Monday, December 31, 2012

Gospel Study - To Hold sacred

Today the struggle continues. Secular voices are growing in volume and intensity. They increasingly urge believers to abandon beliefs the world considers irrational and unreasonable.

The sacred cannot be selectively surrendered. Those who choose to abandon even one sacred thing will have their minds darkened, and unless they repent, the light they have shall be taken from them. Unanchored by the sacred, they will find themselves morally adrift on a secular sea.
Elder Paul B. Pieper’s talk really hit me, especially the last several paragraphs. His talk was very timely for me, and I am trying to hold sacred the truths that I have received, so that my mind won’t be darkened. What a scary thought!

Daily reflecting upon and recording the impressions that come from the Spirit serve the dual purpose of helping us (1) to recognize our personal encounters with the divine and (2) to preserve them for ourselves and our posterity   Recording them is formal recognition and acknowledgement of our gratitude to God.

This is why I blog.  Writing it all down helps me to remember that God is good.  God answers prayers and sends answers.... even if I don't understand.

I hope my family things these thoughts are as sacred as I do some day.

Week at the Boyack's - Week 29

 Well... It's been a nice relaxing week.  I didn't even really take any pictures   We didn't do much so why break out the camera?  Not to mention, my kids take my phone and run the battery down and the camera too!  Thankfully, Kimber had some battery to get a couple pictures of Christmas day.

First of all, we did get to keep a couple Christmas Eve traditions.  We were coming home from Bend after dark, but we had to stop at the Mickey Mouse House and give our friends the Aldreges a hug, pjs or not.  I think Chad was the only one wearing Jammies.  

 How can we not stop and see this house.  These guys do a great job showing the community the Spirit of Christmas.  Not only do they have lights and statues everywhere, they collect food and cash for the local food bank.  They are such a great example of true community spirit and the Christmas  spirit too!  Anyway, our tradition is to look at lights in jammies and have hot chocolate as we read the Christmas story.  We did it all backward this year.  After looking at the Mickey Mouse house we went home and I handed out the new pjs.  I didn't even bother wrapping them.  We made Christmas Chili, ate, wrapped presents, and then John did a nice devotional style Christmas story reading.  I liked it this year.  He added a couple video from the church web site.  it was a nice touch.

 Hannah helped put out stockings and stuff.  Chad is a goofball and did P90X until well after midnight.  some how we still have Lillian believing in Santa.... still.  Silly Girl.  It's not like I'm good at hiding things from her.  She just likes the illusion of how fun it is to believe.  I think she really does know the truth.  Meanwhile, McKay kept the family tradition and went to see some lights in New Mexico.  She saw a cool house that is timed to music.  She did have to wait a long time to see it though.  At least she was able to do some family traditions.  :)

 This year Kimber made us all new Christmas stockings.  She came over everyday and sewed them all month.  We would keep Ben busy.  They turned out so cute!  Thanks Kimber!  She also made hats for all the Jessops.  We helped.  It's nice that she too, is keeping family traditions.... home made gifts.  Sadly, I didn't really keep that tradition this year.  I made coats once.  John is the only one to wear his.  I've made pjs.. I guess they get used.  I've made hats... they are in a box... I made flannel shirts once and they all ended up at Goodwill.  So I wasn't really in the spirit of making things this year.  I did make a couple pictures for the girls, and some chap stick and some funky rope bracelets for the girls at Homemaking.  But that was that.  Maybe next year I will feel like making something homemade again.

On Christmas morning Kimber, Ray and Ben arrived at 6 in the morning. They wanted to get to the Jessop's house by 8am.  Jon was calling.  Kimber was the most excited.  She came running in and turned on the Christmas music.  Then she jumped on everyone and made them get up.  One by one people filed into the family room to open stockings.  There were many squeals of delight from Lillian.  Everyone else was pretty stoic. Chad realized that there was plenty of time to open presents before Jon called.  So the present opening commenced.  Ben didn't get it at first.  Kimber had to help him.  After he ripped open his first toy he got distracted with playing and she had to help him some more. 

 Ben got some toys and some books, new jammies, and chocolate covered pretzels.

Kimber and Ray got a couple movies, a date night, a picture I made, Buns of Steel from Chad, and a cd of the Hobbit sound track.

WE sent a box to McKay and Myles.  Chad sent them an old BYU "man cave" light" and a Snow Day the movie.  Hannah sent them bread pans.  Kimber even made them stockings.  They send stuff to all of us too.  A picture (for John and I), fun bath things (for Lillian and Ben), socks (Hannah), finger-less gloves ( a big hit with Chad), and something for Kimber that I can't remember.  Rats!

 Chad was creative in his gift giving.  He thinks he is funny.  He gave Football for Dummies to John.  He hates when John asks questions during games.  He bought me Windex and dumped it out and put water and lavender in it and labeled it "The New Windex". He is making fun of me.  Jokes on him.  I might have weird ways of helping him.  but he still comes to me when he hurts or doesn't feel well.  He gave Hannah a funny hat and Lillian a Beavers shirt.

Chad got most things on his list.  He is spoiled.  John searched high and low and got a Game Cube and some old Mario games.  He also got a belt.  His pants won't fall off now and some party pants.  I also found a Hottieboombalottie (a dumb movie he likes) and the new Batman movie for him.

 Hannah got a new cute jacket, a temple calendar  a cool thing that plays Pandora, yoga pants, and stocking stuff.  She bought all her presents for others this year.

Lillian got an American Doll (sort of) with some clothes, some shoes, and a sewing machine for kids with some sewing projects.  She has already created some interesting outfits for her doll.  She made these cute little pictures out of foam and Popsicle sticks for everyone.  She did it all by herself - paid for it and created it.  Sadly, her siblings weren't very nice about it.  I'm pretty sure I've seen them in the trash already.  I makes me sad that I haven't been successful at teaching my kids to be gracious receivers.  sigh.

This year John got the "girlie" gifts and I got the "manly" gifts.  I got John books and a wok with a proper wooden spatula and potholders.  John got me a tool box on wheels and a tool belt of my own.  I was pretty happy about my gifts.  I can now go to build sets and I will have everything I need.  I can also come home to a yummy dinner prepared by John.  LOL.

In all I think everyone got some stuff they wanted.  They all seemed happy enough and content.

After presents were all open all the kids left and spent a couple hours at the Jessops.  They got to say hi to Jon over Skype and play around.  Meanwhile, John and I had a quiet morning at home.  We had Snow in Monmouth, our traditional fruit salad, for Breakfast and enjoyed my new Jason Bourne movie on the family room tv.  We don't often get to watch that TV.  It is normally occupied by Chad's games or football, or one of the girls watching Netflix.  We also started Chris mas Ham dinner.  Eventually, they all came back and we had a quiet afternoon.

The girls were going to go skiing with the Jessops the day after Christmas, but the weather was still nasty on the mountain.  They decided to go New Year's Day instead.  In the spirit of the holiday, we decided to take everyone to see Les Miserables... Well, John didn't think is was appropriate for Lillian so we got JennieLinn to come and sit with Lillian and Ben.  The rest of us went to the movies!  I wrote a blog about it.  A Masterpiece of Law vs. Grace .  You can read it for my full view of the movie.  I have to say we ALL LOVED IT!  I've seen it on stage (twice) and here in the movie.  I love the story presented both ways... for different reasons.  It is such a beautiful story!  I'd love to see it over and over.  I will definitely own this movie!  I also finished my blog about Sweeney Todd, Attend the Tale .  I love this show too.  I saw it a couple months back and started a blog and never finished it.  I think it took me all of Thursday to write those.  LOL.  At least Thursday was relaxing.  Everyone else slept in until noon and laid around all day.

I went to Portland to my acupuncture lady on Friday.  This time I had to void calcium for 24 hours.  That meant I got out of washing dishes!  I could like that... except no one else will do them and there was a HUGE pile later.  Rats.  Chad through a movie party into the wee hours of the night.  Then he did his P90X. That kid really needs to sleep at normal times.  it's hard on the rest of us that would like to sleep!

I spent my Saturday getting ready for Legally Blonde rehearsals and cleaning up Christmas.  We even organised the attic.  John cleaned the tool side of the garage.  The kids helped a little, but they are taking full advantage of their vacation time.  when do parents get vacation.  Even on vacation parents work.  Where is the justice in that?

Oh well... I'd say we've had a great week.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Gospel Study - Was It Worth It?

Whenever the gospel is shared, it is never "just one boy." Whenever conversion happens or someone returns to the Lord it is a family that is saved.

I am thankful for the missionaries that found my dad.  They didn't change only the life of my dad.  5 of his 7 children are active members of the church.  17 of his 24 grandchildren are growing up or active in the gospel.  There have been 2 missionaries and 2 temple marriages with these grandchildren so far.  Those missionaries helped many people.  Not just my dad.

"Never delay a prompting."

I try.  I have never succeeded in getting someone I know to listen to the missionaries.  but I try.  I openly share my testimony. 

I see my missionary work more in converting teen through seminary.  

I hope that counts.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Gospel Study - Only Upon the Principles of Righteousness

Today I read Only Upon the Principles of Righteousness by Elder Larry Y. Wilson of the Seventy.

I appreciated that Elder Wilson reminded us that the right to use any God-given authority, which to me includes motherhood and any calling in the Church.  We must “lead by principles of righteousness.” 

Too often we feel as parents that we must “…compel someone to righteousness who can and should be exercising his or her own moral agency…”  That is hard to remember.  “We simply cannot force others to do the right thing.”

I have learned from experience that “compulsion builds resentment.  It conveys mistrust, and it makes people feel incompetent.  Learning opportunities are lost when controlling persons pridefully assume they have all the right answers for others.”

I suffer from this prideful parenting.  Sigh.

“Wise parents prepare their children to get along without them.”

Well I hope I am doing that.  There are days I wonder.  There are also days I dread the day that they won’t need me anymore.  Then, who will I be?  My whole identity is wrapped up in my identity of “mom”.

Well, I am most successful when I follow the council in  D&C 121:36-37 “only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned…” will I be able to teach my children to trust God.

Elder Wilson also warned us from waiting to let our children exercise their agency

“Our children are in our homes for a limited time. If we wait until they walk out the door to turn over to them the reins of their moral agency, we have waited too long.”

True words.

Attend the Tale...

I came home from Seminary a few months ago and quickly became a little confused.  John was still home.  He left a message on Facebook that I had the day off.  My response was, “I don’t think so.  I've got responsibilities.”  But I went with it.
John had arranged for Kimber to hang out with the little people at my house.  He had arranged for Ray to run Chad around.  All I needed to do was re-arrange a couple lessons I had.
We took off and stopped at Trader Joe’s and then headed into Portland.  John and I don’t always agree with what is considered fun.  I kept thinking of all the lame things he could be taking me.  Finally, we turned down a street in downtown Portland.  I saw the huge poster.  I was going to see SWEENEY TODD!
Yes!  A perfect surprise!
I have loved SWEENEY TODD since I first heard the sound track in the late seventies, early eighties. I love its dark humor, its beautiful score, and the wit of its libretto. SWEENEY TODD is a triumph of musical inventiveness and expressiveness. What truly makes Sweeney Todd unique is its lush and brilliant score. Performed with a symphony orchestra, with the focus placed on the music, Sweeney Todd can be thrilling.  But the story is a melodrama -- a thriller for the stage -- that transforms a "potboiler" story into a scale that resembles grand opera as much as grand guignol. Thrillers are fun, but they also have a message, and if you are a fan of its plot conventions, like I am, Sweeney delivers wicked fun along with its dark warnings.
I like its messages: "attend the tale," of the “haves” and the “have nots”, revenge is never the way, that dark obsessions are commonplace in the world we all share, of fall and redemption, and we must all be wary.  Sondheim is as masterful a lyricist as he is a composer and his libretto is as funny as any "dark comedy."
I think there is a lot of humor in SWEENEY TODD - a dark humor running though the entire piece. Many comic moments are ironical or sarcastic and may easily slip by if one is not paying close attention. The recent movie mostly wiped these moments away and seemed to concentrate on mood and action. I prefer to look to the comedy and the beauty of the score to guide me. 
As a Christian I am sure that many of my fellow Christian friends (including people inside and outside my own religion) don’t understand why I love this near perfect work of Stephan Sondheim.  While certainly on the edge of good taste, SWEENEY TODD is a daring piece of musical theater with which all serious theater students should become familiar. The musical is cited by many as Stephen Sondheim’s greatest score and by others as perhaps one of the best ever written. For me, the show is a little like an onion in that we peel away layer after layer and there is always more to discover.
At its heart, SWEENEY TODD is grounded in good old-fashioned melodrama – not too far removed from the guy in the black hat with the handlebar mustache and the ready train tracks. The good and bad characters are clearly defined . . . and the bad characters are very, very bad. They are motivated by simple things that motivate most of mankind – Todd: revenge; Lovett: money; Johanna the simple, beautiful damsel sought as a partner by both good and evil: fear; Anthony the whistle-clean hero with a pure heart and only the best intentions: love.
I have to state that I believe that theater must be entertaining above all else.  People go to the theater to escape the world they live in.  I don’t believe that the majority of people go to the theater to be lectured.  However, I also believe that theater can and should be used to spread a message – to make the world a better place.
The lessons of SWEENEY TODD are indeed, a bitter pill to swallow.
Todd gets his in the end so there is no reason to fret over lessons learned. He pays his price twice; he must reconcile the fact that he has unknowingly killed his own wife and just about when he is done with that he is cut down by a character representing his own lost innocence. It is not a pretty story but it is a good one with important lessons to be learned.

Start with Todd, which is where the story starts. He tells Anthony his story in song, about the "barber and his wife/And she was beautiful!/A foolish barber and his wife/She was his reason and his life!/And she was beautiful!/And she was virtuous!/And he was naive." The wife catches the eye of the true villain of the story, Judge Turpin; a man who has mistaken lust for love.

When Todd meets Mrs. Lovett, we learn with him more about the Judge's idea of love: after Todd was sent to Australia, Turpin lures her to his house where he rapes her during a costume ball. The party-goers, Mrs. Lovett (don't neglect that name!) tells Todd, thought she must be feeble-minded, and so watch the rape with sophisticated, not to say perverse and evil, delight. Before the play is over, everyone is villain, because everyone misunderstands the true nature of love.

Anthony, of course, sees Johanna, and it is for both of them love at first sight. Judge Turpin notices Anthony's attention and warns him away, but Judge Turpin announces to his beadle his plans to marry his ward, in order to "protect her."

There is more than a little selfishness in this play, which is perhaps the best opposite of love there is. Todd nurses his grief and injustices until he is a perfect monster of revenge. Even as he sings a love song to his razor blades, Mrs. Lovett sings a love song to him, one Todd is oblivious to, and there we see together two misdirected loves. Todd's only "friend" is his set of razor blades; Mrs. Lovett has apparently loved Todd from afar ever since he was the barber Benjamin Barker. Todd mourns Lucy, especially after Mrs. Lovett tells him about her rape and how she took arsenic afterwards, but as Todd has said to Anthony's question about Lucy at the beginning of the story: "All that was many years ago/I doubt that anyone would know." Many years ago, yet he nurses it still. His love for her has perverted into hate for Turpin which, when it seems he has lost his one chance to get Turpin into his barber's chair for vengeance, turns to hatred of all humankind. Todd's love is for Todd's hatred and lust for revenge.

And then there is the young boy, Toby, the assistant to Signor Pirelli who is himself the first victim of Todd's razor, just as Toby will make Todd the last. By the end of the story the boy sees Mrs. Lovett as his salvation, little thinking that she is as responsible for murder and horror as Todd is. He loves her as a child loves his mother, and while she is hardly a mother figure, she's the closest he's ever known. He tells her that: "Nothin's gonna harm you/Not while I'm around," and "Demons are prowlin' everywhere, nowadays/I'll send 'em howlin', I don't care, I got ways," the simple assurance of a child in a world of horrors he almost, but not quite, takes for granted. His is one of the closest to a clear moral vision the story supplies.
All of this misdirected love ends up as it must: Todd murders the beadle and the judge, but also murders his own wife, now a mad street person, and nearly murders his daughter. When he realizes the mad woman was his beloved Lucy, he gives Mrs. Lovett a fitting end, tossing her into the giant oven where she cooks her meat pies. Her young protector, hiding out in the cellar bakery and now himself quite mad, having seen the body parts and realized where the meat for the pies is coming from, slits Todd's throat as the barber grieves over the body of his dead wife.

There is no redemption here, no salvation, no Aristotelian recognition of responsibility, so it isn't even appropriate to call this grim tale a proper tragedy.  In the play, when Toby reappears to slit the throat of a grieving Todd, his hair has turned white, the hoary Victorian chestnut that indicates a frightful shock. 

When Todd meets Mrs. Lovett, we learn with him more about the Judge's idea of love: after Todd was sent to Australia, Turpin lures her to his house where he rapes her during a costume ball. The party-goers, Mrs. Lovett (don't neglect that name!) tells Todd, thought she must be feeble-minded, and so watch the rape with sophisticated, not to say perverse and evil, delight. Before the play is over, everyone is villain, because everyone misunderstands the true nature of love.

Johanna's own ideas of love begin to change. Anthony goes to Fogg's Asylum to rescue Joanna, under pretense of being a wig maker's apprentice looking for blond hair of a certain shade. When Anthony confronts the asylum keeper with a gun, the director senses Anthony's reluctance to shoot, and Anthony drops the gun in despair. Joanna, however, takes it up, shoots, and they make their escape. She has lived the horrors of the asylum, if only for a few days, and she will do what must be done, what innocent Anthony cannot bring himself to do.
"The Ballad of Sweeney Todd" serves as the Greek chorus in the play; introducing the story and explaining the feelings of Todd as the story progresses. At the end, the ballad underlines the "moral" of the story:

Sweeney’s weeping for yesterday,

Hugging the blade, waiting the years,
Hearing the music that nobody hears.
Sweeney waits in the parlor hall,
Sweeney leans on the office wall.
No one can help, nothing can hide you--
Isn't that Sweeney there beside you?
Sweeney wishes the world away,
Sweeney's weeping for yesterday,
Is Sweeney!
There he is, it's Sweeney!
Sweeney! Sweeney!
Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd!
He served a dark and a hungry god!
(sharply to Mrs. Lovett)
To seek revenge may lead to hell.
(coldly to him)
But everyone does it, if seldom as well--
--As Sweeney...
As Sweeney Todd...
The Demon Barber of Fleet...
The ghosts begin to disappear ... fading into the shadows of
the bakehouse ... leaving Todd and Mrs. Lovett alone...
... Street!

It's a story; it's not the world we live in: but isn't it? It's a story, it can easily produce questions it cannot answer; but is our world any different? The central issue of the play is not love, but where love is directed: to whom, and to what purpose, what end? What do we love, and why? That is the question of "Sweeney Todd." The question should be, of course: who?

And therein lies the dilemma, and the purpose behind the statement. It isn't what we love, or that we love; it is who we love, that most matters.

The play include the tragic elements of a chorus and a seeming acceptance of responsibility by Todd, in both the final scene and the opening and closing ballad. The ballad declares that Todd "serves a dark and a hungry god," with the implicit statement that he accepts the responsibility for such service. While Todd accepts responsibility for his crimes in the play, he is defiant to the end, slamming a heavy metal door on the audience on the final note of the ballad, ending the play in clangor.

The structure of "Sweeney Todd" is what I consider the typical American musical, which is to say: it's a love story. (Quick, think of a great American musical which isn't! I'm sure there are some obscure and bad musicals which have almost nothing to do with romance, but anything notable come to mind? Mine, either.) But the entire story is about misplaced love.
Does man inherit the sins of the fathers?
I think not.  This is a story of repentance and forgiveness.  Really.  As the viewer, the lesson is learned as you leave the theater and contemplate the relationship of hate vs. love and the lesson of peace through repentance and forgiveness.
In Sweeney’s world evil comes from the institutions, from the fact that the history of the world, as Todd sings to Lovett, "is those below serving those up above." Love is genetic. Joanna knows love, not perversion; Anthony, despite having sailed the world, has beheld only its wonders, not "the misery of man" Todd responds he has seen. Anthony is an innocent, even more innocent than his beloved. In this he is like Todd.
Hate, however, is contagious, and Todd catches it from Turpin, as Toby catches it from Todd.
Everyone in this story loves the wrong person, or for the wrong reasons. Todd's love for his wife turns him into a monster; Turpin's lust for sex makes him as monstrous as Todd, and the origin of the evil in the story. Mrs. Lovett loves a man long dead (as Todd declares Benjamin Barker to be), and cannot see past her own fantasies to recognize the monster Toby describes to her when he promises to be her protector. Anthony loves Joanna and the idea of love itself, and while Joanna loves Anthony, she is neither so idealistic, nor so in love with an idea, as he is. Toby's love is closest to Joanna's; having never known a world in which he could dream, he doesn't even have nightmares, just a child's trust and a heart searching for a mother to finally imprint on. When he does love Mrs. Lovett, he doesn't really love her, either, but only what she's done for him, only the relative kindness she has shown him, the first he's ever known. His trust, however, his naivete, keeps him from seeing her for what she is, and like every other character in this story, he loves his idea, rather than the person. This is the fatal error of the story, and leads to the Grand Guignol ending, with Todd kneeling, throat slit and dripping blood, over the similarly bleeding corpse of his wife.
Sweeney wishes the world away,
So Todd becomes "Töd," the angel of death; and Mrs. Lovett makes the first expression of love in the play, but she can only "love it," her idea of Todd, not the person himself (whom she clearly cannot see, not until her final scene, and by then it's too late); and "Lucy," the patron saint of light as Lucia, brings finally to light all the evil Todd has done in his perverted memory of her, while Johanna, a feminine form of John, refuses to believe in signs (semeia) even as she lives her life by them (her love for Anthony is purely "love at first sight," but there is the unanswered question of whether she loves Anthony, or simply sees him as the means for her escape from Turpin, a confusion she may yet puzzle out for herself). Just as Todd ultimately gives up his only begotten child, not for the world's salvation but simply, he thinks for his own. The two questions play themselves off throughout the play: the question of ethics (given that the history of the world is those below serving those up above, how should we then live?) and the question of salvation (if society will not save us, mustn't we save ourselves?). The moral question is never even asked. Even Toby fears only that Mrs. Lovett has made a deal with the devil, a deal which will cost her more than she can pay; as, indeed, she has. But he doesn't represent a moral vision in the story, any more than the guileless and naive Anthony does.
I am a firm believer that we are to love God first… and then to love others.
The production I saw focused on the “haves and have-nots”.  I found it ironic that as we left the theater many passed the people begging on the street without a second glance.  The subtle message seemed to miss the mark.
Todd wants revenge, one of the most primal, natural urges. He fully embraces his vengeful impulse, but rather than finding satisfaction, he becomes a shell of a man who literally destroys everyone in his path. To quote Mr. Sondheim: “To seek revenge may lead to hell. But everyone does it, if seldom as well as Sweeney Todd.” 
If we attend this tale and allow ourselves to feel his rage, his thirst for revenge and the inevitable desolation that follows, we create for ourselves a place to entertain unexpressed desires... without risk or consequence. Through our participation in this story, we experience a dark side of human nature that is simply not practical (or advisable!) to realize, but no less valuable for having happened in our imaginations. Could it be that when we look into the eyes of this killer, we actually feel more alive? My experience says yes. Yes!  This story awakens my soul to the necessity of repentance… or letting go… of forgiveness… of loving for the right reasons.  Love is not the root of all evil.  It is where love is placed that leads us to heaven or leads us to hell.  My experience has changed me.  Hopefully, yours will, too!

A Masterpiece of Law vs. Grace

Oh, so long ago I fell in love with the incredible story penned by Victor Hugo's Les Miserables .  Such a literary powerhouse long before Alain Boubeil and Claude-Michel Schonberg wrote their musical based on the story in 1980. I fell in love all over again.  This time with haunting melodies and an exquisite score.    I loved it even more when I was privileged to see the first touring company’s production in Salt Lake City and the flame rekindled when I saw it again in Portland. 

Yesterday I saw the motion picture, Les Miserables, the Musical.  It was stunning.  The fire still burns.

On the way home, my son asked which production I liked better, the stage or the film?  I love them both!  Both speak to me at different levels.

The stage offers a kind of magic that can’t be duplicated on film.  With a rotating stage with sets in motion, and we end up traveling more in the stage version than in the movie — a mind-blogging feat.  The passion of experiencing the story live in the moment is unmatched.

However, the film allowed me to see more depth of character than the stage production allows.  It’s crazy.  The film is 90% identical to the stage show (with one new song, the sensitive "Suddenly", which I loved) - but, it feels so different. It feels fresh and new and somehow also like it has always existed - a contradiction in terms, no doubt, but there it is. This is not a replica of the stage show, but it is entirely true to it in every way. I Love it! It is unlike any movie musical ever made. And, it is a masterpiece.

For example, "Lovely Ladies" is less of a showstopper than it is on stage, but it paves the way for the tremendous "I Dreamed a Dream," a one-shot, close-up rendition that shatters any known recording. We've never seen a Fantine who had to sing through tears and a runny nose. It all adds to the impact of the song.  Anne Hathaway’s "I Dreamed A Dream"… Is this the most singularly astonishing movie musical moment of the new era of musical movies?  She is able to instantly conjurs pure movie musical magic from out of thin, thin air and knocks it all clear out of the park.

Hugh Jackman… now there is performer!  For the first time I saw the heart of Jean Valjean.  Even Russell Crowe surprised me as the frosty Javert.  I enjoyed the softer edge Eddie Redmayne… but Aaron Tveit is an absolute standout as Enjorlas.  

The real change for me was Hooper's claustrophobic, in-their-face close-up filming style for much of the singing, especially when married with the astoundingly gritty and shockingly authentic costume, scene and sound design.  All of this collectively creates an anomalously affecting and nearly too-real atmosphere. It hit me in the gut.  It reached the heart. 

Dark, yes - but that makes the hope and light all the whiter and purer. There is a whole heaven of a lot of redemption and glory by the final reel to go with the hellish blood, guts, gore and depression that abounds. 

With all the subtle difference, the story remains the same…  an intertwining story of characters living in the turmoil of 19th-century France. It's a story of poverty and affluence, broken dreams, love, and redemption.

One of the greatest tales ever told flowed from the pen of writer who didn't flinch before man's misery and sin, but found hope in God's grace and the ability of some to receive it. Victor Hugo's masterpiece Les Miserables explores vital Christian territory - despair vs. hope, condemnation vs. redemption, works vs. faith, and legalism vs. grace - not as a theological treatise or Sunday sermon, but in the form of a story.

Despair vs. hope, condemnation vs. redemption, works vs. faith, and law vs. grace - the power of Les Mis is in the tension created by characters representing opposites. 

Every character in the story experiences the weight and tragedy of our fallen world. They all face inevitable disappointments - as we do. Jean Valjean leaves the work house hoping to start afresh, only to be haunted by his past at every turn. Fantine sings of a life of love and hope, even as her life spirals apart, sending her begging in the streets, selling her hair, and selling her body. She is sick and dying as she sings:
I dreamed a dream in time gone by,
I had a dream my life would be
When hope was high and life, worth living.
I dreamed that love would never die,
I dreamed that God would be forgiving . . .
So different from this hell I'm living,
So different now from what it seemed . . .
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed . . .

Other characters feel it too. Young Cosette sings of a "castle on a cloud," a dreamland where life is sweet, and she isn't working like a slave for her foster parents. Eponine sings of lonesome, unrequited love in "On My Own." A group of young students are disgusted by the oppression of the poor, and they dream of a revolution that sets the people free.

There's a grinding, heartbreaking kind of tragedy that threads its way through Les Miserables. You can't help but feel the sting of a fallen world. That feeling of relentless heartbreak sends the characters to God and to one another wondering if there's any relief, any hope, any way out of the darkness.

The strongest message is the age old question between law and grace.  The message of Law vs. Grace is best played out in the contrast between Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert.

As the story begins, Valjean is being released from 19 years on the chain gang, paroled back into the world but shackled with his conviction, which keeps him from being able to start over and make a new life. In despair, he returns to a life of petty crime.

He is caught by the police after stealing silver from a church, where a bishop had offered him shelter. But when the police bring him back to the church, everything changes. The bishop denies the charges (loved seeing Colm Wilkensen in that role!), insists the silver was a gift, and gives Valjean the most valuable silver candlesticks in the church.

Valjean deserves judgment and condemnation, but instead, he receives grace. Not just forgiveness for his sins, but an abundant, over-the-top gift. This act is the heart of Les Mis. Grace transforms Valjean. Grace transforms each of us.

He sings:

My life was a war that could never be won . . .
Yet why did I allow that man
I feel my shame inside me like a knife
I am reaching, but I fall

To touch my soul and teach me love?
He treated me like any other
He gave me his trust
He called me brother
My life he claims for God above
Can such things be?
For I had come to hate the world
This world that always hated me
He told me that I have a soul,
How does he know?
What spirit comes to move my life?
Is there another way to go?
And the night is closing in
And I stare into the void
To the whirlpool of my sin
I'll escape now from the world
From the world of Jean Valjean
Jean Valjean is nothing now
Another story must begin!

The priest responds:
. . . By the Passion and the Blood

God has raised you out of darkness
I have bought your soul for God!

Valjean disappears from the world, breaking his parole and creating a new identity as Monsieur Madeleine, a factory owner and mayor. He's resolved to live a better life, to make a difference in the world, and to help everyone he can, but he's haunted by his past.

And he's hunted.

Under Hugo's beneficent gaze, Javert is not an unsympathetic character. Javert is a scrupulously religious and righteous man; we understand what motivates him more when we learn he himself was born in a prison to a convicted woman. He does not act out of malice, but out of duty to the Law.
Javert says:

Mine is the way of the Lord
And so it has been and so it is written

And those who follow the path of the righteous
Shall have their reward
And if they fall
As Lucifer fell
The flame
The sword . . .
On the doorway to paradise
That those who falter and those who fall
Must pay the price!

There is no mercy for Javert. There is no grace. He wants only to capture Valjean and bring him to justice---back to prison for breaking his parole.

The contrast of Javert and Valjean is deliberate and clear. Valjean is determined to live a life worthy of the grace he's received, and his sense of calling leads him to radical sacrifice for the sake of others. Javert, on the other hand, lives with unflinching loyalty to the law. His confidence in the law makes him utterly certain of both his own righteousness and also Valjean's sinfulness.

The story sets these two on a collision course, a head-on crash between law and grace. Just as grace saves Valjean in the beginning, it is ultimately grace that he must count on in the end. As Javert pursues him, we see the effects of grace on a sinner, we see the oppressive power of both the law and someone's past, and we see the incomprehensibility of grace to a life ruled by the law.

Javert's passion for the Law clouds his vision of who God is. In a telling moment late in the story, Valjean is given a gun by revolutionaries and left with instructions to kill a bound and captive Javert. Instead Valjean cuts the ropes and sets him free.
This unexpected mercy triggers a profound spiritual crisis in Javert - but there the parallel ends. In Javert's legalistic scheme of the world, there is no room for mercy and he cannot comprehend or accept it. Valjean's acceptance of grace leads to new life. Javert's rejection of grace leads to suicide.
This story resonates for two reasons. First, the audience can identify with a world of tragedy and disappointment. We all feel that sense of grinding sorrow, and wonder if there's any hope for those who are sick, who suffer injustice, and who long to start anew. We're all discouraged by the constant onslaught of bad news, and we dream dreams of places where hope is high, life is worth living, and God is merciful.
Second, Les Miserable answers those doubts with hope for redemption. There is a way to start afresh. There is a grace that surpasses, that sets us free from the burdens of our past, and that leads us home to God.

For me, one line sums the whole, “to love another person is to see the face of God.”

Love does change everything.

How beautiful that it's releasing on Christmas Day, when the Law and Grace are celebrated throughout the world.   Jesus endured the grinding struggles of the world, born in a stable, hunted by evil men, and suffering alongside (and ultimately for) us. He not only announced a hope for redemption, but he also single-handedly accomplished it for us.

In the light of the gospel, a story like Les Miserables isn't simply uplifting; it's a call to remember how great a salvation we have.

I recently came across this quote from Victor Hugo: There are moments when whatever the attitude of the body, the heart is on its knees.
Ah, how Hugo understood our human condition! 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Gospel Study - That the Lost May Be Found

Today I read Elder M. Russell Ballard’s talk, That the Lost May Be found.

I was struck by Elder Ballard’s observation about families –

“… happiness [connects] directly to the family… There is no happiness without service, and there is no service greater than that which converts the home into a divine institution…”

“… societies at large are strengthened as families grow stronger.”

“Opposite of what many had thought, prosperity and education seem to be connected to a higher likelihood of having traditional families and values.”

I admired him for bringing out the concern of causation vs correlation.

“The real question, of course, is about cause and effect. Do some sectors of our society have stronger values and families because they are more educated and prosperous, or are they more educated and prosperous because they have values and strong families?”

But of course we know that it is causation, and we know what the cause is – strong families.

“…[S]ocieties at large are strengthened as families grow stronger. Commitments to family and values are the basic cause. Nearly everything else is effect. When couples marry and make commitments to each other, they greatly increase their chances of economic well-being. When children are born in wedlock and have both a mom and a dad, their opportunities and their likelihood of occupational success skyrocket. And when families work and play together, neighborhoods and communities flourish, economies improve, and less government and fewer costly safety nets are required.”

Elder Ballard's talked about the importance of prioritizing.

"Put everything you do outside the home in subjection to and in support of what happens inside your home."
What a great measuring stick! He said to organize our personal lives so we have time for prayer and scriptures and family activity, teach your children how to work and teach them the gospel. Those are great things to prioritize as we try to get ourselves and our families organized.

What have you learned?

Christmas Letter - 2012

For those of you that didn't get to enjoy John's annual writing, here it is.  You've seen all the pictures before if you follow my blog.  They didn't transfer over when I cut and pasted the letter onto the blog.  Oh well.  Enjoy the musings of John.

Hello everyone, and Happy Holidays to all from the Willamette Valley, the Christmas tree capital of the USA! Have you got your tree yet?  We’re still browsing the dozens of farms within driving range of our house, and also the Christmas sections of the local home improvement stores, where quality plastic trees are grown.  Back in the day, we could never have considered an artificial tree.  Blasphemy!  A fresh Christmas tree was part of our holiday religion, along with homemade chocolates and this Christmas letter, mailed out before January and on physical paper.  But, just as all of you have seen in your lives, my priorities have drifted as I have struggled to find time to decorate and festivate between creating my holiday Pandora stations and hiding from my children.

So a plastic tree may be anti-Oregonian, but would definitely allow more time for eating the chocolate I intended to put in my kids’ stockings.  The decision is not made for this year, but we do already own a small auxiliary plastic tree which we bought on sale after Christmas a few years back. Putting this one up early takes the pressure off the timing of when to buy the real tree. 
Now for the news:

Our family has been growing this year!

Kimber and Ray brought baby Ben into the family, and not to be out-done, McKay brought Myles in.  He is not as beautiful as Ben, but he’s definitely bigger, so she gets points.  They were married the week of Thanksgiving.  After the ceremony, Kimber said to me, “Dad: two down, three to go!”  I’m not sure that was a joyous thought!  They’re all so young!  Gary Huxford, an admired friend, gave me the perspective I really needed: “Don’t think of it as losing a daughter, think of it as gaining a bathroom!”

The other kids will in fact find the bathroom competition less fierce.  But on the downside, McKay was one of our better bathroom cleaners.

It has definitely been hard letting go, especially since the distance will be much farther than with Kimber.  Last month in our family prayer I mentioned McKay’s upcoming wedding and began to cry.  Then the kids began laughing at me, and I began laughing at myself, while still crying.  Then Chad, who recently had oral surgery and finds smiling painful, began chiming in to the now stalled prayer, “Ha ha . . . ow!  Stop it! . . . Ha ha . . . ow!”  The situation became increasingly desperate, as I was now laughing at Chad as well as myself.  The sanctity of the family prayer was at stake.  Knowing I wasn’t going to get the job done, I begged, in a laugh-cry-choke-pray sort of squawk, “someone please take over for me!”
After a few more seconds of unsuccessfully stifled giggles, Wendy had enough composure to grab the controls and drag the prayer across the finish line before the fuel tank exploded.

Speaking of laughter, I have often postulated that God must have a sense of humor.  To my mind that has been proved this week.  On Monday as we were setting up the wedding it rained something like five inches – enough to overwhelm the drainage trench and sump pump at our house (not the worst of the problems around town), and pretty soon half the wedding prep volunteers became flood control volunteers.  The always-amazing Jessops saved the day with sandbags from the city, and luck / God saved the Jessops from 7500 volts. 

Then on the Wedding day we had the start of regular drizzling November day.  Expectations for photos outside the temple were low, but – miracle of miracles! – the sun was blazing after the temple ceremony!  We got everyone outside, from babies to grannies, and just as the first photo was shot, we went into the soak cycle.  God has great comic timing!  Alexa Tadlock, in the great Mabee tradition, said, “well, it is a WET-ing, isn't it?”

McKay and Myles honeymooned their way from Oregon to New Mexico, where they will be living for the next few months while he finishes up school.  He’s a great kid and we’re glad to have him in the family.  I don’t think he knows what he’s gotten himself into yet.

Prior to her Wedding in November, Mckay’s year included education at the Oregon School of Massage and a job at Jamba Juice.  I had never heard of Jamba Juice before McKay worked there.  Now the nice young ladies on the night shift know me as McKay’s dad and Chad as her sister.  They also know that a “Chad Special” is a Berry Upbeet with Daily Vitamin and Weight Burner boosters.

Chad has earned a reputation for consistency this year.  He put himself on a controlled, healthy, balanced diet, and has never departed from it.  He lost 80 pounds and is by far the fittest person in the family.  If we’re having desert and he wants to cheat, he will simply ask to smell our treats.  There was a day he worried me though: he picked up two M&Ms off the table, and just when I thought he was going to break his commitment, he put them up his nostrils and shot them at his sister.  What a relief.

Besides being consistently healthy, Chad is also consistently fun.   He composed the great song, “Let those poopies out!” in honor of our little friend Case, who was potty training this year and had trouble “letting go”. 

Between the music and the fitness, he also has time for fashion consulting. 

“Dad, pull out your shirt!  You look like a dork with your shirt tucked in.  Don’t wear black socks with athletic shoes!  Don’t wear dress shoes with jeans!”

He probably wouldn't want me wearing dress shoes with athletic shorts either.  I think I’m going to need his coaching for a long time.  He is far more aware than I am of what looks good or bad.  Then again you should have seen him dressed as “super fan”, or wearing Hannah’s “Party Pants”, or getting his back waxed.

In the spring Chad and Lilli and Hannah all participated in the High School production of “Honk, Jr.” (the ugly duckling story).  It was his first and probably last high school musical. He did a great job as a happy, mellow-but-not-stoned frog.  Lilli was a duckling and Hannah was some other kind of bird, and she was very birdlike.

She was very eel-like when she was in the “Little Mermaid, Jr.” this fall.  She is still a great singer and now has an important role in the musical “Once upon a Mattress”.  We’ll tell you more about that next year.  She wouldn't want me making a big deal out of it.  Apparently I’m a bit of a stage parent.  But hey, I haven’t driven her to American Idol auditions yet, so I think I’m a model of restraint!

Hannah has been a great sister to everyone, and is usually helpful in all the right ways.  She is happy all the time and is the only teenager I've ever been well-acquainted with who has the ability to laugh at herself.  She makes friends easily, and met a really nice boy while we were camping at the coast.  The story starts out kind of romantically, where they found each other because they were randomly using the same radio channel on the walkie talkies.  Pretty soon Zach bicycled over with a big group of friends who all wanted to meet Hannah.  There were all about 8 years old, but Hannah made them feel all grown up.

She was given a ukulele last Christmas, and Chad gave her some lessons, but so far she prefers the piano.  In the spring they had a community talent show, and she sang and played the piano.  Chad rocked the house with Bohemian Rhapsody on the ukulele, and Lillian competed with her dance teacher doing a tap dance.  Surprise of the night was that Lillian came home with first place!

Lilli is doing great!  She’s our only home school student at the moment.  She studies, works, pretends, plays, dances and sings her way through the day.  OK, I’m being generous about the “work” part of that equation, but it does happen occasionally. 

She and I did an overnight backpacking trip in August, and she was an absolutely delightful partner.  Here are a few of her observations during that trip, during which she talked almost constantly:
·         (store stop) Dad, change your shoes before someone sees you!
·         (in selecting a hat, which I thought was to keep the sun off) I need to look adventurous and cool!
·         (as we’re driving to the trailhead) I’m so excited . . . I’m losing my excitement . . . real fast . . . OK, I got some excitement back!
·         (during the hike in) I’m not having fun at all.  The backpack is not fun, just running around and climbing boulders will be fun.  . . . And fishing, and playing with other kids.
·         (after taking many, many, stops on the hike in) I’m an adventurer!  I only take important stops!  . . . well, NOW I do.
·         Dad!  Your legs are longer than mine!  I’m short if you haven’t noticed!  Take shorter steps and fewer of them!
·         I’m going to list everything that hurts! (and she did)

On the hike out we were both commenting on how much quicker the hike was going than on the way in.  I said, well, it’s downhill and our packs are lighter.  She said, “yes, and I’m not complaining the whole way like I did on the way in.”  Truer words were never spoken!  I hope to go on many more hikes with Lilli and whoever else will go over the next 30 years!

Lilli helped me get ready for a big hike in Northern Idaho with Jim and Ethan Hewitt.  The three of us packed to some secluded lakes at around the 7500-foot level.  Granite and quartz boulders; pine and aspen; wild plants of a million varieties including celery and several kinds of berries.  Clear lakes and relatively blue skies – there was a lot of smoke from forest fires, but it was thinner at our elevation; warm days and cool nights; lots of fish biting; great food created by Chef Jim.  And plenty of strenuous exercise, for those who like that sort of thing.

Aside from my backpacking adventures, several of my Saturdays were occupied with the Front Entry Safety Project.  I poured a concrete walkway from the front porch to the driveway, replaced the stairway and added railings, and trimmed and painted the porch.  I had to think long and hard about it, but I decided that nine years after building the porch it was not too soon to finish the job. 

I hate to admit it but I had put off the walkway job for several years for one reason or another.  Three years ago Hannah broke her foot on the stepping stones that were there but I still didn't get it done.  I sorta kinda had the intention to do it this year, but then Wendy tore her Achilles tendon the same way Hannah got hurt, and that changed everything.  Only by getting on it quickly could I possibly prevent the injury that was likely coming next . . . probably to my right eye since Wendy is left handed and she is the daughter of a boxer.

Wendy had a great year and was as busy as ever.  Her additional commitment this year was CET (Children’s Educational Theater).  She taught technical classes and was the technical director for six shows.  Lilli was able to attend this camp too.  Hannah I went and helped with set construction and it was a good family experience.

She designed the sets for the high school productions again this year.  My favorite was Cinderella.  She is a stickler for detail, and probably 300 man-hours of painting went into it.  Cinderella’s home was vividly painted, and it would rotate out and become a shop or disappear altogether.  It is great to see the community coming out to support these shows and the high school kids getting great experience.

We both enjoy taking in theatrical performances, and luckily we live close enough to Portland to go see the Broadway touring series that comes there.  We saw some fun shows this year, and they provide some inspiration for Wendy’s sets and lighting ideas.  In October we were realizing we might not have much chance to celebrate our anniversary because of the timing of McKay’s wedding.   So we agreed we would just skip it this year – just go out to dinner or something.  But THEN I heard that Sweeney Todd was playing at Portland Center Stage, and, knowing this is one of Wendy’s favorite shows, I took the opportunity to be sneaky!  . . . In a good way, for once.

So I took the day off work and peeked into her calendar to be sure I wouldn't disrupt her schedule too much, and I took her to Portland without telling her what we were going to see.  She wasn't very cooperative at first.  She thought she might be heading to an art exhibit or Ice Capades, (not sure why she’d drag her feet for those, but anyways . . . ) she screamed with delight when she saw the sign for Sweeney Todd, and I knew that I HAD SCORED!  It’s not every day a couple gets to enjoy such deep and ugly irony, and we thoroughly loved it.  Brutal abuse, retribution, bloody murders, beautiful music, and a barber shop.  You might say it’s barBERic!  Ha ha!

We did eventually get around to buying each other anniversary presents: his and hers cordless drills!  And it was HER idea!  I LOVE this woman!

In June we went to the Canon Beach sandcastle competition.  Several of our kids were participants on the Jessop team.  The 4 day trip started out to be a very wet one, but eventually dried out.  Myles came to visit McKay and get to know us a little better; Chad bicycled up and down the coast; I ate a LOT of marshmallows. 

It was baby Ben’s first camping trip and he had fun!   Kimber is such a sweet mom, and Ray is a loving daddy!  They are building a solid family, and he is a lucky boy with so much extended family close by.  He is a funny kid!  He is now 9 months old and finally has his first two teeth.  But meanwhile he is already walking.  He is a little shy and both his conversations and his complaints are subdued. 

Kimber shares her amazing talents in sewing, dancing, writing and art, and makes us all happy.  Raymond is now a bus-driver – the perfect job for a gentle, giant, mechanically minded guy who needs a little fallback from software writing.  He made a game for the Android phone, called Space Chaser.  It is pretty cool because you control the ship by tilting the phone.  He had some problems with it at first – he said it had a memory leak.  I know all about memory leaks.  That’s why I have to carry my blackberry wherever I go, because mine leaks like a sieve and the only way I will follow through on a great idea or even a promise is if I create a reminder.  But Ray is not forgetful and neither is his spaceship.  I think a memory leak in programming is where you forget to put something away after you used it.  That is also a problem I have, but not as commonly as misplacing things.

In June I came out of a store and could not find the car.  I checked the blackberry, but I had not left a note saying where it was.  Noticing my confusion, several people walked up to me and said, “Is THAT your car?”  It was parked innocently 30 yards away in the store’s driveway, where even at my most sleepy and distracted I wouldn't have left it.  There must be a malfunction. 

I suspect the air conditioning.    

You see, if you arrive at your destination while an interesting story is playing on talk radio, you have to put the car in neutral and leave the car running to enjoy the air conditioning while you listen to the end of the story.  This is an older model, and the radio and air conditioning not integrated to the parking brake, and thus the car was able to roll away from the place where I parked it.

After the November election I have given up listening to talk radio.  Problem solved.

So there you have it, the most newsworthy events of our family’s year neatly summarized in one letter.