Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Goodbye to a Grandpa

Melanie’s paternal grandfather passed away last Thursday. His funeral services were held yesterday. I don’t know what to say about something like this. For me, it was literally half a lifetime ago that my last living grandparent died. I wonder how it would feel to have lived well into adulthood before losing my grandparents. Would it have made it easier? Harder? Melanie didn’t lose any grandparents before meeting me, and it’s only been in the last several years that any of them have passed. Her maternal grandfather died in March 2008, and her paternal grandmother passed away while we were in Nauvoo this summer. Melanie’s maternal grandmother is her last surviving grandparent.

Melanie’s paternal grandparents have always been extremely loving and welcoming. They treated me like family from the start. I certainly felt closer to them than I do to her other grandparents. I have been at their house numerous times, have had numerous conversations with them. They were good people. There was only one time during the grandfather’s funeral that I got choked up. It was at the graveside, when the soldier presented the folded American flag to Melanie’s dad and said, “On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States Army, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.” (Melanie’s grandpa had served in the Army.) I’m not very sentimental about patriotism, and it certainly wasn’t the patriotism itself that moved me. But something about the ritual did. I think it was simply the loving and respectful gesture that it was both to Melanie’s grandpa and to her dad.

Melanie’s brother William and his wife, Michelle, made a sash that they placed on top of the casket. The sash read, “It’s a jungle out there!” Melanie asked what the meaning of it was, and William said their grandpa had always included with his goodbyes, “Be careful, it’s a jungle out there!”

Before the brief graveside services, there was a funeral at Melanie’s grandfather’s church. Melanie had been asked to give the invocation, and I the benediction. We agreed. Later, Melanie and I learned that we are officially prohibited from giving prayers at an LDS funeral due to the fact that we aren’t LDS. This is an appalling and offensive policy, as far as I’m concerned. What is the reasoning behind it? If we’re not LDS, our prayers won’t reach God? Fortunately, anybody that would’ve tried to stop Melanie and me from saying prayers was apparently unaware, either of the policy itself or of the fact that we were the ones giving the prayers—or, perhaps most likely, of the fact that we aren’t LDS. And so, Melanie and I were able to offer the prayers without opposition.

As willing and honored as I was to give the benediction, there was some mild anxiety associated with doing so. Public speaking wasn’t my concern, it’s that Melanie and I now pray differently from most LDS people, and most LDS people aren’t very comfortable with anything out of the LDS norm. Not that our prayers are radically different, unless you’re LDS and find any non-LDS prayers radical. But Melanie and I usually don’t address God as “Father” in public prayers. I frequently do in my own prayers, but I avoid it publicly in order to be more inclusive, realizing that some people don’t resonate with identifying God in such masculine terms. (Melanie and I knew some people at the funeral would not be LDS, and while I didn’t know what their particular views of God would be, I thought sensitivity and erring on the side of neutrality was a good thing.) Melanie and I also use the terms “you” and “your” rather than the LDS-preferred terms “thee” and “thy.” I don’t think “thee” and “thy” are bad, per se, but as I’ve gone through my own faith journey, such language gradually felt less and less comfortable and/or natural to me and thus fell out of use in my own personal life. I was going to avoid the issue by phrasing things in careful ways, like saying “we’re grateful for” rather than “we thank thee/you for.” But before I had time to realize it, the first three words to come out of my mouth after addressing God were “we thank you.” I hope such a trivial thing would not stand in the way of someone worshipping and appreciating the actual message within the prayer, but unfortunately, I’d say it’s incredibly likely the language I used was rattling at least a few people. Anyway, I wanted the content and not just the language of my prayer to be as accessible to as many people as possible, so I simply prayed that this would be an opportunity in which we could be reminded of the unifying power of love and that we wouldn’t let differences obscure love in our lives. I prayed that we wouldn’t squander our time and relationships on anything less than love. I have no idea if such a prayer could, would, or did resonate with most of the people in the audience, what with my having called God “God” and saying “you” and all. But here’s hoping. I can say it was a sincere prayer on my part.

By the way, this was the first time any of my children have attended a viewing or funeral of any kind. Before the viewing (immediately before the funeral), my boys were quite interested in seeing their great-grandfather. I think the idea fascinated them. They didn’t react much once they did see him, so I’m not sure what they thought about it. They didn’t go from being hyper to being quiet, so as to suggest that they were disturbed. They just didn’t seem all that interested after a few seconds. They didn’t comment much on it, so I’m really not sure how profound an experience it was for them.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Called to the Priesthood

Yesterday was a beautiful day, and a significant one in my continued spiritual journey. Melanie and I were voted into the priesthood of Community of Christ. The priesthood works differently in Community of Christ than it does in the LDS Church, and since the LDS Church was my default frame of reference for 30+ years, my story will involve a fair amount of comparing and contrasting.

Melanie and I officially received calls to the priesthood on the morning of August 29th. Melanie was called to be a priest, and I was called to be an elder. We were told we had up to one year to determine whether or not we ourselves felt called, and we were assured that if either of us turned down the calling, there would be no questions asked and no judgment passed. I myself have felt called to this work for quite some time. My entire journey into Community of Christ has been founded on the overwhelming sense that God has ministerial plans for me in Community of Christ. Thus, I didn’t feel a need to postpone my answer. Once everything had been explained, I accepted my call then and there.

In the LDS Church, the congregation typically isn’t aware of a priesthood call until it is presented for a sustaining vote. The whole shebang takes literally 10 seconds. In Community of Christ, priesthood calls are presented to the congregation with several weeks’ notice. Members of the congregation are expected to pray about the callings and to seek their own testimonies concerning whether or not a priesthood candidate is truly called of God to the proposed priesthood office. Weeks later, a business meeting takes place in which priesthood callings are on the agenda. The pastor introduces each priesthood candidate and offers his/her witness of the call. The priesthood candidate then addresses the congregation and gives a personal witness of the call. Members of the congregation are then given an opportunity to speak in support of the call. It takes somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 minutes to work through each priesthood call, but the entire process is overflowing with the Spirit and with love. I don’t know if it’s a Community of Christ tradition or simply something our own pastor does, but envelopes were also available, each with a different priesthood candidate’s name on it, in which congregants were able to put letters of support. It was quite a beautiful thing.

I ended up writing my personal witness at pretty much the very last minute, maybe an hour or so before Melanie and I were heading out the door to church. It was a much more stressful and rushed situation than I would have preferred, but at least I got something down on paper so I wasn’t winging it and rambling incoherently. Here are the words I spoke:

Imagine you are walking and come upon a path that veers off in a slightly different direction than the one you’ve been headed. Imagine you feel compelled to walk that path. Suppose that as you walk that new path, you encounter scenes you had never before expected to see on your walk. For example, you pass by a lake that you never knew existed, but which is one of the most beautiful sights you have ever seen in your entire life. If I were to ask you, “When did you feel compelled to walk past the lake?”, you might find it difficult to answer the question. In one sense, you felt compelled to walk past the lake the moment your feet were drawn to the path that led to the lake. You didn’t know about the lake, but you were heading straight for it as something beckoned to you to walk that path, to keep going, to continuously put one foot in front of the other and see where it takes you. Perhaps you even knew, I am going to see some amazing things on this path. I can sense that something spectacular awaits me around the bend. You felt compelled to find out what it was. It happened to be the lake. But once you saw the lake, you didn’t need to ask yourself anew if you should walk past it. Instead, you thought, “Ah ha. This is it. This is what I’ve been waiting to see. And it’s more beautiful than I had ever imagined. There is nowhere else I would rather be at this very moment than where I am right now.”
The question I am meant to address is, do I feel called to be an elder in Community of Christ? I wish that a simple “yes” could convey to you just how deeply I feel that call. But I do. And I have felt the call for a long time now. For me, that call begins in 2012, long before I knew much about Community of Christ, other than that it existed, and years before I would consider visiting a Community of Christ congregation. I hope that my lake analogy makes sense of how such a thing is possible. In 2012, something changed in me and set me on a path that was unlike any I could have anticipated. Since that time, I have felt a persistent ache in my heart—and at times it has been an almost unbearably intense desire—to minister to others, particularly in a spiritual manner. Now, I don’t want anyone to assume that this means I think highly of myself. I feel painfully aware of many of my shortcomings, and painfully aware of the fact that I likely have many other shortcomings of which I am entirely unaware. (I don’t know which is worse.) But, for all it may be worth to you as you seek to discern whether or not God truly is calling me to be an elder, I can tell you this: my desire is pure. I want to serve you. I may question my own abilities, but I can promise you my love and sincerity. Those are offered to you without hesitation, and they are in no short supply. I trust God will help me figure out the rest. And I do offer you my witness that God has been present all along this path that has led me here, to this metaphorical lake, that once I saw it, I didn’t need to ask if I should walk past it. I’ve been waiting for it, and it is beautiful, and my heart cries “yes.” I hope that you can accept whatever imperfect service I have to offer. Thank you.

Melanie gave a stirring testimony of her own call, citing her notes from our second visit to Community of Christ, in which she had written down some feelings she had then about the priesthood and also some words from a hymn we sang that day that really resonated with her and, she realized when recently revisiting them, spell out pretty much exactly what the role of priest involves. Needless to say, I had many occasions to get choked up during this meeting.

At this point, neither Melanie nor I have actually been ordained to the priesthood. Unlike the LDS Church, Community of Christ requires training for the priesthood. Calls to the priesthood are not automatic, and there is no reason to expect a call to the priesthood simply in virtue of being an adult member of the church in good standing. That’s simply not how it works in Community of Christ. Community of Christ treats the priesthood more like an honest-to-goodness calling in and of itself, so they consider it important that members of the priesthood fully understand what their roles and responsibilities are. There is a series of classes that Melanie and I will each need to complete, with some of those classes being common to both of us, which means we can take them together (which I think is pretty neat). I don’t know that it’s possible for either of us to be ordained before December, and even that might be a rush job. I want to be ordained as soon as possible, and I certainly have more availability to work on the classes. I think at least some of them are done at your own pace, at your own convenience, so I might be able to work through them fairly quickly if I want to. But we’ll see.

In conclusion, I’ll just mention that once Melanie and I are both ordained, we will share the ability to administer communion, to baptize, and to perform marriages. Pretty cool stuff. I think I’ll bawl like a baby the first time I hear Melanie bless communion. I can hardly wait.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Field Trip I Never Tripped

This morning’s events (or lack thereof) are the kind that can ruin your whole day. I feel so sad. I’ll have to tell the whole story for this to make sense.

Last week, Peter brought home a permission slip to go on a field trip today. The field trip consists of taking the light rail train downtown, going to a movie, and then taking the light rail back to school. I thought this sounded like a really cool and fun field trip. I volunteered to be a chaperon. On Monday, when I was picking up the boys from school, Peter’s teacher saw me, came up to my car, and told me that I could definitely go on the field trip as they needed all the chaperons they could get. But she said that in order to be a chaperon, I needed to sign up as a volunteer with the school district, which involves filling out an application and having them perform a background check. I told her that I had signed up as a volunteer with the district last year, and she said I would need to renew it for this year. I said okay. Then I totally forgot to do so.

Yesterday, Melanie asked me about signing up to be a volunteer. Peter’s teacher had asked Melanie about it because she could see that, as of yesterday, I was still not approved. I cringed as I realized I had forgotten to sign up and the field trip was scheduled for the next morning. But Melanie told me not to worry. I could fill out the volunteer application online that night and things might yet work out. If the application wasn’t approved by the morning, perhaps something could yet be done to allow me to go. Peter’s teacher was determined to have me go, since she really needed the help. And so, last night, I filled out the online volunteer application, and I then went to the grocery store to get Peter and me some lunch stuff to take on the field trip. Melanie and I talked to her mom to see if she could help us out by picking up Creegan after preschool, since I wouldn’t be available, and she agreed. Everything was set.

This morning, I got up earlier than usual so I could get ready for the field trip. I dropped Melanie, Eddie, and Peter off at school around 8 AM. I told Peter I’d see him soon. I then took Creegan to preschool and reminded him that Grandma would be picking him up. I then drove back to Peter’s school. I thought the field trip was supposed to start around 9 AM, so I sat in the car listening to a podcast for a little while. At 8:54 AM, I got a text message from Melanie saying I definitely could not go on the field trip. My application had not been processed and there was simply no way around it. I felt absolutely heartbroken for Peter, and very sad that I couldn’t explain it to him myself. I would just be a no-show. (Hopefully, his teacher explained it to him.) I also felt bad that I was leaving Peter’s teacher in a bind, since I know she was desperate for chaperons. It was an all-around crappy situation.

I drove home, feeling very sad. When I got home, I checked my email. My application to be a volunteer with the school district had been approved. I received the email at 8:46 AM, eight minutes before Melanie’s text message informing me that I could not go on the field trip. I can only assume Peter’s teacher had checked on my application mere minutes before it was approved. At the moment I stood outside of Peter’s school, about to meet up with his class, I was actually an approved volunteer. But I turned around, left, and went home because nobody knew it. Talk about frustrating and disappointing.

Let’s hope the day improves from here.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

More Arts Farts

I’ve written in the past about my family’s artistic abilities. I’m continually impressed by what my children can do with a pen and a paper or some crayons. Creegan in particular often wows me. He spends a good portion of each day drawing—guns, cars, etc. As a four-year-old, he draws nearly as well as I can, although he’s much faster about it.

About a week ago (maybe a little more), Eddie asked me one night what he should draw. I said, “Draw a city being attacked by alien spaceships.” I don’t know what I expected, but he came back with something much cooler than I had expected. Here’s his drawing:

On Monday, Eddie asked me again what he should draw. I said, “Draw a guy with a machine gun swinging from a vine attached to a tree.” He came back with the following picture, which includes a row of deadly saws at the bottom:

On the reverse side of the paper, Eddie had drawn the following apocalyptic scene:

In case it isn’t obvious, that long-bearded perplexed man standing on a cloud in the upper-left corner of the drawing is Jesus. He’s a bit baffled by all the fighting and chaos happening around him.

Creegan was inspired by Eddie’s drawing of the guy swinging from a vine above a deadly row of saws and drew his own version. It’s not bad:

The following picture was not drawn by Creegan, but he did indeed color it. In my opinion, it’s amazing work for a four-year-old.

Heaven knows they didn’t get their skills from me!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Getting Smart

A new car isn’t the only thing Melanie’s new job has afforded us. After three-and-a-half years with my Samsung S390G, I have upgraded to my first ever smart phone. I wasn’t upgrading for the purpose of getting a smart phone. My Samsung had started to act up now and again, and I figured this was as good a time to invest in a new phone as any. My new phone is an LG Ultimate 2, which for a smart phone really isn’t that fancy. But, seeing as how it’s my first, it’s more than enough. Truthfully, I’m a no-frills kind of guy. I want to be able to send texts and talk. I’m mildly interested in the ability to use apps, but I don’t even know what to trust and wonder if it’s worth the fuss. To put a Facebook app on the phone, I basically have to give Facebook permission to do whatever the hell they want. It practically says that in the permissions. By installing the app, you are agreeing to let it do stuff “without owner’s knowledge.” That’s literally a clause in the agreement. Yeah, I know. I’m a grumpy old man.

One phone upgrade that I’m particularly excited about is the improved camera. It’s not like I typically rely on my cell phone for taking photos, but I don’t carry my digital camera around with me. When an impromptu photo opportunity strikes, a cell phone is all I’ve got. I see other people post photos from their cell phones all the time, and they’re always gorgeous and stunning, in full HD. My Samsung photos looked like garbage unless you happened to be outside on a very sunny day, in which case they were okay. Well, my smart phone has a much better camera. I’ve tested it, and I wish I were more awestruck by the improvement. It’s nothing like I see from other people, but it is a step in the right direction. I’ll have to be content with that for now.

I’ll conclude this brief post with some of the photos I’ve taken on my new phone. Enjoy!

Considering this was taken outside, at night, without a flash, it isn't that shabby.

Same as above: outside, nighttime, no flash.

Melanie and I try out the "front-facing" camera, which is even lower quality (re: less megapixels) than the normal (i.e. "rear-facing") camera.  A front-facing camera is basically designed for selfies, since you can see yourself on the screen as you take the photo.

An old-fashioned selfie, taken with the rear-facing camera.  This time we've used a flash, and you can tell.  We're better lit, but there's something unnatural about our appearance, as if we've put white powder on our face or something.  We're looking just a touch more Marcel Marceau than I would like.

This photo looked much worse before I tweaked it.  The problem, once again, was using a flash.  I don't know much about editing photos, so this is as good as it gets, folks.

A slightly more distant shot of the boys, with a flash.  I don't like the paling effect of the flash.  By the way, if you're curious and can't tell, we're at the Gateway Mall in downtown Salt Lake City.

My favorite photo so far, in terms of quality.  It was a beautiful grey morning, and I had just enjoyed a chai latte from this Starbucks.  In my car, I decided the view was too picturesque to ignore.  This photo also served as my first ever post-a-photo-to-Facebook-from-your-phone photo.

The end!

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

A Stressful Start to September

I am worn out today. Some good things happened, but there was also a lot of stress. Here’s how my day unfolded.

In the morning, I had to convince Creegan he was going to preschool. He’s never been as defiant about it as he was today. In fact, in my opinion, he’s never quite qualified for the label “defiant” before, even when he has seemed less than enthusiastic about going to preschool. The problem is, he stayed home yesterday with an incessant cough. This particular preschool takes illness very seriously due to the medical conditions of some of its students, so we kept Beegy far away. Today, he tried to tell me he was still coughing, but it was always in the form of demonstrating it to me, not something I overheard him doing naturally. Anyway, Creegan’s dragging feet made this morning move slowly, and I thought we’d be late to his school. But we got there much more quickly than I expected and were basically arriving in perfect timing. But that was some mild stress to start the day.

While Creegan was in school, I went and parked in a nearby shopping center and read various things I had brought with me—books on theology, the owners’ manual for my new (but used) Honda Accord, etc. I redid the car radio presets to my satisfaction and let the music play while I read. I was pleased that the time passed as easily as it did. I had my car window down, and I was enjoying the day. After a while, it started to feel rather hot with the sun blaring on me. I didn’t want to waste gas, so I didn’t want to run the car, but I thought it’d be nice to find some shade. So I went to start the car and move it somewhere a bit cooler. I turned the key and … nothing. “Are you kidding me?!?!” I yelled. I couldn’t believe it. Less than a week of having the car and I was already having a problem! But I immediately knew what the problem was, and I knew it was my fault. I had (unintentionally) been listening to the radio (for nearly 90 minutes) with the key turned further in the ignition than is necessary. I had turned it past the first stop (auxiliary mode?) that makes listening to the radio possible and was in what I believe is called the “on” position without having turned over the engine. So, I was sucking battery juice like a 2nd grader sucking down Capri Sun. I couldn’t believe my stupidity. I turned off the car and waited several minutes, trying to keep my calm. I then tried the car again. Nothing. At this stage, I become almost panicky, realizing that Creegan needs to be picked up in the relatively near future and I have no way to contact his school. I start calling my parents, who live close by. I make multiple calls to both my dad’s and my mom’s cell phones. No answer. Which is normal for them. They rarely answer. But being used to them not answering is not helpful. If anything, it makes it all the more irksome. I call my sister Khrystine, because I know my dad was going to pick her up sometime this morning. She answers, fortunately. I tell her my situation. She hasn’t yet been picked up by my dad, who is on his way to get her—and hence quickly going in the opposite direction of me. But there’s nothing more I can do.

Thankfully, my mom then calls me back. As well as I can in my flustered frustration, I tell her the scenario and ask if she can take me to get Creegan. Thankfully, she can. Thankfully, she lives only a couple of blocks away from where I’m stranded. Thankfully, Creegan is also incredibly close by. Thankfully, she picks me up and we get to Creegan’s school in what is once again perfect timing. At this point, I calm down quite a bit. Getting Creegan was my #1 concern, and the task is now complete. Breathe. Mom takes us back to the shopping center. I run into a store to pee (because I really needed to at this point), and by the time I come out, my dad and Khrystine are already waiting at my dead car. Seconds later, my brother, who had been contacted by my dad, pulls up to jumpstart the car. Because I’m aware of what happened, I am 99% sure a jumpstart should remedy the situation, and it does. The engine turns over. All is well. But shee-it. Stress, stress, stress!

With almost enough of us on scene to consider it a family reunion, my dad treats us all to lunch. We head out west to a diner called Virg’s that, I now know, is notorious for serving monstrous portions of food. I get the small version of a breakfast burrito stuffed with hash browns, eggs, ham, and smothered in melted cheese and chile verde. I supplement it with a single pancake on the side. It’s a bona fide feast. Tantalized by a photo in the menu, Creegan orders a comically long corn dog (and a side of tater tots). The restaurant has Diet Mountain Dew on tap, which brings joy to my heart, except it ends up tasting terrible and has something wrong with it and can’t be fixed. So, I have to settle for Diet Pepsi. The next hour or so is relatively peaceful.

The couple of hours I spend at home in the afternoon are pleasant but brief. I then head to Back to School Night for Eddie and Peter. Per Melanie’s request, I show up early to help her out in her classroom before the official festivities begin. She takes Eddie and Peter out to dinner first and shows up 20 minutes later than when we were supposed to meet. It’s chaos for the first little while, with kids demanding something from a vending machine that supposedly exists but we cannot find without Melanie’s help. The initial stuff for Back to School Night is starting and we’re still having to placate the kids by pumping what seems like hundreds of nickels into a vending machine in order to get enough to buy a pack of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Then we rush to the auditorium, where of course there are no seats left. The people up front speak into a microphone that does absolutely no good for someone like me in the back, what with the unbelievable noise going on all around me. From what I can tell, 50% of the audience isn’t even trying to be quiet while the speech is going on. I understand literally almost nothing of what is said. Meanwhile, Peter and Creegan keep circling around me, taunting each other and making my body feel like some sort of toy in the process. I want to scream. I eventually give up on whatever is being said in the auditorium and head to Eddie’s classroom. The nice thing about leaving the auditorium early is that nobody is at the classroom other than the teacher. It’s easy-breezy. Even when get to Peter’s classroom next, no other parents are roaming around just yet. We wrap up pretty quickly. The day is done, and I couldn’t be happier.

That is my September so far.