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A Christmas Vision: Dedicated to Emilie Parker

A Christmas Vision

Music and lyrics by Hayley Winslow. Adapted from a poem by Edgar Howard on the death of his young daughter.

PlayA Christmas Vision- Hayley Titus, Edgar Howard (MP3 Audio)
A Christmas Vision (Live Recording)

Perhaps this Christmas time is like all Christmas tides gone by.
Children’s faces are as bright with every sparkling eye.
Each face reflects a picture of a heart that throbs with cheer,
And yet it does not seem the same because she is not here.

The church choir sings the same Christ songs they’ve sung two-thousand years.
Priests and preachers tell God’s love ‘nor speak of hell or fear.
The wide world wears the same glad garb with Christmas joy and cheer,
And yet it does not seem the same because she is not here.

So few years she was my child; I held her in my arms.
Now I live without her and must hold her in my heart.
I yearn to find a sweet release at this joyous time of year,
But still my poor soul suffers, for I know she is not here.

Last night I saw a vision, of a child with laughing eyes,
and heard her speak a message from her place in Paradise,
And the message told me truly that one day I may share
A Christmas with the loved and lost- not here, but there.

My Great Great Grandfather, Edgar Howard lost his young daughter, Martha, at the age of 10. He wrote this poem which has been adapted and set to music by my sister, Hayley Winslow. On behalf of our family, we re-dedicate it to Emilie Parker, her family, and the families of all those who lost children and loved ones in Newtown, Connecticut.

Edgar’s words helped heal my heart from the distance of a hundred years; I pray that his words and Hayley’s voice may heal many more hearts this Christmas.

A Christmas Vision.

Original Poem by Edgar Howard

Perhaps this Christmas-time is like all Christmas-tides gone by.
The children’s faces are as bright, and every sparkling eye
Reflects the picture of a heart that throbs with Christmas cheer,
And yet it does not seem the same, because–she is not here.

The church choirs sing the same Christ songs they’ve sung two thousand years,
And priests and preachers tell God’s love, nor speak of hell and fears.
The wide world wears the same glad garb with Christmas joy and cheer,
And yet it does not seem the same, because– she is not here.

Last night I saw a vision of a child with laughing eyes,
And heard her speak a message from her place in Paradise;
And the message told me truly that one day I may share
A Christmas-time with the loved and lost–not Here, but There.

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Mormon Helping Hands: Southern New Jersey Cleanup Final Report

Click to View Larger Animation On June 29th, 2012 a major thunderstorm made its way across a third of the country, knocking down trees and cutting power to more than a million people.

The damage from this storm in Cumberland County, New Jersey and Atlantic County, New Jersey was severe and wide-spread. Tens of thousands of trees crushed roofs and cars, blocked roads and driveways, and downed power lines. This animation from the University of Wisconsin—Madison illustrates the extent of the storm. Southern New Jersey was by no means the only place affected by this massive storm.

About one week after the storm, the Offices of Emergency Management for Cumberland and Atlantic Counties asked members of the New Jersey Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD) to assist with clean-up and tree-removal efforts. In particular, they requested help on behalf of senior citizens and disabled individuals who could not otherwise clean up downed trees. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints participates in New Jersey VOAD.

Under the direction of Ahmad Corbitt, President of the Cherry Hill New Jersey Stake (a stake is similar in size to a Catholic diocese) of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, more than 700 Mormon Helping Hands volunteers, a dozen UMCOR volunteers, and several Boy Scouts and Comcast Employees from New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania enthusiastically donated 4,859 hours to Southern New Jersey senior citizens. Volunteers responded to 314 requests, and saved New Jersey senior citizens an estimated half-million dollars (~$529,000) in tree removal expenses.

This Google Earth animation and KMZ file illustrates the extent of the service volunteers provided, between July 15, 2012 and August 25, 2012.

Mormon Helping Hands volunteers worked in coordination with the Cumberland County, New Jersey Office of Emergency Management; the Atlantic County, New Jersey Office of Emergency Preparedness; New Jersey 2-1-1; the United Methodist Church’s UMCOR volunteer organization; the New Jersey VOAD; the Burlington County, New Jersey Council and Southern New Jersey Council of the Boy Scouts of America; Comcast employees; the New Jersey Governor’s Office on Volunteerism; and the Emergency Management departments of several cities and townships in the Garden State.

About The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly called the “Mormon Church“) is a Christ-centered faith with more than 14 million members worldwide. Mormon Helping Hands is a Church program to provide community service and disaster relief to those in need. Members of the church are encouraged to volunteer in the community. The Church will soon open the new Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Temple.

Instructions for Running the Southern NJ Mormon Helping Hands Clean-Up KMZ file

To open the animation in Google Earth (cleanup_timeline.kmz), follow these steps:

  1. If you have not done so already, download Google Earth.
  2. Download and save 2012-08_mhh.zip
  3. Unzip 2012-08_mhh.zip. It should contain:
    • A file named “readme.html”
    • A folder named “htm”
    • A file named “cleanup_timeline.kmz”
  4. Install and run Google Earth
  5. In Google Earth, open “cleanup_timeline.kmz”
  6. By default, the playback will take only 30 seconds (which is way too fast). For optimal playback, follow these steps (click to enlarge images):
    1. Slide the Time slider all the way to the right. Click to Enlarge
    2. Slide the “Span” section of the time slider all the way to the right. This will make sure that you’re only seeing one slice of time in each frame. If you run the time slider and it just looks like slides are being piled on top of one another, make sure you adjust this setting. Click to Enlarge
    3. Slide the Time slider all the way to the left. Click to Enlarge
    4. Click the (+) button twice until the date on the left says “7/15,” and the date on the right says “7/22.” Click to Enlarge
    5. Click the Setup button that looks like a wrench. Change the “Animation Speed” to roughly halfway between “slower” and “faster.” Click to Enlarge
  7. Click the Play button to see the animation. Time Slider Play
  8. You may listen to the The Time To Run by Dexter Britain that serves as the sound bed for the YouTube clip. It is distributed under an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License.

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September 11th, 2011: Create in Bold Defiance

I was not in Washington DC or New York ten years ago on that shattered Tuesday, but the deaths of thousands weighed heavily on us all. I spent the day in college and work, physically exhausted and emotionally wounded. The Eleventh of September was a dark day, and it seemed as though the flame and smoke of that morning had choked every source of inspiration. I had no desire to do anything, and it seemed as though my mind and soul had been smothered.

That afternoon my architecture professor, Julio Bermudez, gave lengthy instructions about a drawing assignment in his thick Brazilian accent. I don’t remember a word of that lecture. None of us cared about drawing, or school, or work. The very mention seemed trivial and sacrilegious. At the end of the lecture, he told us to go outside and draw. For the first time that day, my utter numbness turned to indignation and then anger at his triviality.

Then, sensing our irritation, he paused; and began speaking to us as Architects. “Today we have witnessed the most anti-architectural act conceivable… We are Architects. We do not believe in death and destruction. We believe in life. We create. I know many of you are angry right now. I am angry. You want to retaliate. Right now it seems trivial to go out there and draw. But if you really want to retaliate against what happened today, if you really want to take a stand and make a difference, then go out and do Architecture. Go and create, and you will retaliate in the best way you can. Now, go out and draw!”

No more appropriate words were ever said than at that time. As members of our religions and communities, we do not believe in death and destruction. We believe in life. We believe in peace. We create. Ten years later, that terrible moment inspires me to serve with a purpose, and create in bold defiance of everything that is murderous, destructive and evil.

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April 2010 General Conference Themes

After the interest in the Wordle tag clouds I did of the October 2010 General Conference, I decided to analyze themes of the April 2011 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints using the same method. I have posted word clouds here that will help visualize the major themes of each session, and the conference as a whole:

Entire April 2010 General Conference

Themes of the April 2010 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Themes of the April 2010 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints


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General Conference Themes

I thought it would be interesting to do a series of Wordle tag clouds to analyze themes of the October 2010 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have posted word clouds here that will help visualize the major themes of each talk, session, and the conference as a whole: Read the rest of this entry »

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Visualization of the Relief Society General Meeting

Here are the Wordle visualizations of the October 2010 Relief Society General Meeting talks. Visit the overview for the entire October 2010 General Conference Visualization by session. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Way Things Really Are

Searching for truth is not really about finding what’s “best” for you. Usually “best” simply means “most comfortable,” “most familiar,” “most agreeable,” “easiest,” or even “least objectionable.” And in a world of changing aesthetics, paradigms, and ideas, preferences change, personalities alter, paradigms shift, and ideas find new incarnations. What is “best” or “most comfortable” for you will likely change over time.

In that sense, I am not looking for what’s “best.” I am looking for what is true.

Our eclectic, world-wide, culture is full of apparent contradictions. In the face of conflicted and conflicting views of the world and human condition, our culture rejects the notion that the pursuit of an answer may come to any assured or absolute conclusion, and therefore, though conflicting truths may exist, Truth does not. This is often expressed as “your truth,” and “my truth.” To assert that Truth does not exist is a neat and tidy way of making sense of a senseless world.

In past era, every major civilization has had a dominant religion. Religion answered key philosophical questions about the meaning of existence, and the nature of the world. High Priests held the keys to the secret, higher knowledge. Temples were objects of the interaction between man and deity, the eventual source of higher knowledge.
We are no different today, even in our diverse, international society. Our religion is Science. Our High Priests are Scientists. Our temples are Libraries and Wikis. Our High Priests have taught us that truth is transitory, and subject to constant revision with further understanding.

By way of example, a physics professor started the semester by asking our large class, “What is truth?” Several students raised their hands. The first said, “Truth is universal.” “Wrong!” the professor retorted, “In Physics, truth is specialized.” Stunned, another student answered, “Truth is something you know, but can’t prove.” “Wrong!” he shot back, “Nothing is true without proof.” The next student ventured, “Truth never changes.” Clearly in a rhythm he bellowed, “Wrong! Truth constantly changes as we learn new things.”

A half-dozen students offered answers to his rhetorical question before I could muster the courage to raise my hand. “Truth is the way things really are,” I said. His rhythm broke, and he gave no rebuttal.

Truth is the way things really are. The way things really were. The way things really are going to be.

All real things have a nature, or a set of calculable characteristics. All things (and I mean ‘things’ in the most inclusive sense possible) possess some degree of reality, and have a set of calculable characteristics that are independent of human perception or cognition. Even emotions and perceptions themselves are real, as they possess characteristics of their own. Whether the number of characteristics associated with a real thing is finite or infinite is of little concern. Neither is it of great concern whether or not human beings (or animals, or plant life) have the ability to acquire and comprehend any portion of these characteristics. These characteristics are fundamentally independent of perception, cognition, or interpretation. They describe the way things really are.

For centuries humans perceived the world as flat. The world’s nature did not change when the first person understood the earth is a spheroid. The earth’s spherical nature is independent of human cognition. Also, if I may be so bold, a tree falling in the woods makes a sound regardless of whether human ears are present. A tree’s nature is not dependent on a human’s ability to cognize vibration.

So the point is to try to understand the way things really are, and then adjust to the truth. Since arguably nobody completely understands everything about the way things are, were, and will be, Truth really isn’t the most comfortable, familiar, agreeable, ore easiest thing for anyone. Living according to Truth always involves adjustment.

From a religious perspective, if God really exists, then it is important to understand God’s nature as far as possible. If God really is the literal Father of the human family, or if any particular religious doctrine is true, then it is important to adjust one’s habits accordingly. Conversely, if any of the foregoing are not “the way things really are,” then it is equally important to understand that fact.

An individual comes to understand truth as he acquires characteristics that describe truth, whether by spiritual, transcendental, empirical, or other means. However, it is important not to accidentally substitute the concepts of “perception” or “interpretation” for the Truth itself. Perception and interpretation varies from individual to individual, but no amount of misperception will change the nature of a real thing.

Understanding is the personal acquisition of some degree of truth, subject to personal interpretation and distortion. Filtered, fragmented, or interpreted truth, as acquired by the human mind, is rarely complete. As Understanding is necessarily biased, it is unwise and unproductive to substitute Understanding for Truth.

Our finite minds have developed tools to acquire and process information about Truth, such as social constructs, biases, media, and language. One example is the Transparent Plane (such as windows, TV screens, camera lenses, sunglasses, or the imaginary plane on the edge of a stage) which filters the truth, leaving information for only one or two of the senses. Information passed through the Transparent Plane is therefore fundamentally incomplete.
Other tools for acquiring and filtering truth are experience, testimony from authority, observation, pre-conceived notions, the physical senses, linguistic biases, religious experience, etc.

As each of these tools filters characteristics, they present an incomplete or distorted view of the way things really are. Therefore, truth filtered through social constructs may yield conflicting interpretation. Finding internal conflict disconcerting, we seek ways to alleviate ourselves of the discomfort. We may encounter several apparently conflicting manifestations of one larger truth; but with our limited cognition, we may not be able to correlate them. Though it is natural and easy, it is incorrect and unenlightened to assume that conflicting manifestations of truth must necessarily represent “conflicting truths.”

Consider a cat playing with a laser light. He pounces on the red dot and feels nothing under his paws, but instead perceives that the dot has quickly jumped on top of his paws. He smells, hears and tastes nothing. Drawing on experience, he might identify the dot as a very small insect. The light is turned off, and he scurries to see where the “insect” has gone. Then the laser is laid on the ground to project a long red line across the floor. The cat is baffled. The entirely different shape and movement of this entity prove that this is completely unrelated to the red dot he first encountered.

The nature of the laser light remained fundamentally consistent. But the manifestation of the light, and the cat’s ability to apprehend and interpret the truth had been filtered, distorted, and fractionalized through his senses and interpretation. It is not unreasonable to suggest that humans have similar challenges acquiring and interpreting Truth. Truth is therefore essentially greater than human cognitive ability: Cognitive ability, illusion, point of view, interpretation, and biases are relative, not Truth.

Like my cognitively impaired cat investigating the laser beam, our society has not yet formulated a complete model in which to fit truth. Apparently conflicting manifestations of truth, and the inability to apprehend and interpret truth leads many to believe that many conflicting “truths” exist, or arrogantly assert that truth does not exist.

All real things have characteristics, which describe the way things really are. Despite social constructs and media that filter and fractionalize truth, Truth is the way things really are, and is unconstrained by human reason or cognition. As one comes to fully utilize spiritual, empirical and transcendental means of acquiring truth, one’s Understanding and actions come closer to the truth, or the way things really are.

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