The Weekend Before Finals Week
The part I hate most about job searching is its large dependance upon shallow, arbitrary, intrinsically worthless social cues and nuances. It's like dating in that regard, except that if I refuse to participate I'll starve to death. Fortunately it's over now as I got very lucky/blessed. Somehow, immediately following an interview that I felt went only moderately well, I was asked to come in for a six hour training the next day, and I did that, and now I start on Monday, so yay for that. The most awkward part of the interview was when she asked, "What makes you the best candidate for this job?" For a moment I just stared at her, as I realized that I was being asked to explain why I'm better than other people, and that I could only get this job at their expense, and they they also have bills to pay and maybe children who need clothes. I also knew that in all honesty I'm not the best candidate for this or any other conceivable thing ever. But part of this horrible game is shameless boasting and self-aggrandizement. The answer I gave was "Because of my Stats class" but in hindsight I should have said "Because I have a ton of experience with rejection and verbal abuse."
The training ended an hour early, but I missed two socializing opportunities because of it, which was disappointing until I realized a month ago that wouldn't have been an issue. I also made sure to get onto the day shift so that my evenings would be open for socializing, and if I had said that a month ago it would have been pure sarcasm. I can't really take any credit for the change, though, because I just happened to find this perfect posse and if I hadn't I still wouldn't be doing any of that stuff. Last week I went on a hike with their Elders' quorum, demonstrating that while infatuation may have brought me into this ward, and food may have enticed me to continue coming, ultimately it's friendship that will keep me there. I've discovered what's really important - having lots of people who like me enough to cooperate as I exploit them to further my aspirations.
The hike was preceded by a breakfast, during which their bishop said a few words about dating. He wasn't like the second counselor, who constantly badgers everyone about dating and marriage, which I actually think is all right. If the entire bishopric and the entire culture were like that, it would be a problem, but I think it's all well and good for one person to fill that role because it creates a "good cop/bad cop" kind of dichotomy. Anyway, the bishop doesn't go on about it that much but he just wanted to talk about it on this occasion, and that was great for me as an outsider because I could glean his remarks for good counsel without any obligation to actually listen to it. "A few of you - maybe more than a few of you - are just scared of women," he said, "and you just need to get over that." Well, yes, I thought, I do tend to be scared of things that hurt me. I'm funny that way.
I also played basketball with them. I'm not familiar with all of the rules, and I can't shoot very well, but I'm not so bad at it that my team is guaranteed to lose by a large margin, so that was fun. I just tried to stay out of the way and do whatever my teammates told me to. "Chris, guard Dallin!" somebody said. Sure thing, I thought, as soon as I figure out which one he is. I tried to pick up on some of their slang as well. They were fond of saying "Good D!", and they even said it to me a few times. I assume the "D" stands for "defense", though I'm not sure because they never said "Good O!" as an corollary and I don't see why "defense" is a long enough word to require an abbreviation anyway. If it were "disestablishmentarianism", that would be different. I learned in high school that trying to be normal by copying what all the other guys said and did was a bad idea, so I never said it myself. I would have gotten the context completely wrong and they would have scoffed at me like, "Are you blind? That was the worst D I've ever seen in the history of D. My grandmother could D better than that, and she's D-E-D dead."
I need to wrap this up pretty quick now because I have a lot of Latin studying to do and maybe more people will read it if it's shorter than usual anyway. I shan't get around to talking about Mackenzie's obsession with T. Swizzle, how she dances to it while driving despite claiming to not know how to dance, how I realized last night that I argue with her just for fun even when she's right and maybe that's why she thought I didn't like her, etcetera. That's all the pertinent information anyway. I'm not good at putting those things in story form when they really work better as bullet points.
The Mormon Section
The other day Tyler Glenn, lead singer of Neon Trees, released a solo song and video called "Trash" that angrily slams the Church, which he turns out to have left months ago over its now infamous policy change. After listening to a few seconds of it and being unable to bear any more, I have to say that I think the title is pretty descriptive of how it sounds. As for the actual content, though, I can't help but think "Wow, this is cool." Don't get me wrong. I know Tyler Glenn is coming from a place of deep and legitimate pain, and I don't think that's cool. I don't think it's cool that he's trashing my religion either, although I feel not one iota of anger or resentment for it and I don't think anyone else should either. No, the cool part is having this kind of publicity and repercussions in the first place, for good or bad. When ex-Mormons rant on their reddit forums or article comments sections, does anyone else care? No. (Insert your own quip about the same applying to my blog. I won't argue.) But this is in Rolling Stone. Wow.
But the absolute coolest part is that he spits on an altered painting of Joseph Smith, that he is not just slamming the Church in general, or President Monson, but going way back to the founder, Joseph Smith, who had nothing to do with this policy, but did say he was told by an angel "that my name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people." This prophecy was given to a total nobody in an era when news could take a month to travel across the continent. Even by his death, when he had become moderately famous in the United States, there was no reason to assume anyone would remember or care about him a hundred or two years later. So I think that's cool. I know I should focus more on Tyler Glenn and the actual issues at hand here, but that's my perspective and I'm sticking to it. And of course I hope he gets over his pain.
Nightwish - The Escapist
Weeks ago I got through a rough time by listening to this over and over and over, but I didn't get around to putting it on my blog because stuff came up. That happens.
In advance I'm going to blame what I feel is the execrable quality of this post on my lack of time to prepare it due to studying for finals, writing papers, job searching, and now suddenly having a social life. In a couple weeks I will have written a post every week for a year, so I can't give up now even if I have to churn out something less than stellar.
Mackenzie the Movie Non-Watcher
Mackenzie: Today at work we decided that I'm a witch.
Me: Do you weigh the same as a duck?
Other Guy: Heh heh heh.
Other Guy: Have you seen Monty Python?
Mackenzie: No. Is that a thing?
Mackenzie hasn't seen a lot of movies, but found herself in the opposite position a few weeks ago on Easter when she attempted to quote from "Nacho Libre" (which I think is a way overrated movie, but maybe I'm just too cynical). She leaned over to one of her friends and started to whisper, "I've had diarrhea since Easters", but broke up laughing after the first three words, and this friend had never seen "Nacho Libre", so that caused a bit of a kerfuffle. At least it was a lighthearted and not creepy form of awkwardness, unlike the time a Hispanic friend introduced himself to a girl who had never seen "The Princess Bride" by saying, "Hello. My name is Juan Manuel Vera Molina. You killed my father. Prepare to die."
Debbie the Book Critic
Last semester, Debbie asked so many questions about my book that I volunteered to let her read it, and that was a huge blessing because less than forty-eight hours after I sent her the file my laptop zilched out, a state it remains in to this day. What I didn't know was that she would not only read it but offer praise and suggestions in the margin. And dang, they are some good suggestions. She didn't tell me she was a writer too. Most people will just say "I like this part, this part is confusing, etc.", but she focuses in on individual words and phrases as well as ideas. I am impressed and blown away. She's very busy and has only gotten through the prologue and first chapter so far, but already has empowered me to make substantial improvements. Some of her comments show such a depth of thought that all I can do is grin from ear to ear as I read them, and I am going to reproduce some of them here regardless of whether they hold any interest for anyone besides me:
"Because they were falling so fast downward, this sudden shift in direction would most likely be pretty dramatically felt, lurching them back (their stomachs would feel it for sure ;) ) as their motion changes from vertical to horizontal, probably even with a bounced motion as the ship counters gravity and pulls itself into self-sustained flight (especially with a damaged engine). It just seems a bit unnatural to be falling with them in a crises and suddenly be skimming lightly across the surface like a Sunday drive, just needs a transition for the motion :) if that makes any sense"
"Wonder about his culture and species. Is casual or interpersonal touching okay to them? Especially by essentially an alien. What is his inside reactions to her touch? Is he still in hype of the moment, is this normal/confusing. When they were in crisis, grabbing him and pulling him was a given, but now they are safe, what does he think of this I wonder. Simply writing my own thoughts nothing to change :)"
"Is this his first interaction (face to face) with humans? If so he will probably generalize their behavior to the entire species (if he’s like us and stereotypes everything ;) haha) also 'you guys' is a very not just human but western American phrase. I wonder if putting something like 'Humans are intrepid. Intrepid but amazing.' (or whatever word(s) you want – insane sounded like an American human phrase too but you don’t have to change it if you like it how it is."
Generic Social Stuff
Last night was the institute end of year event, which was all right. I went alone because I've found that these things are better to go to alone so I can do what I want when I want. I took a girl to one of them once and she only wanted to do one thing, and it wasn't one of the scheduled activities, if you know what I mean. So we went into the break room and played pool. I'm not a huge fan of pool but that's mostly because I'm no good at it. I scored approximately two points. Then I could tell she didn't really want to be there so I suggested we just leave and go for a walk, which we did as we discussed faith crises. It turned out to be a decent evening, all things considered, but since then I decided it was better to go by myself so I don't have to worry about someone else's comfort and enjoyment above mine. I'm going to be a wonderful husband someday, obviously.
A few weeks ago I was with some acquaintances playing Spikeball, which I actually like despite being no good at it. It's very kind of them to let me participate even though whichever team I'm on is guaranteed to lose by a large margin. After it was done, they sat around and talked about their dating lives, which sounded ten times better than mine and still awful. That was comforting and discouraging. "Dating is like jury duty," said one. "It sucks, but you have some good stories afterward." I remained silent the whole time and didn't volunteer the reasons I thought of why dating is worse than jury duty. I'm trying to be less negative. Technically I haven't even asked a girl out since... um... mid-October, I think. And I've become so much happier since then.
The Mormon Section
Well, I started this section specifically devoted to Mormonism so that non-Mormons could skip the parts that would make no sense and hold no interest for them, but this time it will possibly make no sense and hold no interest for many Mormons, unless they follow Mormon-related news stories and/or know someone who was personally affected by it.
Yet again, the Church has excommunicated someone for "asking questions", at least if you buy into the fantasy narrative pushed by critics and dissidents. It would probably be just a tad more accurate to say that Jeremy Runnells was excommunicated for quitting his job and soliciting donations so he could devote most of his time to spreading and promoting a laundry list of accusations against the Church and arguing with its defenders. Now, even though I think he's kind of a jerk and he has demonstrably been less than honest on multiple occasions (e.g. later claiming to have still been a sincere questioner during the time period when, on an ex-Mormon message board, he posted an open letter to Elder Quentin L. Cooke sarcastically mocking and belittling his General Conference talk but, oddly enough, not asking a single question), I bear him no ill will for losing his testimony and concluding that the Church is false. He is within his rights to do that. What I don't respect, however, is his insistence on staying a member while simultaneously tearing it down and trying to start a media circus when he wasn't allowed to do so.
"Letter to a CES Director" has nothing new to say, Runnells never claimed that it has anything new to say, and he has pointed out that he never claimed that it has anything new to say, yet its combination of quantity and brevity have earned it a disturbing level of borderline worship from critics. People don't like to think. They want a list of bullet points that doesn't take too long to read, and this delivers that. Even its name is too long for them to bother with, and it usually goes by the more colloquial "CES Letter". There are, to be honest, a handful of serious and problematic issues that require a lot of study and soul-searching and can legitimately be interpreted from multiple angles. These do not constitute the bulk of the letter or any other anti-Mormon treatise. That, instead, is taken up by contrived non-issues that practically carry their own refutation. I'm sorry, but as much as I try to empathize with other viewpoints I simply cannot respect the intelligence of people who think the Book of Mormon was plagiarized from "View of the Hebrews". Still, let them think that if they want. I'm not the thought police.
The crux of the matter is that quite thorough and sufficient answers have been given on most of these points. Runnells says those answers aren't satisfactory and he wants better, or at least more official, ones. If this is how he sees things, there isn't much more that can be done. It's not as if better answers are going to materialize just now that he's demanding them. He accepts the criticisms above all else, so he doesn't believe in the Church, so he should exercise his right to move on and believe in something else, even if it's just scientism. Anyway, his wife is still a believer and that probably causes some discord and heartache, and someone in this ward I've been hanging out with puts them both on the prayer list every week, and I really admire that.
After the 2011 earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster I attended a Priest-Laurel Conference where one of the leaders boasted that "not a single active member" had been killed. I thought the same thing then as I do now - There are so few active members in Japan that I would be more impressed if any had been killed. With this latest earthquake in Ecuador, at least eleven members including a branch president have been killed, so this time no one is silly enough to think that Latter-day Saints have a magical immunity to these things. I have friends in Ecuador (including Nadia, who was the closest thing I ever had to a novia and to whom I finally sent her Christmas present last year, four years after purchasing it with that intent), and I am grateful that they are all safe.
Adriano Celentano feat. Paul Anka - Oh Diana
In 1957, at only 15 years old, Canadian singer Paul Anka scored a huge hit with "Diana". In 2006, he recorded an Italian language version as a duet with Italian singer Adriano Celentano, and with the much richer sound possibilities of nearly fifty years later, I consider this version to be superior and almost impossibly beautiful, and now it becomes this post's only redeeming quality.
My final living great-grandparent, Russell Jensen, aged ninety-four years and eleven months, died a week ago. Unfortunately the only thing I could think of as a tribute was to post an essay that I wrote about him for school way back I don't even know when. So I post it with a few disclaimers. 1) The flippant smart-aleck tone of the whole thing makes me cringe so much I can barely read it and want to punch my younger self, but what do I know, maybe it's cute. 2) I'm not sure, all these years later, how accurate it is - I now know, for example, that he fought the Japanese, not the Nazis. At that tender and stupid age I probably didn't even know there were bad guys in World War II besides the Nazis. So apparently I took an unknown number of creative liberties. 3) I apologize for the insensitive remark toward veterans with PTSD. I was very ignorant back then. 4) I apologize for the fallacy of presentism toward racist people in the 1940s. I was very ignorant back then. When I wrote this, I mean, not in the 1940s.
He did get one of his medals eventually, the Bronze Star, which he was buried with today, but he never got the Purple Heart that he also earned. But he had a certificate and there were military people there today to do their military funeral stuff. So it was never really in dispute that he had been in the army, and in fact he was still there when the paperwork went missing, but they just couldn't give him the other medal because bureaucracy, I guess. Oh, and the second time he injured his ankle was from being thrown down a hill by the impact of a mortar shell, after which he played dead as a group of Japanese soldiers walked over him, so that was a bit more exciting and should have made it into this essay but didn't. I didn't know much about his war experiences because he didn't talk much about them and even at this ignorant age I knew better than to pry.
Mackenzie et al
This little posse from the other ward is only the second little posse that I've ever felt like a cohesive, integrated part of. (Plenty of other people have made efforts to include me, of course, but for whatever reason I just never felt like I belonged among them.) The first group was also in another ward, and it covered the latter half of 2013. We were at a combined activity when I overheard them talking about going to see "Monsters University". I really wanted to see that in the theater for nostalgia purposes, because I remembered watching the original in the theater, but I wanted to go with somebody so I wouldn't feel like a total loser and thus far I had failed, so I asked them if I could tag along and they said yes and the rest was history. It was either that night or the next time when a couple of them gave me a ride home and asked, "Are you going to be hanging out with us a lot more often?" They really wanted me to. They thought I was funny. So I went to game nights and nature video viewings and a Halloween party and had an exquisite time.
Then half of them got married, and that was the end of that. This one will probably also dissolve to some extent when the semester ends in a couple weeks. I should have discovered them sooner. Ah, life. Here's a happier thought - the evolution of E.T. in a recent game of Telestrations.
The first one was drawn by me, the second one was drawn by someone I don't remember who put his light in the wrong spot, and the final one was drawn by Mackenzie who has never seen that movie. Mackenzie confuses the heck out of me.
Saturday, April 2, 2016: Mackenzie declines to look at me all day, except for a couple times that I notice in my peripheral vision. Even when she addresses the entire group and looks from one person to the next, she skips me. Every time I try to start a conversation, she responds curtly and turns away.
Saturday, April 9, 2016: Mackenzie says she feels like I don't like her very much because I act like I don't want to talk to her.
She said I always go sit by her but then act like I don't want to talk to her and always put her down and send out vibes that I don't like her very much. I felt like she had that backwards. She acted like she didn't want to talk to me and didn't like me very much so I started deliberately ignoring her so as not to be a total nuisance. As for putting her down, I never once tried or intended to do that, and she declined to elaborate on how I had, but after some pondering I concluded that most of my attempts at playful teasing have probably come across as mere passive-aggressiveness. I should have smiled more.
Brooke again took the initiative of organizing a visit to the old folks' home on Sunday evening. This time, perhaps more at ease, we split up into smaller groups of two or three. I went with Mackenzie and Roger to visit the hundred year old lady, whom I'm now just going to call Charlotte because that's her name, and her roommate Cathy. Roger talked to Cathy while Mackenzie talked to Charlotte and I just stood around awkwardly. Eventually I went over to talk to Charlotte as well. Mackenzie was crouched on the floor next to her, and I sat on the floor, but she directed me to clear the stuff off the solitary guest chair and use it. I offered it to Mackenzie, but she didn't want it because she's a feminist. So I sat down, and Charlotte turned to Mackenzie and said, "Now sit in his lap." While I was still processing this, she turned back to me and said, "You wouldn't mind that, would you?"
I didn't know how to respond.
"I would squish him," Mackenzie lied, gracefully defusing the tension. She added, "Is that what people did on dates back in your day?"
Charlotte looked confused. She shook her head. "Nooo, I don't think so."
Later on, Mackenzie suggested that she was probably just thinking of an innocent Santa Claus type thing, but at the time it shocked me coming out of the blue from an elderly Mormon woman.
Mackenzie did most of the talking and I chimed in occasionally. I liked that arrangement because I got to keep a lonely person company and not feel too awkward, but not have to do too much talking either. After a little bit Charlotte asked her, "How long have you been going together?"
"What?" Mackenzie said. "Oh, Chris and I aren't dating."
"Oh, you're just dating?"
"No, we're not dating. I'm not dating anyone."
"Why not? He's cute."
Charlotte then officially became one of my favorite people.
Like all good things, this one had to come to an end eventually, and we still had to go down to the cafeteria and sing. As we left, Charlotte took my hand for a moment and said, "Hold on to her. She's cute." And I've been thinking long and hard about that since then, because as even I know, mutual cuteness is a great foundation for a successful relationship.
The Mormon Section
During his long life Russell Jensen served in many church callings, but the "highest" one he ever held was "just" counselor in a bishopric. Yet he was just as important in his spheres of influence as anyone else and entitled to the same eternal blessings as anyone else. It's only human nature, reinforced by human society, to put leaders on a pedestal and think they're better or more important because of their authority. But that is not the Lord's way. Righteousness, worthiness, and capability are to be found at all "levels" of the Church. Elder Bruce R. McConkie quoted Elder Harold B. Lee as telling the Priesthood Missionary Committee, "Brethren, there are assembled in this room sufficient men of sufficient spiritual stature so that if all the General Authorities were taken and we had to totally reorganize the Church from this group, the Church would continue without missing a heartbeat."
Bill Conti - Main Title March from "Rookie of the Year"
Although I hardly ever got to see Great-Grandma and Grandpa Jensen, they sent me/us movies sometimes. One of them was a really old live action version of "The Jungle Book" and one about a family holiday that I don't remember the name of, or hardly anything about, except for one beloved little snippet of dialogue -
Woman: I guess I just haven't... found the right man yet.
Little Girl: Why? You're not ugly.
Woman: *laugh* Thank you.
Another of them, and my favorite after all this time, was "Rookie of the Year". For a while I erroneously believed this to be the first PG movie I had ever watched because I didn't realize "The Princess Bride" was PG. When I saw that it was PG, I whispered to my sister that we couldn't let mom and dad find out it was PG or they wouldn't let us watch it. But as is often the case with small children, my "whispers" were really just as loud as normal speech, and my dad heard it, and he said he was sure that if Grandma and Grandpa Jensen had sent us this movie then it would be fine. And it was, although I was so accustomed to thinking of PG as a "bad" rating that I perceived "bad" stuff in places where there wasn't any.
Commercial Director: Henry - I need you to act - more - "sexy".
Me: Gasp! That's a bad word!
Mom: Not really.
Anyway, I didn't fully appreciate it at that age, but now I recognize it as a really good movie. I mean, I couldn't care less about baseball in real life, but I still find this movie compelling and interesting. And it also has a really great soundtrack that tragically only underwent a very limited release and is difficult to come by, though last year I managed to acquire it and recently I put the entire thing on YouTube. You're welcome, world. So now, in tribute to Grandma and Grandpa Jensen, I share for this week's musical number the Main Title March from "Rookie of the Year".
It's time, once again, to reflect on an event that because of my updating schedule mostly happened an entire week ago. For those who don't know, General Conference is an event held twice a year during which all righteous Mormons, and I as well, gather to watch and/or listen to inspiration and instruction from our leaders. This is not meant to be a comprehensive overview of everything said there because I'm far too busy for that and there would be little point in going to so much effort when you'd get far more out of just reviewing it all yourself.
Usually I watch General Conference alone at the institute. On those rare occasions when I watch it at someone's house with a group, I have found the groups to be irreverent and obnoxious. But not this time. This time I accompanied Debbie's little ward clique that I have recently found to be a bunch of attractive, intelligent, funny, kind and now, as it turns out, spiritual people. Here is me on Saturday morning, blissfully unaware that someone is photographing me without my consent. The people on the floor all chose to sit there before I even arrived, so nobody judge me for not being a proper gentleman. I would have sat on the floor too if there had been room.
Here are some of us between sessions on Sunday. Left to right: oh, whatever, either you know them or you don't care. Hiding in the back, keen-eyed readers may notice a beautiful and very special building.
Marriage and Family
Later, a smaller group of guys plus Mackenzie and Brooke gathered to watch the priesthood session. "'Chasten,'" Brooke said after the prayer. "Interesting word choice." I said, "Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth." She said, "He loves the boys a lot." A little later she also said, "Stop reading my notes. That's weird." I had merely been skimming them. We enjoyed pointing out the fine young men we recognized in the choir from right here at our fine institute. You know, the choir that I wanted to be in but couldn't because I can't sing, even though they said we just had to sign up and only implemented the audition after getting too many applicants due to not putting an enrollment cap on it like literally every other class... but that's life.
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf spoke about marriages and families. In lamenting the current state of society, he said, "Somehow, as the days multiply and the color of romantic love changes, there are some who slowly stop thinking of each other’s happiness and start noticing the little faults. In such an environment, some are enticed by the tragic conclusion that their spouse isn’t smart enough, fun enough, or young enough. And somehow they get the idea that this gives them justification to start looking elsewhere." I felt pricked with just a bit of guilt as I thought of my own life. When I first arrived in my current ward, I loved it, and was happy and enthusiastic. But as the years wore on, the magic somehow faded. Perhaps I should have tried harder to keep it alive. Perhaps I should have taken more initiative to reach out to the newcomers in the ward, plan events, participate in Sunday school, and so forth. Instead, I started hanging out with Debbie's ward and it rekindled those feelings and I fell madly and hopelessly in love with it.
President Uchtdorf continued, "Now, just one word to those of our single brethren who follow the deception that they first have to find the 'perfect woman' before they can enter into serious courting or marriage. My beloved brethren, may I remind you, if there were a perfect woman, do you really think she would be that interested in you? In God's plan of happiness, we are not so much looking for someone perfect but for a person with whom, throughout a lifetime, we can join efforts to create a loving, lasting, and more perfect relationship. That is the goal." This is obviously a paraphrase of Elder Richard G. Scott in the April 1999 General Conference: "I suggest that you not ignore many possible candidates who are still developing these attributes, seeking the one who is perfected in them. You will likely not find that perfect person, and if you did, there would certainly be no interest in you. These attributes are best polished together as husband and wife."
Those single brethren who seek for perfect women have probably just been slightly confused by the teachings of Mormon culture. Yes, you are supposed to "marry up" so that you can tell everyone your wife is your "better half". But better does not mean perfect. And she doesn't even need to be a lot better than you. Just a little will suffice. Okay? Okay.
"Every family has moments of awkwardness. Like when your parents ask you to take a 'selfie' of them..."
It's funny because a "selfie" is supposed to be a picture of yourself.
"...or when your great-aunt insists that you are still single because you are just too picky..."
But... isn't that what you just said?
"...or when your opinionated brother-in-law thinks his political view is the gospel view..."
You know who you are. Stop it.
"...or when your dad arranges a family portrait with everyone dressed like characters in his favorite movie. And you get the Chewbacca costume."
Once again, someone shouted out their opposition during the sustaining of General Authorities. I wonder if this will be a regular thing from now on or if people will knock it off when they realize it isn't going to accomplish what they want it to accomplish. As I already shared last week, everyone in the room was talking derisively about them, when Mackenzie spoke up, so quietly that maybe no one else heard her, and said "We can be nice to them even though we disagree. We don't need to call them fools. They just don't understand." When it came up again later, Brooke explained that they were just feeling defensive of the men we love so dearly, and that makes sense and I'm not condemning any of them. I was just stunned and highly impressed at Mackenzie's humble, thoughtful, kind words.
Personally, I often flip-flop between being respectful and contemptuous, and these people provide a case study of why. I read up on them before their opposition last year and I empathize with the sincerity of their concerns, as I do with anyone who has faith challenges. Many of us have been there. However, I sometimes lose patience with inappropriate behavior such as, in this case, seeking out tickets to General Conference for the sole purpose of expressing opposition. They were disappointed at being directed to speak with their stake presidents. They wanted to speak to an Apostle, which is what used to happen on these heretofore rare occasions, but that would be totally unfair to members in the DRC or Thailand who may have the same concerns but be unable to travel to Salt Lake City.
On Sunday morning, for the first time in three years, having missed it last year, I got the thrill of listening to President Monson announce new temples. They will be located in Quito, Ecuador; Harare, Zimbabwe; Belém, Brazil; and Lima, Peru. The former three of these are nearly three hundred, seven hundred, and one thousand miles from their assigned temples, respectively. The latter will make Lima the only city outside of Utah with two temples, which despite being unprecedented makes perfect sense because it's the third largest city in the Americas and home to 42 stakes, yet its current temple is the second smallest in the world. These announcements made me so giddy that I clapped like a child.
During Elder D. Todd Christofferson's talk, Debbie went into the kitchen and started pouring glasses of water and taking them out to us two at a time. I went to help her but she wouldn't let me. "I don't want you to miss this talk," she said. "It's about fatherhood. You should hear it." I couldn't argue with that logic, and I marveled at her simple Christlike service. This is exactly what Jesus would have done if He were there. Except that He probably would have just said, "It's all right if I miss some; I already know what they're going to say. I told them what to say. You liked the Chewbacca joke? I gave him the Chewbacca joke."
I dreamed just recently about the prospect of being a father. Specifically, I was married and telling my wife, "Wouldn't it be awesome if we had quintuplets? I mean, obviously it would be really really difficult, but also awesome. How many people have quintuplets? And we could set up the diaper changing table to be like an assembly line where we just change diapers all day, and put it on a postcard and show all our friends and say 'Look, aren't we funny?'" I woke up feeling very strange. The prospect of having children is daunting because it seems like waving my arms and yelling, "Here I am, karma! Come and get me!" And with my luck, they'll be totally normal so I won't understand them or know how to deal with them at all.
I also liked this line: "While these considerations are certainly true and important, we know that fatherhood is much more than a social construct or the product of evolution." I'm too lazy to check, but I think this is the first time the e-word in its biological sense has been uttered in General Conference in over thirty years, and almost certainly the first time it's been used in such a level-headed and neutral context, evidently placed (as it should be) on the same level of non-controversy as social constructs.
This is not faultfinding - I begrudge nobody their innocent quirks - but have you noticed that Elder Quentin L. Cook likes to use the word "literally"? I'm glad he used it correctly this time. I probably only notice because that one time was quite jarring for me:
"Then she literally dissolved -"
"- in tears."
President Uchtdorf Redux
My eyes don't water for non-yawning related reasons very often, but the story of Dresden and others like it are one of the things that triggers me. Human suffering is bad enough when it isn't completely unnecessary and caused by other humans, and one of the worst parts of war is when innocent people are slaughtered by the "good guys" because they live in the wrong country. So I cried a little at this talk, both with sadness and hope. I quote a representative excerpt to summarize:
"As I pondered the history of Dresden and marveled at the ingenuity and resolve of those who restored what had been so completely destroyed, I felt the sweet influence of the Holy Spirit. Surely, I thought, if man can take the ruins, rubble, and remains of a broken city and rebuild an awe-inspiring structure that rises toward the heavens, how much more capable is our Almighty Father to restore His children who have fallen, struggled, or become lost? It matters not how completely ruined our lives may seem. It matters not how scarlet our sins, how deep our bitterness, how lonely, abandoned, or broken our hearts may be. Even those who are without hope, who live in despair, who have betrayed trust, surrendered their integrity, or turned away from God can be rebuilt. Save those rare sons of perdition, there is no life so shattered that it cannot be restored." That's kind of like what I said last week about Bionicle. I should be an Apostle someday. Just kidding.
The Refugee Crisis
On that note... Not far into Elder Patrick Kearon's talk, he said, "There are an estimated 60 million refugees in the world today, which means that '1 in every 122 humans… has been forced to flee their homes,' and half of these are children." At that point I silently began to cry more profusely and didn't stop for the remainder of it. President Uchtdorf was also visibly choked up afterward to the point that he could hardly speak. While Elder Kearon's talk was not "to comment on immigration policy", still it astounds me that some American Mormons attempt to parse words and say in essence, "Just because the Church is telling us to help the refugees adjust to new homes and learn our language and find jobs and stuff, and has issued a statement against barring immigration on religious grounds that was a not-so-veiled response to Donald Trump, doesn't mean that Jesus wants us to actually let them into our country." Obviously "I was a stranger, and ye took me in" is too archaic English for some people. Here's a more modern translation: "I was a stranger, and you took me in."
I think I've pointed out before that when liberal members disagree with the Church (and whatever their own faults, they're obviously not the ones saying this), they at least own up to it and say the Church is wrong. When conservative members disagree, they often play stupid and try to pretend they're still following its positions to the letter so they can continue looking down their noses at the liberals. Maybe it would benefit them to someday be forced from their homes and lose everything and see how they like it. "Sorry," Europe would say, "we're sure most of you Americans are perfectly nice people, but a teeny tiny handful of you have committed mass shootings, so any of you could do it and we can't foolishly put ourselves and our families in danger. Remember the saying - 'You knew I was a snake when you put me in your pocket.'"
The leaders of the Church are merely asking us to have compassion and to put it into action, which is meant to be the essence of our religion and more important than any other outward observances of it. If we snub our brothers and sisters in their most desperate hours, then no amount of tithe paying or temple attendance will make us true Christians. Individually, most of us are powerless to do much about it; but cumulatively we can bless millions.
As conference wore on I was far more disappointed than usual that it was nearing its end, wishing that I could keep hanging out with these people and watching it all week, or all month, or forever, instead of returning to the horrors of real life. Further, I had started to feel less like a basically good person with myriad flaws than a basically flawed person with a few good qualities. Somehow, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland read my mind on both counts. "Please remember tomorrow," he said, "and all the days after that, that the Lord blesses those who want to improve, who accept the need for commandments and try to keep them, who cherish Christlike virtues and strive to the best of their ability to acquire them. If you stumble in that pursuit, so does everyone; the Savior is there to help you keep going. If you fall, summon His strength. Call out like Alma, 'O Jesus,… have mercy on me.' He will help you get back up. He will help you repent, repair, fix whatever you have to fix, and keep going. Soon enough you will have the success you seek."
Applying What We Learned
After conference ended there was some discussion about the refugee situation, with Brooke expressing a determination to do something. Then she switched tacks and said something to the effect of, "I'm going to go visit the elderly. Will you guys come with me?" So most of us did and that was great. I like visiting the elderly but I can't go by myself. I feel awkward about potentially not understanding them or not being understood, particularly when my voice is so quiet that my peers in their twenties already have to ask me to repeat things. Though maybe that's just because they've played their music too loud for too long. Anyway, we split up a little but stayed in the same general vicinity. Me and three other guys and Debbie talked to a hundred year old lady and I marveled at this age we live in where being a hundred years old isn't even hugely unusual. For the most part, her mind still seemed really sharp. She asked Debbie, "What are you doing with all these boys?" and Debbie got embarrassed and I'm never going to let her forget about it.
Somebody asked if we were there to sing, because that's what their visitors usually do. I thought that was a brilliant idea because either they would like it or they would realize there are worse things than being lonely, so it would be a win-win. We took a request and sang "Come Come Ye Saints", and then we visited a young eighty year old in a wheelchair and she gave us a song written by her great-grandfather. Charlie accidentally caused a mild uproar as he looked over it and said, "I can play-ish it." We asked for five minutes to practice, she generously gave us six, and then we sang again and this time it was truly mediocre but she said we were better than the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Only near the end of our visit did I notice she was missing a leg. She said, "I'm getting a prosthetic tomorrow." Someone said, "Cool." She said, "Well, it's not 'cool', but it beats not being able to walk."
The greatest miracle, apparently, was that we had a Russian RM on hand and they had a lady who only spoke Russian and couldn't talk to anyone except her daughter. He said he would probably go back every week, and I was very touched to hear that.
Mormon Tabernacle Choir - Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir happened to sing my favorite hymn ever and this, too, made me tear up a little. I wasn't the only one.
Easter and Stuff
Early Monday morning I was awakened by what I later realized must have been a snow plow, but in my sleep-fogged condition assumed to be the beginnings of an earthquake or a terrorist attack. After a second I figured the former was more likely. I thought, Maybe I should get out of bed and find somewhere safe...
Maybe I should say a prayer for all the people who will be affected...
Do I have food storage? Well, sure, that box of food that expired in 2012. That will have to do...
You never know when "the day before" is "the day before"...
Because "It won't happen to us" isn't an emergency plan.
I fell back asleep and woke up to a bunch of unwelcome snow. The previous day (Easter) had been nearly sixty degrees. And since I had woken up at that stupid hour, my stupid brain decided I would want to do so the next two nights, too, just because.
I spent last Easter alone, but the year before that and the year before that I got invited to dinner somewhere, and the year before that I don't remember, so I was curious what would happen this year. If I did receive an invitation, I didn't expect it to come at the hands of someone I had just met and barely knew, but that's what happened. Let's call her... I don't know... Mackenzie. I met her at Debbie's ward prayers, and overheard her friend teasing her about whatever, so I was just going to smile at her as I passed but then somehow I got caught in a tractor beam and ended up talking for ten minutes or so. She was much more interesting to talk to than most people are. I think I might have accidentally flirted with her, but if so it doesn't seem to have caused any problems.
I wish I could remember how we ended up discussing the psychology of serial killers. "I went on a date with this psychology major once," she said, "and we went to this park he found on Google Maps, and it turned out to be cemetery, so that was creepy – but anyway, he started telling me about serial killers and how their minds are just a total incomprehensible mess – but you disagree, though?” By this time, I was realizing much to my chagrin that my opinion on the psychology of serial killers and other “crazy” bad guys was informed not by actual knowledge but by what makes for compelling literature. It's no fun to write about a serial killer who's just so insane that no one can identify with him. You need to give a solid internal logic behind his motivations, so reasonable seeming that the reader questions their own sanity. But that might not be how it is in real life and I wouldn't know, so I tried to back down from the discussion.
Dinner was really good, and was captured for posterity. I brought those oranges. Nobody took one until afterward when I was packing them up and somebody took one out of pity. I didn't have a lot of options for "breakfast food" to bring since this had been sprung on me on such short notice and I don't shop on Sundays. All my bags of cereal were nearly empty and I couldn't bring milk because I drink straight from the jug. While waiting for dinner to start, I volunteered to help but there was nothing for me to do, so I was assigned to color in a coloring book. It was a Strawberry Shortcake coloring book and it got that theme song stuck in my head for the rest of the day - or rather, it got the two lines I remember stuck in my head for the rest of the day. "That girl's so sweet, just like her name! Straw-ba-baw-baw-ba-berry Shortcake!"
Mackenzie herself, in the lower left, was accidentally excluded from the photograph, an egregious oversight that prevented it from coming anywhere near its full potential. Top row, left to right: don't know, don't know, don't know, don't know, don't know, don't know. Middle row, left to right: me, don't know, Bob (not real name). Bottom row: Mackenzie (not real name)'s hair, don't know, don't know, don't know, don't know. Bottom outlier: Jenna (not real name).
Let's pretend that many readers have written in to accuse me of selfishness for wanting to become friends with Afton so that I could play with her dog. That wasn't the only reason, of course, but let me explain something to you imaginary people. Dogs are the best friends ever. Take care of a dog and be nice to it, and it will love you. It doesn't care one iota how much of a weirdo or loser you are by human standards. Their love and affection is conditional on a couple of reasonable things and nothing else. And I have been deprived of this for the better part of five years. I can't own a dog in my apartment and none of my peers can own dogs in their apartments. I have to take what I can get whenever I can get it. The prospect of one of my peers owning a dog that I could visit and pet and scratch and walk with and run with and feed and throw sticks and balls for and develop a close personal relationship with is beyond tantalizing. I miss my dog in New York more than I can say and I dread the thought that he's probably going to die a long time before I do. If I go to heaven, he'll be the first person I look for. "Hello, Jesus," I would say. "Where's Milo?"
Another Spiritual Lesson from Bionicle
The basic premise of Bionicle is that the heroes known as the Toa Mata have a quest to awaken the Great Spirit, Mata Nui, who was cast into a deep sleep by his jealous brother Makuta. Somewhere along the line it is discovered that Mata Nui is not merely asleep but is, in fact, dying. This would devastate the entire universe and basically be the worst possible thing ever, so the Toa Inika go on their own little quest to save his life. He ends up dying for a few moments but one of them sacrifices his own life energy to bring him back. In another story, however, Takanuva travels to an alternate universe where this hero hesitated a moment too long and failed to sacrifice himself, so that Mata Nui's death became permanent. The hero was disgraced, there were huge cataclysms all over the place and most of the islands were destroyed and a lot of people died.
But the survivors didn't give up. Previously warring races all came together and established a new society of peaceful coexistence on the one remaining island. They built onto it so there was more room for everyone. And though they faced a lot of challenges, they were still going strong a thousand years or so later when Takanuva stumbled onto them. The takeaway from all of this, which is probably a lot more poignant to someone actually familiar with the stories and not just my paltry attempt to summarize and articulate them here, is to keep moving forward even if the worst possible and most devastating and demoralizing thing happens, and that a tragedy with even the most unmistakable sense of finality doesn't have to be final as long as you're still breathing.
The Mormon Section
General Conference is going on today and tomorrow (duh). So I was watching it today, and during the sustaining vote the dissenters yelled out again, and everyone in the room was talking derisively about them, when Mackenzie spoke up, so quietly that maybe no one else heard her, and said "We can be nice to them even though we disagree. We don't need to call them fools. They just don't understand."
I was stupefied. Who are you? I thought. In a good way, I mean.
Anyway, I'll probably share my thoughts on the conference a week from today when everyone else has moved on with their lives. I hope there will be some temple announcements tomorrow. Did I ever mention that I missed the temple announcements a year ago, after eagerly waiting two years for them, because my computer was being stupid? And now it's dead. That'll teach it.
Shahrukh Khan - Maahi Ve
Two Easters ago Chelsea from Vermont invited me to Easter dinner, a much smaller and more intimate affair with only four of us, and I believe it was later that day that we were in her room listening to peaceful music as we made wedding decorations for someone or other. That was when she asked me, "Why did you like Jean so much?" and I was about to say "Because she's so nice" but before I could speak Chelsea continued, "She wasn't very nice to you." And that just blew my mind and I couldn't speak. Anyway, I introduced her to some new music and vice versa. I showed her the Bollywood song "Salaam-E-Ishq" that I once danced to in the campus Diwali festival, and then she showed me this one which, impossibly, is even better. In the unlikely event that I ever have a wedding reception, my only demand is that this song be a part of it, "cultural appropriation" be damned.
Daffy the Commando
It's always awkward when American World War II propaganda cartoons ended up being extremely racist. Fortunately, this is not one of those, unless you consider pseudo-German words and phrases to be racist, which I don't think most people would because racism has recently been redefined via circular logic so that it can only apply to non-white people. I have enjoyed this cartoon for years but only recently connected the dots between the date of its release and the cute little jab at Mussolini. Can you spot it?
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, so you can't, unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.