Monthly Archives: December 2013

And This Is Why Nothing Works

I read a link on Facebook today that reminded me of a scene from one of my favorite movies, The Dark Knight. In the scene, two different ferries loaded with people take off from a dock to cross the river and get their passengers to safety. One is filled with convicts and the other is filled with average citizens. Once they get half way across the river, all the engines stop and everyone discovers that the boats are filled with explosives. Each boat has a trigger for the other boat’s explosives and if they use it to blow up the other boat before midnight, they are promised they will survive. Very morbid, I know. But the study in human behavior is fascinating.

Very little focus is placed on the convicts. Most of the attention is placed on the average citizens and their belief that the convicts had their chance at a full life and gave it up because of their sins. Therefore, they are completely justified in blowing them up and saving themselves. A vote is taken and confirms that a majority of the average citizens feels this way. But when it comes down to it, no one can pull the trigger. Everything is fine when it is theory we’re talking about, but when it comes to the actual application of hurting or killing others, we want someone else to do it for us so we don’t have to live with the consequences or guilt.

It might be a little bit of a stretch, but this little drama I described seems to be where the conservatives and tea party in this country find themselves.

A little over two years ago, the right burned several of their own at the stake (example: Bob Bennett from Utah, rated one of the most conservative senators in the country) for voting in favor of the bank bailouts. Never mind that most economists said our economy would collapse if we didn’t have the bailout. If a RINO (Republican In Name Only) Senator dared to vote for it, he had to go, according to the new right wing of the Republican party. After all, wouldn’t it be better to let it collapse and build it back up correctly? When it was pointed out that millions of people would be REALLY hurt financially, the response was basically a shrug. It could be painful, but it is what’s right for the country, was the general consensus among this group.

This cleaning of the house brought us new political names like Ted Cruz and Mike Lee. You may recognize them as the leaders of the Shut Down The Government if We Don’t Get What We Want crowd. They vehemently argued that Obamacare will bankrupt an already debt-ridden country. To be honest, they may be right. And my argument today has little to do with Obamacare. But the point of their diatribes is that we must cut spending. That has been one of the key components of the Tea Party from the beginning. We have to shrink the size of government and bring spending under control.

Fair enough.

But then why am I reading posts today about the conservatives and Tea Party calling for the head of Paul Ryan over veteran’s benefits being cut in the new budget? And why for weeks, months and years have conservatives fought any and all efforts to shrink the size of the defense budget?

We need a strong country, Rapier. Don’t you want to be safe from terrorism? And as far as veterans go, you ungrateful young snot, they fought for this country and they deserve everything we can give them. It is atrocious that we dare think we can balance the budget on the backs of our veterans.

Okay, I hear your arguments, but my response is, it’s time for you to choose. What is it you really want? Lower taxes? Spending cuts? Smaller government? Or do you want the exact opposite. Because the message you are sending is this. We want all those things but we only want cuts made to things we don’t support.

We want to pull the trigger on the button that blows up the other boat.

I’m sorry, that’s bullcrap and it isn’t the way this country works.

See, the issue here is that we on the right tend to get a little tunnel vision sometimes. Let me ask a question. What, according to conservative thinking (which I agree with in this situation, by the way), destroyed the auto industry in America?

Answer: Labor Unions. They were getting too much money and benefits for the jobs they were performing.

Except that wasn’t quite it.

The thing that labor unions had done to bankrupt Detroit was the pension packages and health benefits for retirees they had negotiated over the years. Auto makers could have survived if they only had to pay excessive wages and benefits for the people still working for them. It was the folks who no longer provided anything to the bottom line that were sucking the life out of the industry. Most conservatives agree on this point.

So, if conservatives support restructuring pensions and benefits for retirees for the bankrupt auto industry, why are we so up in arms when a new budget calls for the exact same thing within the ever increasing ranks of veterans who served a country now on the verge of bankruptcy?

Like we said, Rapier, these people fought for our country. It’s different. 

You mean, they are on our boat. Republicans are the champions of patriotism and the military. We can’t dare take money away from our guys. Take it from someone on the other boat.

Think about the astronomical costs associated with providing VA health benefits to every member of the military who has ever served and then add the pension benefits from when they retire on top of that. Then factor in how much longer the life expectancy for human beings goes up year after year after year. How are we supposed to afford that forever without any cuts?

As far as defense. I work at a hospital that has had to deal with lower reimbursements from Medicare and Medicaid for the last five years. In order to stay alive, we’ve had to evaluate our processes and we have discovered ways to save thousands upon thousands of dollars. Are you telling me that this would not be the case with our defense department? Over the years, there have been multiple examples of massive waste inside our defense spending. It’s time for them to work with less (like we expect other government agencies to do) and find where the waste is themselves and get rid of it.

Now let’s look at another conservative ideal: self-sufficiency. I served a two-year mission for my church. Should I expect them to kick in when I retire? Of course not. My life is my responsibility. Now, if I were disabled while serving, that would be a different discussion. But individuals who served in the military should be as responsible for their lives as anyone else. In my opinion, we should pay them much better while they are in, and let them figure out how they will survive with much less being provided directly from the government (like the rest of us) when they wish to retire.

But that isn’t what conservatives and tea partiers are saying. They are calling for someone to get rid of Paul Ryan and all of the Republican leadership for suggesting that we can’t keep paying for the lives of veterans in perpetuity. Based on conservative ideals, who are the true fiscal RINOs in this scenario.

Secondly, there is anger on the part of conservatives and the Tea Party for Ryan’s having worked with a democratic senator to ensure the budget would pass. Republicans have been hammering the Obama administration and Democrats for not passing a budget for years. Now that they are willing to do so (with extremes in both parties unhappy) we want to kill our guys for working with them. How unbelievably hypocritical!

So, can we figure this out before we get to 2014? What does the Tea Party want? Do they want smaller government, lower taxes and spending cuts or do they want the status quo? Because here’s a hint. You can’t keep moving the goalposts for your own team and expect to win. Republicans are doing what they believe they were asked to do only to be told they are wrong and it is time to get rid of them. It’s highly unfair and borders on a system of insanity. There is no politician alive who can promise to leave everything as is for the programs they support while also promising lower taxes, smaller government and spending cuts. (Sorry Ted Cruz, that means even you.)

I would like to see Republicans take the Senate in 2014 and increase their numbers in the house. But if we don’t start taking a rational and pragmatic approach to politics, we will see 2012 repeated again, and again, and again. We can’t expect to get everything we want and give the opposition nothing. Politics in a democratic or republican system just doesn’t work that way. And frankly, I like my odds on a boat filled with explosives better than living within an alternative to democracy. Even if the alternative includes an invitation to a Tea Party.

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The 12 Days of Christmas Marketing

Before I get going on my rant of choice today, I have to share a quick story.

As I have mentioned, our oldest daughter is a freshman in high school this year. This has been a learning experience for all of us with some really big highs and few rocky lows. Needless to say, we are all still adjusting to the nuances of having a 14-year-old daughter living under our roof.

Anyway, this morning, just before I walked out the door for work, my wife approached me with a pink slip of paper in her hand. It was slip for afternoon detention dated 12/17. Being the reasonable non-judgemental parents that we are, we immediately assumed it was Abby’s and that she had specifically kept this bit of disciplinary information from us. (The fact that a teenage girl who is trying to hide a detention from her parents would likely have a little bit more sense than to inadvertantly leave the slip in the toilet paper basket in the bathroom, completely escaped us.)

Abby was not yet awake and I had to leave. So on my way to work, I covered a lot of ground in my own mind. This was it, she had crossed a line and I was sorry to have to do this, but…she had backed me into a corner. Her Christmas might be ruined, but Dad was comin’ down hard on this one.

I had been at work for maybe an hour or two and was still contemplating exactly how best to make the punishment hurt when my wife called. Apparently, Abby had never had detention and was stunned to even think we would believe she was capable of that. At this point, a bit of shame found its way into my chest. Shannon then explained that when she asked the rest of my children about the detention slip, our 11-year-old son was quick to confirm that he had found the slip on the cafeteria floor and felt the need to pick it up. I guess a trash can wasn’t handy nearby so he brought it home for no reason. Furthermore, he could not provide an explanation as to why he had left in the bathroom. Coming from Braden, that’s not surprising. Bottom line, I’m glad this all came to light before I got home and launched on Abby with no justiifcation in sight. That would have just been the perfect way to kick off our Christmas break.

Now, on to today’s rant.

I love Christmas. It really is my favorite holiday outside of the first weekend of the NCAA Men’s basketball tournament. (Before you start, I recognize it as a holiday and there is nothing you can do to convince me otherwise.)

But there is one aspect of Christmas that is simply painful and seems even worse this year than normal. I speak, of course, of the asinine television ads created specifically for the Christmas season. So, in honor of the Christmas season and the traditional 12 days of Christmas, I’m going to highlight and mock my 12 least favorite ads that I’ve seen this year. (Some are ghosts from Christmas seasons past, but the advertisers apparently felt no need to spend more money on this tripe so they just ran the same garbage as last year.)

12. Target – So this isn’t technically an advertisement, but nothing says, “Feel the love of the Christmas season,” like a major retailer staying competely silent as anyone who shopped at their stores NATIONWIDE – starting black friday and running throughout December – had their credit card information hacked. Well done, Target. This will be the gift that keeps on giving well into 2014 for millions of your loyal customers.

11. M&Ms – Seriously, have we not played out any and all entertaining possibilities with the little M&M guys. I mean we crossed a line earlier this year when they had the red M&M dating the hot girl who keeps trying to eat him as he sings about it while playing the piano. STUPID!!! But this ad they’ve trotted out for at least the last two years of the yellow and red M&M guys meeting Santa only to have Santa faint is just…not funny. Not even close. It wasn’t funny last year, and it’s still not funny this year. Time to hire some new ad execs and come up with a fresh idea. Seriously, we’re beggin’ ya.

10. Best Buy – Okay, I’ll admit that the idea of famous funny people reading Christmas stories by the fire is not a terrible idea. And in some cases, the ads are actually humorous. But when you buy two spots of advertising during the same ad block of a show over and over again, any credit you get for having a clever idea is lost and cannot be retrieved. It’s just not funny or effective when I saw it less than 90 seconds ago.

9. Audi – This is the first of several car entries on this list. And the biggest problem car companies have is that their ads make zero sense. It’s like their ad execs are in a room and several of them have ideas that could work, but rather than choosing one, they decide to get stoned instead and then try to combine them all. I think this ad where people are throwing their car keys into a department store Santa’s donation receptacle references this. “We’re going to need a bigger pot,” a gum-smacking, doofus-sounding elf lady cracks. No, you are all on pot for thinking this commercial is somehow clever.

8. Party City – Seriously, if non-rhyming words set to the tune of Mambo #5 is the best you can do for a Christmas ad, don’t advertise at all and pray people find you strictly by coming across your name in the Yellow Pages. It got to the point where muting this hideous travesty wasn’t enough. I had to start changing the channel everytime it came on.

7. Local Fox Affiliate – In recent years, I had started avoiding the local Fox affiliate in the month of December in the hopes of not seeing this ad of their news people acting silly for the camera in Santa hats while some hideous ditty plays in the background. But to actually trumpet the fact that you’ve been using the same song since 1997? Good gosh. Bottom line, I don’t need to know what fun-loving people my news anchors are. Specifically since local news has devolved into a lower form of shock reality television. Tonight, we’ll tell you how it’s possible porn rings made up of illegal aliens selling drugs have been operating out of fake church buildings in your neighborhood. But right now, let’s remember how you’ve seen me hanging the same piece of junk ornament on our station’s tree for the last twenty-five years. The phrase “Sleigh Bells Ring” now has the Pavlovian effect of making me want to chuck my shoe at the television.

6. Honda – A plastic version of Michael Bolton (oh wait, you’re telling me that’s the real guy? Wow.) looking constipated while he sings does not make me want to buy your car. Even at Christmas. Enough said.

5. Nameless Luxury Car Dealer – There is an ad with a grandpa nagging his son to get him somewhere in time to fulfill a 40-year tradition that makes me want to vomit everytime I see it. It is so bad, I have mentally blocked out which car company it is that made the ad. I mean, there are so many problems with this spot. One, if this is so gosh darn important, why didn’t you leave before the massive storm system set in. Two, lighten up old man. Showing someone nagging from the back seat does not generate good will in the minds of anyone who drives a car. And lastly, again with the stoned ad execs. They arrive so that he can hang an ornament on a string of lights that is already hung. Then, inexplicably, the whole forest lights up. WHAT??? They needed that one ornament for the lights to work? And who hung all the other lights in the first place. If I’m that guy, I’m ticked. I work my butt off all freaking day long and then geezer over here shows up with one little ornament and gets all the credit? What a rip! You’ve been airing this commercial for at least three years. Retire it…Now!!!

4. K-Mart – I get the feeling that K-Mart has just accepted that there is a place lower down on the food chain of box stores than Walmart…and that is where they want to be. How else do you explain the decision to air an ad that has six to seven “men” wearing tux tops and boxers and then having said men shake their hips to imply that their genitals are making bell noises that play a Christmas carol? First, this can’t do much for the career of the guy who is responsible for the highest pitched bell. Second, way to keep it classy there K-Mart. You wouldn’t want anyone to think that your store’s items live up to the legendary quality and sophistication of Walmart’s.

3. JC Penny – I would love to have been in the ad meeting where someone suggested having two rows of carolers that inexplicably roll along behind shoppers while singing songs that describe the said shopper’s dilemma. Making this even more effective is instead of working to make the carolers’ songs rhyme, someone had the great idea, Why don’t we just fa la la la la when the going gets tough. Double Whammy? Also guilty of the double buy in the same block of advertising. Super effective if your goal was to make me hate the very thought of your store.

2. Sears – Starting two weeks before black friday, Sears began running this ad of a guy being chased by a bear with the Christmas tree he had just cut down. Later, he appears beside the bear doing a snow angel. Sometimes the ad starts off with a picture of this guy with his family in a frame that suddenly has the glass crack for no reason, but then sometimes it doesn’t. In each instance of this ad running, it has been advertising the next day’s One-Day Sale. FOR AN ENTIRE MONTH!!! I’d like to say something snarky here. In fact, I’d like to say a hundred snarky things here. But this ad is so pathetic, I feel that if I took the time to come up with a good put down, I will have put more effort into this ad than Sears did. And that just doesn’t seem right.

1. Various Fragrance Corporations – It seems like fragrance companies have put way more into advertising this year than ever before. Or maybe I’m just watching more TV. But either way, here is what I have taken away from this year’s crop of fragrance ads. If I want to have sex, I should buy my wife perfume. Unless of course she looks like Keira Knightly, in which case, when I turn my back, she will escape out a window and drive away on a little scooter. On the other hand, if my wife looks like Natalie Portman, I will have to take dancing lessons and buy my wife not one, but several expensive gowns. Well, that’s out. However, if I wear cologne, I can look like an Adonis as I shed my clothing in various and sundry ways to reveal a ripped body worthy of worship.

There are two reasons I include this as number one. First, talk about a great example of why peer pressure is bad. Not one of these companies feels like they can produce an ad that makes sense. They all have to devolve into an Andy Warhol-like mess. And second, umm…I have kids in the house, folks. Chill out just a tad on the sexual imagery why don’t you?

Bottom line, I will be glad when Christmas arrives and I can spend time with my family and no longer be subjected to bad, stupid and just downright lazy advertising. Yes, I know I could just turn off the TV, but when I have an hour+ each night to try and rock a baby to sleep, that ain’t happenin’.

So, having said all that, I still would like to say from my family to yours, here’s wishing you a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. And if you do have to watch television advertising during this Christmas season, here’s hoping it’s a beer ad. I don’t advocate drinking, but at least most of the time they make me laugh.

 

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A Peek Inside An Accidental Marriage

Accidental Marriage

So, welcome to my second ever book review. As I stated previously, I don’t do this very often and when I do, I probably don’t do it correctly. But it is what it is, so here we go.

I have a fourteen-year-old daughter who is full of dreams and confidence. Sometimes, her dreams and confidence scare me and cause me long nights of sleeplessness and indigestion, but overall, I’m very proud of who she is. And I look forward to seeing who this typical teenage girl becomes. Because today, in 2013, a girl with talent and confidence can become just about anything she wants.

Sadly, we don’t have to look very far back in our past to find a time and a place where this wasn’t necessarily the case.

One of the things I love most about my daughter is how much she reminds me of my mom. Alberta Lee Martineau was a force of nature. She was highly creative and driven to accomplish. During my lifetime, she ran her own insurance agency, started an economic development committee for the small town where I grew up, was instrumental in creating a huge 4th of July celebration in our town that continued for many years and…oh so much more. When I graduated from high school, (I was the youngest of two) she followed me down the road to Eastern Arizona College and started a six-year odyssey that would culminate in her receiving her Master’s Degree in Counseling. From there, she embarked on a second career in child counseling that she would pursue until the cancer that would take her life made it impossible to continue.

But when my mom got married in 1970, the world was not necessarily a super hospitable place for women. Aggravating this problem for LDS women was the idea that they could pursue any dream they wanted as long as that dream included being a full-time stay at home mom and the best homemaker on the block.

As a child, I had no way of understanding these societal and cultural limitations placed on women. All I knew was that my mom was not overly sympathetic and expected as much or more out of me than my father. And that she wasn’t a big fan of cooking. What I learned later in life was that my mom did what was expected of her, but didn’t always enjoy it. Don’t get me wrong, I know she loved being a mother, but being a homemaker? Not so much. Also, my father wanted to return and live in the town he’d grown up in. It was the only life he could see for himself. My mom? If she could have chosen, she probably would have chosen someplace bigger with more opportunities for…everything. But she supported my dad, raised my brother and I, and made what she could in the corner of the garden she was given. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I came to learn and appreciate so much about my mom. What she sacrificed, what she endured and ultimately what made her tick.

Now I realize I’m 500 words into a book review without once having mentioned the book. But I have my reasons. And the reasons are, As I read Annette Haws’ The Accidental Marriage, all I could think about was my mother, and that I was possibly getting a peak into her experience as a newlywed.

The Accidental Marriage is a story that centers around Nina and Elliott, a couple of young LDS youth getting ready to enter the world of adulthood. Each comes from a very different background within the LDS culture. Elliott’s upbringing would best be described as traditional. Mother in the home, father providing for the family, lots of kids and not a lot of money. Nina, on the other hand, was born to an affluent family with a mother not interested in staying at home and a father with big plans for his highly intelligent daughter. Bottom line, these two were not supposed to meet, let alone wind up together.

But when a chance encounter in Scotland (he’s a missionary and she’s a student studying abroad) leads to their dating, engagement and then marriage, they quickly find out (possibly a little too late) that their life expectations are wildly different from one another.

The Accidental Marriage is a fantastic book. Beyond the main story, it also deals with a couple of subplots that are interesting and worth inclusion. One of the more interesting is Nina’s venture into the workforce as a teacher. For a child of the ’80s, reading about the barbaric work conditions women were forced to endure as late as 1970 was rough. And I truly appreciated this aspect of the story.

Also of interest was the clash of tradition vs. progress when it came to women in the LDS culture as exemplified by Nina’s relationship with her mother-in-law, Rachel. Rachel resents and resists everything about her new daughter-in-law. Their relationship, or lack of one, is well written and frustrating enough to make one want to break windows or pull out their hair. However, if there is one criticism of the book I would make, it would be that Rachel’s mission of driving Nina away from her son, even after they have been sealed, didn’t feel right. All my life, the people I have met who remind me most of Rachel usually see things very black and white. As such, they generally feel that a sealing must be protected at all costs regardless of any negatives. And that’s where Rachel’s character felt a bit off for me. From the beginning, she makes it clear she has no use for Nina and is more than happy to see the young couple call it quits. In fact, she does all she can to encourage that outcome. But in the overall scheme of the book, the character is a fantastic, and multi-layered villian. So my quibble with her with regard to context is a small one.

But at the core of this book, is the conflicted feelings of Nina. She is a beautiful, intelligent and talented woman coming of age in a time where expectations and opportunities for women in general are changing. But only just. At several points in the book, I found it painful to read as she tried to force herself into a mold that didn’t fit her. As a man, it was embarrassing to read about her husband’s lack of compassion and understanding for his new wife as he also tried to box her into his expectations and continually took the side of his mother over her. Nina’s story is a powerful one and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

But more than anything, the reason I loved this book is because of the personal experience it gave me. I felt as I read it that I was being granted a small window into my mother’s early life before I entered the picture. Now, to be fair, my mother always had a great relationship with her in-laws, and there were other aspects that did not mirror my parent’s relationship at all. But Nina felt like my mom. And this book made me appreciate her even more.

So, if you buy only one book this year…I would of course want you to buy The Reluctant Blogger. (Still on sale wherever LDS books are sold.) But if you buy two books this year…well, I would actually prefer you buy two copies of The Reluctant Blogger and give one away to a friend. But if three books are in your budget…umm…I can’t say for certain because I haven’t read Sycamore Row by John Grisham yet. If it’s as good as the last two novels he’s written, I might say buy that one next. But if it’s as bad as The Street Lawyer or, even worse, that gosh awful piece of dung, The Appeal, then definitely don’t buy Sycamore Row.  Nevertheless, if you only buy four (possibly three) books this year, make The Accidental Marriage one of them. It’s really that good.

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I Think I Get It, But I’m Probably Wrong

In two days, we will arrive at the first anniversary of the Sandy Hook school shootings.

So, my plan this weekend is to avoid any and all mention of any look back or rememberances of the event as portrayed by the media. I just can’t take them. It’s too hard.

See, the thing is, remembering events like those don’t help me as a person. I wasn’t there and I wasn’t directly affected. So bringing it all back up does the one thing that I try hardest to avoid. Remembering makes me contemplate if it was my child.

Each of the little faces they will show look way too much like someone I know or, heaven forbid, someone I kiss and hug each night before they go to bed. Those kids were kindergartners. I have a kindergartner. Because my wife and I apparently have a problem, in five years we will have another kindergartner. Like I said, It’s just too hard.

But for whatever reason, this morning I clicked on a link that took me to a short video produced by Shadow Mountain (which for all intent and purposes is Deseret Book) that was titled Evil Did Not Win. I don’t know why I did it. The link specifically mentioned it had to do with Sandy Hook. There’s a good chance if the opportunity came at a different moment, I probably wouldn’t have clicked at all. But I did. And I’m glad I did.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, it was as bad as I expected. The sweet little face of Emilie, one of 20 children killed that morning, appeared on the screen and I started bawling. And I didn’t stop during the entire clip. But it helped me realize something that I think I’ve always known, but have never actually put together before.

Emilie and her family are LDS. And while a lot of people will think that this means the ordeal was easier because of their knowledge of the gospel, that is not what I took away from this. What I feel I came away with was a greater understanding of what my religion is all about.

See, when we lose people, it’s very common in the LDS culture for people to say that we sure are glad we have the gospel because we know we will see them again. The truth is, I’ve always had a problem with that. One, Mormons are not the only group of people who believe that. In fact, many folks who don’t even belong to an organized religion hold onto that belief. But two, regardless of what the future may hold, it is the loneliness and grief of the right now that is problematic. When my mother died, it was comforting to think that I would see her again at some point in the future. But it does little to help my sadness when I need her right now.

And that’s where this video enlightened me, although it probably wasn’t in the way that was intended.

It made me realize why we have the Church. And provided a cognitive thought for me as to why and when God chooses to direct his people.

I’m going to veer off into another topic for just a moment, but I think it’s connected and hopefully it will all come together in the end. This last conference, President Uchtdorf made the comment that church leaders had made mistakes in the past. That was new. As a culture, we like to think of our leaders as infallible. But for the first time in my life that I can remember, he acknowledged that mistakes had been made, not just in the personal lives of church leaders, but in the administration of the church as well. That groundbreaking acknowledgement was followed up this past week by a post that appeared on LDS.org regarding the history of the Church’s priesthood ban for people of black African descent. It acknowledged that the ban at no time existed under Joseph Smith. It was traced back to Brigham Young and it also acknowledged that it was likely a product of his views as shaped by the times.

That’s a bold admission for a church that claims divine guidance. And it may cause some heavy deep thinking for many in the Church who have operated under the assumption that every word said by a general authority is doctrine. But if handled right, I believe this process can be an enlightening, and even growing experience.

Because it will lead us to seek a personal answer to the question: What is God’s role in His Church? And for me, that question led to seeking out an answer for this question: What is the Church’s purpose in the first place?

I’m almost positive the knee jerk response many would have to my second question would be: to help us return to his presence. And I would agree…with a caveat.

See, we already know that a person doesn’t have to join the church to return and live with God. By our own doctrine regarding temples we know that to be true. Yes, somebody needs to do it, and by default, that would be us, but church membership in this life is not a requirement for salvation. So why the drive to bring everyone into the fold? So they can know the truth? You could make the argument that joining the Church later in life…or for that matter, not in this life at all, would provide a better outcome for a person in the long run because their culpability would be less.

But, but…they wouldn’t know the happiness of the gospel. And that’s true. But either way, wouldn’t they be happy eventually? And does gospel knowledge always provide happiness in this life?

Now don’t worry. I’m only playing devil’s advocate and in no way mean to imply that the Church is not important. In fact, my argument is quite the opposite. What I am trying to say is that sometimes, I believe we create things in our culture that help us make sense of things we may not fully understand. And in doing so, maybe sometimes we forget the simple things that are right in front of us.

For instance, when someone who loses a child – whether it be in a tragedy like Sandy Hook, or whether it be through any myriad of things that happen on a daily basis that don’t necessarily provide us with an evil to blame – we want to make sense of it. We want to know why God would let that happen. We want to understand and we want to make it right.

But we can’t.

So we start looking at the gospel as a resource to provide those things we can’t provide on our own. And sometimes, not always, but sometimes, we make it more complicated than it needs to be.

For instance, in regards to the loss of a child we will comfort someone by saying, “They were just too righteous and they needed the opportunity to get a body before God called them home.” (At this, I nod understandingly. Based on the scriptures, we can pull several doctrinal teachings together to make this plausible.) But then someone else will sometimes follow up with, “And don’t you worry, if you are a righteous parent, you will have the opportunity to raise that child in the Millenium.”

Huh?

First of all, what a great way to unknowingly add pressure when absolutely no additional pressure is needed. Secondly, where in the canon of scripture is that actually stated? I’m not looking for an obscure quote from a prophet, I want actual accepted doctrine as contained in the scriptures. My guess is you won’t find it.

And when we do things like this, we start to miss the point of God establishing his Church on the earth for the benefit of his people. Saying things like that doesn’t necessarily help people. For those who know my family situation (My father married my mother-in-law after both of their spouses passed away. Yes, reread that sentence carefully. It said what you think it said.) having someone tell me that they know my mother is celebrating in heaven over what has transpired with my father and mother-in-law, while well-meaning, is simply untrue. They don’t know that. And no point of doctrine backs up their claim. Furthermore, what if I’m not okay with my mom being okay with this. (I am, by the way, but I can’t honestly say what she thinks about this matter, because she’s not here.) Their well-intentioned gospel knowledge has the potential to cause more damage than good.

All of which is a long way of getting back to my original point. What was God’s purpose in establishing his Church? Yes, first and foremost it was to provide the principles and ordinances to return to him. But I think a reason that has more importance than we realize is found in an often passed over portion of Moroni 6. We recognize in that chapter the council to meet together oft to partake of what we now refer to as the sacrament. But in the verse before, it mentions meeting together oft to speak with one another concerning the welfare of their souls.

They met together oft so they would know each other…and be there for each other when the time came. And I believe that is one of the main reasons we need God directing His church on the earth.

So are you saying that we need organized religion to teach us how to be nice to each other? That’s ridiculous. I don’t need organized religion to teach me how to be a good person.

Actually, you do. And you don’t just need any organized religion, you need God’s designated religion. Even though at times, decisions made its human leaders may seem a little wonky.

You need a faith that has human leaders who are inspired to create programs called Home and Visiting teaching. Is the purpose of these programs to guarantee that each and every member receive gospel instruction in the home because God is worried we won’t get it any other way? Is it the purpose of this program to inspire guilt if a well-meaning but busy home teacher doesn’t make it to someone’s house by midnight on the 31st of the month? No. It’s designed to make people get to know each other who under normal circumstances might not ever associate with one another.

You need a faith that has human leaders who are inspired to designate Monday nights for Family Home Evening. Is it imperitive for the salvation of a child that they have their picture on a little board that tells them they are responsible for the opening prayer this week? Is it vital that each child in a family receive a straight shot of sugar, in the form of “treats”, each Monday evening? No. It’s a way to help families stay close in a world that would repeatedly try and keep them apart. It’s a way to help children communicate with their parents so that when times get tough, they don’t have to wonder if their parents care about them or not.

You need a faith that has human leaders who are inspired to embrace programs that ensure parents are not alone in the raising of their children. Is it necessary for our eternal salvation to attend Round Table once a month and buy way-too-expensive green pants and khaki shirts? Is Friends of Scouting really The Lord’s Way? No. But Scouting and Young Womens’ callings foster relationships for youth with responsible adults, other than their parents, who in turn now have a vested interest in the outcome of that child’s teenage experience.

You need human leaders who are inspired to have us spend time together on a Sunday. Do we really need to hear Brother so-and-so’s ten-minute take on a gospel principle that we aren’t even supposed to be discussing in Sunday School? Is the number of hours we spend in church directly linked to God’s affinity for the number 3? No. But if we came for Sacrament meeting only, when would we interact? When would we learn about each other? When would we start to care?

See, for all this yammering on that I’m doing, what I’m really trying to say is this: When the hard times come, whether it be a horrible tragedy like Sandy Hook, or something more mundane like a child making bad decisions, or a marriage ending, or simply those moments of doubt when it feels like the world is caving in on us, God knew we wouldn’t have all the answers. He never meant for us to. But what He could do for us, was make sure that we have each other. In God’s divine plan – and by extension, in his divinely inspired church – none of us should ever have to face the worst life has to offer alone. We may choose to, but we definitely shouldn’t have to.

And sometimes, I believe, it’s as simple as that.

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Top 10 Things I Learned Over the Thanksgiving Weekend

Every year it’s hard to go back to work following the Thanksgiving weekend. It always starts with such promise as I expectantly look forward to 4 WHOLE DAYS off. But then it seems as if I sit down for that Thanksgiving meal and all of a sudden, the turkey sends me into some alternate universe where time passes at 10 times the normal rate. Next thing I know, Monday has arrived and the entire weekend is gone with only a dream-like haze surrounding the memory of it. And that’s where I find myself today.

But never fear. This year, I decided that Thanksgiving would be instructive for me. I was determined that I would at least come out of this four-day blur with some useful knowledge I could use to better my life. In hindsight, I’m not sure anything I learned could be characterized as useful, but I did come away with a few things. And I share them with you now.

10.  My Black Friday Enjoyment Has A Limit – Several years ago, I learned that I enjoy the blood sport that is Black Friday. I like trying to get a deal, but more than that, I like watching the madness (generally from the safety of the clothing racks where no one is battling it out to the death and where I can get a decent view of the movies and games where people go absolutely nuts.) I will admit to being a little dismayed last year when Black Friday crept into Thursday. I didn’t get too upset because it was at 10 p.m., long past the time of feasting and refeasting on the leftovers. But this year? Too much. Deals starting at 6 p.m. was offensive to me. So I chose to forego my normal gladiator viewing in favor of feeding a cranky baby while watching football. It definitely felt more traditional.

As far as a family edict? There was none. I didn’t try to dissuade my wife and daughter who waded into battle in order to get a great deal on boots at Stage, but for me; I will not return to Black Friday until it is once again actually held on Friday. (Which probably means never.)

9.  I Think I Prefer The Leftover Turkey Sandwich To The Actual Turkey – A thin layer of mayonnaise on bread slammed with dark meat pieces? We have a winner!!!

8.  The 2013 Version of Garth Brooks Is More Of A Magician Than Musician – So when I did finally make it to Wally World on Friday, I came across a Black Friday display of the Garth Brooks 124th How-Can-I-Possibly-Repackage-My-Music-One-More-Time Box Set. As I don’t currently own any of the 123 previous box set versions of his stuff, I sat there for about…at least 20 seconds contemplating how I might like to own this. But then I realized I had probably heard it all enough back in the 80’s and 90’s when it came out the first time. I mean seriously, I enjoyed Garth as much as any other country fan, but seriously, has any other musician stuck it to his fans and made more out of less than Garth Brooks? (Okay, I’ll give you Miley Cyrus…alright, I’ll include Billy Ray Cyrus as well, but that’s it.) Final analysis? I’m a fan of the music, but not of the brand that is Garth Brooks.

7.  Jabari Parker Is Absolutely The Most Fun College Basketball Player To Watch But It Takes More Than The Most Fun College Basketball Player To Watch To Beat A Legit Team…And The University of Arizona Wildcats Are A Legit College Basketball Team – UofA – 72, Duke – 66 I’m pretty certain there is no further explanation required.

6. The University of Arizona Football Team Is Not A Legit Football Team – My family and I traveled to Mesa so that my three oldest children and I could attend the ASU/UofA football game in Tempe on Saturday night with my brother-in-law and his son. What was supposed to be a tense, close match-up between heated rivals turned out to be a kitty roast in the Inferno. Try again next year, Tucson. And by the way, your big name coach you hired is now 0-2 vs. the in-state rival. Here’s hoping you keep Rich Rod around for another ten.

5.  College Football Team Uniforms Are Getting Out Of Control – To show that I am not being completely biased here, ASU’s uniforms for the Territorial Cup game were my favorite all black ones. But instead of the matching black helmets, they chose to wear white helmets with…white socks. It was almost like they got the uniforms ready and then someone said, “Hey, where’d we put the black helmets?” At that moment, in the corner, the team manager is doing his best to appear invisible because he remembers that he accidently sent the black helmets to the incinerator downstairs. So, with no black helmets, they decided to wear the white ones. And so that it won’t look completely ridiculous, they decide to wear the white socks at the same time. Not my favorite call.

But they were not the worst choice for uniforms on the field. Not by a long shot.

It seems like the UofA feels this pressure to keep up with the Sun Devils and the cool uniforms that ASU came out with when they unveiled the three prong pitchfork logo. So last year, UofA introduced their all red unis. (EPIC FAIL). They look like a bad Tim Burton movie out on the field when they wear those things. But this year, they entered the stadium in white uniforms with blue sleeves. Not bad. But the uniform numbers were such that it appeared they couldn’t decide which color they wanted to use…so they just went with both. Red that faded to white that then emerged into blue. Or, in other words, someone took mind-enhancing drugs when they designed these things. But the worst part was the helmets. They were either gold or copper. It was impossible to tell. But they certainly weren’t school colors. I’m believing they were supposed to be copper so that they could try to brown-nose their way into the hearts of the undecided Arizonans *cough*SNOW BIRDS*cough* (as opposed to actually playing well which would have worked a ton better.) But in truty, they looked like a team that lost their helmets as well, but instead of using other helmets in their own storage facility, they decided to borrow the Notre Dame practice squad’s. Not a good look.

4. Thanks To ASU, Shopping For My Infant At Christmas Time Turned Out To Be A Lot Easier Than I Expected – Here is my son modeling both the crying face of my two-month old as well as her Christmas present we found while we were waiting for the game to start.

Logan Bib

3. I Need A Sombrero For My Next Game – I mean seriously. This sombrero (pictured below) is totally legit. It is made to be an ASU sombrero. It even had the pitchfork woven into the overall design. You can’t tell me you don’t want one. Even UofA fans would want this over those ridiculous helmets they wore.

Sombrero

 

2. My Daughter’s Bucket List Worries Me – During our trip down to the valley, my wife, my daughter and I got into a discussion about our bucket lists. These are the items my 14-year-old listed:

1. Family photo in loin-cloths. (EWWW on so many levels.)

2. Burn Down a Building. (Okay???)

3. Fly on My Personal Jet To Europe and Visit England, France, Ireland and…the rest of it. (This One I Can See)

4. I want to egg someone. (Not something, someone. This was added later in the day when we saw some UofA fans and she wanted to egg them. When I suggested that would not be very kind, she simply said that it is on her bucket list to egg another human being. Nice.)

All I can do is hold onto the hope that all of this will pass and that her bucket list will become somewhat more responsible like…

1. What My Bucket List Contains – During the course of the conversation, Shannon realized she had no idea what she would have on her bucket list other than a trip to Europe as well. I, on the other hand, composed a list fairly quickly. It looked like this:

1.  Rent an RV and drive state to state all across the western United States, hitting every temple we can along the way. (Aren’t I spiritual? Sadly, thus ends my spirituality.)

2.  Attend the Holy War in either BYU or Utah stadium. (I don’t have a dog in the fight, but I think it would be fun to watch Mormons battle it out with each other.) ((Yes, guys. I know Utah considers itself the anti-Mormon school, but all that means is that most of the people going there used to be Mormons before they decided they weren’t anymore. Or else they’re still Mormons.))

3. Attend the Ohio State/Michigan game in either stadium. (I just want to see first hand what a life so miserable looks like so that football actually matters that much to a person.)

4.  Play golf at Pebble Beach.

5.  Return to England with my wife.

6.  Go on an RV trip where I see a game in Wrigley Stadium, one in Yankee Stadium and one in Fenway Park, go to the Hill Cumorah pageant, golf one of the sites of the US Open that has taken place in the northeast, see a Broadway play on Broadway and visit the Washington D.C. Temple. (I know, I know. That is like five trips rolled into one, but we’re dreamin’ here.)

7.  Bungee Jump.

8. Go to New Zealand and visit the sites of the Lord of the Rings movies.

9. Take my family back to Maui.

10. Play Black Jack at every casino on the Las Vegas Strip.

See, doesn’t that list seems so much more mature than daughter’s? So all in all, it was a very enlightening Thanksgiving. This was so inspiring, I now look forward to what I can learn next year. Until then, I hope everyone had a happy and enjoyable Thanksgiving.

And by the way, the real number one thing I learned is how much I truly am thankful for my family. Without them, these holidays just wouldn’t matter that much.

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