Friday, March 31, 2006

Semper Fidelis: A Marine's last journey

This story attracted my attention recently when the photo-essay portion of it appeared in a photography magazine I purchased one evening at Borders. The online version contains several additional images not included in the magazine, and thus is far more compelling than the magazine's abbreviated depiction of the events.

This is the story of the final homecoming of a 24-year-old Marine second lieutenant named James Cathey, of my former hometown of Reno, Nevada, who was killed last August 21 by an IED (improvised explosive device) in Iraq. So powerful was the blast that it virtually destroyed his body. He had been in Iraq for only a month, and left behind his pregnant wife and their unborn son, who was to be named after him. Regardless of how one feels about the war, the essential, raw, bottom-line result of any armed conflict is individual tragedy and heartbreak, multiplied exponentially, and compounded by emotions which are incomprehensible to those who have never experienced them. The Iraq conflict is no exception.

This entry consists of two links. The first one, provided here, is a journalist's moving account of Lt. Cathey's homecoming and funeral. The second link, which may be found here, is the photographic essay. Read the written account first, then look at the photos.

And have a box of Kleenex handy.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

30 years of Apple history

MacWorld has the story.

Learning virtue "line upon line"

I've decided that whenever I go too long without putting a new post on my blog -- and there have been a few such periods, Flickr not being to blame for all of them -- I'll just drop in on Happy Catholic, where I know Julie will have added something worth sharing here as well. When my brain is empty, hers seems to plow along relentlessly, at full speed. Such was the case today, although for this day I had already added what I think is a worthwhile post in its own right. This, however, is a link to a quote by St. John Chrysostom about how to grow in virtue, which is something I hope all of my readers aspire to do.

A hat-tip to Julie for once again working her particular magic out there in the blogosphere.

JFK and chiasmus

Earlier today, I was looking for some humorous quips and quotes by President John F. Kennedy when I came across this. I will explore the site in more depth when I have the time, but this page provided me with some interesting and entertaining reading material; so I marked it as a favorite site, then forwarded the link to my young Iranian friend, who loves the English language and appreciates a good turn of phrase as much as I do. (I also did that because, more than 40 years after his assassination, President Kennedy continues to exert a unique sort of appeal to young people, both here and abroad.) Students of the Book of Mormon, particularly those with an intellectual bent, are familiar with chiasmus, with which the sacred volume abounds; but as this website proves, the technique is familiar to many of the world's greatest authors and statesmen as well, although their version of it is not nearly as elaborate or sophisticated as that used by the Nephite prophets.

Enjoy! I will shortly be providing a permanent link to this site on the blog.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

"Let there be light!"

"Let there be light!"
Originally uploaded by gwilmore.
This photo, which I took last Sunday evening while en route to a stake priesthood meeting, is drawing quite a response from the Flickr crowd. I wonder if it should be on the cover of a Mormon Tabernacle Choir CD, or something.

I have posted this to a number of Flickr groups, including "Christianity," doubtless to the consternation and annoyance of our friend thedib. Ha! Take that!

Reality TV, and what passes for literature

As all of my day-to-day readers know, I correspond regularly with a young university student in Iran, for whom my affection and respect continue to grow as I become better acquainted with her. She is bright, generous, sensitive, thoughtful, and remarkably well-read, among other things; and I find myself hoping more and more that our friendship is as rewarding for her as it is for me, although I have some doubts on that score. I've been made to understand that she has a wonderful set of parents, which is easy enough to believe; in any event, they appear to have done a crackerjack job of raising my young friend.

Earlier this week, I learned a couple of tidbits about her that I found particularly impressive. The first is that she decided at an early age that she wanted to learn English, which she then proceeded to teach herself, partly by devouring one English classic after another in the original language. (I did much the same thing myself with Italian, so I can relate. Incidentally, she told me she reads more in English than she does in Persian.) The second is that in a message I received from her a couple of days ago, she emphasized a point by quoting from Hard Times, a Dickens novel which, I am more than a little embarrassed to admit, I had never even heard of until that moment. Although nonfiction is more my domain, I consider myself to be no slouch when it comes to literature; but considering the society in which my friend lives and moves and has her being, my own accomplishments with respect to reading pale when compared to hers. (As an aside, I am aware that she was up one night this week until 3 a.m. She told me that was her favorite time for reading and introspection, and she evidently puts it to very good use.)

I could not help thinking of her earlier today, when I came across this article, which appears in even though I discovered it myself through a link in Meridian Magazine. My Iranian friend is starting to seem like the daughter I wish I had, not because I don't appreciate Vanessa -- fact is, I adore Vanessa, who has some unique and much-appreciated gifts of her own -- but merely because Vanessa is in no way an intellectual. Part of that is simply because she is not naturally drawn to the world of books and ideas, but surely the constant dumbing-down of public-school curricula has something to do with it as well. As the article points out, this trend toward mediocrity has infected higher education as well, promising eventual results that will surely be unfortunate for all of us, if not downright tragic. The author notes that reality TV and higher education are starting to resemble each other, and makes a good case to support her claim.

Meanwhile, in the spirit of Section 88 of the Doctrine and Covenants -- a book she has almost certainly never heard of, although perhaps I should not be particularly surprised if she has -- my Iranian friend finds time, even amid the difficulties of coping with the whims, caprices, aggravations, and impositions of her regime, to seek wisdom and learning "out of the best books." She seems to be driven by a unique sort of internal compass, which I wish she could replicate somehow and distribute among the powers-that-be in the higher-education establishment here in America.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Offensive photo

"Think on these things"
Originally uploaded by gwilmore.
To illustrate my previous post, this is the picture which generated the discussion I wrote about. Check it out, and read the description and comments which follow it.

Missionary moment: Answering the critics

Several weeks ago, I took a picture of Philippians 4:8, which I regard as one of the loveliest passages in all of scripture, and posted it to the "Christianity" group on Flickr. A day or two later, I discovered that another member of Flickr had commented on my photo with a link to an anti-Mormon website. What followed next is explained below, but meanwhile, the same person has included the same link in a post of his own, again to the "Christianity" group.

Earlier today, I submitted the following response, which I have decided is worth reproducing here. As I noted, I can understand why some people find certain practices and teachings of my church to be a little difficult to accept, and nobody needs to apologize for that; but I do get a little tired of the wearisome, and unfair, accusations that Latter-day Saints are not even Christian. Thus, I hope this is informative and enlightening to one and all. (The person's username on Flickr is "thedib," although I don't know the origin of that. Flickr is full of interesting and creative usernames, of which one of my own favorites is "Lex in the City.")

Anyway, here's what I said:

"I suppose it is confession time now. I am the person who aroused thedib’s indignation a few weeks ago by daring to post, to this group, a photo of Philippians 4:8 as it appears in the King James Version of the Bible. The passage, which I regard as one of the loveliest in the entire canon of scripture, is doctrinally neutral, and enunciates a principle which could be endorsed by any decent person of any religious persuasion – evangelical Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or even atheist, for that matter. I dedicated the picture to a member of Flickr who I thought best typified Paul’s sentiment as expressed in this verse, and it may be worth noting here that the person in question is a devout Catholic. The annoyance expressed by thedib is based on the fact that I happen to be – O horror of horrors, dare I even mention the word? – a Mormon.

"A day or two after I posted the photo, I discovered that he had added a comment to it, which consisted almost entirely of the link he has since added to this thread. I immediately blocked him, and sent him a message to the effect that I resented what he had done, and thought his use of my photo as a platform to propagate his anti-Mormon views was a cheap shot, which did not reflect well on him personally, nor did it serve the broader interests of the Christian faith he purported to represent. I mentioned part, but not all, of the following to him: namely, that I am a convert to this church, having joined it in 1970; that I used to be an evangelical Christian; that I did not renounce my belief in Christ as Savior when I was baptized a Mormon, nor have I since; and that even if my affiliation with this so-called “evil and satanic cult” was a mistaken decision – which I do not for a moment believe – I am still satisfied that I have not placed myself outside the purview of His grace, merely because I now espouse the idea that He can, and does, speak to modern prophets, and that the canon of scripture is not limited to the Bible. As one who was once outside my church looking in, I can understand why someone might find some of our doctrines and practices to be a bit peculiar, and perhaps difficult to swallow; but I simply DON’T understand how that puts us outside the pale of even being worthy to be considered Christian. I don’t believe in transubstantiation, the assumption of the Virgin, or papal infallibility, nor do I pray the rosary; but none of that prevents me from believing that a faithful Catholic who tries to live by the tenets of his or her faith deserves credit for being a Christian, and probably a pretty good one at that. In my view, any church that can produce the likes of Pope John Paul II, Mother Teresa, and Francis of Assisi has an awful lot to be said in its favor.

"I have also reflected frequently on the New Testament story of Peter’s complaint that an individual who was not “one of us” had been going about doing miracles in His name, whereupon the Savior admonished Peter to accept that, adding that “he who is not against us is for us.” My religious convictions are what they are, and I make no apologies for them; but I am fully aware that the overwhelming majority of the world’s population disagrees with me on spiritual matters, and I also believe part of my religious obligation is to be a good neighbor, and to respect what is sacred to other people. For this reason, I will not be caught dead posting, for example, a link to an anti-Islamic website. Such an act would, in my view, displease God, to say nothing of some highly-regarded Muslim friends of mine. Moreover, if I want to learn what Catholics or Muslims believe, I’ll ask a practicing Catholic or Muslim, or consult some official source, rather than resort to websites sponsored or run by their critics. In my view, this is simply a matter of following the Golden Rule, as I know a lot of falsehoods about Mormons are in circulation, and I would want to treat another person’s faith as fairly as I would want mine to be treated in return. There are appropriate ways to be a missionary, and to share one’s beliefs; but contemptuous treatment of things held sacred by others is not one of them.

"I am not going to say any more about this, because I don’t want to become involved in religious polemics, nor do I believe the spirit of contention is pleasing to God. Besides, what good would further discussion do? After all is said and done, thedib will still not give me credit for being a Christian, but I will still be an active and committed Latter-day Saint anyway. At the end of the day, after all, it really does not matter whether he believes I am a Christian or not, because I feel entirely comfortable in affirming that I am indeed one, notwithstanding his protestations to the contrary. I did not join my church 36 years ago in order to please him. And how important is the matter in the first place? I hesitated even to write this comment, because, after all, this whole issue started over such a trivial matter, when I posted a picture of a Bible passage on a photo-sharing site, for crying out loud! This was hardly of the same earth-shaking magnitude as, say, Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the church door at Wittenberg. We all should select our battles carefully, particularly where matters as sensitive and personal as religion are concerned, and I just don’t think this is a hill any of us should want to die for. "

Sunday, March 12, 2006

It rained!

It rained!
Originally uploaded by gwilmore.
In the Phoenix area, our 143-day dry spell finally broke in spectacular fashion over the weekend. Click on the photo and read the explanation, which I hope will be inspiring reading for one and all.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Cooking as therapy

I happen to enjoy cooking, although my repertoire and my skills are both somewhat limited and I don't do it as often as I would like. I also love to travel, and ever since childhood have always been attracted to things exotic and foreign. Thus, I prefer dishes that are popular in other parts of the world, and my favorite cuisines are Italian, Chinese, Greek, and Mexican, in that order. My young Iranian friend, aware of this trait of mine, has promised to send me some recipes from her corner of the world, and I look forward to receiving them, after which I intend to put them to good use.

It was thus with great interest that I read this article in today's Meridian Magazine. I concur with the author's view that cooking, rather than being a tedious chore, can actually be therapeutic. Unless, perhaps, when one is cooking a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese, or something similar, in which case I'd have to say it is a bit tedious.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Dana Reeve, R. I. P.

I noted the passing of Dana Reeve yesterday, but not with any particular sadness, even though she was a mere twoscore and four years of age. The absence of any real sadness was not because I did not admire or respect her, but rather, in her unique case, precisely because I did. She earned my admiration, and that of countless others, during the nearly 10 years she spent encouraging, supporting, and caring for her late husband, the actor Christopher Reeve, who starred in several Superman movies before he was paralyzed from the neck down in a horseback-riding accident in 1995. He set a noble example for us by his conspicuous bravery, she by her measureless devotion. Their relationship was greater than the mere sum of its parts, and it is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine either of them, alone, accomplishing what both of them did together, after his tragic accident, on behalf of paralysis victims everywhere. Marriage was intended to be a full partnership, and if ever any couple was "equally yoked," to use the Apostle Paul's felicitous expression, it was this pair.

As a Latter-day Saint, I believe in a life beyond this one, where the thread of interrupted relationships may be picked up once again, thenceforth and forevermore unimpeded by the constraints that so limit us in mortality. I also believe that marriage was intended to last beyond the grave. Thus, after Christopher Reeve's gallant battle ended with his passing in October of 2004, it seemed requisite with justice that his loyal and loving companion should not be long delayed in following him into the paradise of God, and that nobody should grieve over the fact that her life lasted a mere 44 years. I rather doubt that Dana herself would mourn for those "missing" years of her life, for what might have been had death not intervened in this March of 2006 and issued her its summons.

I now turn the thread of my remarks over to the author of this article from today's Jewish World Review, who makes the point far more eloquently than I ever could. We miss her, of course, but we know that our loss is her late husband's gain. Requiescat in pace.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Bride at dusk 2

Bride at dusk 2
Originally uploaded by gwilmore.
This is one of those candid wedding shots I like to take when I can. In this case, the opportunity presented itself rather unexpectedly, when I arrived at the Mesa Arizona Temple just before sunset to take some pictures of flowers and the sunset itself, and was then surprised to see several brides out posing for photographers, even though the Saturday wedding schedule at the temple would normally have ended several hours previously.

As the comments attest, this one has been well received on Flickr. I remarked that it sort of reminded me of the finale of "Come September," which is one of my favorite films. With that in mind, I added that perhaps I should have taken this one at a crowded train station, rather than at the temple.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Lois Club

During lunch today, I read an interesting and amusing article in today's edition of the Arizona Republic. It was about a group of women, mostly in their 70s, who meet four times each year and call themselves the Lois Club. There are at least 60 such groups around the country, including one here in Phoenix. There is only one requirement for membership, namely, that the member's name must be Lois.

During my lifetime, and to the best of my knowledge after giving the matter some thought, I have known only two individuals named Lois. One was Lois Lane, who, in spite of being Superman's girlfriend, was never able to figure out that the Man of Steel and Clark Kent were one and the same person. My acquaintance with that Lois began when I was a kid, watching reruns of the old Superman TV series in which George Reeves played the main role. I knew the second Lois in the 1980s; she was a member of a singles ward I attended for a time in Utah, and happened also to be a member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I accompanied her to Salt Lake once for the Sunday-morning "Music and the Spoken Word" broadcast, which of course has been a regular part of the American radio landscape since 1929.

The club's principal raison d'etre is the mere fact that the name has become so uncommon. According to census records, or whomever else keeps track of such information, Lois was the 21st most popular girl's name in the decade of the 1930s, but it dropped to the number 983 slot in 1983 and has never been in the top 1000 since then. Which, of course, leads me to wonder if in a few decades, names such as Tiffany, Jennifer, Nicole, or Cindy might be so rare as to become similar curiosities. Not surprisingly, given the ages of most members of the club, its ranks are gradually declining as members pass on, with fewer and fewer Loises available to replace them.

The club's members have no agenda, other than to meet those four times a year, when they just chat and socialize over lunch. They share war stories too, of course, which often center around the difficulties other people have in trying to spell the name, which is simple enough, but nevertheless often rendered as Lewis, Louis, Lowis, or some such thing. One member was born in 1942, when extensive hospital stays after childbirth were commonplace. Three weeks into the stay, this baby had still not been named because her mother was unable to think of an appropriate name. Finally, the doctor suggested that she name the baby Lois, and of course the rest is history. (Later, it was learned that this particular doctor happened to have a sister named Lois.)

Meanwhile, come what may, I hope Lois Lane will always be the name of Superman's girlfriend, and that she is never replaced by, say, Tiffany Lane -- although, come to think of it, that name projects a rather glamorous aura, and thus might be perfectly appropriate for someone else. Or perhaps we could learn in some future issue of DC Comics that Lois has a younger sister named Tiffany, who could be Lex Luthor's girlfriend and make the whole situation that much more interesting. And maybe we could put some blinders on her as well, so that she never figures out that Mr. Luthor is in fact a villain.

(Update: Barney has asked me to provide a link to the original article, which you may now find here. However, I did not provide such a link yesterday because the online edition of the Arizona Republic removes its articles at regular intervals, so I cannot guarantee how long it will be available.)