Sunday, July 31, 2011

Shock Value and Relative Goodness

It's been about 5 years since we had regular TV service in our home. At first it was a financial decision, but by the time we could have fit it into our budget again, we never wanted to go back. Occasionally, when we have stayed in hotels and had the opportunity to watch TV, we always felt it was such a waste of our time, and that it brought an icky feeling into the room that we certainly didn't want in our home. We have also been shocked by the kind of things that have become so common place, which just 5 short years ago were still pushing the boundaries of acceptable programming.

Our media has relied on "shock value" to entice its audience for decades. The problem with this is, the method is self-defeating. Eventually, the thing that was shocking becomes common, and they have to come back with something even more shocking to achieve the same result. Where will this downward spiral take us? How numb can we make ourselves before the whole system implodes?

As a designer, when looking at color swatches, I have noticed that it's really difficult to accurately tell what percentage of gray you have unless you compare it to a scale of white to black. Gray is just gray. You can discern a really light gray or a really dark gray pretty easily, but there is a wide range of middle gray that is very hard to place on the percentage scale. Without something to compare it to, 30% looks very much like 60%. Not having TV in our home for so many years made it really easy to discern the contrast of quality and morality that existed when we turned it on again. On the other hand, I have been surprised by what my friends, whom I know honor the same values as me, consider "clean family programming." After so many of my friends had raved about a certain popular show, I decided to watch an episode of it online. I was surprised at all the subtle, and even not so subtle sexual references, and the destructive worldly philosophies presented in such a favorable light. Okay, so maybe no one was getting shot, or hopping into bed together, but the doctrines being preached were not something I wanted for my family. Setting my children down in front of the TV and turning on a program for them as good as says, "This is what we believe, what I want you to believe." And I don't want to forever be adding in my own disclaimers, like, "That thing you just saw? We don't do that." Or, "We don't say words like that, okay, kids?" Are they more likely to listen to their mom in sweats lounging on the couch, or the perfectly coiffed, stylishly wardrobed, gorgeously lit teenage actress with a catchy soundtrack and well-scripted wittiness?

Relative goodness is a precarious measuring stick. When we look around at all the evil in the world, and use that as our gage to determine how good the things we surround ourselves with are, we can easily be deceived. If we find ourselves saying, "At least it's not as bad as..." then we are probably treading on dangerous ground. The gospel must always be our source of judgement. It's our white swatch at the edge of the gradient. When we start playing with shades of gray, we may not know how dark things are getting until we've gotten into the 80% or darker range.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Lessons From the Garden: Bothersome Pests and Welcome Guests

Sometimes while I'm turning the earth in my garden, I suddenly see a glossy pinkish thread slipping for his life away from the danger of my trowel. It always makes me smile to know my garden is patrolled by earthworms. I know the soil is being enriched by their presence, quietly and secretly under the ground. Grubs and slugs are no uglier than earthworms, but I have a very different reaction when I find them in my garden. My nose reflexively wrinkles up, and I squeamishly remove or mercilessly destroy the invaders.

In the realm of lovelier species, I have long regarded ladybugs as a sign of good luck. As a long-time rose gardener, I have come to appreciate the assistance they render in removing pesky aphids from the tender forming buds. Bees are welcome with their fuzzy little bodies that aid in pollination. Butterflies and moths, though often just as beautiful, are a mixed blessing and curse, as they both help with pollination, but bring with them their voracious young, who can lay waste to even the healthiest plant.

So obviously, you can't judge a bug by it's cover. Nor can we judge the people we let into our lives simply based upon their appearance. We have to know a little more about their character, what they stand for, and what they do before we decide whether we can safely welcome them into our lives, or cautiously guard ourselves from their influence. Likewise, we should not turn someone out of our life's garden just because they are less stylish or attractive by the world's standards. Quiet, consistent friends, like the humble earthworm, labor faithfully beneath the surface and enrich our lives so the seeds of our faith have a fertile place to grow.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Lessons From the Garden: Seeds & Soil

If you stop to think about it, seeds are such a miraculous little package! You stick it in dirt, and it grows things like grain and flowers and fruit trees! How amazing is that?

The scriptures are replete with stories about seeds. When I was young, my dad had me and my siblings memorize large sections of Alma chapter 32, specifically the part that compares trying out the gospel message to planting a seed. The Savior also taught several allegories that used the idea of seeds to teach about faith. He talked about faith as a grain of mustard seed, told the parable of the sower, and that of the tares. There's really too many parallels to cover them all, but I'd like to talk a little about my favorite lessons about seeds.

First of all, choosing seeds. Not all seeds are worth planting. In similar fashion, not all things we hear about are good for us to take into our lives. If we chase after every fad and craze sweeping the nation, we will find our garden full of useless and sometimes even dangerous plants, occupying ground better spent on nourishment or beauty. Every seed planted will require an investment of time, space, and water. So choose wisely what you bring into your life.

Sometimes, though, we aren't certain whether a seed is good or not. In Alma 32, the prophet talks about conducting an experiment to see if the gospel is true. He compares it to planting a seed and seeing if it will grow. There are two reasons the experiment will fail: one is if the seed just isn't good--if the gospel, or whatever we are testing, just isn't true. But the other reason he gives is that the ground is barren, and not receptive to the seeds. The Savior gives a similar allegory when he talks about the seeds cast on stony ground, or among the weeds. They don't have a chance to grow. So if we are to rule out the possibility that lack of germination and growth is our own fault rather than that of the seed, we must be fully responsible for the quality of our spiritual soil. In other words, our hearts must be soft, free of the stones of anger, sin or pride, well watered by the time we take to study God's word, and well lit by the light of the spirit. If we do not take care that our garden is an appropriate growing environment, then how can we ever make accurate judgements about the quality of the seeds we may plant?