Monday, July 29, 2013

"Machine Men With Machine Minds"

According to the 2002 documentary The Tramp and the Dictator, Adolf Hitler not only saw Chaplin's parody The Great Dictator, but he saw it twice. Prior to the film's making, Chaplin had made Hitler's hit list in a Nazi propaganda book under the section "Artist Jews" and was considered a "pseudo-Jew." The now famous speech at the end of the film was inspired by Hitler's attack on France, though Chaplin admitted later that he would have never made the film if he had known the full extent of the Nazi horror. In the film, the Jewish Barber (as he is identified in the credits) is mistaken for Adenoid Hynkel, the dictator of Tomainia, and vice versa (with Hynkel being arrested by his own soldiers while away on a duck-hunting trip). He delivers an impassioned speech at the end, calling for kindness, gentleness, universal brotherhood and democracy.

The original speech (linked to above) has no music, just the powerful words of Chaplin's Jewish Barber. Yet, the edited version below demonstrates (once again) just how important a film's musical score can be.* Feel the words as they were meant to be felt.

*The piece in the video is "Time" by Hans Zimmer from Inception

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Internet of Things

I've blogged about the impact of the shipping container before and the recent article "The Box That Built the Modern World" is a nice addition. The article makes an interesting comparison:

Think of the shipping container as the Internet of things. Just as your email is disassembled into discrete bundles of data the minute you hit send, then re-assembled in your recipient’s inbox later, the uniform, ubiquitous boxes are designed to be interchangeable, their contents irrelevant.

James Rice, the deputy director of the Center of Transportation and Logistics at MIT, explains why: "Containers are just a lot easier. A box is a box. All you need is a vessel, a berth, and a place to put the container on the ground."

The article ends with a (hopefully) gratitude-inducing thought:

The number of 20-foot equivalent units moved is the most important measure of economic well-being you’ve never heard of. So the next time a truck towing a metal box edges alongside you on the freeway, give a thought to the changes it’s wrought—and the possibilities that still lie in the future.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Bishop of Digne

This is a somewhat formalized version of my sacrament talk notes from this last Sunday:

In the April Conference, Elder D. Todd Christofferson taught how we should "seek to participate in and further [Christ's] redemptive work": 

This kind of redemptive work means helping people with their problems. It means befriending the poor and the weak, alleviating suffering, righting wrongs, defending truth, strengthening the rising generation, and achieving security and happiness at home. Much of our redemptive work on earth is to help others grow and achieve their just hopes and aspirations.[1]

The example he used to make his point was the famous meeting between the Bishop of Digne and Jean Valjean in Victor Hugo's Les Miserables. I hope to expand on his example and draw three main points about "redemptive work" from this portion of Les Miserables.

  1. Outlook: How We View Others

Jean Valjean, readers learn, is a convict who is on parole after serving 19 years hard labor for stealing bread to feed his sister's starving child. As Javert sings in the musical version, "Five years for what you did/The rest because you tried to run."

After being rejected from multiple inns in the town of Digne, Valjean is advised to knock at the home of the local Bishop. After explaining his background, Valjean asks for some food and a place to sleep. Surely feeling that he would not be welcome inside, he asks, "Have you a stable?" In response, the Bishop turns to his housekeeper and tells her to "put white sheets on the bed in the alcove."[2] The Oscar-nominated film version has the Bishop (portrayed by Broadway's original Valjean, Colm Wilkinson) refer to Hugh Jackman's Valjean as "our honored guest" in the blessing.

Jesus was often criticized for dining with tax collectors and sinners. Matthew was a tax collector or, even more likely, a customs officer. He was employed by the Romans, but probably directly under Herod. Jewish tax collectors were despised by their own people who saw them as traitors; traitors intimately linked to a Gentile government and enriching it with the earnings of God's people. "Jews were very careful about personal associations and contact as a matter of ritual cleanliness. Their question borders on an accusation that Jesus is ritually unclean."[3] The Greek uses the term "recline," which "indicates that this was no ordinary meal (Palestinian Jews normally sat on chairs) but a banquet (when people reclined), probably in the teacher's honor."[4] While Jewish writings placed "heavy emphasis on repentance and divine mercy...Jesus' act of actively pursuing sinners as a human teacher was unheard of."[5] Christ's entire ministry overthrew the social norms of the Jewish elite.

In 1836, when asked what the difference between Mormonism and the rest of Christianity was, Joseph Smith answered, "We believe the Bible and they do not."[6] A few years later, when Mormonism's doctrines became even more radical compared to traditional Christianity, the answer changed: "In reality and essence we do not differ so far in our religious views but that we should all drink into one principle of love."[7] Other sects were now seen as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ and "friendship" was declared by the Prophet as "the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism."[8] Such an ecumenical view of Christianity led him to say, "Have the Presbyterians any truth? Embrace that. Have the Baptists, Methodists, and so forth? Embrace that. Get all the good in the world, and you will come a pure Mormon."[9] In other words, drop the labels and recognize that we are all children of God. Although Mormons do well when it comes to charitable work (i.e. "pro-social behavior"), we must always seek to expand beyond the comforts of our own ward. Joseph Smith taught, "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."[10] 

     2. Temporal Needs: The Here and Now

Prior to the encounter with Valjean, the Bishop had moved into the cramped local hospital and allowed the patients to move into the episcopal palace provided for him. He gave away the majority of his salary. His constant contact with the poor and needy convinced him that most thieves stole to survive, not for material gain. 

The book's narrator sums up the Bishop's philosophy:

The universe appeared to him like an immense malady; everywhere he felt fever, everywhere he heard the sound of suffering, and...he strove to dress the wound. The terrible spectacle of created things developed tenderness in him...There are men who toil at extracting gold; he toiled at the extraction of pity. Universal misery was his mine. The sadness which reigned everywhere was but an excuse for unfailing kindness. Love each other; he declared this to be complete, desired nothing further, and that was the whole of his doctrine.[11]

Outlook renders service and service develops our outlook. 

New Testament scholar and Anglican bishop N.T. Wright has pointed out that Jesus' ministry was showing what the world is like when God is in charge: the poor are relieved, the oppressed are alleviated, the sick are healed, etc.[12] Declaring that someone else is in charge under an oppressive empire is dangerous talk. The cross in the first century, as noted by one pair of bible scholars, "represented execution by the empire; only the empire crucified, and then for only one crime: denial of imperial authority...It meant risking imperial retribution."[13] By the time Mark's gospel was written, first-century Christians saw the cross as "the 'way'...the path of personal transformation."[14] Though talk of redemption and the Atonement often start at Gethsemane and end (sometimes) after the resurrection, we cannot and should not separate these things from the life of Jesus.

     3. The Eternal: Coming to Christ

Elder Christofferson concludes,

As disciples of Jesus Christ, we ought to do all we can to redeem others from suffering and burdens. Even so, our greatest redemptive service will be to lead them to Christ. Without His Redemption from death and from sin, we have only a gospel of social justice. That may provide some help and reconciliation in the present, but it has no power to draw down from heaven perfect justice and infinite mercy. Ultimate redemption is in Jesus Christ and in Him alone.[15]

Now we come to the familiar story: Jean Valjean demonstrates his gratitude toward the Bishop by making off with his silver in the middle of the night. Valjean is arrested by the authorities and brought back to face the Bishop. Instead of turning Valjean in, the Bishop lies and states that he had given him the silver. Furthermore, he claims that Valjean had forgotten the silver candlesticks. A puzzled Valjean is released and then informed by the Bishop that he has made a promise: "Do not forget, never forget, that you have promised to use this money in becoming an honest man...Jean Valjean, my brother: you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God."[16] It was this act of grace (one that the Bishop surely passed on from his own encounter with the Lord's grace) that changed Valjean. Years later, when faced with the moral dilemma of allowing another to mistakenly take his place in jail, we find Valjean reflecting on this transformation. This is captured in the lyrics of the song "Who Am I?":

My soul belongs to God, I know
I made that bargain long ago
He gave me hope when hope was gone
He gave me strength to journey on

Our acts of service should be rooted in the love and atonement of Christ. By doing so, we not only provide temporal relief, but together can "see the face of God."

Take my hand
And lead me to salvation
Take my love
For love is everlasting
And remember
The truth that once was spoken:
To love another person is to see the face of God

1. Christofferson, "Redemption," General Conference, April 2013.

2. Les Miserables (Feedbooks edition), 99.

3. NET Bible Commentary, Matthew 9:11, footnote 26.

4. Craig Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 296.

5. Ibid., 296-297.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid.: 33.

9. Ibid.: 36.

10. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, ed. Joseph Fielding Smith (Provo: Deseret Book, 1938), 174.

11. Les Miserables (Feedbooks edition), 79.

12. See N.T. Wright, Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters (New York: HarperCollins, 2011).

13. Marcus J. Borg, John Dominic Crossan, The Last Week: The Day-by-Day Account of Jesus's Final Week in Jerusalem (New York: HarperCollins, 2006), 28.

14. Ibid.

15. Christofferson, 2013.

16. Les Miserables (Feedbooks edition), 140. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

What Would Picard Do

Over at Difficult Run, Nathaniel Givens was kind enough to link to a previous post about Captain Kirk. He mentioned that he is personally "a greater fan of Jean Luc than James T" (I tend to prefer Picard as well, though at times I feel torn). I had originally intended to do one big post on sci-fi management, featuring several articles by Forbes writer Alex Knapp. However, the outcome would have been quite excessive for a blog post and given my tendency to be long-winded as it is, I figured I should break them up and make it a recurring theme.

So, without further ado, here are Five Leadership Lesson from Jean-Luc Picard:

  1. Speak to People in the Language They Understand. (Or, it's okay to threaten a Klingon.)
    • In my experience, communication is a matter of patience and imagination. I would like to believe that these are qualities that we have in sufficient measure.
"Even in an era where universal translators could translate virtually every language imaginable," writes Knapp, "communication is more than just a matter of language. The different races that Picard encountered had their own cultures, customs and values. In order to work effectively with them, he mastered the ability to communicate with them on his own terms." Intercultural communication is a major aspect of international management education and practice. With the increase of globalization and multinational corporations, understanding and communicating differing cultures becomes more and more crucial. In the episode "Darmok," Picard and crew come into contact with the Children of Tama in an attempt to negotiate a non-aggression pact. Their language is seemingly as "incomprehensible" as past encounters had reported. Even Commander Data, who says to have contacted 1,754 non-human races during his tenure at Starfleet, could not make sense of it. It was not until the Tamarian captain transports himself and Picard to the planet below to face "the beast" together that Picard begins to understand the imagery and metaphors behind the Tamarian language. There is a reason Walter Hart of Norfolk State University uses this episode in his Intercultural Communication courses. Picard's "patience and imagination" pays off, averts a conflict, and paves the way for future discussions with the Tamarians. In one of the most touching scenes of the episode, Picard finally grasps the myth of Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra and shares the Epic of Gilgamesh with the dying Tamarian captain. Through shared experience and mythology, the two become friends (Picard is later seen reading Homer; revisiting Earth's mythology with hopes that it will help get in touch with that of the Tamarians).

Furthermore, this approach to communication influences the organization at large. During his Academy testing in the episode "Coming of Age," Wesley Crusher responds to a belligerent Starfleet member with aggression, asking, "Do you want this to become violent??" Wesley reveals the individual to be a Zaldan, a webbed-handed race that despises courtesy (it is seen a superficial ploy to hide true emotion). The Zaldan leaves on a friendly note. I'm willing to bet that Picard's skilled interactions with various alien groups did not go unnoticed by the young Wesley.

     2.  When You're Overwhelmed, Ask for Help
    • You wanted to frighten us. We’re frightened. You wanted to show us we were inadequate. For the moment, I grant that. You wanted me to say ‘I need you.’? I NEED you!
The above quote comes from the episode "Q Who?" after the crew of the Enterprise-D encounters the Borg for the first time. The battle was brought on by the near-omnipotent Q, who has enjoyed toying with Picard since the very beginning of The Next Generation. Having lost 18 crew members and the ship's shields, Picard finally requests Q's aid. With a snap of his fingers, the rather impressed Q returns the ship to its original point and out of harm's way. "That was a difficult admission," Q tells the Captain. "Another man would have been humiliated to say those words. Another man would have rather died than ask for help." Picard displayed humility. It is important to have "enough self-awareness to know when you’re overwhelmed, when the odds are against you and when you know you can’t win the battle by yourself. In those situations, a prudent leader will ask for help...It takes a great deal of confidence to admit that you need help...How many of us have been on doomed projects because the project leader was too proud or too blind to ask for help?" Business author and former Stanford professor Jim Collins found that "great" (not merely "good") companies featured Level 5 Leaders: individuals who placed the focus on the organization and its cause rather than themselves and who demonstrated a professional will and ambition to bring this cause about. "When the time came, Picard wasn’t afraid to ask for help. That allowed him and his crew to fight another day – and on that day, they did defeat the Borg."

     3.  Always Value Ethical Actions Over Expedient Ones
    • There are times, sir, when men of good conscience cannot blindly follow orders.
In the episode "Measure of a Man," "Starfleet had ordered Lt. Commander Data, an android, to disassembly and experimentation in the hopes that Starfleet could manufacture more androids...Picard recognized that Data was a sentient being worthy of the rights of other members of the Federation. He argued Data’s case passionately in a Starfleet legal hearing...His argument was convincing, and led Starfleet and the Federation to respect Data’s rights. This paved the way for the rights of other sentient artificial intelligences to be recognized by the Federation later."

Leadership often provides "a number of temptations to do the wrong thing to make yourself look better...It’s in those times we should look to Picard as an example of maintaining our integrity, no matter the short-term costs. In the long-term, integrity is what matters." It is especially important for those in leadership positions (not to be equated with leadership) to maintain their honesty and integrity. Research by management experts Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman found that leaders create a ceiling within organizations:

The graph below shows the average of all leaders, along with the highest- and the lowest-rated organizations. In all three organizations, the rating decreases at every level as you move down the management chain...Generally speaking, in our long years of collecting 360 responses, we have found the top managers in an organization create a ceiling — that is, leaders the next level down tend to be rated lower than their managers on every leadership dimension — and that includes their honesty and integrity. In other words, levels of honesty are set at the top and can only go downhill from there.

     4. Challenge Your Team to Help Them Grow
    • Lieutenant, you are a member of this crew, and you will not go into hiding whenever a Klingon vessel uncloaks!
When "Worf lost his honor in order to prevent the Klingon Empire from going to war, Picard still insisted that Worf deal with the Klingons who came to the Enterprise. He did that even though for Worf, facing other Klingons while he was dishonored caused him a great deal of distress and shame. By having Worf face his people, Worf came out of the end of his period of dishonor a much stronger Klingon, and later in both The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, Worf was much more inclined to follow his conscience even if it shamed him in front of Klingons. In other words, Picard helped guide Worf into becoming a stronger and more capable man." Being a good leader means shaking things up, pushing people to do better, and battling complacency. But providing difficult assignments that strengthen already capable team members is not the end of it. One must be willing to allow members the autonomy and remain flexible and supportive if they fail. When Commander Riker was granted Q's powers, Picard allowed him to offer gifts to his fellow crew members (e.g. adulthood for Wesley, vision for La Forge). It was not until the crew members began to decline and Q uttered to Wesley, "But it's easier, boy!" that Riker realized his mistake. Turning to the Captain, Riker said, "How did you know, Sir? I feel like such an idiot." Picard simply smiled and said, "Quite right, so you should." Lesson learned without reprimand and Riker was better for it. Failure is a necessary part of innovation. Creating a culture that fears mistakes will stifle both individual and company growth.[1]

     5. Don't Play It Safe -- Seize Opportunities in Front of You
    • Seize the time… – live now! Make now always the most precious time. Now will never come again.
"In the episode “Tapestry,” Picard has a near-death experience in which he is visited by Q. Q gives him the opportunity to change one thing about his life, and Picard chooses to avoid the fight in which he lost his heart. At that point, Picard is thrust into the timeline that is the result of that act. In this timeline, Picard never rose above the rank of Lieutenant. He never got a command, because he had no goals. He drifted. He played it safe. And ultimately, his life didn’t amount to much. "

While often more cautious and disciplined than Kirk, Picard had a unique firsthand experience with the costs and benefits of seizing opportunities. Ultimately, opportunities come and go. We must take them when we have the chance.

I know I said five, but let's add a sixth:

     6. Look Beyond the Mechanics--Constructing Meaning

Peter Drucker viewed organizations as potential centers of meaning in a purposeless, secular world.[2] With research indicating how powerful a motivator "purpose" is in people's lives,[3] leaders need to be at the helm of providing a vision for those they lead. While enroute to Starbase 515, Picard asks the young Wesley Crusher if he had read a book he had given him. Wesley replied with "some of it," an answer Picard sarcastically found "reassuring." Wesley protested, saying that he lacked the time for William James, a person that would not be on his upcoming Starfleet exams. Picard wisely notes, "The important things never will be. Anyone can be trained in the mechanics of piloting a starship...It takes more. Open your mind to the past--art, history, philosophy--and all this may mean something." A small teaching moment, but one that indicates Picard saw beyond the basics of his job. Passing on this outlook is an important skill for any leader.

Captain Picard, though different from Kirk, has his own set of traits and skills that can benefit any leader:

We need to learn to empathize with others so we can communicate with them effectively. We need to have the confidence to ask for help when we’re overwhelmed without feeling humiliated. When faced with the choice a famous wizard offered, between “what is right and what is easy,” we have to do what is right. We need to challenge our teams to grow and change so they can adapt to any situation. We need to seize opportunities as they come so that we don’t coast through our lives. Follow these lessons, and they’ll take us on the next stage of exploration. Which, in the words of Q on the show, is “not mapping stars and studying nebulae, but charting the unknown possibilities of existence.”

1. See Peter M. Madsen, Vinit Desai, "Failing to Learn? The Effects of Failure and Success on Organizational Learning in the Global Orbital Launch Vehicle Industry," Academy of Management Journal 53:3 (2010). 

2. See Madeline Toubiana, Gad Yair, "The Salvation of Meaning in Peter Drucker's Oeuvre," Journal of Management History 18:2 (2012) for an interesting look at the German theological roots behind Drucker's management theory and views of the organization.

3. See Daniel H. Pink, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (New York: Riverhead Books, 2009).

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

What Would Kirk Do

After the release of Star Trek: Into Darkness, I began watching the original Star Trek series as well as Star Trek: The Next Generation on Netflix. I grew up watching Star Trek with my dad, including The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager. He took me to see Generations and First Contact in theaters. Star Trek is associated with some good memories.

While delving into my inner Trekkie, I came across a few Forbes articles that appealed to my inner manager as well. For the benefit of all, here is the first of (hopefully) many leadership tips from the sci-fi/fantasy world:

Five Leadership Lessons From James T. Kirk

  1. Never Stop Learning   
    •  You know the greatest danger facing us is ourselves, an irrational fear of the unknown. But there’s no such thing as the unknown– only things temporarily hidden, temporarily not understood.
Even though Kirk was a ladies man, his "reputation at the Academy was that of a "walking stack of books," in the words of his former first officer, Gary Mitchell." This extensive learning was demonstrated in his battle with Gorn (episode "Arena"), in which he preps a shotgun-like weapon using gunpowder (in the 23rd century...). Being capable of drawing on a vast array of knowledge and skills will always be beneficial in leadership. You never know what obstacles you might encounter.

     2.  Have Advisors With Different Worldviews
    •  One of the advantages of being a captain, Doctor, is being able to ask for advice without necessarily having to take it.
Commander Spock is a (half) Vulcan whose commitment to logic causes him to pity the fool who's illogical. Dr. McCoy is scientifically curious, moral, and a bit grumpy. The two often argue, with Spock cutting through emotional biases to uncover the most logical solution and McCoy providing a compassionate conscience and openness to the decision-making. As the Forbes article notes, "Kirk sometimes goes with one, or the other, or sometimes takes their advice as a springboard to developing an entirely different course of action...Organizations that allow for differences of opinion are better at developing innovation, better at solving problems, and better at avoiding groupthink. We all need a McCoy and a Spock in our lives and organizations."

     3.  Be Part of the Away Team
    •  Risk is our business. That’s what this starship is all about. That’s why we’re aboard her.
Stanford's Robert Sutton recognized that many leaders "avoid the hard work of learning about the people that they lead, the technologies their companies use, and the customers they serve. I remember hearing of a cell phone company CEO, for example, who never visited the stores where his phones were sold — because that was a management task that was beneath him — and kept pushing strategies that reflected a complete misunderstanding of customer experiences. (Perhaps he hadn't heard of how often Steve Jobs drops in at Apple stores.)" Kirk often volunteered himself to beam down with members of his crew on dangerous missions. He was able to assess the situation more clearly on the ground. While hands-on, he wasn't necessarily a micromanager. When he delegated exploration duties, he understood the risks due to first-hand experience and listened carefully to those who were in the field.

     4.  Play Poker, Not Chess
    • Not chess, Mr. Spock. Poker. Do you know the game?
Chess is, according to the Forbes article, an intricate game "of defined rules that can be mathematically determined. It’s ultimately a game of boxes and limitations. A far better analogy to strategy is poker, not chess. Life is a game of probabilities, not defined rules. And often understanding your opponents is a much greater advantage than the cards you have in your hand." Kirk is known for his rather unorthodox style in difficult scenarios. It was his exploitation of Khan's lack of space experience and "two-dimensional" thinking that made him victorious in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. It was his, as Spock put it, "unique" final solution that allowed him to become the only cadet to beat the no-win scenario of the Kobayashi Maru test: he "changed the conditions of the test" (not the same as cheating, I might add).

    5.  Blow up the Enterprise
    • ‘All I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by.’ You could feel the wind at your back in those days. The sounds of the sea beneath you, and even if you take away the wind and the water it’s still the same. The ship is yours. You can feel her. And the stars are still there, Bones.
Passion is essential to leadership, but allowing passion to lock one into the present mold can be a fatal misstep. Economist Joseph A. Schumpeter coined the term "creative destruction," which described the process by which the innovative new destroyed the old (I simply prefer the word "innovation"). While there are costs to innovation, the benefits largely outweigh them.

Schumpeter was a family friend of the Druckers (both Peter and his father Adolph visited him on New Year's Day 1950, eight days prior to Schumpeter's death) and consequently was a major influence on Peter Drucker's theories of management.[1] In order to remain relevant and beneficial to society, organizations had to be entrepreneurial and innovative. As astutely told by Forbes, "One recurring theme in the original Star Trek series is that Kirk’s first love is the Enterprise...[I]t’s hinted that his love for the ship kept him from forming any real relationships or starting a family. Despite that love, though, there came a point in Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, where Captain Kirk made a decision that must have pained him enormously – in order to defeat the Klingons attacking him and save his crew, James Kirk destroyed the Enterprise. The occasion, in the film, was treated with the solemnity of a funeral, which no doubt matched Kirk’s mood. The film ends with the crew returning to Vulcan on a stolen Klingon vessel, rather than the Enterprise. But they returned victorious."

In conclusion, Captain/Admiral James T. Kirk of the starship USS Enterprise taught and demonstrated numerous lessons to leaders galaxy-wide:

We need to keep exploring and learning. We need to ensure that we encourage creativity and innovation by listening to the advice of people with vastly different opinions. We need to occasionally get down in the trenches with the members of our teams so we understand their needs and earn their trust and loyalty. We need to understand the psychology of our competitors and also learn to radically change course when circumstances dictate. By following these lessons, we can lead our organizations into places where none have gone before.

1. See Rosabeth Moss Kanter, "What Would Peter Say?" Harvard Business Review (Nov. 2009); Karen E. Linkletter, Joseph A. Maciariello, "Genealogy of a Social Ecologist," Journal of Management History 15:4 (2009).

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

"Here Comes the Water"

Yeah, here comes the water
It comes to wash away the sins of you and I
This time you see
Like holy water
It only burns you faster than you'll ever dry
This time with me

- Velvet Revolver, "Slither," Contraband (RCA, 2004)*

"Every religious festival, any liturgical time," wrote religious scholar Mircea Eliade, "represents the reactualization of a sacred event that took place in a mythical past, "in the beginning." Religious participation in a festival implies emerging from a temporal duration and reintegration of the mythical time reactualized by the festival itself. Hence sacred time is indefinitely recoverable, indefinitely repeatable."[1] I thought of this when I prepared a lesson for deacons quorum a couple weeks ago, which was the beginning of July's Come, Follow Me topic "Ordinances and Covenants." In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes,

Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin (Romans 6:3-7).

Here the act of baptism is explicitly connected to Christ's death, burial, and resurrection. Relying on Eliade's understanding of liturgy and its "reactualization of a sacred event," it seems to me that baptism in some sense draws on the past, looks forward to the future, and brings the two into the present. The birth of the new creation (to borrow a prominent theme in the works of N.T. Wright) began with the resurrection of Jesus: the prototype of the new creation; "the last Adam" (1 Cor. 15:45). The new creation will be finalized and the entire creation transformed with the Second Coming and the resurrection of the dead. By being "baptized into [Jesus'] death" and "raised up from the dead" to "newness of life," we participate in and become a part of this new creation: "Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2 Cor. 5:17). We reactualize the sacred event of Christ's resurrection and, in some sense, actualize the eventual resurrection of all (including our own). We bring the past and future into the baptismal font and there become a part of the new creation ourselves. It is our exodus from the old and deliverance into the new. Just as the deliverance of and covenant with Israel invoked creation imagery, likewise with our deliverance and covenant.

"We are far removed from the days when one’s baptism could be said to be the most momentous event—and perhaps the most dramatic, terrifying, and joyous experience—of one’s life," says Eastern Orthodox philosopher David B. Hart.

Most Christians today, at least in the developed world, are baptized in infancy; and even those whose traditions delay the rite until adulthood are, for the most part, children of Christian families and have grown up in the faith, and so their baptisms merely seal and affirm the lives they have always lived. This was obviously not the case, however, for most of the Christians of the earliest centuries; for them, baptism was of an altogether more radical nature. It was understood as nothing less than a total transformation of the person who submitted to it; and as a ritual event, it was certainly understood as being far more than a mere dramaturgical allegory of one’s choice of religious association. To become a Christian was to renounce a very great deal of what one had known and been to that point, in order to be joined to a new reality, the demands of which were absolute; it was to depart from one world, with an irrevocable finality, and to enter another.[2]

Baptism often followed years as a "catechumen, a student of the church's teachings," during which the individual was "receiving instruction, submitting to moral scrutiny, learning to discipline one's will, and gradually becoming accustomed to the practice of the Christian life."[3] But "the most crucial feature of the rite," according to Hart, "...occurred before the catechumen’s descent into the font:

at the bishop’s direction, he or she would turn to face the west (the land of evening, and so symbolically the realm of all darkness, cosmic and spiritual), submit to a rather forcibly phrased exorcism, and then clearly renounce—indeed, revile and, quite literally, spit at—the devil and the devil’s ministers. Then he or she would turn to face the east (the land of morning and of light) to confess total faith in, and promise complete allegiance to, Christ. This was by no means mere ritual spectacle; it was an actual and, so to speak, legally binding transference of fealty from one master to another. Even the physical posture and attitude of the baptizand was charged with a palpable quality of irreverent boldness: pagan temples were as a rule designed with their entrances to the east and their altars at their western ends, while the arrangement of Christian churches was exactly the reverse. In thus turning one’s back upon, rejecting, and abusing the devil, one was also repudiating the gods to whose service one had hitherto been indentured, and was doing so with a kind of triumphant contempt; in confessing Christ, one was entrusting oneself to the invincible conqueror who had defeated death, despoiled hell of its hostages, subdued the “powers of the air,” and been raised up the Lord of history.[4]

It must be remembered that while

the early Christians did indeed regard the gods of the pagan order as false gods, they did not necessarily understand this to mean simply that these gods were unreal; they understood it to mean that the gods were deceivers. Behind the pieties of the pagan world, Christians believed, lurked forces of great cruelty and guile: demons, malign elemental spirits, occult agencies masquerading as divinities, exploiting the human yearning for God, and working to thwart the designs of God, in order to bind humanity in slavery to darkness, ignorance, and death. And to renounce one’s bonds to these beings was an act of cosmic rebellion, a declaration that one had been emancipated from (in the language of John’s Gospel) “the prince of this world” or (in the somewhat more disturbing language of 2 Corinthians) “the god of this world.” In its fallen state, the cosmos lies under the reign of evil (1 John 5:19), but Christ came to save the world, to lead “captivity captive” (Ephesians 4:8), and to overthrow the empire of those “thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers” (Colossians 1:16, 1 Corinthians 2:8, Ephesians 1:21, 3:10) and “rulers on high” (Ephesians 6:12) that have imprisoned creation in corruption and evil. Again, given the perspective of our age, we can scarcely avoid reading such language as mythological, thus reducing its import from cosmic to more personal or political dimensions. In so doing, however, we fail to grasp the scandal and the exhilaration of early Christianity.[5]

These various forces were "not merely earthly princes or empires (though princes and empires served their ends); much less were they vague abstractions; they were, according to Jewish Apocalyptic tradition, the angelic governors of the nations, the celestial “archons,” the often mutinous legions of the air..." With this in mind, we can recognize that "the life of faith was, for the early church, before all else, spiritual warfare, waged between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of this fallen world, and every Christian on the day of his or her baptism had been conscripted into that struggle, on the side of Christ."[6] And while this view may seem to us "either touchingly quaint or savagely superstitious (depending on the degree to which we deceive ourselves that our vision of reality surpasses all others in sanity), we should recall that, in late antiquity, practically no one doubted that there was a sacral order to the world, or that the social, the political, the cosmic, and the religious realms of human existence were always inextricably involved with one another. Every state was also a cult, or a plurality of cults; society was a religious dispensation; the celestial and political orders belonged to a single continuum; and one’s allegiance to one’s gods was also one’s loyalty to one’s nation, people, masters, and monarchs."[7]

While I'm wary of jumping on the kind of "Jesus was a rebel" bandwagon (sheer badassedness should not be an end in itself), the radical nature of ordinances and what they represent are nonetheless often lost of modern participants. Waking up to what they've covenanted to do can hardly be a bad thing. 

*This live version is actually Slash feat. Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators in honor of the fact that I just saw them in Dallas this past week.

1. Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion (New York: Hartcourt, 1987 [1957]), 68-69.

2. David B. Hart, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), 111. 

3. Ibid., 112.

4. Ibid., 113.

5. Ibid., 113-114.

6. Ibid., 114.

7. Ibid.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Milk, Misspellings, and Other Reasons

As we discussed Lesson #24 in Gospel Doctrine class, I couldn't help but be annoyed by the same narrative I always hear about individuals who leave the Church. It didn't help that the historical examples--Thomas Marsh's cream incident and the misspelling of Symonds (Simonds) Ryder's (Rider) name--are fairly poor choices. As explained over at By Common Consent,

Thomas B. Marsh
Excommunicated in 1839
Rebaptized in 1857
Marsh was loyal to Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon in the crises of 1837, which saw the collapse of the church in Kirtland, and Marsh led efforts to expel potential troublemakers (Oliver Cowdery and the Whitmers) from their leadership roles in the church in Missouri. However, just a few months later, during the events of the 1838 Mormon War in Missouri, Marsh did voluntarily leave the faith, (along with fellow apostle Orson Hyde who soon returned). As Marsh explained in his October 24, 1838, affidavit, he left because he was alarmed that his fellow coreligionists had formed mobs, expelled all the non-Mormons from Daviess County, stolen their property, and burned their homes and towns to the ground. 

Although the Mormons at the time were steeped in Gideon’s mythic defeat of the Midianites (Judges 7-8), where God required only 300 men to defeat 120,000, the danger in escalating the violence — in fighting mobs with mobs and in answering pillaging with pillaging — was extreme. The Mormons were as hopelessly outnumbered as Gideon. As much as the Saints eventually suffered after their defeat, even worse results were quite possible. The massacre at Haun’s Mill might just as easily have been replicated en masse at Far West, and the trial of Joseph Smith and other leaders may well have been a court martial and summary execution, (however illegal).

Whether or not one agrees with Marsh’s conviction that the acts committed by the Saints in northwestern Missouri were immoral and impious, I think we can at least agree that this seed of his apostasy from the faith was no small thing. Rather, it was a big thing.

Even the Church's Revelations in Context recognizes the part violence played in Marsh's decision:

[Marsh] was among several Latter-day Saints who became disturbed by the increasingly violent relationship between Church members and their Missouri neighbors. Also contributing to his deepening dissatisfaction was the infamous “cream strippings” incident, which occurred in August or September 1838, involving Marsh’s wife, Elizabeth, and Lucinda Harris, wife of George W. Harris.

In regards to Symonds Ryder, Cheryl Bruno points out,

Perhaps the misspelling was a bother to Ryder, but this one incident was hardly the sole reason for Ryder's departure. For one thing, spelling was more fluid in the 19th century and earlier. An attempt at standardized spelling in the U.S. did not begin until the appearance of Webster's “American Dictionary of the English Language” in 1828, and for at least a half century many words continued to be vociferously debated. American census-takers varied quite a bit in their reporting of people's names, showing that they were not asking people "How is that spelled?" but rather writing the name as they thought it should appear.
The headstone of Symonds Ryder

For example, it was spelled "Simonds" in the 1830 census, "Symonds" in 1840, and "Symands" in 1870. But in an 1868 letter to A.S. Hayden, Ryder recalled that papers by Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon revealed "the horrid fact that a plot was laid to take their property from them and place it under the control of Joseph Smith the prophet." The shock over consecration as well as the influence of the disillusioned Ezra Booth[1] (it must be remembered that Ryder did not leave until Booth returned from his mission in September of 1831, a couple months after the misspelling) were major contributors to Ryder's apostasy.

Of course, these details do not justify apostasy or the actions that followed. For example, Joseph Smith remembered hearing mob members during the March 1832 tar-and-feathering calling out on several occasions, "'Simonds, Simonds' (meaning I supposed Simonds Rider)." While Ryder never returned to the Church, Marsh eventually did. But both of these departures were far from inconsequential in their reasoning. It was much more than milk strippings and misspelled names (even if both these reasons are still taught from the pulpit in General Conference).

With most of this running through my head and pulled up on my iPod, I finally raised my hand. I explained that I recognized the lesson was for our personal application; a way to protect ourselves individually from minor offenses. However, in response to "don't take offense," I suggested that we make an attempt to not be offensive. While those offending often "don't even realize it" (as one class member put it), perhaps we should practice a little self-awareness and "realize it." Instead of seeing all those who leave as lazy, shallow apostates, perhaps we should step down from our smug self-righteousness and see if we had any part in their leaving. While the choice ultimately lies with them, I certainly would hate to know someone left in part because I was a jerk. The members of the Church should create a culture of love, forgiveness, and peace. We must extend forgiveness and love towards those who offend us, while doing (and seeking) the same for (and from) those we offend. Instead of justifying our anger toward offenders or our insensitivity toward the offended, perhaps a little compassion all around is in order. By doing so, we can keep the Church as true as the gospel.

1. Though Booth was initially converted due to a witnessed healing in the spring of 1831, the impact of other healings and supernatural occurrences began to diminish. He also saw Joseph Smith as an authoritarian who lacked the "sobriety, prudence and stability" of a true prophet and instead engaged in "a spirit of lightness and levity, a temper easily irritated, and an habitual proneness to jesting and joking" (Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. New York: Random House, 2005, 170). 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Frank the Tank

Apparently, the "Frank the Tanks" of the country are helping tank the economy. According to CDC, binge drinking cost the nation $223.5 billion ($1.90 per drink) in 2006. Seventy-two percent of the total cost were due to loss in workplace productivity. This data "suggests," according to The Atlantic, "that the economic drag from hangovers is about $160 billion (...also the total cost of natural catastrophes in 2012.) Or think of it this way. Americans have about 117 billion alcoholic drinks each year. Hangovers cost us about $1.37 for each drink in lost productivity."

Three-quarters of the cost of binge drinking is due to only 15% of U.S. adults. As CDC reports,

Overall, researchers found that about $94.2 billion (42 percent) of the total economic costs of excessive alcohol consumption were borne by federal, state, and local governments while $92.9 billion (41.5 percent) was borne by excessive drinkers and their family members. Government agencies paid most of the health care expenses due to excessive alcohol use (61 percent), while drinkers and their families bore most of the cost of lost productivity (55 percent), primarily in the form of lower household income. Excessive alcohol consumption, including high per–occasion alcohol consumption (binge drinking), and high average daily alcohol consumption is responsible for an average of 79,000 deaths in the United States each year.

Pretty saddening to see the societal and economic impact of alcohol consumption. Makes that aspect of the Word of Wisdom seem all the wiser. However, I wonder how much binge drinking among Mormons would have increased if Brigham Young, Jr. and John Henry Smith had gotten their way regarding beer.[1]

1. " 1901, John Henry Smith and Brigham Young, Jr., of the Twelve both thought that the Church ought not interdict beer, or at least not Danish beer. Other apostles, like Anthon H. Lund and Matthias F. Cowley also enjoyed Danish beer and currant wine. Charles W. Penrose occasionally served wine." (Thomas G. Alexander, "The Word of Wisdom: From Principle to Requirement," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 14:3, 1981: 78.) I'm willing to bet cultural restraints would keep the excessive consumption low given that only 15% of U.S. adults are categorized as binge drinkers.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

"Real" Life

I had never read any C.S. Lewis prior to my mission. A ward member bought Elder Anderson and I copies of The Chronicles of Narnia for Christmas one year, but I never cracked any of Lewis' philosophical/apologetic writings until my first year of marriage. I still remember quite clearly lying in bed in our first apartment reading the first chapter (letter) of The Screwtape Letters and being struck by the following (from the demon Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood):

C.S. Lewis
Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to have a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn't think of doctrines as primarily 'true' or 'false', but as 'academic' or 'practical', 'outworn' or 'contemporary', 'conventional' or 'ruthless'. Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don't waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong, or stark, or courageous--that it is the philosophy of the future. That's the sort of thing he cares about. The trouble about argument is that it moves the whole struggle on to [God]'s own ground. He can argue too; whereas in really practical propaganda of the kind I am suggesting He has been shown for centuries to be greatly the inferior of Our Father Below...Even if a particular train of thought can be twisted so as to end in our favour, you will find that you have been strengthening in your patient the fatal habit of attending to universal issues and withdrawing his attention from the stream of immediate sense experiences. Your business is to fix his attention on the stream. Teach him to call it 'real life' and don't let him ask what he means by 'real'.[1]

I also remember asking myself afterwards what exactly I meant by 'real'.

1. Lewis, Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters: Complete In One Volume (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2003), 241-242.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Compassionate Patriotism

Over at Berkley's Greater Good, writer Jeremy Adam Smith discusses what he calls "compassionate patriotism." Even though patriotism can lead to the dehumanization of outsiders, it can also breed altruism. Drawing on the research of moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt, Smith points out that one of the five foundational moral values in human beings is ingroup loyalty. Smith is certainly short-changing political conservatives by describing patriotism as "a special property of the Right" due to their "morality rest[ing] upon the Loyalty foundation." This is especially true given that Haidt thinks "conservatives have a more accurate understanding of human nature than do liberals," drawing on all five values rather than just two (i.e. Harm/Care, Fairness/Reciprocity) like political liberals.

Nonetheless, Smith provides four ways to avoid the negative effects of patriotism:

  • Make love of humanity an explicit goal.
As John F. Kennedy said in his 1961 inaugural address, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man." As Smith puts it, "Group formation and loyalty are indeed natural and supported by our bodies, but we are also very well equipped to overcome our kneejerk fears or prejudices. We just need to give ourselves opportunities for reflection on our biases—and dedicate ourselves to overcoming them." The Prophet Joseph Smith said, "Love is one of the chief characteristics of Deity, and ought to be manifested by those who aspire to be the sons of God. 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."[1]

"Knowing this to be true is one of the steps that allows people to extend their fellow feeling beyond their immediate circles, to encompass a broader swath of humanity."

  • Extend self-compassion to America.
"For the Right, these are all qualities that could help build a kinder, gentler, less defensive patriotism. For the Left, feelings of shame can make us come down harshly on ourselves and our countrymen without also recognizing our nation’s positive qualities—the values and accomplishments that motivate us to connect with other Americans and celebrate our shared identity. For both groups, research by Neff and her colleagues finds that self-compassion actually leads to greater compassion for others. If you know how to identify and address suffering in yourself, you are better able to do the same for other people."

  • Embrace authentic, not hubristic, pride.
"If we feel pride, it should be in the accomplishments of our fellow citizens and in any contributions we ourselves have made toward making our country and community a better place, however small and local. Pride of simply being born American leads to hubris, which leads to bigotry and belligerence. For pride to be authentic, it must be something we feel we have earned." C.S. Lewis explained (and was later paraphrased by Ezra Taft Benson), "But pride always means enmity--it is enmity. And not only enmity between man and man, but enmity to God."[2] Noting the unintended consequences of President Benson's original address, President Uchtdorf tried to draw the distinction between righteous and unrighteous pride: "I believe there is a difference between being proud of certain things and being prideful. I am proud of many things. I am proud of my wife. I am proud of our children and grandchildren." In a roundabout way, this seems to be encouraging some much-needed humility.[3]

So, this July 4, be proud of your country. Be compassionate toward it. Then, take that compassion and place it within the larger context of global humanity. Happy 4th everyone.

And with that, Jimi Hendrix.

1. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, ed. Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1938), 174.

2. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters: Complete in One Volume (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2003), 122.

3. See John Dickson, Humilitas: A Lost Key to Love, Life, and Leadership (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011).