Marshall said, “In the Church, we almost persecute families right from the pulpit, with some of the testimonies: we have 12 children, all married in the temple, etc., etc.” He then quoted a story from The Teacher Within by a Dr. Clark: Elder Marvin J. Ashton was being introduced by a stake president, who managed in his introduction to include information about his own children and how well they were doing. Elder Ashton, as he got up to speak, turned to him and said, ‘President, you go home and kneel down in your closet and express thanks to your Heavenly Father, but don’t burden the rest of us with your successes.”

We all have trials and most of us some success. Hopefully our successes will never be burdensome to those down in the weeds all around us.

Sunset Cell-Phone View of Salt Lake Temple from Hotel Utah

Saturday, May 5, 2012


Abbey Road Tube Station, London, England
I started to put up a cool picture from one of my many Urinals of the World series and realized that this material is truly blog worthy and deserves a dedicated blog. Check it out:

Thursday, May 3, 2012

$5.50 For A Pastry?

If you've ever had a Kouing Aman (butter pastry from Brittany) from Les Madeline's in SLC you'd pay it in a heartbeat. I'm dying for one so bad.

Ty and I bought some at Easter. I tried to buy more than my allotment of 6. The girl behind the counter gave me the worst stink-eye I've ever experienced. She was a real pastry-Nazi. I was just glad to get my 6 in the end: 1 for each of us. Ty showed his true character when his grandma Maughan ate hers and then his too. People kill for lesser offenses all the time, and the courts have to prosecute it as justifiable manslaughter. There's way too much passion for a murder charge to stick.

I NEED one of my children living in ID or UT to show me the love and get me one six of these bad boys.  Let's not forget the whole 'honor thy father' thing.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

When We All Get To Heaven

When we lived in Boston we attended church in the Boston Branch. It began as a small congregation roughly divided into thirds consisting of a Haitian group, a Spanish group and an English group. They were undoubtedly one of the closest congregations we ever were a part of. We had about 100 baptisms a year and rapidely grew into two wards, a Spanish and Haitian branches. Dick Lavin, our Bishop was universally loved and somehow held everything together. Brother Burnham was a dear brother that was blind but full of faith and the spirit. In spite of being 90 years old, Bishop Lavin would regularly have him come up to the pulpit and sing for the congregation. He sang many songs, but my favorite was always 'When We All Get To Heaven'.

When I returned to Boston for a conference in 2010, Tiffany, Robyn and I got to meet the old ward members and see Brother Burnham, now over 100 years old. Still sharp as a tack and even remembered Robyn when she was a baby.

I will always love Brother Burnham and admire great love for the Lord.  He couldn't see, but boy could he hear. He listened intently to every prayer, and when someone thanked God, in prayer, Alphonso let it be known that he was in agreement. The person praying would say 'we are thankful . . . ' and Brother Burnham would proclaim "OH YES, LORD . . . SO VERY THANKFUL." Though old and blind, he was of all of us most grateful--so much that he couldn't contain it. I wish we had more of this spontaneity and sincerity in our worship.  Everyone knew where Alphonso's love was centered. His optimism and certainty of the promise of his redemption by the Lord was a defining element of his character. The lyrics of my favorite song combined with Brother Burnham's unshakable faith in Christ continue to inspire me today.

The audio on the slide show below is an actual recording of Brother Burnham singing (edited and accompanied by Greg Devore). Enjoy!