Book Review: Killing Lincoln, by Bill O’Reilly

October 28, 2011

A friend got me started on, and I can’t resist reviewing books I’ve read. It seems like a good idea to post it here, as well. 
I apologize that the first review is of a book that isn’t very good, but here goes:

Killing Lincoln: The Assassination that Changed America ForeverKilling Lincoln: The Assassination that Changed America Forever by Bill O’Reilly
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

My dad gave me this book because he said O’Reilly’s ghostwriter “is really good.” Having recently finished Shelby Foote’s excellent three-part series on the Civil War, I thought I would enjoy reading a more detailed account of Lincoln’s assassination.

Some other reviewers have mentioned the book’s many problems, but what kept getting in my way was the amateurish writing style that is weighed down with cliches, hackneyed phrases, and cute gimmicks, such as constantly referring to Lincoln as “the man who had xx days to live.” No kidding. This is a book about an assassination, after all.

If you don’t know much about Lincoln’s last days and don’t want to bother with a more intelligent book, this one is fine. But I can’t recommend it.

View all my reviews

Pie In the Sky

October 26, 2011

I hadn’t seen this before, but this is the Mormon church’s official statement to those members who may be “struggling” with same-sex attraction. It’s titled “God Loveth His Children” with apparently no sense of irony.

I was going to say it’s better than the pamphlet it replaced,, but it’s mostly just the same stuff dressed up with less-harsh language.

Basically, they tell you that being gay is not part of God’s plan for you, but if you have a celibate life, keep your sexual orientation to yourself, and dedicate yourself to “service in the church” you’ll be rewarded in the next life with an “eternal companion” of the opposite gender.
Some interesting quotes from the pamphlet:
Heaven is organized by families, which require a man and a woman who together exercise their creative powers within the bounds the Lord has set. Same-gender relationships are inconsistent with this plan. Without both a husband and a wife there would be no eternal family and no opportunity to become like Heavenly Father.
In some circumstances a person defers marriage because he or she is not presently attracted to a member of the opposite gender. While many Latter-day Saints, through individual effort, the exercise of faith, and reliance upon the enabling power of the Atonement, overcome same-gender attraction in mortality, others may not be free of this challenge in this life. However, the perfect plan of our Father in Heaven makes provision for individuals who seek to keep His commandments but who, through no fault of their own, do not have an eternal marriage in mortal life. As we follow Heavenly Father’s plan, our bodies, feelings, and desires will be perfected in the next life so that every one of God’s children may find joy in a family consisting of a husband, a wife, and children.
Many people with same-gender attraction respect the sacredness of their bodies and the standards God has set—that sexuality be expressed “only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife” (“The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 102). The lives of these individuals are pleasing to our Father in Heaven.
So, God is pleased with the lives of celibate gays. Sounds like a sadist to me.
True happiness depends on more than the expression of physical urges. These urges diminish as more fundamental emotional needs are met—such as the need to interact with and serve others. True happiness comes from self-control, self-respect, and positive direction in life.
Notice how they reduce homosexuality to mere “physical urges.”
You are best served by concentrating on the things you can presently understand and control, not wasting energy or enlarging frustration by worrying about that which God has not yet fully revealed. Focus on living the simple truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Same-gender inclinations may be very powerful, but through faith in the Atonement you can receive the power to resist all improper conduct, keeping your life free from sin.
I don’t know about you, but spending the rest of your life trying to “resist … improper conduct” sounds miserable.
It is not helpful to flaunt homosexual tendencies or make them the subject of unnecessary observation or discussion. It is better to choose as friends those who do not publicly display their homosexual feelings. The careful selection of friends and mentors who lead constructive, righteous lives is one of the most important steps to being productive and virtuous. Association with those of the same gender is natural and desirable, so long as you set wise boundaries to avoid improper and unhealthy emotional dependency, which may eventually result in physical and sexual intimacy. There is moral risk in having so close a relationship with one friend of the same gender that it may lead to vices the Lord has condemned. Our most important relationships are with our own families because our ties to them can be eternal.
In other words, stay away from people who understand or have any sympathy for you. Remain aloof, lest you have any kind of emotional relationship with people of the same sex, as it might lead to “vices the Lord has condemned.”
A number of Latter-day Saints with same-gender attraction are moving forward with their lives by carefully adhering to gospel standards, staying close to the Lord, and obtaining ecclesiastical and professional help when needed. Their lives are rich and satisfying, and they can be assured that all the blessings of eternal life will ultimately be theirs.
Yes, people with rich and satisfying lives are those who receive “ecclesiastical and professional help.”
Anyway, I’m reminded of Joe Hill’s old song, “The Preacher and the Slave”:

Long-haired preachers come out every night,
You will eat, bye and bye,
Try to tell you what’s wrong and what’s right;
But when asked how ’bout something to eat
They will answer in voices so sweet
In that glorious land above the sky;
Work and pray, live on hay,
You’ll get pie in the sky when you die

Overlooking La Paz from Pampahasi

October 26, 2011

Here is a photo of me standing at the edge of the Pampahasi neighborhood overlooking La Paz. Pampahasi is a flat, narrow mesa that slopes up from its low point on the south northward toward the mountains.

Just past my left elbow you can see the futbol stadium, and from there you can see a street going toward the lower right of the photo. That street is called Pasos Kanki, and at the bottom of the hill is the bridge.

Compare that with this video shot from approximately the same location in 2011 (if you pause at about 0:17, it’s roughly the same perspective):

La salteña boliviana

October 26, 2011

La salteña boliviana.

Probably my favorite Bolivian food is the humble salteña, a compact, football-shaped meat pie served generally for breakfast and lunch. When we had money and time (in other words, not often) we would get salteñas for breakfast on our way out to work. The only place I know that makes them in Utah is Bianca’s La Petite Bakery in north Orem, though she doesn’t always have them. The owner/baker is a Bolivian who studied culinary arts in France. It may be time to make a trip up there.

Once a Bolivian man asked me, “Have you tried eating llama meat?” I said no, and he said, “If you’ve eaten salteñas, you’ve eaten llama meat.” I think he was joking, but I’m not entirely sure.

If you speak Spanish, the video gives you a pretty good sampling of the Cochabamba accent.

Heaven Up Here Illustrations: Pasos Kanki Bridge

October 26, 2011

I thought it might be fun to provide some photos (mostly ones I took in Bolivia) to illustrate the places I wrote about in my book. Using Google Earth, I found a satellite photo showing the Pasos Kanki bridge, where the first chapter of the book takes place.

The bridge is in the center of the photo. It’s not much of a bridge, just a small span across a river of trash. To the right of the bridge, you can see the stairs we climbed every day to reach an alley that was a shortcut to our house. This picture is taken in the daytime, obviously, so it’s quite different from the way it appeared that extremely cold and dry night under the amber glow of sodium streetlights.

Slightly New Look

October 25, 2011

I finally made a small change to my blog to make it look less generic. I’ve been more concerned about the quality of the writing than I have about the format, which I admit is pretty bland and boring. I probably wouldn’t have changed it had I not stumbled across a blog from a conspiracy-theorist nutjob I had some contact with a few years ago that used the exact same format. I figured that was a sign, so I changed the banner at the top of the page. I may change more with time, but I am pretty busy with other stuff.

The picture I chose is meaningful to me. It is the view looking east from the front of the house where my missionary companion and I ate lunch and dinner every day when I first arrived in El Alto, Bolivia. In the foreground is essentially a garbage dump, which doubled as a public toilet (the man on the far right is probably picking a spot to squat or has just finished). But if you look up from the garbage, you see two spectacular Andean peaks. On the left is Mururata, which is over 19,000 feet high; on the right is Illimani, which is over 21,000 feet high and can be seen from almost anywhere in La Paz.

The photo reminds me that, no matter how bad things get in our everyday lives, we can look up and beyond the mundane and find the beautiful and the spectacular.

Individual Worth

October 25, 2011

One of the LDS church’s Young Women Values is “Individual Worth.” I used to think it was a real positive that Mormonism taught us that we were children of God and had the potential to become like Him. That “spark of divinity” within us made us inherently worth something. I still think that, at least in principle.

But the more I’ve thought about this, our worth as church members was always conditioned on our ability to contribute to the growth and prosperity of the church.

“The worth of souls is great.” This means that a soul that contributes to the church has worth. If not, we’re worthless.

“The family is the basic unit of the church.” This means that the church sees our families as existing for the church’s benefit, and not the other way around. Families that do not contribute have little worth.

I think this is why it’s so easy for a lot of church members to completely write us out of their lives when we leave or stop contributing. We are literally worthless.

The good thing, of course, is that we do not need anyone’s approval to be worth something. Each human being has inherent worth and dignity, with or without the approval of others.

Reviews of My Book

October 24, 2011

So far, three people have reviewed my book.

Riveting story and extraordinarily written
What a great book. I could not stop reading it. Such a fascinating real view into the life of a mormon missionary. This is no propaganda machine. It takes the uplifting, the brutal and the very real aspects of the missionary lifestyle.
If you are at all interested in the mechanism of the LDS missionary program, this is a must read. — Froggey

Unexpected Gem
John gave a copy of his manuscript a few years ago to get my feedback. I never served a mission, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from a book about that experience. I probably expected stories of spiritual witnesses or of young kids doing stupid things to relieve stress. And those are both in there. But there is also the uncomfortable story of a boy trying to serve his church in spite of severe personal hardship, and soldiering on, day after day, to reach his goals. Some of the stories are surprising, some of them are shocking, and every story makes you turn the page to see the next.

If you buy this book, do yourselves a favor, and set aside a whole weekend to read it. You’ll need some uninterrupted time. — Thayne R. Forbes

Yes, it is Heaven
Having served an LDS mission myself, the stories in this book rang very true. My mission (in the United States, not Bolivia) was very different than John’s, but I know many former missionaries that served in Latin America and John’s stories match theirs.

But, the key to this book is the story of growing from boy to man. From not understanding the language to being fluent. To being lost in a strange land to being at home with people he didn’t even know existed two years earlier.

Additionally, it was a fun, light read. I never felt bogged down and every time I said, “I’ll take a break at the end of this chapter,” I was pulled into the next chapter by the narrative.

Thank you, John for sharing your personal experiences with us all. Well worth the time to read. — M. Carpenter

It’s really great to hear that people are enjoying my book and finding it meaningful. That is what I was hoping for.

On Being Broken

October 24, 2011

This is just something I have to remind myself every so often. Those of us who are disaffected from the LDS church or have left are made to feel like there is something wrong with us, as if something in us is broken.

But it’s not us that’s broken; it’s the church. I had lunch with an exmo friend last week, and she said that she has to tell herself once in a while, “It’s not my fault Joseph Smith made it all up.” Exactly.

It is not our fault that the church isn’t true.

It is not our fault that the church has taught our families and loved ones to treat as pariahs.

It is not our fault that we can’t pretend that we believe.

What we own is our decision to acknowledge the truth and live by our conscience and our intellect. I’m totally fine with accepting the blame for that.

Testimony Gloves

October 24, 2011

I read the other day about some children who were given as gifts “testimony gloves.” Maybe I’ve been out of the loop too long, but I’ve never heard of such things. So, I looked over on the LDS church’s web site and found the source, a 2008 article in the Friend, which is the church magazine for children ages 3-11.

Testimony Glove

Gloves, the article tells us, are worn on the hands to protect them and keep them warm, and specialized gloves are used for sports. A testimony glove, however, is there to “help you remember five parts of your testimony”:

1. I know that God is our Heavenly Father and He loves us.

2. I know that His Son, Jesus Christ, is our Savior and Redeemer.

3. I know that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God. He restored the gospel of Jesus Christ to the earth and translated the Book of Mormon by the power of God.

4. I know that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s Church on the earth today.

5. I know that this Church is led by a living prophet who receives revelation.

This strikes me as very strange. A testimony is defined among Latter-day Saints as a sure knowledge of the truth. Specifically, according to the article, “a testimony is a spiritual witness of the gospel’s truthfulness given to us by the Holy Ghost.” That’s how I understood it, and I testified many times that I knew the gospel was true and that the five statements listed above were true.

Every first Sunday of the month, we had fast and testimony meeting, essentially an “open mic” meeting where church members were encouraged to share their personal testimonies. Maybe it’s just me, but it always bothered me when some well-meaning parents brought their very small children (some barely talking) to the pulpit to share their testimonies. Of course, they didn’t really have a testimony as we understood it, but the parents would stand next to them and whisper in their ears what to say. I never understood why a parent would do that.

In a way, this “testimony glove” activity seems like pretty much the same thing. Small children are being told that there are five things they need to remember, so the glove is kind of a visual aid for helping them to remember them. The article doesn’t explain to these children how they should “develop” their testimonies, only that their testimonies will “grow stronger” as they tell their friends “I testify that …” or “I know that …” In short, children are being taught that a testimony consists of remembering five items and then repeating to others that they “know” these things are true. That hardly seems like a testimony of anything.