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ALL-STARS: New to the blog? Check out MMM classics on vasectomies, parenting, casseroles and YSAs.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Mormon Crushes 2012



by Scott Heffernan (bio)


Jerry Seinfeld helped familiarize us with the concept of a non-sexual crush. And we thank him for it. Last year I submitted to you my list of Mormon Crushes. A Mormon Crush is a passionate respect for the way one approaches Mormonism and faith. I like the term crush because it captures the fleeting attraction I sometimes feel after hearing someone speak or reading their words.

I used the same criteria as last time:
• They must be somewhat of a public figure.
• They must be living.
• No general authorities at or above the level of seventy.

While my admiration of last year’s crushes hasn’t gone away, here is a list of people who caught my attention in 2012.

Dan Wotherspoon
Dan is best known as host of the Mormon Matters podcast. He was also editor of Sunstone magazine for eight years. Dan is a true religious scholar with various degrees in philosophy and religion. Mormon Matters is a fantastic podcast. It has great guests and great discussion. Dan is a good moderator, which is why I sometimes forget how intelligent he is and how much I enjoy his take on things. He has an unabashed passion for Mormon doctrine that I find contagious. His idealistic attitude towards Mormonism and its potential makes me contemplate and appreciate my own faith more deeply.

Giveaway 24: Winner




Apologies for the delay, here is the winner of James Goldberg's The Five Books of Jesus.

Eric Gifford (link to comment)





Read our recent interview with James.
Read James's blog, Mormon Midrashim.
If you didn't win, purchase The Five Books of Jesus now.

Friday, December 28, 2012

5000 Days: The School of Life Project



We asked Rick Stevenson, director of 5000 Days: The School of Life Project, if we could share part of his Christmas letter with our readers. He agreed. Please support this project by buying or downloading the LISTEN series or TWO BROTHERS movie.

As I interview kids turning 12-15 in my 5000 Days project, I find so many of them growing more disillusioned every year. They lose their joy and with it their high expectations. Part of this is just growing up, becoming a teenager and learning the realities of the world. But in an age of political polarization, economic implosion and institutionalized terrorism, what are we supposed to do with all of the bad news?

We found a pretty good answer during our trip to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico in October. My family was with me helping set up the ninth country in the 5000 Days Project. While interviewing the kids there we came upon a fascinating fact. The ancient colonial town has no less than 238 celebrations a year where people fill the town square and affirm the joy of being alive. That’s more than four celebrations a week and, astonishingly, they treat each celebration like it’s the only one to happen all year. They dance, they play music ... and they do it all as families in a multigenerational sort of way. Grandma is right in the middle of it all. Life is messy in Mexico and things are somewhat dysfunctional by our standards. And the people are generally poor, very poor. Yet they are happier than we are. They are grateful for what they have rather than disappointed by what they don’t have.

It seems to me that we have a choice. We can check out or go numb when faced with the preponderance of bad news before us or we can choose to feel it, to feel empathy -- because maybe our humanity depends upon it. And maybe we can take in the bad as long as we’re also celebrating the good through our acts and outlook.

When I was a small boy, my favorite book was HAROLD AND THE PURPLE CRAYON. It spoke to me because Harold was a boy who was not content to lie around and let the world determine things for him -- in his case, bedtime. He actually took his purple crayon and drew up his own adventure. He wanted to take a walk so he drew a road. He wanted to swim so he drew a lake. He started to drown so he drew a boat. He was getting hungry to so he drew some pies upon which to feast. You get the picture.

Harold realized that while he could not fully control the events of the world (bedtime), he could control his reaction to them. He realized that HE was the author of his own life, the illustrator of his own adventure, the ultimate arbiter of his own choices. He was empowered by the fact that he had in his own hands the tools to determine whether “I would become the hero of my own life or whether that station would be held by another.”(David Copperfield, Charles Dickens)

Just like the teens in my 5000 Days Project, there are lots of things reminding us out there of how powerless we are. There are few things reminding us of the power we possess by being the authors of our own lives ... by making the bold, self-dependent choices every day that define us and may in turn help redefine our world.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Duchess of Cambridge and the Culture of Pregnancy Nosiness



by ldsbishop (bio)


Just as Britain was sinking into the depths of a winter depression after a summer celebrating the Olympic Games and the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (Wills and Kate for those of you that get your Royal news from supermarket tabloids) performed the most solemn of duties to ensure the Commonwealth has an heir to the throne likely to survive into the 22nd century.

Ever since the former Kate Middleton walked out of Westminster Abbey with her new husband, there has been endless speculation as to when a bun might start baking in the Royal oven. A stream of "is she, or isn't she" stories have appeared in the gutter press since the Royal wedding night. Recently, that speculation was finally ended when it was announced that Kate was in hospital with hyperemesis gravidarum and expecting a baby. The world's media camped outside the hospital as the poor Duchess heaved inside.

Church members are taught the "decision as to how many children to have and when to have them is extremely intimate and private and should be left between the couple and the Lord. Church members should not judge one another in this matter" (Handbook 2, 21.4.4). However, I've observed that the speculation the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge received on a global scale also occurs on a much smaller scale in most wards and branches.

When Mrs. ldsbishop and I moved into a small ward soon after getting married, we were seen by some as a one-couple team that would stock the ward's Primary for a new generation. Below are just a few examples of that pressure:

1. Mrs. ldsbishop is lactose intolerant and would occasionally get bouts of nausea if she had too much dairy. When she was serving on the YW presidency she suffered an attack and overheard her fellow counsellor remark to the YW president "She's pregnant, I guarantee it."

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

MMM Sermons: The Tender Mercies of the Lord



by Saint Mark (bio)

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints call them "talks," but most (non)Christians call them sermons. This is a series of sermons that many Latter-day Saints love and believe. I hope these sermons promote and perfect your faith as they do mine. Read or watch the entire sermon here.

Anyone who has heard Elder David A. Bednar speak knows that Elder Bednar has a unique delivery. From his "you and I" phrasing to his ability to dive beneath the surface of the scriptures, Elder Bednar became an Apostle of Jesus Christ and sent a positive ripple throughout the LDS membership. That sanctifying ripple began with The Tender Mercies of the Lord, a talk given in April 2005 General Conference.

Staring at us the entire time, this phrase in the introduction of the Book of Mormon was never fleshed out as meaningfully as it was when Elder Bednar walked us layer by layer through the meaning and implication of what exactly are the tender mercies of Jesus Christ. Our thought process and lexicon have never been the same since.

Elder Bednar's words helped me to expand my paradigm of the workings of God in my life and to recognize His tender mercies. Gratitude is more a part of my life and I have Elder Bednar and God to thank for that.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Comparative Importance



by Seattle Jon (bio)

Image by Mike McCune.

Whenever two or more people participate in something, there sometimes comes the question as to whose part is most important? Whose service is more essential? Who could get along best without the others? This question of comparative importance can occur in communities, in business, in athletics, even in families.

Working mothers or fathers who come home tired at the end of the day could feel that theirs is the most important part and that what happens in the household is more or less a routine matter.

But then sometimes the household becomes disorganized when the one who is most responsible for its activities is absent or ill – and the indispensable nature of the so-called “routine” household tasks becomes sharply apparent.

Children can also take things for granted or feel imposed upon by their parents. But later, when they have their own families, they quickly realize (hopefully) the weight and the work that was carried for them by others.

Husbands and wives cannot safely suppose that the work of one is above that of the other, or that both do not need each other. Nor can children. And so it is in all society. Innumerable people, most of whom we never know, provide for us comfort and safety and innumerable services. Literally there is no such thing as an independent person.

All of our lives have become so intertwined that the comparison of Paul seems more and more true: "For the body is not one member, but many … And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you …"

The fact is that the whole of life is so dependent upon the performance of others that all of us need all of us. So, this holiday season, let us all be grateful for the services of others.

Happy holidays from Modern Mormon Men.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Guest Post: Neck 'N Nog Sweater and Wassail Party



Marcus Lane was born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah and served his mission in Guatemala City. He is married to his tall blond dream girl and they have a 3 year old son and a 10 month old daughter. Marcus just moved with his family to the Pacific Northwest where they are loving the wet weather in Olympia, Washington. He likes to spend his time running and training for marathons, half-marathons and 10-K's, while pushing his kids in the jogging stroller. Marcus writes on his family blog, Marcus Lane, where he updates his readers on the family's travels, humor, thoughts on parenting and other meaningless adventures that they come across. Read Marcus' guest posts here.

Every year around this time I pull out all of the Christmas decor and get an overwhelming sense of joy and happiness. I love this time of year. People really are generally happier and are more giving and willing to help. I must have caught this sense of giving because every year for the past seven years I have been hosting a unique and fun party that has received a lot of attention. The party that I speak of is called the Neck 'N Nog Sweater & Wassail Party.


This neck 'n nog party is an evening where you gather all of your friends, family and co-workers together for hot cocoa, wassail, egg nog and desserts. Everyone comes dressed up in their ugly holiday sweaters, vests, turtlenecks, etc. I make sure the house is decked out in Christmas decor, including lots of lights, Christmas trees, good smells, and a photo booth area where you and your loved ones can take funny pictures with a wide variety of props.

Over the past seven years I have also been collecting mugs and sweaters. I have a wide variety of over 100 mugs that are classic, hand-picked mugs from thrift stores all over Utah, Colorado and now Washington. These mugs are used for beverages at the party and also play a big role in the photo booth. As for the sweaters, these have also been hand-picked from thrift stores over the years, and I try to pass them around and share them as much as possible to keep to keep it fresh and ugly. The party is a very festive event that helps get everyone into the Christmas spirit.

So go all out there this year and host your own party! It's easy and fun and honestly, it really is the most wonderful time of the year. Tis the season friends!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Do You Hear What I Hear?



by Clark (bio)

This is my brother and sister singing their rendition of Do You Hear What I Hear. I'll post this song every December because I like it so much. Email the blog if you'd like a copy of the MP3.


Linger Longer 17




Linger Longer is a series where we highlight articles that recently caught our attention. Suggest religious blogs to add or recommend your own articles in the comments. Click here for previous lists.

Bloggernacle (religious sites)
The War of Animal Instincts (Segullah)
Less Than 1200 Words on Pants (By Common Consent)
Faith is a Work in Progress (Times and Seasons)
Pants Posts: here, here, here, here and here (Feminist Mormon Housewives)
Feeling Equal (Zelophehad's Daughters)
Particular Hipster Pedestrian and Being Absurd (Dandelion Mama)
Anti-Mormon Novels in the Internet Archive (The Low-Tech World)
Should We Tell Girls They Are Beautiful? (The Exponent)
Mormon Misconceptions About Sex (Wheat & Tares)
Share, Teach, Act (Beginnings New)
The Mormon Moment, 1935 (Keepapitchinin)
We Are All Beggars (Into the Hills)
My 2012 Mormon Arts Favorites (A Motley Vision)
The Church and Homosexuality (Doves and Serpents)
Books That Need New Editions (The Juvenile Instructor)
Mormons and Palestinians: Justice and Only Justice (Faith-Promoting Rumor)
I'm Nervous About Answering the Temple Recommend Questions (Ask Mormon Girl)
Mixed Martial Arts Pro Uses Sacrament Meeting for Inspiration (Mormon Tabernacle Enquirer)
Home Literature (Ships of Hagoth)
LDS Church Launches New Website for LGBT Issues (Religion Dispatches)

Mormon-Related Podcasts
Episodes 385-386: Fiona and Terryl Givens and "The God Who Weeps" (Mormon Stories Podcast)
Episode 139: A Beautiful Vision of Mormonism (Mormon Matters Podcast)

Off-Bloggernacle (non-religious sites)
Michael Lewis: Wall Street’s Forgotten Victims Have Some Advice (Bloomberg)
Green Cows, BB Gun, and Tie Vote (What If?)
How Other Animals Choose Their Leaders (Slate Magazine)
Marvel Comics, The Untold Story (Grantland)
The Secret History of the Aeron Chair (Slate Magazine)
Why Do Trees Topple in a Storm? (Scientific American)
Why Fender's Apple-Compatible Guitar Is Brilliant (ReadWrite)
Mike Hoye Hacks Zelda Video Game To Change Boy Hero to Girl for His Daughter (Huffington Post)
How to Live Without Irony (The New York Times)
You Can’t Say That on the Internet (The New York Times)
More Rules for Thanksgiving Touch Football (The Wall Street Journal)
10 Things Facebook Has Taught Me (Thought Catalog)
Surprisingly Interesting: A Dispatch from the 2012 Boring Conference (Slate Magazine)
Human Evolution Enters an Exciting New Phase (Wired)
5 Statistics Problems That Will Change the Way You See the World (The Atlantic)
21 Ways You Should Take Advantage of Your 20's (Thought Catalog)
Thriller at 30: How One Album Changed the World (Billboard)
How to Hack Chipotle (Thought Catalog)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

"A Good Match": S. P. Bailey Talks About His Novel "Millstone City"



by Scott Hales (bio)

S. P. Bailey's novel Millstone City was published by Zarahemla Books earlier this year. It's a thriller about Mormon missionaries in Brazil who have to run for their lives after one of them witnesses a murder. Recently, S. P. was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about the novel. What follows are his thoughts on crime fiction, missionary stories, and much more.

You can read the first chapter of Millstone City here or buy the book for Christmas through Zarahemla Books.

Scott Hales: Millstone City combines two things we usually don’t put together: crime fiction and Mormonism. What are some of the challenges that come with making that combination work?

S. P. Bailey: I read recent crime fiction. I usually enjoy it. My book could have been coarser or more violent, and some would probably say it should have been. If you were raised a good Mormon boy (I was) and you are an active, believing Mormon (I am), it is probably impossible to write crime fiction — particularly with Mormon characters — without wondering Is this demeaning to people in general? To my people? Thoughts like that probably helped shape Millstone City. It is about murder and human trafficking and Brazilian crime culture in the slums and prisons. But I think it maintains a certain dignity in its approach to individual characters. Some might put Millstone City down as old-fashioned. Depending on the context, I might take old-fashioned as a compliment. That being said, I think things like violence and coarse language can be surface issues. If you dig deeper, crime fiction is usually very moral. Good and evil exist there in completely non-abstract, concrete terms. Readers know it when they see it. They want the innocent to escape and survive. They want the detective to impose justice. They want evil vanquished and the universe set aright. In that sense, despite the potential surface issues, I think crime fiction and Mormonism are a good match.

SH: Can you trace the literary DNA of Millstone City? What other works influenced the novel?

SPB: I don't know about "literary DNA!" I didn't have any particular works in mind when writing Millstone City. I suppose the best I can do is give you a short list of things I admire that might have influenced Millstone City. I love the great American crime/noir authors: Raymond Chandler above all, but also Dashiell Hammet, James M. Cain, Cornell Woolrich, and others. I grew up watching and rewatching old Hitchcock movies. I also love Brazilian films like Central Station and City of God.

SH: Of all the characters in Millstone City, Luz is my favorite. What do you think she brings to the novel?

SPB: I like Luz too. While lots of characters in the novel display humanity (the elders, the detectives, Heitor), she is not self-interested in what she does. And, despite her obvious limitations, I think she exudes a Brazilian sort of charm: bold, big-hearted, funny ... it pained me to write her last scenes in the book.

SH: How did you research the novel? Do you have first-hand experience with Brazilian prisons, for example?

SPB: I served a mission in northeastern Brazil in the 1990s. I came home in love with Brazil, warts and all. Millstone City is a kind of love letter to Brazil — particularly the region where I served. I enjoy Brazilian music, movies, books, magazines, and newspapers when I can (not often enough!). I've never seen the inside of a Brazilian prison — not in person anyway. I became interested in Brazilian prisons when, as a missionary, I taught a few discussions to a Brazilian prison guard. His stories amazed me. They were told in the spirit of never, ever, no matter what, should guys like you do anything that would land you in a Brazilian prison. If it is possible to get even more straight-laced than a couple of Eagle Scouts from Utah in short-sleeved white shirts and neck ties preaching the gospel, this guy scared us there. Subsequently, I read various things about Brazilian prisons (articles in newspapers and magazines, reports published by human rights groups, etc.).

Also, as a trial attorney, I represent inmates and their families in civil rights litigation arising from incidents in U.S. prisons and jails (among other things). While my professional life has taught me nothing about Brazilian prisons in particular, I think there is something of that experience in Millstone City.

Giveaway 24: The Five Books of Jesus by James Goldberg



Last month, Scott Hales interviewed James Goldberg, author of the novel The Five Books of Jesus. Now, just in time for the holidays, James is giving away a copy of his book to one lucky MMM reader.

The parables of Jesus represent a key part of the teachings of Jesus. They are also key to this giveaway. When you comment, please share your favorite parable and why.

Read our recent interview with James.
Read James's blog, Mormon Midrashim.

Giveaway Guidelines:
You have THREE chances to enter. Each entry requires a separate comment.
1. Leave a comment on this post. Share your favorite parable and why.
2. Like MMM on Facebook or share this post on Facebook. Leave a comment letting us know you did.
3. Follow MMM on Twitter or share this post on Twitter. Leave a comment letting us know you did.

• 5 days to enter (closes Monday, December 24th at midnight).
• Winner announced shortly after Christmas Day.
• Winner must respond via email with their address to claim the books.

James Goldberg is one of the top five Sikh-Jewish-Mormon writers of his generation. He won the 2008 Association for Mormon Letters Drama Award for his play Prodigal Son, has had a short story nominated for a Pushcart Prize, tied for first in the 2010 David O. McKay Essay Contest, won the 2012 Wilderness Interface Zone Spring Poetry Runoff, and blogs at mormonmidrashim.blogspot.com. He is also  co-editor of Everyday Mormon Writer, a website devoted to short, shareable Mormon literary works.

Photo by Vilo Elisabeth Westwood

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Guest Post: Destroying the Death Star (Part 2 of Urology Series)



Reed Soper was born and raised in southern California. He considered attending the Lord's University but opted for BYU instead where he met Kathryn Lynard doing his home teaching. They married in 1992 and have seven children. Friends and loved ones often describe Reed as "difficult" or "a slow learner." In his spare time, he likes (virgin) pina coladas and getting caught in the rain. Check out Reed's previous guest posts, including the MMM 2011 Post of the Year on his vasectomy.

I have come to the realization that there are two types of people in the world -- those who pass kidney stones and those who don't. For many years, I was blissfully in the second category. Then one morning at about 4 a.m., I moved from the second category to the first category. I made the move initially on my bathroom floor and completed the transformation at the local emergency room. This experience prompted me to do some reading up on the topic and I learned that kidney stones lie in wait and will pass at moments without warning. (1)


I related these stones to the most obvious comparison – Star Wars. The stones were like little Death Stars moving about the universe (my kidney) waiting to attack and heap pain upon unsuspecting Alderaans or moons of the planet Yavin. It was determined that I should get an x-ray to determine how many little Death Stars might by lying in wait.

I sat patiently in the urologist's office awaiting the interpretation of my latest x-rays. His assistant entered, young, bearded and devoid of humor. He delivered the news to me gently. "You have an extremely large kidney stone that could cause you a problem at any time." He let me know that it could get stuck, perhaps for days, when passing. We went over the options:

1. Roll the dice and see what happens; or,
2. Opt for a lithotripsy.

Lithotripsy is a procedure where kidney stones (the litho) are exploded (tripsy?) into small pieces (hopefully) using ultrasonic waves. Kind of like the rebels destroying the Death Star in Episode 4. (2) I could explain the procedure in greater detail, but suffice it to say that it will run you your full deductible and then some. Based on the experience I had with the first two kidney stones I passed, I was scared into the procedure. We set the date and I hoped that the forces of gravity and inertia would cause the massive stone to wait.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Giveaway 23: Redbox Rental Codes



8 Things Every Mormon Man Should Say Before He Dies



by Seattle Jon (bio)


Forbes contributor, Jessica Hagy, recently put out a list of 40 things to say before you die. Thinking about what she wrote inspired me to come up with my own version. So, here are 8 things I think every mormon man should say before he dies. What would you add or subtract, and why?

1 I did commit that foul. Church hoops is just around the corner, at least in Seattle. This season, rather than whine, put your hand up when called for a foul.

2 I don’t know, but I choose to hope and have faith. Let's be honest, some of the things we believe are unknowable, and one might say, highly improbable. It's okay to admit that and be more realistic in how we talk about our faith.

3 Joseph Smith may have had 34 wives, but I'd like just one wife forever. Why any mormon man would say anything different is beyond me.

4 One, two tops, trips to the buffet table is enough. Face it, men, we could all be in better shape. Why is saying no to bacon-wrapped shrimp so hard?!

5 No. There are times when saying no at church is the right thing to do. Like saying no to wearing a tie during the three-hour block.

6 I am well read in mormon literature. MMM pounds its readers to read more mormon literature. Put down the USA Today and read more mormon lit.

7 I am going to watch more football not because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s the righteous thing to do. There is scriptural basis for this statement.

8 I am going to do difficult, but meaningful, things. Our family has chosen homeschooling and adoption. What are you going to tackle?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas Traditions



by Casey Peterson (bio)

Christmas is a time filled with many festivities and traditions. Some are humbling, sweet, and inspiring. Examples include caroling to the elderly, family nativity scenes, reading from Luke 2, and seeing Christmas lights. These traditions are filled with an innocence and happiness difficult to describe, yet captured in many elements of revered Christmas music. It is a tangible spiritual and physical feeling of the love Christ has for us, evidenced by the gift of His life and His gospel that He gives to us.

Others traditions profoundly confuse me as to why they started, and how they perpetuate. Examples of these include Christmas trees, Christmas newsletters, Santa Claus, awkward gift exchanges, and fruitcake. The tradition of Christmas trees traces back into Old Testament days. In Jeremiah 10:3-4 it reads "3. For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. 4. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not." I wish I had more detail, who decided to chop a tree, bring it in the house, and put sparkly things on it? Makes no sense to me, and though trees are undoubtedly pretty now, I still don't get the reason behind the tradition.

Along with Christmas decorations and the tree (to which my wife is AMAZING at decorating), she also devotes a huge area in our kitchen to hanging all the Christmas newsletters. The best ones are from those we choose to stay in contact with for the other 11 months of the year. We know their trips, what sports they play, and who's growing the most (but what does that have to do with Christmas anyway?). The humorous ones are the distant relatives and past acquaintances using this as an opportunity to perhaps preserve a fading relationship, or possibly other pure motives drive this. Facebook has turned these odd phenomena of odd pictures, family and personal insights, and occasional bragging into a yearly occurrence though. Perhaps I shouldn't make fun of newsletters, Facebook may be pushing them way of the Twinkie and the typewriter. The only way newsletters could get more awkward is by the odd comments a lot of the outlier people continually make on every post. Gratefully, traditional newsletters didn't allow for that. But back to the question, why the tradition? Perhaps it was spawned by from the Luke 2:3 reference of each person being taxed in his own city, an accounting if you will from each of us where we live, where we're from, and an accountability of our possessions and activities. Thanks Mr. Augustus and your Roman friends for your tradition of quirky dialogue and updates reported annually.

The third confusing tradition for me is Santa Claus. I know of few other ways to upset people as much as offending Santa, settle down, I'm not attacking him. I've seen the same shows as everyone else, and appreciated what Santa traditions add to the merriment. However, I also have curiously perused the annual pictures of screaming and terrified children sitting upon the lap of a portly elderly man tasked with the paramount duty of wrestling multiple children while trying to look merry and jolly. I watch grown adults blatantly lie to children about Santa's existence, well knowing that if it was the kids were lying to the parents, severe punishment would result. Integrity is fudged, more money is spent to provide "Santa's gifts" along with family gifts, and children psychologically navigate being told suddenly to sit on the lap of a bearded stranger dressed in red fuzzy clothing and tell him their deepest wishes. Certainly, the founders of this tradition outdid themselves.

I realize Christmas revelers are a devout and dedicated group, and in the blink of an eye they can change from their sparkly sweaters into the defenders of the Yuletide. I mean no offense to them, and cringe thinking of the personal attacks on my humanness and Christmas spirit that may result from my musings. I like Christmas, I really do. However, the traditions thoroughly confuse me, and probably will continue to. Yet, from my confusion, I extend a Merry Christmas to all readers, especially a sincere hope for the spirit of the reality of true Christmas, with Christ at the center.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Guest Post: Mormons and the Messiah



Peter Shirts has directed ward and stake choirs and has mastered the art of suggestion when he's not directing the church choir he's currently in. While at BYU, he co-founded an ensemble that played Klezmer (Eastern European Jewish music) and enjoyed teaching Mormons how to dance at Jewish weddings. After receiving 2.5 degrees in music, he's currently pursing a librarian science degree so he has more employable skills. He lives in North Carolina with his wife, where he blogs about musical things.


By the Messiah, of course I mean George Frideric Handel's Messiah, the oratorio written in 1741 to scripture compiled by Charles Jenkins.* An oratorio, by the way, is an opera with no costumes, sets, or staging, making them much easier (and cheaper) to perform. Opera was the rock music of the era, and the 18th-century English rather liked the oratorio form because it kept ticket prices down and included a choir.

For the past couple of years, I've had the chance of performing Handel's Messiah in a choir with professional symphonies during the Christmas season, and I don't even feel bad missing church to do it (okay, maybe a little bit bad).** Every year when I start Messiah rehearsals, it's like meeting an old friend. "Hello, will you please become stuck in my head again? I've missed you." After performing the Messiah so many times, I can't read these passages of scripture without hearing Handel's music in my head:

• For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder ... (Isaiah 9:6)
• He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief … (Isaiah 53:3; Mosiah 14:3)
• All we like sheep have gone astray … (Isaiah 53:6; Mosiah 14:6)

I'm not the lone Mormon who loves the Messiah. I feel like every town in Utah has a yearly Messiah sing-in (from a quick Google search, I'm counting five across the Wasatch front for 2012, and one at an LDS chapel in Tucson, though I'm sure there's more). I helped organize one at BYU many years ago, and even with limited publicity, more people showed up than we could fit in the Madsen Recital Hall. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir has recorded it five times, not including individual choruses on various compilations. The easier movements are often sung at Christmas sacrament meetings or firesides across the county, perhaps the world. Then there's Joyful Noise (1999) by Mormon playwright Tim Slover, which is about the writing and reception of the Messiah. It's still popular enough that it plays somewhere every holiday season, with three locations in North America this year.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

What Will You Do TODAY?



by Seattle Jon (bio)


Every once in awhile, I'll read or listen (or both in this case) to something that prompts me to immediate action. Yesterday morning, as I finished A Thoughtful Faith podcast's two-part interview of Neylan McBaine, founder and editor of The Mormon Women Project, and then read her recent FAIR presentation entitled To Do the Business of the Church: A Cooperative Paradigm for Examining Gendered Participation Within Church Organizational Structure, I thought, "This paper will forever change the way I think about women's issues in the church. What can I do about it TODAY." So I wrote and sent the following email to my stake president and bishop.

Modern modern men, what will you do TODAY?

President X & Bishop Y:

As a husband to Cher and father to Ella, both of whom are aware and sensitive to women’s issues in the church, I urge both of you to read this wonderful paper written by Neylan McBaine and presented at the 2012 FAIR Conference. You can also listen to a recent interview of Neylan in this two-part podcast. I would then ask you the same question Neylan asked the FAIR audience: “What are you doing to excavate the power of the women in your ward [and Stake] and make their contributions more visible?

I look forward to your thoughts, especially as they relate to action items you are pursuing, plan to pursue or encourage those under your responsibility to pursue.

Respectfully,

Jon

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Que Injusticia!



by Ben Johnson (bio)

No one likes to be dealt with unjustly. Most of us can accept losing if we feel like we tried our best and just came up short. It's not pleasant but at least you had a fair shot, a chance at winning. It's something else entirely when the deck is stacked and you don't have a chance. What do you do then?

Several weeks ago I took my motorcycle to the local shop to have some work done. When I picked it up I noticed a crack in the fairing that hadn't been there when I dropped the bike off. I questioned the service manager and his response was, "That was there when you brought the bike in."

Immediately I felt the anger well up in my heart. I was about to be taken advantage of and there was nothing I could do about it. My mind raced in a thousand directions: How do I respond to this? Do I know any lawyers? Could I prove the crack wasn't there when I brought the bike in? Do I drive by the shop at night and throw a brick through their window?

I also felt conflicted and embarrassed. The natural man in me said I should be furious and I should seek revenge and 'no one takes advantage of me!' The spiritual man in me answered that prayers are offered for manipulators, cheeks should be turned, and coats and cloaks are a package deal. 

Every man chooses for himself what path to take but as Christian men it seems to us more like a tightrope. Too far to the natural side and your soul cankers and wears out from always taking offense. Too far to the other side and you become a doormat and a joke. I'm not sure where the balance is. Even looking at the Savior's life we see the contradiction. The same Man who flips over tables and whips scoundrels from the temple also stands silent while being mocked and beaten.

In the end, after a few days of back and forth with the service manager, I took my bike and went home. I feel cheated. There will be no satisfactory resolution forthcoming. The fairing is still cracked and won't be fixed. How can I forgive and move on now that every time I ride my motorcycle I will see a big, fat injustice staring back at me?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Various Bogs and Spiritual Mire. Also, God Wants You to Coupon.



by Bishop Higgins (bio)

So often in our lives we get bogged down with sin and bogs and responsibility and mindless errands and errands of great import and errands to Pier 1 Imports and so many things with varying degree of importance.

And it's good to remember, that through all of this, God wants us to be happy and he wants us to stop wearing those fancy track suits to the mall, and he always wants us to pray to him and he wants us to get a good value on so many of the things we buy. Beans. Corn. Whey. If we can get these at a discount, God will be happy. And he wants to know why we even need whey. So do I. I have no idea what that is for.

Couponing is good, but not necessary to be able to enter the celestial kingdom. Comfortable shoes are important, too, but again, not necessary to enter the kingdom. In fact, so many people in the world don't even have shoes. And do you know some people are pack rats. I know a guy that never took down his Christmas lights because he had no place to put them once they were down. I was personally disgusted. This was before I was bishop, back when I was way more judgmental about others than I am now.

I also knew a guy that saved his pizza crust in jars and would eat them later as snacks. I did not judge him because I met him when I was bishop. Now, I'm so good at NOT judging people. I'm also good at Foosball. And I can also nod and act like I'm listening when instead, I'm singing Bruce Hornsby songs in my head.

See what I mean get about getting bogged down.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Guest Post: The Recovering Addict’s Playlist



Name Withheld is a prolific contributor of sad, embarrassing, and painful articles to other sources like STD Digest, Modern Train Aficionado, and Ensign. He also reports on Middle Eastern drone attacks under the name "sources who could not be identified because of the sensitivity of information," and he has written thousands of lousy poems and given hundreds of so-so paintings to museums under the names “Anonymous” and “Anonymous Donor.” As this story would hurt his wife deeply, he chooses to remain anonymous. Read his first guest post here.

So 2011 was about the worst year of my life. And it was sort of the best. I got some therapeutic help for my addiction and started participating in the Church’s Addiction Recovery Program. Though it was extraordinarily painful, I was very blessed during that process.

During that time, I created a short list of songs that I found very, very helpful. First and foremost, they are great songs, but they may also be useful to others. (Please note that these are not helpful if you are addicted to great music, in which case I suggest listening to those Barney songs; they will make you want to gouge out your ears, but you will be cured of your addiction.) So here are the songs:

Some Unholy War by Amy Winehouse: This bluesy, soulful song narrates the singer's devotion to her man, "B," in his struggle in an unholy war. The singer affirms that "He still stands in spite of what his scars say," and I found that encouragement to be very lifting. In my case I did have the tremendous support of my father, trusted friends, and the wonderfully generous people in the program, but as I listened to the song, I often felt support from the other side of the veil in the midst of my psychomachia (look that word up - it's a good one!).

Gravity by A Perfect Circle: Where Amy's song is bluesy, this has a seething metal intensity, but also feels like the musical articulation of the soul's agony. Gravity in this song is the submission to unpredictable forces, specifically God's grace. The narrator pleads for help, begging "Catch me, heal me, lift me back up to the sun."

Trouble Me by 10,000 Maniacs: This song is like a reply to the previous. The narrator wants the listener to "trouble" her or him, as that narrator has a back that is "sturdy and strong." So much of the song can be understood as Jesus' plea to enter His light yoke and find rest from heavy burdens.

All Is Full Of Love by Bjork: The previous song feels like a very personal appeal to turn to Christ and others. This song sounds like the last words that God told us before we came to earth, including "you'll be given love," "you’ll be taken care of," and "you have to trust [that love]." Once the chorus begins, especially in the live version from Vespertine Live, the line "all is full of love" has an almost cosmic, mystical resonance. To me, it is everything Gregorian chant wants to be, and the soul that begins to feel peace and God's influence begins to see how, indeed, all is full of love.

Beat A Drum by R.E.M.: The delightful feel of this song and how it evokes a playful, kind nature provides an Edenic continuation of the previous song. Short lyrics are so packed with meaning in this song. The narrator sings about how "My fall knocked a mean chip out of me," and I will say that there is nothing like an addiction to have the "mean chip" of one's self-righteousness knocked out. There is also this absolutely amazing description of our second estate: "Half way from coal / Half way to diamond." The painful pressure of addiction recovery often seems overwhelming. Listening to this song helped me refocus on how that pressure could transform me from weak, flimsy, chalky, and dark coal into hard, clear, powerful, and luminescent diamond. Hopefully Christ could make me one of his jewels (Malachi 3:17). During the entire addiction recovery, of course I wanted it all to be over, but this song matched those times when I could trust God and His timetable, feeling that this moment, this place, "This is all I want, / It's all I need."

Much, much more could be said about these songs, songs that lifted and encouraged me during a difficult time of abundant though unrequested blessings. Do you have any songs to add? Post a comment.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Saintspeak 13: The Letter K



by Seattle Jon (bio)

Another installment from Saintspeakthe mormon humor dictionary from Orson Scott Card. Previous installments can be found here. Reproduced with permission from Signature Books.

Keys Something that only prophets, apostles, and meetinghouse custodians are permitted to have.

Kimball, J. Golden A legendary General Authority whose irreverence and profanity were a constant delight to the Saints and a constant embarrassment to the Brethren. The Saints loved him because he didn't seem to be pretending to be something he wasn't; the Brethren were annoyed at him because they didn't understand the words.

Kingdom, The In the old days, the Saints thought the kingdom of God would fill the whole world through their sacrifice, hard work, cooperation, charity, and righteousness. That didn't work, so now we're just going to buy all the land.

Knowledge The ultimate level of certainty, much stronger than faith, It means that you have had faith in something so long that you can't remember even thinking about it and you certainly don't intend to start now.

Kolob The star or planet "nigh unto the throne of God." Also an investment company, a pharmacy, a petroleum firm, a real estate office, and an insurance agency.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Guest Post: Finding My Niche



Eliana is married and has kids and a dog and is the only woman in her ward who kept her maiden name, which has provided thirteen years of awesome conversation. She writes and teaches English at a community college and swims and travels and tries not to go crazy. Read Eliana's first guest post here.

Photo by Nojae Kim via Capital Area Food Bank Brand Central.

At my local food bank, you can get an emergency food box six times a year. Volunteers fill a shopping cart with available goods: expired bread, donated farm produce, canned goods, one package of hotdogs, a whole chicken, generic cereal, and damaged bakery products. You give me your blue approval slip of paper listing the number of people in your household; I trade you enough groceries for a lean week of eating.

After more than a decade living in my city, I began wanting to do more than donate blood twice a year and give money to a few local charities. This is where I live, where I am raising my family. This is my community and I needed to act like it.

One windy Saturday morning I ventured out with a crew of graffiti busters to paint a mile of concrete fence a slightly different shade of tan. A few dozen of us spread out, rolling the thick paint up and down and further down. By the end I was splattered with sand mixed with dirt, afraid to drive my car without a towel on the seat.

I tried the Red Cross Disaster Action Team, watching videos to learn about the seven point mission of the organization. I endured endless meetings discussing protocol for handling the most common type of disaster--fires--and waited for a call. In eight months, I went out to two fires; assisting families unsure of where to spend the night after their homes were damaged.

I left Red Cross at the end of the year, wanting more hands on and less management, sad to leave the impressive group of volunteers I’d come to know.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Guest Post: Advice for Parents of Newborn Babies



John Landbeck is a husband, father, member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and attorney. He likes his life, wants his family to be happy and wants happiness for others, too. He trends towards long, lecture-like commentaries. After all, he is the child of a lawyer and an English teacher; he loves the English language, but loves best hearing himself speak it. John's personal blog can be found here and his first guest post can be read here.

Photograph by Katie Tegtmeyer.

I wrote these advisory thoughts to a good friend as he was preparing to welcome his first child.

It is not possible to spoil an infant by holding it too much, so touch your baby as much as possible. Cradle, rub, hug, massage your baby every day. Find comfortable positions to read/watch TV while the baby sleeps on you. You will never regret having spent five more minutes touching your baby.

Of course, it is also not possible for an infant to harm itself by crying, so if holding/burping/bathing/serenading the baby isn't working, it is OK to put the baby down and go listen to the radio for five minutes. Eat some chocolate, and try again.

No one is interested in your baby's poopies but your spouse, so no matter how interesting you think they are, do not discuss them. The baby's poopies are a legitimate and important subject, which you by all means should discuss with your spouse, but no one else. Unless you need advice.

Discuss parenting choices with your spouse now. Will baby be nursing? If so, who will do all the other baby work at night, so Momma can nurse in a relaxed environment? If not, how will you share all the baby work? How do you feel about co-sleeping (letting the baby sleep in bed with you)? Pacifiers, yea or nay?

Words To Live By 4: On Courage



by Seattle Jon (bio)

Words to Live By is a series featuring short selections by eminent men and women from the mid-twentieth century. Originally published in This Week magazine, the selections represent a mosaic of what people were thinking and feeling in challenging times. Read previous entries here.

On Courage
by Alfred Lansing (Author of Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage)

"Men wanted for Hazardous Journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success." - Sir Ernest Shackleton

Sir Ernest Shackleton was an Antarctic explorer. To recruit men for one of his expeditions, he rant the forthright want ad quoted above in a London newspaper.

Sir Ernest wasn't joking. The ad proved grimly prophetic for the brave men who volunteered for the three Antarctic expeditions he led. On one, the ship itself was lost, along with most of the supplies. The men spent 21 months in a living nightmare, camped on drifting ice or struggling toward civilization in three tiny boats.

Yet the men who had signed up for the "hazardous journey" not only refused to give up - they somehow managed to remain cheerful. And they won. Every last one of them returned to civilization alive.

In his want ad, Shackleton had promised "honor and recognition" - and it was heaped upon them. But actually they had earned something much, much greater. Shackleton himself later sought to put it into words: "We pierced the veneer of outside things," he wrote. "We suffered, starved and triumphed, groveled down yet grasped at glory ... we reached the naked soul of man."

Nowadays, it seems, security is all-important. Too often, I feel, we are satisfied to play it safe, to aim only for the "sure thing." And while most of us still dream of making some sort of "hazardous journey" in our lives, not very many really make them. As a result, our lives many be safer and saner - but we may in the end be making a world in which fewer and fewer every catch a glimpse of the magnificent naked soul of man.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Turkey Bowl Potshot



by LJ (bio)


We still talk about our family Turkey Bowl in 1998 because it spurred The Most Blatant Potshot Ever. (If you're unfamiliar with Turkey Bowl games, this article from the Wall Street Journal is an excellent primer.)

The stage for The Potshot was set the year before when my mom bought my little brother Jake a set of mini football pads, helmet and jersey from the Sears Catalog. Jake had been drooling over this same set for at least two previous Christmases, and Mom even got iron-on letters and put FROST on the back of the jersey. When it showed up under the tree, Jake was over the moon.

Jake insisted on packing the entire set from Arizona to Utah the following Thanksgiving for our annual Turkey Bowl game. We drove to the high school soccer field with a slew of Litster cousins and when we emptied out of our vans, we had at least two dozen players decked out in mismatching cold weather gear, plus one full-fledged running back for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Our Turkey Bowl had few rules and we followed them religiously:

1. The ending score was always a tie.
2. It was a touch game.
3. If a little kid got the ball, they made a score. No exceptions.

Jake and I benefitted from Rule #3 for years. One of my brothers would catch the ball and hand it off to one of us, then two other brothers would pick us up by the armpits and run us into the end zone. When we got a little older, we'd run the ball ourselves while the defensive line made an elaborate show of trying to tackle us. By '98, Jake and I were 9 and 13 and too old for such privileges, so we joined the ranks as regular players.

We played for an hour before my brothers and cousins got the idea to hike the ball to our 5-year-old cousin Adam. Off he ran, the big kids blockading the defensive line from the front and all other cousins diving out of his way to give him a clear shot to the end zone.

All Jake saw through his little plastic face mask was that they had finally given the ball to someone smaller than he was.

He didn't hesitate. He didn't even think, "I can get away with this." He just ran out of pure instinct and tackled Adam from the side, smashing his little body into the grass.

There was a collective gasp, punctuated by Adam's wails. Then the big kids pulled Jake off and started yelling variants of "What were you thinking?!" As the condemnations floated through the ear holes in his little blue helmet, Jake said it was the first time he questioned his decision to crush a small child.

Needless to say, he got benched for the rest of the game. But you better believe the story of the Turkey Bowl Tackle still lives today.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Giveaway 22: Winner




Christopher Bigelow, owner and operator of Zarahemla Books, is giving our readers one copy of each of Zarahemla's 18 titles over a series of four giveaways. This giveaway's winner is receiving the following titles (click for book previews): The Death of a Disco DancerHooligan: A Mormon BoyhoodRiftThe Tree House and Hunting Gideon.

And the winner is: Clark Draney (link to comment) - please email us your home address

In operation since 2006, Zarahemla Books publishes Mormon-oriented fiction, humor, and memoir, with an emphasis on adventurous Mormon stories that are unorthodox but not apostate. Theric Jepson, of A Motley Vision blog, calls Zarahemla "the most valuable brand in Mormon letters today" and "the Pixar of Mormon literature." If you didn't win these titles, buy them or other Zarahemla books now. Look for the third Zarahemla giveaway soon!

Shows I Wasn’t Allowed to Watch as a Kid



by A-Dub (bio)

Let's face it – there's a lot of crap out there on T.V. And with the ever increasing amount of T.V. programming in general, there's bound to be more and more that's not only just horribly made, but inappropriate as well.

Far be it for me to tell someone what media is or isn't appropriate. I would almost never (except for my kids) call someone to the carpet for watching something I thought was inappropriate. But there are some shows that are clearly over the line of acceptability. I'm sorry, but there just isn't a single redeeming quality whatsoever about Jersey Shore. The people, what they're doing, why they're even on T.V. to begin with – all reprehensible. And I haven't even seen it to be able to make that claim – I can just intuit from my uncanny understanding of the media zeitgeist that the show is awful in every send of the word. Sorry if you're a fan ... you just ... shouldn't be.


With all the crap that's currently on, it makes me think back to milder days 25-30 years ago when there were less than 100 channels and most non-cable T.V. shows were fairly tame. However, there were still a few that we were forbidden to watch:
1. Three's Company: I'm guessing I'm not alone on this one. In the show, Jack Tripper lives with two female roommates, Crissy and Janet, though none of the three of them had a relationship. They're just Company. I guess these living arrangements were pretty scandalous, because I've had numerous friends comment on how they weren't allowed to watch this show either. Not that I ever wanted to watch this show; Wikipedia says "the humor in the show was based on farce, often relying on innuendo and misunderstanding," which can only mean hilarity from the get go!

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