Sunday, December 30, 2012

My God, My God

For those of you who have never heard of Sophie Milman, now you have.  This Russian-born Jazz vocalist who grew up in Israel sings a beautiful version of a song that is based on a poem by the Hungarian and Jewish poet Hannah Szenes, who is a national heroine in Israel.  The song is called "A Walk to Caesarea" or "Eli, Eli" ("My God, My God"):             Enjoy!
Hannah Szenes
My God, My God, I pray that these things never end,
The sand and the sea,
The rustle of the waters,
Lightning of the Heavens,
The prayer of Man.
אלי, אלי, שלא יגמר לעולם
החול והים
רשרוש של המים
ברק השמים
 תפילת האדם

Friday, December 28, 2012

Les Misérables: Not a Useless Film

The Good Report endorses the new movie Les Misérables (as well as the older version with Liam Neeson), with an invitation to consider a statement by Victory Hugo himself in the preface to his masterpiece: 

"So long as there shall exist, by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation, which, in the face of civilization, artificially creates hells on earth, and complicates a destiny that is divine, with human fatality; so long as the three problems of the age—the degradation of man by poverty, the ruin of women by starvation, and the dwarfing of childhood by physical and spiritual night—are not solved; so long as, in certain regions, social asphyxia shall be possible; in other words, and from a yet more extended point of view, so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, books like this cannot be useless." - Victor Hugo, Hauteville-House, 1862.

« Tant qu’il existera, par le fait des lois et des mœurs, une damnation sociale créant artificiellement, en pleine civilisation, des enfers, et compliquant d’une fatalité humaine la destinée qui est divine ; tant que les trois problèmes du siècle, la dégradation de l’homme par le prolétariat, la déchéance de la femme par la faim, l’atrophie de l'enfant par la nuit, ne seront pas résolus ; tant que, dans de certaines régions, l’asphyxie sociale sera possible ; en d’autres termes, et à un point de vue plus étendu encore, tant qu’il y aura sur la terre ignorance et misère, des livres de la nature de celui-ci pourront ne pas être inutiles. » — Victor Hugo, Hauteville-House, 1862.


Monday, December 24, 2012

The Nutcracker... Sweet!

A couple of days ago a friend and I attended a performance of The Nutcracker at the Covey Arts Center by the Utah Regional Ballet.  It is difficult to believe that the original production in 1892 was not a success, considering the subsequent popularity of this two act ballet.  Interestingly, Tchaikovsky composed part of the music for the ballet from Rouen, France, even though it was first performed in St. Petersburg Russia.

The original libretto was based on E.T.A. Hoffman's story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, and the dancing was choreographed by Marius Pepita.  I thoroughly enjoyed the performance at the Covey Arts Center.  The entire production, music, dancing, choreography, set, design, customs and all, was inspired and inspiring. 

Act I of the Nutcracker opens with a Christmas party hosted by Dr. Stahlbaum, his wife and his two children at their home in Nuremberg Germany in 1850.  The mysterious Herr Drosselmeyer bestows gifts upon the children, including a toy nutcracker for Dr. Stahlbaum's daughter Clara (who, by the way, was a very talented little dancer).  After the children have gone to bed, and the clock strikes midnight, the magic begins.  In a battle between the mice and the soldiers, Clara saves the Nutcracker who in turn heroically defeats the Mouse King, which victory transforms him from an ugly toy into a handsome prince.  The Nutcracker Prince then takes Clara on a journey through the Land of Snow, and a magical snowflake carries her off to the Land of the Sugarplum fairy, where, in Act II, she is entertained and honored by the Fairy and the Prince.

When Clara awakes, she believes that it had all just been a dream.  The Nutcracker doll is under the tree, but she also finds her crown beside her, causing her to wonder, was it really just a dream? 

This performance of the Nutcracker was as edifying as it was inspiring.  The dancing was superb, and the music sublime.  It caused me to reflect on a speech that was given by Elder Boyd K. Packer shortly before I was born entitled The Arts and the Spirit of the Lord, in which he stated that "The greatest poems are not yet written, nor the paintings finished. The greatest hymns and anthems of the Restoration are yet to be composed. The sublimest renditions of them are yet to be conducted."

Elder Packer went on to say that "the greatest hymns and anthems have not been composed, nor have the greatest illustrations been set down, nor the poems written, nor the paintings finished. When they are produced, who will produce them? Will it be the most talented and the most highly trained among us? I rather think it will not. They will be produced by those who are the most inspired among us. Inspiration can come to those whose talents are barely adequate, and their contribution will be felt for generations; and the Church and kingdom of God will move forward just a little more easily because they have been here."

Ideally talent and preparation combined with inspiration will produce works that will glorify God and thrill and delight audiences as much as, or even more than, the Utah Regional Ballet's production of The Nutcracker.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Digitized Dead Sea Scrolls

Many moons ago I visited an interesting place called Qumran.  Shortly thereafter, I visited the museum where the scrolls that were discovered in Qumran have been preserved and put on display.  Just yesterday I discovered that, in partnership with Google, experts in Israel have now made the Dead Sea Scrolls available for viewing on the internet.  Who could have imagined that in 1946 a Bedouin shepherd in search of a lost goat would have stumbled upon such an archeological treasure, and that such a treasure would then be available for anyone to view online (see also here)?

Having only sampled some of the scrolls, I cannot serve as a guide to what is contained therein, but what could be more exciting than studying ancient scrolls that were penned by Essenes, Jerusalem priests or Zadokites?  I am probably most curious about the Enoch scroll and Isaiah, but Genesis, the Ten Commandments, Psalms, Paleoleviticus, Tefillin, Minor Prophets, Community Rule, Apocryphon of Daniel, The Book of War, and the Legal Papyrus also sound tantalizing.

Since my Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and Nabataean are quite rusty, I am glad that there are English translations available.  Enjoy the scrolls, and by all means, if you come across any other ancient documents, be they scrolls, plates or papyrus, please let me know.  

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Chapman Stick

Domenico Scarlatti’s Sonata in F minor (K.386) on a Chapman Stick, an instrument created by Emmett Chapman.  Unreal.  Precisely the kind of thing that The Good Report seeks after. Thank you. (For other Chapman Stick performances, see here and here.)

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Tallow Candle

If this story turns out to be true, it could kindle a greater appreciation for the work of Hans Christian Andersen, the gifted Danish author and weaver of inspirational fairy tales such as The Ugly Duckling, The Little Mermaid and The Emperor's New Clothes.  Some experts claim that The Tallow Candle may have been the very first fairy tale that Andersen recorded.  Perhaps not coincidentally, Andersen was born in the same year as Joseph Smith, and may have produced this illuminating tale around the same time that the young prophet was experiencing his earliest revelatory experiences. Enjoy.      

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Why was Joseph Smith such an effective leader?

Here are just a few quotations from the Prophet Joseph Smith that may help to answer this question:
  • "Sectarian priests cry out concerning me, and ask, ‘Why is it this babbler gains so many followers, and retains them?’ I answer, It is because I possess the principle of love. All I can offer the world is a good heart and a good hand."
  • "Nothing is so much calculated to lead people to forsake sin as to take them by the hand and to watch over them in tenderness. When persons manifest the least kindness and love to me, O what pow'r it has over my mind."
  • "As I grow older, my heart grows tenderer for you. I am at all times willing to give up everything that is wrong, for I wish this people to have a virtuous leader. I have set your minds at liberty by letting you know the things of Christ Jesus. … I have nothing in my heart but good feelings."
  • A few days before he went to Carthage Jail, the Prophet expressed his love for the Saints: "God has tried you. You are a good people; therefore I love you with all my heart. Greater love hath no man than that he should lay down his life for his friends [see John 15:13]. You have stood by me in the hour of trouble, and I am willing to sacrifice my life for your preservation."

Happy Hanukkah!

Learn about Hanukkah.  It is a great holiday.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Let's Fall in Love

Let's Fall in Love.  What an unforgettable voice of pure gold...Nat King Cole (and this version with Nat and Natalie together is even more golden).  But it gets better: remember Nature Boy?  (That's some great guitar accompaniment).  Should you feel sad, listen to this and smile.  This is as good a description of the most famous Da Vinci painting as I have ever heard, and these love songs are timeless.  Enjoy.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Trouble and Joy

History Professor Paul A. Rahe of Hillsdale College has recently written an article to reveal the deepest source of our troubles as a nation.  He asserts that the sexual revolution and the disintegration of the family, the fundamental unit of society, have resulted in disastrous consequences for our society.

Professor Rahe appeals to history, particularly the works of Montesquieu and Tocqueville, to explain our nation's current troubles.  According to Professor Rahe, the anchors that were once firmly planted by religion and moral discipline have been dislodged, societal drift has left a generation stranded, and young people have been discouraged from thinking about the long-term consequences of their choices.

While Professor Rahe is correct in his diagnosis, the purpose of The Good Report is to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, and latch on to the affirmative.  Therefore, while acknowledging this deep source of our troubles, I wish rather to emphasize the positive.  If moral drift and the disintegration of the family are at the heart of society's greatest sorrows, then certainly virtue and family unity are at the heart of our greatest joy (2 Ne 2:25), which joy is the object and design of our existence.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

A New Birth of Freedom

Spielberg's Lincoln is a good reminder of the price that was paid for a new birth of freedom, and carries the full endorsement of The Good Report as a praiseworthy film that is well worth watching.  Enjoy.

Pro pro-life

This is a powerful and praiseworthy defense of the family given by Richard Wilkins, an unsung international pro-life hero.  Read it, be edified and rejoice.

Slaying the Monster of the Status Quo: A Hero Theory

I have concocted a theory to explain a phenomenon that I have observed in recent years. The phenomenon of which I write is the rapid and exponential growth in the worship of superheroes, a worship that finds expression in cinemas, on game consoles, and on the pages comic books. As part of this worship, the rituals of movie going, video gaming and comic book reading bring the devotee closer to his or her hero of choice, enduing him or her with virtual power (or cyber power) and a feeling of catharsis. My theory is that increasing hero worship is subconscious attempt to fulfill the natural human yearning for something that is higher than ourselves. According to my theory, this form of worship seeps into the void that is left behind by the gradual decay of more traditional forms of worship, such as the kind of worship that is commanded by the Judeo-Christian God of the Bible.

Please understand. This is only a theory. I have also participated in the rituals of Spiderman, Batman and other heroes. I enjoy a good superhero story as much as the next person. The Incredible Hulk is still incredible. The Incredibles are still... incredible. Captain America is still a good captain. Wonder woman is still wonderful. Superman is still super. (Is Ironman in any way ironic? Perhaps.)

But I am beginning to wonder if one of the reasons that heroes with supernatural powers (think of Harry Potter) or heroes with special abilities (think of Katniss Everdeen) are increasing in popularity is not because there is a surging and common longing for something that transcends our present predicaments. That is to say, do malnourished imaginations crave more and more the junk food of popular culture because there is a dearth of what the world really needs, namely real heroes and heroines? One after another, digital superheroes tantalize and temporarily assuage the appetites of our ravenous collective consciousness only to be evacuated through the irritable bowels of our short-term memory, leaving us even hungrier for heroes than we were before our chimerical stomachs started growling.

This may be too much to digest. But once again, this is only a theory, and I would be happy to have it proved wrong. It may be true that real heroes are on the rise, most of whom are of the unsung variety. There is, of course, a sense in which the aforementioned post-modern heroes are all shadows of true heroes, shades that fit somewhere into the schemes that Joseph Campbell once posited in his writings.

Whatever the case, Campbell and others have demonstrated through their research that there is a universal human inclination toward hero myths. These myths, like allegories and parables, often contain symbols that communicate transcendent truths that are accessible to all who desire to understand and who are prepared to receive them. This universal human longing has the power to eclipse the desires that cause us to remain in the dreary realm of mere information or so-called facts.

In assessing the current state of hero worship, perhaps it would be helpful to review a few examples of the archetypes that Campbell outlined in his famous book The Hero With A Thousand Faces. Consider for example the following ideas:

-the call to adventure

"The call to adventure signifies that destiny has summoned the hero and transferred his spiritual center of gravity from within the pale of this society to a zone unknown. This fateful region of both treasure and danger may be variously represented: as a distant land, a forest, a kingdom underground, beneath the waves or above the sky, a secret island, lofty mountaintop, or profound dream state; but it is always a place of strangely fluid and polymorphous beings, unimaginable torments, superhuman deeds and impossible delights."

-the hero journey

"And so it happens that if anyone - in whatever society - undertakes for himself the perilous journey into the darkness by descending, either intentionally or unintentionally, into the crooked lanes of his own spiritual labyrinth, he soon finds himself in a landscape of symbolical figures (any one of which may swallow him) which is no less marvelous than the wild Siberian world of the pudak and sacred mountains."

-the road of trials

"Or do ye think that ye shall enter the Garden (of bliss) without such (trials) as came to those who passed away before you? they encountered suffering and adversity, and were so shaken in spirit that even the Messenger and those of faith who were with him cried: "When (will come) the help of Allah?" Ah! Verily, the help of Allah is (always) near!" (Qu'ran, Yusufali 002:214)

-the meeting with the goddess

"The ultimate adventure, when all the barriers and ogres have been overcome, is commonly represented as a mystical marriage of the triumphant hero-soul with the Queen Goddess of the World. This is the crisis at the nadir, the zenith, or at the uttermost edge of the earth, at the central point of the cosmos, in the tabernacle of the temple, or within the darkness of the deepest chamber of the heart. The meeting with the goddess (who is incarnate in every woman) is the final test of the talent of the hero to win the boon of love (charity: amor fati), which is life itself enjoyed as the encasement of eternity. And when the adventurer, in this context, is not a youth but a maid, she is the one who, by her qualities, her beauty, or her yearning, is fit to become the consort of an immortal. then the heavenly husband descends to her and conducts her to his bed- whether she will or not. And if she has shunned him, the scales fall from her eyes; if she has sought him, her desire finds its peace."

-the potential king

"Woman, in the picture language of mythology, represents the totality of what can be known. The hero is the one who comes to know. As he progresses in the slow initiation which is life, the form of the goddess undergoes for him a series of transfigurations: she can never be greater than himself, though she can always promise more than he is yet capable of comprehending. She lures, she guides, she bids him burst his fetters. And if he can match her import, the two, the knower and the known, will be released from every limitation. Woman is the guide to the sublime acme of sensuous adventure. By deficient eyes she is reduced to inferior states; by the evil eye of ignorance she is spellbound to banality and ugliness. But she is redeemed by the eyes of understanding. The hero who can take her as she is, without undue commotion but with the kindness and assurance she requires, is potentially the king, the incarnate god, of her created world."

-the gentle heart

"Such is royal rule? Such is life itself. The goddess guardian of the inexhaustible well- whether as Fergus, or as Actaeon, or as the Prince of the Lonesome Isle discovered her- requires that the hero should be endowed with what the troubadours and mine singers termed the "gentle heart". Not by the animal desire of an Actaeon, not by the fastidious revulsion of such as Fergus, can she be comprehended and rightly served, but only by gentleness: aware ("gentle sympathy") it was named in the romantic courtly poetry of tenth-to twelfth-century Japan."


"The meaning is very clear; it is the meaning of all religious practice. The individual, through prolonged psychological disciplines, gives up completely all attachment to his personal limitations, idiosyncrasies, hopes and fears, no longer resists the self-annihilation that is prerequisite to rebirth in the realization of truth, and so becomes ripe, at last, for the great at-one-ment. His personal ambitions being totally dissolved, he no longer tries to live but willingly relaxes to whatever may come to pass in him; he becomes, that is to say, an anonymity. The Law lives in him with his unreserved consent."


"One must have faith that the father is merciful, and then a reliance on that mercy. Therewith, the center of belief is transferred outside of the bedeviling god's tight scaly ring, and the dreadful ogres dissolve."

-spiritual principles

"And so, to grasp the full value of the mythological figures that have come down to us, we must understand that they are not only symptoms of the unconscious but also controlled and intended statements of certain spiritual principles, which have remained as constant throughout the course of human history as the form and nervous structure of the human physique itself."

-child of destiny

"The child of destiny has to face a long period of obscurity. This is a time of extreme danger, impediment, or disgrace. He is thrown inward to his own depths or outward to the unknown; either way, what he touches is a darkness unexplored. And this is a zone of unsuspected presences, benign as well as malignant: an angel appears, a helpful animal, a fisherman, a hunter, crone, or peasant."

-the supreme hero

"The supreme hero, however, is not the one who merely continues the dynamics of the cosmogonic round, but he who reopens the eye - so that through all the comings and goings, delights and agonies of the world panorama, the One Presence will be seen again. This requires a deeper wisdom than the other, and results in a pattern not of action but of significant representation. The symbol of the first is the virtuous sword, of the second, the scepter of dominion, or the book of the law. The characteristic adventure of the first is the winning of the bride - the bride is life. The adventure of the second is the going to the father - the father is the invisible unknown."

-God and man

"The way to become human is to learn to recognize the lineaments of God in all the wonderful modulations of the face of man."

-the modern hero

"The modern hero, the modern individual who dares to heed the call and seek the mansion of that presence with whom it is our whole destiny to be atoned, cannot, indeed must not, wait for his community to cast off its slough of pride, fear, rationalized avarice, and sanctified misunderstanding. "Live," Nietzsche says, "as though the day were here." It is not society that is to guide and save the creative hero, but precisely the reverse. And so every one of us shares the supreme ordeal-carries the cross of the redeemer - not in the bright moments of his tribe's great victories, but in the silences of his personal despair."

-slaying of the dragon

"For the mythological hero is the champion not of things become but of things becoming; the dragon to be slain by him is precisely the monster of the status quo: Holdfast, the keeper of the past."

With these concepts in mind, what do you think? Is hero worship on the rise? Why or why not? Are new heroes needed? If so, what form will they take and which archetypes will they arise from?

Friday, November 30, 2012

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Glory to the Newborn King

Tonight I had the pleasure to attend a performance at the Covey Arts Center called Utah Valley Symphony: A Family Christmas Concert.  The music of Edward Elgar's Enigma Variations combined with story telling by Kevin Kling was delightful, and it was a great way to kick off the Christmas season.  The conductor even involved the audience in singing some Christmas carols, of which one of my favorites was Hark The Herald Angels Sing:

Hail the heav'n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris'n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

The storyteller stated emphatically that every great story is a love story, and every great story includes other stories.  He then evoked the classic story of The Little Engine That Could in reference to dating.  Well done, and thanks to all involved.  There is another show tomorrow night.  I couldn't recommend this event more highly.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Are Christians Christian?

Must you really love your enemies to be a true disciple of Christ?  In the documentary film Unresolvable? The Kingdom of God on Earth, Mormon filmmaker Brian Hall braves protestors and the Bible Belt to find answers to this question.  With a variety of passionate interlocutors, including Pastor Robert Jeffress, Hall explores the question of what it means to be a Christian.

Hall appeals to the mercy of Christianity while attempting to reason with his fellow citizens of the United States, some of whom see him as a potential enemy.  Besides confronting Jeffress and anti-Mormon protestor Ruben Israel, Hall engages in dialogue with various evangelical preachers.  He also juxtaposes John F. Kennedy's position as a Catholic presidential candidate to Mitt Romney's position as a Mormon presidential candidate.  In what is perhaps the most edifying and enlightening conversation of the entire film, Hall interviews a young lady who defines Christianity according to the parable of the good Samaritan.

The documentary begins with a clip from the Colbert Report and a disclaimer that the filmmaker is just an average Mormon (not one of the people that might be found in the "I'm a Mormon" advertisements).  Throughout the interviews, Hall is sincere about his feelings toward religious rivals and his hatred of their vitriolic speech.  The individuals that Hall interviews are likewise sincere about their feelings toward Mormons and people of other faiths, particularly Muslims.

Unresolvable? The Kingdom of God on Earth provides interesting perspectives on what it means to be a Christian and what it means to love your enemies.  The documentary succeeds in raising these questions, but perhaps more importantly it gives rise to other questions that sooner or later every Christian needs to ask himself or herself, namely, "What thinks Christ of Me?" and "What must I do to become a more Christian Christian?"  

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Think to Thank

Happy Thanksgiving one and all!  As I pause to acknowledge the Lord's hand in my life, it is clear that the greatest treasures of life are not the things that moth and rust corrupt or that thieves break through and steal.  The greatest treasures are not the things that money can buy.  Heavenly Father is the source of all blessings, and His greatest gift, that of eternal life, is available through the Atonement of Jesus Christ for all who will repent.

God has sent valiant spirits to earth who have assisted in the preservation of freedom and the renewal of the spirit of thanksgiving, some of whom were recently and rightly honored in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints newsroom blog.  President George Washington's thanksgiving proclamation contains wisdom that saw beyond the years (America the Beautiful), and Lincoln's thanksgiving proclamation in 1863 was a stirring reminder of the goodness of God, as well as a powerful invitation to national unity.  

I am also reminded of St. Luke's account of Jesus' miraculous healing of ten lepers: "And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. (Luke 17:15-16)

Thanks be to God on this Thanksgiving day, and every day.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Greatest Soccer Player of All Time

Who is the greatest soccer player of all time?  There are certainly many candidates, and many different opinions on this matter.  Perhaps the greatest soccer player of all time hasn't even been born yet.  I am no expert on this topic, but I will admit that I have derived much satisfaction from playing, watching and talking about the great sport of soccer.

Before outlining some of my answers to the question posed above, allow me to provide a background to my exposure to the game of soccer.  Soccer was not my first love, but I did play in leagues when I was but a wee lad, and I did enjoy it from a young age.  Not until high school, however, did I understand that soccer actually had enough value to merit the attention of the whole world.  I wasn't planning on playing soccer as a freshman in high school until a young lady who was a couple of years my senior encouraged me to try out.  My best friends (and my brothers, who are also my best friends) were all great soccer players, and we had an excellent coach who had played soccer on the collegiate level.  We were a small school, but we won the state championship four years in a row.  This experience is what first kindled my love for the game.

Then I was called to serve a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Southern Italy.  As you may know, soccer in Italy is almost a religion.  We played a soccer, or calcetto, almost every week.  A great way to start a conversation with an Italian person was simply to ask about soccer: "Per quale squadra tifi?" ("Which team do you root for?")  We collected soccer cards and met soccer players.  Needless to say, this only increased my enthusiasm for the game.

In college, my brother and I tried out for the team.  Even though we didn't make the team, we continued to play intramurals and indoor soccer.  We also played in other leagues.  I have played soccer in France and in Israel as well.  One of the most exciting matches I have ever seen was between an Israeli and a Palestinian team.  

There have been many great soccer players, and I couldn't possibly begin to list them all.  There are many great players that I have probably never even heard of.  But that won't stop me from beginning to compile a list of some of my favorite players, with highlights of their football prowess.

Let us begin this list with a player whom many consider to be the greatest soccer player of all time, namely Edison Arantes de Nascimento, also known as Pelé.  His soccer accomplishments are too numerous to mention, but if there is any question as to how well he played (or to the soccer tradition that he engendered... such as Neymar da Silva Santos, Jr. ... check out these skills), perhaps it will suffice to watch some actual footage (no pun intended) of his skills:

1. A brief montage of Pelé highlights
2. Top 20 goals video (#10 is particularly beautiful, as are also #7, #3 and #1)
3. Juggling (I love this old-school video)
4. A longer video (Pelé Part 1, with interviews) ("Football is a gift from God")
5. An animation of Pelé's "best" goal
6. and of course, the bicycle kick (although Ibrahimovic's more recent goal is lovely as well)
7. and this is what Pelé thinks of modern soccer

Amazing.  Pelé was simply an incredible player who transformed the game of soccer.

Another of my favorite soccer players is Yossi Benayun.  I first saw Yossi play in Israel, his native country.  By the looks of this beautiful goal, he may have learned something from Pelé.  He has an impressive highlight reel as well.  Not to be outdone, watch what Iranian superstars Ali Karimi and Ali Daei can do too

Near the top of my list you will also find Lionel Messi.  If you ignore the "music" on this clip, you can appreciate some beautiful goals.  This guy is incredibly talented.  Watch this fun little collection of highlights, for example.
Next on my list, though not in any particular order, we find the Irishman Mr. George Best.  According to a couple of British friends with whom I play soccer every week, Best is the greatest soccer player of all time.  These friends taught me that his place in soccer history is explained by the saying, "Maradonna good, Pelé better, George Best".  Ever the entertainer, of his career Best said, "I spent 90% of my money on women, drink and fast cars.  The rest I wasted".  Here is a short tribute to this athlete-celebrity and prolific goal scorer.  And be sure to check out this beautiful goal before we move on to the next player.  (Don't forget that Best even has a charitable organization named after him).

No list of great soccer players would be complete without at least mentioning Zinedine Zidane, the French superstar of Algerian descent.  In spite of his unfortunate encounter with Materazzi, Zidane is indisputably a soccer legend with an incredible combination of power and a soft touch on the ball.  This has a lot of the same highlights, but it is a good collection (set to a Coldplay song).  Here is someone's interpretation of his top ten best moves.  This is a spectacular left footed volley.

Ok... Ok.  Let's include the Argentine phenomenon as well.  Diego Maradona certainly developed highly advanced dribbling skills, as this video clearly shows.  You've probably seen this goal, which is one of the best in World Cup history.  Of course, we must forgive him for his mano de Dios goal.

Johann Cruyff was also a great soccer player who embarrassed many defenders.  He is given credit as the originator of the "total football" philosophy.  This is a great goal, and I really like this goal that Cristiano Ronaldo appears to have imitated later on. Well done.

The list could go on and on, including players such as Klinsmann (this is a beauty), Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima (check out these sweet moves), Cristiano Ronaldo (here are few sample goals, and here are some more, and some dribbling skills too), Ronaldinho (the last goal in this highlight video is worth watching), Beckenbauer, Gareth Bale, Stephan El Shaarawy, Eden Hazard, and others.  I would also like to look up some clips of Piola, Shearer, Weah, Jairzinho, Socrates (what a great name for a soccer player), Ian Rush, Jimmy Greaves, Eusebio, Garrincha, Giuseppe Meazza, etc.  Recently I have enjoyed watching Pappis Cisse (here are some goals).  Landon Donovan certainly deserves at least an honorable mention.

As you have probably noticed, I've left out a lot of great defenders and keepers, but this is only the beginning.  Who are your favorite players?  Who would you add to the list?  What are their greatest goals or plays?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Queen of Queen Creek

"Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." (Matt. 25:40)

Recently it seems as though political discourse in the United States has been following a downward trajectory.  This is something to mourn.  The good question "What is right?" is too quickly forfeited to the bad question "Who is right?"  As I listen carefully to those who lean toward the opposite side of the political spectrum I am sometimes surprised to discover that, when given a moment to express themselves, these fellow citizens center in on the same basic question, and it is a good question: "What is right?"

Mind you, they aren't just asking "What is legal?"  Like the question "Who is right?", the question "What is legal?" tends to obscure the more important question: "What is right?"  The word "right" could also be substituted with the word "just", as in, "What is just?"  This question, in turn, obviously begs the even more basic question, namely, "What is justice?"  Like these good compatriots, philosophers have been grappling with this question for millennia.  I won't attempt to answer it here.  

But I will share a news report from the world of sports that could serve as an shining beacon to the world of politics.  It is a story that provides an answer to the question "What is justice?" but more importantly it provides an answer to the question, "What is mercy?"  Consider how some boys from the Queen Creek High School football team treated one of their sophomore classmates, a wonderful girl named Chy.  (Special thanks to Professor Paul Seaton who shared this story with my dad, who in turn shared it with me).  

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Perfection in Imperfect People

People are not perfect.  Even seemingly perfect people or almost perfect people are not perfect.  Far from it.  I have yet to meet a perfect person.  God, however, is perfect, and has perfect love for all of his children.  He sent his only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ to give himself as a perfect sacrifice for the world. (John 3:16)

Occasionally we glimpse, even in imperfect people, traces of that perfection that is found only in God and in his Son Jesus Christ.  While it would be easy to see the flaws and imperfections in others, particularly those who have preceded us, or those closest to us, or anyone for that matter, it is much wiser to seek for those things that inspire us to become better people, and to learn from them.

Three such people to learn from were C. Allen Huntington, George W. Grant and David P. Kimball.  These men were willing to give their lives for the truth that they embraced.  More than that, they demonstrated Christ-like love in the most adverse of circumstances.

Moroni, the last prophet of the Book of Mormon, wrote: "Condemn me not because of mine imperfection, neither my father, because of his imperfection, neither them who have written before him; but rather give thanks unto God that he hath made manifest unto you our imperfections, that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been." (Mormon 9:31)

The more we can see glimpses of perfection in others, the closer we are to perfection: "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face" (1 Cor. 13:12)  The three brave men who crossed the icy river with precious cargo, C. Allen Huntington, George W. Grant and David P. Kimball, were not perfect, but in that moment they reflected the perfect love of God as was best manifested through the gift of his perfect Son, Jesus Christ.  

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The God Who Weeps: A Review

Recently there has been a lot of buzz surrounding a new book, The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life, created by the dynamic (and prolific) duo Terryl and Fiona Givens.  In response to a what many in the Mormon intellectual community consider to be a growing need for philosophically rigorous and theologically rich discourse, Deseret Book agreed to publish this most recent magnum opus.

The God Who Weeps also comes as an invitation to focus more attention on the essential doctrines of Mormonism instead of the peripheral culture.  Such an invitation it is hoped, will, in Terryl Givens' own words, "radically resonate with with Christians and spiritually minded people everywhere."  Thus far, the invitation has been mostly well received both inside (see, for example, these reviews at Times and Seasons, By Common Consent, Wheat and Tares, Feminist Mormon Housewives, and Mormon Stories) and outside (see, for example, excerpts from this praise) of the Mormon intellectual community. (For "What is an intellectual?" see here, and for the question, "What is a Mormon Intellectual?", see here).

Like the teachings of the prophet that he described in his speech to students at a BYU forum in 2005 (Lightning out of Heaven), Givens' lightning words have struck the dry kindling of the fire pit of the Mormon intellectual community, warming those who are afflicted with doubts.  In an attempt to rescue the merciful God from the wrathful and reproving God of Calvinism, Givens brings to the foreground of the LDS scriptural canon the apocalyptic vision of Enoch, an ancient prophet of the original Zion.

In The God Who Weeps, Givens proposes five core components of Mormon theology, namely, that "1. God is a personal entity, having a heart that beats in sympathy with human hearts, feeling our joy and sorrowing over our pain, 2. We lived as spiritual beings in the presence of God before we were born in this mortal life, 3. Mortality is an ascent, not a fall, and we carry infinite potential into a world of sin and sorrow, 4. God has the desire and the power to unite and elevate the entire human family in a kingdom of heaven, and, except for the most stubbornly unwilling, that will be our destiny, and 5. Heaven will consist of those relationships that matter most to us now."

In this theological tour de force, Givens gets to the heart of matters by addressing themes of love, desire and agency.  He demonstrates great breadth of knowledge while simultaneously plumbing the depths of the nature of God and man.  He is quick to point out, and rightly so, that heaven is not an exclusive club reserved for only the most gifted or able, but that God, our Heavenly Father desires that all of His children obtain the same joy and blessings, the same eternal life that He enjoys.

In addition to plentiful passages and parables from poets and sages, Givens takes the account of Enoch as recorded in the Book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price as the guiding narrative of The God Who Weeps.  The God that Givens portrays is not just a God with body and parts, but more precisely a God with passions, one who has compassion, even to the extent of being vulnerable.  Certainly Givens is right to remind the reader that one of the central lessons of the vision of Enoch is that charity is the great virtue that is under attack, and that God's love is all encompassing.  The Love of God, as manifested through the Atonement of Jesus Christ is at the center of Enoch's vision, of Heavenly Father's plan of salvation, and I believe, of Givens' book.

As much as I enjoyed this new book, The God Who Weeps, and as little as I want to throw cold water on the fire that it has kindled, it seems to me that perhaps Givens takes the weeping metaphor a little too far.  Of course, God, our Heavenly Father, has greater mercy, love, compassion, kindness, wisdom, knowledge, virtue and patience than we can adequately imagine or describe, but he is also perfectly just.  He lovingly and constantly calls upon us all to repent and exercise faith in His Son Jesus Christ.  In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis explained:

"What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like, 'What does it matter so long as they are contented?'  We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven - a senile benevolence who, as they say, 'liked to see young people enjoying themselves' and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, 'a good time was had by all'."

Fortunately, The God Who Weeps includes an extensive treatment of the doctrines of faith in Christ and repentance as well.  As we learn from the account in Moses, Enoch's heart "swelled wide as eternity; and his bowels yearned; and all eternity shook." (Moses 7:41)  Enoch, like God, wept to behold the wickedness of God's children, which caused him to ask longingly: "When shall the day of the Lord come?" (Moses 7:45)  Enoch wept again, refusing to be comforted, until God covenanted with him (see Moses 7:59-64).  Enoch was in the bosom of God and Zion, but he wept when he saw that the people in Noah's day and in the last days would not heed the call to repentance.  That it may be otherwise, that the call of repentance may be heeded, has been the hope of Enoch and all the prophets.  When this warning is heeded, then the God who weeps may smile and rejoice.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Way

This is the way to happiness and fulfillment.

"Life is hard, but life is simple. Get on the path and never, ever give up. You never give up. You just keep on going. You don’t quit, and you will make it." - ELDER LAWRENCE E. CORBRIDGE

The Why

Today I attended a John Adam's Center lecture given by professor Peter Lawler entitled "The Christian Idea of the Person and the Nature of the Family", which was followed by a group discussion during lunch.  It was an edifying part of the conference that reconfirmed the notion that Mormons and Catholics have much in common, particularly as it pertains to questions of God and the family.  Of course, the same could be said of the common ground that is shared between other Christians, Muslims, Jews, people of faith, and all people, but today's discussion focused primarily on Catholic teaching, from Aquinas and Augustine to G.K. Chesterton and the Pope.

Professor Lawler framed his lecture with the idea that modernity represents a type of Christian heresy that was brought about in part by the thought of John Locke.  For Plato and Aristotle, God was neither personal nor relational.  In contrast, Christianity emanates from a God that is both personal and relational.  According to Lawler, Locke's heresy was to sever the relational God from the personal God, thus presenting a diety who created mankind only to ignore him.  Lawler explained that God and man are rational, willful, and loving beings, but that modernity has found ways to emphasize the rational and willful at the expense of the loving.

Professor Lawler imparted a few gems during his lecture that are worth recording:

"The modern world is a rebellion against Christianity."

"What does a woman need?  A good marriage.  What does a man need?  Any marriage at all."

"Chastity is a virtue for both men and women equally, but it's news for men."

"Women civilize men through love."

The discussion following the lecture was especially stimulating.  Some remarks were made about how the ancient Greeks answered the "what" questions (For example, What is justice?), whereas Christianity answered the "who" questions (Who is God?).  While the "what" and the "who" are important questions, with significant answers, the entire discussion seemed to point toward the "why".  We could ask, "What is man?" or "What is love?" and provide splendid answers from the annals of history, philosophy and literature, but the "why" seemed suspended above us, waiting to be seized.

This key teleological component is, in my mind, one of the greatest contributions of Mormonism that was restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith.  Like Moses in the Pearl of Great Price, he approached God with wonder and meekness, enough to ask not just "what" or "how" but "why"... or for what purpose did God create all things?  Why did God create the earth?  Why did God create man, woman, and all things?

The Pearl of Great Price contains a record of one of Moses' visions of the Lord.  Moses beheld every particle of the earth and discerned every soul by the Spirit of God and with spiritual eyes, after which he was moved to inquire: "Tell me, I pray thee, why these things are so, and by what thou madest them?" (Moses 1:30)  Then, pressing further, Moses inquired again: "Be merciful unto thy servant, O God, and tell me concerning this earth, and the inhabitants thereof, and also the heavens, and then thy servant will be content." (Moses 1:36)  Moses had discovered the what and the who... but he wanted to know the "why".

The Lord's loving response contains more than the wisdom of the ages: "For behold, this is my work and my glory- to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." (Moses 1:39)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Royal Jelly Academy

The Prophet Joseph Smith declared: "The first principles of man are self-existent with God. God found himself in the midst of spirits and glory, and because he was greater, he saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have the privilege of advancing like himself--that they might have one glory upon another and all the knowledge, power, and glory necessary to save the world of spirits. I know that when I tell you these words of eternal life that are given to me, you taste them, and I know you believe them. You say honey is sweet, and so do I. I can also taste the spirit of eternal life; I know it is good. And when I tell you of these things that were given me by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, you are bound to receive them as sweet, and I rejoice more and more." (Joseph Smith, King Follett Discourse)

The Prophet Joseph Smith also declared: "When things that are of the greatest importance are passed over by weak-minded men without even a thought, I want to see truth in all its bearings and hug it to my bosom." (Joseph Smith's Sermon on Plurality of Gods, History of the Church, Vol. 6, p. 473-9)

Since truth is sweeter than honey, and should not be passed over without even a thought, perhaps it may be compared to royal jelly.  Bees produce honey, but worker bees also produce royal jelly, a substance that is fed to the queen bee throughout her development.  This royal jelly is a sweet and tart substance that may be harvested from the queen honeycomb cells, and it contains nutritive properties that are reported to stimulate brain cell development.

On another occasion, the Prophet Joseph Smith stated: "We should gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them up..." (TPJS, p. 316)  These declarations, together with the example of honey bees (see also Be Anxiously Engaged), have inspired the creation of Royal Jelly Academy.  In connection with my blog, The Good Report, the Royal Jelly Academy is an informal organization with the express purpose to glorify God and seek out sweet truths (from books, plays, articles, film, music, art, or any other source), things that are virtuous, lovely of good report or praiseworthy, and distill them into the honeycombs of our hearts and hives of our souls so that we may in turn share them with others.  Like worker bees in fields of nectar-laden flowers, let us gather the sweet honey of goodness and the royal jelly of truth into the Royal Jelly Academy repository.

But this is just the beginning.  Joseph Smith taught that, "[Learning the] truth, combined with proper regard for it, and its faithful observance, constitutes true education.  The mere stuffing of the mind with a knowledge of facts is not education.  The mind must not only possess a knowledge of truth, but the soul must revere it, cherish it, love it as a priceless gem; and this human life must be guided and shaped by it in order to fulfill its destiny" (Joseph Smith, "Gospel Doctrine: Selections from the Sermons and Writings of Joseph F. Smith", 269)

Why should we be anxiously engaged in the pursuit of truth?  One of the greatest blessings that comes as a result of seeking and applying truth is that we become free. (John 8:32)  We ourselves are freed, and truth also frees us from the false ideologies of the world, as President Spencer W. Kimball explained: "We continue to resist false fashions in education, staying with those basic principles that have proved right and have guided good men and women and good universities over the centuries." (The Second Century of Brigham Young University)

Royal Jelly Academy invites anyone and everyone who is interested to participate by 1. seeking out and sharing morsels of truth from a chosen area or activity 2. summarizing, sharing sources or links, and commenting on the chosen area or activity (submissions will also be organized into categories), and 3. contributing to discussions on selected topics and ideas, whether in an online forum or during Royal Jelly Academy meetings.  This is "honey, without money and without price". (2 Ne. 26:25)   

For example, if a Royal Jelly Academy participant attends a Shakespearean Festival, said participant might write a paragraph or two on one of the plays, share a link to the webpage for the Shakespearean Festival, and then initiate a discussion online or during a club meeting.  Another participant might discover a beautiful Chinese musical composition and report on it, providing the source information.  Someone else might have just finished reading an inspiring book, after which he or she would simply submit a review of the book with possible topics for discussion.  Be creative.  Original work is also welcome.  There is no limit to truth, no end to virtue. And it tastes so sweet!

The primary purpose of Royal Jelly Academy is to unite people in friendship around a common goal to discover truth, to love it, and to learn to live by it.  Ancillary goals might include providing an edifying and inspiring forum for friends and family to discuss ideas, as well as a resource for parents, students and teachers to contribute ideas and expertise in an area of research.  One need not be a scholar to participate.  The only requirements are a love of learning, a desire to grow in integrity, spirituality and intelligence, and willingness to share with others the truths that you discover.  Then, with so much honey and royal jelly all the bees, even the queen bees, will be jealous. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

One of the Greatest Inventions of All Time: Ping-pong

In my never ending quest to find and embrace all that is virtuous, lovely, of good report and praiseworthy, I would be remiss if I did not at least pay a brief tribute to a well-known, but oft neglected virtuous activity.  I have written of Verseball, tennis, and other sports, but perhaps one of the greatest games that was ever invented is none other than that which is played with a small white ball on a smooth, painted surface.  Yes.  That is correct.  The game of which I write is ping-pong, a.k.a table tennis.

When my brothers and I were in high school, my dad was inspired to purchase a ping-pong table to put in the basement.  Of the many brilliant things that my father has accomplished, this was among the most brilliant.  Even though my brothers and I sometimes finished ping-pong matches with welts where we had hit each other with the ping pong ball, we spent precious hours together rallying.  You see, I love  my brothers (and my sisters too, who came later), and this time together was golden.  Since then, we have had other occasions to play, but I remember this time fondly.

Which brings me to my point.  Ping-pong is great.  Soon after arriving in Italy as a new missionary, my companion and I created a make-shift ping-pong table using a scarf and forks for the net.  Later, in Israel, my friends and I played ping-pong and backgammon during our breaks between classes.  Not long ago I met some college students from Nepal who demonstrated ping-pong expertise that I have seldom seen in any other players.  More recently, a co-worker invested in a ping-pong table, some paddles and ping-pong balls,  a contribution that has provided highly beneficial wholesome recreation.

In case you are not convinced that ping-pong is one of the greatest inventions of all time, consider this point, or this point, or this point, or these spectacular points.  Amazing!  This is beautiful point as well.  And don't forget about the ping-pong power of Bruce Lee, or the table tennis talent of Forrest Gump.  I might also add that there are great female table tennis artists, including Poland's one-armed (and left-handed) Natalia Partyka.