Thursday, October 29, 2009

Swashbucklers Has Won Best PSA Award

The MormonAD Swashbucklers has won a national award!  You'll love the ad, it is a must watch!  If you haven't yet seen it look HERE.

Read more about the Award HERE.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Growing Up In Himni, Utah - Episode 10

Half a pack of Philip Morris and a half a pack of Newports

Hank Simmons was a regular at Hanley’s Department Store. He came in every day. Pushing his walker ahead of him he’d come up to the meat counter and mutter that he wanted, “some a that there meat there.” We’d give him something different every day and he never seemed to even notice. Bobby, Bill and I thought Hank needed a little variety in his life. One day it was bologna, another, pimento loaf; always just enough for today. He’d be back tomorrow.

Hank was an institution in Himni. An old worn-out sheep herder, Hank now spent his days hobbling from his little house on Cranston Street to the Limerick Bar, from the bar to Hanley’s and back home again. His hair was snow white and short cropped. So was his beard. We always wondered how his beard always managed to have a week’s growth; never longer, never shorter.
When I first moved over from IGA to Hanley’s I was strictly in the meat department. Gradually, though, my assignment expanded to occasional checker.

On my first day checking, Hank came through my check stand. He placed his lunch meat on the counter along with a jar of Postum. Postum is a non-cafeinated coffee substitute. I thought it was funny that Hank had just come from the Limerick, but drank Postum instead of coffee. And then, he asked for a half a pack of Philip Morris and half a pack of Newports! I didn’t know what to do. I got Phil Hanley’s attention, who came over and explained to me that I was to open a pack of each and move half of each to the other. Customer service was paramount at Hanley’s. Hanley’s was also an institution in Himni. Besides Phil and his brother Frank and taken care of Hank like this since before I was born. It was then that I realized that I could sell the other split pack to Hank tomorrow. He paid in cash and hobbled out the door, meat, Postum and cigarettes in hand.

There were two Drug Stores in Himni. One had all the trappings of the time, soda fountain and hamburger grill, magazine rack, small appliance department, isles of first aid and medical items and, of course, the pharmacy. It was privately owned by Robert Mueller, who was a franchisee of the Rexall brand. The other, was strictly oriented to medicine and was owned by Alvin McWherter. Some thought Alvin must be more serious about medicine. Apparently, that was Hank Simmons’ opinion.
Hank hobbled in to McWherter Pharmacy one day and made his way right to Alvin.

“Watcha got for constipation?” Hank snapped abruptly.

“Have you tried a good laxative?”

“Exlax, castor oil, nothin’ seems ta work!” said Hank, a mix of desperation and aggravation in his gravelly old voice.

“Well then, let me give you a couple of suppositories, that ought to do the trick,” counseled Alvin.

“What do I do with these?” Hank queried.

“You place them in your rectum.” Alvin answered with a professionally matter of fact tone.

Hank hobbled out the door and around the block to Cranston Street.

Three days later Hank was back in front of Alvin McWherter. He looked angry, frustrated and not a little distraught.

“They never worked!” he scolded.

“What didn’t work?”

“Them suppo, suppose, aw hell what ever you called ‘em.”


“Yea, them, well they never worked!”

“What do you mean, “They never worked!?”

“I’m still constipated, that’s what I mean, “They never worked!” Hank growled through clenched teeth.

“With professional calm and assurance Alvin questioned, “What did you do with them?”

“Well, I didn’t have no Rectum so I put ‘em in ma Postum. Hell, for all the good they done me, I might as well a shoved ‘em up ma rear!”

It makes me wonder, looking back on my life, how many times was I like Hank? How many times would I have settled for familiarity, only to have God spice things up with a little unsought variety. How many times have I made rediculous requests of He and His servants, who happily complied anyhow? How many times did I have spiritual constipation? How many times did I misunderstand God’s remedy for me? I sure hope He laughed as heartily at my botched efforts as I have at Hank’s. I rather think He did.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Sunshine On My Shoulders

The leaves usually fall from our Mulberry tree all at once.  This year it has not been quite so dramatic.  Only half of them fell this morning when the sun came up.  I've seen all of them fall in five minutes!  It always happens first thing.  I suppose the frost in the night, when met with the warmth of the rising sun causes them to disconnect themselves from the branches that have held them all summer.  When it all happens simultaneously, it is a wonder to behold!  Mulberry leaves don't change color before they fall; so there was a thick blanket of green beneath that tree and a lovely blanket of yellow beneath the Linden when I looked out this morning.

The weather is supposed to change drastically tomorrow; so I decided to get out there and pick up what I can before the big chill.  I like to mow rather than rake.  It mulches and makes the pile more compact.  Compact enough to fit into my compost bins.  Composting, is much like cooking for me.  Adding this ingredient and that, letting it cook, summer and winter, until it stews down to a rich, aromatic loam - every bit as satisfying as a well simmered pot of chili or chowder.  Compost has to be blended just so and though I don't use a recipe, experience has taught me to go easy on the grass clippings - too hot and smelly, be liberal with garden waste and saw dust, and to give it plenty of time to cook just right.

The raised bed gardens needed attention too.  There were the last of the beets to harvest.  The onions did so well this year.  The frozen tomato plants needed pulled as did dried up bean vines and other spent odds and ends.

Six year old Megan came over to help.  She found the biggest beet and was so proud to show Grandma.  The bunnies love it when Megan comes because she's sure to toss some Swiss Chard and carrots their way.  She balances her way around the edges of the garden boxes, sweeping the spilled dirt away as she goes.  For her, it's all so good.  Harvesting and cleaning up; just as fun as planting and imagining.  Because of her, it is for me too!

I don't get finished, there is still a pile of canvas drop cloths, a pastel sheet and an old table cloth on a bench under the awning.  They'd been used to spare the tomatoes from frost for a couple of weeks.  There are a few tools to put away, but that'll keep.  I sit on the bench beneath the arbor with the sunshine soaking through the shoulders of my sweat shirt and just simmer in the last good day of fall.  I've rubbed some Rosemary in my palms and they smell so good.  The air is fresh and crisp, and I am warm and drowsy.  Composting.  Megan is trying to catch falling Mulberry leaves and Grandma has come out to sit beside me.  A few Chrysanthemums, snap dragons and an odd mallow are still blooming and a lazy wasp wanders up my sleeve.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

It Never Hurts To Ask!

Saturday, my sweet daughter Katie conducted a one on one interview with author Shannon Hale.

Katie has a book Vlog in which she does book reviews.  A month ago she discovered that Goose Girl author Shannon Hale was going to speak at the Salt Lake Book Festival.  She was bold enough to email Shannon's publisher and request an interview which was graciously granted.  A pretty big coups for young lady with a new by burgeoning Vlog.

It was inspiring to me that she would step out of her comfort zone and make such a request.  Couple that with the fun interview that resulted and you have a formula for success!  Too often in our lives, mine especially, we don't perceive or take the opportunities that come our way.  Katie has inspired me to be more open to such opportunities my life.  We were all enriched by Katie's willingness to take a chance.  "After all," she says, "The worst that can happen is if the answer is no."  Nothing ventured nothing gained.

You can watch the interview here.

Friday, October 23, 2009

A Baptist Minister Shares His Testimony of The Book of Mormon!

I stumbled upon this interesting article this morning and had to share it with you.  I guarantee it will both surprise and enlighten you!

The Baptist Version
The Book of Mormon

Lynn Ridenhour,

Southern Baptist Minister

Book Review - The 4-Hour Work Week

Holy Cow, what a refreshing look and life and living!  I wish I'd read this book 40 years ago!  Of course it wasn't written then. 

The cover picture is a bit of misnomer, because you're not likely to find Timothy Ferriss lying in a hammock somewhere.  If, and that's a pretty big if, you catch up with him somewhere, you're not likely to keep up with him.  He won't be "working" but he will be busy, have purpose, and he will be enjoying life.

Ferriss breaks out of the 9-5 rut in the most exciting imaginative way!  He challenges all norms, not to be contrary, but to find the vitality or lack thereof, in their assumptions.  He just won't tolerate leaks in a bucket that claims to hold water.  Most of us, blindly accept things as they are, even if they're intolerable.  Not Timothy Ferriss, if something doesn't make sense, he finds a way that does.  I have never found so much common sense packed in so few pages.  His notions and approaches are entirely practical, realistic, achievable and moral.  Not only that - it is completely adaptable to your hopes, your dreams, your priorities and your circumstances.  Ferriss is not trying to cast his audience in his own mold.  His objective is to help each of us to shape our own lives into something more individual, fulfilling and authentic.  Like any great innovator, he has identified principles, exemplified practices and freely shared his discoveries with us.

I won't be letting this gem gather dust.  Now that I've read it, its time to dig in and apply its principles in my own approach to life.  You see The 4-Hour Work Week not only instructs, it stands as a reference to which I'll likely refer for the rest of my life.  A life which I expect to be much better for having done so.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Coincidence? I Don't Think So!

I was talking with a young friend yesterday.  She has recently been released from Detention after a fairly lengthy incarceration.  She was anxious about the sudden emergence of temptation.  Temptation that had seemed distant and far from enticing when she was locked up, now is fiercely taunting her.  Having become trusting friends during her imprisonment, she called to see if I might come and help her get past it.  Awareness of the magnitude of the consequences of another slip has checked her inclination to give in and I rejoice over that.  Still she needs a more long term and permanent method, if she is to remain sober and out of trouble.  That she would ask for help is a very hopeful sign.

With her mother just out of ear shot, we sat in the living room of her home for about an hour discussing how we might proceed.  You see, I have been struggling with unusually persistent temptation lately as well.  Both of us are recovering addicts.  Neither of us has enough higher ground under foot, to presume to lift the other.  All we can do is commiserate and try to discover from our successes, how to overcome our failures.

As we spoke, my dear young friend observed that she needs to be occupied doing something productive.  So far, she hasn't got back in school, found a job, committed to attending church.  "Maybe," she said, "I just have too much idle time on my hands."  That really struck a chord with me.  A chord that had sounded in my ear once before on that day.  I'd gone to school to pick up my granddaughter from kindergarten.  I was reading a book while I waited.  The book is about freeing up more time and in the current chapter addresses the very real fact that people who acquire more time (by efficiency, retirement, etc.) often become depressed.  Then the author makes this observation:  "Too much free time is no more than fertilizer for self-doubt and assorted mental tail-chasing.  Subtracting the bad does not create the good.  It leaves a vacuum.  Decreasing income-driven work isn't the end goal.  Living more - and becoming more - is."  Later he says, "Retirees get depressed for a second reason, and you will too: social isolation."  (see The 4- hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss) Oh, by the way, Sweetie had tried to teach me the same principle the night before!

So here we are, me and my young friend.  Both of us with a pile of free time on our hands, both of us isolated from clusters of friends from our previous situations and both of us - depressed, vulnerable, tempted and full of fear and anxiety.

We both concluded it was time for each of us to start living more and becoming more!

Now, do you not think it interesting that what I had just been taught by Sweetie, what I had just read in the book, what my friend had just observed, and what both of us were currently experiencing should all intersect at the same place and time?  Some would call that coincidence.  I'd rather think a loving Heavenly Father is orchestrating our lives.

Let me share a story from a few years ago.  I was driving for UPS.  One day, in a quite isolated and rural part of my route I was accosted by a little girl.  She said she wanted to grow up to be a UPS driver and asked for my autograph.  I had never been asked for my autograph before.  I didn't know what to make of it.  The little girl seemed desperate for attention and even affection.  That concerned me.  I didn't know if her parents were home.  I didn't feel comfortable encouraging her.  I could see she was desperate for love and all she wanted was a friend.  I just couldn't see how I could appropriately meet her need.  I chose to keep my distance.  As I drove away I studied the situation and concluded that if I encountered her with her pals around, I might be able to reach out a bit more safe and fittingly.

I had a model UPS truck at home and I took it to work intending to find an opportunity to give it to her along with some encouragement.  I carried it a couple of weeks before I encountered her again.  We'll call her Columbine, though that is not her name.  She was walking home from the bus stop with a few other kids and I pulled over.  I told her I was pleased she wanted to grow up to drive for UPS and that I had a little present for her.  I gave her the model package car.  She gave me a quick hug and ran to show her friends.  My prayers for her and my hope for an appropriate way to reach out to a sweet and melancholy child, had been answered.  She seemed so pleased to show her friends that she was important to somebody.  I only saw Columbine a time or two after that.  Her family moved away.  But I often wondered about that pretty little waif who seemed so desperate for love that she would seek it from a stranger.  I suppose, the UPS man seemed like a safe stranger, but still.

Anyway, yesterday, as I drove to see my troubled friend I passed Columbine's house.  I hadn't thought about her and the little UPS truck for years.  It was then it struck me - I was going to see Columbine!  Could they be the same person?  Could she be living in a different house in the same neck of the woods?  She could, and we both shed tears as we discovered that we had been friends much longer than we we'd been aware.  She told me she'd been abandoned by her father and that those were lonely, sad and confusing days.  She showed me she still cherishes her precious little UPS truck.

You might, again, call it coincidence.  But Columbine and I know that there is a third party to our friendship.  A loving Savior, who knows how to succor His children, each of us.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Growing Up In Himni, Utah - Episode 9

School Lunch

School Lunch was popular in the sixties. Oh, there were a few who sneaked off campus for a bottle of pop and a bag of potato chips (corn chips weren’t invented yet), but most of us stood in the lunch line and ate whatever the lunch ladies put on our trays.

A favorite place to socialize was in the lunch line and the lunch room. The food was pretty ordinary, but I thought it tasted great.

I remember standing in lunch line one day a few kids behind Marjorie Green and her girl friends. They were the popular girls of the Senior Class and always wore the most stylish fashions. Marjorie had on a green and orange dress that day. It was sort of a sack dress all pea soup green with a garish orange panel down the front. Separating the green from the orange panel were two large zippers, one down each side. The zipper pulls were two three inch brass rings. They were pretty predominant ornaments at her neckline. We hadn’t been standing there long when Billy Morton and Brock Hoopes walked by. Brock turned aside, walked up to Marjorie, inserted an index finger in each of those rings and pulled them clear down to her hemline where they completely disconnected. The whole orange panel fell to the floor. Bob Jensen, Marjorie’s football hero boyfriend, felled Brock with one punch.

When the pandemonium cleared up the Principal gave Marjorie the worst of it for wearing such a ridiculous outfit to school. “Seems to me,” he said, “She was begging for it.”

Lunch was pretty predictable. There were ten basic meals with few variations. These were cycled through with regularity. Then one day the cooks decided to get creative. They went Mexican. I had never eaten Mexican food. There was no Taco Bell in Himni; infact, I don’t think Utah had one anywhere. I didn’t know a burrito from a canoli. I got exposed to tacos the following summer when my aunt and uncle took me to San Diego for a couple of weeks. At this point in my life, though, this was as exotic as it gets!

As Mitch, Lew and I worked our way past the cooks at the lunch counter, Lew watched Nettie, our favorite cook, slap a large brown gooey looking glob next to the Spanish Rice on Mitch’s tray. He asked, “What is that!?”

“Refried Beans.”

Lew looked up at Nettie, then down at the glob. Then looking back at Nettie asked,”How many times?”
As Lew’s own glob now slowly slid down the front of his shirt, we walked cautiously over to our seats.

By the time we were Seniors, School Lunch was going out of vogue. My gang still ate there regularly, but fewer and fewer joined us. Along about April came National School Lunch Week. We decided in honor of our fair cooks and in order to promote School Lunch, we’d better do something special. We put our heads together and came up with a pretty good gag.

Between us we managed to gather up a complete collection of linen, china, crystal, silver and candelabra. After paying the clerk we ducked out of line and grabbed a table where we set out the whole table setting, lit candles and all. To our amazement, as we turned to go get our food, Nettie appeared at our table with all our food on a huge tray she’d conjured up somewhere. She served us with finesse befitting a king and then to our utter amazement, accepted our invitation to sit and dine with us. She was fine company, but kept picking at our poor table manners.

We had a newcomer in the gang that year. Bob Elkington was an exchange student from New Zealand and had fit right in. We loved trying to mimic his accent. Bob picked up his fork in his left hand, placed the tines, pointed down, on his plate and began stacking potatoes and peas on the back of the fork with his knife. “Mind your manners, Bob,” Nettie scolded, “One day you may eat with the Queen!” Bob replied, without even looking up, “Pahdon me mum, but this is ‘ow the Queen eats.”

Nettie stared resolutely at Bob for about a minute, then quietly switched her fork to the left hand and picked up her knife.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

MarShel Erickson

MarShel Erickson, daughter of my dear friends, Darwin and Carolee passed away yesterday after a long painful bout with cancer.  I only got to meet her once.  She wasn't having a very good day.  Still, on that day, she was positive and cheerful, despite the misery she was enduring.  She was a friend of my daughter's who told me that you couldn't go see her with out coming away cheered up.  That was MarShel's way.  She loved making others happy.

Between, or after a Conference session, last week I watched a little presentation about the miraculous recovery of a young man who had been at death's door.  Some of the commentary made me shudder.  The interviewer seemed almost boastful at the miracle that had come to him.  I thought of dear sweet friends of mine, whose outcomes were nothing to boast about.  Friends who loved their spouse or child every bit as much as this man's family loved him.  The interviewer sounded as if this fine young man was just too special to be taken and I thought of broken hearts who felt the same way about loved ones who were just as special, but didn't survive.

Years ago, Elder Marvin J. Ashton was here for Stake Conference.  A Sister, spoke.  At the conclusion of her talk, she told of the number of her children who had gone on missions, married in the temple, graduated from college; and while, thankful, was also boastful.  When she finished Elder Ashton stood, out of turn, approached the pulpit and admonished the Sister to go home, kneel in her closet and thank the Lord for her many blessings and then ask for His forgiveness for all the hearts she had broken there that day, including his own.  It is so important that we are careful about the manner in which we receive God's blessings.

On another occasion I heard a sweet Sister bear her testimony in Church.  She'd just had a baby.  She thanked everyone for the out pouring of love manifest in the delivery of more food to their home, during the days which followed the birth, than they could consume.  Another Sister was in attendance that day.  She too had just had a baby.  I later, became aware, that in her case, no one dropped by with or without food.  No one even noticed.  She was no less deserving, no less in need.  I don't know if there is an adequate explanation when we mortals overlook someone.  But I know that no one is overlooked by God.  The fact that Marshel must go, while another stays is neither a condemnation of Marshel or something to brag about for the other.

I said that the interviewer seemed boastful, as did the theme of the whole program, but the young man, who had been permitted to tarry a while, was far from boastful.  When asked about what he'd learned in his ordeal he humbly said, (paraphrasing) that he'd gone, "from hope, to faith, to submission."  He knew, what we all must learn, that we each, in the end, must submit to whatever the Lord sees fit, in His wisdom, to inflict upon us.  I probably wouldn't be so brash as to mention this principle at such a tender time as this, except that this is the central theme taught to me over the years by MarShel's dear father.  Darwin, and I'm sure Carolee, have learned that true joy and peace in this life can only be had when we submit our will to God's.

MarShel was too precious to lose, but we lost her.  There is no explaining it.  It isn't a punishment.  It isn't a deserved outcome.  It just is.  And though we must wonder in sorrow - why - perhaps for the rest of our lives; we may rest assured that she was not, nor is she, overlooked by a neglectful God. Her loving Father in Heaven has taken her home to his loving embrace, where I'm sure she is happy and full of joy.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Let's Read The Book of Mormon Together!

Tomorrow, I'm going to begin reading The Book of Mormon again.  I'd love to have you join me.  I used to comment on what I've been reading in that great book on this blog.  A couple of weeks ago I decided to remodel things and make a separate blog expressly for the purpose of reading The Book of Mormon.

You can visit that blog by clicking on the tab above, labeled The Book of Mormon Today.

I sure hope to see you there.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Growing Up In Himni, Utah - Episode 8

I was always pretty scrawny. Consequently, I got picked on quite a bit through Elementary School and Junior High. It was pretty unpleasant but I learned to keep clear of the bullies for the most part and managed alright.

When I got to ninth grade though, I really met my nemesis. Gavin Richardson was his name. Gavin was one of Butch Farley’s minions. Gavin was small and smart enough to befriend Butch because Butch could easily have whooped him. But, he was big and dumb enough to pick on me. Those intermediate bullies were the worst.

Butch for example never picked on the little kids. He had nothing to prove. Picking on us puny ones was the realm of bullies who didn’t dare pick on anybody their own size. There was one exception. One day Butch got crossways with my seventh grade brother, Todd. I really don’t know what made him mad but he slammed Todd up against the back wall of the auditorium so hard that Todd’s head ricocheted off the wall and head-butted Butch right in the nose. Blood splattered everywhere. Todd came out of it unscathed and Butch cut him some slack after that.

Gavin, however, wouldn’t cut me any slack. Going to school became a nightmare. I hardly slept at night for the dread. One day I happened to see the great Disney movie Song of the South. In it, Uncle Remus told the story of Brer Rabbit and how he out witted Brer Fox and Brer Bear. About the time the fox and bear tossed Brer Rabbit into the briar patch it occurred to me that I, like Brer Rabbit shouldn’t have all that much trouble out smarting Gavin, or Butch for that matter.

A couple of days later, I got my first chance to test my theory. We were showering after gym class. My locker was uncomfortably situated right between Butch and Gavin. Out of the corner of my eye I caught sight of Gavin winding up a towel with which to pop my bare backside. The Brer Rabbit in me began to emerge. I kept my cool and made like I hadn’t noticed. Just as Gavin let the towel fly, I moved and that towel snapped like a firecracker on Butch’s exposed rear end. All I had to do then, was quietly, discreetly, get dressed while Butch cleaned Gavin’s clock
Things quieted down for a few weeks.

The next semester though, I took Mr. Hocker’s typing class. Gavin took it too. My assigned seat was near the door at the side of the room. Gavin passed my desk every day and with an extended knuckle whopped me on the shoulder blade as he entered the room. It wasn’t three days before that became intolerable. There was no such thing as “Safe Schools” back then. I was pretty much on my own to solve this one. Gavin was clearly meaner and tougher than me, but I had already concluded that I was smarter.

The next day I kept a wary eye out for his approach. When he arrived and went to thump me, I exploded out of my chair, shoved him over a desk, typewriter and all, and came down on top of him swinging for all I was worth. The element of surprise gave me the initial advantage and I calculated that Mr. Hocker would be there to break thinks up before Gavin recovered enough to kill me. It worked! We got sent to the office where neither of us confessed the reason for the altercation. After a warning, we went back to class, Gavin subdued and Jinx quietly triumphant. Gavin never bothered me again.

In today’s schools the aggressor is automatically considered guilty and I’d most likely have been threatened with expulsion. That would prevent me from daring to defend myself against such subtle bullying. And that would tacitly give Gavin license to pick on me for the rest of my life. The old ways are sometimes better.

Other bullies have prevented Disney from distributing Song of the South anymore. The Sista Rabbit in my wife, however, found it for sale in Europe over the internet and bought us a copy on DVD.

Zippity Doo Dah!

Monday, October 12, 2009

There Am I In the Midst Of You

I just read an article about former Latter-day Saints who have begun to gather.  One reason, they say, is to help them with their loss of the culture.  They don't miss the gospel, but miss the culture.  I found it interesting, because I lean a bit in the opposite direction.

For five and a half years, I've served in the Branch Presidency at the local Juvenile Detention Center.  Our gatherings are simple and I have often described them as the gospel without the culture.  We don't have much in our little Branch that resembles a typical Ward, but what we do have is the sweet, comforting, need for and companionship with the Savior.  During that five plus years we've served under two Stake Presidents.  Each of them, in an expression of love and encouragement has told me of his conviction that if the Savior were here, He'd be ministering at the Detention Center.  On both occasions, this was my reply, "President, He is and He does."

This is not to say that the Savior is not actively present in a typical Ward.  I'm sure He is.  But sometimes, I've found the clutter, commotion and flurry of activity around programs and meetings and expectations and disappointments and anticipations and meetings and competitions and rumors and reports and guilt trips from the pulpit, and comparisons and cliques and did I mention meetings?.........

I've found it what?  Disconcerting?  Disappointing?  Unfulfilling?  Can't really put my finger on it.  Can't really even criticize it.  Don't really miss it.  Can hardly bare to live without it.  I guess it's kind of a love/frustration relationship.  Both, I suppose because, despite that earlier list, there is love and service and compassion and friendship and inspiration and meetings and brotherhood and companionship and fellowship and meetings and encouragement and understanding and rejoicing and testimony and refreshments and meetings and instruction and spirit and Spirit and did I mention meetings?.......

I attended my home Ward yesterday for the first time in months.  It was all there, including the gospel.  It was a joy to greet and worship with old friends and new ones.  It's amazing how a Ward can change in five and a half years.  Wards, like people, have their imperfections and their flaws.  This is how it was intended.  Wards are like hospitals only the doctors and nurses and paper pushers and custodians are also patients in every sense of the word.  If your doctor has a cold, is his diagnosis and treatment any less needed or precious?  Of course not.  If you gave him a mug of chicken soup would the service you return be of any less value than what he offered you?  Probably not.  We each bring ourselves to the table of the Lord by participating in a Ward.  Inevitably we each bring our strengths as well as our weaknesses.  Who's to say which is the greater blessing to the whole.  Both are God given (see Ether 12:27) and both bring a dynamic to the Ward that invokes the necessity of the Grace of God, not only in our individual lives but in the entirety of our Ward, our Stake and indeed the Church.

In our own lives, weakness is an opportunity to learn, grow and be strengthened.  If it frustrates us it is because we have excluded God from the equation.  The same is true of a Ward.  Weakness, there too, is an opportunity to learn, grow and be strengthened.  If is frustrates us it is because we have excluded God from the equation.  His Grace is sufficient for all men and all Wards too.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Billowing Sails

I've written in the past on manipulation.  I've pondered the phenomenon extensively.  First hand, I've been severely manipulated and I'm here to admit that I've dished out my share too, over the years.  While, I'm not perfectly refined in my ability to resist its influence, or for that matter to resist using it occasionally, I have become more keenly aware of its insidious presence.

Yesterday I was called on the carpet for going on strike at work.  My strike could be construed to be manipulation except for one important, missing element.  Manipulation is defined as playing upon someone else to ones own advantage.  I was striking for the kids' (my clients in this case) advantage not my own.  I went to work there in the first place for the kids, not myself.    Now, having said that, I'm quite certain that my employer will, to some degree, doubt that claim.  Though he probably doubts it less now, than he did before.  Without going into detail, I struck, because my clients were being cheated out of respectful, competent service and I was determined to get it for them.  I had attempted for three weeks to use diplomatic means to accomplish my ends, but to no avail.  In the end the strike failed too.

Anyway, back on the carpet, the meeting began with a threatening posture.  I was amused, because I felt no threat and told them as much.  There was nothing they could do to me that in anyway distressed me.  This was very difficult for me to get across to them.  One, in particular, is a "died in the wool" control freak.  Manipulation is his sword.  It was as if I was a ghost and his sword passed through me with no effect.  He kept on swinging it repeatedly, as if the next blow might somehow make contact.  His frustration reddened his face like a rising thermometer.  Had I parried with a sword of my own, it would have been different.  Instead the wind he blew on me passed harmlessly by, because I had not furled my ego sails.  I had nothing to prove, no reason to resist, so I didn't.

I have long concluded that there are essentially three things one can do to respond to a manipulator.  They are: comply, lie and rebel.  If you think about it, those are, in order, the way we usually respond to manipulation.  In my encounter yesterday, I discovered a fourth.  I'm not sure what one word I can give it.  Release, perhaps.  Ignore?  Not quite.  Um, how about Evade.  Still, not right.  I guess I'll have to think about that for a while.  Let me know if you have any suggestions.

Anyway, this fourth method is a difficult one, had I, for example, been a young father with a family to care for and protect.  My controlling, manipulating boss would likely have had much more power to influence me.  I'd have had my responsibility sails furled and his wind would have pushed me right where he wanted me.  The fabric of such sails is not canvas, but fear.  I would have feared letting my family suffer the consequences of my lost job.  He'd have had me right where he wanted me.  I'd have been forced to reject my quest in exchange for capitulation and compliance,  Probably too, I'd have had to grovel and plead for forgiveness and a second chance.  Pride after all doesn't demand humility, but humiliation.  Then, I'd have had to endure doing my job at a level that was beneath what I've been given to offer and less beneficial to the kids.  The consequence of which is a numbing, drudgery of unhappiness and regret.

When I was a kid, my Dad got in a fist fight with one of the students at school.  He was Vice-Principal at the time.  He and the kid went to their respective homes to clean up.  Serious blood had been spilled.  The faculty, including my Mom, had an emergency meeting in which they informed the administration that if that youth was ever allowed to darken the doorway of the school again, they'd all walk.  Their resolve was unanimous!  Meanwhile, Dad was at the student's house, working out a resolution to their conflict.  Part of that resolution was an agreement that the boy would be well behaved and that Dad would tutor him to ensure his graduation.  When Dad discovered that the faculty had insisted the boy be permanently expelled, he plead for them to change their minds.  They wouldn't.  So, Dad went on strike.  For six weeks he stayed out; privately tutoring the young man.  Unpaid, for six weeks, he stuck by his guns and quietly lobbied the other teachers until they finally rescinded their decree and allowed the youth back in school.  There was no further trouble.  The boy graduated.

The wind the faculty blew on my father had no effect.  Why is that?  I think it was because of Dad's determination to do the right thing and because of his faith that regardless of the consequences the right must prevail.  Perhaps if the fabric of our sails is faith, rather than fear, the ill winds of manipulation will always have no effect, furled or not.

Now, you might say that I failed to follow my father's example because I quit.  You might be right.  But as I saw it I had only two choices.  It was made plain that the condition, under which I would be allowed to keep my job, was to continually unfurl sails of fear.  I wasn't willing to do that, so with no drama and no misgivings, I humbly resigned.

When we deal with these troubled youth we often counsel them to quit justifying themselves and start dealing with their issues.  My boss wouldn't follow his own advice.  Not once in our interview did he consider the issues I had, but rather all of his language was focused on justifying his position.  Things are not about to change under those conditions.  So another way of looking at it is pride versus humility.  If the winds of pride blow on prideful sails there is certain to be resistance.  That resistance changes the position of the boat.  But if the sails are woven with fabric of humility, the winds of pride have little effect.  Consider Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego for example.  The King, manipulatively threatened them, but they were humble and full of faith.  Even the threat of the fiery furnace failed to alarm them, or to change their position.

I still don't have a word for it exactly, but today I've concluded that if our sails are woven with the warp of faith and woof of humility, and if our ship is rigged with masts of truth, a hull of integrity, rigging of discipline and with God at the helm, the winds of fear and pride will not harm us and the winds of love and joy will propel us to the safe harbor of God's embrace.

Note:  The people I mentioned here are not bad people.  They are good, faithful Latter-day Saints.  They are just like me, doing the best they know how.  Were I in their shoes, I might, quite likely, have behaved just as they did.  I left their names out for that very reason.  Perhaps I should further apologize for even using their story to illustrate what I'm just now trying to learn myself.  In most respects they are better people than I am.  They just made such good fodder for my further examination of manipulation that I couldn't resist the opportunity.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Book Review - The Continuous Atonement by Brad Wilcox

Those who know me, know I encourage everyone to read Stephen Robinson's Believing Christ.  I would still encourage most friends to read that one first.  But, then I would insist that they read this one.   

The Continuous Atonement has such a fresh, sweet, uplifting perspective.  You know how, when you're searching radio stations and the receiver lands on one playing LDS music, you can recognize it instantly?  Not because you know the song, but because all LDS music seems to have a familiar ring to it?  There is something almost generic about it.  Well, there is none of that in Wilcox's writing.

Other examples come to mind.  I love to hear a new convert pray or speak.  Especially one, who was spiritually mature, before joining the church.  They don't express themselves in the same ways we are used to hearing things in Church.  They don't use the same old cliche's and they seem to bring a fresh vocabulary to the familiar and well worn truths.  What they say is not different, but the difference in how they say it, sheds new light and fresh perspective on old topics.

So it is with Brother Wilcox.  Every chapter is a fresh, hopeful, delightful expression of things we've long been taught.  Each adds bright fresh flavor and texture that captivates and inspires.  I have read lots of books on the Atonement and this one tops my list!  Thank you Brad, for sharing part of the depth and breadth of your understanding, with one, such as I, whose mind has such a hard time breaking out of the ruts of the past.

Book Review - The Map Thief by Heather Terrell

Sweetie read this book some time ago and recommended it to me.  I'm glad she did.  I love historical fiction.  This one may be a bit of a stretch, because Terrell's premise is not entirely accepted as history.  As a postulation, though, it is intriguing, possible and amazing.

Heather Terrell tells the story from three primary perspectives.  Each of them is informative, thrilling and credible.  The perspective of  Zhi, the Chinese Enuch who serves as navigator and cartographer for Admiral Zheng He (early 1400's),  is one of honor, sacrifice, discovery and courage.  The story as seen through the experience of Antonio, navigator for Vasco da Gama (late 1400's), is one of bewilderment, dismay, integrity and adventure.  And, finally, the perspective of Mara, a modern recoverer of stolen artifacts, is one of principle, intrigue, determination and romance.  Blend them together and you have a picture of cross cultural synchronicity that spans the centuries and which, despite political posturing, brings a sense of meaning and purpose to history.

I think the story could have been fattened a bit with more detail and imagination, but I loved it all the same.  The concept and possibilities it explores were more exciting and credible to me than anything Dan Brown has cooked up.  Kudos to Heather Terrell on a fine second book.  I think I'll look up her first and take it for a spin.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


They say that pets are wonderfully therapeutic.  On what planet?  In my world, they provide nothing but stress.

When the kids were little I tried all kinds of pets.  In those days I believed some good might come of them.  Every attempt was a disaster.  We tried Cats, most of which drove Sweetie nuts for countless reasons.  One wouldn't shut up, another barfed on the rug, repeatedly, another had mange or something.  Eventually, she, who brought them home, made me find another home for them.  We tried Dogs, Sweetie hated the way they mournfully looked at her when she wouldn't give them her full attention.  We tried Hedgehogs; not warm and fuzzy enough.  We tried Chinchillas, which were warm and fuzzy, but didn't like to be cuddled.  We tried an Iguana, whose only redeeming quality was that finally I was more handsome than somebody.  We tried parakeets who taught us all about death and loss.  We thought Zebra Finches were cute and at first their little beeps were charming.  We found out you can only take so many beeps.  We tried rabbits and I shudder to even describe the disaster that was, poor things.  One of our many Easter Bunnies, gave birth on Easter.  She came to us in a family way.  And we thought we could avoid that by getting only one. I have a couple of rabbits now, but I don't see them as pets, but rather as food storage.

Then there were the turtles.  We started with three little dime store Sliders.  I couldn't imagine they were happy in that little dish with the palm tree sticking out.  I made an elaborate aquarium/terrarium, stocked it with frog's eggs and installed the turtles.  The eggs hatched.  The turtles dined voraciously on polliwogs, got spoiled, refused to eat anything else and died.  Furious, I became an expert on turtles.  Eventually, I had five species and up to a dozen, thriving, healthy turtles.  The local Vet sent all sick turtles to me.  I was a good Turtle Doctor.  Once recovered, most owners didn't want them back.  For a long time, I thought Turtles were the perfect pet.  They weren't much trouble, kept quiet, were fascinating to watch, didn't mind being ignored, didn't eat much, didn't shed, and stayed where I put them.  Eventually, I tired of them though and closed up shop on that project too. I closed that episode, convinced that owning nature was criminal, unsatisfying and no longer for me.

Then our little Caboose came along.  She begged for a pet and eventually we got her a Cat which we neutered and tagged and all the legal, ethical and expensive nonsense which that entails.  He was handsome and well behaved.  He was quiet.  I was tempted to love him, but he sheds 24/7/365.  I can't stand to be near him.  Everyone else steers clear too.  Cat fur everywhere.  Gag.  To keep him company the gals brought home a female kitten, which we also eventually neutered and tagged.  That one has a great coat and hardly sheds at all, but she's looney and won't hold still to be petted or to just sit in your lap.  Instead of keeping Nolly, the male, company, she teases and pesters him to distraction.  Itty Bitty, the female, came crazy, Nolly grew that way.

So now I live with two neurotic cats.  They wake me in the night to let them out.  They can't decide if they're coming or going.  I shudder to think of the hours of sleep they've cost me over the years.  Everybody protests when I suggest we get rid of them.  Go figure, nobody even notices they exist.  I wouldn't either if I could sleep through their caterwauling.

I grew up in a day when you drowned unwanted creatures like these, or you hauled them off somewhere and dropped them off, or you clubbed them with a shovel and buried them some place.  Now-a-days, people get arrested for such things.  I know, I see those, scary TV shows where armed police arrest people for such things.  Who wants to go to jail for animal cruelty.  Why can't there be laws that prosecute cats for human cruelty for crying out loud!  After all, in a human/feline relationship, who really owns who?  Who is really in charge?

And so I suffer, and wait, and hope.  I see dead cats in the road all the time.  Hope rises within me, but they're never mine.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Growing Up In Himni, Utah - Episode 7

Brother Goodwin’s Seminary Class was always a delight. Released time Seminary, for Latter-day Saint kids was held across the street from the High School in the Seminary Building. One period a day we spent over there ostensibly learning about the gospel. Brother Goodwin made that pretty likely. He loved the Lord. It showed. He loved us too. That also showed. Who can forget the day he stood upon his desk and delivered the Rameumptom Prayer. Or who can forget the day the phone call came to inform him that he had become the father of two adopted twins.
At the beginning of the year Brother Goodwin informed us that we’d be studying the Old Testament. He handed out our new Bibles. Next he divided us into Scripture Chase teams. He instructed us to organize our teams and to use the Bible in selecting names for our teams.

We huddled together and started brainstorming our way through the concordance. After some giggling, negotiating and mayhem the four teams came up with their names. Many of my best buddies were in that class and two of my closest, Mitch and Lew, were on my team! We called ourselves Noah’s Ark-angels. For a short time about then I had been nicknamed Noah on account of my having become proficient at reciting Bill Cosby’s “Noah” routine which we had on a long-play album.
Another good friend, Rob Hanke, lead up a team that called themselves Solomon's Wise Guys. (I’m sorry about that and I’m sure Brother Goodwin is too.)
The other two teams came in with Daniel’s Lions and, the envy of all of us The Golden Emerods. We had no idea what an emerod was but it sounded cool to us and cool was everything. If emerods were cool, golden ones had to be fantastic. The Golden Emerods included all girls and was headed up by a prissy little chick named Marci Merrywether. They were pretty good scripture chasers too and became our main rivals throughout the year. In fact later in the year, in a charitable ploy to even the odds, Brother Goodwin cheated in their behalf and spauned the Wet Topcoat Incident, but that is another story.
So the year labored on and we found ourselves studying in the book of First Samuel, whereupon we read:
1 Sam 5:9
9 And it was [so], that, after they had carried it about, the hand of the LORD was against the city with a very great destruction: and he smote the men of the city, both small and great, and they had emerods in their secret parts.
This was the story of the Philistines stealing the Arc of the Covenant from the Israelites, which sorely displeased the Lord. Naturally, we asked Brother Goodwin, again, what an emerod might be. He said he didn’t know, but something in his eye made me think otherwise. The Bible Dictionary didn’t offer a clue. Niether did the big dictionary over at the Library. I didn’t spend a lot of time fussing over it, but there was this little nagging itch in the back of my brain that really flared up when Marci got particularly snotty.
And so it was, that I found myself at BYU for a debate tournament with a little free time to visit the Library there. On a lovely wooden stand stood the largest dictionary I’d ever seen, Funk and Wagnal’s Unabashed Dictionary of the English Language or something like that. I looked up emerods and check out what I found:
‘ophel {o’-fel}
Hebrew: noun masculine
Possible Definitions:
1) hill, mound, fort, stronghold, Ophel
2) tumor, hemorrhoid
You can imagine which definition I favored. You can imagine Brother Goodwin’s dismay at my revelation to the class. You can imagine Marci Merrywether’s reaction to belonging to a scripture chase team named the Golden Hemorrhoids. (Might as well have been Gomer's Piles.)  And, I’m sure, you can imagine my thoughts upon the occasion of my own first encounter with those unpleasant little companions.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Road To Emmaus

A few years ago I took my Son-In-Law and Grandson to the Fathers and Sons Outing. The ground was sloped and hard and I didn't sleep very well. At about four AM, I'd had enough and crawled out of my sleeping bag. I didn't want to awaken anyone, so I decided to go for a walk. It was a lovely starlit night on the mountain so I grabbed my binoculars and walked away from camp along a lonely dirt road. Jupiter was just setting in the west and I got a marvelous view of her majesty, being able to see three of her moons as I watched.

As I walked along the road I felt the companionship of my Savior. We walked and conversed for almost three hours. I thought I was on my own road to Emmaus. My heart swelled within me as we walked in the way. I returned rejoicing at my precious moments of love and clarity as I quietly walked with God.

For Christmas that year my daughters gave me this lovely painting.

I see here, the two disciples who had met and conversed with the Risen Lord on the Road to Emmaus. Here they are hastening back to Jerusalem to tell the others what they had seen.  It seems that in despair and discouragement they'd been retreating to their old lives, not knowing what else to do in the absence of their Master. He met with them and taught them as the walked, but their "eyes were holden" and the didn't recognize him. They'd heard that he'd been resurrected, but apparently found it difficult to believe. Then as they sat with Him at supper their eyes were opened and in one precious moment realized it was true and recognized, through His teaching and by the Spirit, that scripture had been fulfilled. Thus fortified, they changed their course and headed back to Jerusalem, to the Apostles and to their duty. The painting so beautifully depicts their humble awe, and determination, and repentance and clarity of purpose.

And so it is with me. Too often I retreat from my duty for lack of faith, humility and understanding. Too often, when things don't go as I intended or thought they should, I turn in despair and discouragement and wander off on my own Road to Emmaus. Today as I listened to Conference and sat at the feet of prophets, He came again and walked with me and I, like those two disciples, felt my heart burn within me as the scriptures were opened unto me. Thankfully, though I wasn't worthy, He caught up with me on my errant road and turned me and my heart around.

Like those two, earnest faces, in the painting, I have some repenting to do. I need to return to my duty with renewed determination and humility, gently reminded of who I am and what I've been given and that, I too, must be about my Father's business.

Oh, blessed Conference, I must never miss it!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Anticipating General Conference

I've been finishing The Book of Mormon this morning. While pondering, I found myself eagerly anticipating General Conference this weekend. I don't see it the same way I used to.

I often grew so jealous watching conference that I had to go do something else. I envied the General Authorities. I wanted to sit in their counsels. I wanted to be occupied full time in the service of the Lord. It looked so appealing to me to be continually associated with only the finest, the best. To be steeped in truth and service, rubbing shoulders with only the finest of Saints seemed so appealing, such a wonderful way to spend your days.

Instead I was consigned to spend my days with foul-mouthed people who thought more of beer than bearing testimony, focused their attentions on hunting elk and fishing for trout, rather finding folks with whom to share the gospel. I had a ministry all right it was all giving and no getting. There was no one there to lift and inspire me, it seemed like all the lifting was left for me to do.

Then one day I went to the Salt Lake Airport to see Sweetie off on a business trip. I bade her good-bye as she passed through the security gates. Watching her disappear down the long concourse I noticed Elder Neal A Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve coming the opposite direction. I thought I might like to shake his hand. As he and his companions approached, and I could see more clearly, it was obvious that Elder Maxwell was not well. He looked so utterly exhausted. Who knows where he'd been, for how long, under what weight of responsibility. Who knows what burdensome problems he'd dealt with, what long meetings and uncomfortable beds he'd had to endure. It was near the end of his life. He was suffering from Cancer - again. Still, he carried on, doggedly determined to give the full measure of his capacity to the service to which he'd been called.

My heart broke for this sweet, wonderful servant of the Lord. Watching, my mind raced back to the last time I'd seen him in person. We were in the Vernal Temple for it's Dedication. Sweetie and I were sitting in the Bride's Room, with her mother and our 8 year old daughter, watching the proceedings on closed circuit TV. As the meeting closed we could see on the monitor that President Hinckley and Elder Maxwell were leaving the temple via the hallway along which our room was situated. We urged our daughter to go stand by the door so she could see our Prophet pass by. President Hinckley was occupied in conversation and didn't notice little Katie standing there, but Elder Maxwell did. He approached her and then got down on his knees and gave her a great big bear hug, which she enthusiastically returned. There wasn't a dry eye in the room. The precious love and kindness that was felt in that brief moment, none of us, especially Katie, have ever forgotten.

As a much more weary Elder Maxwell passed by in the airport that day, I'd have liked to have thanked him for our precious moment in the Temple. I'd like to have shaken his hand and expressed my love and gratitude for his teachings and courageous example - but I didn't. I just stepped back against the wall and standing in awe, respect, concern and dismay, watched him struggle desperately for home and hopefully, rest. They had just gone around the corner, when Elder Ben B. Banks came quickly back. He took my hand and with tears in his eyes, thanked me for letting Elder Maxwell proceed without interruption. Another sweet servant of the Lord had noticed my respectful concern and had returned to acknowledge my gift.

As I drove three hours home I spent the time imagining the realities of being away from home weekend after weekend reorganizing Stakes, speaking in conferences, meeting with government officials, suffering jet lag, eating strange meals, meeting after meeting after meeting, always expected to speak, always bearing the burden of responsibility. I thought of all the birthday parties for grand kids, the ball games and school plays they missed. I thought of Elder Packer's statement, when asked of all the places he'd visited all over the globe, where would he rather go, to which he answered, "I would go home." Suddenly, the glamor of their most wonderful calling was balanced with an understanding of its attendant sacrifice. It clearly is not all roses and while there are things I'd love to enjoy, I'm not so envious anymore of the enormously difficult lives they lead.

I just, happily, received two new Councilors to serve with me in the Branch Presidency at the Detention Center. As we gathered for our first meeting, I heard them comparing notes about this missionary who's preparing to leave and that one, who's about to come home, and another who recently reported his first baptism. I was a bit startling. After serving exclusively at the Detention Center for the past five and a half years. I don't know kids who go on missions. I know kids who go to Rehab. I don't associate with many people who have burning testimonies. I don't go to Gospel Doctrine Class or High Priest's Quorum Meetings. I don't rub shoulders much with folks who are mature in the Gospel or who even understand much about it. Additionally, I attend a few 12 Steps meetings a week and while a few bear faith filled testimonies most are struggling with depression, addiction and despair. My employment is more of the same. The living waters Jesus offered run through the desert of my life and I partake freely and I am not complaining. But I am looking forward, with profound eagerness, to the next couple of days of spiritual feasting. I am anxious to sit at the feet of these wonderful men and receive the wisdom of their experience, the inspiration of their worthiness, the strength of their devotion and the insight of their companionship. They are not stingy with those things so laboriously obtained; and I am grateful.

And - part of me wonders - do they sit in those elevated seats and look down from the podium at us and also wish - that they could teach a little Primary class of bright-eyed Sunbeams; or hoe a widow's garden; or sing in a Ward Choir; or sleep under the stars with a handful of excited Boy Scouts; or watch a granddaughter blow out six candles? Does each of them quietly wish he could sit obscurely in a quiet down-home Sacrament Meeting, next to his wife, behind his best friend and in front of the recently reactivated family he Home Teaches? Surely, they get to do some of that, but mostly, they are counting on us to do that portion of the work.

Tomorrow and Sunday, I want to soak up their words and inspiration, ponder their meaning and bask in the Spirit the Lord will send to accompany them. Then, I want to carry those words and feelings to the little pregnant girl, locked up for joy-riding; and the bitter boy, whose father abandoned him and whose step father beats him; and the bewildered kid, whose parents are both locked up for drug dealing; and all the rest of those sweet kids, who've hardly known love and joy and who will most certainly miss out on Conference.
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