Tuesday, July 23, 2013

"Regulating" the Church

The Nephites were a "church of anticipation," looking forward to the coming of the Messiah. As such, they could be expected to share a common scriptural language with Old World churches of anticipation, such as the sectaries of Qumran, of whom John the Baptist may be the most famous member. In the Book of Mormon, few chapters exemplify this so profoundly as Alma 5.

The English word "regulation" appears nowhere in the Bible. It derives from Latin roots meaning to make straight. It does, however, appear four times in the Book of Mormon, including Alma 6. Three of those appearances are specifically in reference to Alma the Elder, his son Alma the Younger and Helaman, son of the latter. Specifically, it is in the context of "regulating" the Nephite church.

So here we have father, son and grandson each tasked with regulating, making straight, the church of anticipation preparatory to the coming of Christ. Who else spoke of "making straight?" John the Baptist, of course, quoting Isaiah.

It is anticipatory language, somewhat hidden by the English translation and a nice test of authenticity.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Summer Vacation, conclusion

Part II:

One has to admire the hardy souls who staff historic sites and repeat, hour after hour, day after day, week after week, the same spiel about whatever famous soul once lived or set foot in the place. I myself might sorely be tempted, after the millionth recitation, to throw up my hands and tell the tourists, “Look, you already know some Very Important Dude/Dudette once dwelt here or you wouldn’t have come here. Google it on your Ipad ‘cause I’m gonna lose my religion if I have to repeat the story one more time.

I am riding the rails through Connecticut now, which is a beautiful state, as aforementioned, but apparently a lot of people want to leave it, because they are packing like pups to mama’s milk into this train right now. Some young woman politely gave up her seat and moved elsewhere to allow an older woman to sit with said older woman’s family, to which one of them said to her:

“When someone your age does something like that, it speaks for your generation.”

So much for taciturn, unfriendly New England stereotypes.

Returning to my contemplation of docents and volunteers and such. I admire you guys but do you HAVE to go on for SO long? Nobody is going to remember more than a few words you say. We sit there squirming in this place we have come so far to see, feeling that it would be terribly rude to just get up and leave you in mid-sentence.

So we endured the dedicated loquacity of our guide at Peacefield, ancestral home of the Adams family. No, not the creepy ones from that old t.v. show. The ones who produced two presidents of the United States. We opted for the hour long tour, as opposed to two hours. I deeply respect Mr. Adams but two hours?

The home stands just outside of Boston. It is beautiful, as one might expect, surrounded by trees and flowers. What impressed me is the testament this place quietly provides of the American Dream: that the son of a shoemaker could grow up to go to Harvard and become the second president of the United States.

Yours truly loved the great library, packed with great books in six languages. In fact, when a few days later I toured the massive castle of the Vanderbilts, all their gaudy glories failed to hide from my eyes the paltriness of their library compared to this, much humbler place.

N.,J. and I departed Peacefield, all of us fighting the exhaustion of an overstuffed day but determined to press on. We had Boston to see. I am a lover of field and forest far from the haunts of man but inexplicably, I also enjoy big cities, brimming with people and culture.

So, Boston was cool. Love their idea of burying the central freeway through the city and returning the land above it to green space. Loved Little Italy in all its boisterous bravado and the serene shelter of a Catholic churchyard. In addition to guys and gals who fitted my ideas of what Italians look like, I saw a couple that intrigued me. How to describe it? Almost sandy, reddish hair, thick eyebrows, big eyes. Not unattractive, I hasten to add. I wonder what region of Italy brought forth those genes.

As we walked along the streets and I savored the sights and sounds – heard some guy in a heavy accent growling about how he punched dis guy in da face – we saw a line forming outside Giacomo’s Ristorante. That was our cue, so we joined it. Had to be good, right? Oh, it was. We ordered a massive cauldron of gustatory bliss – lobsters, clams, mussels and shrimp over a bed of pasta. The very Italian waitress who served us, got impatient with Joseph for not understanding what she was trying to say to him, then with me for not paying attention to their conversation. She then turned to Nicole, who figured things out.

We tackled our massive meal and made it through, barely, then added insult to injury buying cannoli pastries at Mike’s down the street, that not one of us had the stomach to eat. No matter ... they’d be good for breakfast.
Monday dawned with downpours. We sat under a pavilion by the bay and finally gave up on our plans to go to Rose Island for the day. Perhaps we needed the rest anyway. By evening, the rain calmed enough to go out for sushi. Brother and I dared each other to sample the wasabi paste and lived to tell the tale.

Tuesday the skies cleared and we met a ruddy sea dog named Chris and his real dog, Casey, and motorboated out to a lovely hunk of sand in the middle of Narangasette (sp) Bay, where an old lighthouse stands sentinel. N,J and I spent most of the morning there hunting for shells like three little kids. Tis the perk of being a grownup that one can get away with that every now and then.

In the p.m., we toured the Touro Synagogue. It is, as noted, the oldest surviving Jewish synagogue in the United States of America. Here in 1790, Pres. George Washington addressed a letter championing religious freedom and even daring to move beyond mere “tolerance” to the point where we in all our diversity work together as one. That historic letter is cherished and preserved to this day. I even picked up a copy in Hebrew.

After visiting that sacred place, we toured a more worldly demesne, a monument to ridiculous excess, the Breakwater Mansion of the railroad magnates, the Vanderbilts. We truly had gone from Jerusalem to Babylon – the place was a dragon’s hoard of gold, platinum, marble and such. Hard to believe the Vanderbilt patriarch also doubled as a Sunday School teacher. Must have choked on, or perhaps just skipped over, all the passages damning the souls with their hearts set on riches.

We did agree that at least their greed created a lot of employment.

From that palace of pomposity we traveled to the simple beauty of a few minutes on the beach, shell-hunting again and enjoying the cool breeze that not even in their massive mansion the Vanderbilts could duplicate.

Came Wednesday and time to say goodbye – a pain that stings the same whether you are eight or 80.

I will not see Newport again – I must cherish that place in my memory. Joseph and Nicole will be traveling to Italy in a while, then, come fall, they will move back to Bremerton, Wash. They really went all out to show me a great time and I enjoyed it all. Didn't even mention that on that first day, they also took me to see the Aquarium, where we fed sting rays and observed jellyfish -- another great memory.

I think we may have crossed the border into New York by now. There won’t be much more to write. I have missed my sweet Wife and I will thrill to see Her again. I have not missed Virginia’s hellish summer heat nor the daily grind of work and chores from which a vacation is ever an all-too-brief respite.

What I did on my summer vacation

The children crowded around each other outside the train station, where the dull concrete platform met the green grass. They had no interest in the shining steel rails, the pylon pillars or any of the other man-made wonders to be seen. They were enthralled by the antics of a sparrow.

“He’s found himself a cozy place to sit,” said a boy, pointing to a wrought-iron loop in which the bird had taken a moment’s rest.

“Birdies don’t sit,” said another child with the sort of grave authority that only a child can muster. “They always have to stand up.”

I wandered around the platform wistfully contemplating the days when a sparrow’s antics might have been the only thing on my mind, too. Ahead of me stretched a few precious days of vacation with my brother and his wife in Rhode Island, a break in the busy life of an average American guy. But first I had to negotiate this train ride.

Eventually the steel sarcophagus of the Amtrak squealed into the station and I boarded. For the next 11 hours I would need to keep awake, through the night into the morning. To indulge in slumber might mean waking up in Canada instead of Rhode Island. Nothing against Canada but nobody knows me there.

“I wonder,” mused a friend of mine when I wrote about that, “if at some point you’d be thrown off a train if you stayed on beyond where you were supposed to go.”

I knew where I was, about as far as Ashland, a quaint Virginia town that humbly describes itself as the center of the universe. On up through D.C. I was still in territory I’ve trodden, or rather driven, before. Then as the night wore on, we chugged through Maryland and Delaware and into N.Y.

About 2 a.m. I woke from the sleep that I had fought in vain, as a station sign slid past me in the gloom. I made out a “P” and it spelled panic. Had to be Providence. I grabbed my stuff and rushed to the door of the train.
That angel who watches over fools such as I, held me back and bade me call out to the people on the platform:
“Are we in Providence? Providence, Rhode Island?”

Their sullen glares and/or bored expressions of absolute disinterest in my existence should have been clues enough. Being a persistent fool, though, I called out again and finally some guy on the platform overcome his natural inclination to ignore me, grumbling:


“Penn Station, New York.”
I might have taken some comfort in knowing I would not be spending my vacation amongst such sullen souls. For the moment I was simply grateful I hadn’t leaped off the train there and complicated my trip to a huge degree.
I returned to my row, where the pretty young thing who had sweetly requested permission to sit there some time before, had in my absence slid over to the window seat and made herself comfortable under her blanket.
The night passed. New York City flashed by, some famous bridge glittering in the gloom, maybe the Brooklyn, who knows.

Drowsy again, I opened my eyes to see signs for Connecticut and again panicked. Isn’t that state somewhere up near the border? There was no one to ask, all else were sleeping comfortably and no porter was to be seen. I fired up my laptop Internet and quickly googled a U.S. map. Appears I need to take a remedial class in U.S. geography. Connecticut borders New York these days and hasn’t shifted north of Rhode Island yet.

Day had dawned and I beheld the incredible beauty of said state. She is all greenery and lakes and little white houses. At least along the Amtrak line.

Circa 7 a.m. Saturday, the train pulled into Providence and spit me out. Joseph and Nicole arrived soon after. We stopped in at a Dunkin Donuts, which I would learn is Nicole’s favorite place in the universe. However, this one failed to offer the Vanilla Cr√®me flavor she likes, which I might note is not a wise omission in regards to an Italian girl. She, however, restrained her righteous wrath and settled for a lesser pastry.

The happy couple dwells for the moment at 23 Division Street, Newport, R.I. Easiest for me to describe that beautiful town as the best of what I remember from Europe. Narrow streets winding past fascinating little shops, more folks out walking than driving, church bells ringing the hours and people casually living amidst an incredible excess of history. Here stands the oldest surviving Jewish synagogue in the U.S. – more on that later – and a block away, the first free Black church in the country. The oldest tavern in the country also is open for business not too far away, and at the edge of town, the mansions of America’s formerly most rich and famous, dripping with enough Gilded Age glitter to send a socialist into a foaming, terminal spasm.

Saturday night, N and J took me down to a place called Benjamin’s Raw Bar. In truth, they do cook some of the offerings there. For the very first time in my pathetic life, I beheld on a plate before me the tasty carapace of a whole lobster, mine to enjoy. Eating a lobster requires patience, dexterity, the use of a nutcracker and a willingness to endure injury to your questing fingers from various sharp and spiny portions of the unlucky boiled beast.

“Lobsters have no natural life span,” my other brother, Daniel, tartly told me later. “The only way they typically die is for someone like you to eat them.”

Well, after this vacation, there won’t be much danger of my committing much more crustacean-cide. It’s rather beyond my food budget but this one was a treat from N and J and I think the world population of lobsters will recover from my singular depredation.

We darted home in the pouring rain, taking shelter in doorways. Hard to believe that a place could be so cool and rainy on the very lip of July. Knowing that Richmond was steaming just slightly less than the pot in which my dinner perished, I hardly saw fit to complain.

Sunday morning off we rolled northbound to take in some major history. You can’t go much further back, outside a Native American setting or Virginia’s own Jamestown, than Cape Cod, first footstep of the Pilgrims’ stern impassioned stress.

As we neared our destination, I pondered on the peculiarity of the human condition – no matter where you go in the world, no matter how important the spot, somebody wakes up near there every day and goes about their ordinary business. Not ten miles from the immortal rock, we passed through subdivisions and strip malls and even stopped to buy lemonade from some kids at a garage sale.

Plymouth Rock is no Gibraltar. It, or at least what remains of it today, is maybe the size of a Volkswagen Beetle, maybe a little smaller. In truth, in the grand American tradition, bits and pieces have long been spirited away. A distinctive crack down the middle bears witness to a Revolutionary War-era moment of patriotic excess, when some locals decided to haul it off the beach up a hill. They managed only to split it in two and carry off the top portion. Years later, somebody put the pieces back together at the original location. I know not what sort of adhesive one uses to glue a boulder back together but it seems to be working.

I took a moment to stand upon the sand and stare out to sea. Whilst I have lived in Virginia long enough to know Jamestown came FIRST, and the Pilgrims only beached their boat on blustery Cape Cod because they had run out of beer, still, Plymouth is part of the American story, a major part. I scooped up a pinch of sand and a sprig of purple beach pea flower and then we departed, after the requisite picture taking.

To be continued

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Poppy Contemplations




Poppy contemplations:

Where once one grew, its milk-white bud glowing in the gloom of the forest, now five cluster. Frail beauties they seem to be, their petals soon to be torn away by the winds of spring, but few other plants outside of the evergreen tribe dare to be awake this time of the year.

My book tells me that this precocious plant with the unlovely name of bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) resides in the Poppy family, Papaveracea. Poppies are a potent clan, rivaling perhaps only Solanaceae (think tobacco) and Apiaceae (think poison hemlock) in their possession of potent alkaloids.

My book also tells me that Papaveraceae haunts mainly the Northern hemisphere -- which I find interesting ...


... It means that the prototype of the family diverged from its closest ancestor after Gondwanaland (the jigsaw puzzle of Earth's continents) broke up, with the infamous opium poppies colonizing Eurasia while lesser known bloodroot spread through Eastern North America.

Nature inspires so many questions but she keeps her secrets well. Where do you fit into the story of evolution, little bloodroot flower? Why was it advantageous for you here in Eastern America to bloom in palest white whilst your West Coast sisters dress in gold and your Old World kin wear deepest crimson?

You are plants adapted to the harsh continental winters, unfazed by chilly springs but retiring before the blistering heat of summer. You are no lovers of tropical lands. Were your days of greatest glory our Ice Age -- did our first human ancestors look out of their caves to gaze in awe upon fields of your blooms?