Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sunday School Thoughts

I know that I shouldn't have favorite Sunday School teachers. Logically, I know that. But nevertheless: I do. I have favorite Sunday School teachers. Well, favorite Sunday School teacher--singular. It's not the others are bad people. It's not that the others are faithless or stupid or boring. (Well, okay. Maybe sometimes the others are boring, but I sincerely doubt they're trying to be, and I'm readily willing to admit that sometimes I don't have the best attitude about sitting through their lessons.)

Anyway, I've been trying to peg lately why I like this particular Sunday School teacher. The easy answer, of course, is to say that he's cute (true) and that he's intelligent (also true) and that he has a definable and well-asserted teaching presence (true to the truest degree). But today as I sat through his latest lesson, I realized that what impresses me most is this: he knows how to ask questions.

That might seem like a weird attribute to observe in a person, but it's nevertheless true. As a teacher, he's unwilling to settle for an easy question that I can almost hear the class collectively rolling their eyes at. (Ever notice that once you get old enough the questions that hardly ever get answered are the ones we already know the clear-cut responses for?) His discussion questions do that magical thing--actually inciting a discussion--and I suppose it would be fair to say that his asking the right questions is tied to a knack for encouraging participation. (Although whether it's the question or the teacher encouraging the participation is, in my opinion, a bit of a chicken-and-egg scenario...)

One random note from the tail end of the lesson today--we ended up glossing briefly over the story of the woman at the well, mostly because our discussion had revolved around other equally good things. And perhaps I'm particularly dense, but this teacher pointed out something I'd never noticed before--the woman at the well did an excellent job of bringing people back to the well to listen. But then whether people accepted the message or not was determined by those people. Not by her.

She led them to the well, but she didn't remotely attempt to force them to drink the water (as it were). They had to drink of their own accord. This seemed to me an interesting lesson in missionary work--we, too, can direct people to the well--but we can't make them drink any more than she could. If I take this thinking to its extreme...which I do, because I'm me...I ultimately reach the conclusion that if we force someone too hard into the well water, they drown.

(I know. It's kind of a violent thought...but it nevertheless seemed pertinent.)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Does Anyone Share My Eccentricities?

The other day, I finished reading a novel. And then I decided that I needed to peruse my shelf for my next reading material. These two acts, at least for me, are not odd.

When my one good eye alighted on Doctor Zhivago, I thought: "That's it! I've been in the mood for some unbearably sad Russian literature!" (A co-worker corrected me later, telling me that technically Pasternak would be consider post-Soviet something-or-other...)

But it made me wonder if any other people ever have such moments of clarity about a very specific taste in genre they are experiencing right then...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Way to Be Invisible

It struck me a few days ago, and I've kept meaning to make a note: the best form of invisibility would be complete visibility. But there's a catch: the invisible person has to be completely aware of the scrutiny. I don't know if they need to want to be watched. But they need to know they're being watched.

My reasoning works basically like this: if you know that you are always, always, always, ALWAYS being watched, you don't act like a person. At least, most people don't. Under severe scrutiny, I highly doubt many of us will be--essentially--ourselves. Instead, because we are so aware we are being watched, we would don a persona. Or several.

And the best part is this: those who watch us can't ever claim we're not us. Because if they even try to make an argument that we're acting against ourselves in some way or other, there can only be one response: "Well, you've seen me, right? You've watched me? How can this NOT be me?"

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Questions, Answers

I love hard questions. And I hate hard questions.

I have studied English and I have always been a reader, because many great questions found in literature are unresolvable. Or if they are not unresolvable, they are tangled. Knotty, as one of my professors used to say. (I always had to auto-correct the word in my brain when he said it out loud: Not naughty. Knotty.) It's possible to reach any number of conclusions about these questions. And if you can justify the logical path from the question to the conclusion, then you have made your case. That doesn't mean the story is over (literally or metaphorically). That only means you are one amongst many voices contributing to a dialogue. Changing your mind is allowed. Modifying your original conclusion is par for the course.

Life itself, I would say, is tangled. Knotty. Complicated. Filled with many great questions for which there may well be multiple answers. It seems too easy, too simple for there to be A Meaning of Life. Must it be singular? Can't our lives hold more than one meaning? Navigating through existence seems too much of a mess too often for everything to be simple. And all the questions in the world--in my brain--can't possibly only have One Ultimate Answer.

And still I sometimes find myself wondering if it isn't somehow calming to oversimplify everything. If all roads eventually lead to exactly one destination, all of a sudden, which road I take does not seem to matter so much. It's freeing somehow. But stifling somehow, as well. What if I don't want to be headed where all of the roads are leading?

I suppose this also means: I love easy questions. I hate easy questions.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Bishop's in My Brain, or Brief Thought on Loss

I've always loved the Elizabeth Bishop villanelle "One Art"--but something new struck me about this poem today. And yes, I'm nerdy. And yes, I was thinking about this poem semi-randomly. And yes, I don't need to read it because I know it by heart.

That's because it's a most excellent poem.

Anyway, my thought revolved around the idea that certain things have an intent to be lost, because I'd never particularly thought about that until today. And really, that's an interesting intent to assign to certain types of inanimate objects. (I must admit: I quite like the idea of keys intending to get lost...)

But then, the whole point of the poem isn't actually that the art of losing isn't hard to master, it's the exact reverse: that the art of losing is hard to master. When I think back to the early idea of intent in the poem, I begin to think that Bishop may well have been onto something: our ability to master loss depends on our willingness to accept responsibility for the loss. Our ability to fess up and say: yes, that was my fault, I'm the one who let that go.

It seems to me that if we are able to do that, if we are able to acknowledge that we did the losing, that just may be the first step in regaining some of the things we've lost. Perhaps.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Being Dumber: A Svithe

These thoughts are coming to fruition (or rather, attempting to come to fruition, if I'm honest), because yours truly did something unfortunately ditsy today: she left her scriptures at church. And didn't realize until some time within the last half hour or so. While she grants the following: that a) the church is literally down the street from her house which b) means she could easily walk there to see if it's open and if her scriptures are exactly where she left them, she c) has already changed into her pajamas and d) knew that she had an older set of scriptures she has had since, well, forever (they preceded her current set) that she could turn to.

It should be noted, right now, that the older set--currently the only set of hers residing in her household--saw her through most of Primary, Sunday School, Young Women, and her seminary days. Doesn't make them ancient, but certainly makes them much older than the set she's used for the past couple of years or so.

And now to bust out of the third person: whenever anyone asks me what I used to be like when I was younger, I inevitably tell them that I was more or less the same except dumber than I am now. In all fairness, I think this assessment may well be true of most of us, except that I realized something as I read through various bits of my old scripture set: while yes, I was not as intelligent then as I am now, I had much much more confidence in matters of faith.

In looking through the notes and the testimonies and whatnot I found within the pages of my scriptures (both those which were glued in and those which were written in), I saw something of a different version of myself. She had a clear--if somewhat vague--plan for her life, her expectations for herself were high without being tremendously so, and she had firm convictions. Firm like a rock.

Over the years, some of those convictions have wobbled. Some of them have eventually been righted again. Some of them, alas, are currently more like jello than anything else. And I don't know if I can blame my education for this, although I do correlate a certain questioning attitude with some of the wobble-age... Well, perhaps not so much the questioning attitude as much as the stubborn refusal to accept anything too easily.

I suppose all of this is to say that if I was able to have more faith, if I was able to trust more, if I was steadfast because back then I was indeed a little dumber--I'd like to learn how to be that dumb again.