Sunday, September 30, 2012

Chiasmus in 3 Nephi 10

I'm continually impressed with the literary sophistication of the Book of Mormon--yet another testimony of it's veracity for me.  Much has been written about Book of Mormon examples of chiasmus, a rhetorical arrangement of concepts that was particularly common in ancient Hebrew writings. Chiastic form is common in the Old Testament, particularly when read in Hebrew. This rhetorical tool was extensively used a an aide-memoire in times when you couldn't easily jot down important things in a notebook (or smart phone).

An instance of chiasmus which I've not seen pointed out before sprang from the page as I read the words the Savior spoke to the Nephites and Lamanites that survived the 'great and terrible' day of his death (3 Nephi 10:4-6).

In this case, the chiastic structure is as follows:


a = fallen people
a’ = people spared by the Lord
b = house of Israel
c = hen gathering her chickens
c’ = hen gathering her chickens, if they repent and return

Here is the exact text of 3 Nephi 10:4-6 in the chiastic structure. 

a) O ye people of these great cities which have fallen,
b) who are descendants of Jacob, yea, who are of the house of Israel,
c) how oft have I gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and have nourished you.
c) And again, how oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, yea,
b) O ye people of the house of Israel,
a) who have fallen; yea,

b) O ye people of the house of Israel, ye that dwell at Jerusalem,
a) as ye that have fallen; yea,
c) how oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens, and ye would not.
b) O ye house of Israel
a’) whom I have spared,
c’) how oft will I gather you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, if ye will repent and return unto me with full purpose of heart.

It is hard for me to read this and not 'glory in the Lord' even unto 'boasting in my God' and his restored gospel. Yet all these evidences seem to fall well short of persuading everyone.  

I saw a recent blog and article about Brandon Flowers, lead singer of The Killers, as he shared his faith on a Norwegian talk show. His host's intent was initially veiled--until they blind-sided Brandon by bringing out Richard Dawkins, one of the most vocal atheists of popular culture. In his personal attack on Flowers (and Mormonism in general), Dawkins dismissed the Book of Mormon as "an obvious fake" because it was "a 19th century book written in 16th century English".  Mr. Dawkins made a big deal about his conclusions after he "read" the Book of Mormon, but then quietly admitted that he had not read it all. He almost certainly didn't apply Moroni's formula to know of its truthfulness, since this falls outside of the paradigm of his science (it seems his blind devotion to his science is as strong as that which he criticizes in Brandon's faith). The nuances of ancient Hebrew literary tools being "faked" by an uneducated Vermont farm-boy will never persuade Mr. Dawkins that he may have failed to consider all the evidence. He has already decided.  

I've seen the scientific method fail many times during my medical research years, primarily because the investigator draws their conclusion prior to considering all the evidence, or because they allow their bias to influence their interpretation of the results.  The conclusion is written before the data have been fully vetted or analyzed; frequently the interpretation is out of context. It is critical to point out in these cases that it is not the scientific method that has failed but rather the investigator that has failed. 

This interview demonstrated a group of people that just couldn't understand the testimony of Brandon Flowers--largely because of their unbelief a priori. Mormon taught that in such cases, the quest for understanding is over before it starts:

"Because of their unbelief, they could not understand the word of God; and their hearts were hardened." Mosiah 26:3

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Fierceness of God

Ceiling of Sistine Chapel, by Michelangelo
fresco, 1508-1512
I have the tendency to think of God in terms of his great love.*  However, it's hard to spend any time reading the scriptures and ignore the fierceness of his anger and wrath. This is particularly true of the Old Testament, but also of the Book of Mormon.  I encountered this recently in reviewing the message of Samuel in the Book of Helaman.  After warning them that ‘heavy destruction’ awaited the unrepentant (apparently ordinary destruction was not enough), the Lord said:

Therefore, thus saith the Lord: Because of the hardness of the hearts of the people of the Nephites, except they repent I will take away my word from them, and I will withdraw my Spirit from them, and I will suffer them no longer, and I will turn the hearts of their brethren against them.
And four hundred years shall not pass away before I will cause that they shall be smitten; yea, I will visit them with the sword and with famine and with pestilence.
Yea, I will visit them in my fierce anger, and there shall be those of the fourth generation who shall live, of your enemies, to behold your utter destruction; and this shall surely come except ye repent, saith the Lord; and those of the fourth generation shall visit your destruction. (Alma 13:8-10)
It doesn't end there.  Samuel warns of physical destructions and curses that make your toes curl. It’s pretty scary to think about, especially in light of our need for such regular repentance.  There can be no doubt that he "cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance." (Alma 45:6; D&C 1:31) Though some sins are bigger than others, they've all got to go.  This reality represents a big problem for all of us. 

But in our fear and trembling, we must ever remember that fierce anger is not God's only fierce attribute: 
But if ye will repent and return unto the Lord your God I will turn away mine anger, saith the Lord; yea, thus saith the Lord, blessed are they who will repent and turn unto me, but wo unto him that repenteth not. (Helaman 13:11)
Though his anger is indeed fierce, his love (and mercy) is fiercer.  His willingness to literally forgive and forget is far greater than his capacity for wrath.  Think about how much greater effort it requires for us to extend mercy and forgiveness than to be angry. 

My initial tendency is to characterize this as selective amnesia.  But in reality it has nothing to do with amnesia since it is contingent on repentance.  The application of the atonement in the process of repentance literally takes the sin away.  It leaves us not only 'not guilty' but also 'innocent'. The true fierceness of the love of God is manifest in his willingness to sacrifice his only son as the lynch-pin of his grand plan of salvation. Yet in this wonderful news lies the somber warning: "wo unto him that repenteth not". In other words, don't get him angry.

In the end, hopefully it is okay to identify more with his love and mercy than with his wrath--so long as we take the opportunity to repent. After all, when it comes to ourselves,** we are counting on a God that is more loving and merciful than just.  


* Based on my recent reading of the 109 th Psalm, David must have related well to God's angry side  (here).
** For other people, I find that there's a tendency for us to want a God that is more about justice than mercy (as demonstrated in Psalms 109)--it's the ultimate double-standard. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

An Unconquerable Spirit

(esp. of a place, people, or emotion) Not conquerable: "an unconquerable pride".
invincible - insuperable - inexpugnable - insurmountable

It's a word that generally evokes the most noble human qualities.  It occurs twice in the Book of Mormon.  Yet in both instances, it is used in a very negative context. The first is speaking of unconquerable spirit of Jacob the Zoramite, who was determined to destroy Moroni and the Nephite people (Alma 52:33).  The second is used by Giddianhi, the robber, to describe the bloodlust of his men who were also determined to annihilate the Nephites (3 Nephi 3:3-4). Though he describes their unconquerable spirit, there can be no doubt that this attribute was not something to be desired. In both examples, these men's hearts were so hardened by iniquity that they could not be touched by the Spirit. 

Today in Priesthood we were reading Dallin H. Oaks talk from April 2012 General Conference (here). He emphasized our need to "offer a sacrifice to [Him] of a broken heart and a contrite spirit" (3 Nephi 9:20). 

Feeling or expressing remorse or penitence; affected by guilt.
repentant - penitent - remorseful - regretful

The hardened heart and unconquerable spirit of Jacob and the Gadianton robbers stands at the opposite end of the spectrum as the contrite spirit.  Consider the Savior in Gethsemane:

"Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done." (Luke 22:42)

His spirit was submissive and humble. He sacrificed and surrendered his will to God before he sacrificed himself for us.  The price of our redemption is no less. We must break the hard shell around our heart to allow the Spirit to penetrate it. We must wrestle with our own spirit to make it penitent and humble. Ultimately we must be willing to surrender our own will to that of our Father in Heaven to the atonement will make us whole.

Having an unconquerable spirit has positive connotations in contemporary usage, but the scriptures would suggest it’s much better to be contrite.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Ugly Duchess (Part 2)

It's hard to look at The Ugly Duchess and not come away moved by her eyes.  They are completely out of keeping with everything else about her. While most folks in her shoes would be hiding behind their veil, she poses unashamedly. Those eyes shout out self-confidence and contentment; they speak of a certain inner beauty that is certainly not obvious at first glance. I, and many others, have made much of the Duchess' ugliness.  Yet the Duchess truly appears gruntled (it's a word we don't use enough). Perhaps not enough is made of her composure and confidence.  

What explains this? Maybe she's fabulously rich.  It's possible she's surrounded herself with people that have convinced her that she's the cat's meow (like the Emperor with no clothes). Wouldn't it be great if it was because she's truly comfortable in her own skin?

It seems that this kind of contentedness and self-confidence is a lifelong quest for most of us. This pursuit is ever complicated by the flaws we all have.  Ultimately, we're trying to gain this elusive goal not just in this life, but when we stand before God at the last day. Maybe that's why I find the scriptural references to confidence before God to be fascinating.  Nowhere is that confidence better demonstrated than in the final words of Enos:
And I soon go to the place of my rest, which is with my Redeemer; for I know that in him I shall rest. And I rejoice in the day when my mortal shall put on immortality, and shall stand before him; then shall I see his face with pleasure, and he will say unto me: Come unto me, ye blessed, there is a place prepared for you in the mansions of my Father.  (Enos 1:27)
The only thing that brings this kind of confidence is redemption through the atonement of Jesus Christ. It is a process that takes away the ugliness of sin, and makes us feel beautiful through and through. 
. . . then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God . . .(D & C 121:45)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Da Vinci, Vespasian and the Grotesque

Five Grotesque Heads, circa 1490
pen and ink on paper, 
by Leonardo Da Vinci
Location: Windsor Castle, Windsor, UK
The Ugly Duchess got my Art History 101 juices flowing again.  As I looked through some of Leonardo's Grotesques, I was astounded to see a familiar face.  The guy in the right upper corner of the sketch is a dead ringer for Emperor Vespasian (A.D 69-79), the first Flavian Emperor (see this for an old post of another striking look-alike). Check out the obverse of the coins below for comparison.

Vespasian (69-79 AD)
Judaea Capta Sestertius
'Captive Jew & Mourning Jewess'
Rome, 71 AD

Vespasian (69-79 AD)
Judaea Capta Sestertius
'Emperor & Mourning Jewess'
Rome, 71 AD

He's a familiar face, but in reality he's no friend of mine. History has a tendency to look on his reign with a measure of fondness since he was less bad than his predecessors (and his son Domitian much worse than him).  That doesn't make him good. He was a real dirt bag (I just love his coins). He spent his life as a career General of the II Roman Legion, "Augusta" which saw heavy action in Britannia in 43-47 AD. His military career also took him to Germany, North Africa, Greece, Egypt and finally Judaea. His soldiers were devoted to him, and this eventually helped make him emperor. He is one of the few people to fall asleep during one of Nero's marathon lyre recitals and live to tell about it. He was spared because his services were badly needed by Nero. He was called on to pacify Judaea during the Jewish rebellion of 66-70 AD. He did so with the assistance of his look-alike son Titus (see below for coin), who assumed his command  after Vespasian became emperor in 69 AD. The Judaea Capta ("Judaea Conquered") series of coins commemorate this bloody victory: one of the most brutal in Rome's history. It not only resulted in the destruction of the rebellion, but the complete destruction of Jerusalem and the temple and the death or enslavement of millions. This may be part of the reason Leonardo sketched him. He was a very bad man.

Titus (79-81 AD)
Judaea Capta Sestertius

'Mourning Jewess with Weapons"
Rome, 80-81 AD

 The Ugly Duchess, the subject of an earlier Grotesque study by Da Vinci was inspired by the original by Quentin Matsys.  One has to wonder if the horrific reputation of Margaret Countess of Tyrol made her a candidate for Da Vinci's Grotesque study, just as the horrific reputation of Vespasian merited him the dubious honor of being one of the five heads in this picture. There would have been plenty of material on which Da Vinci could have based this study. Vespasian's image would have been easy to spot in Florence and Milan where he lived and worked. His coins are amongst the most plentiful of ancient Roman coins.  The Judaea Capta series in particular was one of the most notorious in the way it celebrates Vespasian's atrocities. To me there is a striking resemblance between the coin and the sketch.

It's difficult for me to look at the faces in Da Vinci's Five Grotesque Heads sketch and conclude that these are anything other than very bad men. The overall sketch evokes the atmosphere of Imperial Rome. The fellow that is front left is the embodiment of sycophancy; the guy behind him is letting loose the proverbial evil laugh. The central figure with the oakleaf laurel has cold calculating eyes and resolute determination. I don't recognize him as an emperor of Rome--maybe he's a senator. I think my mother would describe the guy on the far right as a stunned banana.  To me he looks like the master-mind behind the plot that has just unfolded. In the background is Vespasian, comfortable in very bad company.

Some think Da Vinci's Grotesque sketches are an artistic expression of the struggles between good and evil.  Consider one of his most famous Grotesquespurported to the images of the Gypsy chieftan named Scaramuccia. The angle of his face resembles that of Judas Iscariot in the Last Supper (1497). In contrast other works are strikingly beautiful and heavily imbued with themes of righteousness. This is certainly true of many of his paintings, but also evident in sketches that are more comparable to the Grotesques. A fine comparator is the Burlington House cartoon at the National Gallery in London.  

A Grotesque Head, 1504-1507
chalk on paper
 by Leonardo Da Vinci

The Virgin and Child with St Anne and Infant St John the Baptist
(The Burlington House Cartoon), 1499-1500
charcoal and white chalk on paper, mounted on canvas
by Leonardo Da Vinci
Photo Credit: Big Reid's iPhone @ National Gallery, London
Da Vinci himself is the only person that could clearly state if he was trying to represent evil with ugliness and righteousness with beauty.  For me, it seems likely.  Given this assumption, all kinds of questions about his self portrait spring forth. Is it beauty or ugliness that he has captured?  With him, as with all real people, it isn't black or white.  His self-portrait is much like we'd paint ourselves if we were completely honest.  There is a little of both. 

Portrait of a man in red chalk (self-portrait age 60), circa 1510
red chalk on paper
by Leonardo Da Vinci
Location: Royal Library, Turin, Italy

There is no doubt a tendency for us to see those things we are looking for.  Let me know if you see a resemblance between the coins and the sketch or if it's just my overactive imagination. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Ugly Duchess (Part 1)

An Old Woman (The Ugly Duchess), oil on wood; 
painted about 1513 - by Quinten Matsys (1465-1530)
Photo Credit: Big Reid's iPhone @ National Gallery, London

What inspired the genius of Leonardo Da Vinci? 

At the end of the 14th-century, Quentin Matsys (also spelled as Massys) was a little-known Flemish artist who went on to be the founder of the Antwerp School. While wandering through the National Gallery in London, I stumbled on to his 1513 painting: An Old Woman (The Ugly Duchess).  This was easily the most captivating portrait I encountered during my visit (maybe because endocrinologists find Paget's disease interesting, maybe because Matsys is so talented). At only 500 years old, it was in stark contrast to the flawless beauty depicted in the classical Greek sculptures of the British Museum, which I'd visited earlier that day.

Drawing of a Grotesque Woman; red chalk on paper
by Leonardo Da Vinci (1452-1519)

Both Da Vinci and Matsys were very interested in ugliness. For years, art scholars assumed that The Ugly Duchess was based on one of  Da Vinci's Grotesque sketches. Da Vinci was renowned for his intensely private studies that included detailed sketches of this style. In reality, the evidence now suggests that it was Da Vinci who was inspired. The two artists were known to have exchanged sketches. In this case, it is difficult to dispute that Leonardo was deeply influenced by Matsys' work.

The Matsys painting is purported to be a portrait of Margaret Countess of Tyrol, who was also known as Margarete Maultasch (Margaret 'Satchel-Mouth'). However, the Countess died almost 100 years before Matsys was even born. She was an Austrian princess in the 14th century. Legends (which are of dubious reliability) describe her as a ruthlessly violent nymphomaniac; she also was purported to be the embodiment of ugliness. Maybe that is why her name has been attached to the Matsys portrait. Other reports describe her as beautiful and kind. It is obvious that the former reputation holds sway.

Scholars seem to agree that the sitter for Matsys' work had striking facial deformities from long-standing Pagets's disease of bone (more on this another time). We can't be certain about what message Matsys was trying to convey in this work.[i] Conceivably, it was an accurate portrait of a rich noble that depicts striking self-confidence in the face of a butt-ugly exterior. But for me, Matsys was making a much larger statement.  I see his work a mirror into which each observer has the opportunity to gaze and take a long hard look at themselves.

To look at the accoutrements of the Duchess, we see the trappings of one obsessed with youth and outer beauty.  She wears a heavily jeweled headdress of an aristocrat, but one that was then so outdated as to make it comical.  It's horned shape and associated veil are meant to highlight her face. Her jewelry and clothes are of the highest quality and craftsmanship and betray her affluence and social stature.  The low-cut neckline and corseting of her bodice show off her breasts and figure.  In her right hand she holds a single red rosebud, symbolic of her quest for a suitor.

But there is a problem . . . SHE IS NOT BEAUTIFUL. Her breasts are wrinkled and flabby.  Her lips are thickened; her face is coarse and wrinkled; her ears are abnormally large.  Her bulbous and upturned nose looks more like a snout. Her cranial deformities masculinize her features with bossing of her forehead and brows, and enlargement of her chin and jaw. The extension of her upper lip give her a grotesque ape-like appearance. Rather than the image of a beautiful young woman, we have the impression of a balding old man. In the words of Isaiah, this is 'burning instead of beauty.' Indeed, she is a bud that will 'likely never bloom'.

I must say I've never seen Paget's disease of this severity in my whole career,[ii]but I've seen my share of ugly Duchesses. It is manifest in many ways: infatuation with all things superficial, unbridled lust for perpetual youth, cosmetic surgery taken to extremes,[iii] obsession with fitness and body building, out-of-control wardrobes, infatuation with having the right labels on everything from grocery bags to pencils, and inability to simply grow up and put off childish things (I could go on but will cut the diatribe short). Let me concede that I appreciate beauty, quality, 'nice things' and a youthful spirit.[iv] But for me this unforgetable painting was a useful illustration of the trappings of the flesh. I saw in this 500 year old painting the here and now. The realization that we need to somehow get beyond this suddenly crashed in to my comfortable existence. 

If The Ugly Duchess portrait is a mirror, then most of us will find it reflecting back some inner ugliness of which we are not so proud.  We use the principle of distraction to focus outside attention to our more favorable attributes: style, clothing, wit, adornments--anything but the ugliness we're trying to hide. Like the Duchess, we spare no expense in trying to disguise and cover it. But, even heroic efforts to retain one's youth and physical beauty are doomed to fail. Our blemishes will not be hidden forever. Even a life spent in the pursuit of remaining one of the beautiful people is likewise a losing endeavor that will not keep us happy or bring more than transitory inner peace.

The point of all this (finally!), is that figuratively speaking we are all ugly because of sin, and no amount of primping or adornments will succeed in covering it.  The atonement of Jesus Christ and his gospel have the ability to make the ugly beautiful.  In fact, it is the only way it can be done. David was fond of the notion that true beauty comes as we worship the Lord in holiness (Psalms 29:2; 96:9). Nephi, Isaiah and Jeremiah all use beauty as a surrogate for righteousness.  I think Moroni may have said it best:

O then ye unbelieving, turn ye unto the Lord; cry mightily unto the Father in the name of Jesus, that perhaps ye may be found spotless, pure, fair and white, having been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb, at that great and last day.

These are truly inspired words to remember the next time I start to 'get my Duchess on'.

[i] It has been suggested that Matsys may have been expounding on an essay of Erasmus from 1511 in which he satires women who "still play the coquette", "cannot tear themselves away form their mirrors", and "do not hesitate to exhibit their repulsive, withered breasts" [Grössinger, Christa (1997). Picturing women in late Medieval and Renaissance art. Manchester: Manchester University Press. p. 136.]
[ii] This degree of deformity is a relic of the past thanks to advances in medical treatment for Paget’s disease over the last 25 years.
[iii] I find great humor in the latest trend: silicone lip injections that create a look reminiscent of a carp's mouth. I'm increasingly amazed by the number of men using anabolic steroids solely for the look.  Thursday I saw my first 64-year old man with pectoral implants when he came in looking for hCG, human growth hormone and testosterone . . . no joke!
[iv] There is currently a big family dispute on whether I'm on my 3rd or 4th midlife crisis . . . 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Beautiful People

While visiting the British Museum last week I was blown away by the collection of antiquities, especially the Elgin marbles from the Parthenon in Greece.  Perfectly proportioned bodies and facial features are captured eternally in white marble without the slightest wrinkle or blemish.  In a word, they are beautiful. The experience got me thinking about beautiful people. 

a detail on the Portland vase
As my kids were growing up, we would use the beautiful people as a form of code-speak to describe a persona that is all too prevalent.  Even now I find it difficult to translate to black text on a white sheet. I'm not talking about the kind of physical beauty that is captured in the Elgin marbles, but a projected beauty that is merely an illusion. But, it is a beauty that can be much more disarming than the bodily perfection depicted on the Portland Vase.

The conversation would go something like this:  'Dad . . . [insert name] . . . is one of the beautiful people . . . '  Enough said. We were instantly on the same page.

The beautiful people are part of an exclusive group that is acutely aware of who does and does not belong to it.  It is possible to be physically beautiful and be excluded, just as it's possible to be homely and well-entrenched in the group. A large part of a beautiful person's identity comes form knowing which people are not beautiful people and separating themselves from them--preferably in a public way.  Although beautiful people do interact with non-beautiful people, they tend to do so only superficially. If you're not beautiful, you're not included, less valued and everyone knows it. It's the student with nowhere to eat in a middle school cafeteria with plenty of seats.

The beautiful people cling to the conviction that they are special because they are beautiful (or witty, wealthy, athletically skilled, or popular).  Accordingly, their ideas, desires, needs and judgments carry more weight than those of a non-beautiful person. One of the greatest calamities that can befall a beautiful person is to lose their beautiful status. As a result, there is enormous pressure to do whatever is necessary to remain beautiful. The conscience of the crowd trumps the conscience of the individual. Invariably, this usually involves making a non-beautiful person feel bad about themselves and envious of those that are beautiful. After all, it is the contrast between the beautiful people and the rest of us that make the beautiful people special. C. S. Lewis said it well:

“Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having something more than the next man. We say that people are proud of being richer, or cleverer or better-looking than others. If everyone became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking there would be nothing to be proud about. It is the comparison that makes your proud: the pleasure of being above the rest.” (Mere Christianity, 8:104)

The social interactions of the beautiful people and non-beautiful people were illustrated in Lehi's Dream. The beautiful people, who happened to be congregating in the great and spacious building, went to great lengths to persecute mock and ridicule those eating the fruit of the Tree of Life. Nephi later learned that the dream was describing the pride of the world (1 Nephi 11:36). It is a scene that has repeated itself in every social gathering since time began. I also find it interesting that, in his abridgment to the Book of Helaman, Moroni describes beautiful people tactics being used by the proud to persecute the humble.  Finally, the Lord during his ministry was not embraced or included amongst the beautiful people; his lot was with sinners, publicans and harlots.  He was not a beautiful person.

There is an innate desire within all of us to be one of the beautiful people because the clarion call of pride speaks so clearly to the natural man in us. Though the pride of the the beautiful people invariably meets it's destruction, it creates no small mischief for the non-beautful and the humble they love to persecute. I'm so grateful to have kids that ARE NOT beautiful people. Yet they and I need to ever guard against being inducted into the group and feeling privileged, honored and comfortable because of being pronounced beautiful. Humility is the antidote.  It invariably will make things rough, as the beautiful people then see you as a stepping stool to escalate their status. 

Paradoxically, those that find themselves cast out from amongst the beautiful people, if they will humble themselves before God, and turn to Christ will become transformed by the Atonement ultimately to be come purified and perfected; far more beautiful than the Elgin marbles.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Mr Brainwash

While in London I literally stumbled on an art exhibition by Mr. Brainwash.  I sandwiched it between visits to the British Museum and the National Gallery. It was more than a bit ironic to see this guy's work in between the most enduring art of ancient Egypt, Babylon, Assyria, Greece and Rome and the works of Europe's great masters: Da Vinci, Titian, Monet, Rubens, van Eyck, Rembrandt . . .

I have to say that I enjoyed it far more than I would have ever guessed.  The experience left me less awed and reverenced than I was at the British Museum and National Gallery, but rather more bemused and amused. This was a fun exhibition, and IT WAS FREE! His ideas are fresh and his techniques unique. If the Life of Christ was the inspiration for the Renaissance masters [1], then pop culture is this guy's. We'll see who's images endure.

[1] Being inspired by Christ is probably the only thing I have in common with these guys.


Monday, September 3, 2012


I've always wanted to get a picture of me "reading" a genuine issue of L'Equipe. [1]  It is a French sports newspaper that promotes the Tour de France. Our recent trip to Paris afforded me the opportunity. I think a passerby could reasonably conclude that I was fluent in French.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I'm just a good pretender.  It's a skill I've been working on since I was a little kid. We used to say 'let's pretend' as a prelude to any of a thousand adventures we then dreamed up. We were experts then, and I'm still at it.

It's a fun picture, but the idea of pretending has me on another wild tangent. It seems that I spend a fair bit of time pretending in a day. I say "it's nice to see you" to a patient that I dread seeing; I respond "I'm great" in the midst of a terrible day.  And that's just the beginning. I suppose that if this were the end of it that would be well and good. After all, a certain amount of pretending is just good manners. Problems can arise when we begin to believe stuff that's just pretend.

As imperfect creatures trying to be better, we are all tainted to some degree with the ugliness of hypocrisy. [2] The challenge is to not use our skill in pretending to avoid owning up to who (and what) we really are. To do so prevents us from facing reality; it keeps us from taking care of the business at hand and becoming better. It is possible to have such an elaborate facade that we convince ourselves it's more than just ornamental, but real. I've seen people that are surprisingly adept at developing multiple alter-egos to put on when it suits them: church vs. work vs. home vs. private personas. How often have you come to realize that you really didn't know someone you thought you knew because they were pretending? 

The WYSIWYG principle is a knife that can cut both ways when it comes to showing our true colors. Hopefully we're trying to develop the righteous constancy that was emulated by the stripling army of Helaman that has been recently on my mind.  There was not a lot of pretending going on there: "they were men who were true at all time in whatsoever thing they were entrusted (Alma 53:20). 

[1] The title means The Team.
[2] The last few paragraphs of this article on profanity illustrate this hypocrisy nicely.