Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Evil Person Assumption

I've spent a lot of years providing spiritual hope in jails and detention centers.  In the process I've become intimately acquainted with a lot of inmates.  I suppose I have met a few evil people behind bars, but the vast majority are not evil.  All have done evil things.  But that is not unique to prisoners.  All have done evil things.

Most prisoners are there for doing desperate, foolish, and dangerous things out of fear.  Most are coping with horrible circumstances, often beyond their control.  Most have poor coping skills.  Most are utterly uninformed about the means by which they might live more wholesome, healthy lives.  Many, and this will be the focus of this entry, are misinformed about why they behave as they do and what can be done about it.

Most prisoners believe they are evil.  This is the first big lie.  They've been taught to believe this about themselves by people and institutions, most, if not all of their lives.  Usually, it began with parents.  Parents who were also misinformed.  Parents who impatiently wanted convenient kids who didn't interrupt Mom and Dad's comfort and pleasure.  Any violation of which, presented punishment of some sort, and which spawned dishonesty and rebellion.  Shame was used on them as a weapon; not to develop their character, but to further their superior's convenience.  Schools, churches and other institutions then reinforced what they already believed about themselves.

Most prisoners believe they have no options.  They have been taught continually, to believe that their behavior is their problem.  They have no idea that beneath that behavior lie causes and conditions that they are inappropriately trying to cope with by their behavior.  In most cases these people have been "pierced with deep wounds" that have not been treated.  Coping with those wounds consumes them.  They turn to addictive behavior most commonly.  Something to numb the pain.  This leads to inability to remain employed, but demands feeding, leading to crime, homelessness, frustration, violence, and all the things that tend to land them in jail.

Most prisoners are living with despair.  Having tried and failed so many times in their lives.  They have given up hope of any viable alternative to the desperate, agonizing choices they feel compelled to make and repeat.

Many, many prisoners, find incarceration their best option.  Being locked up has it's perks.  They no longer have to cope with life.  At least the parameters and problems are confined to a smaller set of circumstances, with more defined boundaries, fewer opportunities to make mistakes, less danger of failure, and no need to provide shelter, food and companionship for themselves.

These are not evil people.  Confused, unprepared, uninformed, poorly nurtured, frustrated, angry, afraid?  Yes.  But not evil.

We all have contributed to this to the degree that we have hacked at the branches of their problems instead of at the roots.  We have caused this by standing upon our bully pulpits, having condemned them instead of their behavior.  We have created this by preaching the law and punishing it's violation, instead of preaching love and seeking to heal wounded hearts.

We have heaped guilt and shame upon them from our pulpits until we have driven them from our churches, when we should have been treating their wounds by binding up their broken hearts.  We've turned our religious institutions into good old boy clubs where we praise the "righteous" and condemn the sinners.  I assume because we couldn't be bothered and would rather not associate with their ilk anyway.  We are subtle masters at this.

In my own church it see it most Sundays.  We stand before our congregations and preach about the lofty lives we each ought to be living.  We cast judgement upon those who fail to meet our standards.  When do we ever consider that sitting within those congregations are suffering souls, who came to healed, not to have salt rubbed in their already agonizing wounds.  We are instructed to teach nothing but the Gospel.  Which is that Christ has come to Atone for our sins that He might heal our wounded souls.

Last Sunday for instance, we experienced a lengthy discussion on the keeping of covenants.  Apparently, it had never occurred to us that those who keep their covenants are those whose lives have been healed by the Master's touch.  And, that those who are not keeping their covenants, most of whom would love to, are so distracted by their pain and confusion that they cannot even think of doing so.  This while, we continue to fail to teach them, how to allow the Savior to help them with their problems, how to rely upon His grace, how to give their troubles, pains and problems to He who suffered all things that He might succor them.  Do you not suppose that they will make and keep sacred covenants, once they've been healed by the Master and are no longer distracted and crippled by their pain?  How does heaping upon them obligation and expectation, they cannot conceive of accomplishing, help them recover from the agony they are experiencing?

There is no sin in ignorance and confusion, but there is sin in keeping the simple truth from those who so desperately need it.  Institutionally, we do it for the same reason, poor parents do it.  For the convenience.  We want the problems to go away, so we do the most heinous, evil thing of all, we drive them away, rather than deal with them.  We shame them instead of loving them.  We treat symptoms instead of causes and conditions.  We label and judge and count ourselves righteous for having "better behavior."

My biggest fear is that we have among us, hurting, suffering individuals, who are adept at pretending they have it all together.  Who are so accomplished at this that they are elevated to positions of trust and praise.  Who could expect these to teach of healing they know nothing of, or to understand hurting souls, who are, unlike them, unable to fake it.  I was one such and it agonizes me to think of all the salt in rubbed into tender wounds, while pretending to have none of my own.

If we are to build Zion, if we are to emulate the Savior, if we are to fulfill our callings, we have need to quit measuring people and start lovingly leading them to the Healer.  The rest will take care of itself.  Lets stop assuming they are evil and start assuming they are hurt.  Let us stop applying condemnation and shame and begin applying the Balm of Gilead.  Please.

In the church we often preach of accountability.  While this is a correct principle in its proper context, too often we use it as triage to eliminate the "hopeless causes" so we can move on with our success.  If they never make into the hospital, they don't count against our progress.  It is God's intention to save all of His children.  Triage is utterly inappropriate in the Plan of Salvation.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Banging on an Empty Barrel

I suffer a bit of distress since returning to my home ward.  For more than six years I met for church at the local juvenile detention center.  There,
 "... we talk(ed) of Christ, we rejoice(ed) in Christ, we preach(ed) of Christ, we prophesy(ed) of Christ, and we wr(o)te according to our prophecies, that (we and those) children (might) know to what source (we might) look for a remission of (our) sins."  (See 2 Nephi 25:26)
There we centered all of our teaching around that one central theme.  If we spoke of the pioneers, it was an opportunity to show them how the Savior and His Atonement enabled them to deal with and overcome great hardship.  If we spoke of captivity, bondage and addiction, it was to show them how Christ and His Infinite Sacrifice made it possible for us to obtain freedom.  If we spoke about our personal relationships with others, we were able to show them how our Perfect Brother stands between us and our offender, having already paid the price of his transgression, asking us to forgive and quit seeking revenge.  If we spoke of joy it was underlaid with rejoicing that Christ is the giver of joy.  If we spoke of choices we spoke of He who provided that liberty to us, and He who allows us to recover from the poor choices we inevitably will make.  If we spoke of love, we spoke of the Source and Epitome of love.  If we spoke of fear, we comforted the fearful by testifying of the One they could always trust.  If we spoke of sorrow, we spoke of He who suffered each of our sorrows.  If we spoke of pain, we spoke of He who suffered each of our pains.  If we spoke of prayer, we spoke of He who bears our pleas and expressions of gratitude to the throne of God.  If we spoke of food, or volleyball, or music, or rain, we spoke of He who provides all good gifts in this wonderful world and who gives us the strength and light to enjoy them. 

In our ward we don't seem to do that, much.  My heart longs to hear of Christ, to rejoice in the Atonement that has set me free.  Most of the time, instead I hear nice talks and lessons that are dressed up like pretty barrels.  Barrels that speak wonderful words on topics of leadership, commitment, covenants, honesty, work for our kindred dead, charity, food storage and on and on.  If these subjects are addressed without the application of the Atonement of Christ, to me, they sound like someone banging on an empty barrel.  Every barrel (or subject) we present to the Latter-day Saints, ought to be filled with the Atonement of Christ.  Otherwise, to me, the treatment seems empty, hollow, echoing of the conspicuous absence of He, upon whom all our obligations, possibilities, opportunities, abilities, hopes, dreams and promises lie. 

There is no topic, in Heaven or Earth that ought to be addressed absent that most magnificent, universal, infinite Gift, or the majestic, sweet Giver.  Doing otherwise, to me, seems to presume to take too much credit and expectation upon ourselves, who too often forget our own nothingness before Him.  If we ever amount to anything, it will only be because of Him.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Sheep Herding or Shepherding?

Though things have come a long long way since I was a child; if I were to make an overall assessment of the state of things at the local level in the Church, I'd still have to say that we are maintaining a culture of Sheep Herding.

Sheep Herding is distinguished by the method used to move the sheep from one destination to another.  The Sheep Herder drives the sheep from behind, commonly using dogs to bark and nip at their heels.  The Shepherd leads from the front inviting the trusting sheep to follow where he leads.

I do not doubt the sincerity of the Sheep Herders among us.  Their intent is to take us to the same destination as the Shepherds.  I just question the method.  During the past week I have had conversations with three individuals who are balking at the prospect of full participation in Church activity.  Each of them cited circumstances that make activity awkward, if not down right repulsive.  In short they have sore heels.  Their natural inclination is to avoid the Sheep Herder and his dogs and take their chances in the wilderness.  I also had a conversation with a Sheep Herder, who, observing a Sheep willing to chance the wilderness, said, "Let him!  I haven't got time to go chasing after him in his foolishness.  I've informed him of his duty; my duty is discharged!"

To my mind, this is a bit of Babylon creeping around in the culture of Zion.  Most of us in the work-a-day world are exposed to employers to ply tactics of Management By Objective.  Most of them misapply MBO as it was intended.  So, most of us are over exposed to a failed Leadership technique, which we despise, but having seen nothing better, continue to use.

The scenario is this:  Management establishes and assigns the objectives.  Labor is expected to produce the objectives and is judged, rewarded, punished or praised based upon the level to which the objectives are met.  If and when the objectives are met, Management ups the ante by extending the objectives to a higher, and then higher standards.  The temptation, as money is the object, is to create the objectives around productivity.  Management wants the Golden Egg.  Trouble is, most commonly, they want ever more eggs, while having no regard, or appropriate objectives, that apply to the proper care and feeding of the Goose.  (See Stephen R. Covey, 7 Habit of Highly Effective People.)

Too often we bring MBO to church with us and apply it to our callings.  We set attendance objectives, Home and Visiting Teaching objectives, service objectives, Temple attendance, and on and on.  Doing so, we seem to know no other means of achieving them than barking, threatening, scolding, and demanding.  The numbers become the Golden Egg and we have forgotten the Goose.  We are seeking our own Salvation instead of the Salvation of the Sheep.  We are quick to justify our positions with examples and scriptures.  I mean was Enos not using the Sheep Herding technique when he said:
23 And there was nothing save it was exceeding harshness, preaching and prophesying of wars, and contentions, and destructions, and continually reminding them of death, and the duration of eternity, and the judgments and the power of God, and all these things—stirring them up continually to keep them in the fear of the Lord. I say there was nothing short of these things, and exceedingly great plainness of speech, would keep them from going down speedily to destruction. And after this manner do I write concerning them.
Sounds fun doesn't it?  I remember as a boy this was the primary method of keeping us on the straight and narrow.  Seems like every six months they trotted out Brother T. to scare the Dickens out of us with his hell-fire and damnation, end of the world, doom and gloom gospel.  Hardly sounds like good news to me.  When we were in Primary we loved Jesus, but by the time we finished High School we were scared to death of Him.

Sheep Herders, then and now, cannot conceive of a people who might, of their own volition, choose to follow the voice of The Shepherd.  In their subtle self-righteousness they assume that they are the few, chosen to save the rest.  They dare not turn and lead, for fear no one will follow.  Now, perhaps the Nephites, who were still laboring under the Law of Moses, needed such an approach; but these are days when God has entrusted the fullness of His Gospel to us.  Days in which the Melchizedek Priesthood is entrusted to every worthy man.  Days populated with the valiant who were saved to come forth at such a time.  They will follow, it is in them.  If you don't believe it conduct an experiment upon my words, turn and lead in patience, meekness, gentleness, kindness, long-suffering, persuasion, love and faith.  See if it is not true.  It took that very experiment to persuade me, and I was amazed at the results.  I have yet to be moved upon by the Holy Ghost to reprove with sharpness and suppose that to be a rare moment in the life of a Shepherd.

The numbers are not the objective.  Or they should not be.  Numbers are nice for measuring progress and accounting for our efforts, but they must never be the objective.  We are about caring for the sheep, that is the objective.  If one of the sheep is balking, or lagging behind are we too blind to see that it is hurting in some way?  Are we unwilling to see to its needs?  Are we so set on accomplishing our goals that we see that sheep as an hindrance, annoyance, or obstacle?  Are we unwilling to fetch it from the brambles and carry it upon our shoulders for a while?

Now, fussing over this during the night I spoke with my daughter.  She pointed out that I was, in my frustration, turning into a Sheep Herder, ready to nip at the heels of my fellow Shepherds.  It was quite a splash of cold water.  It is a tendency that lies in all of us.  Foolishly, in defense of the Sheep I had allowed myself to forget the fact that the Shepherds/Sheep Herders are also Sheep.  Sheep in need of nurturing and love, in need of being led by the voice of the Shepherd.  It is a cultural change we all must make.  It is one we will make, for we have been promised Zion.  Let us each turn and lead.  Let us each return and nurture.  When they trust that we only wish to love and care for them, when they stop fearing and avoiding us, soon enough, they will follow.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father's Day

My youngest sent this to me for Father's Day.  It made my day.  It needed a little help too.  I got up for Church and developed a nose bleed.  An hour later it still hadn't stopped.  So I sit here in the recliner, feeling sorry for myself and this little video appears on Facebook.  Now my eyes and nose are running.

Thank you darlin', I love you too!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Trouble With Should

The trouble with should is sometimes we shouldn't.  We have a tendency in LDS Culture to list for each other the things we should be doing.  Most Sacrament Meeting talks and Gospel Doctrine lessons develop into lists of things we should do and often even into litanies of where, when and how often.

Recently in Priesthood meeting we were all apprised of how often we each should attend the Temple.  As if each of our lives was the same and that no excuse would do for not meeting the requirement.  Now, this zealous advocate of temple attendance did not cite his source for such a schedule, but presented it as though our very Eternal Salvation depended upon compliance.  You must realize that we old High Priests are about worn out when it comes to such demands.  I could see it run off our backs like water off a duck.  This only increased the pitch and intensity of our fellow's demand, for he too could see our reaction.

Now, don't get me wrong.  I too am an advocate of Temple attendance.  I too believe that most of us fail to attend as often as the Lord would like.  But, I also realize that a few of us attend too often, driven there by guilt and shame, rather than drawn there by love and devotion.  Can you see how different Temple worship might be if you were attracted there by love rather than driven there by guilt?  Couple that with the very real possibility that you or I might occasionally have something more important to attend to than even the Temple.

I am not about setting us up for excuses to neglect our duty.  No, I am actually advocating for doing our duty. I just hope we will learn to discern between the manipulative demands of a fellow Saint and the kindly invitation of a loving Father.  Sometimes the gulf between the two is alarmingly broad.  Our duty is to God, not to folks who presume to know what God wants for us individually.  These are folks who assume that the prescription for their glasses will also allow everyone else to see with equal clarity.  For some reason, these seem to be the most zealous.  They seem to say, "You obviously don't read as well as I.  I'm sure it is because you're not wearing my glasses."  When we tell them we see just fine, or that their glasses blur our vision, or that their glasses give us migraines, they seem to say, "Nonsense!  They work just fine for me, how could they not work for you as well!"

Trouble is, I see many in the Kingdom, who are going about wearing someone else's glasses much of the time.  They seem exhausted, burned out, and of course some have just taken the glasses off and gone home having abandoned hope that they can get it right.  Had they been taught to seek the optometrist who could prescribe lenses especially for them and their particular needs, many, if not all might be joyfully serving with light and hopeful hearts instead of trudging along with a strain much more devastating than eye strain.

We believe in revelation in the Church.  We believe that God will guide our steps and direct our paths.  But we, all too often, go about treating one another like we're the only one who gets revelation and that we are somehow authorized to receive revelation for one another.  True testimony, true trust in our Father in Heaven is an individual thing.  How dare we presume to know what is best for another.  That is, speaking of fellow Saints.  It is one thing to follow the Prophet, who is authorized to receive revelation for us.  It is quite another to follow Brother So-and-So, who is not.

When Saints write Salt Lake City and ask for specific direction in their lives, the Brethren always refer us to our local leaders or directly to the Lord.  Why is it that so many ordinary members presume to give specific direction that even the prophets and apostles are loath to provide.

I once had a spiritual emergency transpire at home.  It occurred just prior to our Quarterly Stake Priesthood meeting.  It had been my intention to attend the meeting.  In fact I was so set upon attendance that I quite curtly put the problem aside, dressed for the meeting and headed out the door.  The Spirit whispered a number of times that I must stay at home and attend to a priority the Lord had set for me.  I, however, was insistent upon compliance with a priority someone else had set for me.  The Spirit persisted and half way out the driveway, I shifted gears, parked the car and went back into my home.  Later, I was approached by a rather unhappy leader, who, pointing out my absence at the meeting exclaimed with disdain that I, "should have been there."  Not wanting to seem rebellious, I quietly pointed out that, "No, I shouldn't have been, the Lord had another, more pressing errand for me."  My answer was inconceivable to him.  He considered it his duty to make me feel guilty for my transgression and still, after many years, seeks to ride herd on my behavior.

I love that man.  I know his intentions are good.  I admire his service in the Kingdom.  But, I also have observed that he seems increasingly frustrated at the response he gets from his fellow Saints and how isolated he has become in his sense of righteousness.

When we are called upon to "stand a little taller," to "lengthen our stride," by prophets we love, we are also expected to take the implied latitude and personal initiative those statements allow and seek personal, spiritual direction in how to do that.

When you have 4.85 children and your husband has been out of town all week on business and the fridge is empty and the Relief Society calls for a pan of funeral potatoes, maybe the Spirit will whisper, "You should."  But please don't feel guilty if He whispers, "You shouldn't."

Friday, June 17, 2011


I've been over-wound like a clock spring lately.  It has made me less productive, instead of energetic.  Thankfully, Sweetie remedied that by taking me out of town for a couple of days.  We had an errand, but mostly it was a chance to decompress.  Getting out of town actually wound things up a couple of pops and driving tired (not sleepy) didn't help, especially in city traffic.  I don't think the relief began to reveal itself until we found ourselves sitting in the shade outside Panda Express, with full stomachs and a little time on our hands.

From the patio we could see the still snow covered Wasatch in all it's glory.  The air was cool, clear and gentle.  We were far enough south in Salt Lake Valley that we could see Lady Timpanogos lying peacefully off by herself.  Somehow her majesty comforts me from every angle.  She speaks of independence, solitude, peace, and assurance.

We had already stopped by Barnes and Noble and selected a couple of books.  From there we'd headed up Mill Creek to find a shady spot to read while the stream burbled by.  Instead we found congestion, distraction and the creek roaring in fury.  The biggest distraction was a man who'd taken his five year old down the water to play.  This after four children have already drown in the heavy spring runoff.  Too tired, too distracted to read we gave up quite earlier than we'd expected.  Funny how sitting beside a busy street with stomachs full of plump shrimp and luscious chicken we found what we'd sought in the "wilderness."

At Mark's we were primed to kick back in his overstuffed recliners, and mutter our contentment around an episode of Blue Bloods.  A rerun we hadn't seen, amazingly!

Then, it was early to bed, exhausted, in his cool basement, where I slept through the night for the first time in months.  (It's 2:43 AM right now.  Yup, I'm back home and up in the night.  Bad dream about self torture.  Not in the mood to make interpretations.  So I thought I go back a day to decompress some more while the memories are still fresh.)

We slept in much of the morning.  Sweetie longer than I.  Long enough for me to get hooked on Amy Tan's wonderful The Hundred Secret Senses; making me wonder if I'm carrying the load of generations, not just my own.

We grabbed a quick bite at Wendy's which miraculously was near a fabric store with good prices on fat quarters.  Sweetie only selected four.  She's so much more moderate than I.

I have quite recently discovered that my great great grandmother Maria Weber came to the States from Switzerland along with my great grand parents.  I had always supposed she'd stayed in the old country as her husband did.  After traveling to Michigan, Ontario and Quebec seeking the graves of my predecessors I have thought it silly not to have visited Maria's.  We drove to the Salt Lake Cemetery, which I had not seen before as it lies up in the Avenues, off the beaten track.  A lovely place it is.  The clerk in the Sexton's office was wonderfully helpful and set me promptly on a course to discover her headstone.  A simple little marker calls her Mary and indicates she lived from 1822 until 1903.  She appears to be buried next to her daughter Eliza.  More on that it a separate post.  Give me a couple of days.  I've got to get some sleep and a funeral taken care of.

On the way to cemetery we stopped at Les Madeline's for some Kouey Amans and as usual, they were sold out.  We did grab a couple of raspberry buttons and two rosemary cookies for the road though.  Without much more ado we headed up the canyon for home intending to stop in Heber for lunch.  Steve had informed us that some world traveler and so "qualified," connoisseur had recommended The Side Track Cafe as the place to eat in the area.  He was not wrong.  We stopped in and enjoyed Janine's J9 Garlic Burger with Cry Sauce (as it is hotter (and better) than Fry Sauce).  We also enjoyed Janine.  A rustic little character in cut offs and a T-shirt.  Enough to cover most of her tats.  Janeen learned to cook from her Italian Grandmother and her Filipina Mother.  But her culinary style is all her own.  We struck up a conversation and wound up with her full attention for well over half an hour.  She taught Sweetie the ins and outs of Ceviche and coached me on the finer elements of great black beans.  She told us stories of  her mother's captivation by the Japanese in WWII and her heroics while nine months pregnant.  She pointed out a photo of her mom in which she actually does look like a Filipina Annette Funicello.  I could see neither Filipina, nor Annette in J9.  She also has a photo of four gangster uncles hanging on the wall.  They looked like quintessential Mafioso and like you'd like to eat where they ate (if you could breathe the air.)  Again, when there's time, I'll devote a little more time to The Side Track Cafe and it's unique proprietor.  I expect she'll still know our names six months from now when we stop in again.  That is if we can wait that long.

I had to get home to a Meeting at seven, but that afforded time to divert from Highway 40 at the Tabby turn off and to drive down the Duchesne River canyon and observe the flooding.  Lots of fields are underwater, but so far no homes or buildings seem too threatened.  The "Goldy Locks" weather is just right for easing the snow pack down slowly.  Hope it lasts or Duchesne City will most certainly get wet.

I made my Meeting, which also relieves a lot of stress and while sitting there had a bit of an epiphany.  When you're immersed in stress, you can't dry off until you get out of the water.  Thanks Sweetie for pulling my out of the water and for tossing me a towel.

P.S.  The Raspberry Buttons were heavenly and the Rosemary Cookies, unbelievably good!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Something Good

In the popular television series The Middle is a character I adore.  His name is Brick, played by Atticus Shaffer.  Brick is the cutest little kid, with a brilliant mind and a quirky little habit I love.  When Brick makes an observation, he often bows his head and repeats his declaration in a whisper.  It is rather like Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, when they are singing:  "Somewhere in my youthful childhood, I must have done something good.  Something good."  Another great character is Squid, from Larry Barkdull's Cold Train Coming.  Squid also has Brick's habit of repeating himself, to himself.

I doubt if the creators of these two characters are even aware of their coincidental similarities.  This makes me wonder if the behavior depicted is a common tic or quirk.  Probably some psychologist, somewhere has described the phenomena and named it some syndrome or other.  If it hasn't been named yet, it will probably become known as Brick Syndrome.  Personally, I'd rather not know about any of that.  I like the quirk because it seems so pleasantly self affirming.  Comforting.  Brick and Squid and Maria need assurance that they understand something correctly.  So do I.

I had such an affirmation yesterday.  I was in a conversation with a dear friend of an other religious persuasion than my own.  She is not affiliated with a church, but is deeply spiritual.  She has a well founded aversion to organized religion.  Organized religion, in general, has not made much of a name for itself.  Today, she zeroed in on a particular problem in the LDS Church, with which, if her observations are correct, I could only agree.  She was exasperated that a young woman, presently in her care, had been sexually abused by her father, a prominent member of the church.  She claims that the girl had sought help from her Bishop, who instead sided with the Father, and never reported even the possibility of the abuse to the authorities.  While that is unacceptable on the part of the Bishop, I also realize I am only hearing one side of the story.  Still, taking the story at face value, my friend has a legitimate beef with the Church, especially since her experience has persuaded her that such problems are endemic; a further conclusion with which I whole-heartedly disagree.

We most certainly are going to experience calumny as Joseph Smith predicted, since we are a church operated by flawed and imperfect individuals who, when all is said and done, still have our agency.  Never-the-less, it is my conviction that the Latter-day Saints are no less than outstanding in their remarkable devotion and determination to love and lift and brighten the world around them.  Typically, Latter-day Saints seek to do the right thing!

Shortly after the aforementioned conversation, Dora phoned to tell me Rex had passed away.  His devastating illness had come on quite suddenly and had taken his life in just a month.  During that month, their home has been graced with repeated visits from their Bishop, their Home Teachers, Visiting Teachers, High Priests Group Leadership, fellow Sisters from the Relief Society and brothers from the High Priests Quorum and, of course the Spirit of the Lord.  They have been given blessings, loaves of bread, meals, even assistance and instruction in Rex's bedside care.  They've been given phone numbers to call, day or night, listening ears, affirming testimonies and enduring, timely love.

Perhaps we have our wicked moments,
Our times when things aren't going so good;
But somehow in the fabric of all we're about
There's mainly just a pattern of good.

Something good!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Sunday Stroll

Sweetie has left me home alone while she goes out of town to a funeral.  I don't like being away from her, or vice versa.  As she drove away, feeling a bit melancholy, I sat down to the computer to play a little solitaire.  I didn't make it through one game before I knew I'd better get up and do something, or I might go mad.

I decided to go for a walk around the neighborhood.  I had no agenda.  I wanted an adventure.  A neighborhood adventure.  G. K. Chesterton once wrote:
"By asking for pleasure, we lose the chief pleasure, for the chief pleasure is surprise."
I wanted surprise.  I wanted to just go for a walk and be surprised by what came of it.  What a pleasure!
What a surprise!

As I walked past Virginia's house, I had a notion that I might stop and see if she'd made it home from the Care Center, where I saw her last.  Sure enough!  She's still spending most of her time in a wheel chair but is practicing with the walker a little more each day.  Beau is taking such good care of her.  I've not met Beau before.  Virginia and Beau have created some kind of symbiotic relationship that is a mystery to me, but seems to work wonderfully for them.  She's probably 20 years his senior.  Beau grew up on the Crow Creek Reservation in South Dakota.  Having spent some time on the Rose Bud Reservation myself we had a jumping off place for a wonderful conversation and chance to get acquainted.  The Sioux are such a noble people.  Beau was surprised to learn that I had helped carve the Crazy Horse monument.  (I paid $10.00 to push the plunger on a preset dynamite charge, which I watched from the Visitor's Center.)  That was 40 years ago, when there was nothing recognizable emerging from that mountain of stone.  I was surprised to see Virginia so well and to find such a great new friend in Beau.  Virginia was surprised to learn how sick Rex is.

I bade them farewell intending to check on Rex next.  On the sidewalk I encountered Ann and Rachael walking little Landyn around the block.  Turns out they were headed for Rex and Dora's too.  We went together.  Landyn is getting so talkative!  What a cute little fellow.  Arriving together I had a chance to introduce the sisters to Darrin, who I chatted with as the gals commiserated with Dora.  Rex is failing and getting in two visits for the stress of one was probably a good thing.  We didn't stay long, but were comforted to find Dora feeling better and Darrin so ably easing her burden.

Parting ways again, I moseyed on down the street until I was startled by a rather formidable, "Woof!"  A Bull Mastiff was saying hello over a fence ridiculously shorter than he was.  His owner was smoking on the front porch and tried to set my nerves at ease.  We introduced ourselves.  His name was Scott.  We quickly made connections to relatives of his in Tridell and struck up an immediate friendship.  Single and young, Scott is a bit of an anomaly on his street where most of the residents are in their eighties or nineties.  I was surprised at how protective he was of those old folks that surround him.  He let me know that he was proud to have played a part in putting the druggies in the house across the street into jail, away from these sweet old folks who "need their peace and quiet

On down the street I encountered Tanner giving his little sisters a ride in a trailer behind his bike.  They stopped for a visit and those precious little sweet hearts were so polite and dignified in their delight.  Tanner, seasoned beyond his years, is one of my favorites.  Fellow flautists (amateur at best) there seems to be an age old bond between us.  Such a surprise,  because we've only known one another a few months.  We didn't talk long, rickshaws are only fun if they're moving.

The other night I watched The King's Speech on television and decided I'd better go compare notes with John.  I asked if he'd seen the movie yet.  "Don't need to!" was his reply, "I was there!"  Of course I already knew that and John knew I did.  But when you've been witness to one of the greatest moments in history, you've got to glory in it every chance you get.  We had fun bantering about the significance of that moment and of all the wonderful things God had done to bring it about.  Some people might believe in coincidences, but John and I don't.  An hour's conversation flashed by in what seemed like ten minutes.  I had been mildly rebuked in Priesthood Meeting by Billy and I decided I'd better get on over there and take my licks, so I excused myself from John's pleasant company and headed around the corner.

Billy was out watching a sprinkler cycle, having just got back from gathering the Bishop's Store House orders for tomorrow's grocery run.  What a fine, fine man.  He didn't beat me up at all.  Just wanted to emphasize mine and everyone else's need to try just a bit harder to build the Kingdom.  Push me, Billy, push me, I need all the help I can get.

And so it went, my little walk full of unexpected blessings.  No more melancholy.  I guess I'll be just fine.  The chief pleasure is surprise!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Thank you Arnie, Thank You!

Arnie Anthon is about the nicest guy you'll ever meet.  He's our local Frito-Lay distributor.  I hardly ever go to the grocery store without seeing Arnie busily stocking the chip aisle.

About five years ago at my favorite little lunch spot in Jensen, Utah, Arnie surprised us with a display of Lay's Dill Pickle chips.  I tried them and fell in love.  Anything dill is alright with me.  I love my wife's dilly bread.  One of my favorite memories is delivering packages to Split Mountain Green House in the fall when their dill patch leaned over the sidewalk.  As I walked to and fro past the dill weed the aroma of dill brushed off the plants on my pant-legs.  It was an olfactory delight I looked forward to every year.

As suddenly as Dill Pickle chips arrived on the scene, they also vanished.  I was devastated.  I no longer enjoyed the Roast Beef sandwich Monica made fresh for me every day, quite so much.  The next time I saw Arnie I let him have it, and the next and the next, in fact until this very day.

Now, I don't suppose Arnie had anything to do with the disappearance of Dill Pickle chips, but hey, somebody had to hear about it.  And Arnie did.  Patiently, week after week he has endured my complaints.  He was given a reprieve during the six weeks I was gone to Newfoundland.  Not me.  In the Maritimes they had every flavor of potato chips imaginable.  They had Fries and Gravy, Ketchup, Wasabi, Pizza, Salsa, and another favorite, Poutine.  But no Dill Pickle!  You wouldn't believe the variety of chips they have up north.  Those I mentioned plus all the regulars.  One of the big draws Canada holds for me is the food.  Up there food is celebrated in a way we here in the US can only dream about.  We must trudge along with three or four flavors of chips for example, when in Canada even the smallest store carries a dozen flavors of just potato chips.  Arnie has heard about this too.  You can imagine how utterly disappointed I was that Dill Pickle was not a favorite of the Canucks.

Well, today, walking down the chip aisle, still hopeful as ever, my wondering eyes beheld Dill Pickle chips!  I STOCKED UP!  Hurrying home I ran right to the phone and called Arnie.  You see, I am a whiner, but I am not an ingrate.  I want Arnie to know that he has made my day, week, month, year and possibly even my decade!  Thank you, Arnie, Thank you, from the bottom of the bag!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Book Review - The Dead Town by Dean Koontz

The last of Dean Koontz's Frankenstein series was very much the best!  I have looked forward to it for a long while and was not disappointed.  He culminated the story with brilliance and finesse.

I say this all the time, but must repeat it here.  Dean speaks to me like no other writer.  Each book is as though we are having a private, familiar and friendly conversation.  His distinctive voice is apparent on every page.  It warms my heart as I sit down for a visit with my good old friend.

A couple of quotations are in order and speak of the clarity of Koontz's thought and the depth of his wisdom:

"So putting ourselves through the what-if wringer until we're all wrung out--well, that's just a hellacious waste of time and energy."
"The world needed a little Evil, so Good had something to compare itself to, but you couldn't let it think it had the right-of-way on the road and an invitation to dinner."
This was one of those books you can't put down, but dread it's coming to an end.  Sigh.

There are five books in the series; all first printed in paperback.  Don't let that throw you.  These are some of Koontz's best work.  You don't have to have read Shelley's Frankenstein first, but it helps.

I love how Koontz shows evil for what it is and clearly demonstrates why evil is always bound to fail.  Of course he shows good accurately as well and contrasts the two with brilliance, truth, clarity, humor and certainty.

As for characters?  This series has some of my all time favorites, like Jocko the tumor.  Jocko is one of the most endearing monsters in all of literature.  Each character has purpose in the theme of Koontz's books and as they develop and grow in integrity, or evil, we learn so much about ourselves.

Five Stars

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Barking Dogs

30 years ago I bought a house in a quiet neighborhood in town. One neighbor had a house dog, a poodle, which she kept indoors. Another had a dog that upended my trash can every time we tossed bones from KFC. Eventually, I took the chicken bones directly over to him. That solved the problem.

Now-a-days my neighborhood has filled up with dogs. Most of them are pathetic creatures locked or chained in backyards. Fed and watered and neglected. These bark night and day and since we've begun spending our time in the backyard, we are forced to endure a continuous cacophony of woofs, barks, howls, yelps, wines, and whimpers. One pathetic creature is an absolute drama queen moaning, groaning, whining even crying for attention.

One neighbor has two kids and a dog. Neither the parents, nor the kids, have any meaningful association with this dog. The kids have to play in the front yard because the dog poop covers the backyard and wafts unpleasantly around the neighborhood. That and because the kids don't want to be pestered by the love starved mutt. I cannot for the life of me, come up with a notion as to what motivates people to own a dog they want nothing to do with. Dog food is not cheap.

At this very moment I can hear not less than eight different dogs barking around the hood. My understanding is that the city has an ordinance allowing for fines to folks whose dogs bark between the hours of 10:00 PM and 6:00 AM. It doesn't seem to be helping much. When I am awakened by a dog I have tried to avoid troubling the owners as I'd like to be considered a good neighbor.

It became so problematic night before last that I called Central Dispatch who sent an officer around to the primary culprit's home and thankfully, the problem was resolved. I settled down after a couple of hours and got back to sleep.

I hate to characterize my neighbors, but considering that my neighbors have ears much like mine, I can't help but wonder what is going on in their heads. Is this commotion somehow music to their ears? Has our inner city been infiltrated by Red Necks? If I confront them about their inconsiderate intrusion into my quiet life, will I be challenged with fists or a shot gun?

I'd call for them to consider their rude, thoughtless intrusion into the lives of those around them, but I suspect they don't read the paper, as I can't imagine that thinking, informed citizens would be so obnoxious.

I think the police will help me manage the night-time problem; but what can I do about the more problematic day-time annoyance?

In the day-time hours people are typically gone and make no attempt to silence their noisy critters.

As a child I was taught in civics that one person's right to swing his fist ends shy of the other person's nose. Does this not apply to noise, stench and allowing their dog to trot over to crap on my lawn instead of their own?

I suggest that dealing with this problem would be in the Vernal City's best interest. Charging fines for day-time, as well as night-time barking, could help pay for the palace they've built for themselves when most of us can ill afford to pay for it. Additionally, how about a sin tax on dog food. Children are starving in this country in the millions while dog food is a billion dollar industry. Since the city lives on sales tax a special tax on dog food might cause people to consider the value of feeding a mutt they make no good use of. There could be exemptions for service dogs, and dogs actually used for companionship instead of background noise, fertilizer and aroma therapy.

Quite often I find people yelling at their dogs. Rarely, do I find a dog that listens. Usually, it appears the dog thinks the yelling means he is not barking loud enough. I don't think a dog is fairly treated if he becomes the scapegoat for all of his owner's pent up emotions. Though, I'd rather the dog "get it" than the kids. Of course those who yell at their dogs yell at their kids too, who don't listen either.

I have a friend who is currently in trouble for taking noisy dog matters into his own hands. I think I'll not be doing that. But Central Dispatch is going to know me by name before the next few weeks are over.

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