Sunday, September 16, 2012

Because . . .

There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, and the sea's asleep, and the rivers dream; people made of smoke and cities made of song. Somewhere there's danger, somewhere there's injustice, and somewhere the tea's getting cold. Come on, Ace. We've got work to do."

Doctor Who

So this weekend I tackled something I've been meaning to tackle for a long time. It's been a combination of learning about the idea of microfinance; meeting and becoming friends with people from Senegal, Congo, DR Congo, and Cameroon; watcing Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala's TED Talk on business in Africa and Robert Neuwerth's TED Talk on the power of the informal economy. I put some of my money where my mouth is and started financing micro-loans through

Of course, if you want to become involved in this, too, then that's awesome. But that's not really what I'm blogging about this morning. In exploring Kiva's website, I came across their 'Lending Teams': groups of like-minded individuals banding together to finance loans for small business entrepreneurs all over the world.

There is a team of Kiva Mormons. They've lent over a million dollars in the last four years. Awesome, huh? On their team page, there is a declaration of motivation: "We loan because a man filled with the love of God is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race."

Excellent sentiment. The statement is taken from a quote by Joseph Smith, one that I've heard regularly my entire life. It's a fundamental thought in my faith. Mormons believe that if you want to be a good person, you'd better be doing good for someone else in the world. Yaay for us! Go Mormons!

But then I browsed some more. And what I discovered raised my spirits and filled my heart, not only with pride that I am LDS, but with pride that I am human.

The Catholic Kiva team loans because "It is the right thing to do."

The Episcopal Church loans because "As Episcopalians, we are followers of Jesus Christ, our Lord, and believe in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We strive to love our neighbors as ourselves and respect the dignity of every person."

The Mennonites loan because "The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'"

The Orthodox Christians loan because all men and women are made in the image and after the likeness of God.

 The Unitarian Universalists loan because they believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and in justice, equity, and compassion in human relations.

The Jews loan to make the world a better place.

The Baha'is loan because Baha'u'llah said to "Be generous in prosperity, and thankful in adversity. Be worthy of the trust of thy neighbor, and look upon him with a bright and friendly face. Be a treasure to the poor, an admonisher to the rich, an answerer to the cry of the needy, a preserver of the sanctity of thy pledge."

The Muslims loan because the Koran says "If ye disclose (acts of) charity, even so it is well, but if ye conceal them, and make them reach those (really) in need, that is best for you: It will remove from you some of your (stains of) evil. And Allah is well acquainted with what ye do."

The Buddhists loan to water the seeds of awakening.

The GLBT Community loans because they know what is like to face barriers, and consider it a privilege to help entrepreneurs achieve their own equality.

The Followers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster loan because "Thou shalt share, that none may seek without funding."

The Atheists, Agnostics, and Skeptics loan because they care about the suffering of human beings.

The Nerds loan because they aim to decrease world suck.

Doesn't it just make you want to laugh and cry and jump and dance and hug everyone that you meet? There is so much good in this world. So much good. And the goodness is enriched, not hindered, by its diversity. What a bland place this good, wonderful planet would be if Joseph Smith's words were the only ones ever quoted. How much poorer would I be if everyone else were just like me?

I fervently believe every word up there. Many of them are from books I've never read and do not venerate as scripture, or written by people with whom I disagree on one issue or another. But I believe all these beautiful words, and rejoice that they've come into my life to fill it with a greater measure of truth and understanding.

Here's to the human race. All the human race.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

I'm having an old friend for dinner.

Hannibal Lecter, The Silence of the Lambs

Okay, it's a creepy quote to top a non-creepy blog post, but it was in my head and it sort of fit the topic. Also, I just read the Wikipedia article on The Silence of the Lambs last week, because I was bored and I'd never seen it and don't really plan to. (I do, after all, bike to work by myself in the dead of night. After that book on Jack the Ripper, I've promised myself I will keep my reading upbeat, positive, and serial-killer-free for a while.)

Aaaaaanyway, I'm trying to keep up with the blogging assignments I give my students, just to play fair. And this week's prompt was the following: if I could invite one person to dinner, what would I serve?

When I was first introduced to this prompt, someone suggested having bbq ribs with Jesus, which is, I admit, a great idea. (Better have a backup, though, in case he's still keeping kosher.) As interesting as it would be to see our Lord and Savior get bbq sauce all over his face, I've decided, upon reflection, that I'd like to serve chicken in Thai peanut sauce to Queen Elizabeth I.

This . . .
Plus This . . .
Equals This? I think so.

I chose Good Queen Bess because she's such a complicated, fascinating character, and in many ways the kind of woman I want to be when I grow up. (In other ways not, of course.) I'd like to have a young QEI over . . . just after she'd taken the throne, maybe a couple of weeks after her royal progress through London, when she laughed and chatted with all her subjects lining the road and wore her hair unbound, wife to no one but her nation. This Elizabeth has her head full of one of the best educations ever given to a woman, because sister Mary had to give her something to do to keep her out of the way, and was just starting to develop the ideas that made her such a remarkable ruler: country before king, prosperity before conquest, peace before dogma. And the radical, unthinkable idea that she was actually never going to marry anybody at all was fermenting in her brain, although no one was taking her assertions seriously yet (and wouldn't until she was nearly dead, like sixty years later). What would I not give for two hours' conversation with that woman? To know the books she'd read and what she thought of them, what she was worrying about as she took over the throne, how she managed to be so darn gutsy in the face of so many powerful and predatory people . . . wow.

So why chicken in Thai peanut sauce? First, because I think I can cook it fairly well, and Her Majesty might have high standards when it comes to food. Peanuts, as far as I know, weren't really a thing in England yet, English New World exploration still being in its infancy. And sauces made with peanuts are just so darn good. I'd like to find out if she liked spicy food . . . peppers weren't really a staple in England just then. And the Far East was so exotic and yet so important . . . the libraries of the Muslim world, the trade routes from China. So many southeast Asian countries have no better cultural emissary than their food. Maybe that one dish could alter the whole course of English/Thai relations. Or maybe it would just be really tasty.

Cheesecake for dessert. Cheesecake should always be for dessert.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Occam's Razor

With all other things being equal, the simplest solution is to be preferred.

Or something like that . . . I'm not sure exactly how the Razor is phrased. But it's along those lines. A simple solution is preferable to a complex solution that is otherwise equally valid.

It's a nice, straightforward, useful little philosophy. The problem is when I start applying it without moderation in my life, which I do kind of a lot. I have this nasty habit of picking the simplest solution and just going with it, whether or not it's actually a good idea.

One particular year, on my annual pilgrimage up to Minnesota, my straightforward journey involved three flights (all standby), a Greyhound bus, and a ride from a friend. It was a pretty complicated plan, and left out important details, like Where am I going to sleep during this three-day epic? Since the plan was already pretty complicated, I chose the simplest solution to this problem: I'd just sleep wherever I happened to be. This is how I ended up spending one night on the floor of the Chicago O'Hare bus depot and another on a row of benches over the Minneapolis Lindbergh ticket counters.

It was actually kind of neat. The security guards in Chicago promised to keep an eye on me overnight, so I slept on my little makeshift bed (blanket, bed sheet, backpack, folded quilt, and mystery novel) in relative tranquility. No one noticed or bothered me in Minneapolis. I slept quite well, and it was free, and I didn't have to figure out how to get back to the airport to catch my next bus/flight/whatever in the morning. Simple. No problem.

Looking back, I realize that this is not something a rational middle-class American woman is supposed to do. But I did it anyway. And it was fine. These things tend to turn out fine for me; I'm not sure why.

This year, I had three options presented to me: I could continue to work my full-time job, I could teach at BYU, and I could take the world's most awesome graduate course. A rational human being would declare that no one could do all three at once. But making choices is complicated. It needs pros and cons and tradeoffs. So . . . Occam's Razor! . . . I just decided to do them all.

It's like the old adage about college. "Welcome to college. Here, you can study, you can sleep, and you can party. Pick two." Except I've picked 'study' twice. And you know what? It's AWESOME.

I love having a full-time job. I love having money. I love being able to go to a doctor, dentist, or chiropractor without a second thought about what it's going to cost because health insurance has my back. (Literally, in the case of the chiropractor.) I love being able to hop on any bus in the state with my employer-subsidized bus-and-train pass. I love being able to park downtown. I love spending less than I earn.

I LOVE teaching. It's so gosh darn much fun. I get to make things interesting, and share them with kids who are invested in learning and understanding. I get to write on the white board and declare when it's treat day. I get to learn how to do the job I want to do for the rest of my life.

And OH MY GOSH I LOVE my world's most awesome graduate course. I was supposed to read half of St. Thomas More's Utopia this weekend, and I just read the whole darn thing. I've suddenly got academic conferences and research grants and the nature of beauty buzzing around in my head. The world is full of shiny, sparkly, magical possibilities, and I get to write papers about them.

Sleeping, I will admit, is problematic. But it's astonishing how much you can stay awake for when you're So Gosh Darn Excited about everything all the time. My long-honed skills as a desk-sleeper, floor-sleeper, and bus-sleeper are being put to good use. (As is my health insurance, and the chiropractor. "How did you manage to tie your spine in a double half-hitch?" "Y'know, I really couldn't say . . .") So far, I've managed to be awake for everything I needed to be awake for, kept up on homework, and been prepared for class. I feel like a million bucks.

I've read that a possible side effect of extended sleeplessness is death, but you know what? We'll burn that bridge when we come to it. And anyway, what a way to go.