Monthly Archives: October 2013

Shouldn’t This Get Easier?

In past posts, I have tried to interject humor into my thoughts. I know some readers have expressed that this is one of the main reasons they enjoy reading the blog. Personally, I don’t think I’m that funny, but I try.

Except lately, I haven’t been. Most of my recent posts have been arguably humor free. And for that I apologize. One reason has been the seriousness of the subjects I’ve been dealing with, and another is that I tend to be at my “funniest” when I am at my most acidic. As my wife puts it each time one of my “humorous” posts comes out, “Why do you have to be so negative?”

So it would seem I’m funniest when I’m at my snippiest. And today I don’t want to be snippy…

I could…

I just don’t want to.

I mean, theoretically, I could ask the question, Is it just me or is anyone else concerned that we’ve got John Cleese in drag serving as our Secretary of Health and Human Services?

I mean, seriously, doesn’t the Obamacare rollout followed by Kathleen Sebilius’ media tour and congressional testimony not resemble something you would expect to see in a Monty Python sketch?

“Ms. Sebilius, isn’t it true that President Obama’s statements from 2009, which he has repeated many times since, that people who like their health plan would be able to keep it was misleading in light of the millions and millions of Americans who are getting kicked off their plans due to Obamacare regulations?”

“No, the President never said anything misleading in any way.”

“Really? Can we watch the video?”

President Obama from 2009 “We will keep this promise…to the American people. If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor, period. If you like your health plan, you can keep your health plan, period.”

“So from that tape, Ms. Sebilius, you don’t think people who are being kicked off their plan because of Obamacare regulations could have been mislead by that statement?”

“Not at all. But let’s not focus on that, let’s focus on the number of people who will now get healthcare because of Obamacare.”

“You would rather focus on them than on the 14 million who now will not have healthcare, that they actually did have before, because of Obamacare?

“Yes, please.”

“Okay, fine. How many people have signed up for healthcare on the new website?”

“We are not going to release those numbers at this time.”

“Do you know the numbers?”

“Yes.”

“But you’re not going to tell me the numbers?”

“No.”

“Why?”

“Because we have chosen to release them later.”

“But you could help us focus on those who are getting healthcare who didn’t have it before if you would share those numbers, don’t you agree?”

“Yes.”

“But you’re not going to?”

“No. Not at this time.”

“Do you actually have cheese?”

“Of course, we are a cheese shop.”

“Then I will take some chedder cheese.”

“I’m sorry, we are all out of chedder.”

“What cheese do you have?”

“We have a nice limburger.”

“Then I will take limburger.”

“…Oh, dear, it appears the cat ate it.”

“So, in fact, you do not have any cheese.”

“That is correct.”

“You understand I have to kill you now.”

“Of course, sir.”

Does anyone else notice how easily that segued from reality to absurdity? It makes my head hurt.

But as I said earlier, I don’t want to focus on that today. I would rather discuss something else that might not lend itself to the humorous.

The NBA season started last night and the sports pundits have been falling all over themselves wondering who, if anyone, can take the crown away from the Miami Heat. Amongst all these pundits, a common refrain is that it is way harder to repeat as champion than it is to win the first time. I’ve heard this argument related to sports all my life. And I’ll admit that I’ve always been skeptical. I mean how can it be harder? Just do what you did the last time. And this time around, you’ll have the chance to be better because now you know the formula for success.

Well, I am skeptical no longer.

You see, now that the book I wrote is out in the marketplace, the most common question I get from people I know or from anyone who still wants to interview me (which is not many) is if I plan to do another one. Each time I answer, I get a little coy, but the sense I leave everyone with is that I will try to do it one more time.

So I guess I should come clean. I am doing it one more time. I started on my second book several months ago. And you know what? I’m finding it way harder to write than the first one.

Now why?

I’ve been through it once, it should be easier right? But it’s not. The drive is different. Before, I was writing to discover if the dream I had harbored for years was really even a possibility. I had to know. But this time around, I already know. And it has sapped the drive a little bit.

The second thing is that a lot of people joke about my becoming a rich, famous author. But the actual experience has been not so much. Especially in the “rich” department. I think deep down, I hoped that THE RELUCTANT BLOGGER would provide a decent return. In my most wild “realistic” hope, I wanted it to pay for a trip to Hawaii for my family. I don’t know that we would have gone to Hawaii, but I wanted to think the book would allow for that opportunity. At this point, I think it could possibly get us to Yuma for two nights.

The third and final struggle is that THE RELUCTANT BLOGGER was about me. Anyone who knows me already knows that. Almost without fail, any family or friend that talk with me about the book share that when they read it, they can almost hear me talking. And to be truthful, that was by design. Heaven knows it certainly made it easier to write. But this time around, I’m not writing about me.

With the new book, I wanted to try something new in hopes of rekindling that fire that I mentioned in reason one. So I’m delving into the world of history and legend. No, I am not joining with most other authors and penning a Yound Adult novel and no, there will be no magic nor fantasy involved. But it certainly is not some guy five hundred years ago writing a journal for his prairie shrink either.

And you know what I’m discovering? Trying what I’m trying is a lot harder than what I did the first time. Well dang. I wanted something challenging, but I didn’t necessarily want hard.

So that begs the question. Should I have ventured into a new arena or stuck with what I know? One of the things that makes Mary Higgins Clark so popular is that you know what you are going to get. She’s written the same book twenty times, but she’s certainly figured out how to do it well.

All of these questions are rhetorical. I’m not going to scrap what I’ve done so far because I’ve done too much. But I will admit that when it gets exceptionally difficult, I am tempted to scrap everything and revisit my old friends, Dr. Schenk, Todd and the rest of the gang. In fact, during these moments of reflection, I have come up with what I believe would be some very interesting stories that could be told in a similar format to THE RELUCTANT BLOGGER with Dr. Schenk acting in the same role as he did with Todd. Definitely something I will consider in the future.

But for right now, I need to buckle down and focus. I want that second ring. The one that is truly turning out to be harder to get than the first one.

In other news, I received an exciting e-mail today. My publisher informed me that THE RELUCTANT BLOGGER will be appearing in the Deseret Book catalog that is going out to 350,000 people between November 25th and December 29th. I can’t begin to explain how big this is. It is very fortunate for a book not published by Deseret to be featured in one of their catalogs. So my request is that if you receive the catalog, share it with someone who doesn’t and happen to point out this amazing book you’ve heard about and…Oh!!! There it is!!!! or something like that. The other favor I have, and this is a big one, if you have read the book and enjoyed it, it would be very helpful to me if you would go to these links Deseret Book or Seagull Book and leave a review. I know it seems silly, but it means a lot. So I thank you in advance and remember; nothing says the holidays like a book about a dysfunctional man struggling with the death of his wife by writing on a blog to his psychiatrist. I mean, can’t you almost taste the egg nog after reading that sentence? Consider THE RELUCTANT BLOGGER as the perfect gift for that person who’s impossible to shop for.

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Rotten to the Common Core

I owe my friend, Lan Allen, an apology. Well…a partial apology and I will give him no more than that.

A couple of years ago, we had a state ballot initiative pushing for an increase of our state sales tax in order to fund law enforcement, schools and healthcare. The main proponents of the bill used the same old trick they do everytime they can when it comes to something like this and put education as the poster child (pun intended) for the bill and chose to largely ignore healthcare and law enforcement.

During that election season, Lan and I (along with others) had some spirited debate regarding the bill. I was for it, he was against it. I was coming from an admittedly somewhat self-serving position as hospitals in Arizona desperately needed the additional funds to pay for services we were providing to medicaid patients that we were not getting paid for. Lan was against the bill because it was an additional tax that would be sending more money to what he described as an already bloated institution. For the most part, he was referrring to education.

As I have several friends and family members who are teachers, I defended the bill because I believed our schools are not funded well enough and our teachers are certainly not paid enough. And that is where my partial apology comes in. I still believe our teachers are not paid well enough and that things should be done to improve the pay scale for those teachers who do a good job educating our children. Their wages should be able to feed a family. And I don’t want to hear all the crying and moaning about how they get the summer off and their shorter work day. They do a tough job and they should expect a reasonable wage if they do it well.

Having said all that, let’s fast forward to today now that I have a daughter in high school. My experiences over the last few months have changed my thinking about money and education somewhat.

I live in a conservative community. Very conservative. And the main discussion points that I have been hearing with regards to education have been negative comments regarding the Common Core. That seems to be a conservative rallying point right now. But what I can’t figure out is how a conservative community is so up in arms about the Common Core when a far more egregious (in my opinion) problem is festering and expanding right under out noses.

So first of all, let’s deal with the Common Core. Most of the feedback I have heard from actual educators is that…it ain’t that bad. In fact, it’s a definite improvement over the AIMS/”No Child Left Behind” debacle we’ve been operating under for the last decade and beyond. It sets a standard that all schools in America need to adhere to and then gives a wide variety of programs that have been deemed effective in helping schools teach to that standard.

Now the two main complaints I have heard against the Common Core is that one, it allows federal government intrusion into our schools and takes away parents’ and communities’ freedom to oversee their children’s education.  The second argument has to do with material on the Common Core’s approved reading list being downright obscene. The argument goes that before we know it, our children will be forced to read the vilest of filth without us as parents having any ability to stop it.

My answer to these to arguments is that if we were performing at the levels we should be as a nation that has all the tools available that we do, people wouldn’t have a platform to push Common Core. But too many communities and states have been failing miserably and so, whether we like it or not, we abdicated our rights to a government that could make an argument for setting a national standard that states had no rebuttal for. I don’t like it, but it is reality.

The second argument I find funny. I read 1984 in high school (as did many others of my generation) and I was shown the movie, Romeo and Juliet in junior english. The movie contained nudity and the book contained descriptions of a sexual encounter. I understand these examples are not to the level of some of the cited works that show up on the Common Core’s approved list, but I know I would have been embarrassed to see or read either of those works with my mother. My point is, if you want to make sure your kid is reading or seeing things you deem appropriate, you have to be policing it constantly regardless of whether the Common Core is in place or not. And it has always been that way.

But I think the main point detractors of the Common Core are advocating is that they don’t want their children to be taught negative life lessons as part of their education. They want values to be included in their schools. I couldn’t agree more. Which is why I am appalled at the general ho-hum attitude that surrounds our current educational system, specifically related to extra-curricular activities.

When I went to school, you didn’t pay extra to play sports. Your parents might have to shell out a few dollars for a physical and equipment like shoes and such, but that was about it. The same was true of choir and band. It was the responsibility of parents to come up with an instrument, but that was it. Conversely, if we took band and choir, we learned music. We might travel to EAC, forty miles away, to compete in a band or choir day and we might march in the odd parade, and if we were really lucky, we might be selected to go to Tucson or Phoenix to try out for regional or state band/choir. Likewise, with sports, we played the teams that were our size (or at least reasonably close) and geographically nearby. The furthest we ever travelled for a sporting event against another school was to Tombstone or Bisbee, both of which were about 130 miles away. Again, if we were fortunate to make the state tournament, we might get to travel further than that, and maybe…just maybe might get to stay overnight if we won our contests on the first day.

Today, Thatcher High School requires $100 for each sport your child wants to play. That includes cheerleading, which was my daughter’s activity of choice. We’re told this money is to help cover the costs associated with travel for their chosen sport or activity as the schools just no longer have any money to cover those costs themselves. Okay, fair enough.

But it doesn’t end there. If your daughter makes the cheerleading team spirit line, you are immediately required to come up with $300 so they can attend a three-day summer camp. Ouch!!! But we’re not done. The school doesn’t have the money to pay for styrofoam cups to go in the fences to wish our sports teams good luck, so we as parents are asked to contribute there too, along with other odds and ends here and there. Not a big deal. But then you discover that the cheer team has roughly six different uniforms, which is why they are required to man a concession booth at the summer baseball games and hold mini-cheer camps for younger girls (which if you have a younger daughter to go with your older daughter, you can be guaranteed you’ll be paying a registration of $25 for that as well.)  Meanwhile, our spirit line has not accompanied the football team to one away game because the school is broke. I could go on further with just the cheer squad, but let’s move to other examples…shall we?

As I said, the school is broke. So if you want to attend a sporting event the cost for every member of your family, including kindergartners, is $5 a head. So for my family to go see Abby perform at half-time of the Friday night game, we are out $25. Keep in mind, we already paid the $400 just to get her up and going before school started. The same figure will hold when we hit basketball season when there can be as many as two or three games a week instead of one. Still $25 a shot. This is so that our sports teams can afford to travel and…whatever else they need the money for, because remember, our schools are broke.

Did I mention that choir and band are included in the “$100 to be involved” ponzi scheme program. Well, to be fair, if you are in beginning high school choir, it is only $30. But if you are in the show choir, that is the full $100. Then you are on the hook for the cost of the show choir costume which is…who the heck even cares anymore, just take my checkbook and try to leave a little in there for my mortgage. Oh, and by the way, to attend your child’s choir concert, (after you have paid to let them have the privilege of being in these extra-curricular activities) you get to pay $3 a head, coming to $15 for my family to go and support my daughter in choir. CHOIR!!! My goodness, our poor schools. They must be positively destitute.

If your daughter wants to play volleyball? Well, $100 to start off with. But then you have to pay (from what I am told) and additional $250 if she is on varsity for additional uniforms, because 2 is not enough. Also, there are camps involved here, but it gets far worse. It has become the pratice to have all of these girls in club volleyball. See, if you are public school, you can only practice for a certain number of weeks prior to the season. But if all the girls on the team join club volleyball as a team and then play together throughout the year, that’s legal. Certainly nothing unethical we might be teaching our children there at all. But the other issue is, club volleyball is EXPENSIVE. But if you don’t play club volleyball, you fall behind, or at least out of the clique. So if you are, let’s say…a teacher, your daughter is probably disqualified from playing volleyball because you just flat can’t afford it. Except, I do live in Thatcher, so if your daughter is 6’4″ and exceptionally gifted, I’m sure all of those expenditures will be dealt with somehow. Just don’t ask how. However, if your daughter is 5’7″ and shows potential…BUT could still use some work. You’re probably out of luck.

Where all of this takes an even uglier turn is that as a parent, you are told all of these costs are required because that is the cost of sports or music. And if you can’t pay, you can’t play. Which I might be able to stomach if…

  • The show choir were not taking a trip to Disneyland this year
  • The volleyball team weren’t competing in not one, but two three day tournmanets (not the state tourney) that require putting up the team in a hotel and feeding them for three days.
  • Our sports teams were playing all the teams locally instead of travelling to hither and yon because state playoffs are now goverened by power points instead of conference play. (Oh, and the football state championship game is being held in Flagstaff (250 miles away) this year for no reason other than they (the powers that be) want to rather than use a perfectly good field in the middle of the state.)
  • Every organization didn’t get their kids t-shirts. (My daughter came out of her room the other day wearing a choir t-shirt to promote the choir concert that night. They didn’t actually wear them at the concert, just at school that day to promote the concert…the concert that cost me $15 to attend.)

There are so many problems associated with what I’ve stated above, I don’t even know how to begin to address them all in one place coherently. But I’ll try.

  1. What happened to telling kids “No!” No, you don’t need more than two uniforms for a sport. And the uniforms can last for up to four, maybe even six years before they get passed on to the JV. No, you don’t need to go to Disneyland to learn how to sing. No, you don’t need to have thousands of dollars spent on you to play a sport. No, you don’t need a summer camp that costs hundreds of dollars when you can have someone come to you and teach you the same things for much less money. I don’t give a crap about bonding as a team. Bond on a camping trip up Mt. Graham.
  2. Every kid is paying the same amount for extra-curricular activities. But there is a major difference in how football, boys’ basketball and volleyball get treated as compared to the other sports. Where is the money going and is it being distributed evenly? If not, why not?
  3. If schools are so broke, why are we continuing to let some tone-deaf bunch of morons dictate how we will compete in our sporting programs. Most Arizona Interscholastic Athletics (AIA) members make six digit figures and yet prove to be the most corrupt bunch of crooks we’ve ever seen. I didn’t realize overseeing Arizona athletics could be such a good preparatory experience to obtaining a seat on the International Olympic Committee. Power points, traveling hundreds of miles to compete in State championships and trying to find creative ways to stay on the right side of the public school rules while having to compete against private schools that don’t have any rules to speak of. When is this madness going to end? And when are we going to have to stop paying for it.
  4. We live in a community that supposedly believes in Christian principals. So why are we okay promoting these systems that create a complete class division of haves and have-nots? Morally it is not right.

Which ultimately is why I don’t get too worked up about the Common Core. All of these problems I just mentioned have been building long before the Common Core showed up. And if the Common Core can come in and guarantee that my kids will be taught math, language, science, reading and so on, great. That’s what education is supposed to be about. We only ever instituted the extra-curriculars because they were supposed to teach character. (I’ll pause while you take a minute to stop laughing.)

So maybe it’s true. Maybe the schools really are broke. Or is it just our priorities that are bankrupt?

 

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Is My Name Alice?

In Lewis Carroll’s novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, a young girl follows a rabbit (wearing a waistcoat no less) down a rabbit hole that leads to a land filled with bizarre creatures who all seem to operate under a system that defies logic and common sense. With each passing day, I can’t help but wonder if I’ve somehow fallen down the same rabbit hole. Why would I say this? I provide the following examples:

Obamacare: Does anyone else get the sense that the President is operating under the same type of governing style as the Queen of Hearts as depticted in Walt Disney’s Alice in Wonderland?

Our president sold this bill as one that would bring down premiums and yet no one’s premiums are going down. In fact, a large majority of American’s premiums are going up. DRAMATICALLY! And the man still goes on the stump and says there is no evidence that Obamacare is causing premiums to rise despite mountains and mountains of evidence that suggests exactly that.

The person in charge of implementing Obamacare, H&HS Secretary, Kathleen Sibilius, can’t answer the simplest of questions: How many people have actually signed up for Obamacare?

“We can’t actually put a number to that.”

REALLY???

People sign up through a computer. You know those things that know whether or not I blow my nose with a Kleenex or with Charmin toilet paper and then market to me accordingly. They are those machines that can track where I am with my phone and guide me to any address I ask for (with voice activation software) down to a few yards. And you expect me to believe that you can’t give us a ballpark number of how many people have signed up for Obamacare? Please!!!

Another question she has trouble with: Why is the website such a disaster to work with and why did it keep crashing when you rolled it out?

“Well, any new venture has problems out of the gate. But I can tell you it is better today than it was yesterday. And it will better tomorrow than it is today.”

HOLY CRAP!!! And we’re expected to buy this?

Can you imagine if Apple introduced the latest iPhone onto the market and it utterly failed on day one. Any CEO, along with the entire marketing department would be fired immediately if they came out with the slogan, The iPhone 6. It’s working better today than it did yesterday.

Also, this bill allows for members of Congress (individuals who make a heck of a lot more money than I do) to receive a 72% supplement of any plan they purchase under Obamacare. We the people don’t get this, but they do. However, when politicians who support this bill are asked about the supplement, their response is:

“Umm…I don’t get a supplement.”

“So you sir are willing to go on record as saying you will forego any supplement provided to congress under the Obamacare bill.”

“Oh, you mean that supplement. Yeah, umm…can we change the subject?”

Finally, the whole supposed purpose of this massive law was to get a large segment of the uninsured population insured. But instead, all corporations have been given waivers so they don’t have to insure their people anytime soon, most of the uninsured who couldn’t afford health insurance are opting for the penalty because premiums are still too high, (which is why they were uninsured in the first place) and still…

Still the president goes on the stump and claims what a groundbreaking, awesome law this is and under no circumstances can we do anything to change it.

Is it just me or is this the same concept as painting the roses red?

Smiley Virus – For the record, I refuse to use the girl’s real name because that is exactly my point. Why are we as a culture giving so much air time to female child stars whose lives are on a one way bus ride to crapsville? It’s a simple solution, but let me walk through the process since nobody seems to understand it.

They’ve been taught during their impressionable years that publicity (regardless of how you get it) is the only thing that matters in life. So when they get tired of being a “kid” star, they’ll do anything to get noticed.

So if you want to help…stop talking about them. Ignore them. Do not help them further destroy themselves by becoming their drug dealer for the only drug that matters to them…Attention.

If we were to hear about someone supplying these girls with heroin and forcing them into prostitution, we would scream for them to be arrested and thrown away for life. But as a society we seem to have no problem picking up the latest People magazine and reading about how so and so masterbated on stage and then filmed herself naked on a wrecking ball. (What’s the definition of prostitution again? Just asking.) All so we will keep talking about her.

So stop talking about her…PLEASE!!! Because this trend we keep seeing has a very merry unbirthday feel to it.

Federal Parks Closing – Let me make sure I understand this. If people in Washington can’t figure something out, Public lands-you know, the ones our tax dollars pay for- get shut down.

COME AGAIN???

Did Washington build the Grand Canyon? Closer to home, did the federal government move a bunch of earth and then plant a bunch of pine trees to create the campgrounds that have been used for decades on Mt Graham? So then who the hell are they to say we have to stay away until they quit their grandstanding and petty namecalling? It brings to mind a large green caterpillar who I believe said it best.

“Whhhoooo ARREEEE Yooouuu????”

Oh yeah, we already discussed this didn’t we? We’re being governed by a man who believes in yelling at anyone who disagrees with him, “OFF WITH THEIR HEADS!!!” And he is surrounded by a bunch of weak-willed “suits” whose integrity is paper thin. A bunch of cards who are more concerned about television face time than they are about solving the problems of our nation.

So I am left to beg from anyone who might be able to help me. Can someone please point the way out of this rabbit hole? I think I’ve had enough.

 

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A Rundown of Mile 21

When I started this blog, I specifically stated I did not want it to be like a lot of other author blogs where I talked about the process of writing or passed along tips on how to be a more effective writer. I also mentioned I wasn’t much interested in becoming a book review blog. I’m still not.

So when I was approached about possibly reviewing books, I was a little leery. I stated emphatically that I would not do it very often and when I did, I would be pretty selective about which books I reviewed. In other words, I acted like a diva.

But, since the request came from my publisher, I admitted that I was curious about one of their October releases that came out this past Tuesday entitled, Mile 21. Mile 21 is a novel by Sarah Dunster and the reason it intrigued me was due to the similar themes it had to my own book, The Reluctant Blogger.

The story centers on Abish Cavendish, a twenty-year-old student at BYU-Idaho who also just happens to be a widow. The book begins almost a year after the loss of her husband and follows her efforts to overcome depression, re-enter single college life (including roommates), and come to grips with the possibility of a relationship.

Sound familiar? I know. It’s The Reluctant Blogger, only 15 to 18 years earlier.

Except it’s not. And that’s why doing a review of this book is so difficult for me. I couldn’t help comparing and contrasting it to my book the entire time I was reading it.

Nevertheless, I will try and share my feelings about Mile 21 with as little influence from my own book as possible.

PROS

-This is a very well written story. Ms. Dunster does an incredible job of helping you feel what Abish is feeling. Sadly, that’s not always a very good place to be. Also, the author was very effective at shining a light on the ridiculousness of the LDS college singles’ scene, especially at a Church-owned institution. I thought when I attended Eastern Arizona College that it must be very similar to the experience I would have had at BYU or BYU-Idaho. Not so. Several times, Abish finds herself in deep trouble for things that were far less egregious than things I did at EAC. Needless to say, I am so glad I never had to worry about a curfew. Anyway, Ms. Dunster’s descriptions about college life in Rexburg were fascinating to me, an LDS outsider who experienced college at Arizona State (a one-time headliner on the list of top party schools in the nation).

-This book was not predictable. I mean, yes, you can probably guess where things will end up, but the journey getting there is not what I expected at all. And I enjoyed that. Some of the things that happened to Abish felt a little over the top, but again, because of Ms. Dunster’s ability to so clearly describe life in Rexburg, I had little trouble accepting them as reality at the time they were happening to Abish.

-I liked her main love interest. There isn’t much more to say except that often times this is the hardest character to get right. And Ms. Dunster succeeds mainly because she isn’t afraid to make Abish the bad guy. It’s much easier to make your love interest sympathetic yet real if you are willing to let your protagonist be an idiot sometimes. And Ms. Dunster handles this very well.

-I appreciated that Ms. Dunster delved into subject matter that isn’t fun for LDS people to talk about. I believe this makes for a realistic story and leads to meaningful conversations that are beneficial to our culture.

CONS

-This is a personal thing that I can’t handle in real life, so take what I’m about to say with a grain of salt. Too many conversations ended before they were done. Abish likes to throw verbal hand grenades that should lead to further conversation/confrontation, but then they don’t. It is understandable for the character because she prefers to put up walls between herself and other people. But I was often frustrated that not any other character ever called her on it. They simply let her walk away. I would have enjoyed a good blowout that forced Abish to either back up what she said or back down.

-The book is sad and frustrating and at times, downright depressing. It leaves you happy, but you have to be ready to wade through a lot to get there. If you aren’t ready to do that, this book isn’t for you.

Overall, I would recommend Mile 21 highly to someone who wants an entertaining read of LDS fiction that isn’t a glossy recruitment pamphlet for the faith or for BYU-Idaho. It emphasizes the need for family, friends and faith, but it isn’t afraid to explore some of the underbelly that goes along with our culture. For me, the experience was truly enjoyable.

Mile 21 is available on Amazon, BarnesandNoble.com and wherever LDS books are sold. 

I was provided a free electronic copy of Mile 21 in exchange for an honest review. Nothing more, nothing less.

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Did He Just Say What We Think He Said?

One criticism made of Mormons that I have always resented a great deal is that we are sheep. That we are somehow an army of mind-numbed robots who (with plastic smiles of the brainwashed firmly in place) take our marching orders every six months from Salt Lake and never question anything. Never think critically of the religion we follow. It is a description I have heard countless times and I detest more and more each time it surfaces.

I’ve resented that my belief that a boy could be approached by God and Jesus Christ is so pathetic in the minds of some who have no problem subscribing to a fish swallowing a man whole and then spitting him out three days later. I’ve resented the dismissive attitude of those who think records kept on plates of gold is such a ridiculous concept when they themselves take no issue with the idea of God reaching down from the sky and inscribing the ten commandments on tablets of stone.

And although it pains me to admit this, one of the key reasons I have resented this attitude so much is because of the times in my life when I’ve had trouble believing each and every thing about the LDS faith myself. I’ve hated being called a sheep in part, because I’ve sometimes in my darkest hours wondered if I am one.

Okay, maybe this is all a little deep, so let me back up.

Crazily enough, my train of thought begins last Monday when I received an assignment from my Bishop. As one of his counselors, he asked if I would take the responsibility of finding people in our ward to work a booth at the county fair being held this coming weekend. It was an assignment from our Stake President and it couldn’t have come on a crazier week. This week is homecoming for the high school in the town where I live. It is also, as I mentioned, the fair, which is a big deal around here. My first thought was, “Whose hairbrained idea was this? Isn’t the number of other church related assignments I’ve got going on at the moment enough?”

To be upfront, I don’t particularly enjoy the fair. I consider it a colossal waste of time. I feel the same way about booths at the fair. This is my belief and my belief only, but this admission gives you an idea where my mutinous thoughts began.

But I didn’t say anything. I just took the paper, and with it, the assignment. Because that’s what we do. Mormons do what we are asked and we never question why. At least not loud enough to be heard by the people giving out the assignment. It’s just something that’s ingrained in us from an early age and I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing.

But sometimes, it doesn’t work. In sending us to earth, God provided each of his children with different attributes and talents and sometimes those characteristics work against the idea of accepting without question. And sometimes they don’t. I respect my father so very much because he doesn’t question, he just does. His belief is such that he doesn’t need an explanation, he just needs a direction and off he goes. He’s amazing.

I, unfortunately, was not blessed with those same attributes. And there have been times in my life when that has made things difficult.

Case in point, I have never understood the rationale for withholding the priesthood and the blessings of the temple from individuals of black African descent. I had heard all of the arguments (they were less valiant in the pre-existence, as a people they were just not ready for the responsibilities associated with the priesthood, God had withheld the priesthood from the gentiles in earlier eras and so he was just doing the same here) but none of them ever made sense to me. They did not jive with what I heard when I listened to the Gospel of Jesus Christ preached.

But if I followed the natural line of thinking, I was the one who was wrong. Because if God had wanted blacks to have the priesthood, he would have revealed it and they would have had it from the beginning.

Enter serious doubts.

Finally, when it became clear that there was no historical record of when this practice became accepted in the Church and when it became clear that no one could pin-point where and when God and directed his prophet to make this distinction, I had a choice. Do I give up my faith in a prophet on the earth or do I find a way to reconcile this that allows me to keep my faith while holding to a belief that withholding the priesthood was never God’s will? I chose the latter.

In my heart, I came to believe that maybe…just maybe, God interacts with his Church leaders the way he does with us. Personal revelation does not generally come unless we ask for it and are ready to accept the answer. I decided it was the same for governing councils of the Church. The prevailing opinion in the 1800s was that the African race was inferior. You don’t have to look too deeply to find those commonly accepted beliefs (regardless of how repugnant they may seem to us today in 2013) being expressed by Church leaders as late as the 1960s. So, using my critical thinking skills, I came up with the following scenario that allowed me to find peace:

God never intended for the African race to be denied priesthood blessings. It was a decision made by church leaders who were called of God but were nevertheless humans who were affected by the culture and wisdom of the world surrounding them. In my heart, I believe God mourned for his children who were denied these blessings just as he mourned for his children who were driven out of Kirtland, Far West and Nauvoo. But he needed his Church, and those who lead it, to seek his will and be ready for his answer. And when they were, he provided them an answer.

I’m not trying to judge those Church leaders who have gone before. I was not in their shoes. I simply needed an answer that allowed me to see past my doubts and hold onto my faith. And this is what I came up with. If anything, it strengthened my faith. It allowed me to recognize that Church leaders at whatever level are (generally) good men who are doing their best with the overwhelming responsibilities given to them. But sometimes, in their attempts to address issues that arise, their response will be a human one.

It worked for me. But I was afraid to ever express this belief out loud because this just isn’t something you say in LDS circles. Pardon if you disagree, but as a culture, we tend to want to deify our leaders. We are comfortable in theory stating we understand they are human. But when it comes to practical application, we tend to dismiss the theory.

So fast forward to this past Saturday morning. My family and I had been watching the opening session of General Conference when I had to leave and take my daughter to a cheerleading event  being held that morning. I continued to listen via radio and after I had dropped her off, President Uchtdorf began speaking. His message was not necessarily new. He was inviting those who had left the Church to return. But contained in his words was something I had never heard before. It was an admission that past Church leaders have made mistakes.

To my knowledge, that has never been stated before. Not like that. Yes, there have been allusions to the fact that they are human beings and they as individuals aren’t perfect, but an admission that mistakes have been made on the part of Church leaders? That’s new.

I can’t tell you how grateful I am for his talk. As I mentioned, I had found peace. But it is a lonely place to be to worry that one of the anchors holding your faith in place might be resoundingly rejected if you mentioned it to anyone else. It made how I felt (whether correct or incorrect) okay. Because whether I am right or wrong, it doesn’t matter. It’s giving me the power to doubt my doubts instead of doubting my faith.

It makes me feel comfortable with saying that I know God and Jesus Christ live and that they love me. I know it. However, I believe strongly that God restored His church on the earth through Joseph Smith the prophet and that Thomas S. Monson is His chosen prophet today. I want to know it, but believing it is enough for me right now. I have faith that it’s true and I believe God is the one responsible for giving me the intellect that has trouble accepting things without question. And He will reward me for standing true when maybe I didn’t have the resounding testimony that others have.

And more than anything, I have faith that He will sort out those things that are true and those that are…products of our time. I have to believe that He will help me understand polygamy, because right now, I don’t. And I hate it. And I hate that it’s always sitting out there in that realm of things we don’t like to talk about because for a lot of us, it kind of makes our skin crawl. Because of my knowledge of God’s love for me, I’m content to trust Him on that one and wait for an answer later on.

And that brings me back to my assignment for the booth at the fair. I will get it done and I will probably be one of those manning that booth. Not because I’m a sheep. But because I’m a man who trusts God. And I understand that God has to work with human beings, including those who lead his Church. So even though I may think the fair is a waste of time, I will support a man who is doing the best he can with an overwhelming task. Because I will hope for the same if and when I am given responsibility and make a decision that others consider a mistake.

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