A Test of Charity

Paul describes minding your own business as an act of charity. Maybe this will help us through the remainder of the political season.

Y’all, it’s rough out there. I know I’ve blogged about this recently, but it bears repeating. Regardless of the outcome, this election season has already revealed the worst in ourselves to each other. I have never heard so much spite and vitriol; I have never used so much spite and vitriol. How do we live with each other after all this? I have totally lost respect for so many people– people who are good and kind and thoughtful, people who I love. I can’t just “unfriend” the world. Diversity of thought is essential. But yikes– some of those thoughts, it turns out, are pretty repellent. This is the danger of listening, I suppose.

I do think it’s important to listen, though, and I do think it’s important to live in community with people who are different from you. Paul, with whom I have a complicated relationship, advocates minding your own business, and calls this an act of charity. Never have I ever thought of charity in that way, though now that it has been brought to my attention, I can think of many people I know who do this. There is certainly a time to stand up for what you believe is right, butapparently there is also a time to hush and let people do what they’re going to do. It is unkind to tempt people to hate you, reasons Paul. Romans 14 (KJV with JST)* offers his good advice, and I liked it so much, I decided to go ahead and include most of it here. Paul speaks specifically of faith and religious observance, but I think it applies to any of the spheres in which we make decisions and act.

“Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth [vegetables].Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.

“He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks. For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. . . .

“But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgement seat of Christ. . . . Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion ot fall in his brother’s way. I know, and am persuaded bu the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean. But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, thou walkest not charitably if thou eatest. Therefore destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.”

*For people who care about such things, the above reference is Romans 14:1-7,10,13-15. Like most Mormons, I use the King James Version. JST = Joseph Smith Translation. In this case, JST alters a little of verse 15, mostly for clarity it seems. I used “vegetables” in place of “herbs” because I thought it was clearer and made more sense, and a footnote told me it was an acceptable translation from the Greek.

Apparently This Is A Book Blog

Here’s what I’m reading. I’d sure love it if you joined along.

The Importance of Being Little by Erika Christakis

Christakis takes on the problem of early childhood education in America, and shows how even those most well-meaning teaching philosophies are difficult to implement. She demonstrates the drift between what children need to learn, and what our educational standards assess. Compassionate and personable, Christakis draws on decades of personal experience in her consideration of what early childhood education ought to embrace. I’m about halfway through it now, and so far I have found it more validating than informative, but I am enjoying her discussion regardless.

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

This involves a witch and an engineer and the end of the world and high school friends reunited. Count me in.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Posthumously published, Kalanithi reflects on his experience with lung cancer and a fully lived life. Keep the Kleenex (and reading journal) handy.

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

I must be the only English-reading person over the age of 10 who hasn’t read this book yet. Time to fix that. I know there is a lot of controversy about this book and its authors, but one thing at a time.

The Lightkeepers by Abby Geni

A literary mystery novel in which the environment plays a huge part (I am told).

No Good Men Among the Living  by Anand Gopal

A journalist’s analysis of how the United States contributed to the return of the Taliban, told through the lives of three Afghan individuals.

Time to Listen

I sort of gave up blogging for a while (could you tell?) for reasons that seem self-pitying when I say them out loud. Other people have more erudite and entertaining things to say about books and reading and literacy and the Arts and all that. They have bigger audiences, too. The Internet is just so loud, you know? So many voices, so many words.Why add to the cacophony? I was interested in what other people were saying. I wanted to learn more about what they thought. I stopped talking so much, and started listening and reading more.

While I was not blogging, I noticed a lot of people are experiencing terrible things. Perhaps you have noticed this, too–ISIL, refugees, shooting tragedies.  It’s like there’s this Club of Sorrows, and we’re watching people get inducted en masse. Except it’s not a club, it’s just humanity, and while it is happening to a lot of people, it is happening on an individual level. One person made a choice, and another person made a choice, and another person, and another person, and now there’s blood and bombs everywhere, and it feels sooooo big, like, “Who is even in charge here?” These tragedies, they feel bigger than us, but the fact is, they are made of us. We are the victim and the violent both.

There are plenty of people experiencing more quotidian cruelties, too. Poor health, loneliness, poverty, relationship dysfunction– these are real, painful problems as well, even if they are more common. I’ve heard a lot of crying this year.

I’ve been watching our trainwreck political year, too. I can’t blame anyone but myself for this, and neither can you. The kind of rhetoric that has led us to this point first creates, then disdains, then demonizes a political Other, and we have all engaged in this. Gleefully. Vindictively. My six year old knows it’s unkind to call people names. My six year old knows it is not ok to make people feel bad about themselves. Why is it so easy for us adults to conditionalize these rules? If someone is an awful person (whatever that means), and you call them one, you’ve just made yourself an awful person, too, because now you are a person who calls people names. When people are wrong, when people are participating in morally reprehensible things, I think it’s entirely appropriate to speak up. In fact, I think it is one’s moral obligation. Part of being a good human means easing and preventing human suffering, and in protecting the weak, and standing up to injustice. This does not require being unjust ourselves, however, or unkind.

It is unkind, you know, to label and to dismiss each other. Even if I find my neighbor’s political opinions deeply offensive, I still have to live next to her.  I can live next door while hating her, of course, but what does that really do for me? I believe I’ve been cautioned about hating my neighbor, actually, and I know I can’t love her if I’m busy calling her names. Instead, I have tried to ask questions and pay attention. Where is this vitriol coming from? What are we all so afraid of? It’s time to embrace vulnerability and trust each other a little more– which looks like insanity on the surface, because guns are REAL, yo, but I’m talking about small bids for trust. When my Dad posts something on facebook that I find repulsive*, I should ask him about it rather than simply blocking him from my newsfeed. Learning and love both happen in conversation, not by ostracization or isolation.

I quit blogging for a while, and started listening. This is the duty of the privileged, I think, and I am a privileged person. It is a balm to those who suffer as well, I think– to be heard, to hear others, to share our pains with each other. It is a blessing to be understood, even if people still disagree. I think we can treat each other better than we have, friends. Whatever horrors the future holds, we will handle them better if we handle them together.  We begin that best by listening.


*My actual Dad has never done this. Just, y’know, for example.

Happy birthday, Shakespeare!

451 years ago this month, William Shakespeare was christened in Stratford-upon-Avon, so here is a poem to commemorate his birth.

I love this sonnet. The gist is, “Words can’t describe how beautiful you are, or how much you mean to me.” It reminds me of Darcy’s reply to Elizabeth’s accusation, that “A man who felt less might [say more].” As someone married to a relatively silent man, I know firsthand that a person can feel deeply but say little. In fact, I’ve grown so used to watching what my husband does that I almost distrust what people say. A man with a glib tongue and a quick compliment arouses my suspicion, not my approval. And although Shakespeare is known for his ability to turn a clever phrase, in the face of love, we are all tongue-tied. Anyway, enjoy.

Sonnet 83

I never saw that you did painting need,
And therefore to your fair no painting set.
I found, or thought I found, you did exceed
The barren tender of a poet’s debt.

And therefore have I slept in your report,
That you yourself, being extant, well might show
How far a modern quill doth come too short
Speaking of worth, what worth in you doth grow.

This silence for my sin you did impute,
Which shall be most my glory, being dumb.
For I impair not beauty, being mute,
When others would give life and bring a tomb.

There lives more life in one of your fair eyes
Than both your poets can in praise devise.

The Moment Eternal

I love, love, love this poem by Robert Browning. Happy Weekend!

by Robert Browning

Out of your whole life give but a moment!
All of your life that has gone before,
All to come after it, –so you ignore,
So you make perfect the present,–condense,
In a rapture of rage, for perfection’s endowment,
Thought and feeling and soul and sense–
Merged in a moment which gives me at last
You around me for once, you beneath me, above me–
Me– sure that despite of time future, time past,–
This tick of our life-time’s one moment you love me!
How long such suspension may linger? Ah, Sweet–
The moment eternal–just that and no more–
When ecstasy’s utmost we clutch at the core
While cheeks burn, arms open, eyes shut and lips meet!


I encountered this poem by Billy Collins today. I love the closing image of the poem, the chess piece moving in all the same familiar ways, even without the chessboard or the other pieces. I think that’s what it’s like, living with loss. You keep moving the same way, but something is missing. And maybe somewhere, your chessboard notices the loss of you as well. Anyway, read the poem and tell if what I’m saying makes sense.


This morning as low clouds
skidded over the spires of the city

I found next to a bench
in a park an ivory chess piece–

the white knight as it turned out–
and in the pigeon-ruffling wind

I wondered where all the others were,
lined up somewhere

on their red and black squares,
many of them feeling uneasy

about the salt shaker
that was taking his place,

and all of them secretly longing
for the moment

when the white horse
would reappear out of nowhere

and advance toward the board
with his distinctive motion,

stepping forward, then sideways
before advancing again,

the same moves I was making him do
over and over in the sunny field of my palm.

Yvain, the Knight of the Lion

God Speed,  by Edmund Blair Leighton
God Speed, by Edmund Blair Leighton

Today’s poem is an excerpt from the medieval courtly romance Yvain: The Knight of the Lion by Chrétien de Troyes. It is a very long poem, and strongly influenced later English Arthurian romance. In this story, Yvain, for complicated family and honor reasons, has to defeat SuperKnight Esclados, and does. His widow, Laudine, is understandably distressed, and Yvain falls for her almost immediately (as one does). The excerpt below showcases her grief and his immediate devotion. (FYI, they do eventually marry and chivalry ensues.) The intensity of their emotions may seem a little strange to contemporary readers, but it’s really no stranger than Romeo and Juliet or Twilight– admittedly problematic relationships, but then, Yvain and Laudine have problems of their own. Anyway, I love this section for the questions it raises about the circumstances under which love can bloom. Yvain wonders if Laudine can ever love him, the murderer of her husband. Can you imagine the dinner party conversation? “How did you two kids meet?” “Standing in a pool of my husband’s still-warm blood– oh, honey, you tell it.” Yet love does happen in all kinds of improbable ways– maybe not involving a magical forest or murder, but who am I to judge? As we read below, “Places [Love] has always avoided/ Are places Love sometimes seeks.” Here is the excerpt, from Burton Raffel’s translation (lines 1339-1506).

So off she [Laudine’s servant] goes, and he [Yvain] stays,
Not knowing what he ought to do.
He sees them about to bury
The corpse, and he’s had no chance
To snatch some trophy for himself,
Something to prove beyond doubt
That he’d conquered and killed the man.
Without some evidence, some proof,
He might be utterly disgraed.
For Kay is so savage, so spiteful,
So full of insults, so mean,
He could never hold him off,
And Kay would go on, forever
Sniping and insulting, exactly
As he’d done the other day.
Those taunts had never left
His heart, still beat there, fresh,
And yet a new love had softened
That rancor with its sugar and honey
A love that had hunted in his heart
And completely conquered its prey.
His enemy had captured his heart,
He loved the creature who hated
Him most. Not suspecting a thing,
The lady had avenged her lord’s death. [from Susan: Love as VENGEANCE? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?)
She’d managed a greater vengeance
Than anything she could have accomplished
By herself, without Love’s assistance,
Who came to him so gently
That it struck his heart through his eyes.
And this is a longer-lasting
Wound than a sword or a spear
Can inflict, for a sword-blow is healed
And well once a doctor has care for it,
And the wounds of Love grow worse
The nearer they are to their cure.
And thus lord Yvain is wounded
And can never again be cured,
For Love itself has conquered him.
Places she has always avoided
Are places Love sometimes seeks:
She longs for no lodging, no landlord,
But this one, and the proof is that nothing
Can be bad, or too low, so long
As Love finds herself there.
Everywhere else is empty,
She searches so hard. How shameful
For Love to act this way,
Picking the worst of all places,
The lowest, the most base, as readily
As the best, though this time she’s chosen
The best of all possible homes.
Love is most welcome, here,
And here she’ll be shown great honor,
And here she’d do well to stay.
And so Love should, a creature
Of such nobility that it seems
Incredible she could dare descend
To shameful, vulgar places.
Like someone who carefully spreads
Balm on cinders and ashes,
Who hates honor and cherishes
Shame, who mixes sugar
And bile, and honey and fat.
But this time Love was different,
Choosing a highborn home
For which no one could possibly scold her.

And now the dead knight was buried,
And the crowds of his people were gone,
No priests, no knights, no soldiers,
No ladies remained, only
That lady who continued to grieve.
She stayed alone, often
Clutching at her throat, wringing
Her hands, beating her palms,
Reading psalms from a prayerbook
Illumined in letters of gold.
And lord Yvain still stands
At the window, watching her, staring,
And the more he watches the more
He loves her and the more she charms him.
She wept and she read, but he wishes
She would give them up, and turn
To him, and give him leave to speak.
Love had caught him at the window
And put this desire in his heart.
But his desire is foolish, and he knows it:
He could he believe, how
Could he trust it to happen? And he says:
“What a fool I am, to want
What I’ll never have. Her lord
Is dead of his wounds, and can I
Believe in peace between us?
By God, I understand nothing! [from Susan: I love this line]
She loathes me, now, and not
For nothing, and not wrongly.
But ‘now’ is the crucial word,
For a woman’s mind has a thousand
Directions. And perhaps that ‘now’
Will change. Oh, surely it will change,
And how stupid of me to stand here
Lost in despair. God grant
That she changes soon! For Love
Has decided to put me forever
In her power, and Love takes what it wants!
Not to accept Love’s wish
When Love comes, and Love asks, is more
Than wicked, it is treachery. And I say,
And whoever worships Love
Let him listen, that a deserter from Love
Deserves no happiness. I may lose,
But I’ll always love my enemy.
How could I ever hate her,
If I wish to loyal to Love?
What Love wants, I want. But she,
Should she accept me as a lover?
She should, for it is she I love.
I call her my enemy: she hates me,
And has reason to hate me, remembering
How I killed the man she loved.
And I, am I her enemy?
Never, but only her lover,
For who have I loved like this?
I feel pain, seeing her beautiful
Hair, finer than gold,
And gleaming. Pain and anger
Fill me, when she twists and breaks
That hair. I know nothing can dry
The tears falling from her eyes.
And all of it makes me miserable.
Her eyes are forever full
Of tears, tears without end,
And yet no eyes were ever
Lovelier. I weep because
She weeps, but my greatest pain
Is seeing how she wounds her face,
Though it can’t deserve it. I’ve never
Beheld such a perfect face,
So glowing and intense, so vividly
Colored. And how it afflicts me
To see her clutching at her throat!
Surely, she cannot help
Herself, she does the worst
She can. And yet no crystal,
No mirror, is as clear or as smooth.
Lord! Why is she so
Obsessed, why can’t she hurt herself
Less? Why wring those beautiful
Hands, and beat and scratch
At her breast? How wonderfully fine
To see her, in some happy mood,
If her beauty shines in such anger!
Oh yes, I can swear to that:
Never before has Nature
So outdone herself in beauty,
For here all boundaries are exceeded.
And how could it possibly have happened?
How could such beauty exist?
Where could such beauty have come from?
God must have made her Himself,
With His own bare hands, to make Nature
Gape. And it’s all used up,
Nature could not make another,
She’d only be wasting her time.
God Himself, if He wanted
To try, could not do it again,
No matter how hard He tried,
For it could not be done, not ever.”