Monday, December 31, 2007

The year in review, or, at least, what I read in 2007...

Well, it is the last day of the year.

I haven’t made any resolutions (anyway, none that I’m willing to go on record with), and I’ll leave the “year in review” pieces to those who don’t get as depressed as I do looking back at this year of record stupidities.

But, I thought I’d at least share my reading list for the year.

At the beginning of the year I decided that I was going to read a book a week. I ended up short by 12. But that means that I did manage to read 40 books this year. Not bad in a year that was crowded with work, with taking care of my mother, with trying to be a more active writer, and with all the various activities that make up everyday life.

Some of this list might look familiar; I posted the list for the first half of the year at the end of June/beginning of July. Anyway, this is the list for the full year (the dates are the day I completed each book. Non-fiction titles are marked with an asterisk.

1. Rage, Jonathan Kellerman (Ballantine Books, 2005) 391 pages (paperback edition). 1 January 2007.

2. Behind Closed Doors, Natalie R. Collins (St Martin Paperbacks, 2007) 322 pages. 8 January 2007.

3. The Lucifer Gospel, Paul Christopher (Onyx Books, New American Library, 2006) 357 pages. 4 February 2007.

4. Last on the Menu*, Sister Eleanor Quin, C. S. J. (Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1969) 182 pages. 18 February 2007.

5. The Republican Noise Machine*, David Brock (Three Rivers Press, 2004; Afterward copyright 2005) 432 pages. 19 February 2007.

6. The Templar Legacy, Steve Berry (Ballantine Books, 2006) 487 pages. 24 February 2007.

7. The Republican War on Science*, Chris Mooney (Basic Books) 357 pages.
7 March 2007.

8. An Alphabetical Life*, Wendy Werris (Carroll & Graf Publishers) 292 pages. 12 March 2007.

9. Hotel California: The true-life adventures of Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young, Mitchell, Taylor, Browne, Ronstadt, Geffen, the Eagles, and their many friends*, Barney Hoskins (John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2006) 324 pages. 25 March 2007.

10. The Alexandria Link, Steve Berry (Ballantine Books, 2007) 462 pages. 26 March 2007.

11. Michelangelo’s Notebook, Paul Christopher (Onyx Books, 2005) 358 pages. 5 April 2007.

12. The Collar*, Jonathan Englert (Houghton Mifflin, 2006) 301 pages. 8 April 2007.

13. Tutu Deadly, Natalie M. Roberts (Berkley Prime Crime, 2007) 248 pages. 17 April 2007.

14. 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus*, Charles C. Mann (Vintage, 2005, 2006) 541 pages. 4 May 2007.

15. All Saints, Liam Callahan (Delacorte, 2007). 7 May 2007.

16. The Last Cato, Matilde Asensi (Rayo, 2006; originally published in Spanish, 2001) 458 pages. 13 May 2007.

17. The Machine’s Child, Kage Baker (Tor, 2006) 351 pages. 22 May 2007.

18. Evolving God*, Barbara J. King (Doubleday, 2007) 262 pages. 30 May 2007.

19. Gods and Pawns, Kage Baker (Tor, 2007) 335 pages. 4 June 2007.

20. Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion, and the Battle for America’s Soul*, Edward Humes (Ecco/HarperCollins, 2007) 380 pages. 22 June 2007.

21. By Their Father’s Hand: The True Story of the Wesson Family Massacre*, Monte Francis (Harper, 2007) 285 pages. 4 July 2007.

22. Rembrandt’s Ghost, Paul Christopher (Signet, 2007) 347 pages. 22 July 2007.

23. Dr. Mary’s Monkey: How the unsolved murder of a doctor, a secret laboratory in New Orleans and cancer-causing monkey viruses are linked to Lee Harvey Oswald, the JFK assassination and emerging global epidemics*, Edward T. Haslam (TrineDay, 2007) 374 pages. 27 July 2007.

24. Echo Park, Michael Connelly (Warner, 2006) 427 pages. 30 July 2007.

25. The Ritual Bath, Faye Kellerman (Arbor House, 1986) 282 pages. 5 August 2007.

26. Straight Into Darkness, Faye Kellerman (Warner Books, 2005) 510 pages. 14 August 2007.

27. Gone, Jonathan Kellerman (Ballantine Books, 2006) 365 pages. 19 August 2007.

28. Dress Her in Indigo, John D. MacDonald (Fawcett Crest, 1969) 301 pages. 26 August 2007.

29. The Garden of Eden and Other Criminal Delights, Faye Kellerman (Warner Books, 2006) 370 pages. 27 August 2007.

30. The Black Echo, Michael Connelly (Warner Books, 1992) 482 pages. 6 September 2007.

31. The Closers, Michael Connelly (Little, Brown, 2005) 403 pages. 11 September 2007.

32. The Concrete Blonde, Michael Connelly (Warner Books, 1994) 484 pages. 19 September 2007.

33. Lost Light, Michael Connelly (Warner Books, 2003) 385 pages. 5 October 2007.

34. Tapped Out, Natalie M. Roberts (Berkeley Prime Crime, 2007) 261 pages. 13 October 2007.

35. Trunk Music, Michael Connelly (St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 1997) 427 pages. 21 October 2007.

36. The Overlook, Michael Connelly (Little, Brown, 2007) 225 pages. 30 October 2007.

37. The Last Coyote, Michael Connelly (Grand Central Publishing, 1995) 495 pages. 9 November 2007.

38. Angels Flight, Michael Connelly (Warner Books, 1999) 454 pages. 16 November 2007.

39. City of Bones, Michael Connelly (Warner/Vision Books, 2002) 421 pages. 23 November 2007.

40. The Prey, Allison Brennan (Ballantine, 2006) 395 pages. 18 December 2007.

I read a lot more fiction this year than I usually do, and as you can see, I went on quite a mystery tangent from about July on. This is not to say that I didn’t read any non-fiction in the last half of the year. I just got most of my non-fiction reading in other places than books, and most of the non-fiction books I dipped into were for research and I did not read all of any of them.

The tangent will likely continue, as the book I’m in the middle of now…actually two of the four books I’m reading now (yes, I read more than one book at a time)…are in the mystery genre. Of the other two, one is about trilobites and the other is about the opposing views of religion and other topics taken by Sigmund Freud and C. S. Lewis. Interesting reading in all cases.

So, my question for you dear readers, is: What did you read in 2007? What do you recommend, and what do you recommend I stay away from? And, what is at the top of your to-read list for the new year?

Sunday, December 23, 2007

I saw the real spirit of Christmas today...

I saw the real spirit of Christmas today.

It didn’t have anything to do with buying lots of presents or eating lots of food. It didn’t have anything to do with arguing about how to correctly greet people during the holiday season.

Driving home from checking on my friend Pamela’s dog…she’s on the East Coast celebrating with her family…I saw a woman (probably mother) and child standing on one of the freeway overpasses next to their bicycles smiling down at those of us driving on the freeway and waving big.

Obviously, I don’t know whether their motivation for giving this little gift of friendliness to the community had anything to do with the upcoming holiday or not. Perhaps they do this often. Maybe it is the halfway point on the bicycle ride they were taking, and they stopped to rest and just decided it would be fun to wave at the cars.

None of that matters. Often, Christmas cards carry messages with some form of the sentiment “Tidings of joy and peace on Earth”. Well, it seems like it would be fairly difficult to do anything harmful to peace while smiling and waving at people. And it brought me great joy to see them up there.

So, for me at least, those two individuals were the embodiment of the spirit of Christmas at that time and in that place.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Mitt and Mike (don't) discuss Jesus and Lucifer...

I’ve been following this Mitt Romney-Mike Huckabee thing for the past few days, and I have to say that if they can’t find anything to do besides quibble about religion, they don’t need to be running for president. You might expect that sort of thing on the playground; I don't expect it on the campaign trail. Then again, I tend to be idealistic about these things.

But they are…running for president and quibbling about religion…and all of this gets spread out all over the media.

I won’t even discuss Mitt’s speech last week, or not much anyway. Suffice it to say that I know exactly what he was doing, who he was trying to impress, and I don’t think that throwing the atheists, the agnostics, and the non-monotheists under the bus in an attempt to gain the evangelical vote speaks very well for the man and his principles, especially after his line about a “symphony of faith”. Apparently he believes - or wants evangelicals to believe that he believes - that only monotheists, and preferably Christian monotheists, have a faith that is acceptable to him.

Not that it is all that easy to put your finger on exactly what Mitt believes, since he seems to change his mind so often on policy issues.

The more recent tempest in a teapot is more entertaining.

Apparently an article will appear on Sunday in the New York Times Magazine in which Mike Huckabee raises an interesting question of Mormon theology. Do the Mormons believe, he asks (rhetorically or not), that Jesus and Lucifer are brothers?

Mitt has come up sputtering that he thinks its dirty pool to attack his religion, and the LDS church has come up with a non-denial denial. According to a church spokesperson:

“We believe, as other Christians believe and as Paul wrote, that God is the father of all. That means that all beings were created by God and are his spirit children. Christ, on the other hand, was the only begotten in the flesh and we worship him as the son of God and savior of mankind. Satan is the exact opposite of who Christ is and what he stands for.”

All an accurate picture of LDS belief, as far as it goes. But it doesn’t go very far.

I was a Mormon for a long time. If I heard the story about Jesus and Lucifer once, I heard it a hundred times in Sunday School classes and Relief Society lessons and across the pulpit in a number of venues. It goes like this:

In the preexistence, Jesus was the eldest brother of Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. Their second son (or maybe the son of Heavenly Father and another of his plural wives; anyway, Heavenly Father’s second son) was Lucifer. Heavenly Father loved both of them exceedingly, and when the planning for this earth was in progress both Jesus and Lucifer presented their schemes for the Plan of Salvation. Jesus plan was that each spirit child (by then there were hosts of them, as Heavenly Father and his wives had been very busy) would come to earth for the mortal probation and have the free will to accept God’s plan and believe in him or not. Lucifer’s plan was that mortals would be forced to accept God’s plan of salvation. That way everyone would be saved, whether they wanted to be or not.

Heavenly Father put his seal of approval on Jesus’ plan. Of course, that pissed Lucifer off and he and his followers (generally numbered as one-third of Heavenly Father’s spirit children) rebelled. This resulted in the war in heaven, and Lucifer and his followers were ejected from Heaven.

Yeah. I know. But it’s what they teach. Whether they are willing to admit it or not. Which is why I don’t get why Mitt is going around now complaining about how Mike Huckabee has attacked his religion. Yes, Mike likely asked it in order to raise doubts about Mitt’s status as a Christian, or at least as a mainstream Christian. But, since it is something that has been widely taught in the LDS church for a long time, I find it fairly disingenuous of Mitt to act all offended. He said in his speech last week that “My faith is the faith of my fathers. I will be true to them and to my beliefs.” He isn’t doing that if he isn’t willing to own all the teachings of his church.

Well, no. I do understand what is going on with Mitt’s protestations, just as I know what he was trying to do in his speech.

That story is not for the consumption of outsiders. There are a lot of things like that in Mormonism, actually. You see, Mormons, or at least the official church treasure the concept of milk before meat. That means that when someone is an outsider, or is investigating the faith, you don’t exactly tell them everything. You don’t talk too much about things like how Jesus and Lucifer are the eldest spirit children of Heavenly Father. You don’t talk about how Heavenly Father has more than one Heavenly Wife. You don’t talk about the story (a faith-promoting rumor, basically; read that as a specifically Mormon urban legend) that Jesus occasionally comes down personally to the temples to check the records and see that everything is being done correctly.

The things that fall into this category of “reserved for the believer” vary from time to time and place to place, and there are more of them now than there used to be. It has become somewhat of an in-joke among former Mormons how often the General Authorities (the leaders of the church) say, these days, “I’m not sure that we teach that.” This was famously uttered by Gordon B. Hinckley, the current president and prophet of the church in an interview with Larry King on CNN, when he was asked about the couplet that was repeated more or less constantly when I was active in the church that “As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become.”

Well, be that as it may, now it seems that Huckabee has apologized to Romney for asking the question, which is probably a good thing. He probably shouldn’t have asked it in the first place. But he did ask it, and it managed to attract the media’s attention and, likely, caused a few headaches in the Church Office Building in Salt Lake City.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

How not to win friends and bring people into your church...

I’m puzzled.

Do the Mormons really think that the best way to get my mother and I back into the church is by telling us that we are wrong and that we need to repent?

It isn’t even just repentance that we need, according to an article that the visiting teachers* mailed to us (we asked them not to bother us in person, but said that they could mail stuff to us…I’m rethinking that decision at this point). We need, apparently, to change everything we do, think and say. Because we just aren’t good enough for God the way we are.

Great. Re-activate people by insulting them. That’ll work.


Don’t believe that they take this approach? Let me quote from the article, which was written by Russell M. Nelson, one of the church’s general authorities. I’d love to tell you what church publication it appeared in, but the quality of the Xerox copy is such that I can only make out a dim “May 2007” on the bottom of one of the pages. You can probably find it (it is titled “Repentance and Conversion”) if you search the church publications at the LDS church’s official website.

Among other things, Nelson writes:

“Yes, the Lord has commanded us to repent, to change our ways, to come unto Him, and be more like him. This requires a total change.” (Emphasis mine.)

There is a footnote attributing part of this statement, but the woman who sent this to us didn’t bother to copy the page that held that footnote. I guess we’re just supposed to take her, and the writer’s, word for it, get with the program, and be…somebody else.

Honestly, this was one of the (many) problems I had with the church. No one wanted me to be myself. Everybody wanted me to be someone else, namely like every other Mormon woman was expected to be: only interested in getting married and keeping house and in having children and knowing my place. I tried for years to be that person, by the way, but I finally realized that it was a losing battle and that there isn’t anything wrong with me the way I am. I should have known that I would never fit in, because there were a couple of problems there.

Problem number one: My only domestic quality, as a key chain I used to carry said, is that I live in a house. Well, this is not completely true as I can cook if need be; I can knit, crochet and do counted cross stitch; and I do keep the place reasonably clean. But cooking and cleaning are things I do because I have to, not because I love them and not because I think they are part of my "role" as a woman.

Problem number two: I’ve never been good at “knowing my place”, of sitting down, shutting up and behaving myself. Of going along to get along.

I’ve no doubt they’ll keep trying. Every month, we get a little note in the mail saying how much the miss us and love us. Which is kind of funny, since we’ve never attended that ward** and they don’t know us at all. Well, the visiting teachers came to the door once not long after we moved here, but that certainly doesn’t constitute a “knowing” extensive enough to either miss us or love us.

All of this offends me, this being told by people who don’t even know me that I must change or God won’t love me.

I know, I know. All of this will only feed into the stereotype supported by the church that people only leave because they’ve “been offended” or because they’re “too lazy” to live church standards. Or because they "want to sin".

Well, no. I did not leave because I was offended. If all it would have taken for me to leave was to be offended I would have been well and truly out years and years earlier than I was. And honestly, I’m not too lazy to live church standards. I just don’t believe that many of the “church standards” have anything to do with actually being a good person. For example, I fail to see how drinking coffee…or having more than one ear piercing in each ear…or men having facial hair…would make someone not a good person. Oh, and for the record, I don’t drink coffee and I don’t have pierced ears at all any more. Not being of the male persuasion, I don’t think the facial hair thing applies. And as for sinning: A) I know plenty of people who do plenty of sinning without leaving the church and, B) I don't do any more sinning now, out of the church, than I ever did in it.

They should probably just save their postage. The reactivation thing won’t work. I figured out some time ago that I just was not cut out to be a nice little Mormon girl.

*For the uninitiated, the church assigns women, usually in pairs, to go out and visit a certain number of women every month, ostensibly to make sure that they are doing all right and to see if they need anything. The problem with that theory is that it always seemed, when we had visiting teachers come to visit this, they were mostly busy looking at the house to see if we kept it clean enough and if there was any evidence that we had been doing anything we shouldn’t have been doing.

**That’s like a Catholic parish or a Protestant congregation.