Saturday, February 27, 2010

what does it mean that I've spent hours knitting a hedgehog for you?

This question is from the last post's comments, by the way. I don't really know the answer, but I did want to show off my knit hedgehog.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

What did you get this year?

My birthday present from my Dad:

The Sacredness of Questioning Everything by David Dark.

I think it's apropos.

On the subject of gifts: Economists are very curious about gift-giving, and the question they like to ask is "Why don't we just give people money?" I read an interesting explanation of this in The Armchair Economist (by Steven Landsburg): He rejects one of the common explanations, which is that people give gifts to show that they're willing to spend time shopping, by pointing out that since time is money, it would make just as much sense to give them the monetary value of the gift you would have got and the time you would have spent getting it (or better yet, give them the money and use the time by taking them out to lunch.)

He suggests that the opposite is the case. People buy gifts to show that they don't need to spend time shopping. What? It's simple, he says: the better you know someone, the less time you'll need to spend shopping for them. You won't have to spend hours thinking "Will he like this? Would it look better in blue? What's his size?" You'll know. So buying someone a gift is a way of showing someone that you know them so well that it's really not difficult at all to be their friend. I rather like this explanation (Even if I'm not so sure that time=money is a universally true statement.)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Why suffering?

I’ve been reading the Book of Job, looking for an answer.

This question has been asked by person after person, year after year, struck by fire or flood or disease or war. Why, why, why?

Usually, the question is addressed to God. If humans knew, why would they ask?

And yet we also offer our own answers, and sometimes accept them. Two of the standard answers go like this:

1) It’s our fault. We’ve done something wrong, or our ancestors did something wrong, and we’re being punished by God. This is the view expressed by Job’s friends, who tell him that he’ll suffer no more if he only repents of a wrong he doesn’t know he’s done.

2) It’s God’s fault. Usually for not being there. After all, if there were an all-powerful, good God, he would prevent suffering, right? Those who accept this answer see suffering either as proof of God’s non-existence, or as proof against God’s benevolence. Job’s wife expresses this approach when she tells him to curse God and die, since his suffering is, in her eyes, a demonstration of God’s injustice.

The marvelous thing about the book of Job is that it rejects both these answers. Job is not at fault– he is the perfect and the upright man. Nor is God at fault.

So why does Job suffer? The book that bears his name doesn’t tell us. There is no easy answer. Yet what I know about suffering why I know because of Job and because of Jesus, another sorrowing man who experienced sufferings he never deserved.

Here are some thoughts:

Job’s trials aren’t a way for God to test his faith: God already knows that Job is faithful. But Job’s trials do show Job that his faith is stronger than his suffering, that he can hold fast to his faith that God is good even when life is not.

As a Christian and a Latter-day Saint, I believe that by suffering the pains of our transgressions, imperfections, infirmities and illnesses Christ became Savior and Redeemer. God sent his only begotten Son to suffer. Why?

I do not know. I will not be truly able to say until I hear an answer from God’s own mouth. But in the meantime I have His scriptures, which say that Christ “will take upon him [our] infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:12). Which means that Christ’s suffering was also Christ’s education, and what he learned was how to care for us, how best to love us.

And maybe that’s part of why we suffer too. We suffer so that we can be broken out of our own lives, so that we can learn to care for each other, so that with Job we can see God.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Is Matt older than my Dad?

This is one of the questions my four-year old cousin asked my Grandma this morning, when he came over to play.

(He also asked her "Are you older than my mom?" which led to a visit to one of the family photo albums (The one with pictures of his mother as a baby.))

Little kids ask lots of questions, it seems, because they're still trying to figure out how the world works. Most adults have already given up.

(Or they've somehow gotten the dangerous notion that they understand it all, which can lead to some pretty magnificent missteps.)

So hurray for questions, and may we never stop asking them!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

How am I supposed to answer that?

I'm taking a survey on undergraduate engagement. It's a pretty well-put together and thorough survey, designed to see whether college students are actually doing all those things that are reported to make college experience so great. It's useful information for my university, and for educators in general, but it's also a useful self-check for me, to see how I've been doing.

How often have I connected ideas from my different courses?
How often have I talked with my professors outside of class?
How often have I worked harder than I thought I could in order to meet a professor's expectations?

Most of these question are pretty easy to answer-- I either have or I haven't (although there is a four step scale: never, sometimes, often and very often.)

Here's the question that made me stop, open a new tab, and start writing this post:

How often have you "had serious conversations with students of a different race or ethnicity than your own?"

The university that I attend is probably 90% Caucasian. That was actually one of my only qualms about coming here, because I believe firmly in the truth of what this survey question implies: one of the greatest ways of getting an education is by talking, with sincerety, to people who are different from you, or who you think are different from you, or who come from backgrounds you have never heard of before, never thought possible.

But that is not why this is a hard question to answer. This question is hard because I am Caucajewmexdian. Which means that in a very real way my personal ethnic experience has been so different from that of my peers that every conversation I have with someone who is not a member of my family is a conversation with someone of another ethnicity. And all of my conversations are serious.

And yet for me to answer "very often" could be to give the survey inaccurate information. Because they're not interested in simply the fact that conversations take place with diversity of background. They're interested in conversations where both participants are aware of that divide in the conversation. Because usually, when you talk with someone or a different race or ethnicity, something about how they look, or speak, tips you off to the diversity without it even being mentioned. And that's when the growth occurs. When you're aware of the difference, and something about the conversations changes the way you think about the world, that person, and yourself.

And my conversations are not generally like that, except to the extent that all conversations between two people are like that. Because I don't look like a minority (in fact, my brother Stephen invented the term "stealth diversifier" to refer to our impact on demographics). The subject of difference only comes up when I wear kurta pajama, or refer to the Talmud, or note my family's observance of various holidays not celebrated in most Caucasian-American households. While these sorts of things occur on a frequent basis, I still don't have the same sort of diversifying impact on daily conversation that more visible minorities would.

So I don't know how to answer this question. I'll probably settle on a compromise answer, like "sometimes" and move on to simpler considerations. But I still won't feel good about it.