Monday, May 16, 2011

Best Homeschool Lessons: Repentance Tenses

Last week, I needed to run an errand. Loathe to lose homeschool time, I put Eric and Sammy in the car and taught a grammar lesson en route.

Before you remonstrate against my cruelty, let me point out that grammar lessons in our family are not tortuous. My children are spoiled by having a creative mom who invents interesting sentences to diagram. Of course, I am also spoiled by having superlatively intelligent children.

(When Ronald was in seventh grade, I recall explaining independent and dependent clauses to him by using Star Trek examples. Know your audience, I say. Ronald might now deny ever having liked Star Trek, but it worked at the time. Ah, nostalgia.)

In this case, I invented stories about Bear repenting. (He does that a lot, I note. I fear that, in a few months, both Daniel and Bear will need separate baptismal interviews with the Bishop. I also worry that Bear is so naughty, he might not get a recommend.)

Present, past, and future tenses were easy review. Eric also quickly caught on to the idea of "progressive," or "ongoing" tenses, as when Bear stole Danny's screwdriver with the intention of replacing it later. "I will start repenting next week," Bear justified to himself. ("Future progressive!" said Eric. Smart lad.)

(Though tempted, I refrained from a discursive lecture about how that attitude made a mockery of the atonement, deeming it more important to stay focused on the lesson. This required great willpower on my part, as I am rather prone to digressive tangents.)

Eric, further, did fine with past, present, and future perfect, once I had explained them to him.

"Perfect" implies the action has been completed. For instance, ' "I had just repented for the candy when I fell to the fish's blandishments!" wailed Bear.'

With minimal practice, Eric could correctly identify examples such as the one above. (Past perfect, by the way.)

Once we hit the perfect progressives, though, we had a problem.

It had never struck me before that there is a potential conflict between the perfect (i.e., completed) and progressive (i.e., ongoing) tenses. "But by the time I hit college," protested Bear, "I will have already been repenting for a decade! I SAID I was sorry for wrecking the van!!!" The previous sentence is an admirable example of the future perfect progressive, or an action which 1) begins in the future, 2) takes place over time and, 3) finishes in the future.

The problem came when we hit the present perfect progressive. With most actions, the "end" is easy to define. "We have been swimming for an hour," argued Char (who, as a fire-breathing dragon, naturally preferred non-water-based activities), "Now let's do something else." Even if the group consensus is to remain in the water another hour before breaking for lunch, you can argue that the swimming before Char's protest and after are two separate actions. Perhaps the poor dragon, bedraggled and disgruntled, leaves the pool early even if his friends remain. If nothing else, his sentence references the past and brings us up to the present moment.

The difficulty arose when Bear appeared before the Bishop, tearful and penitent, and gave a full confession of all his misdeeds over the past week. "I have been repenting for days," he sobbed, "But I'm not certain whether or not I'm done!"

Now, grammatically, this qualifies as the present perfect progressive. But the uncertainty of the situation struck me at once. "What if," I wondered, "Bishop Loderup counseled him to refrain from taking the Sacrament for two more weeks, read his scriptures, and then report for a follow-up interview?"

--(Of course, I doubt that an unbaptized child under the age of eight is even eligible to be disciplined in that way. Let alone a talking stuffed animal of indeterminate spiritual status. Yet another problem to consider. Or punt to my own mom. But I digress, again.)--

Repentance is a long process, and it can be a bit ambiguous. Sometimes people honestly think they're done, but a wise bishop says "I don't think you have fully forgiven your partner in crime yet." Or, sometimes people continue to beat themselves up unnecessarily, only to be told "You are fully forgiven. Let it go now."

I understand the Protestant reluctance to have a priest intercede between the individual and God. I also know that people are frequently not objective and do, sometimes, need an outside perspective in figuring out exactly how much is enough.

But philosophical questions of clergy aside, some actions really are vague in their completion. "I'm in love?" she asked herself. "But...when did that happen? I don't even remember starting to fall for him..."

To solve this dilemma, I have decided to invent, not a new creative sentence, but a brand-new tense. Thus, Bear's despondent cry, "I have been repenting for days" is an example of the Present Probably-Perfect Progressive.

In situations of more ambiguity, you could have the Past Possibly-Perfect Progressive. As in Bear's confession at a recent Addicts Anonymous meeting, "I had been repenting for weeks and thought I had conquered my problem, but then I almost succumbed to the temptation of a Studebaker..."

"Ambiguous Perfect Progressive" is more pronounceable, but not as much fun.

(In another random aside -- I've got to stop doing that -- this reminds me of my eighth-grade masterpiece "A Pathetically Perfect Parody of Pointless Perverse Poetry." Ah, those were the days...)

Now, you may claim this exercise was silly, or pointless, or was tortuous after all, either to Eric or to the hapless English language.

Any or all of those may be true.

Nothing I do could possibly be worse than Douglas Adams' "Future semi-conditionally modified sub-inverted plagal past subjunctive."

Still, I will-on have been likely starts repenting sometime by next Tuesday ago.


Brian Thomas said...

Ronald may now deny ever having liked Star Trek, but he'll have to fight against the evidence (in the form of a mountain of video cds) to prove that claim...

Krenn said...

you read through my CD archives? Yes, it's true, I was once young and foolish and admiring of star trek.

I blame the lack of proper science and philosophy education in junior high and middle school. When i think of the crimes against the scientific method committed by star trek, and the inherent lack of personal responsibility assumed throughout federation culture... looking back, I shudder. And it is a truly sad commentary that in my youth, the fact that I watched Star Trek arguably made me SMARTER than my middle school and junior high teachers.

Gail said...

Uh, willing suspension of disbelief, Ronald.

That is, yes, even fantasy should have rules and be internally consistent. It always annoyed me that Gandalf's assistance was so random. "I can throw exploding blue pinecones and talk to animals, but I can't do a dang thing about this blizzard, sorry. Asks the Elves if you want a cloak of invisibility. I invoked an amazing resume when I fought--and defeated!!! the Balrog. But don't ask me to do anything about the Nazgul. I'll let mortals like Eowyn handle them. Though I'll be happy to appoint myself general in a crisis. Oh, and Saramon is too much for me, at least until the Ents have softened him up."

At least in the Wizard of Earthsea, Ged had reasons for invoking his power as little as possible. And the other characters got understandably annoyed when he declined to take action.

I kept expecting characters to look at Gandalf and demand, "DO something!!!" but they never seemed to question it when his response was more often to lay about with his sword than call lightning with his staff.

Yes, Star Trek was annoying because of their random "insert technobabble here" formula. Jon and I gave up on Voyager after concluding that every contrived anomaly was explained merely by "odd tachyon particles"

Still, I don't know that Star Trek is that much more unrealistic than an SG: Atlantis wraith-turned-human turning back into a wraith after an encounter with a distant evolutionary cousin insect.

It seemed like in Star Gate, various "retroviruses" were almost as much of a "Deux ex machina" workhorse as Star Trek tachyon particles.

Not to mention cliche aliens with glowing eyes and huge egos. (Though at least the SG teams rolled their eyes rather than taking the enemy's melodrama seriously.)

Krenn said...

Stargate has it's own problems with science, but they're not nearly as egregious.

Sure, Stargate made up some scientifically unlikely things for purposes of advancing the plot. But once you forgive the initial implausibility, Stargate was remarkably consistent about explaining how each scientific advance fit into earth's overall understanding of advanced technology. The characters and organizations made reasonable decisions about how to deal with these new scientific possibilities, and any action or discovery the teams made usually had a prolonged and reasonable use cycle afterwards.

So, yeah, the whole wraith retrovirus thing was really unlikely, based on science as we know it. But once we learn that it exists, Atlantis was remarkably consistent about examining the possibilities of doing the same thing in reverse, and being aware of the dangers of personal exposure, and thinking about the social and political possibilities of deploying it.

Or the way SG-1 captured a Goau'ld glider, and spent several years over a consistent storyline trying to build a earth fighter based on the captured technology,

Or how once SG-1 knew that it was POSSIBLE for Go'auld to infect humans, they developed reasonable post-mission inspection procedures, and stuck to them ever since.

and the way the Stargate teams had consistent and reasonable procedures for diplomatic interactions with new races they encounter, instead of some bizarre paternalistic prime directive....

not to mention reasonable rules of engagement, properly followed SOP's, decent quarantine protocols, etc, etc.

I can make a very long list of the relevant sins of Star Trek.

Like the way they were completely incapable of operating their ships within mutual support distance of each other,

and never once bothered to build a PROPERLY firewalled and tiered-access ship's network.

or that the fact that despite multiple episodes of mind control, they never installed some sort of screening test into their own transporters,

or the way that military- or society- changing technology was consistently NOT RESEARCHED, even though i can think of thousands of simple developments based on proven star trek technology.

or the way they were consistently incapable of building a PROPER quarantine or imprisonment facility. I think modern supercarriers and hospital ships have better brigs and medical quarantine areas than star trek ever did.