Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Christmas 2014

Christmas is several days behind us at this point. It’s such a big holiday that even a delay of a few days can make it seem overwhelming to try to write about it and remember all the details. I’ll do my best, but I’ll let photos do a lot of the talking when it comes to Christmas Day itself.

For several years now, we’ve had a tradition of having “Rudolph pancakes” at some point during the Christmas season. Melanie wanted to have them for dinner a few days before Christmas, but we never did. And so, Melanie whipped them up for breakfast on Christmas Eve. (Pancakes for breakfast??? Whaaaaaat!?!) We don’t have pictures of this, so you’ll just have to imagine it: a larger pancake topped with a smaller pancake (down low on the first pancake), Hershey’s kisses for eyes, broken pieces of bacon arranged into antlers, and a maraschino cherry nose. Then you drown Rudolph in syrup, slice up his face, and eat it. It’s fun for the whole family!

Despite the fact that we currently live with Melanie’s parents, our Christmas Eve traditions remained intact. For dinner, we had soup in bread bowls. Melanie’s mom got in on the action by ordering the bread bowls and cooking one of the soups—a blend of broccoli cheese and cream of potato. Melanie made hers from scratch, a creamy rice and chicken soup with artichoke hearts and mushrooms. It ended up being rather thick, more like a risotto than anything. (I would have guessed it were a risotto and not a soup had I not been in on the secret.) I very much enjoyed both soups and ate a ton. I was super stuffed and failed to realize that Melanie’s brother Mark had brought pie. Fortunately, we waited on that. In the meantime, we opened some gifts. Melanie, the boys, and I opened our gifts from Mark and Trina. They gave Melanie and me a gift card to the movie theater chain we most frequently patron here in Utah—an excellent choice for us. Melanie and I then let Eddie, Peter, and Creegan open a select gift from us. (Disclosure: I think we actually did this first.) They received light-up swords that make noises as you swing them around. The boys were even more pleased with their swords than I would’ve imagined, which was fantastic. To top off our Christmas Eve festivities, we drove around looking at Christmas lights. Due to the mild weather, it wasn’t that different from Florida. There was no snow to be seen, and it was an easy-going drive. Along the way, we needed to stop and fill up the car with gas. With the tiniest hint of guilt for putting the convenience store cashier to work on Christmas Eve, we chose to purchase fountain drinks. We then fa-la-la’d all the way home. Literally. But not literally literally.

Putting the kids to bed and putting out presents seemed easier this year than any other year. I think there are a few reasons for this. First, we didn’t have nearly as much to give this year. Financially, this is the most strapped Christmas of our married lives, and that was reflected in the gift-giving. Second, we’re in a much bigger house than we’re used to. We sleep upstairs, but the Christmas tree the gifts were meant to go under was downstairs. That meant there was ample distance between the kids’ bedroom and the placement of presents. It makes you feel less paranoid that they’re suddenly going to open their door and just see everything right then and there. And finally, I believe this was the first Christmas that I didn’t have to build or construct anything whatsoever, nor did I do any of the wrapping. (Thanks, Mel, for taking care of that several days in advance!) It was easy breezy.

The kids went to sleep fairly easily, considering it was Christmas Eve. With each and every year, I wonder if it’s going to be the year that it finally gets extremely difficult for them. I remember one Christmas Eve when I as a child was so riddled with excitement that I could barely cope. In my memory, I slept little to none. It was actually very torturous and made me somewhat fearful of Christmas Eves in the future. Anyway, we did get just a tiny bit closer to this type of experience this year. Eddie woke up at 3:45 a.m., came into our room seeming very alert, and announced that Santa had already come. He had looked downstairs and seen two “canoes” that were barely in his line of vision. We sent him back to bed, but I don’t know how much he slept after that. He was asleep when Melanie escorted an awoken Beegy back to bed at 6:45 a.m. However, Eddie then immediately woke up and scolded Melanie for not waking him up herself. And that’s how Christmas morning began. I soon joined them in their room, where Eddie said he was dying to go see if Santa had eaten the cookies we’d left out for him. I nearly panicked. After setting out the cookies the night before, Melanie and I had totally forgotten about them. I hurried away to check on them. Oh so many of them. To make a long story short, by the time the boys came out to check on things, there was no doubt that Santa had gotten to the cookies. They were very pleased.

We always start with our stockings. Thereafter, we move to the main gifts under the tree. The setup was such that our stockings were upstairs, despite the main gifts being downstairs. That was kind of nice, really. It helped us not to get distracted and to enjoy the stockings to their fullest. Not that the boys took long to go through their stockings and be ready to move on. But it was nice that stockings felt very much like their own thing.

At this point, I’ll let photos do most of the work. Spoiler alert: the “canoes” were actually sleds.

Christmas Eve

Eddie and Peter kept their swords tucked into the back of their shirts.  Beegy wanted to do the same.

Eddie wrote up a plan for us, to make sure Christmas would go according to his wants.  The plan reads as follows:
1. Set alarm clock for 6:45
2. Wake up and get dressed, grab camera
3. Wake me up
4. Wake Peter, and Creegan
5. Tear open presents like saws

Because there was both an upstairs and a downstairs tree where we live this year, Eddie made sure Santa knew that we wanted the presents left under the downstairs tree.

Christmas Day

Santa found the cookies.  Phewf!

Spy glasses from Peter's stocking.  The glasses allow you to see behind you!

The view from atop the stairs.  There are the "canoes" Eddie spied in the night.

All three of my kids received kid-sized but real acoustic guitars from Santa.  You'll see Peter's and Beegy's in a moment.

Peter asked Santa for Spot, one of the electronic Zoomer Zuppies, and Santa delivered.  Spot has easily been Peter's favorite gift.  He loves it like you wouldn't believe.  You'll see Spot in another photo or two below.

Eddie with Uncle Kaleb and the Minecraft Enderman from Eddie's stocking.

A Nintendo 2DS was the main (and pretty much only) gift from Melanie and me to the boys.  Santa and extended family were responsible for nearly everything else.

Creegan opens a remote-controlled VTech Switch and Go Dino from Santa.  On the left side of the pic, behind Beegy, you can see the Switch and Go Dino that Santa gave to Peter, a yellow digger that converts into a not-so-woolly mammoth.

All three boys received wall calendars.  Here's Eddie with his.

You can see the love!

Uncle Tom gets in on the Switch and Go Dino excitement.  This is the remote-controlled car that Creegan was opening in an earlier photo, transformed into dinosaur form as a triceratops.

Despite the lack of snow on Christmas Eve, this is the view out the back window on Christmas morning.

And from the front door.

Melanie and I didn't even bother opening our stockings until things had pretty much wrapped up—or should I say, unwrapped?—with the kids. 

Eddie prepares to be dragged behind Grandpa's four-wheeler on a new canoe.

We stuck with our traditional Christmas breakfast—egg nog French toast, egg nog to drink, and a sausage/hash brown/egg medley, cooked and served midday by yours truly.

Dishing up the French toast.  I just ooze Christmas cheer, don't I?

In the afternoon, we visited my parents (and thereby also saw two of my sisters and my brother-in-law).  We gave my parents tree ornaments with photos of our children inside.  Here is my mom, wearing one of them like an earring at the request of my brother-in-law, Saeed.

Saeed, sitting on his wife, my sister Khrystine, and looking none-too-pleased about me taking this photo.

Merry Christmas!!!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Teaching Elders Quorum

Today was my first time teaching Elders Quorum since moving back to Utah. (I also taught EQ in Tallahasee, but it’s been a while.) The lesson was on the birth of Christ. I asked the class how the birth story specifically—not what happens later in Jesus’ life—can be applied to their lives. What do they learn about themselves from it? A couple of people said they wondered if they would be like the shepherds who learned of Christ’s birth. Would they be prepared to recognize and acknowledge Christ when he shows up?

This led perfectly into where I wanted to take the lesson. I had us read a few scriptures (John 1:4–9; D&C 84:45–46; Moroni 7:16) that speak to the idea of the light of Christ being in everyone. I asked if we’re prepared to recognize and acknowledge the light of Christ that is in every person with whom we interact. I asked how different our lives would be if we truly did this. One person said it would make him feel “optimistic.” That seems right to me. I think the gospel should make us optimistic, but I don’t know that we always live it or teach it in such a way promotes optimism. I think this is something I want to emphasize in my life and as I personally interact with others, especially in ecclesiastical-type settings—the optimism of the gospel.

I read Matthew 25:40, which states, “And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” I said I think Christ really meant it when he said that. I said that when we dismiss people because of their political views, or because they left the LDS Church, or because they do this or that, we are basically being about as anti-Christian as we can be. The pinnacle of Christ’s mortal sojourn was the atonement, a supremely and sublimely empathetic endeavor. He came here to understand us as completely and fully as possible. When we don’t even want to bother with certain people, when we discount them for any reason, we oppose Christ, the very one whose name we are supposed to claim and have covenanted to take upon ourselves.

I said there have been times when I’ve wanted more Christ in my life. I said that often times, we look up when we’re trying to find Christ. But I think God sometimes needs us to look at each other to see more of Christ. “If you love me, feed my sheep.” I said that if we keep in mind that the light of Christ is in everyone, then every time a person is born, in some small way, it is the nativity scene all over again. That beauty and perfection and inherent divinity is there. But of course, we all mess up. We don’t live Christlike lives. We all screw up somewhere along the way. Thankfully, God continues to recognize the light of Christ in us. He continues to see our worth and potential. And the message is that, even if Christ’s story isn’t ours because we’ve already mucked it up, it yet can be. That’s the promise held out to us, a promise that never disappears. No matter where we are at or what we’ve done, Christ’s story can yet be ours. We can yet be one with him as he is one with the Father, which is the purpose of it all. We can yet be joint-heirs. I challenged the class to “have the audacity” to liken the story of the birth of Christ to themselves, because I think God wants us to, and also to liken it to everyone with whom they interact. I asked the class to recognize the light of Christ in themselves and in each other.

I’m hopeful that the lesson went well and impacted a few people. The subtle looks on a couple of faces suggested that something struck a chord and was causing them to see things perhaps a little bit differently than they have before. When class was over, I felt humbled and peaceful, which I think is a witness of the Spirit. I went to my car (leaving early because Melanie is home sick and the boys stayed home, too) and sat in the stillness for a few moments. I offered a silent prayer of gratitude to Heavenly Father. I found myself thinking, “These are my people. I want to serve them.” It’s that blasted call to be a part of the LDS Church that sometimes I wish I didn’t feel. But I do feel it. Again and again, it seems. And so I carry on.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Thanksgiving Week 2014

The last week has been a very enjoyable one, with much to be thankful for. Here’s a rundown of how I’ve spent my time.

On the evening of Sunday the 23rd, Melanie and I attended an interfaith service at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Salt Lake City. It was an hour-long service where representatives from several religious denominations—Catholic, Hindu, Jewish, LDS, Muslim, and Baptist—shared their thoughts on gratitude, tolerance, and respect. There were also some musical numbers from an Evangelical choir. Given the limited time, the messages shared were incredibly brief, and yet I found myself uplifted. I left the service feeling very calm and peaceful. Spiritual, you might say. It was refreshing.

On Tuesday afternoon, I had my six-week post-surgery follow-up. Things are going great. The very tippy-tips of my fingers still feel a little bit numb, but it’s mild enough that I don’t really care that much. The doctor said it can take up to several months for absolutely everything to clear up, so he remains (as do I) optimistic that this can completely resolve itself. I expressed concern that the palms of both hands continue to feel quite tender if I put much weight or pressure on them. He said that can also take several months to go away after a surgery. Bottom line: the evidence suggests that everything is proceeding as it should and that I am well on my way to feeling nifty spiffy. Hallelujah. I’m no longer expected to see a doctor about this unless complications arise, which is unlikely. At this point, it’s pretty much behind me. It’s a rather beautiful thing.

Melanie and the boys had a very short week, with schools being in session only on Monday and Tuesday. We celebrated by going to see Big Hero 6 in the late afternoon on Tuesday. I think I’ve said it before, but I really love that several movie theaters in Utah have reserved seating. We really struggle to get places on time, so having specific reserved seats eliminates a lot of stress for me. I don’t handle being late very well. Sure enough, the previews had already started by the time we got inside the theater, but it didn’t matter. We had a row of five excellent seats waiting for us. I thought the movie was more enjoyable than not, but nothing truly wonderful. But that hardly mattered. It was great to be out with the fam.

When it comes to Thanksgiving, this was our first Thanksgiving since 2005 to have a large group of family with which to share in the festivities. We have so much family, in fact, that our Thanksgiving was split into two days. On Thanksgiving proper, we celebrated with Melanie’s side of the family. Melanie made our favorite stuffing recipe, which contains sausage, apples, and walnuts among other things. She also made a couple of pecan pies to accompany her mom’s cheesecakes. It was a delicious feast. As surprising as it may be to hear, my very favorite dish was a spinach salad provided by Kaya (Melanie’s brother Kaleb’s girlfriend). It featured crumbled gorgonzola, craisins, and candied pecans and was topped with some sort of oil/vinaigrette-type dressing. It was one of those dishes where you literally have to react with each and every bite. I mean it. Not just your first bite. Not every few bites. Every. Damn. Bite. I had to roll my eyes or shake my head in disbelief, if not moan aloud every time it hit my tongue. No joke. No exaggeration. It was divine.

On Friday, my side of the family got together at an all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant called Chuck-A-Rama. My kids love these kinds of restaurants. They love being in charge of what they get, and being able to go back again and again to get something new after eating two bites of whatever they last filled their plates with. (They’re not quite that bad about it, but you get the idea.) We were at the restaurant early enough in the day that they weren’t yet serving things like ham, turkey, and roast, but I ate several pieces of chicken and lots of mashed potatoes and gravy, among other things. I enjoyed chatting with my family enough that I went to my parents’ place in the early evening to hang out some more. And what did we chat about? The answer is so unsurprising that it’s almost embarrassing to say it. Religion. (What else?) My mom always seems to enjoy our conversations, even though half of the time, she tells me she’s worried I’m going to apostatize. I get a kick out of that. I think the only thing I’m apostatizing from are fairy tales, the foolish traditions of men, and unchecked assumptions. Apostasy of that kind is not such a bad thing. The truths I am coming to embrace in my life now are much more refined and thought out, and I feel like I now embrace certain tenets of my faith because I know from experience that they are good and true. I’m not just taking somebody else’s word for it. That seems to me a very good thing.

My sister Karen (AKA Krush) snapped some photos on her cell phone of our Friday Thanksgiving celebrations. In true solipsistic fashion, I’m going to share only those that feature me, my wife, and/or my children. Here goes:

Back at my parents' pad.  Eddie, Peter, and Creegan sit with Krush and their cousin Caius.

Saturday was enjoyable. We took it easy in the morning hours, then headed out in the late afternoon to Donner Park, just east of downtown Salt Lake City. It’s the park at which Melanie and I got engaged nearly a decade ago. We have always planned on taking our kids there, but this was the first time we actually did so. Edison was so sweet about it. He said a few times that it was neat to be at the park “where it all began.” The park has changed since I proposed to Melanie, but the same picnic table on which she sat amidst rose petals and listened to me strum my guitar and sing a proposal song I had written is still there. Our camera battery was dying, but we got a few pics before it went kaput. Here is my bride and our three children, who are more wonderful than I ever could have imagined, sitting on that very same picnic table where I proposed to Melanie in July 2005:

For good measure, here is a photo of me with the boys on the same table. The lighting isn’t terrific, but we make up for it in charm.

And one other photo we managed to get at the park, though not having anything to do with the picnic table:

While at the park, it was rather windy, which in turn made it rather chilly. I was thinking to myself that anyone who goes outside in the winter months in Utah deserves to go to a restaurant and enjoy a good, warm meal afterward. That should just be standard practice, I was thinking. I didn’t admit my salacious thoughts out loud, but it wasn’t long before Melanie sidled up to me and said she had something she wanted to discuss. I knew exactly where that conversation was going. Fortunately, Melanie has a good head on her shoulders and came up with an idea that is actually feasible for us in our rather frugal condition. She recommended CafĂ© Rio, where kids can eat free and where we had a punch card entitling us to a free meal. In other words, we could eat there pretty much for free. Brilliant woman, that Melanie. Her suggestion was all the convincing I needed. We drove downtown, had an enjoyable meal, and then moseyed back through town to Melanie’s parents’ (AKA “home,” for a limited time only). We searched for Christmas lights during our return drive. We headed into the Sugar House area, to “Christmas Street,” which had a few good lights but isn’t yet all decked out, what with it being so early in the holiday season. I then drove us past my paternal grandmother’s house, showing my kids where my dad grew up and telling them I myself had spent many days in that house before my grandmother died when I was 8 years old. I even told them about the mentally disabled man who lived with his parents next door, who as an adult carried around a baby doll and liked to pretend to mow the lawn, repeating the words “cut lawn, cut lawn” as he walked back and forth across the grass with whatever he used as his mower. I told them how he once confronted my dad (or was it to my uncle?) and demanded, “Cut lawn, dumb shit!” The kids laughed aplenty. It was good, clean, family fun.

Today, Melanie and I returned to Community of Christ. Originally, I had planned to attend LDS services while Melanie attended Community of Christ. But, as you can imagine, that didn’t appeal much to me when it came right down to it. And so, we all went with Melanie. I’m so glad we did. I really enjoyed it today. There were only six adults in the Sunday School class, including the teacher. We talked about God’s love, and I was inspired. The people that go to Community of Christ are so sincere and loving, it’s hard not to be won over. When it came time for the worship service, it focused on Advent, with this being the first day of the Advent season. Advent isn’t something traditionally celebrated in LDS circles, so it was cool to learn a bit more about it. Melanie and I even volunteered to participate in the program and each read something from the pulpit about Advent. During part of the worship service, they played worshipful Christmas songs and let those who wanted to help decorate the chapel do so. All three of my kids enthusiastically made their way to the Christmas tree in the corner and helped to don it now in gay apparel. It was really lovely. I feel blessed by the time I’ve spent with Community of Christ and look forward to visiting them again. I keep thinking it will be a while before I go back, but something always brings me back sooner than I expect.

That is all, but I will mention as a final note that in something like eight hours, a post I have written will go live on the Exploring Sainthood blog. You should check it out.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Community of Christ

For the past two weeks, Melanie and I have attended Community of Christ church services. Community of Christ, formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is the second largest church group that traces its origins back to Joseph Smith, Jr. After Joseph Smith was killed, there was much debate as to who, if anyone, should be his rightful successor. Many felt that Joseph’s son, Joseph Smith III, should be the next president of the church once he got older (he was only 11 at the time of his father’s death). There were claims that Joseph had even ordained his son to be his successor a short time before he was killed. Brigham Young argued that Joseph could not and should not be replaced and that the church should instead be led collectively by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, of which he was senior member. A larger group followed Brigham, who eventually changed his mind about there being no single person at the head of the church and filled that role himself. (Today, most people who identify as Mormon trace their religious heritage through Brigham, including those who belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah.) Almost 16 years later, Joseph Smith III, who had declined to lead the church until he felt inspired of God to do so, embraced what he regarded as a divine call to serve as prophet and president of the church. Most of those who hadn’t already yoked themselves to a competing would-be leader—and even some who had—accepted Joseph Smith III as their new prophet. Both those who followed Brigham and those who followed Joseph Smith III would consider the other group to have broken off from the original church organized under Joseph Smith, Jr.

But enough history. Melanie and I have been interested in visiting Community of Christ ever since attending a couple of lectures at the downtown Salt Lake City Library by a historian of Mormonism who converted from the LDS Church (the predominant “Brighamite” church) to Community of Christ. I had no interest in converting, but I did want to see what they were like. Everything I knew about them, I liked. In fact, their general ideas and attitudes seemed much more in line with my way of thinking than what I typically encounter at LDS church services. More in line with Mormonism as I understand it, really. And so, I was curious.

On our first visit, the contrast between Community of Christ and LDS services was striking. In Sunday School, we were reminded by the teacher that he isn’t trying to get us to think some particular way or another. He just wanted to get us to think, and if willing, to share those thoughts. He said that if nobody commented on anything, he would say increasingly radical stuff until we felt like we couldn’t take it anymore and had to speak up. As we went through the lesson—more of a discussion, really—on the parable of the ten virgins, the conversation focused on what we could get out of it, what it might mean, and even how we might get it wrong or abuse it. Priority was given to finding meaning and enriching and improving our lives, rather than to confirming what we already believe and showing how we are right. Quite a difference from what you get at LDS Sunday School, in my experience.

The worship service also had a very different tone to it than LDS worship services. Community of Christ had fewer “talks,” but its solitary sermon was more thought-provoking than what you usually hear from an LDS pulpit. There is a lot more singing at Community of Christ, and I found the music rather enjoyable. They have a much more expansive hymnbook—something like 600 songs in total—and at least a few of their hymns had an almost contemporary show tune feel to them. I liked it.

One cool feature of Community of Christ’s worship service is that they had a time dedicated to children. They called up all of the children and addressed them in particular, giving something of a mini-lesson. Eddie, Peter, and Creegan were with us, but I didn’t know if they’d want to go up, because they never want to participate at our normal LDS church. Eddie sat this one out, but Peter and Creegan were very enthusiastic about participating. The pastor talked about creation and how everything we see is a manifestation of God’s glory and work. He then had the kids draw a picture of something from nature while the adults watched a worshipful video. The pastor then shared the kids’ drawings. Beegy went first, holding up his picture of a woman falling into water, screaming. “She says, ‘Aaaaahhhhhh!’” Beegy explained. Everyone laughed. Peter shared an impressive drawing of a fox. When all the kids had shared their pictures, the congregation applauded their work. I really appreciated that we acknowledged the kids in this way, rather than meeting their efforts with dead silence, as is customary at LDS services.

I don’t want to spend too much time recounting details of my visit. Suffice it to say, there was much to enjoy about Community of Christ. The people seemed like really good people. In comparison to LDS services, their services seemed very humble, sincere, open-minded, thought-provoking, and inspiring. Admittedly, I left feeling like it didn’t make a whole lot of sense to reject their community for my own, just because my own is supposed to be the “right” one. The more I thought about it, the angrier I got. I could imagine talking to LDS family and friends, telling them all the reasons Community of Christ felt so much better than LDS services, and having them respond, “Well, that doesn’t matter. We’re still the true church. They’re not.” These are the same people who would probably tell visitors to the LDS church that if they feel anything good or positive during their visit, they can interpret those feelings as coming from the Holy Ghost, who is testifying to them that the LDS Church is “true.” So hypocritical.

Although I hadn’t originally expected to revisit Community of Christ so soon, we returned the next Sunday. The service was atypical because someone was being ordained to the priesthood. This afforded Melanie and me an opportunity to see some other aspects of Community of Christ that differ from the LDS Church. Most notably, although it was a man being ordained to the priesthood, all four of the people who ordained him were women. (The LDS Church does not allow the ordination of women to priesthood offices, and so in turn has no women doing any ordaining of others.) Seeing four women gathered around a man, their hands on his head and shoulders, did not strike me as offensive, blasphemous, crazy, or otherwise “wrong.” I was actually impressed by how unremarkable it seemed. I was thinking about my boys seeing this and potentially asking, “Why don’t women do that in our church?” and how damn absurd it would feel to say something like “because it’s wrong” in response. “God doesn’t want that to happen.” It just sounds so silly when you’re watching it take place and it is nothing more than a loving and serviceable act. It wouldn’t be altogether different from seeing a man baking a cake and telling your kid, “God doesn’t want that to happen.” The preposterousness of it all strikes you in the face.

We also had the chance to take communion with Community of Christ, which is normally once a month and so hadn’t been offered the week before. They have an “open communion,” meaning they don’t consider membership in Community of Christ a prerequisite to taking communion. The LDS Church views the blessing of communion (called simply “the sacrament” in LDS vernacular) as a priesthood ordinance that must be done by authority. I imagine some LDS folk would consider it a sin that I partook of Community of Christ communion. But I’m not sure why. By Community of Christ’s own accord, it’s not a symbol of my belonging to their church. Plus, if Community of Christ doesn’t have any legitimate authority, which would be the typical LDS way of looking at it, then there was nothing special about what they were doing. If that’s the case, then who cares if I participated? Anyway, I did partake and tried to direct my thoughts in the same way I would if I were taking the sacrament at an LDS church. There was no reason not to. Unlike the LDS Church, which uses water, Community of Christ uses grape juice in place of sacramental wine. My kids loved that. I myself found the symbolism more pronounced through the use of grape juice. Not just the color, mind you, but the fact that grape juice lingers on the tongue. When you drink your thimble of water at LDS services, your tongue is wet for a second. That’s about as far as the sensory experience goes. Grape juice, on the other hand, coats your tongue and remains. There is an aftertaste and a residual velvety sensation on the inside of your mouth. It’s not entirely unlike blood, oddly enough. I think it’s easy to see how this might have a more profound effect on the person who partakes of juice as opposed to water. It’s not such a fleeting experience, and not something you can easily do without giving it much attention.

Now, it may surprise you based on everything I’ve said above, but I left Community of Christ this most recent Sunday feeling eager to return to my regular LDS church services next week. It’s a funny thing, but as much as I get inspired by other traditions, I seem always to find myself desirous to return to my own tradition. It’s not because something is lacking in these other traditions. On the contrary, I think it might just be that I find so much lacking in my own church culture that I want to infuse it with some of the good I am finding elsewhere. This is something I seem unable to shake. At Community of Christ, there was a good deal of talk about being “called” to something. The person being ordained an elder that day had felt called to that office, in and of himself, by God, which is actually how Community of Christ does things. In LDS circles, being “called” is synonymous with being asked by someone in authority to do something or to serve in some capacity. It’s meant to be an inspired “call,” but whether or not it is, LDS folk rarely (and in most cases never) use the phrase “being called” to refer to something a person feels is communicated from God directly to the individual him/herself. Anyway, on the way home from church, I thought of myself as called—in the sense familiar to Community of Christ and most other Christians—to the LDS Church. I am not your typical member of the LDS Church, and sometimes I come close to hating my time there, but I embrace Mormonism wholeheartedly and I feel like the LDS Church is where I am meant to serve. It’s where I want to serve. And I can see a lot of room to serve there. Not in the help-set-up-chairs way that LDS folk are so often keen on serving, but in a deeper, more theological sense, with opening minds and softening hearts. Maybe that sounds prideful. Or maybe it just is what God puts in my own heart to do.

Maybe, just maybe, being LDS is my cross to bear.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Religion and Morality

I posted the following as a kind of rant in a private FB group yesterday. As such, it’s not what I would consider a finely-tuned piece of writing. It leaves open the question of what the relationship between morality and religion should be, and yes, I think there is a relationship to be had there. But I trust that my general point and concerns will come across if I post this as is. The post seemed to garner a good response in the group, so I trust it’s not entirely incoherent. Here you go.

Maybe religion shouldn’t be in the “morality” business.

This might sound cuckoo crazy, but bear with me a minute.

As I think about all the things religion tells us to do or not to do, it all begins to look quite silly. Birth control, R-rated movies, tattoos, sleeveless shirts, mothers working outside the home, same-sex marriage. Do this, don’t do that. Is this really what religion is for?! It seems so shallow and meaningless! And yet that’s how we so often approach religion, as an authoritative guide to not being naughty. Really?!?! That’s what I’m supposed to get out of all of this?!? “I”m so grateful for a living prophet, so I don’t wear two sets of earrings and unknowingly sin.” For reals, people?!?!??!?!

I’ve heard people talk about how the church can infantalize people. I think this is almost unavoidable when we’re so obsessed with right/wrong actions (an external focus) instead of embracing and becoming (an internal focus). In many ways, we invite this upon ourselves because we want someone to tell us what to do and we want to be able to say, with all the ease and simplicity of glimpsing at a checklist, that we are good people doing things right and pleasing God. But the result is that we’re babies, crawling around on the floor, with the looming parent ever there to remind us, “Don’t put that in your mouth!” That’s what religion tends to do ... often quite literally! “Don’t put bacon in your mouth!” “Don’t put coffee in your mouth!” “Don’t put cigarettes in your mouth!” And I think we’re all aware of the famous First Presidency letter of 1982 that forbid us from putting other things in our mouths.

I was reading about the Cutlerite movement in Mormon history and the list of things they forbid on Sundays. The list includes reading newspapers, reading novels, playing checkers, and having conversations that are not spiritually-based. We look back and laugh and think it’s so ridiculous. But we latch onto our own rules and applaud ourselves for doing things right and flourishing spiritually. Well, I look back at the Cutlerites and think they probably wasted a lot of their time and missed a lot of happiness because they were following these rules. Why would we be any different today? What will we look back on in 150 years and laugh at because it so clearly has absolutely nothing to do with being a morally upstanding person?

Joseph Smith said something about teaching correct principles and letting the saints govern themselves. That makes sense to me. Teach truth and goodness, insofar as you are able, and let people embrace those things that they want to embrace or that benefit them. Don’t just give us a list of what to do or not to do. How do we learn what makes those things good or bad if you’re just telling us what to do? Help us to understand the whys, and then we won’t need you to tell us what’s good or bad. We’ll know for ourselves! The funny thing is, Jesus tried to tell us what makes things good: love, on which supposedly hangs all of the laws. And yet we refuse to believe it. We really do refuse. Instead, we villainize those who endorse this approach as embracing a “comfortable God.” We shame those who dress differently than we do, because we assume personal righteousness and hemlines can be measured with the exact same yardstick. And we shake our heads in disapproval at parents who allow their children to attend birthday parties on Sundays, because we assume we should be willing to follow rules at the expense of nurturing friendships, showing fellowship, and giving our support.

Boy, do we sell ourselves and our religion short.

Sunday, November 02, 2014


My family has done quite a bit of hiking lately. Tallahassee wasn’t exactly conducive to hiking, so I guess we’re making the most of our local Utah mountains and whatnot. Soon enough, it will be snowy and we’ll wait to stay indoors 99.9% of the time, but for now, we’ve being quite adventurous—which isn’t very adventurous at all, by most standards, but why quibble?

Our first hike was on the Temple Quarry Trail, located at the base of Little Cottonwood Canyon. It’s a paved trail, and a very short trail, but we got some nice photos.

For our next hiking adventure, we sought out Lisa Falls, a waterfall located just slightly more up Little Cottonwood Canyon than was the Temple Quarry Trail. I had inconsistent directions on how to get to Lisa Falls, but even my Google Maps directions didn’t quite pan out. We did pull over and hike up the mountain a little bit, but not in a place that would lead to Lisa Falls. It led nowhere, in fact. But once again, we got some cute pics out of the deal. And I’m quite proud of my boys’ hiking abilities, considering we weren’t really on a trail of any sort.

Our most recent hike maybe shouldn’t be called a hike. It was a completely flat walking trail, called the Porter Rockwell Trail. We had gone to church in the morning, where we told from the pulpit that one way to keep the Sabbath day holy is to wear church clothes all Sunday long. Why, Melanie and I were so spiritually fed, we couldn’t possibly eat another bite. So we left before church was over, changed into our heathen clothing, and went on a walk. So, we did take a hike—from church—but we walked a trail that was named after the loyal bodyguard to both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. He was also a prolific killer, but that’s beside the point. I bet you’ll never guess what happened during our hike. That’s right! We took some awesome photos!

We were quite surprised to see a residence that was home not only to horses, but to a zebra.  There was also an ostrich or emu or something, but I didn't get a pic of that.

This and the next two photos were my attempt at getting some artistic shots.  I keep wanting to take a photography class or something.  I honestly don't know a dang thing about photography or photo editing, but I like to think some of these have turned out looking pretty nice (and nicely pretty).  The final photo below is my fave.

The end!