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The Official Blog of The Reluctant Blogger

Welcome to the official website of both author Ryan Rapier, and his debut novel, THE RELUCTANT BLOGGER, a story about family, faith, relationships…and other things that can lead to therapy.

Author Carol Lynn Pearson calls THE RELUCTANT BLOGGER, “A delightful gift from a skilled writer and insightful observer of life in Mormondom. THE RELUCTANT BLOGGER invites us to the high and holy calling of laughing at ourselves and loving ourselves pretty much at the same time. Highly Recommended!

Eric Samuelsen, playwrite and former president of the Association of Mormon Letters, exclaims, “Man, I liked this book. [It’s] Warm and human and real. I read it in one afternoon. I just couldn’t put it down.”

Get a copy today wherever LDS books are available or by clicking on the links to internet retailers located on the right hand side of this blog.

WARNING: While this blog is the official blog of author, Ryan Rapier, the postings located below do not necessarily focus entirely on his book nor on writing in general. Topics below can range from politics to sports to family life minutiae to…whatever random subject might be on the author’s mind. If you are looking for helpful hints on writing, reviews of other author’s works or anything else in between, there is a large potential for disappointment.

Choking On An Impossibly Annoying Gnat

I’m sure you’ve seen it.

Or at least heard about it.

You know what I’m talking about. That ridiculously disgusting picture of Kathy Griffin holding a Trump mask made to look like his severed head covered in blood. If you haven’t seen it, good for you. It’s disgusting and offers nothing of value to any cultural discussion.

But before we go any further with this, I have to ask the question. WHY DO WE CARE WHAT KATHY GRIFFIN DOES OR DOES NOT DO? In my humble opinion, she is not a talented comedian. Talented comedians make you laugh…at least once. She is not a talented actress. Talented actresses create emotions in a person that are different from what they inspire when you hear from them in real life. In Kathy Griffin’s case, I wanted to deport her to outer Mongolia the second I saw her on screen the first time in a Seinfeld episode. Imagine my surprise when I had the exact same emotional response the next time I saw her on screen portraying herself.

Which begs the question: is there any other human being out there that has less reason to be famous and offers us fewer reasons to concern ourselves with her actions than Kathy Griffin?

Fair enough. Every member of the Kardashian clan probably qualifies. Touche, Rachel Dolezal also fits the bill. But at a basic level, you get my point. There is no reason, EVER, to talk about Kathy Griffin.

Which is what I believe happens with Kathy Griffin every few months. Everybody on the planet drifts into that wondrous and happy state where they have forgotten she exists. So like clockwork, she pulls a stunt like the Trump mask that jars us back to reality. And the media plays along like we should care.

Now in this case, she went way too far and reached even a new low for her. In fact, the reaction was so bad that I’m sure you have all heard she apologized. But I’m willing to bet that, she really isn’t all that sorry. Why? Because we are all saying the name Kathy Griffin again and her fifteen minutes gets a midnight gubernatorial reprieve one more time.

But here’s what’s sad. We’re all talking about Kathy Griffin when we should be talking about a man named Jeremy Joseph Christian.

If you don’t know who that is, he is the man who started berating two African American girls, one who was wearing a traditional Muslim hijab, on a Portland commuter train before stabbing three men in the neck when they tried to intervene on the girl’s behalf. Two of those men died.

Why would we want to talk about him? That’s what he wants.

Maybe, but let’s talk about it anyway.

See, I’m not so much interested in Jeremy Christian as I am in the media coverage of Jeremy Christian. It is being reported that during his killing spree, he could be heard shouting, “Pay Taxes!” and “Get the **** out!” and “Go home. We need Americans here.”

Once he was arrested, he was recorded inside the police car saying, “Think I stab (expletives) in the neck for fun? Oh yeah, you’re right I do. I’m a patriot.” Followed by, “That’s what liberalism gets you.” And finally, “I hope they all die. I’m gonna say that on the stand. I’m a patriot, and I hope everyone I stabbed died.” At his arraignment this morning he showed no remorse. In fact, he continued his hateful diatribes. “Free speech or die, Portland. You’ve got no safe place. This is America. Get out if you don’t like free speech. You call it terrorism, I call it patriotism.”

And?

And, if you had wanted to follow this story about Jeremy Christian and his arraignment this morning, or if you had wanted to know more about the victims which included 23-year old college student, Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, and 53-year old, Ricky John Best, you would have had to go to the websites of CNN, NBC News, CBS News or…anywhere other than Fox News.

You see, old habits die hard. As a moderate conservative I have long gone to Fox for a portion of my news intake. But this morning, I looked and…not one mention of this man’s attack or his arraignment could I find on their website. On the other hand, I was able to find 13 different click points where I could access a story on the Kathy Griffin fiasco. I am not certain that all 13 were different stories, in fact I’m certain they were not, but there were 13 different places I could click and get to a story about an infamous picture that killed exactly no one.

Of further interest to me was that on the main front page of Fox News, I could also click on a story about Scott Pelley being removed as CBS anchor from their evening news desk, followed by an opinion piece about how Scott Pelley is the most anti-Trump anchor out there. Also in that same front-page news area I could click on a story about how Rachel Dolezal, the white woman who pretended to be black, was booted from a book fair. But Jeremy Christian? Nada!

My point? If Jeremy Christian had been a Muslim, is it possible the coverage on Fox News-the unabashedly conservative right-wing news source of the United States-would have been different?

One of the largest criticisms I have heard over and over again since 9-11 every time there is a terrorist attack is that the Muslim community does not come out and condemn the actions of these terrorists strongly enough. In each case, I come away hearing that the inferred message is always that Muslims in general are dangerous because deep down, they all agree with the terrorists. The smart ones just don’t say it out loud. Which is why we need a Muslim ban. And why we need federal surveillance on Mosques throughout our country despite the constitutional crises those actions create.

Well, if that line of thinking is true, then aren’t those who subscribe to the tea party’s views on immigration and support Mr. Trump’s Muslim ban equally obligated to go out and disavow Mr. Christian? I mean if they don’t, wouldn’t that imply that Jeremy Christian kind of speaks for them even if he took things a little too far *wink, wink, nod, nod*?

At the very least, shouldn’t the network that has draped itself in the flag and claims to speak for the conservative patriots of this country acknowledge a terrorist act when it sees one? And further, shouldn’t it cover that terrorist attack like it would if the skin color and the political rhetoric of the assailant were darker and equally illogically based in the Quran instead of the constitution?

At the very least, don’t the dead bodies of two American citizens who stood up for the rights of two defenseless girls deserve the respect and adoration of an entire nation united against evil no matter the form it takes?

What is most frustrating to me is that this story is not getting the respect I think it deserves on any channel. All the of the news this day is centering on Kathy Griffin. At least the other outlets are reporting about Jeremy Christians arraignment, but they are still giving more coverage to a two-bit comedic hack who deserves nothing more than our disdain and indifference.

On the other hand, we are constantly barraged with the terrifying concept of homegrown Islamic fanatical terrorism. You know, the folks who are already here and are citizens. The ones we can’t do anything about until they commit some heinous crime. Well, the victims of this terrorist attack in Portland were both white. The political views of Jeremy Christian’s victims are unknown, but as mentioned above, one of them was a former member of the United States military. The only difference in this story that we have sadly heard far too often is that the man who killed them is not an Islamic fascist, but rather an alt-right fanatic. Probably crazy, but an alt-right fanatic just the same. He believes in America first. And to this day, he’s glad his victims are dead.

So which terrorism is worse? If it had been me on that train, I hope I would have also stood in defense of those girls. I wouldn’t have wanted to die, but I would hope I wouldn’t sit by as innocents were subjected to hate-filled threats. It isn’t just an American thing, it’s a Christian thing. It’s a humanity thing. It’s what I was taught heroes should do. And I would hope that such heroism would be recognized by the people and media sources who supposedly share my values, not ignored by them because it doesn’t fit their current political template.

***Update*** This article was written before it was known that CNN had decided to cut ties with Kathy Griffin in regards to their New Year’s Eve coverage. I will amend my previous statement and guess that she truly is sorry now. 

Seeing Past THE FEVER: Inside The Mind Of A Mirror Ball Champion

It’s true. Everything you’ve heard? It’s all true.

I am the first and currently reigning Dancing With The Graham County Stars Champion.

Don’t believe me? Well, take a deep breath and gaze longingly at the picture below. Because I have an obnoxious mirror ball trophy sitting on my…I was gonna say mantle, but I don’t have a mantle. It’s really sort of a credenza type thing, but…saying I have a mirror ball trophy sitting on my credenza sounds sort of, I don’t know, stupid? I mean, who even uses the word credenza anymore? It’s too close to Costanza. Anyway, there it is, casting unwanted light reflections onto my television screen. But there it will stay, because I’ve come to accept that this is the type of inconvenience we champions must be ready to deal with.

Now I know the question that is undoubtedly plaguing each of you. I can practically hear your thoughts screaming to me through the computer.

Tell me, Oh Great Master of the Dance, how can I attain my own mirror ball? 

Well, the answer to 98% of you is…you can’t. So let it go. But to that 2% out there who have what it takes within you to bring home mirror ball glory, let me share with you my experiences of the last two weeks and present for you a path that could ultimately lead to fame, glory and a styrofoam ball covered in tiny pieces of reflective glass.

Okay, all kidding aside. For those who are reading this wondering, “WHAT THE *@&# IS HE TALKING ABOUT?” on Saturday night I competed in the first ever Dancing With The Graham County Stars competition. The basic gist of this competition is that six members of our community agreed to be paired with a professional dancer from the Utah Ballroom Dance Company, learn a 90 second dance routine, perform that routine in front of a paying crowd, take “humorous” flak from three judges also from our community who didn’t have to learn a 90 second dance routine and should therefore have been banned from speaking entirely, have our performances voted on by said paying crowd, and in the end try to retain half an ounce of dignity in the process. (Unless of course you are Jason Koutz and were not actually concerned with retaining that half an ounce to begin with. Just kidding, Jason.)

Now, to be honest, I’m still not entirely sure how this happened. Truth be told, I don’t even remember what prompted me to say yes when Pat O’Donnell from the Chamber of Commerce asked me to do it. I don’t drink, so the only thing I can come up with is that maybe someone down the hall from my office was using an “experimental” (*cough* *cough* marijuana based) form of medical treatment that altered my normal state of cognizant thought. Anyway, as the days ticked away, I honestly thought about backing out. But then when my picture appeared in the paper without warning, I figured I was stuck.

So come the night of our first rehearsal, I will grudgingly admit that I barely avoided throwing up. I give a lot of the credit for that accomplishment to my partner, Alyssa Baccus. Alyssa is young enough to be my daughter (you have no idea how sad that makes me to admit that I’m that old), has an amazingly positive personality, and is exceptionally talented at both dance and not visibly grimacing when I attempted to dance. She quickly put me at ease, or least got me to a level of “this will not kill you so get over yourself” acceptance. I really can’t say enough about how much I appreciated her efforts, not just at that rehearsal, but all the way through every rehearsal and the final performance. She was amazing (as were all the dancers) and I owe her big.

I also have to give major kudos to one of the male performers who was so encouraging. Throughout the process, we all had to learn our dances in the same room. Oftentimes, Alyssa and I would be practicing next to Dr. Debbie and her partner Chris Rogowski. Several times when I was ready to look directly into the full wall mirror in the Safford High dance practice room and give myself the full single finger salute, Chris would offer supportive words. (May I take a moment for an aside and say how much I would like to strangle the person who invented the full wall mirror. I’ve heard it is very instructive for dancers, but all they ever did for me was reflect back inarguable verification that my dancing was as horrifying as I feared. Booooo full wall mirrors. Booooo!!!) Anyway, although it may not have seemed like a big thing to him, it was incredibly meaningful for me when after my performance during the show, he made the effort to come around the back of the stage and tell me how well I had done. That was cool, and I really appreciated it.

So, come performance night, I’m not gonna lie. I was nervous. Not, “Ooooh, I’ve got a little tingle of the butterflies in my stomach,” nervous. No, it was full on, “There’s nothing they can do to me if I make it to the Mexican border before they catch me,” nervous. But then I remembered I might have trouble getting back across with Trump’s border wall going up and all, so I stayed put.

Admittedly, to feel so nervous seemed insane. I get up in front of large crowds all the time. But this was agonizing. And then, all of a sudden, the lights went down and up came the intro video Alyssa and I had recorded a few days earlier. The next thing I know, I’m on stage and I am going through the pre-dance routine where I wear a tear-away janitor’s uniform. Then all of a sudden, the tear-away uniform is torn away and off we went. (Another aside. My wife informed me that she was very proud but that the next time two women tear my clothes away, they had better be some form of paramedics resuscitating me from a heart attack.)

I can’t remember the exact moment when I embraced that it was really happening. Throughout the rehearsals, one of my biggest problems was remembering to smile. Alyssa would always have a huge smile on her face with a look in her eye that basically said, “Hey, I can’t smile big enough for the both of us here, buddy, pull it together an do your part.” It always made me nervous because I knew I should think about smiling, but then I would think about smiling and forget about dancing. That never ended well. So I did the most mature thing ever and quit looking at her face. I started focusing on the point at the bottom of her neck where her collar bones come together. That way, I was facing the right direction, but I didn’t have to deal with the shame of being reminded of how bad I was at looking happy. Then, about rehearsal number four, it occurred to me how inappropriate that line of sight might appear to someone who didn’t have full access to my inner thoughts. From that point on, I just took my medicine and tried to keep eye contact with Alyssa.

Anyway, the night of the performance, I vaguely remember establishing eye contact with her as we started so I wouldn’t freak out (Think Runaway Bride type eye contact). But right after that, I don’t remember jack. I do recall having one thought which was, “Don’t forget the shoulder shimmy.” But other than that, my memory is pretty blank until we hit the final pose and a million pounds of stress exited my body like an exorcism. I can’t tell you how relieved I was that getting to that point didn’t require projectile vomiting of pea green slime all over the stage nor my head rotating 180 degrees on my neck.

Skipping ahead, they announced the winner (ME) and I strutted around for a moment like I had actually known all along I would do that well, and then it was over. For two full weeks it was the moment I had been praying for. And then just like that it was there, and I have to admit, I was kinda sad.

In fact, today I’m still a little sad. And it’s caused me to think about these unique opportunities we sometimes get in life. Those times when we get to experience something that has just enough intensity that it bonds people in a way that is really hard to describe.

Of the five other people who volunteered along with me, I really only knew one of them well. The others ranged from mild acquaintances to people I had not ever met. But now, even though we will go back to our separate social circles, we will always have this shared experience. Only the six of us know how hard this really was. How excruciating it was to step out of our comfort zone and do something that was, at least for me, somewhat terrifying.

And along with those five other individuals, there are six dancers who helped get us there. I think each of us novices will feel a slight connection with those six people who made this experience possible for us.

Now I recognize that these dancers do this all the time and it will not be the same for them. I imagine it would probably be impossible for them to feel that same type of connection with us since they were bouncing all over Arizona for six weeks doing this same thing with so many others just like us. But I feel excited for them because they are experiencing what I’m describing on a much higher level, just with each other. They will not be part of this dance troupe forever. But the connection they will have after basically living out of a van with one another for months on end will be timeless. I know it will. I’ve been there, and knowing what kind of ties they’re creating makes me just a tad jealous. Jealous that I’m not in my twenties anymore. Jealous that as much as I love my life and wouldn’t trade it for ANYTHING, my carefree days of youth are over. Jealous that my chances to make these type of connections with people are fading.

Which turned my mind to Manchester, England, 1992-1994. What a great time. Yes, I was a religious missionary and so not exactly the picture of carefree spontaneity. But I was young, living in a foreign place, having intense experiences with people I would never see again. To this day I enjoy catching up with those guys. Not all of us are still practicing Mormons, but it doesn’t matter. We still share an experience that was bigger than we were. I miss them. I wish I could see them all again, each and every one. I wish I could eat chips and Chinese with Rob Taylor from Wales. I wish I could apologize to Jonny Harmer one more time for leaving my toast sweat on the counter every morning. I wish I could give Lars Holmboe a hug. He probably doesn’t remember, but I had only been in England for one month when we all met together for a group meeting. I was so incredibly homesick I wanted to die. As we closed the meeting with a song, I stood there and just cried uncontrollably. I barely knew Lars Holmboe, but he happened to be the guy standing next to me. Without saying a word, he reached over and put his arm around me. It meant the world to me because it helped me feel that I was not alone. I never told him thank you. I would love the opportunity to do so in person.

Which brings me full circle. Once again, I want to thank Royce, Tracy, Debbie, C.B. and Jason. It was an awesome experience partly because of the people I got to share it with. And I want to thank Alyssa, Chris, Anthony, Liz, Grace and Alex. Thank you for your time and effort. The entire experience is something I will never forget.

And to you dear reader, if you think I’m being way too melodramatic about a silly little dance performance, well…maybe I am. However, before you pass judgement, might I suggest you try doing it yourself. Then we can talk.

Nevertheless, today I am Mr. Incredible. I am King of the World. I…am the reigning mirror ball champion of Graham County.

And Pat? Could you please go back and recheck on whether that title comes with a lifetime supply of free Dr. Pepper. I’m fairly certain I saw that written in the fine print.

 

 

 

When Fiction Reminds Us Of What’s Real

***SPOILER ALERT*** This post discusses a plot line of the television show THIS IS US up through last night’s episode, Memphis.

This is humiliating!

I’ve had television shows and movies make me cry before. Many times. That experience is not even remotely new. But I’ve never had this happen before.

Multiple times now, I have recalled last night’s episode of THIS IS US entitled Memphis and teared up at the mere memory of it. I can’t stop. It’s ridiculous.

I have long stated that I believe the best episode of television I’ve ever seen was the season 5 finale of Lost. Today, I’m not so sure. In fact, I’m almost positive it has been relegated to second place. And why? Because I have never had a television show speak so directly to me and my life experience as last night’s THIS IS US did.

To give a little background in case you blew past the Spoiler Alert because you never plan on watching this show or you are already a fan, the audience is introduced in the first episode of the series to a character who is fighting Stage 4 stomach cancer. He’s introduced into the story when his biological son, who he left on the doorstep of a fire station, tracks him down and berates him for abandoning him. From that first moment you meet him, the character of William Hill becomes a part of you. At least he did for me. (And judging from the on-line reaction to last night’s episode, a good portion of those who watch this show agree with me.) His reaction to being chastised by his son is not defensive. Nor is it dismissive. It is world-weary acceptance that everything his son is saying about him is true. He’s a man with many regrets, but he owns them, and you love him all the more for it, as does his son, who by the end of their first meeting invites him into his home to live with him through his final days.

Well, those final days came to an end last night and it was…exactly what it should have been. If this post were strictly a review of This Is Us, that would be a phrase I would apply to much of this show. It gives a portrayal of life that is exactly what it should be. Good people who aren’t perfect but who are trying. Not for perfection. Just trying. And I love that the show’s creators have taken on so many issues that aren’t necessarily “sexy” per se, but are very real.

And when it comes to this particular story line, it couldn’t be more real. And I think that is why I’m blinking back tears even as I write this sentence. See, there are different types of death. The one you hope for for yourself and for everyone close to you is that of a full life that ends at a time and place that is…acceptable. Yes, death will always be hard, but there are times when it is, for lack of a better word, expected. My grandmother’s passing was one of those experiences and her funeral was a celebration of a good long life well-lived.

But then there are the deaths that feel so incredibly unfair. In my family, we’ve been sucker punched by these kind, not once, but twice. My father-in-law died of a massive heart attack at age 49. And eight years later, my mother lost her battle with cancer at age 59.

And it sucked! Both times! Hard Core!

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. My kids, who come from a rich ranching heritage were supposed to be able to experience working on the ranch with the grandfather. They were supposed to look out and see the unmistakable glint of pride in the eye of a gruff old cowboy every time they experienced one of life’s successes. They were supposed to learn pearls of wisdom from a man who at times appeared rough around the edges, but underneath had truly invaluable pearls of wisdom to impart.

They were supposed to feel the love of a woman who would move heaven and earth to spend time with them. They were supposed to spend weekends away from their parents with a grandma who would play cards with them all night and feed them like royalty all day. They were supposed to learn from the example of a truly driven woman that no challenge is too great.

Instead…they got none of that. Not that I am trying to disparage their two remaining grandparents in any way. They get many wonderful gifts from them. But my heart aches every time I think about what they have missed from the two grandparents who are gone.

And as I watched this heartbreaking episode of television, I was reminded of those things once again. Along with that, I was reminded of something else. All the things I have missed as well.

I am convinced when someone loses a parent too soon, whether that be as a child, as a young adult, or whenever, it breaks a person at least a little bit. I think it broke me.

Yes, I know I am 43 years old, but I don’t care. There are just times when I need my mom. And I just don’t seem quite able to emotionally handle it when she’s not there. Everything made sense and I questioned very little when she was alive. Quite a few things have stopped making sense and I question all kinds of things now that she’s gone. Maybe that makes me a better person, maybe not. I suppose that’s for God to decide. But what I do know is that her absence in my life hurts. It’s been almost 8 years and it still hurts to the point of tears I can’t control.

Which I suppose explains my ridiculous reaction to last night’s episode of a television show. Seeing a man lose his biological father so soon after finding him was unbelievably unfair. And yet, it felt real. Because we all have those experiences that remind us life isn’t fair.

But the other thing that last night’s episode, and basically the show in general, has done for me lately is remind me of a basic truth. It has reminded me of the triviality of so many things we can mistake for important. Donald Trump is not important. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, are not important. Republican, Democrat, conservative, liberal, moderate…not important. And stewing about those things incessantly seems today for some reason to be time wasted.

On the other hand, choir concerts are important. Piano recitals are important. Family vacations are beyond important. Monday night dinners with my children are priceless. Each and every kiss willingly placed upon my bald head by a precious three-year-old is a gift from God.

And each and every memory of my mother is a treasure more valuable than gold.

“You need a television show to remind you of that?” I can hear some people ask. Yeah, apparently sometimes I do.

And with that, I’ll bring this meandering post to a close. I don’t know what my point was exactly. Maybe I didn’t particularly have one. But I wanna say this. The Memphis episode of THIS IS US deserves an Emmy. Ron Cephas Jones deserves an Emmy and Sterling K. Brown deserves an Emmy. I don’t want to hear about GAME OF THRONES or STRANGER THINGS or any other show that is supposedly changing television. Maybe they are, but THIS IS US is on another level. It isn’t necessarily changing anything, but it is allowing people to be touched by the emotions that matter most. And if art can do that, then I believe it has transcended the very concept of art itself.

What Do The Facts Tell Us About Ourselves?

A few Facts: (Not alternative facts or hopefully cherry-picked facts, but actual facts not meant to appeal to any one ideal or persuasion.)

  • In 2011, President Obama did enact a policy that seriously limited Iraqi refugees from entering the country. He instructed that all processing of new Iraqi refugees be halted for six months. However, he did not place any holds on current Green Card holders, people with current visas or refugees who had already completed the vetting process. (Jessica McBride, Heavy, Jan. 29, 2017)
  • The number of Iraqi refugees that came to the United States between 2010-2012: 2010 – 18,251, 2011 – 6,339, 2012 – 16,369. (State Department Records as reported and linked to by the Washington Post)
  • In 2015, President Obama did establish the list of seven countries that are considered “Countries of Concern” with regards to terrorist activities. President Trump used that list in his executive order and banned all “immigrant and nonimmigrant entry into the United States of aliens from countries referred to in section 217(a)(12) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1187(a)(12)” In short, those countries are the list of seven.
  • President Trump’s executive order does include holds on current Green Card holders, people with current visas and refugees who have completed the vetting process but have not yet entered the country. (White House Executive Order, Jan. 27, 2017)
  • On January 12, 2017, President Obama ended the longstanding policy of the United States of “wet foot/dry foot” with regard to Cuban refugees. Previous to that change, any Cuban refugee able to make it to dry ground was allowed to stay in the United States and become a citizen without qualifying for humanitarian relief. As part of this change in policy toward Cuba, the US received no concessions from the Cuban government regarding how individuals returned to Cuba would be treated. Under the “wet foot/dry foot” policy, no Cuban refugee was required to undergo a vetting process similar to that of other countries. (Fox News, Obama Announces End To…, Jan. 12, 2017)
  • Mr. Trump’s executive order places a ban on refugees from Syria entering the country and that ban has no end date.
  • In 2017, the United Nations identified 4.86 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq and Jordan. Of those, about 10% or roughly 480,000 people, are in need of resettlement. (Amnesty International)
  • As of November 1, 2016, 13,210 Syrian refugees were relocated to the United States in 2016 alone. That is a 675% increase over 2015. Of those, 99.1% were Muslim (Christian News Service, 13,210 Syrian Refugees So Far…, Nov. 1, 2017)
  • High Income countries currently offering no resettlement opportunities to Syrian refugees (As of January 27, 2017): Russia, Singapore, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, South Korea, and The United States. (Amnesty International and The White House Executive Order, Jan. 27, 2017)
  • Through February 2016, over 470,000 Syrians have died directly or indirectly due to the on-going Civil War. (Syrian Center for Policy Research as report by PBS, A Staggering New Death…, February 11, 2016 )

Not Facts (Otherwise known today as Alternate Facts):

  • This is a Muslim Ban – This is in fact, not a Muslim ban. It targets specific countries that are predominately Muslim, but it does not prohibit the movement of Muslims to our country specifically. However, the Administration might understand how people could easily get to that belief due to the fact that Mr. Trump called for a ban on Muslim immigration during the campaign. Nevertheless, any media outlet reporting that this as Muslim ban is being disingenuous and providing “false news.”
  • This policy “is similar to what President Obama did in 2011 when he banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months.”  – This is not really similar to what President Obama did at all.  At least not based on the information we have available to us today.  In 2011, the Obama administration, in response to the arrest of two Iraqi nationals in Kentucky who were connected to roadside bombs that had been constructed in Iraq in 2005, halted all new visas to Iraqi refugees for six months while they 1) investigated how these individuals had slipped through customs without being flagged and detained, and 2) created more extensive background checks of Iraqi citizens seeking asylum (Washington Post). Thus far, it does not appear the Trump administration acted this past weekend based on any kind of event or evidence that would have prompted this ban. Rather it appears that the Trump administration is seeking to keep a campaign promise. Also, as noted above, the Obama administration policy was much narrower and allowed for those already in the system to be processed. The Trump policy is much broader and does not allow for “pre-existing” factors.
  • This is an immigration issue – This is a humanitarian issue, not an immigration issue. To suggest such is probably unfair to the literally millions of immigrants who have gone through the standard process of naturalizing to this country. Furthermore, a nation can’t as a general rule just open its borders to everyone without some kind of process for providing legal status to those individuals. However, in times of emergency such as this, many of those provisions are often set aside to provide for the welfare of refugees in a timely manner. But again, that would be due to humanitarian concerns, not immigration concerns.
  • This is a terrorism issue – This is a humanitarian issue, not a terrorism issue. To suggest that we should not reach out to the hundreds of thousands who have been displaced and are without basic necessities because one of them might possibly down the road try to kill us is cowardly. Horrifyingly so! Including those who died on 9-11, 3,043 Americans have been killed during terrorist attacks committed on American soil between 2001 and 2014. During that same period, 440,095 American citizens were killed in non-terrorism related gun violence on American soil (CNN). 35,092 American citizens were killed in automobile related deaths on American soil in 2015 alone (NHTSA.gov) It is completely justifiable to suggest that a vetting process be in place to try and protect the citizens of the United States. Prior to January 27, 2017, such a vetting process was in place. In fact, it has been described as the strictest of its kind in our country. Mr. Trump has stated we need to increase that to include an “extreme vetting” process, but has, as of yet, failed to define what that extreme vetting process is above and beyond what we are already doing.
  • Christian refugees will get priority over all other faiths – The executive order does not allow for Christianity to be the deciding factor on whether or not a refugee will get priority. However, it does state, “…provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality. Where necessary and appropriate, the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security shall recommend legislation to the President that would assist with such prioritization.” The problem here is that as near as I can find, no country that is currently exporting a large number of refugees is a predominately Christian nation. Therefore, this misconception could actually be argued as partially true because Christians from these war torn nations will get priority under this executive order. Furthermore, a large number of the nations exporting refugees are predominately Muslim nations and therefore, it can be surmised that Muslims will be denied any such priority.

Now let me finish with a couple more facts of which I will make no commentary except for one final question:

  • Jesus said, “As I have loved you, love one another.”
  • Jesus said, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you.
  • Jesus said, “Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst of me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?

Does our current attitude as a nation toward our Muslim brothers and sisters who have been displaced from their homes through war reflect our declaration that we are country founded on Christian ideals?

 

 

Christianity And The Hippies

Judge Not, That Ye Be Not Judged. 

That bible verse, found in the book of Matthew, chapter 7, verse 1, is without a doubt one of the most well known verses in scripture. I also happen to believe it is one of the key pillars of basic Christian faith. By my reckoning, it goes hand in hand with the Golden Rule. Bottom line, if you want to be a good Christian, you have to be ready to give people the benefit of the doubt. And not just some people. Basically all people. I mean, close examination of the scripture itself reveals that it doesn’t seem to come with any caveats or asterisks. It just is what it is.

Which brings me to my current conundrum.

At least once a year, a old dilapidated school bus will pull into our Walmart parking lot and take up residence for some undetermined amount of time. The bus itself is no longer the property of any educational institution in America. Not even third world bus lines would give this rust bucket a second look. Inside this bus is a ragtag band of…pick your favorite moniker; gypsies, hippies, soap-retardant sociology experiments. Whatever your name for them, they come to town, emerge, and quickly lay claim to the small corners of land adjacent to both major entrances to Walmart, as well as the main entrance to the Safeway shopping center. From these vantage points, they then attempt to raise funds by singing incoherently (at least to the passing traffic), dancing and waving ludicrous signs that spout nonsensical slogans that were already on their way out of pop-culture relevance for being cliche in the 1960’s.

And the second they arrive, I will admit, my judge-o-meter starts pinging off the charts. I’m not proud of this, but it’s true. I judge their clothes, I judge their lack of cleanliness, I judge their hippidy-dippidy mode of transportation that causes me to feel like I’m pulling into a swap meet for the down-on-their-luck instead of a major national retail store. (Wait, it IS Walmart. So to be fair, the swap meet thing might have been on my mind at least a little bit already before they arrived.) And most of all, I judge their intentions.

Then I start to feel guilty.

But then I get angry that I’m feeling guilty. These people have basically come in and stolen prime real estate from the regular stream of panhandlers, beggars and homeless folks who have shown much more moxie over the last eight months than these interlopers by braving the brunt of a vicious Arizona summer.  In all honesty, those people were making me feel guilty first and really, their signs telling of personal tragedy seem a little more deserving of said guilt. I mean, c’mon, I only have so much guilt to go around.

Once I have this realization, all traces of my good will disappear and I find myself slightly simmering with anger. What’s up with these ne’er-do-wells anyway? (On the other hand, I rarely get to use the hyphenated word ne’er-do-wells much, and so if nothing else, I do appreciate them giving me that. Anyway…back to my other stream of thought.) They look perfectly healthy. Why don’t they go get a job?

As I think these thoughts to myself, a couple of notions enter my brain. One; Good Gosh, I’m now old enough that I can legitimately sound like the Grumpy Old Man character from the 80’s era Saturday Night Live without expressly trying, and two; You’re judging!

AHHHHH!!!! I can’t be serious. How am I not supposed to judge these people? I mean, seriously, is thinking to myself, “Wash your *&@! hair once in while,” really being judgmental?

Okay, fine. And I know I’m not supposed to think curse words even if I don’t say them out loud. But what am I supposed to do?

I suppose I could try and see life from their point of view.

Well…I can’t. I’m sorry but it’s just flat impossible.

So I try visualizing what their day to day lives must be like and this exercise leads me to another of the seven deadly sins, jealousy. (By the way, is judging one of the seven deadly sins? I don’t think it is by itself. But I don’t think it would take much of an argument to lump it in with pride so we’ll go with it.) These people have probably seen more of the world than I ever will. And since I am always day-dreaming about the travels I want to take, suddenly their existence takes on a romanticism that I can’t explain.

Until of course I realize that all of these places and cultures are probably being experienced inside a giant grime and filth covered petri dish filled with vast hordes of fleas and STDs. Suddenly, all of the romanticism is gone and I’m once again disgusted by them. AAANNNDDDD here we are back at the Gate of Hell entitled Unrighteous Judgement. Man this sucks!

All of these thoughts were circling my brain as I entered the Walmart parking lot for the third time this past Saturday. (Man, I hate that store. Why can’t they just help me and have someone follow me around and politely remind me of all the things I need to get the first time I’m there so I don’t have to go back repeatedly on a Saturday. The day when every single person in Graham county decides to come, grab a shopping cart that they don’t need, park it in the middle of the nearest aisle and settle in for the long haul as if they are in line for concert tickets that are never going to go on sale.) Anyway, as I pulled in, I saw one of these individuals standing on the corner dancing around smiling while holding a sign that read, “All We Need Is Love.”

“Yeah, uh-huh, love and my spare change,” I thought grumpily. Because last I checked, love was not going to buy them a drop of gasoline to get that hunk of scrap metal back on the road when they were done with their “winter of love” here in the Safford Walmart parking lot.

Then just as quickly I thought, “*&!@ IT!!!” There’s another demerit for judging again. And a second demerit for thinking that curse word. If there is any kind of accounting system when it comes to our final resting place in the afterlife, these people are screwing me.”

Regardless, I then determined that to cover myself, I would try to be judgement free and provide what spare change remained after my visit to Walmart to the girl with the sign that reminded of me of The Beatles song that I truly detest.

Except, when I got into Walmart, I discovered that Walmart doesn’t carry single Thank You cards anymore. Are You Kidding?!?!?! They had a birthday card with two animated naked butts on it with some line about expecting a crack about your age or some such nonsense, but not one single Thank You card that didn’t come in a package of 10 or more. I HATE Walmart!

Nonetheless, the upshot of the thank you card fiasco was that I had forgotten all about the girl with the sign. To be honest, I don’t remember if she was even there anymore by the time I left…or if I even left by the same exit. I just was so frustrated that I can get birthday cards for a dog, but not an individual thank you card that I forgot all about her.

So I didn’t give her my spare change. And I honestly can’t even tell you this morning if I feel guilty about it or not. In retrospect, I don’t know what that says about me or my devotion to Christian beliefs.

But either way, there’s one thing I am sure of. I don’t need to worry about what any of you who might be reading this are thinking. Because if you are now thinking of me negatively, then HA!!! You’re just as guilty of judging as I am…

…Except now I’m judging you and them. *&!@ IT!!! I need these people to move on soon. Between my unholy judgments and the mental cursing, I’m not sure my Eternal Soul Destination ledger can take much more.

Sherlock, VidAngel And The Personal Expression Of Art

Ever since my wife and I discovered the hodgepodge of weird genius eye-candy and unapologetic high-minded, rapid-fire dialogue that is the television show (or what we would probably have called the Television Movie Event of the Week back in the ’80s) Sherlock four years ago, we’ve been hooked. From the first episode it was impossible to look away from the brilliance on display. The writing, the cinematography, the acting…basically everything was, to our point of view, brilliant. Yeah, the Chinese acrobat episode in season 1 wasn’t as strongly written as the other two (each season only has three 90 minute episodes), and yes, the Irene Adler episode in season 2 wandered into the tawdry for nothing more than shock value, but still. I would argue that there has been virtually nothing else like it on television, at least that we were willing to watch.

So, on January 1st, it was with baited breath that Shannon and I AND my teenage daughter Abby (who had joined our Sherlock obsessed family fan club a couple of years ago) sat down with baited breath to watch the premiere of Sherlock, Season 4. A full two years had passed since we’d been dropped off the edge of a cliff and left hanging with only two words uttered by Sherlock’s psycho nemesis, Moriarty, left to keep us company. “MISS ME?” It had been a long hard 731 days, but the time had finally come.

And then the first episode began and…it was good. It was really good. Not great, but really good. It didn’t do much at all for our “WHAT THE #*@& JUST HAPPENED!” concerns that we’d been harboring for so long, but it did tell a pretty darn good story. Until the end, which just flat out sucked. Great story telling, but still. The following week, episode two arrived and it was…well, just plain creepy. Not the best episode in my opinion by a pretty wide margin. However, it did set up a possible humdinger of a finale, especially since it also had failed to address the cliff-hanger from the previous season. Then, this past Sunday night, after we’d put our youngest three to bed, we settled in to watch what turned out to be not only the final episode of the season, but quite possibly the final episode of the series, ever. And? Well…not my favorite.

The concept wasn’t bad I suppose and it did answer all of the outstanding questions, but…eh. First of all, it decided to dabble on the edges of horror, a genre of which neither my wife nor I are fans. Secondly, it wrapped up in such a way that I felt very unsatisfied with the resolution. (I apologize for not going into detail, but as is probably obvious, I’m trying to avoid spoilers.) I understand why the creators of the series did what they did and what they were getting at, but I personally felt that this fourth, and possibly final season was missing many of the key elements I had actually found so captivating about the show in the first place.

And so it goes. Another television show that I loved had ended and I was left to decide whether or not I was satisfied with the overall product, including the ending. And that decision will be mine and mine alone. I’ve done this before. And the one thing that I have to be careful of is letting the common consensus affect my overall enjoyment or lack thereof. I have to remember that it doesn’t matter what EVERYONE else thinks, it only matters to me what I think. Cases in point:

Seinfeld – The immediate reaction to the Seinfeld finale was overwhelmingly negative. People didn’t like that it was a clip show. People didn’t like that the four of them ended up in jail. People didn’t like that Jerry and Elaine didn’t end up together. The list goes on and on. But I remember watching it the night it originally aired and loving it. I thought it was the perfect ending to have four people who had never progressed as human beings end up getting a dose of justice and still not having that change who they are fundamentally. I was stunned that people wanted the ending of Seinfeld to be some kind of life-changing event. It was a sit-com. A sit-com that had established who these characters were and suddenly fans wanted them to be someone else? Why? Anyway, I still hear people complaining about the finale of Seinfeld and I think, “Whatever.” I thought it was perfect.

Lost – The reaction to the finale of Seinfeld was more widespread because of how many people watched the show. But the reaction to the finale of Lost was more emphatic and anger-filled because the watchers of Lost were avid fans who had been with the show for six years. They wanted answers and felt like the finale didn’t provide near enough of them. People disagreed violently about what the finale even was trying to say. But overall, the general consensus was that Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse and failed miserably to provide an adequate ending for the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815. I, on the other hand, thought it was brilliant. I thought it was very moving and felt the symbolism of not just the finale, but the finale combined with the entire show made up the best series of television I had ever seen. Today, I still believe it ranks in the top five despite the continuing jokes from the majority of fans about how bad the series went off the rails in its final season and especially in the finale.

The Sopranos – This one I can’t speak to specifically because I have never actually seen an episode. But as a follower of pop culture, it was pretty hard to avoid all the discussions that went on about show creator, David Chase’s decision to cut to black without revealing what actually happened to his show’s protagonists. It sounds like it was ambiguity at its finest. Inception level frustration only worse because instead of investing two hours, fans had invested multiple years in this show only to be left hanging. I personally don’t have a problem with ambiguity. I liked the ending of Inception because I get to decide whether the top falls or not. But I am apparently in the minority. And it seemed that Sopranos fans were not amused.

However, when it’s all said and done, it doesn’t matter what fans think of the three examples mentioned above, or any other examples from the world of film. Because art is always subjective, and like it or not, television and movies are an art form. Yet somehow, in our self-serving day of 2016, we the fans feel like we should be included in the decision making process on how best to present these particular forms of art. And when our personal feelings are not taken into account, we can get highly incensed as if a great wrong has been done to us. But frankly, that’s just not true. Television shows and movies are simply art being displayed for our enjoyment and we can either like it or not…and that’s it.

Which brings me to my final point.

The movie filtering company, VidAngel, has lost its legal battle to keep providing filtered movies on every front and is now, for all intents and purposes, out of business. They are still pursuing all avenues available to them, but it would seem pretty clear that they will lose.

In once sense, this makes me a little sad. It would be nice to see certain entertainment offerings without content that I find objectionable. But on the other hand, I totally understand and respect this outcome.

I mean, really, would I ever expect to be able to take a trip to Italy and demand that I be allowed to see all of the classic paintings and sculptures that beautiful country has to offer boob free? Of course not. If I want to go see art in Italy, I had better be ready to get an eye full of mammary glands as well as a fair amount of male genitalia. I know that going in. So if I don’t want to see those things, I better not go to Italy.

And in that vein, I have to believe at a basic level that the same should be true for the art of film. Artists in the form of writers, directors and actors (to name a few) created these works of art. I may not like the art, but it is art. I don’t understand paint splotches on a canvas, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a painting. Likewise, I don’t see any redeeming quality in a film about a doll that comes to life and kills people, but the artists did. And if I don’t like it, I don’t have to watch it.

So to say to those artists, “I think some of your creation has merit, but I’m going to pick and choose which parts those are,” can come across as a little insulting. What they created was their vision, and they created it for consumption as a whole.

Which is why I grudgingly have to agree with the VidAngel rulings. I know it isn’t fair to families looking for clean content that Hollywood seems to be working against them. I know it isn’t fair that companies whose sole purpose is to create “clean” movies also happen to make movies that are, for the most part, unwatchable. But who said life was going to be fair? I saw on-line the other day a comment by someone who was justifying VidAngel’s existence. They stated that they should be able to watch their movies without any content they find objectionable. The only problem with that statement is, it isn’t THEIR movie. It belongs to a studio. If you want to buy a copy of it and then skip through parts, that’s your prerogative. But to try and work the system so that you “buy” the movie when you really don’t…not the same.

Again, if the courts had found otherwise and ruled in favor of VidAngel, I would be the first to applaud. But I knew they wouldn’t. Because once all the arguments are made, it only makes sense that they don’t. And maybe that’s ultimately for our good.

You see, another argument I have heard multiple times in defense of VidAngel is the metaphor of eating a sandwich with a tiny bit of dog poop in it. No one would knowingly do that. So, the argument goes, we as the consumer should be able to remove the dog poop from our sandwiches. But honestly, does anyone really want to eat a sandwich that had dog poop in it to begin with, regardless of how much effort was made to take it out? I didn’t think so. Maybe the same should be said for our art. If we don’t want it as is, then we probably shouldn’t want it at all.

If Nero Had Only Had A Twitter Account

These are important days in our country.

Tensions are on the edge within the hallways of government as the balance of power begins to shift at the highest levels of the world’s greatest nation. There is much to be done. Laws to be written or rewritten, heads of agencies to be replaced, economic decisions that will affect every woman and child throughout the world to be made. One can only imagine how any man or woman faced with such responsibility could cope in the face of such pressure.

But thankfully, in today’s world we have a revolutionary advancement that gives us unique insight into the man who will lead our nation and represent us throughout the world. We can know exactly what overwhelming issues are weighing heavy upon his mind. Is it the future of Obamacare? Is it an economy that is growing but at such a stagnant rate that it is crushing the dreams and aspirations of thousands of Americans each day who can’t find a job that will pay their bills? Before 2016, one could only guess. But today, we are blessed with Twitter, a wonderful invention that allows us to know exactly which issues of the day our beloved Commander-In-Chief is focusing his priorities on. And the answer?


President-elect Donald J. Trump’s Twitter feed from January 6, 2017, 6:04 p.m.

Wow, the ratings are in and Arnold Schwarzenegger got “swamped” (or destroyed) by comparison to the ratings machine DJT.  So much for…

President-elect Donald J. Trump’s Twitter feed from January 6, 2017, 6:12 p.m.

being a movie star-and that was season 1 compared to season 14. Now compare him to my season 1. But who cares, he supported Kasich and Hillary


Okayyyyy. Not exactly what I expected from the soon-to-be most powerful man in the world in the days leading up to his cabinet picks going before congress, but maybe it’s a one-off. Surely he has other things to worry about, right?


President-elect Donald J. Trump’s Twitter feed from January 9, 2017, 4:27 a.m.

Meryl Streep, one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood, doesn’t know me but attacked last night at the Golden Globes. She is a…..

President-elect Donald J. Trump’s Twitter feed from January 9, 2017, 4:36 a.m.

Hillary flunky who lost big. For the 100th time, I never “mocked” a disabled reporter (would never do that) but simply showed him…….

President-elect Donald J. Trump’s Twitter feed from January 9, 2017, 4:43 a.m.

“groveling” when he totally changed a 16 year old story that he had written in order to make me look bad. Just more very dishonest media!

———————————–

What? Let me speak to you directly Mr. Trump. I have no desire to get into the argument about whether or not Meryl Streep is overrated (she’s not, but her political rants do tend to get a bit loose with the facts, see: Walt Disney comments) but rather, do you realize she’s an actress? An ACTRESS! Hopefully I’m not the first to remind you of this, but hey, THE VOTES ARE IN! You won, dude! She can’t DO anything to you. So if she criticizes you on an awards show that is watched by less than 7% of the American public…here’s a thought…LET IT GO!

And Arnold? The man was brought in to fill a role on a “reality” show. That’s it! A show you are still listed as being an executive producer on, by the way. Which means that, in a roundabout way, YOU hired him! Okay, so he didn’t support you during the election, but does that really mean you have to take time away from preparing to run the free world in order to take a cheap shot? What in the name of Beelzebub’s french poodle is the matter with you? Four out of my five children have better sense than you are exhibiting, and the only one not included on that list is three years old.

But, wait. I should step back. Maybe these two examples are being cherry-picked. I’m sure since he won the election Mr. Trump has been under a lot of stress. Surely, as his many supporters have suggested over and over again he will, he is becoming more presidential and rational in his use of social media as the mantle of the office draws nearer.


President-elect Donald J. Trump’s Twitter feed from January 5, 2017, 6:25 a.m.

The dishonest media likes saying that I am in Agreement with Julian Assange – wrong. I simply state what he states, it is for the people….

President-elect Donald J. Trump’s Twitter feed from January 9, 2017, 6:45 a.m.

to make up their own minds as to the truth. The media lies to make it look like I am against “Intelligence” when in fact I am a big fan!


Wait a minute. Again to Mr. Trump directly. As president-elect, why on earth would you be quoting Julian Assange at all? The man is currently living in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in order to avoid being extradited to 1) Sweden, on charges of sexual assault and rape*, or 2) the United States, on possible charges of espionage, conspiracy to commit espionage, theft or conversion of property belonging to the United States government, violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and general conspiracy. And frankly, up until he decided to help you in your campaign efforts by releasing the hacked e-mails of your opponent, it was pretty much the consensus of the majority of American people who actually knew who he was, that Mr. Assange was an untrustworthy, vile reptile of a human being.

But secondly, I want to make sure I understand your logic. You use Mr. Assange’s words and state the same conclusions that he does, but you don’t agree with him? Or is there some nuance that you are trying to convey that just doesn’t come across well in 140 characters?

Nevertheless, this “lying media” or “dishonest media” line is one you like to use a lot. Take for instance this tweet.


President-elect Donald J. Trump’s Twitter feed from January 6, 2017, 4:19 a.m.

The dishonest media does not report that any money spent on building the Great Wall (for sake of speed), will be paid back by Mexico later!


Oh my Gosh!!! The “dishonest” media is not reporting that Mexico will pay back money spent on your precious wall because you have not provided one speck evidence that Mexico actually will be paying back any money spent on your precious wall. That’s called journalism. You report facts. You don’t report “Believe Me! They are going to pay it back because I’m awesome and I say they will,” as credible evidence. In fact, it would be dishonest of them to report that Mexico will pay back those funds because Mexico has stated unequivocally that they will, in fact, not pay back those funds or pay for the wall in any way. So, it would seem that by not reporting that any money spent on “the Great Wall” will be paid back by Mexico, the media is actually being honest in their reporting with the facts they have available to them.

In fact, you seem to question the honesty of any media person if their honesty happens to involve you. Take Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold. He bothered to look into whether or not you actually spent the money your foundation raised at an event supporting veterans on actual veterans. What he found was not very flattering to you. So what did you do? You called him “a nasty guy” and then went about covering your butt. Once you had done that to a level you felt comfortable with, you then blasted him and the rest of the media you continue to call dishonest for not being nicer to you. This “nasty guy” then went on to uncover the fact that your foundation spent money on…wait for it…pictures of you, that you then used to decorate the clubhouses at your own golf resorts. That’s priceless…aaaand also illegal. And to top it off, you totally validated this “nasty guy” who belongs to the “dishonest media” by admitting in your 2015 tax return that you had in fact done what he reported you had done.  When it comes to your use of the the word, “dishonest”, I believe quoting Inigo Montoya might be in order. “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Bottom line, Mr. President-elect, I will end this post with some advice. 1) Toughen Up. You ran for the highest office in the land. People are going to take shots at you. Get over it. 2) Twitter is not your friend. In fact, at the rate you’re going, it could undo your presidency. You are putting far too many things “on the record” with your 140-character verbal diarrhea sessions that seem to occur at hours in which you really should consider sleeping. 3) Grow up! PLEASE!!! You represent all of us now. And frankly, you’re embarrassing.

If you can accomplish those three things…well, you’d still probably be an egomaniacal jerk. But at least you wouldn’t be proving it over and over again via an outlet that you can never take back and has no filter. On the other hand, if you’re not going to stop (which I fully expect you won’t), at least you will be the most entertaining president we have ever had. Which will be of great comfort to us all, I’m sure, when the whole nation’s economy implodes due to your YUUUGE border taxes and your best friends, the Russians, march in to pick up the pieces.


*The statute of limitations has run out and Julian Assange cannot be prosecuted on some of the charges he was facing in Sweden due to the actions of the Swedish prosecutor.

The Burden of Being “America’s Choir”

I feel for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir today. I really do!

I mean I feel for their members, I feel for the organists and conductors and I feel for the leaders of my church who have to make tough decisions. Because the decision each of those individuals had to make in these last couple of weeks have been rough. And regardless of what they chose, it was always a no-win situation.

Now before anyone gets upset thinking this is going to be an anti-Trump post, hear me out. I’m not so much speaking about Donald Trump specifically as I am the situation the choir finds itself in.

I’m quite certain that when The Mormon Tabernacle Choir (we’re just going to refer to them as MoTab from here on out for clarity’s sake) accepted the invitation to sing at Lyndon B. Johnson’s inauguration in 1964, it was done so with much joy and appreciation. It undoubtedly represented an opportunity for the LDS church to be recognized and accepted, by the President of the United States at least, as mainstream. It was recognition that had been long, long overdue and I can only imagine the pride those choir members must have felt, as well as church members worldwide, as they sang in Washington D.C. those many years ago.

Unfortunately, they had no idea of the precedent they were setting that would come back to bite them so 50 years later.

You see, since that inauguration, MoTab has sung at four additional inaugurations. When they are called, they answer. It’s a very “Mormon” thing to do. It’s the same attribute I believe Mitt Romney was exhibiting, despite his obvious misgivings about our current president-elect, when he accepted the invitation to Trump Tower (and a high profile dinner in front of the cameras so that Mr. Trump could parade his defeated foe on display) to discuss the job of Secretary of State. If you call a Mormon to serve, more often than not, they are going to show up. It just is.

The problem now is that since LBJ, only Republicans have called. Richard Nixon called, Ronald Reagan called, George H.W. Bush called and his son George W. Bush called. Who didn’t call? Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Does anyone else see a problematic trend developing?

The LDS church has long maintained a stance of political neutrality. Yes, church leaders have weighed in from time to time on specific issues they believe directly relate to Church standards or teachings, but overall, they do not support a party, a candidate or an ideology. But when one adds this string of Republican inauguration appearances to the overwhelming support Republicans enjoy on a national level among latter-day saints, especially in the state of Utah, outsiders might be prone to take away the wrong message. Or even insiders for that matter who might be Democrats…I suppose.

Which brings me back to my feelings of sympathy for choir members and church leaders who had to make the decision on whether or not to sing at the inauguration of Donald Trump. For them, not good options existed. Had they refused, word would have gotten out and I am quite certain backlash from inside the church would have been fierce and ugly. But accepting has been anything but a cakewalk either.

Throughout the final days of the campaign, social media battles were erupting all over the LDS landscape regarding Mr. Trump. Members were arguiung right and left amongst themselves on whether it was right or wrong to vote for someone who personally had exhibited such great disdain for many things LDS members hold dear. It was not an easy decision and although it would appear the majority of LDS Republicans opted to vote for Mr. Trump in the end, for many, it was not an easy decision.

So now we are coming up to the inauguration. Should the choir travel to D.C. and sing? I personally think they should not. I believe that as the church becomes more diverse and more of a world-wide institution, taking part in any activity that might be construed as supporting one candidate or party over another should probably be avoided. And that view has little to do with whether or not the candidate might be considered moral or not.

It’s about trying to be non-partisan or non-political in 2016’s hyper-political environment. I mean, c’mon, let’s be very real with ourselves for just a moment. Do we honestly believe that social media wouldn’t have exploded with negative backlash within LDS circles if Hillary Clinton had won and the choir had been invited and accepted said invitation to sing at her inauguration? Maybe the majority of members wouldn’t have taken to Facebook or Twitter to express their outrage, but a very vocal group would have undoubtedly been infuriated that the church would send its most visible ambassadors to support “that criminal.”

Unfortunately, the opportunity to make the right decision regarding a performance at Mr. Trump’s inauguration was taken away from today’s choir 50 years ago. Despite all the positive press received by the choir (and by extension the church) due to their presence at inaugurations over the years, MoTab probably should have politely declined LBJ’s offer in the name of their political neutrality. It might have led to some negative backlash at the time, but I guarantee that having the opportunity to politely decline today would have been totally worth it.

Having said that, I hope they do well. I hope they sound as good as they do every Sunday morning during The Spoken Word.

But I do have to add, there was some great humor to be found in the situation as evidenced by the hashtag that trended on Twitter following the choir’s announcement. And if you can’t laugh at some of the offerings found under #motabsetlist, then you simply need to get a sense of humor. Some of the best examples were as follows:

  • I Tweet Thee Every Hour
  • Oh Say What Is Truth (No title alteration needed)
  • Let Us Not Speak Kind Words
  • I Thank Thee Oh God For A Profit
  • Or the Primary song, “I Have Two Little Hands”

But my personal favorite was definitely:

  • Because I Have Been Given Much, I Need A Massive Tax Cut

C’mon, go ahead and laugh. You know it’s funny. And in the meantime, I believe I speak for church members everywhere when I say, Good Luck Choir! We love you and feel blessed that you represent us so wonderfully regardless of where you perform.

Incoherent Strings Of Thought

For the last couple of weeks there have been multiple things I have wanted to write about. But for whatever reason I’ve resisted. It’s not that I didn’t have anything to say. Heaven knows I could come up with 2,000 words on how much I despise the taste of regular NyQuil, but think that Cherry NyQuil should be made into its own soft drink flavor. It’s just…I don’t know.

Nevertheless, I’ve learned that after a while, I’d better put something down or my head will start to explode. I’m a little like Elaine in the Seinfeld episode where she gets stupider by the minute because she can’t declutter her brain. Admittedly, our avenues of dealing with this problem are very different (I need to write them out, she…does other things) but the end result is the same. After a blog post, I seem to be able to think more clearly.

With that in mind, I will now share multiple random thoughts that have very little in common other than they have been rattling around in my brain as of late. So, read on if you feel like it, agree with what you agree with, disagree with what you disagree with, or if you think this is the most asinine thing you’ve come across in some time, please resume your regularly scheduled activity and try to forget this post ever happened.

  • On-line shopping for Christmas is the best. It’s like everyday is Christmas morning for the whole month. Each time a package comes in the mail you get to open it and check it out for the first time and then you get to watch the person you are giving it to open it on Christmas day. Every gift is like a double gift for you and the receiver. AWESOME!
  • There are definitely some developments that I see as positive, but truth be told, Donald Trump as president still scares the living…whatever out of me. Are we absolutely certain we didn’t just sell our souls to the actual devil just so we could avoid one of his lesser minions?
  • Designated Survivor has captured our family’s attention and is one of our favorite new shows. But I hate to admit that this promising concept is starting to feel like it is taking the lazy approach to story telling. We’re getting more and more major characters making completely irrational decisions that no one in their right mind would ever make and the shocking twists are starting to feel a bit like my drive home. Very predictable and I can see every turn coming from a mile away. Here’s hoping the writers step up their game when the show returns in March.
  • Fantasy Football has succeeded in turning the NFL into the ultimate virtual reality game. Since Peyton Manning retired last season, I haven’t really decided who my new team to root for is going to be. Therefore, my only interest in the NFL has been the players on my FF team and the players I’m playing against week to week. What this has led to is a situation where I don’t know which teams are likely to make the playoffs. Truth be told, I don’t even know which teams win or lose week to week. The crazy thing is, I don’t even care. All I care about are individual player stats. That seems messed up.
  • Fox News has officially jumped the shark and shed any pretense of trying to be a non-biased provider of news. One of the headlines, THAT’S HEADLINE WITH A CAPITAL “H”, on their website this week was about the failure of the movie Miss Sloane. Movies fail all the time, but this was a major headline for Fox because the movie revolved around a pro gun control premise. Therefore, it would seem that if a movie advocating a political opinion opposite of what is considered conservative fails, that is now major news for Fox. To the folks at Fox News, please stop. You’re embarrassing yourself. When a movie costs $14 million to make and fails, that’s not news. Disney’s The Lone Ranger? Now that kind of failure is news. And devastatingly harmful to my Disney shares. Sorry, I digress.
  • My brother who is unabashedly liberal posted on Facebook that he has cancelled his subscription to the New York Times because it is conducting business in such a way that Mr. Trump’s claims of bias are getting harder and harder to deny. I don’t personally read the New York Times on a regular basis, but based on this development within my own family, it would seem Fox is not the only one struggling with how to be a legitimate news source in the post-Trump election world.
  • I’ve only seen three episodes, but so far I would have to say that This Is Us is one of the best written television shows to come along in a while. A tearjerker of a show that works hard to earn every single one of the Kleenexes it destroys each week.
  • I love and support police men and women. These brave individuals put their lives on the line every day as part of their job and they deserve our respect. Having said that, how on earth can we expect to make any headway in our country’s current issues with regard to race when a jury (made up of eleven white people and one black) can’t manage to convict former officer Michael Slager of the murder of Walter Scott. He is on video shooting the man eight times as Mr. Scott attempts to flee in the opposite direction. He was killed by a bullet that entered through his back. I believe we are putting the 99.9% of good cops in further harm’s way by refusing to acknowledge the .1% that we can see with our own eyes. As evidence, I submit the increasing number of fallen officers over the last month. We have a broken system that is leading to an unacceptable number of people being killed on both sides of the equation. The time to listen to everyone involved is now. Black Lives Matter and No More Dead Cops. There, we’ve gotten the slogans out of the way. Can we please sit down now and figure out a solution?
  • A pretty cool side effect of finding it impossible to support either of the presidential candidates in the last election is: Now almost every political joke is funny.
  • Notice I said “almost”. Kanye West getting a sit down with the president-elect during the very busy transition period is not funny.
  • Letting yourself get roped into a riddle challenge on Facebook where if you get said riddle wrong you have to replace your photo with a llama is not intelligent. Thus we can surmise that I am not intelligent.
  • Russian leader Vladamir Putin is a bad guy. Russia is assisting Syria in wide-spread massacre. Time and again, Mitt Romney has been proven right that Russia is our biggest geo-political foe. Having a Secretary of State that is “a friend of Russia” is a bad idea. I hope those GOP senators who are having heart burn about Mr. Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State have enough of a spine to reject him if his ties to Russia prove to be too strong. We need to learn from our own history of the 1930’s. Trying to play nice with people like Mr. Putin only leads to very bad outcomes.
  • How are we not doing more to help the millions of refugees pouring out of Syria? If we’re scared of them because they are Muslim, shame on us. I don’t think God is going to give us a pass on this just because we were concerned one terrorist might accidentally get into our country.
  • I hate that writing a second book is a trillion times harder than writing the first one.
  • I love Christmas. Even though it is absolutely ridiculous how busy we have made ourselves this time of year, it is still the best. The music, the kindness, the anticipation, the focus on others before ourselves, the focus on The Savior. Here’s hoping everyone out there has a very Merry Christmas and an enjoyable holiday season filled with family, friends and the stuff great memories are made of.

I Think I’m Having A Red Stroke

Today might be described as a bloglet post.

I don’t intend for it to be very long, but my gripe will require a little more space than a typical Facebook post would allow for. With that said, here we go:

Is there a bigger ego out there than Garth Brooks? I realize the irony of this question in light of the recent Presidential election. But seriously, if you boil it down, I think ego-wise Mr. Trump and Mr. Brooks are fairly competitive. The major difference would be…at least Donald Trump acknowledges his ego. Mr. Brooks would rather try to hide his in this treacly sweet faux-humility that makes me want to vomit.

So where is this coming from you might ask? Well, it’s Christmas time again AND it has been a few years so it must be time for another box set of Garth Brooks music. You know the ones I’m talking about. The collections that contain multiple disks, can only be purchased at one store, contain hits from days gone by as well as other music he’s already released before, sprinkled with the occasional new song you can’t get anywhere else, and all slickly packaged with Mr. Brooks on the front in some newly designed pose that always manages to require him to not smile and look like he’s constipated.

Don’t get me wrong. Back in the day I was a huge Garth Brooks fan. To this day I can still rattle off a number of songs that I truly enjoy: Wolves, In Lonesome Dove, What She’s Doing Now, The River, American Honky Tonk Bar Association, etc., etc., etc. The dude can sing. I am not debating that in the least.

But seriously, is there an artist alive and still producing music today who has bilked, swindled and taken advantage of their fan base more than Garth Brooks?

He won’t release his music on iTunes because he claims he feels so strongly about the importance of the album experience versus individual songs taken out of context. Hmmm…well that’s handy. I mean, heaven forbid you allow people to purchase just the two songs that will be available only on Target’s Ultimate Collection this year because they won’t be able to enjoy them in the context of their album. Except…THERE IS NO ALBUM THEY BELONG ON!!! They are two songs thrown into this collection just so Target can force you to purchase it from them, right now, if you want to have them. So, if you do the math, instead of allowing his fans to download those two songs for $1.29 each, he is going to force everyone to pay $15 each so that they can own these two priceless tunes…along with 77 other songs they don’t necessarily want, or that they already own. Now there’s a guy who loves his fan base, let me tell you.

And furthermore, if “the album experience” is so sacrosanct, how come Mr. Brooks released a different boxed set (he has released five, along with four compilation albums since the mid ’90s) called The Limited Series back in 1998 which basically was just a box set of each of his previously released albums with a single new song wedged onto to each disc for a total of six new songs not available for purchase any other way?

I personally bought my last Garth Brooks album back in college. It was called In Pieces. I still think it’s his strongest stand alone album bar none. Unfortunately, I lost it many years ago, long before I owned an iPod. Every once in a while, I’ll hear one of his tunes on the radio and think, “Man, I would love to download some of those old Garth Brooks songs.” Except, I can’t. And I absolutely refuse to pay upwards of fifty bucks just so I can get five or six songs that I’ll probably remember with fondness for about two weeks and then delete them from my iPod because I’m on to something new.

So here’s to you, Mr. Garth Brooks. While others are actively claiming that they hope the other ego maniac fails, I’m gonna forego that and instead make my declaration that I hope you fail. I hope your new album fails and I hope your new boxed set fails. You have more money than God (To be clear, I personally don’t believe God has a need for money so this statement is obviously for shock value and sarcastic imagery only) so it’s not like you’ll be hurting. And the sooner you go away, the sooner I don’t have to see fifteen hundred Facebook posts of you crying about your Mom on Good Morning America. That raw emotion shtick of yours stopped working for me decades ago.

Instead, if I want a good stroll down memory lane with a classic country tune, I’ll go with The Man. Because every single one of George Strait’s classic hits is available on iTunes…and there’s not a big ol’ box with his gastrically backed-up mug on it anywhere in sight.

Disclaimer: To those who might be offended by my aggressive language, I apologize for the ferocity of this post. But to be honest, my animosity towards Mr. Brooks on this subject has been building for decades. Nevertheless, if I have truly caused offense with my tone, I apologize.