Tag Archives: Mormon

Walking to Church in Oxford

For four Sundays we have walked the 2.5 miles to church. At first we walked through the center of Oxford, but recently we found a less busy route. Let me take you with us.

First we walk through the streets of Jericho where we live, past the ales and fine food.IMG_6363

We cross a bridge and walk alongside the canal. (Oxford is called Oxford because it was a place where they would cross oxen through the Thames River. Swineford is another city where they would cross the pigs. I’m glad I live in Oxford.)

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We cross another bridge and walk under the train tracks. Often there is a train rumbling above us. IMG_6373Then over a rainbow bridge.IMG_6379

We keep following the canal. IMG_6381

We will soon cross that bridge up ahead and get onto Botley Road.IMG_6384Crossing Botley Road.IMG_6385Usually this road is very busy with traffic, but on Sunday mornings it isn’t so bad.IMG_6387.JPGAnother bridge.IMG_6388Another row of houses.IMG_6390

We pass by a loch where they raise and lower the water level to let boats from one canal onto another.IMG_6392.JPGYet another bridge.IMG_6393Then through a small grove and a meadow. Danny also uses this route to ride his bike to school. Danny’s school is just after this meadow. IMG_6397Another row of houses.IMG_6398

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When we pass the duck pond . . . we are almost there . . . IMG_6405But first we have to pass a steaming, inviting swimming pool. Come on, Danny!IMG_6406 And sometimes we see old men sailing little boats on the Thames.IMG_6408

Then down the straight and narrow path . . .IMG_6409And we reach our destination. We take off our walking shoes and put on our church shoes. Then after church we do it all again! IMG_6410

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Looking for God

This afternoon I was sitting on my porch watching the prelude of an August storm bend the tree trunks in my front yard. The wind tossed the leaves and snapped the American flag hanging from the eaves so hard that my dog tucked his tail between his legs and pawed the front door. Thunder rumbled overhead and I leaned back in my rocker and soaked it in. This is my favorite weather. The only air that feels better than the air right before the storm is the air that comes right after. New air. Swift air. Air that rushes in, shakes everything up and makes the world clean again.

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As I was savoring the drop in barometric pressure I remembered that my friend told me that thunder is God’s Testimony. Could there be a more wonderful way to think of thunder?

God: I LIVE.

The more I watch the people around me the more I am convinced that you cannot find the answers to spiritual questions on the internet. The only thing you will find are the musings of others.

But when I am outside, my thoughts become my thoughts again. Ever since I was a child I have felt God’s presence when I am outside. But we don’t go outside as often anymore. (At least not in August, in the South.) We stay inside with all of our man-made stuff looking into our man-made screens, and we start to believe the lie that the things our brains have made are the most sophisticated things in the world, and that we can learn anything the internet.

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But, of course they aren’t and we can’t, because people are just people after all. So when I get these moments outside, especially on gusty, stormy afternoons like this, I am reminded of His presence again. I can hear His testimony. And His testimony isn’t just in the thunder. It is in a leaf. It is in a bumblebee. It is in everything. Like any great carpenter he left his signature all around us, reminding us that not only He created this world, but that he lives, and that someday he’ll come back.

If thou wilt show me a sign, that I may be convinced that there is a God, yea, show unto me that he hath power, and then will I be convinced of the truth of thy words. But Alma said unto him: Thou hast had signs enough; will ye tempt your God? Will ye say, Show unto me a sign, when ye have the testimony of all these thy brethren, and also all the holy prophets? The scriptures are laid before thee, yea, and all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.   Alma 30:44

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The Last Messenger: FAQs

It is one month until my book The Last Messenger of Zitol will be released. I’ve been getting questions from people about the book so I thought it was time to make sure everyone knew what was up. Here is are my best answers to the most frequently asked questions:

I ordered the book a month ago, why hasn’t it come?

Because you are an early bird! The official release date is September 13th. You will probably get the book earlier than that if you pre-ordered it, but probably not until at least Aug 30. (And you can still pre-order! If you order today you will get a 19% discount!)

On Goodreads I see that some people have already read the book and posted reviews. How can that be if the book hasn’t been released yet?

During the editing process I sent out some Advance Readers Copies (ARCs) to a limited number of people to give it an early review. Some of these people I knew, and some were complete strangers. These copies were not proofread yet, and not ready to be seen by a wide audience, but they helped give me an idea of what the response will be to the book. You can check out their reviews on Goodreads here.

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Can I order it now?

Yes! click here. It will be delivered around the release date, Sept 13.

What is your target audience?

Anyone who enjoys reading Young Adult fiction. People who will particularly enjoy it are: teenage girls, teenage boys, anyone who has ever been in love, anyone who has looked up at the stars, anyone who has paddled a canoe in the ocean, and anyone who loves chocolate. I would definitely recommend this book for mother/daughter book clubs.

Is this book a sequel to your first book The Cenote?

Nope. But, like The Cenote, this book was inspired by the Aztec and Maya cultures of ancient Mexico. The setting for The Cenote was a small village, but The Last Messenger takes place in a dazzling ancient American city at the pinnacle of its prosperity.

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Is this book an allegorical novel like The Cenote?

Yes and no. The main message of this book is a little more obvious than the more covert message of The Cenote, but I love books that take some deciphering, so I included plenty of allegories, metaphors and symbolism for you to savor and mull over.

Tell me what the book is about in one sentence.

This book is a young adult romance/adventure/coming-of-age-story about a girl who is kidnapped and taken away to a faraway city to be sacrificed to the gods.

What point of view is the story told in? 

The story is told in 1st person, from the perspective of a selfish prince.

Will there be a party? 

Yes! There will be a party/book-signing in September here in Hillsborough, NC. More info TBA.

That is all I can think of for now. Did you have a question I didn’t answer? Ask it in the comments and I will get back with you asap!

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Religion, Faith and Violence

She was stay-at-home mom and a college graduate. She was devout in her religion, and is described in the newspaper as being very “religious” and “conservative.”

Words that could also describe me.

In many ways Tashfeen Malik and I had much in common.

One of the most, if not the most, disturbing things for me about Sept 11 attacks was that these were done by people who believed devoutly in God. So devoutly that they would do anything for Him, even the unspeakable.

The husband and wife who attacked a holiday party last week were similar. They embraced a radicalized faith that completely warped their sense of civility and humanity and drove them to do something undeniably evil.

And worse, they did it in the name of God.

As President Obama said on Sunday, terrorism “has evolved into a new phase” but that “we will overcome it.”

He listed off methods he planned on using to overcome it: Intelligence, airstrikes, gun control . . . and when I hear this I think about all the money it will cost, and I think of how pointless it will be.

Because you can’t fight this “new phase” of terrorism from the outside in. I know, because, as a devoutly religious person myself, I know how powerful faith can be.

You can make it harder for suspicious people to enter the country. You can drop bombs on their bunkers and cut off their sources of finance, you can send out your drones and your sophisticated weaponry, but you can’t fight ideas.

This is not a war of intelligence, it is a war of hearts.

The Wall Street Journal recently published an article by Johnathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Commonwealth entitled “Turning Swords into Plowshares: How to Defeat Religious Violence.”  I recommend it to all. In the article Sacks explains that the only way to defeat religious violence is with religious devotion.

He says, “We must raise a generation of young Jews, Christians, Muslims and others to know that it is not piety but sacrilege to kill in the name of the God of life, hate in the name of the God of love, wage war in the name of the God of peace, and practice cruelty in the name of the God of compassion.”

Religion is powerful. Like government, it creates a social structure, laws and communities, but unlike government, it provides a spiritual identity, a purpose and a mission. Government may feed us, organize us, help us live our lives, but religion gives us the reason to live.  The words of a prophet will always have more power to create action among the masses than a president because a prophet’s message–even if it has been misinterpreted or twisted–transcends borders, oceans, walls and barriers.

Never underestimate the power to belong, the desire to make a difference or the need for purpose in a young person’s life. The government cannot grant this the way religion can.

Eboo Patel, a Muslim, said in his book Acts of Faith: “Many mainstream religious institutions ignore young people or, worse, think their role should be limited to designing the annual T-shirt. By contrast, religious extremists build their institutions around the desire of young people to have a clear identity and make a powerful impact.”

I find it mind-blowing how young these extremists recruit their henchmen . . . sometimes at eight years old. Are we doing the same on our side? Are we as thorough when it comes to giving children a religious belief that is cemented in love, compassion and respect for God and others?

One way we can do this is by teaching our children that first amendment rights are there to protect all religions and not just our own.

Sacks says, “We must put the same long-term planning into strengthening religious freedom as was put into the spread of religious extremism.”

I like what the president said in his call to Muslim leaders in his Sunday address. He said that Muslim leaders must “speak out against not just acts of violence, but also those interpretations of Islam that are incompatible with the values of religious tolerance, mutual respect, and human dignity.”

This could be said to every religion. No matter how “true” you think your religion is, you are not better than anyone else. No matter how “righteous” you think you are, that does not give you a right to inflict violence on innocent people. And before we are Muslims, Jews, Christians or Mormons we are children of God.  Children. Children who unfortunately fight and argue and act like we are better than each other.

A few years ago I sat next to a Muslim woman on a 2 1/2 hour flight. We talked the entire time. We talked about her home country, Iran. We talked about her husband, her kids, her education. I told to her about my kids and the book I was writing. We even talked about the conversation no-nos:  politics, religion and sex. I found I had more in common with her than with my Baptist neighbor. I marveled out loud at her dedication to modesty (I had considered myself pretty modest in my cap sleeves and knee-length skirt), and she in turn was impressed that I refused to drink coffee. I could not help admiring her for her faith, and I felt that she shared the same admiration for me.

Right now it is Christmas, and we are celebrating the birth of Christ. It is a time when we all should reflect inward on what we believe and why. What are our religious motives?  Do we feel that we are better than others? Do we feel like, since we have found our true religion, that God does not speak and inspire others to do good or that they are somehow unworthy to be treated with respect and protection?

“The Saints can testify whether I am willing to lay down my life for my brethren. If it has been demonstrated that I have been willing to die for a ‘Mormon,’ I am bold to declare before Heaven that I am just as ready to die in defending the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist, or a good man of any other denomination; for the same principle which would trample upon the rights of the Latter-day Saints would trample upon the rights of the Roman Catholics, or of any other denomination who may be unpopular and too weak to defend themselves.

“If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way.

“We ought always to be aware of those prejudices which sometimes so strangely present themselves, and are so congenial to human nature, against our friends, neighbors, and brethren of the world, who choose to differ from us in opinion and in matters of faith. Our religion is between us and our God. Their religion is between them and their God.”

–Joseph Smith

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Holding to the Blog

This post is for all of you that love to read LDS blogs, or that are fascinated by LDS blogs, or that are secretly disturbed by LDS blogs.

When I was in college I took a Spanish intensive course. Part of this involved living in the Foreign Language House, an apartment complex devoted to helping students get a taste of language immersion.  While in the apartment we would eat, socialize and interact completely in Spanish. When we left the apartment, say, to go grocery shopping or to work, we could speak English, but as soon as we entered our apartment we were back to Spanish.

A native Spanish speaker lived with us, to help us keep the rules.  As long as she was around we ate, talked, sang, read and prayed in Spanish. It was intense. Every day I could literally feel my brain expanding, and it hurt.

Our native speaker was kind and encouraging. And when she wasn’t at home we did our best to always speak Spanish. But sometimes, in her absence, we would slip back into our Spanglish, or, even worse, we would start creating a whole new language altogether.

Por favor, pass-a-me el salto. Gracias.

It was faster to speak that way, especially when we became better friends and had more we wanted to say to each other. Often we tolerated each other’s mistakes without correcting each other because we knew what our roommate meant to say. Plus, it was hilarious, and our feeble attempts at fluency would often leave us rolling on the carpeta (real word: alfombra).

But then the native speaker would return home, and we dutifully went back to speaking proper,

painful,

pure,

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español.

Now, back to LDS blogs (and blogs in general).

There are a lot of great blogs out there. They are interesting, colorful, easy-to-absorb, witty and intimidating. And they are written by people. People who have opinions and flaws and who are still in the process of building their testimonies (a process which lasts forever).

So sometimes they post or write things that make us feel uncomfortable and we think, “This person is a Mormon. Why are they writing/posting/sharing this or that? Oh my heck. The church must not be true.”

And then we lay awake at night, thinking about it.

Okay, well maybe you don’t. But sometimes I do.*

And that is when I have to remind myself about this prophet who had a dream. He dreamed about a misty land with an iron rod running along the landscape towards a magnificent tree that bore fruit that, when eaten, brought unspeakable joy. He knew that if he held on to that rod as he walked everything was going to be okay and it would lead him to the tree, and that it would bring great happiness to him and his family.

In the interpretation, the tree is the love of God, or more specifically, Christ. The fruit is the atonement. The rod that helps us get there is the word of God, or, in other words, the scriptures and the prophets. The rod is like the native Spanish speaker. All of the other stuff we read–facebook posts, videos, blog articles–these are people who are trying to learn Spanish. They are working through it. Sometimes they get it right. Sometimes they get it wrong. Sometimes they are just speaking craziness and are making up their own languages and calling it Spanish.

I just wanted to remind myself (and anyone else who might be listening) that it is easy to get confused, and that when we want to know the real truth the best place to look is in the scriptures. It is not as easy, it doesn’t have as many pictures and it is not as witty, and sometimes studying it makes your brain hurt. But that is just because it is expanding.

Some things are True. Everything else is just someone’s opinion.

Learn of me, and listen to my words; walk in the meekness of my Spirit, and you shall have peace in me. D&C 19:23

* Let me clarify. I do not doubt my testimony, the truthfulness of the gospel or the church, but it troubles me deeply when I read things written by members who seem to be actively spreading doubt rather than building faith.

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A Letter From an Apostle

It was the summer of 2003 and change was in the air.

First of all Scott and I discovered we were expecting our first babies. Yes, babiez.  Then Scott got accepted to a PhD program that was 2,000 miles away (2,103 miles, to be exact). I would leave my full-time library job and all my friends and family in Utah and move to North Carolina where I didn’t know one person in the entire state, and become a full-time mom to twins.

Job change, place change, role change, life change! So exciting! We did not see it as something that would be hard, we saw it as an adventure!

But an unwelcome change was also on its way.

It was during this period of transition that Elder Neal A. Maxwell, one of the living twelve apostles, came to visit our ward (congregation).

Now, for those of you who are not LDS, this is a very significant event. Since we believe in modern-day apostles this is like having Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John walk into your church service.  Usually the only time we get to see or hear the apostles is twice a year at a big mega-conference that is broadcast all around the world. Each apostle is loved and respected, and the sounds of their voices are as recognizable to us as the voices of our own family members.  This particular apostle, Elder Maxwell, was coming because his granddaughter was in our ward and her son was being blessed, and by some miracle I was asked to give the closing prayer. I lumbered up to the stand with my big twin-belly, gave the prayer, and felt pretty exceptional that I was within winking distance of an apostle.

Soon after that my life took a most unexpected, untimely and unwelcome turn. My father passed away. Yes, you know him. My dad: the firework salesman. The builder of log homes. The creator of Him.

Now all those happy changes we were looking forward to suddenly darkened. My father would never see my babies–neither the two I was carrying or any more that would follow–and I was moving away from a mother who needed me about as much as I needed her.

The next week we travelled up to Idaho for the funeral. The day we got back to our apartment we checked our voice mail and heard a familiar voice:

“Hello? This is Neal Maxwell. I hope I have the right number. I’m trying to reach Chelsea Dyreng. I heard that her father passed away and that she is having twins soon and she moving across the country, and I thought I would call . . . “

Scott and I looked at each other, our eyes humongous. We checked the next message:

“Hello? This is Neal Maxwell . . . again. I’m still trying to get a hold of Chelsea Dyreng. It sounds like you have a lot on your plate right now. I’m sorry I missed you . . . “

Two messages–from an apostle–and I missed him!

I was totally disappointed that I had missed my one chance to speak with a living apostle, so I immediately sat down and wrote him a letter (this was back when people wrote letters), a letter that ended up being much longer than it probably needed to be. But I had to write and tell him all about my dad.

Then, a week or two later I received this in the mail:

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(You can see how carefully I opened it . . . )

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His letter was wonderful and sincere. How exceptionally kind it was for him to go out of his way–an elderly man, a cancer survivor, a man very busy with many other responsibilities–to take a moment to acknowledge my grief! What was I to him? I was just another church member, one of millions. He didn’t have to do anything for me, there was no benefit in it for him. But he persisted, not just calling me, but leaving multiple messages and then answering my long, circumlocutory letter with a compassionate letter of his own. Who does this?

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In the Bible Jesus Christ designated twelve men to be his apostles. Their primary job was to be special witnesses of Christ.  It means that they have a duty to tell people about Him. The word apostle means “one who was sent.” It means that they spread the good news and they act in the name of Jesus Christ, doing what he would do if he were here.

It would be enough for the apostles to just speak every six months at conference. It would be enough for them to travel around the world, organizing congregations and training leaders. It would be enough for them to be at the helm of the church, teaching people to be like Christ, but to go out of his way and to actually do something that Christ might have done?

Elder Maxwell passed away a year later. He was 78 years old. I can picture him up in heaven, meeting my dad and telling him, “I already know everything about you, thanks to your very thorough daughter.”

By seeking to comfort an insignificant pregnant woman in mourning, Elder Maxwell gained nothing . . . except a true and loyal follower.

I know I am not the only one who has had an experience like this. If you are LDS I bet you have a story, too. The apostles are always saying good things about us . . . let’s return the favor.  #imetanapostle

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Successful Church Choirs

Here are some thoughts I’ve had about directing church choir. We’ll start with the hardest thing first.

How to get people to come (Hint: it is not by bringing cookies)

This is probably the biggest hurtle for choir directors. After all, why should people come to your choir? It is not a required meeting. Only you and your pianist have to be there, and few are the souls kind enough to sit through three (or more) hours of meetings and cheerfully submit to a tedious choir rehearsal, too.  As the choir director you must recognize that you are not doing them a favor by directing the choir, they are doing you a favor by coming.  Do not waste their time. You must engage your choir at every moment.  And you must be prepared: have sharpened pencils ready for them. Have music for every member with a folder that they can write their name on. Know the music. Know where you want them to breathe, when to swell, when to diminish. If you show them you are dedicated and ready to work, they will come.

Another way to think of it is to imagine you are a sports team trying to recruit all-stars into your program. One blanket email out to the ward does nothing to bring people to choir. Zero. You need to create loyalty. A fan base. A following. You do this the old-fashioned way: by asking them individually if they will come. Calling them on the phone, sending a personal invitation through email telling them how much you need their help, and thanking them individually afterward.

How to keep their attention

More people will come to your choir if your rehearsal is fast-paced and there is some sense of urgency. I always have performance-driven choirs. That means we never rehearse just to rehearse: we have a date set to perform and it is only two weeks away. If you have too many rehearsals people will pick and choose which ones they attend and you’ll never have a full choir till the last rehearsal. You need to have one less rehearsal than you think you need. That way there will be a sense of urgency.

Time management

This is so important! I have seen so many directors that rehearse the sopranos for 10 minutes the rest of the choir sits there, vegetating. While you are rehearsing the sopranos, tell everyone else to hum their own part. Or have them sing the soprano line too, that way the sopranos can have more support. Tell the tenors, “watch your music while I rehearse these sopranos so by the time I get to you your part will be perfect” and hold them to it. And if you keep rehearsing a part and it isn’t working, send that section into a room by themselves with a capable musician to plunk out the notes so they don’t take time away from the rest of the choir.  Always try to make sure everyone is engaged, somehow.

Most importantly:  At least 85% of the time in rehearsal people should be singing, not listening to you talk They don’t want to hear you talk. They have been listening to people talk all day. They came to sing! So keep your comments and directions to 15% of the rehearsal time. Or less.  Also, never let your rehearsal go over an hour, because if you do they will never come back.

How to make them sound good

This takes a college degree. Seriously. People get their college degrees in choral conducting. It is a serious gig, folks. And people who do this know all the techniques to get people to sing as one: dynamics, diction, placement, diphthongs. Most of us don’t know all that stuff and never will. The average ward choir director can help the choir learn their notes and put in a few dynamics and that is about it. So what do you do if you know nothing about directing choirs? Be a leader. Decide how you want the song to sound and tell them what to do. You don’t have to know all the right musical jargon. A choir director who knows little about music but is a good leader is ten times better than a choir director who knows a lot about music and is not a good leader.

One common mistake I see a lot of choir directors make is that they ask their choir for advice. “What do you think we should do here?” “Do you guys want to do it this way or that way?” No. Stop. You decide what you want them to do. You are their leader. Being in a choir with a wishy-washy leader is like following a blind man through a desert. If you are prepared, and you know the song and what you want to do with it, than you will be able to lead with confidence.

Tone-deaf people

Because this is a church choir we don’t exclude anyone based on race, creed, sex or . . . tone deafness. If you have a tone-deaf person come to your choir do not spend a lot of time hashing through notes that they will never be able to match. That will waste the choir’s time and it may make that person feel embarrassed. Welcome tone-deaf people into the choir with open arms, and whenever you hear that low (or high) droning just be glad they are there and they have the heart and willingness to sing.

Last but not least!

Treat your accompanist like a king or queen that he/she is. You would be nowhere without them. Make sure they have the music in advance, make sure they know about the rehearsals. Praise them. Give them credit. And when it is all over make sure you thank them. They are your most loyal ally in this terrifying yet extremely rewarding calling.

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