Thursday, June 17, 2010

Joseph Smith's Dreams VII

Dreams of Beginning, Part Three
28 April 1830

Joseph has trouble falling asleep tonight. The constable who arrested him sleeps with a musket by his side and his feet against the door. The constable tells Joseph he is doing so in case a self-appointed jury comes tonight to hold a trial with tar and feathers. For some reason, Joseph does not finds the constable’s kindness entirely comforting.
Joseph sleeps only fitfully, and has three dreams:

In the first, he goes to court and is not allowed to swear on the Bible, because the judge refuses to believe that he believes in it. He argues with the judge, who has the face of his father-in-law, but gets nowhere. He takes Emma out of the jury box and walks away with her into the woods, knowing that they will hold his trial without him and wondering how badly it will go.
In the second dream, Joseph can’t hear any of the testimony because a pack of dogs is barking loudly outside the window. Josiah Stoal testifies, and Joseph can’t hear a word. Polly Harris testifies, but Joseph can’t tell what she’s saying. The man who took away their farm in Vermont is testifying and the dogs are getting louder. The judge issues a verdict, but Joseph can’t hear it. Joseph can’t hear anything but the dogs.
In the last dream, Joseph goes to court and finds that God is the judge. Joseph’s legs turn heavy. He remembers drinking too much with some friends when he was sixteen, saying things about their neighbors Christians ought not to say and laughing too hard about them. Joseph’s lawyer is late. Joseph tries and tries, but though he’s sure he’ll feel much better when his lawyer arrives, he can’t remember his lawyer’s face or name.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Medical Tort Reform and Repentence -- D&C 58: 43

"By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them."(D&C 58: 43)

Usually, when we talk about repentance, we're referring to individual sins (as in the scripture above). Sometimes, we might even forget that those aren't the only kind of sins: the Doctrine and Covenants, for example, frequently warns listeners to leave the sins of their generation. If a whole generation can sin, can't a company, a government, or even an entire profession?

Let's consider medical malpractice. Our mortal bodies are sacred, and it's probably safe to say that it's in some small way, least, sinful for a doctor or nurse to be careless in treating them. Sinful especially in the sense of being something no good doctor really wants to do, although habits, time constraints, etc. mean that doctors, like all people, don't always live up to the standard of conduct they want. There's a good case to be made that most malpractice, in fact, doesn't come from "bad" doctors, but from normal doctors failing to perform as well as they'd like under normal conditions.

Currently, the legal remedy for a doctor who makes a mistake with serious consequences is to take that doctor to civil court, preferably for a jury trial. If the effect of the mistake has been particularly tragic, the jury tends to award large amounts of money to the patient. This, it is assumed, will teach the doctor a lesson, and he/she will pay better attention next time. In essence, our legal system for medical malpractice is effective if and only if stiffer punishments invariably lead to better repentance.

I don't think that's the case. I have an easier time imagining that stiffer punishments encourage hiding one's sins or refusing to accept accountability for one's sins. What if, instead of focusing so exclusively on compensation for the families who are harmed, we put some sort of upper limit on medical malpractice awards, and focused more energy instead on changing habits and conditions for doctors' next patients? Doctors already meet regularly in most hospitals to talk about recent events and how to improve practice. What if malpractice trials devoted attention to what could be done in the future to decrease the overall incidence of a given accident?

That would certainly make it easier for doctors to quickly and fully confess their "sins," instead of having strong financial motivation to hide them. It might also make it easier for doctors, collectively, to forsake a given pattern of error by having freer access to the relevant data.

Would capping damages in medical malpractice cases actually serve to promote collective repentance?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Joseph Smith's Dreams VI

Dreams of Beginning, Part Two
16 April 1830

In his dream, Joseph stands in the middle of a great field of wheat. Emma is beside him, and there is no one else in sight, maybe on earth. He reaches out and runs his palms across the grains. He can taste something in his mouth: touching this wheat tastes like honey. He wants to tell Emma about this, but when he looks at her, he realizes she already knows: that’s why they’re in this field. The sun is warm, and the wheat is high, and he knows that it’s time for the harvest.
Then Joseph’s father is there and Joseph Knight is there and they ask him how to cut the grain gently so the honey taste won’t go. And Joseph says: I don’t know how; I’m still young; you’re the experienced farmers. He says to his father: you taught my brothers how to cut the wheat, and they taught me. He looks at Joseph Knight and says Didn’t you teach your sons?
Touching the wheat never tasted like honey before, they say to him.
Emma smiles, and the light behind her hair says Hurry. He looks back to the wheat, and it says: Don’t worry. People have done this before, long ago, longer than your father’s fathers know.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Globalization of Sin --Morm. 3: 22

"And I would that I could persuade all ye ends of the earth to repent and prepare to stand before the judgment-seat of Christ." (Morm 3: 22)

A certain sin was extolled by a man named A in the country of B, but manufactured by a company called C in the distant region of D. In E (where A was particularly popular), a firm called F was soon particularly aggressive in advertising this sin to the demographic group G. Because of the distance between D and E, several hustlers--we'll call them H--were soon fully engaged in the business of selling the sin. They weren't content simply to sell to G, however, and quickly invited I to experiment with it as well. And oh, how I loved the sin! How I admired A, how faithfully I obeyed F, how willing I was to ignore the hurt caused by H throughout D and E, how blind I was to the plight of C's workers, who earned their daily bread spinning evil out of good, and good into evil.

Now who, in all this web of sin, will stand accountable before J at the last day? And where, in such a world, will we find room for J's Kingdom?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Joseph Smith's Dreams V

Dreams of Beginning, Part One
6 April 1830

It’s a beautiful spring day. Joseph and his father are walking up a steep hill. The farther they walk, the steeper the hill becomes. The tools in Joseph’s hands grow heavy. His father begins to get ahead, Joseph is afraid he will not be able to keep up. Joseph drops the tools and increases his pace. The slope gets steeper and the grass gives way to rock. Joseph has to half-climb, half-walk to keep moving ahead. He can hear his father’s feet against the rock ahead, but he can’t see much at all anymore.
Joseph stops hearing his father. He’s worried about him, and increases his pace. Joseph’s lungs burn. His hands sting as they grasp the rocks, but he has to get to his father, has to make sure he’s still alive.
Joseph makes it up the steepest part of the trail and sees his father and brothers at a flat space ahead, standing in the shadow of a wall of rock too steep to climb. We’re ready to cut, says Alvin. He looks at Joseph, says: Do you have the tools?
Joseph’s heart sinks.
It’s all right, says Hyrum, we’ll just use our hands. When Joseph reaches out to tug at the rock, though, he leaves a red mark. His hands, lacerated from the climb, are bleeding.
William gets angry. He slams his fist against the rock. He storms off down the hillside. Samuel goes to talk him down. Hyrum follows, hoping that when William calms down, he can talk him into coming back.
Joseph and Alvin follow at a safe distance.
Then there’s a strange sound behind them. Even without them, a rock has been cut. Joseph sees it in the distance, and it’s stirring. He turns to Alvin in excitement, but Alvin looks worried. He says it’s getting bigger. He says it’s coming toward them. Joseph begins to run—he thought Alvin was running with him, but soon he notices that no one is beside or behind him, though Hyrum, Samuel, and William are still ahead. Joseph runs as fast as he can down the rocky slope, and he catches up to Hyrum. The rock is bigger, and they can hear it rolling closer and faster. It makes a dull roar and they are nervous. They catch up to Samuel and the rock is closer now, and sounds like it’s gaining speed, and nervousness inches toward terror.
They run faster than is safe down the hill, turning over their control to the slope itself, letting it hurtle their legs in ever-faster circles downward, now they run abreast of William also and the rock is still closer they can feel its presence at their backs and any moment now, Joseph thinks, the slope will become more gentle again and perhaps the rock will slow down—but no, it’s still steeper and perhaps becoming steeper and it’s steep for as far as their eyes can see and then they are running with the rock, in the rock, and Alvin and father are there in the rock with them and perhaps they will live the rest of history locked in stone.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

AWESOME lesson on Pornography --1 Pet 3: 15

"But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear" (1 Pet 3: 15)

Pornography is one of the serious challenges facing contemporary societies: due to recent changes in technology, it's widely accessible, and due to age-old factors in biology, it's highly addictive. More liberal societies typically do little to regulate it, and more conservative societies often don't acknowledge it enough to cope with it: the perfect recipe for a worldwide epidemic. How is a worldwide church supposed to cope?

The first phase in our collective awareness was to repeatedly affirm that pornography is bad. In a world where good is often called evil (Isa. 5: 20), this was--and is--an important step. As I learned doing research for a play involving a character struggling with pornography, however, it's not nearly enough. Many religious people's pornography problems are actually compounded by feelings of depression, low self-worth, and disconnection: that is, men and women who believe pornography is bad are more likely to view it anyway when they also feel bad about themselves. A culture in which we only talk about pornography as evil and shameful makes it difficult for people to reach out of a loop in which feeling guilty actually leads to more sin, and more sin in turn to greater guilt and disconnection.

That's why I was so impressed with my bishop's approach at our combined meeting on Sunday. He opened the lesson by asking us, a la Christ's parable in Matt 20: 1-16, who will be redeemed: people who keep the commandments all their lives, or people who don't and then repent. We answered, of course, that both will be redeemed. The bishop then asked us what the difference between the two is. We answered that keeping the commandments early means a better quality of life. That's when he told us his subject was pornography. By having framed it in terms of an optimistic question about redemption, he'd taken away some of the aura of shame and guilt and set a tone of hope instead.

He kept that tone throughout the lesson. A few particularly good moves stick in my mind:

1) The bishop said that he doesn't ask people in interviews whether they view pornography. He asks them what they did last time they ran across something pornographic. This was brilliant because rather than singling out people with a problem and making them feel separately addressed and indicted, he made having plans and coping strategies a part of our shared conversation. I'd also imagine that using that question makes it easier for people who are struggling to talk openly with him about their struggles and seek help. Being able to talk is a step toward being able to change and heal.

2) The bishop spoke not only of the problems of pornography, but also of the increased opportunities that come to those who can change their lives. He talked about things as simple as having more attention for children. He talked about the blessings of feeling more connected to those around us. This was brilliant because instead of only indicting the bad behavior, it provided a clear alternative more in line with people's deeply-held celestial goals.

3) The bishop invited a ward member who serves as a part-time missionary in church pornography counseling programs to talk about how the meetings are and how they work. The brother then talked about his love of his calling because he's able to see people turn from shame to hope. The bishop then spoke about how to gauge the seriousness of a pornography problem in terms of intensity, duration, and some other things I can't remember, thus helping people consider when it's important to seek counseling help.

I am glad that our church culture is very clear about the unacceptability of pornography and the dangers of pornography. I think that approaches like my Bishop's (and of church resources like the "Let Virtue Garnish Thy Thoughts" booklet) are important in creating an environment in which people can also talk about pornography, develop strategies for living better in a world full of pornography, and overcome problems with pornography.

In general, I hope that we can all pass on hope and encouragement about things with which people struggle as well as passing on a clear sense of good and evil in our own conversations and reactions.


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