Friday, February 27, 2015

Joining the Tea Party

Orthodox Mormons obey what’s called the “Word of Wisdom,” a health code given by revelation to Joseph Smith and later canonized by the LDS Church. More precisely, orthodox Mormons obey what has become the standard interpretation of the Word of Wisdom, an interpretation that one could easily argue is a far cry from what’s contained in the actual canonized revelation. For most Mormons, obeying the Word of Wisdom means not drinking any coffee, tea, or alcohol whatsoever and abstaining from the use of tobacco and illicit narcotics (and probably marijuana even if, when, and where it becomes legalized). In the traditional Mormon mind, that’s really all it takes to follow the Word of Wisdom. This is important, because adherence to the Word of Wisdom is a requirement of entering an LDS temple, and participating in temple rituals and ordinances is a pre-requisite to obtaining maximal blessings in the afterlife. Few Mormons give a second thought to the Word of Wisdom’s prohibition against eating meat outside of times of famine and cold. Few Mormons are even aware that the Word of Wisdom specifically allows for the drinking of beer. And then there is the philosophical problem of making mandatory adherence to a revelation that explicitly declares itself non-mandatory. If I’m forced to obey something that says not to treat itself like a commandment, doesn’t that just mean I should continue treating it like it’s not a commandment???

But my concern here today is with the Word of Wisdom’s supposed condemnation of coffee and tea. The Word of Wisdom never mentions coffee and tea by name. Instead, it states that “hot drinks are not for the body or belly” (D&C 89:9). LDS Church leaders later declared that “hot drinks” should be understood as coffee and tea. This interpretation can be confusing, however, because iced coffee and iced tea—and maybe even coffee ice cream—apparently fall under the rubric of “hot drinks,” while scalding hot herbal teas and beverages such as Postum and mate do not. The language of the revelation also raises the question of who, if anyone, ever used coffee and tea on his/her body. The fact that the Word of Wisdom discourages “hot drinks” from being used on the body makes the interpretation of “hot drinks” as coffee and tea all the more tenuous.

I have long been skeptical of the standard LDS interpretation of “hot drinks.” Though nobody ever suggested it to me, I started to believe that if there were any credence to this particular piece of the Word of Wisdom, it probably referred to the literal temperature of a beverage. Don’t drink really hot stuff. It’s not good for your body. That makes sense to me, and it’s a documented fact that hot beverages pose certain health risks related specifically to temperature.1  When I came to Community of Christ, I was pleased to learn that they too interpret “hot drinks” as referring to temperature. It’s what I already believed. Of course, as a practicing Mormon, I kept to the standard LDS interpretation of the Word of Wisdom. Even though I felt it was a distorted version of the revelation itself, I believed it would be dishonest of me to do things my own way while reporting to others that I obey the Word of Wisdom—when being interviewed for a temple recommend, for example. It wasn’t burdensome to me. I had tried coffee, iced tea, and alcohol (albeit just a wine cooler) when I was in junior high. I hated coffee and I didn’t really care about the wine cooler. I quite liked iced tea, and I was sad to think it couldn’t be among my usual beverage options. But I didn’t consider it a big deal to abstain from any of these things.

Well, although I’m still technically a Mormon, the fact that I’m converting to Community of Christ means I’m not really concerned about the LDS interpretation of the Word of Wisdom. And that means I’ve been able to spend some time over the last couple of weeks expanding my beverage horizons. Conveniently, Chick-fil-A has been offering free coffee during the month of February. So, on a recent visit, Melanie and I decided to get a vanilla iced coffee and try it together. I figured vanilla iced coffee stood as good a chance of tasting yummy as any coffee drink possibly could. But it didn’t taste yummy. To me, coffee tastes like extremely burned food. Like food that has burned to the point of being pitch black and no longer has any resemblance to food whatsoever. It’s pretty awful. People have told me some other coffee drinks to try, saying things like, “This one doesn’t taste like coffee at all!” or “That one tastes like hot chocolate!” To which I think, “Why not just drink hot chocolate, then?” If you’re not drinking coffee for the flavor, it seems sort of silly to me to drink it at all. So, I think coffee’s out for me, although I’m not against trying something else if it’s ever convenient and pretty much free for me to do so.

Tea has proven a much more promising avenue. Melanie recently got a raspberry iced tea with lunch, giving me my first taste in 20+ years and her her first taste ever. I liked it very much. I like that iced tea has a kind of smooth quality to it. It’s not thin like water. There’s more to it, and yet it’s not carbonated. That’s a nice alternative to have, and I look very much forward to having more iced tea in my life. More on that in a moment.

I’m still on the fence about hot tea. Meaning, I’m still not sure how much I care about it. Thankfully, I don’t hate it. Melanie and I met up with my sister Khrystine and her husband Saeed yesterday at City Creek Mall (thanks for building it, LDS Church!) to do some tea sampling at a tea store called Teavana. Khrystine and Saeed are tea drinkers, so they know what they’re doing. Melanie and I had to spend a good deal of time looking around, trying samples, and smelling tea leaves to come to a decision as to what to try. A few of the teas smelled amazingly good. The guy working at the store, who was very gracious in helping us out, recommended to me a blend of Spice of Life White Tea and MatéVana Herbal Tea. I had it hot, with cream. I didn’t know what was in these teas, I just knew they smelled fantastic. The resulting concoction wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t anything amazing to me, sadly. I wished it were creamier, and I was surprised that it tasted so much like ginger, which I hadn’t noticed when smelling the tea leaves. In fact, I’m a little stumped, because the descriptions of the teas I read online don’t really match what I tasted. According to Teavana’s website, Spice of Life is a “sweet and spicy citrus infusion with satisfying coconut undertones.” I would not have guessed my drink had anything to do with citrus or coconut. The MatéVana is said to be “coffee-like … sweetened with cocoa and chocolate chips.” Thankfully, I didn’t notice a coffee flavor, and the chocolate was mild.

Melanie’s tea struck me as a more vibrant version of my own, although hers also reminded me a little bit of those raspberry chocolate sticks that are popular around Christmastime (and which I think are pretty gross). Of course, that description doesn’t make a lot of sense based on the flavors Melanie chose, neither of which had anything to do with raspberry. Also at the recommendation of the friendly tea shop employee, Melanie had a blend of two herbal teas (served hot with cream): Caramel Almond Amaretti and CocoCaramel Sea Salt. The former flavor boasts of having “sweet candied apple and coconut with notes of caramel and cinnamon.” If anything, I think the apple is what made the flavor of Melanie’s more “vibrant” to me. Melanie very much enjoyed her tea. By the time I was finishing mine, I was enjoying it well enough. I just wouldn’t normally desire to have such a strong ginger flavor. It wasn’t what I had anticipated. Melanie says she liked mine, but she definitely liked hers better.

Eager to try out more tea flavors, Melanie and I took the kids tonight to Fashion Place Mall, which also has a Teavana. Having done a little bit of research, I knew what I wanted: an iced Blackberry Mojito Green Tea. After smelling a few options, Melanie went with an iced Jade Citrus Mint Green Tea. Melanie’s had a very strong eucalyptus tone to it. Mine was nice and much more up my alley than any other Teavana tea I’ve tried. Khrystine told me yesterday that all teas have a kind of grassy flavor to them, which certainly seems true. It’s kind of straw-like. I described my drink as tasting like “a fruit snack that spent some time rolling around in a barn.” The comparison to fruit snacks actually came courtesy of Eddie. Yes, Eddie tried Melanie’s and my teas. Preceding our outing to the mall, we had Family Home Evening—a Mormon weekly tradition of having a miniature spiritual lesson and/or fun activity together as family—and informed our kids that their mom and dad might drink tea from time to time and it wasn’t anything to be worried about. Eddie seemed a bit uncertain of that, but once we had the teas in our hands, he was jonesing to try them himself. He loved mine and kept asking for another swallow. He was clearly getting a kick out of the fact that he was drinking tea. It was quite fun for him. He was pretty good at deconstructing the flavors, too. He said a lot more about it than that it tasted like a fruit snack; he talked about the way the flavor would change in your mouth, going from “strawberry” to “cherry” (his interpretation, not mine), etc., etc., etc. Peter also tried our drinks, but never said much about them and refused subsequent offers. He must not have cared much. Beegy never wanted to try them at all.

So that’s that. I’ve still got a few flavors I want to try. High on my list is a classic chai latte. According to Teavana, “chai spice is generally a combination of cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, cloves and vanilla, among other spices.” Can you imagine that served with hot milk? Sounds divine! I’ll be sure to let you know how much I like it. In the meantime, I’ll conclude by sharing a few photos taken earlier tonight. Enjoy!






1 http://www.webmd.com/cancer/news/20090326/hot-tea-may-raise-esophageal-cancer-risk
   http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2773211/

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

What I Want People to Know about My Faith Transition

If you’ve been reading my blog or conversing with me in person at all over these last few months, you know that I’ve been going through a faith transition. Really, that’s a problematically vague description. Any time a person changes or grows in regard to spirituality, that is a kind of faith transition. But some faith transitions are more drastic and condensed than others. For me, the last few years have been particularly significant. And, even within that timeframe, these last few months have been especially important. The long and the short of it is that I have converted (all but formally, at least for now) from the LDS Church to Community of Christ. But even that is an oversimplification of the journey that I’ve been on. Unfortunately, such an oversimplification is likely to drive the opinions of those in my life who will see this as a tragedy. It is unlikely that I can sway the opinion of these people, but perhaps I can disabuse them of some misconceptions that might exist surrounding such a monumental change in my life. For that purpose, I’d now like to present a list of things I hope those who know me can understand and accept about my faith transition. Here we go:

This has been a long time coming. Some people cannot help but be taken off-guard when someone they care about announces a change as significant as the one I have announced. The shock can make people feel as though the change is coming from out of nowhere. There may be some panic involved, and in turn, they may suppose the person making the change is acting hastily or having a knee-jerk reaction either to a very positive experience (associated with a new religion, for example) or a very negative experience (associated with one’s former religion, for example). They may even plead with the person making the change to “slow down” and “think things through,” as if that person is acting on a whim that has only recently appeared. This is not the case for me. Obviously, nobody can know what my thoughts and experiences have been over the last several years, but it is evident to me that joining with Community of Christ is a step that follows naturally from the thousands of steps I have already taken on a journey long since underway. With the 20/20 vision of hindsight, it is readily apparent to me that this is all part of one continuous, spiritual progression. Though I wouldn’t have predicted this outcome, I can now see my spiritual journey of the last few years as one fluid arc.

My family and I truly are happy. It is not uncommon for Mormons to say how much joy being a member of the LDS Church brings them. Often, these same Mormons express sincere bafflement as to how those who belong to other religions can possibly be happy. When it comes to people leaving the LDS Church, many a devout Mormon will testify that such persons cannot truly be as happy as they once were. If they think they’re as happy as they once were, they must be deluded. There is no other way. It is simply beyond the realm of possibility, according to traditional Mormons. Well, I guess if anyone holds that view, I’m wasting my proverbial breath here, but I assure you: I am happier than I have been in a long, long time. So is my wife. So are my kids. In our early days of visiting Community of Christ, we intended to trade off between Community of Christ and attending our normal LDS church services. We ended up visiting Community of Christ a few times in a row before returning to LDS church. When we told our kids on Sunday morning that we were going to LDS church, my six-year-old was sorely disappointed. “We’re not going to Community of Christ?” he said with heartbreak in his voice. Our entire family has loved it there and has felt a tremendous difference in our day-to-day lives as a result. Our kids are eager to participate in ways they never did at LDS church. We aren’t pressuring them or brainwashing them to behave differently. They just feel differently. As does Melanie. As do I. Community of Christ is one of the best things that has ever happened to us.

Nobody pressured me into making this decision. The people at Community of Christ are among the most laidback people I have ever met. There were no high-pressure sales techniques used on us when we first visited. Nobody challenged us to read Community of Christ materials or asked us to commit to attending church services or getting baptized. Nobody stood at the pulpit and declared Community of Christ the one and only true church on the face of the earth, the one to which everyone must belong or forfeit blessings in the afterlife. I could not possibly have been less pressured—whether explicitly or implicitly, directly or indirectly—to join with or conform to Community of Christ. I also want to make it clear that Melanie has not pressured me to join Community of Christ, even though she has been ahead of me in this whole conversion process. This is worth mentioning, because I know I used to be somewhat suspicious of spouses whose faith transitions happened to align so perfectly. “How could it be that they both felt converted to a new religion, at the same time? What are the odds? One of them must be influencing the other! One of them must just be going along with it! They must never have had solid testimonies of the LDS Church in the first place! Two people don’t just change their minds about the exact same thing at the exact same time!” Such were my thoughts. I’m embarrassed by them now; they strike me as horribly naïve. Clearly, Melanie and I have talked a lot about our experiences. But Melanie fully supported me when I initially said that I would attend Community of Christ with her only once per month because I intended to—and fully presumed that I would—remain LDS for the rest of my life. As my feelings shifted, it had nothing to do with my desire to attend the same church as Melanie, although that is obviously a huge bonus. I committed to Community of Christ only after the Spirit continually witnessed to me that I was being called there.

My beliefs haven’t changed as much as you might suppose. This is something I think few people will understand. But it’s true: my theological beliefs haven’t really changed all that much. And I really don’t think they’ve changed at all since discovering Community of Christ, except on perhaps a couple of minor points. I still believe in the power of the priesthood. I’ve had profound experiences with the priesthood that I will never deny. I still embrace the Book of Mormon as a miraculous and prophetic volume of scripture. I cherish the eternal truths that I find therein, and I draw nearer to Christ when I read its pages. I still find beauty, value, and significance in LDS ordinances, including those performed in LDS temples. God has spoken to me in profound ways at the temple, and the role it has played in my faith journey—even during this latest transitional phase—cannot be overstated. For these reasons, plenty of my LDS friends and family will wonder how I can possibly leave the LDS Church. There is no way I can adequately speak to that concern within a simple blog post. It would likely require me to write my autobiography, which I have no immediate plans to do. Suffice it to say, nothing about my converting to Community of Christ requires me to give up the beliefs I have just expressed. It is true that I will no longer be allowed to enter an LDS temple, which I will miss. It is true that many LDS folk will now deny that I have access to legitimate priesthood authority. I reject this, for reasons too complex to address here. All I can say is that I have taken these concerns to God, and God has resolved them in my heart. I do not feel I am giving anything up. I am merely making a change that, in my case, is for the better.

Where my beliefs have changed, they changed long before I found a church that welcomed them. I was a non-traditional Mormon for a very long time prior to learning about Community of Christ. My nuanced beliefs were developed over years and years and years of searching, pondering, and praying. When I learned about Community of Christ, I was stunned to discover a religious denomination whose values, doctrines, and practices more perfectly matched my beliefs than did those of the church to which I then belonged—the LDS Church. This was a confusing time for me. Imagine feeling as though God reveals truths to you that conflict with certain aspects of your own religion’s narrative and then finding a “rival” church that embraces and celebrates those truths. Mormons celebrate this sort of thing when the result is a person leaving some other religion and coming into the LDS Church. But if it results in a Mormon leaving the LDS Church, it is typically regarded as a bad, ill-informed, spiritually disastrous move to make. The person is considered duped, either by the members of the rival church or, worse, by Satan. Regrettably, I used to view things this way myself, so I know full well what certain LDS folk are thinking about me. All I can say is, I didn’t discover Community of Christ, learn about them, and become convinced that they are correct. I became convinced of certain views, discovered Community of Christ, and learned that they held those views. If someone wants to accuse me of being deceived, the blame cannot be placed on Community of Christ. The deceit, if there is any, is the result of reading, studying, and praying about LDS scripture, doctrine, and history.

Leaving the LDS Church is a necessary part of my spiritual journey, not the point of it. Another thing I really want people to understand is that I do not harbor ill feelings toward the LDS Church. Not in terms of my experiences with it, anyway. I am not leaving because I have been offended. I am not leaving to escape what I regard as flaws in the system. There is a widely-held assumption that when a person leaves the LDS Church, it is because that person is angry at or disappointed by the church. That’s not my motive. I feel it would be misleading and disingenuous to answer the question “Why did you leave the LDS Church?” by citing the problems or deficiencies I see in the LDS Church. When it comes right down to it, I feel called by God to Community of Christ. That’s the only reason I’ve left the LDS Church. I wouldn’t have left it otherwise. I was committed to it, warts and all. Nothing short of personal revelation from God and the witness of the Holy Ghost would’ve changed that for me. It’s also important for me to emphasize the personal nature of this call. I do not think the LDS Church is false and that Community of Christ is true. I simply believe that I have been called to serve God in the latter. I reject the idea that this means God wants everyone to convert to Community of Christ, just as I’ve long rejected the idea that God wants everyone to convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Even LDS Church leaders have rejected that idea, believe it or not.) I wholeheartedly believe God works with people in the LDS Church and calls people to it. I believe it is the right place for many people to be. I believe it is not the right place for me anymore.

God has been very, very involved in this entire process. This should be clear based on everything I’ve said above, but it’s worth reiterating. I can’t convince anyone of the sincerity and humility that went into my search for truth, but I stand with a clear conscience before God as to the integrity of my faith journey. From my own perspective, I have been very slow to accept and embrace some of these changes in my life precisely because I’ve wanted to be absolutely sure that God is speaking to me and that I’m not merely following after the desires or thoughts of my own imperfect heart and mind. I have fasted. I have prayed. I have meditated. I have visited the temple. I have done all of these things, at the same time, seeking guidance and counsel from God on this very issue. In short, I have done everything that Mormons would normally say a person should do in order to gain insight, clarity, understanding, and direction from Heavenly Father. Naturally, many LDS folk will not accept that God would lead me to a different church. And as God is not to be blamed for my “mistake,” these same LDS folk will be forced to conclude that somewhere along the way, I mucked things up. Somehow, despite my following all of the prescribed methods for seeking and ascertaining truth by the Spirit, I must have done something for which I can be blamed and that corrupted my way of thinking. If that’s what you think, there’s little I can do to sway you. I would only ask if God is really so unforgiving and/or powerless, if Satan is really so powerful, if prayer is really so unreliable, if testimonies are really so fragile, and if our access to the Spirit is really so tenuous, that we can be led astray at the first sign of human weakness or misunderstanding, no matter how sincere and earnest our seeking otherwise is. As you answer that question for yourself, please bear in mind the implications it has on your own religious convictions—assuming, of course, that you don’t fancy yourself free of human fallibility. Very few Mormons realize how much they undermine their own testimonies when they condemn others as spiritually blinded. Further, if the methods for discerning truth that are taught by LDS missionaries, over the pulpit at LDS general conference, and in official LDS church manuals can lead a person out of the LDS Church as well as into it, surely the blame cannot be placed on the shoulders of those heading toward the exit.

I’d like to conclude by sharing the words of Joseph Smith, Jr., whom I continue to regard as a prophet of God, followed by a scripture. I believe these words are true, and I leave them as my final plea to all of my LDS family and friends:

“If you do not accuse each other, God will not accuse you. If you have no accuser you will enter heaven…. If you will not accuse me, I will not accuse you. If you will throw a cloak of charity over my sins, I will over yours—for charity covereth a multitude of sins.” (History of the Church, 4:445)

“Charity never faileth.” (1 Cor. 13:8)

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Happy Happy, Joy Joy

I’ve been deliriously happy over the last several days, particularly since Sunday. For the first time in a long time, life feels brim full of possibility. My life is really shaping into something I love. The reasons are myriad, but suffice it to say, my dreams and ambitions are becoming clearer and clearer all the time. Things that have troubled me or weighed on my soul for prolonged periods of time are beginning to shift and fall into place, and I like the result. I feel overwhelmed by love and joy.

There are many things contributing to my good mood. Some big, some small. One that I consider at least a moderately big deal is that Melanie and I have already received our tax refund for the year. It was substantial enough to pay off one of our credit cards, the one with the highest APR. For us, that is a really big deal. It is so relieving! It reduces our monthly bills greatly. We can now slam that extra money down on other credit cards, and an end to credit card debt may actually be in sight. We had enough money left over from the tax refund to purchase tickets to the Broadway Across America production of Once, which will be at Kingsbury Hall around the time of Melanie’s birthday. Melanie and I both loved the movie Once and have very much wanted to see the stage adaptation. We figured if we ever had the money, we would splurge on it as a birthday gift to Melanie. That opportunity presented itself, and so we went for it. We are very excited.

One silly thing that is bringing me much delight over the last several days is an album I got from the library, Men Without Hats’ Pop Goes the World. The title track was the only one that was familiar to me, but the whole album has proven very infectious. There is something beautiful in the cheery, innocent simplicity of pop. It really elevates my mood. Something about it resonates on a very deep level with me. It is happy and beautiful. It inspires me to do more with music. I love that music, at its core, serves no other end than to touch one’s emotions. It is as close to a pure manifestation of love as I can imagine. It makes me giddy.

On a much more serious note, my spiritual life is amazing and humbling right now. I’m not sure I can explain it in a way that makes sense and doesn’t defile it in some way. The last few years have been a roller coaster, but I have been relentless in searching, pondering, and praying. It hasn’t been easy. At times, I have felt very confused and pulled in seemingly opposite directions. Stepping back and getting some perspective, I can see how things have worked together for my good, and I see evidence of God’s hand in my life all along the way. It reminds me of John 3:8, which reads, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Maybe I’m misapplying that scripture—I admit, I’m not 100% sure I’m interpreting it correctly—but it seems applicable to this time in my life. I feel prompted to do this or that, and I don’t always get it. It doesn’t always make sense to me, and sometimes it feels like I’m going in circles. But the experiences I’ve had as I’ve tried to be earnest and sincere in heeding God’s Spirit in my life have been astounding. This most recent Sunday was particularly significant to me. It was one of the most spiritually powerful days I’ve had in who knows how long. My soul was on fire for most of the day, even when I was doing normal, day-to-day things. It’s sad to me that I don’t feel I can share my experiences with just anyone, because religion is taken to be such a competitive market. You say one good thing about whatever church you attend, and those who attend a different church will think you’re saying yours is better. Or maybe it’s just easy for me to assume that because of my own religious background. Maybe it’s a Mormon mindset, coming from the idea that Mormons are a special people to God. God’s spirit can be felt at Mormon church because it’s His church! Oh, maybe He visits other churches from time to time, but if you say you felt God’s spirit somewhere else, the Mormon mind is automatically on defense. “That’s great and all, but you should come to Mormon church, because that’s where God’s spirit always is. I promise, no matter what you can tell me about your church, mine can do that and more! Anything you have to say? Been there, done that! Plus, bonus features galore that are available only through God’s true church—which is mine, by the way. No matter what you have to tell me about your experiences, there’s nothing you can say that isn’t describing only some of what you’ll get at Mormon church! Be as excited about your church as you want, but it’s like telling a guy with a fully-loaded Lexus that you’re excited about your Hyundai because it has air conditioning. That’s awesome! But have you ever ridden in a Lexus?!? It’s even better!!!  Air conditioning is just the beginning!!!!!

Sorry. That was probably a bit negative. But there’s pain behind what I’m saying, because I’ve had some unbelievable experiences and I know certain people in my life would dismiss them out of hand. The spiritual promptings I’ve had won’t matter to these people. They won’t believe they can possibly be legit. The hours I’ve spent praying won’t matter. The seeking and thinking I’ve done won’t matter. All that matters is that I’m not doing things the way they think I should. The story behind it all is irrelevant. And that’s heartbreaking to me. But be that as it may, I’m in too good a mood to dwell on this stuff. Let me remind you of that before I end this, just so we can be back in happy mode. This is an exciting time in my life. I think 2015 is going to prove a monumental year. I can’t wait.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

2014 in Review: Life in General

This is the sixth and final installment in a series of blog posts reviewing 2014. Previous entries discussed books, food, movies, music, and television.

2015 is well under way and I’ve yet to write a darn thing about it. That means either life is busy and productive, or I’ve spent the last six weeks in a depressive, near-comatose state. I’ll leave you in suspense as to which is correct. For now, it’s time to talk about the bigger highlights of 2014.

Early in 2014, Edison stopped attending Florida Virtual School and enrolled in an honest-to-goodness brick-and-mortar school. It would be incorrect to say he went from being homeschooled to attending public school. Virtual school is not the same thing as homeschooling, and virtual school is considered public school. Still, if the technically erroneous description makes it easier for you to wrap your mind around what happened, have at it. Eddie’s first day of brick-and-mortar school was scheduled for January 29th, but it ended up getting delayed one full day because of snow! In Tallahassee! An extreme rarity, just like my son. How fitting. Melanie and I weren’t sure what to expect of Edison’s first foray into brick-and-mortar school, but he adapted like it was nothing. In fact, he was immensely happier, at least for the first little while. Having Eddie attend school has been a very positive change in our lives, for reasons that will become clearer later in this blog post.

Another big event was my applying for a job at Dixie State University in St. George, Utah. I didn’t get the job, so maybe it seems pointless to mention it. However, it was my first (and thus far only) job interview for a college-level teaching position. I got a Skype interview, which suggests my curriculum vitae was at least moderately appealing. Thinking about living in Southern Utah got me rather excited, and for a while I couldn’t imagine not getting the job. I really had my hopes up for it. I felt very confident about my interview before it actually happened. But, once the interview actually started … well, let’s just say I could feel the hope bleeding out of me as the panel of interviewers watched me babble into near incoherency. I ended the Skype call knowing my prospects of working at DSU were now a thing of the past. I thought that maybe, if I got incredibly lucky, they wouldn’t throw me completely out, because of my C.V. I thought maybe just maybe, if they were merciful enough, I’d have another shot at an interview of some kind. Alas, it didn’t happen. Am I sad? I’m really not, for reasons that will become clearer later in this blog post.

Obviously, the biggest change in my life during 2014 was moving back to Utah. It was a tough decision, but the only plausible decision I could make. I couldn’t continue the graduate student lifestyle in the way I had been. And so, even though my dissertation remains incomplete to this day, I am now back in my home state. Life in Utah hasn’t been quite as I expected, but I’m not sad about that. Sure, when I think about Tallahassee and the independence we felt, the great friends we had, the close-knit nature of our family during that time … well, I can’t help but wax a little nostalgic and miss it. But I was quite fearful that I would hate Utah more than I have, and that I would subsequently feel much more regretful than I do. Overall, moving back to Utah has proven a very good decision that yet holds a great deal of promise—for reasons that will become clearer later in this blog post.

I suppose the biggest negative hurdle of 2014, aside from the obvious stress associated with moving across the country, was my carpal tunnel syndrome (or CTS). Precipitated by my migration to Utah, my CTS went crazy in late June. Instead of sleepy hands in the morning and occasional dead arms waking me up in the night, my right hand had went fully numb and didn’t ease up whatsoever by the time I had arrived in Utah. My left hand felt much better but tested almost as poorly on the “let’s hook you up to a machine and zap you” test. Due to the move, I had to work out some insurance issues before I could get any genuine treatment. Long story short, I wasn’t able to have my first carpal tunnel release surgery until late September—three months after my right hand went dead. A couple of weeks later, I had the surgery on my left hand. And today, I am back to normal (aside from some very slight residual tenderness in my wrists if I apply a lot of pressure to them). It’s been blissful, and the recovery from the surgeries was, for me, a breeze. I’d recommend the surgery to anyone who is needlessly suffering from numbness in the hands. (Hint, hint, Melanie.)

Day-to-day life has changed a lot now that we live in Utah. Not only is Edison attending brick-and-mortar school, but so is Peter. It’s actually really fun to have Eddie and Peter going to “normal” school together. They both love it, and I’ve loved being involved in small ways here and there, like going on a field trip with Peter, attending assemblies, or taking my boys to special morning events where the school feeds us donuts. That’s a benefit of being a stay-at-home dad, which is basically what I’ve been since moving back to Utah. I’ve also had a chance to bond with Beegy, who until January was in my care almost exclusively. Meanwhile, Melanie is working at an elementary school and frequently tells me how happy she is. Can you imagine being so thrilled with your life that you have to keep telling people about it? Me either. I’m jeals to the hells. But in all sincerity, it brings me great joy and peace to know Melanie is thriving both emotionally and professionally. She’s wanted this for a long time. She’s in her element. It’s really cool. I don’t think things would’ve (or could’ve) worked out this nicely had we remained in Florida or moved anywhere else, including Southern Utah. This paragraph, folks, contains a lot of the “reasons that will become clearer” you’ve been so eager to see. Just in case you missed it.

Another cool development of 2014 is my expanded involvement with the Exploring Sainthood blog. I originally joined in 2013 as a “permablogger” (blog slang for a regular, recurring writer), but in March 2014 I accepted the invitation to become an editor and co–blog manager. Things looked iffy when in June, for reasons too complicated to explain and more complicated than you’d think, the ES website disappeared. For a while, I thought it was dead and gone and that was that. But, thanks to those with much more technical know-how than I, we got the site up and running again and even recovered almost every single blog post and podcast episode that had previously been published. We had our grand reopening in November and have since won the “Best Relaunch” award from the website Wheat & Tares (with a whopping five votes!). Yeah, we’re small potatoes, but our online presence has been steadily growing. We’ll see what happens during 2015.

If anything can rival moving back to Utah as the most significant event of 2014, it is probably this: being introduced to Community of Christ. One reason I was excited to move back to Utah is that I knew there would be a plethora of liberal Mormon–related events to attend. One such event coincided with the annual Sunstone symposium and featured John Hamer, a renowned historian of Joseph Smith’s Restoration movement. Hamer, who converted from the LDS faith to Community of Christ several years ago, gave two presentations at the Salt Lake City Public Library. Melanie and I attended both lectures and were quite fascinated. Community of Christ sounded like the kind of Mormonism I already embraced—more so, sadly, than the LDS Church to which I officially belong. This threw me for a loop. I didn’t know what to think. It seemed cuckoo to disregard Community of Christ when it seemed more in synch with my values and beliefs than what is currently practiced in LDS Mormonism. But maybe I was getting ahead of myself. Melanie and I decided we would attend a Community of Christ worship service sometime in the near future, just to see what it is like. It took a few months before we actually did attend Community of Christ, but once we did, we were immediately smitten. The contrast between Community of Christ services and what we get at a typical LDS church service is striking—in a good way. We loved it. But even after that first visit, I didn’t anticipate returning to Community of Christ anytime soon. However, the very next week, we somewhat spontaneously found ourselves returning. It was hard to pass it up, knowing how good it is. And this has basically been our predicament ever since—we simply like it soooooooo much better than the LDS Church. It has little to do with doctrine, mind you. It’s simply the people, the values, and the attitudes that come across. There is spiritual vitality at Community of Christ that I rarely feel in the LDS Church. That’s just the truth of my experience. Believe me, I wish I could say otherwise. But I can’t.

So, why do I say this is significant? Well, as I implied, we’ve been attending Community of Christ almost exclusively for the last three months. We’ve attended LDS church a few times, too, but it has been disastrous when we’ve done so. There are stories too laborious to tell, but they involve gossiping, panic attacks, a hefty dose of condescension, and what basically amounts to a 21st-century witch hunt. Even our children are so much happier at Community of Christ. The last time we announced we were going to LDS services, Peter nearly cried with disappointment. (Melanie, too.) But it’s not just that we’ve been attending Community of Christ for the last three months, it’s that we’re likely to continue attending them indefinitely. It’s what my kids want. It’s definitely what Melanie wants. And it’s hard for me not to want it, too. My story and experience is a bit more complicated. I will probably try to tell that story on my blog someday, but for now, suffice it to say that I continually see evidence that God is leading me to Community of Christ, whether I like it or not. And I’ll be honest, sometimes I’m not sure I like it. I wish the LDS Church could be what I want and need it to be, but it isn’t. Theologically, I love Mormonism, but having stepped back a little bit, it is as obvious as anything that there are severe problems in the LDS Church and community. And I truly think that I may be better able to live out my Mormon beliefs at Community of Christ than I can within the LDS Church. My theological beliefs haven’t changed. They really haven’t. But I can’t authentically or effectively live out my Mormonism in the LDS Church, it seems. That’s the great irony here. It’s as though I have to leave the Mormon Church in order to be a better Mormon. So, for me, it’s not a matter of being “converted” to anything, it’s simply that I feel God calling me to serve Him among different people, in a new place, where I can do more good. If that’s really what’s happening, it’s something I’ve been praying about for a long time. In fact, if I continue down this road, I wouldn’t be surprised if I enter the ministry full-time. That is something I felt called to long before I learned about Community of Christ, back when I didn’t think such a thing was even a possibility for me. That’s another reason this feels like something God is leading me to. I have had what seem to be spiritual impressions that are only now beginning to make sense as I learn about Community of Christ. It’s exhilarating, overwhelming, terrifying, heartbreaking, and beautiful all at once. 2015 is going to be a very, very interesting year, spiritually speaking.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

2014 in Review: Television

This is part five in a series reviewing 2014. Previous entries include those on books, food, movies, and music.

2014 was a crappy year for network television, but living as we do in an age when almost every TV show ever made is available at any time to be watched on thousands of devices that aren’t even televisions, it hardly matters. There is no longer a good excuse for not devoting some of your time to quality television. Melanie and I did our part. Here are the hits and misses along the way from our 2014 television journey.

Misses
Fox's Mulaney proved a crappy piece of crap.
I’ll start with the misses so we can end on a high note—and yes, there were misses aplenty. I think this is the first year in recent memory when I didn’t become attached to any new network television programs. A couple were okay (which I’ll discuss below), but some were downright terrible. I could only tolerate one episode of Mulaney, a show I watched with some hope due to the talent involved. Well, that might be overstating things just a bit, but stars John Mulaney and Nasim Pedrad both had connections to Saturday Night Live that buoyed my interest. Pedrad was a solid performer on SNL while Mulaney was a writer. As an actor, Mulaney proved absolutely terrible, which is a key reason that Mulaney the show just was not watchable. Acting was not the problem with Selfie, an ABC sitcom that has thankfully been canceled. Don’t get me wrong, the acting wasn’t good, it’s just that the characters themselves were so unappealing. Karen Gillan starred as a self-obsessed woman who enlists the help of a marketing man (played by John Cho) to become more likable. Eh, that’s sort of an inadequate description, but the thought of devoting more of my time to the show sickens me. Let’s move on.

Neither Here Nor There
A lot of shows were fairly middle of the road. They didn’t garner enough interest to keep us watching. Red Band Society is among the best shows that we didn’t stick with. It’s a drama about critically ill children who live in a hospital. It, too, has been canceled, but we didn’t even finish the initial run. It’s good enough that I haven’t completely disregarded the idea of watching the remaining episodes if ever I find myself with a lot of time on my hands and nothing better to do—which is highly improbable. A to Z is another show we didn’t keep up with, although we also haven’t deleted it from our Hulu queue just yet. The gimmick of this sitcom is that it’s supposed to chronicle the two leads’ entire relationship over the course of the series. You don’t know if they end up together or apart at the end, which supposedly is meant to keep you in suspense. But it’s not suspenseful enough, I guess, because A to Z is yet another show that has already been canceled. For me, the problem is that the main characters aren’t fleshed out enough for us to give a rat’s ass as to whether or not they end up together.

Some of the shows we tried are rather popular but failed to win us over. We watched a few episodes of House and were adequately entertained, but Melanie and I just don’t much care for TV shows that are so darn … well, episodic. (Ironic, right?) If the main story doesn’t continue from episode to episode, we lose interest, and that was the case with House. Boardwalk Empire, on the other hand, definitely has a continuing storyline, but after having it on my must-see list for years, it didn’t draw me in. It’s baffling, really. Steve Buscemi? Check. Mafia storyline? Check. Produced by HBO? Check. I don’t know why I didn’t get into it enough to continue, but maybe I’ll check it out again someday.

Melanie and I did watch the entire series The Riches, about a con-artist vagabond family who take over a classy suburban house when the legal owners (who have not yet moved in or met their neighbors) die unexpectedly. The series lasted only 20 episodes and was so-so. In the role of the main character, Eddie Izzard struggled with his American accent, which was both strange and bothersome. He was one of the show’s writers and executive producers, but he wasn’t ideal for the part, in my opinion.

And finally, Melanie and I actually have stuck with Marry Me, a new sitcom starring Casey Wilson and Ken Marino. The first episode was so much better than any other show to debut on the Fall TV schedule, but it has quickly become mediocre. The fact that we’ve stuck with it thus far isn’t saying a lot. I’m a fan of Marino, which is one reason I wanted to watch it, but even he seems to be doing very little here.

The Hits
I’ll start with some soft hits, by which I mean shows that I am giving only a tentative thumbs-up. Two political cable shows fall into this category, one serious and one comedic. The Newsroom is a critically-acclaimed drama about a controversial anchorperson, Will McAvoy (played by Jeff Daniels), whose news program strives to be both no-holds-barred and non-biased. It’s a quality show, but it’s rather dry. Each hour-long episode feels very drawn out. The news stories covered in the show are actual historical events, but while this might prove educational, it’s not exactly exciting. There’s a reason nightly news programs don’t show reruns.

If you like humor with your politics, you might try Veep. Julia Louis-Dreyfus stars as Selina Meyer, the ambitious but ever-exasperated Vice President of the United States. Based on that description alone, you will probably imagine something a lot more lighthearted than Veep actually is. It’s rather acerbic in tone, with a documentary-like cadence and filming style that more closely approximates The Office than Seinfeld, and the humor is more naturalistic than slapstick. Admittedly, I sometimes find the show too dry and/or too caustic. Selina is not a likable character—which, of course, she isn’t meant to be—but neither are her colleagues. It makes it hard to get super excited about watching.

When it comes to the more surefire winners, we don’t escape Washington D.C. just yet. Netflix’s original series House of Cards, starring Kevin Spacey as a morally bankrupt politician, is very gripping. Meanwhile, The Americans, starring Keri Russell and Philip Jennings as Russian spies posing as a typical 1980s American family, is my very favorite television discovery of 2014, at least when it comes to shows that are still in production.

Based on our 2014 TV-watching, you’d think Melanie and I really like politics. That isn’t true. We largely eschew straight-up political drama, even when it’s of high quality (The Newsroom), we tolerate politics when the real purpose is situational comedy (Veep), and we embrace thrillers even when they are political (House of Cards, The Americans). In fact, thrillers make up a good chunk of the shows I would unhesitatingly endorse. In 2014, Melanie and I watched all eight seasons of Dexter, about a serial killer who works as a blood splatter analyst for the Miami Metro Police Department. We never got through the pilot episode when we first tried this show a couple of years earlier, but after much word-of-mouth endorsement, we decided to brave it again. We are glad we did. While the debut episode starts off very harsh and disturbingly, and while the entire show contains a fair amount of gore, it is an absorbing show. It helps immensely that Dexter, the title character, is a serial killer who preys on violent criminals. That leaves the door open for some sympathy, and at times for Dexter to be a genuine anti-hero.

Another thriller I very much enjoyed is Fargo, based on the 1996 Coen Brothers film but following a completely original storyline. 30 minutes into the debut episode, I was leery and somewhat bored. The quirkiness of the movie felt gimmicky and forced when translated to the small screen, in large part because the acting just couldn’t compare. But all of that changed by the end of the first episode, when things got so downright intense that I couldn’t wait to see more. Fargo is going to be one of those miniseries-type TV shows where each season features a completely new set of characters (à la American Horror Story). That means the season 1 storyline plays out in its entirety by episode 10. It’s a briskly paced show, but persistently riveting after those initial 30 minutes.

True Detective is another miniseries-type thriller. Season one features Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as two homicide detectives on the trail of, what else, a serial killer. This show has been wildly applauded by critics and viewers alike. I wasn’t nearly as smitten with it as they were, but it is a very good show. Despite what my viewing habits suggest, I don’t like to watch things that get too dark. True Detective was almost too gritty for my tastes, and the occult elements certainly didn’t help matters.

And finally, switching gears entirely, we watched the first season of Showtime’s Masters of Sex. Masters of Sex is based on the real-life sex researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson. Michael Sheen, who plays Dr. Masters, is superb, per usual. Much to my surprise, Lizzy Caplan—whom I previously associated with lowbrow comedies such as Hot Tub Time Machine and TV’s Party Down—does a terrific job in the role of secretary turned research assistant, Johnson. It’s a shame that American culture compels me to explain that a drama revolving around sex research can appeal to more than prurient interests. Masters of Sex is character driven and features a great deal of social commentary. Looking back on what has made us uncomfortable in the past, and continues to make us uncomfortable today, can be a very eye-opening experience.


That’s it for TV. I’m surprised how boring it was to write about it. It’s probably not much more entertaining to read it. The good news is, you’re done.  As am I.