Monday, September 27, 2010


Two years ago, I read of a forum address that Lynne Truss gave at BYU discussing her book, Eats, Shoots & Leaves (book link, address link). Being a bit of a closeted punctuation fan, I decided to give it a read.

For the next few days, you could find me on the bus, happily giggling and fighting back bursts of laughter (it's kind of strange to be seen so bubbly while reading punctuation books on a bus—even a university bus). I liked the book so much, I bought it.

Despite my pleasure with the book, it was a tough sell getting my wife to read it, too. After all, who but the unsalvageably strange would delight at funny books on punctuation? I'm happy to report, that after a spell of not being prodded, she decided to read it. I received a call at work with her in a fit of laughter telling me how much she loves the book and wondering aloud why she didn't read it earlier!

While this example is used to illustrate that punctuation can, indeed, be used for humor, I'm thinking of a more serious application: the comma-noun.

What is the comma-noun you ask? You've seen this before, but perhaps didn't give it a name. It appears on business cards, in email signatures, and on various publications. Common examples include:

  • [Name], M.D.
  • [Name], PhD
  • [Name], CEO

What comma-nouns do you have? I imagine we all have something we could tack at the end of our name, and they don't have to be education- or profession based, either. I had a friend who had business cards that simply said:

Chris Coppel, A Friend

It turns out that his comma-noun was a perfect descriptor of who he was. However, what I'm getting at is that I want to know what my comma-noun is. I could easily use a degree or job title (and I have before), but if I wanted to make a business card to give in a non-work environment, what descriptor would describe who I really am?

Who am I?

Clark Siler, Husband
Clark Siler, Father
Clark Siler, Son
Clark Siler, Friend
Clark Siler, Christian
Clark Siler, Mormon
Clark Siler, Student
Clark Siler, Passionately Curious
Clark Siler, Believer
Clark Siler, Dreamer
Clark Siler, Achiever
Clark Siler, "Best Daddy in the World" (as my six-year-old calls me)

This list is a small sample of comma-nouns that I could claim, but do they completely describe who I am? Does a single word exist that would be a satisfactory comma-noun for representing the real me?

This could be the starting point for many discussions—titles, pride, self-discovery, judgment—but I used it as a self evaluation. I need to be honest here: as I thought of my comma-noun list, I didn't include many that I thought of. There was a longer list of things that I'm embarrassed or ashamed of that could well describe me, or at least the me that I let myself be sometimes.

The list of comma-nouns I thought of is quite long (longer than what I typed above). After this exercise, I'm left to wonder which comma-noun I would choose if I had to pick only one to use as a greeting to the world announcing who I am.

Can there be just one? Is it okay to be different things in different situations?

In a chapter that could be used as a guide in finding many comma-nouns for ourselves, we read of Paul's counsel to "Be of the same mind one toward another" (Romans 12:16). Does this mean that we need to always be the same, whittling our list of comma-nouns down to just one that describes us all the time?

I don't know.

I guess the good thing about having "colloquy" on this blog title is that I can leave things in a state of unknown, leaving the discussion open for further analysis. Until this is resolved, I remain:

Clark Siler, Confused

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Temples to Dot the Earth

While at BYU, I took a fun class on temples. Taught by Richard Cowan, a funny and kind blind professor, the course used a book, Temples to Dot the Earth (link to full text online). The title is a phrase that Bro. Cowan coined that is often used in the Church now.

While looking for something that BYU did, related to my dissertation, I stumbled on a Google map that someone put together that shows locations for most of the temples in the earth, represented as dots on a map (link)—temples to dot the earth, if you will. I explored this, wanting to learn how to make my own custom map for temples, and put one together (link, using borrowed material from here). (In these maps, you can click on a marker and get pictures and additional information.)

With temples on the mind, imagine my surprise and delight to see that the Ensign that came in the mail yesterday had a special booklet on temples! It was totally unexpected, but I could have known about it if I had been more prepared (the Church News did an article on it, link).

The double picture of a Celestial Room in this magazine features the San Antonio Temple: our temple!

I'm grateful that we can "go up to the mountain of the Lord" (see Isa. 2:2-3) and that temples really do dot the earth. I'm also grateful that I live close enough to one of these dots to go so often!

Friday, September 17, 2010

A Word at Closing

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

A Word at Closing, by President Thomas S. Monson

I feel as I do at the end of each conference: full and empty at the same time! Full because of the many things learned and felt, because of the time with family sitting at the feet of prophets, because of being where I'm supposed to be. Empty because I want it to continue on and on, ever learning and growing closer to the Lord.

As is often repeated, President Monson charged us to study what was said in the conference. But that's not all: we're also to ponder the teachings and then apply them in our lives. This is the whole reason for these general conference application series that I write; I want to apply the teachings of the conference and help them to, as President Monson said, "find expression in all that you do—in your homes, in your work, in your meetings, and in all your comings and goings."

I love how words and themes seem to pop out of the screen every conference as though half of the speakers were asked to give modified talks on the same topic. (This may be amplified because each conference our children listen for a key word in each session. A word, that if heard, entitles them to a piece of candy! Each time the hear "family," or "love," or "gospel," or whatever other word is specified for that session, we all erupt in smiles and love.)

Elder Anderson observed:

There are no assigned subjects, no collaboration of themes. The Lord’s way, of course, is always the best way. He takes the individual prayerful efforts of each speaker and orchestrates a spiritual symphony full of revelation and power. Repeated themes, principle building upon principle, prophetic warnings, uplifting promises—the divine harmony is a miracle!

I decided to do a fun exercise to see what words were repeated more than others. I have seen fellow nerds at conferences I've been at display "word clouds" that represent themselves, their research, their hobbies, etc. I wanted to take all of the words from all of the talks and sort them to see which were more frequently used (with the common words removed, of course). The result is actually a fun graphic where the size of each word corresponds to relative frequency of its occurrence in conference. What words would you expect to "pop out of the screen"? (You can make your own Wordle word cloud here, link.)

Not surprising are the words for deity. I particularly liked seeing that my impressions that family-themed words were, indeed, quite frequent: children, father, mother, parents, young, family, love.

I wonder what words and themes will be noticed in next month's conference; I can hardly wait!


By the way, I finished a major draft of my PhD dissertation proposal today. With my curiosity sparked, I made another Wordle out of my proposal. It's funny that my water research proposal is shaped kind of like a fish!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Tell Me the Stories of Jesus

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Tell Me the Stories of Jesus, by Elder Neil L. Andersen
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

As I helped our children with baths tonight, my daughter kept an almost constant stream of songs—like her own personal playlist! She loves to sing, and we often find her sitting off somewhere with her toys, quietly singing to herself (or the toys?). What is especially notable about this bathtime experience tonight is that all of her songs were about Jesus. In fact they were from an album, Stories of Jesus, by Roger and Melanie Hoffman.

The Stories of Jesus album has become a favorite of our children, and they often request it when we go places in our car. These songs, along with the songs they sing in Primary and at home (including "Tell Me the Stories of Jesus," link), help me to think that my wife and I are doing all right in the sometimes challenging quest called parenthood. In fact, as I think about our efforts, I'm reminded of something that Elder Anderson said that stood out to me; see if it does for you, too:

We cannot be casual in how we prepare [our children]. Our challenge as parents and teachers is not to create a spiritual core in their souls but rather to fan the flame of their spiritual core already aglow with the fire of their premortal faith.

Too often it seems that I approach parenthood thinking that I have the responsibility to fill empty vessels of children with the knowledge and testimony I have acquired. Not surprisingly, in these times I find that these sweet children want more than I'm trying to give them—they want the things that can "fan the flame of their spiritual core."

The connection between my daughter's singing and the need to "fan the flame" as we teach our children is well summarized by Elder Andersen's words:

The stories of Jesus shared over and over bring faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and strength to the foundation of testimony.

I believe that what he said is true, but do I do as well as I can; as well as I should? I asked myself this when I reviewed the talk and found an answer of what I can do better shortly thereafter. Elder Andersen counseled parents and grandparents to "speak more frequently about Jesus Christ." His reason is clear: "In His holy name is great spiritual power."

My children are already singing the stories of Jesus, but are they hearing me speak about Jesus Christ often enough? A partial checklist is found embedded in a great promise from the talk text:

As you reverently speak about the Savior—in the car, on the bus, at the dinner table, as you kneel in prayer, during scripture study, or in late-night conversations—the Spirit of the Lord will accompany your words.

I'm grateful for this checklist because I'm reminded that we do speak about Christ in those situations. Despite this comfort, I feel the need to do more—to fan the flames enough to keep all of our fires burning bright. If I can do this, I can be like Nephi of old who wrote in 2 Nephi 25:

And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins (v. 26).


Here is a video we put together using two of the songs from the Hoffman's Stories of Jesus:

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Things Pertaining to Righteousness

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Things Pertaining to Righteousness, by Elder Francisco J. Viñas
Of the Seventy

Not being able to readily remember what Elder Viñas' talk was about before reviewing the text, I consulted my notes. I then understood the reason. Under his name was simply written, "Rebecca screaming." (In her defense, she had been very well behaved for nearly eight full hours of conference spanning two days—considerable for a four-year-old!)

I don't know what I was thinking about then (during Elder Viñas' talk that I couldn't hear), but I hope I was trying to remember the inspired words of prophets and other leaders, especially from that very conference. I say I hope I was doing that, but I imagine I was not so noble; not so patient; not so focused.

In his talk Elder Viñas spoke of how the destruction of Haiti reminded him of the Book of Mormon. When I learn of tragedies—or experience personal tragedies—do I recall the words of prophets, especially from the Book of Mormon? In the very next talk, Elder Andersen asked if children "think about the Savior's life when they wonder what to do in their own lives."

I want to remember, but to do more than just remember in Sunday School lessons or during scripture study sessions; I want to always remember—in good times as well as bad—and apply what I remember to what I see in my life and the world at large.

As an institute teacher friend once said to me:

If you always remember, you'll never forget.

Hugs: the Perfect Gift

My children and I have a long-running game (for lack of a better word). For example, I will reach into my pocket while saying, "Oh, I have something for you..." I take my hand out, pretending to enclose a small object, and while opening my hand—supposed to present the gift—smile and say, "It's a hug!" Arms reach around, giggles appear spontaneously, and everyone ends up laughing.

This routine is a satisfactory substitute for many seemingly non-related actions; it can replace a high-five for a job well done; it's often better than a serious scolding; it's much more preferable than a spanking(!); and it can simply be used to interject love into any situation—even at calm times.

Well, yesterday, my little girl was having a hard time near bedtime. Her anger was directed at me because I was the one who said, "It's time to get ready for bed." Seeing that she was upset, I'm sad to say that I didn't think of our hug game—which would have helped, I'm sure. Instead, my four-year-old came to me, looking imploringly up at me and said, "Daddy, I have something for you..."

You know the rest of the story. Hugs replaced screams and tears. In the bubble of love that developed, in the middle of the hug, I said something that seemed to fit—almost as well as the hug did. I said:

Hugs: they're the perfect gift. One size fits all, and they're actually best when they're returned!

Give the gift of a hug—for every occasion!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Developing Good Judgment and Not Judging Others

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Developing Good Judgment and Not Judging Others, by Elder Gregory A. Schwitzer
Of the Seventy

Shortly after we moved to our current home, I met someone and made a judgment about him. I decided that he was bothersome, judgmental, and not the nicest person. (Pretty funny that I labeled him judgmental, isn't it.) As you can probably guess, in process of time I began to hear reports of this fellow that were entirely opposite of my initial impressions that I was still clinging so tightly to; I heard how kind, considerate, generous, and charitable he was.

I could not believe it. It wasn't so much that I didn't believe he could be those things; it was more that I didn't want to admit to myself that I had been wrong.

Shortly thereafter, I had the opportunity to observe him and it changed my mind completely. It turns out that not only was he better than I had originally judged him to be, I saw that was better in many important ways than me!

As I reviewed Elder Schwitzer's comments, particularly his analysis of Martha (of Mary and Martha fame), I thought of this man—who, coincidentally, is now a trusted friend—who I greatly misjudged.

Elder Schwitzer observes that Martha is often given a terrible time in Sunday School classes. This is interesting because in studying a story about Martha's interaction with the man—Christ—who is, alone, qualified and able to perfectly judge, the students and teacher end up, themselves, misjudging.

I love, as Paul Harvey would say, the rest of the story. In another of Martha's recorded interactions with Christ, occurring after the death of her brother, Lazarus, she shows that "she was actually a person of deep spiritual character who had a bold and daring testimony of the Savior's mission and His diving power over life." We read of her response to Christ's questions in John 11:20-27:

Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.

Elder Schwitzer observes:

Many a sister has often heard the first story and wondered if she were a Mary or a Martha, yet the truth lies in knowing the whole person and in using good judgment.

So, in our self-evaluations, instead of wondering if we are a Mary or a Martha, perhaps we should wonder what version of ourselves we are showing: Are we showing that we are momentarily concerned over material things (perhaps rightly so); or are we demonstrating our true, deep convictions and faith in Christ?

If we can understand and know that such a distinction is possible in ourselves, then it seems only fair to apply similar logic when we encounter others. Instead of rushing to judgment, I want to trust that I'm simply not seeing the full picture and wait until I know the real person—not just the Martha they're showing at the moment—and then be able to use excellent judgment.

Monday, September 6, 2010

All Things Work Together for Good

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

All Things Work Together for Good, by Elder James B. Martino
Of the Seventy

It's interesting to talk about difficulties, trials, and suffering. Part of me wants to avoid too close of a personal analysis for fear that doing so will somehow invoke a new wave of difficulties, trials, and suffering. On the other side of the coin, the difficulties, trials, and suffering of those who are far away (perhaps in abject poverty) are difficult to talk about because there seems little that we can do to help or even fully understand what all is happening in their lives.

Difficulties, trials, and suffering seem to be the most common reason for the abandonment of faith cited by those who no longer believe in God (from my personal experience). They ask, "Why me?", "What did I do to deserve this?", or even "What did those small children on the other side of the world do to deserve their lot?" These are difficult questions if not addressed with the eye of faith. Elder Martino suggests that instead of these questions, we should ask: "What am I to do? What can I learn from this experience? What am I to change?"

Deep down, we all know that everyone faces trials and tests—although the trials and tests of some seem either exceedingly light or overbearingly heavy—but "it is how we react to those difficulties that will determine our success and happiness. . . the question is not when we will face them but how we will face them."

Even though I've never been a sporty fellow, I enjoyed the humorous—and applicable—story that Elder Martino shared:

With the desire to become the next mighty ballplayer, he decided to go outside and practice. He held the baseball in one hand and the bat in the other, and he threw the ball into the air. With a wish to hit the ball as far as he could, he took a great swing, but the ball fell to the ground without even touching the wood of the bat. Not to be denied, he went at it again. As he was about to throw the ball in the air, his determination grew as the thought of a powerful hit came into his mind. But alas, the results were the same. The ball lay on the ground. But as any good ballplayer knows, you have three strikes before you are out. He concentrated even more, threw the ball in the air, and gave the mightiest swing he had ever attempted. As the ball again fell to the ground, the tears began to swell in his eyes. Then all of a sudden a great smile appeared, and he said, “What a pitcher!”

I want to face trials with the faith and understanding that all things will work together for good if I love and trust God (see Rom. 8:28). While this attitude is in no way a guarantee against trials, it will help preserve the testimony that God lives and loves all his children, even those who are experiencing trials or even living overbearingly difficult lives.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

New Pictures

Here are some photos from our adventures from August! (click here)