Later that Day at Liberty Jail (a svithe both lazy and late)


With the bounty of illness and neardeath at the Thteed household over the past week, it's a miracle anything ever happened. One thing that did not happen was my svithe yesterday. So to make up, I'm including an essay from a book I wrote which never appeared in print. That book is now up on Thmazing.com (more about this later), and this is an excerpt. An exerpt about too little too late. Quite appropriate for this Monday svithe.

    Later that Day at Liberty Jail

    President Monson tells a story of failing to respond to the spirit quick enough. The spirit told him to go Now, in the middle of his meeting, but he waited until the stake president was through speaking. Then he ran off to the hospital to enquire of a friend. But his friend had died—asking for Bishop Monson, his bishop, till the very end.

    Even stripped down to the barest of detail, it is a painful story. Can you imagine the emotion that must have come over him? Although I understand death is not the end, death is still A end. Death does have finality.

    Even though I do hope to experience death someday (it is, after all, one of those once-in-a-lifetime-things), I suspect there will still be a frightening aspect to its arrival. Imagine you are dying. Maybe it’s like a roller coaster—you know you’ll live through it (so to speak), but doesn’t the long tow to the first drop still terrify you? It can me.

    But I doubt it was death that caused Brother Monson the worst pain. I imagine it was something else. He has said he has never failed to immediately follow a prompting from the Spirit since that day. Never. I believe him. I would do well to follow his example.

    I thought I learned this lesson myself while I was on my mission. I though for sure I had learned it when I did an incredibly bizarre thing under the instruction of the Spirit. I was a missionary, and my days left in the field could easily be counted on fingers and toes—even after a moderate-to-severe thrashing machine accident. The night in question, my companion and I were teaching a young lady named Sooyoon. Sooyoon’s sister was a recent convert and happy to be there with us. Also with us was Brother Ahn, a twenty-year old member of the branch presidency. By age, I was the oldest, Sooyoon the youngest. She was just two years younger than I was.

    We were teaching the fifth discussion. (The number of fifth discussions I taught as a missionary can also be easily counted on fingers and toes.) The Spirit told me to give Sooyoon my CTR ring.

    “Hahaha!” I replied. “I’m a missionary; I’m not giving any girl my ring!”

    The Spirit insisted. And insisted. And insisted. Finally, as the discussion ended, I obeyed. I explained what CTR stands for, gave her the ring and had her promise to wear it until her baptism.

    She was not baptized, as I had hoped, before I went home. My time ran out and suddenly my responsibility was just to begin my new, American lifestyle. Then, Christmas Eve 1997, I received a letter from Sooyoon. She was baptized. And she was so happy! She said the ring had helped her so very much.

    And so I was even more glad I had obeyed. After the discussion, I had felt almost as if I’d sinned. I was worried—what if that unmissionarylike act had set the Work on Cheju Island back six months? But no, the Lord’s hand was in it.

    After my mission, I figured I was ready to follow the Spirit, without fail, for the rest of my life. If I could obey the Spirit (and see the fruit) in doing one of the most absurd things I can even imagine doing on a mission, then it should not be a challenge to do what I’m told ever again, right? You wouldn’t think so . . . .

    Liberty Jail is called the temple-prison. Temple, because of the outpourings of the Spirit to Joseph Smith there (just see sections 121, 122, 123, if you doubt me, you silly gus). Prison because it was a prison—dark, smelly, moldy, rotten, cramped, dirty. Foul. It was a rank and disgusting prison without even room to stand up straight.

    The Church has built a building over the original site, which reminded me—appropriately I think—of the Dome of the Rock. Inside the outer sections of the building is a collection of rather unextraordinary visitors’ center stuff. (There, do you see the bust of Christ, like in Carthage? There’s the gold plates replica. And look, there’s a small spot with benches set aside for discussing the site’s story.) I was in danger of turning into a visitors’ center snob.

    The sisters did a fine job with their introductory bit, and I was ready to go, if you will, into the inner sanctum—this temple-prison’s Holy of Holies. In the center of the building, in a large somber room, is the restored jail. One wall of the jail has been removed/left off so you may see inside. On the dark gray stone walls surrounding the jail are carved powerful words, snippets of the Liberty experience as recorded in the D&C.

    The lights dimmed and a soundtrack played. The horror of imprisonment, the loneliness of confinement, the fear of isolation and the power of God’s grace struck us all. The representative figures of Joseph and the others seemed to suffer, and we felt it. We were quiet.

    Then Brother Dahl spoke a few words.


    Greg recited some pertinent parts from the D&C.


    Many read from the scriptures in the quiet. Many pondered. The Spirit was present and powerful. I was moved upon to bear my testimony.

    But who am I? I am Theric, the goofy kid.

    Bear your testimony.

    But I’ve never broken such a profound and sacred silence.

    Bear your testimony. There is someone here who needs to hear of the divinity of Christ from you.

    But I—I am no one. Just Theric. Just the fool.


    Several times I moved my lips, but sound never came out. My diaphragm was frozen; I was afraid to obey. I was given the exact words and plenty of time, yet I was afraid to obey.

    “We have another group that’s about ready to come in,” a sister missionary informed Brother Dahl. Though a whisper, we could all hear it plainly in that stone room.

    “Let’s go, “ Brother Dahl said, “C’mon—we need to get to our hotel.”

    I despaired that night. I was given a simple, painless—even joyful command, yet I had failed. It had been such a beautiful experience; the spirit had been so strong. Yet for me, there was an abyss. And perhaps because I had failed to open my mouth,1 someone else was feeling empty as well. What a terrible burden.

    I pray that experience was enough for me. I pray I have finally learned my lesson. And to my friend that I failed to testify to that night, let me just say that I know Christ lives. He loves me and he loves you. I believe you know that. I’m sorry it took so long for me to share my conviction with you. I hope you can forgive me. Let’s pray for each other.

last week's svithe


Speaking of spices, nutmeg

Nutmeg, mace, fingers..

Somewhere I once heard that nutmeg is right up there with honey and peanuts on the list of things not to give babies lest they die horrible deaths before your very eyes. So as the Big O was to born right before Christmas, I asked the midwife if Lady Steed needed to be careful about imbibing eggnog. She looked at me like I had gone insane. She scooted back on her chair, giving her two more inches of safe, safe distance from the expectant father, then said in slow and distinct syllables that nutmeg was fine.

After the Big O turned cesarean and we were switched to an obstetrician, I asked him if nutmeg would pass through the breastmilk and worry the child.

I was laughed to scorn.

I checked WebMD and Dr. Koop and other then-hip medical sites for information on nutmeg and babies, but could find nothing. How had I been led so far astray?

But now, thanks to conspiracy-proof Wikipedia, I know the truth.

Thank goodness lingering worry has prevented me from feeding that to my babes.


The Good Father


Lady Steed does a good job keeping the kids filled with necessary nutrients. So I feel like it's my job to introduce them to exciting flavors. Yesterday, Large S got to try out ground cloves. I mixed it in with a barley-and-apple-juice mash and he ate it right up. He seemed quite fond of it--even though I put in much more than I had intended.

Really, the only thing from the spice cabinet I'm leery of introducing him to are the hot things--chili pepper, Tabasco--things like that. Mainly because my plans to turn the Big O into a jalapeƱo-munching kindergartener seem to have backfired. Now he's extremely skittish about things hot. This from the kid who, when two, would insist on eating nothing but tortillas with Taco Bell Fire Sauce on them! Where did I go wrong?

So I'm not sure how to proceed with child two. So he likes all the stuff I've thrown at him so far: excellent.

Now how to introduce him to the hard stuff...?



. 025) Long After Dark by Todd Robert Petersen, finished March 23
    Let me start with a bit of puffery: This is one of the greatest short story collections I've ever read. So much better, for instance, than its overwritten misleading foreword which one would be wise to ignore. The collection consists of 15 short stories (some no more than a couple pages) and a 64-page novella to cap things off. I want to start by talking about the novella, because its penultimate page contains what might be called the thesis statement for the entire collection (philosophical SPOILER alert):
      These stories don't get told much in our church, David. We want stories of success without having to hear about the struggles of sin. . . . There has to be an opposition in all things, otherwise we could not be redeemed. And the opposition is part of the whole. . . . Please consider that as you write our history. Please record all of us. Let our lives be of use."
    Now I'm going to give a bit away of the novella's structure to explain that quotation. If you don't want to read it, skip the next two paragraphs. The structure of "Family History" (the novella) is a bit of memoir written by the father, a bit of memoir written by the mother, a bit more from their son. The first part includes a lot of Vegas monkey sex (more on that in a moment) that the father was ashamed of and wanted destroyed. His mother wanted it included--she wanted their whole story to be told. Long Before DarkAnd that's what Long Before Dark is all about (one could argue): nothing against the stories published by Covenant with chintzy covers, but these stories deserve to be told too. I read the title story aloud to the Large S to help him fall asleep and when I finished, Lady Steed wouldn't let me stop--she made me finish the story. Then she tool the book off my nightstand at every opportunity and loved the whole thing. Except for the Vegas monkey sex. (See what you spoiler-skippers missed out on?) "Long Before Dark" is the story of a woman, a bit older, the evening after her release. She had been the stake Relief Society President for so long and now? Now what? Her children have moved out, she's married to an old intellectual--not that there's anything wrong with intellectuals--and now what is she supposed to do with herself? What is left for her? It's a lovely story. "Now and at the Hour of Our Death": Luis is a good Mormon father. Raised Catholic, he still lives in Buenos Aires, where he always has lived. His wife loves him. All is well. And then a boy breaks into his house and tries to rob him and shoots at his children and Luis kills him. One shot was enough to do it. But what haunts him is how much he wanted to pull the trigger one more time.... "Quietly" might be the most striking story in the collection--John is a Rwandan Saint, sent by his American branch president to dedicate a grace. John's never dedicated a grave before. And he also knows that walking to a strange place in a white shirt and with a religious purpose is not enough to guarantee that he will survive this trip. But he has enough bread to last the day and Nephi-like faith not knowing beforehand the things which he should do. When was the last time Deseret Book published a beautiful story about the Rwandan Saints? Or, for that matter, when was the last time you read something with an ending so simultaneously ambiguous and satisfying? Because that doesn't happen very often. "Where It Comes From, Where It Goes" deals with the seeming violence between art and religion these days as observed in the outer details of the inner turmoil of a Mormon jazz genius. That sounds silly. But it's not. I know a lot of people who will find themselves in those four short pages. This is not to say I loved all these stories equally. I didn't find much for me in the polygamy story or the Prodigal Son redux, but the teenage-mother story is almost unbearably sad. And "A Strange Thing to Behold" about the junkie who finds Jesus--or at least a picture of him--might be a masterpiece. I can't recommend this book highly enough. And I'm extremely excited for Rift. But given the publisher's track record, I won't hold my breath on the eve of its August release. a couple months perhaps
024) The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, finished March 21
    Lies of LockeThis is the first 700+-page book I've finished in quite a while--and the first book in about as long whose cover made Lady Steed embarrassed to be seen with me. Someone--Stephen King?--described the process of buying a book as reading the back flaps, flipping it open to see if the writer's on his game, then making a decision to read. I often try this, but rarely does a random paragraph catch my attention. This did, however:
      "My name," said Locke Lamora, is Lukas Fehrwight." The voice was clipped and precise, scrubbed of Locke's natural inflections. He layered the hint of a harsh Vadran accent atop a slight mangling of his natural Camorri dialect like a barkeep mising liquors. "I am wearing clothes that will be full of sweat in sevral minutes. I am dumb enough to walk around Camorr without a blade of any sort. Also," he said with a hint of ponderous regret, I am entirely fictional."
    Camorr is a city in a beautifully realized fantasy world. The author, Lynch, doesn't hit me again and again to force to recognize his cleverness. He lets his world speak for itself and it's . . . a pretty amazing place. Scott Card would be proud. This is the first mass-market, glary-covered fantasy novel I've read since high school, and overall it was pretty good. The most profanity laden sure, has a lame "joke" (not sure if it was supposed to be a joke) on the last page sure, underdeveloped gang member sure---but the tale of these con-artists plying their trade, then taking a vulgar revenge, is completely satisfying and I recommend it without equivocation. It's a shame I don't tend to read seconds anymore..... well under a month
023) Robot Dreams by Sara Varon, finished March 10
    Robot DreamsThis marvelous book is not only a great read, but also a perfect example of what's wrong with comics. The story is of a dog living in a world peopled by anthropomorphic animals. He builds a robot to be his friend, but loses him. The robot is stuck on the beach, rusting, for nearly a year until he is taken to a trash yard. Eventually, both lonely dog and lonely robot find new friends and are happy. It's a short, mildly touching story told without words. It takes no time to read. But here's the problem: it costs seventeen bucks. I'm not usually in favor of reading entire books inside the bookstore, but with this there was no reason not to. I turned pages and was soon finished. And, yes, if I bought it, I would probably read it again, probably share it with my sons, $16.95? For a five-minute read? It was a nice looking book, sure, but the amount of entertainment-time provided doesn't seem to match the cost. That's why I don't own Blankets--not because it isn't excellent (because it is most excellent), but because it costs s'dang much. And if I, a rabid comics lover, can't justify the expense, how long can this print-comics renaissance continue? (click on the image to read an excerpt) five minutes or so
022) The Complete Peanuts 1963-1964 by Charles M. Schulz, finished March 9
    So. Yeah. This one's awesome too. Me, I'm off to the next one. To meet Peppermint Patty! And a Sopwith Camel! I'm so excited! almost three months
021) Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters, finished March 7
    I'm so relieved. I thought I had lost this book forever. I had been reading from it nearly every day and then it just disappeared. I looked and looked and finally decided I must have left it on a train or at a school. Then, a couple weeks ago, I pulled an old button-missing jacket out of a closet and there it was, in the pocket. Yay! In case you don't know, SPA is a collection of poems, each written from the point of view of a different person. Each of these people is interred at the Spoon River cemetery and each has something to say. After these poems--most of which are quite brief--are two longer works, "Spooniad" and "Epilogue" (both of which are pretty lousy and not worth reading). The Anthology itself however is pretty damn good (get it? get it?). I wish I could wax specific, but I read almost all the book months and months ago, and as I usually read from it as I was walking, I did very little underlining or notetaking or margin-writing. The poems are all interconnected as the people dish on each other and and certain stories about militant teetotalers and abortions gone terribly wrong and friends run off to Europe and industrial accidents slowly become clear as each new point-of-view is revealed and I discover one person lied and another never knew the truth. The poems can be read as a wildly untraditional novel about small-town life. And a good one, too. Some of the ideas Masters brought to this book are so good that even I might have been able to execute them. Often I would be flying along reading reading reading when POW! one would suddenly sock me right in the gut. Unfortunately, out of context from the other poems, even the best of them seem less sparkly. Which is a shame (but I guess explains why they are so rarely taught in schools). And one last note before I share one that I think does okay standing alone: It's fascinating to hear the same arguments about America and what it means to be American that seem so fresh and modern today, spouted by these hundred-year-old corpses. Anyway, the dearly departed:
      Dippold the Optician WHAT do you see now? Globes of red, yellow, purple. Just a moment! And now? My father and mother and sisters. Yes! And now? Knights at arms, beautiful women, kind faces. Try this. A field of grain—a city. Very good! And now? A young woman with angels bending over her. A heavier lens! And now? Many women with bright eyes and open lips. Try this. Just a goblet on a table. Oh I see! Try this lens! Just an open space—I see nothing in particular. Well, now! Pine trees, a lake, a summer sky. That’s better. And now? A book. Read a page for me. I can’t. My eyes are carried beyond the page. Try this lens. Depths of air. Excellent! And now? Light, just light, making everything below it a toy world. Very well, we’ll make the glasses accordingly.
    a year more or less


Easter Svithe 2008


The Christian Church in Iraq may be forced underground after the death of the kidnapped Archbishop Paul Rahho. Dr Suha Rassam, the spokeswoman for Iraqi Christians in Need, said: “The only way for the Church in the Mosul area to survive might be if it goes underground, like it did in the 1st and 2nd centuries. This way, Mass and other services would be held in secret and priests go about their duties clandestinely.”

There were nearly a million Christians in Iraq before the war and about half of them have left the country. Dozens of Christian churches have been attacked, bombed or destroyed and some Christian children have reportedly been crucified by Islamic terrorists. The Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Mosul, Paulos Faraj Rahho, was recently kidnapped and murdered. Some Christians left in Iraq don’t go to church for fear of being targeted for death. Some priests don’t wear clerical garb for the same reason.

“The church is much better today than before the attack,” the archbishop said about it. “That violence tested our faith, and in a year we have learned to put into practice values like forgiveness and love, even for those who persecute us.”
    His flock got the archbishop’s message.

    “Mosul Christians are not theologians; some are even illiterate. And yet, inside of us for many generations, one truth has become embedded: Without the Sunday Eucharist we cannot live,” said Father Ganni. “The terrorists might think they can kill our bodies or our spirit by frightening us, but, on Sundays, churches are always full. They may try to take our life, but the Eucharist gives it back.”

    “There are days when I feel frail and full of fear,” said the priest. “But when, holding the Eucharist, I say ‘Behold the Lamb of God, behold, who takes away the sin of the world,’ I feel his strength in me. When I hold the Host in my hands, it is really he who is holding me and all of us, challenging the terrorists and keeping us united in his boundless love.”

    Father Ganni was shot dead in Mosul last year.

    Now, the bishop he served has joined him.

Paulos Faraj Rahho, the Archbishop of Mosul courtesy of theage.com.auReligions tend to be cliquish--even though most don't intend to be so. And so at the outset, I want to assure you that I don't think a Christian's life is worth more than a Muslims (for instance), but as bad as Sunni / Shi'a relations get, it's still probably worse to be a Christian in Iraq.

Sometimes we pampered Americans can't grasp the implications that come of belonging to a religion born in blood. And not just born in blood--Christianity of all stripes is not lacking in martyrs. And it's my belief that God accepts that holy and faithful sacrifice no matter what rites the soul in question practiced before ending in blood and violence.

But no matter how we add up our own real or imagined sacrifices of blood, we all must yet fall short. Which is why Easter is worth celebrating. Why we remember the Christ at all.

Just a thought.

empty tomb from dk

last week's svithe



We're all going to die..

I know I've mentioned it before (here and here for instance), but the Hayward Quake is going to kill us all.

The USGS released a new report this week which I am too terrified to link to. Something like $160 billion worth of damage. Something about transportation being down for months. Something about 2.4 million people without water---

It's that last one that really bothers me. Especially coupled with the transportation issue.

The last five 6.8+ Hayward earthquakes have occurred every 140 years.

The last one was on October 21, 1868. Care to do that math for me? I'ld rather not think about it.

So! We need to get water. Yes. Okay. Lots of it. Right. And pronto. Okay. Yes. Okay. Right. And we had better get started now.

Because, honestly, I don't expect to die from the shaking. But if transportation is as bad as expected, what about, say, riots? People need food and water. We have a bunch of quinoa, but I don't know how to cook it. And, well, we need water.

It's not a terribly PC thing to say, but that doesn't stop the recurring observation that this could well be worse than Katrina.

Put that in your happy pipe and smoke it.

Unless you're a teetotaler like me. In that case, just let it keep stewing in your brain, driving you mad.

What other choice've we got?




Well, yes, but it's not just the head, donchano. It's the neck and the back and the legs and the elbows as well. It's the gut and the spleen and the space between the eyes. It's the face and the front and the nethers. It's the thighs and the throat and the eyes. It's the---

Actually, you know what? It's pretty much the whole thing.


Mormon Svithe


My brother wrote an interesting post this week. It's all about Mormon and how extraordinary it is that he was a preacher of charity and hope when he lived among perhaps the most debased people in human history.

I've been meaning to send some traffic his way for a long time, so instead of a fullbore svithe from me this week, I'm sending you over to see him. Click that first sentence.

But before you go, let me add my testimony theirs (Schmetterling's and Mormon's) and suggest that we "pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that [we] may be filled with this love" and to point out that you've got something on your lip. No, right there--that's it. A little more. Okay, you got it.

Love you!

last week's svithe


Olivia Hussey v Claire Danes

Two Juliets

It's interesting to show both movies to freshmen. I show Olivia first, and if the alpha males declare her passing fair, when I then share Claire, the betas immediately disdain her--she's nothing compared to Olivia!

If however, the alphas had stuck their fingers up their throats over Olivia, the betas immediately, upon seeing Claire, exclaim, "Well at least this Juliet's hot! Yowza!"

This, my friends, is high school.


Bruce Robin, The Chemist, and a couple svithes


Can a woman forget her sucking child,
that she should not have compassion
on the son of her womb?
yea, they may forget,
yet will I not forget thee.

Bruce RobinFriday night I had the most awful thing happen. Doing a quick search on my blog suggests this revelation of my failure will not surprise any of you, but, for all intents and purposes, I had forgotten that the Big O is a twin.

Twin #2 came to me that night, and asked me, "Why do you always call me [Biggo]?"

"Surely, I don't! I call you by your own name! I'm sure of it!"

But as I said this, I wracked my brains, trying to remember this crying child, who looked just like my bonny boy, trying to remember his name, and failing.

Finally, I resorted to finding his birth certificate. Bruce Robin. 'Bruce Robin'? No wonder I couldn't remember it.

"Do you mind if I call you Robin?"

I could tell he didn't care. He just didn't want to be called Biggo anymore.

I woke up, convinced I had a forgotten son, Robin, and panicked, wondering how I could ever make things up to him, help him feel loved again, redeem myself as a father, and return this child to feelings of love and security.

Thank God. Thank him that he never forgets us.


A friend loveth at all times

Circumstances prevented us from visiting with Foxy J this weekend while she was in Davis, so we were delighted and amazed when the fates tossed another dear, dear friend right into our laps.

The Chemist and his wife shared a basement-split-in-two with us back when we were all newlyweds. We shared that dump for two years. Then four years later we were together again in Berkeley. Then off they went to Boston.

Then today, here he was. In town for business.

We won the Have-The-Chemist-Over-For-Lunch contest and reveled in his company until he had to leave for Monterey.

But, as he told us once, with us four--no matter how long its been between visits--we can always pick up where we left off.

Ever since I made the discovery almost a decade ago that God made us social creatures, I've never stopped riffing on the subject. Because it's true. We were built to need each other.

And I'm so happy to have good friends.

Thank you, friends.


last week's svithe


2008: Goal update


Movies of the AFI 100 we own but have never seen:

Movies of the ARI 100 we own but have never seen our copy:

Bringing Up BabyWe just watched Bringing Up Baby (sorry for the lack of notice, Samantha) and, in fact, we have seen it before. I had just forgotten. And it is very funny and very silly and a very nice way to spend the evening. So it really should have been on the secondary list, but it was quite worth watching all the same.

Excuse me while I titter.

(Also: Asta was in it. I did not know who Asta was last time I say this movie.)

I think I forgot because Baby--the leopard--really isn't that major a character. So the title's a little random. But there are bigger quibbles to have over movies.

I wonder whether Mark means that he eats dogs or is fond of them...?