Shameless Holiday Reminder

December 5, 2012

I feel kind of mercenary posting this, but I just got laid off, so what the heck? I’ve been told that my book, Heaven Up Here, makes an excellent Christmas gift for people who have served LDS missions, will serve missions, or simply want to read a good book.

At less than $10, it even makes a good stocking stuffer.

OK, I’m done begging for the year. Merry Christmas!

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Repost: Evidence Trending in Frosty’s Direction, FARMS Says

December 7, 2011

In honor of the season, here’s something I wrote a few years ago:

Researchers for the Foundation for Arctic, Reindeer, and Magical Snowmen say that, despite the claims of skeptics, more and more evidence supports the belief that Frosty the Snowman really did come to life that day. Food Sciences professor and FARMS president Daniel Midgley-Welch summarized discoveries in 2008 as “very promising and encouraging, indeed. For more than half a century,” Midgley-Welch said, “scoffers have ridiculed the idea of a living, breathing snowman, but these days, there’s just too much evidence for anyone, except the hardcore anti-Snowmen and ex-snows, to ignore.”

Midgley-Welch explained that the best evidence for the reality of Frosty is the warm feeling children everywhere get when they sing “bumpety-bump-bump” and think of the “jolly, happy soul” frolicking in the winter snow. But no longer must believers rely solely on their own personal knowledge of the Snowman.

“First of all, the production of the text is miraculous in and of itself. After the success of 1949’s ‘Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer,’ writers Jack Nelson and Steve Rollins had only months to write, produce, and record the song for the upcoming 1950 Christmas season. There’s no way two ordinary mortals could have accomplished that without some kind of divine intervention.”

“But perhaps the strongest evidence of divinity is the text itself,” said Russell Thwetwipes, professor of Greek History. “Our first clue is the use of very specific items in the construction of the snowman itself.”

Several things stand out initially as anachronistic to 1950. Corncob pipes, silk hats, and coal had all been supplanted by cigarettes, fedoras (which were on their way out), and central heating. The use of these items suggests a deeper rooting in the past, which would be unusual for popular writers of the 1950s. But the images seem to have been chosen with care. A corncob situates the story in the Americas, which squares nicely with the use of the word “cop” to refer to a policeman (how could Nelson and Rollins have scored such a bullseye?). The coal for the eyes suggests the Biblical idea of coal as burning fire and life being breathed into mortals (see Ezek. 1:13). And of course, the old silk hat has reference to the ancient practice of using seerstones to connect with the divine. Indeed, the text specifically places the “magic” (which here may refer more to spiritual power) in the hat itself.

The text also anticipates skepticism. “Frosty the snowman is a fairy tale, they say” speaks to the song’s prophetic nature. The writers (Thwetwipes prefers “transcribers”) expected that their claims would be ridiculed, and indeed they have. “Once you have heard ‘Frosty the Snowman,’ you are no longer on neutral ground,” said Midgley-Welch.

Expecting a poor reception in an increasingly godless world, the transcribers made sure that there were witnesses to the miraculous event. We are told that the children “know” that he really did live and breathe. Their testimony is clear and specific: “Frosty the snowman was alive as he could be, and the children say he could laugh and play just the same as you and me.” There is no equivocation, no hesitation in the testimony. “We aren’t sure how many children there were, but the use of the plural indicates more than one,” said Thwetwipes. “And none of them ever denied their testimony. They had plenty of opportunity to deny what they had seen and expose the fraud, if there had been one. But they remained faithful to the end of their lives.”

Forthcoming research will explore the relationship between the broom Frosty carried (perhaps symbolic of a sceptre?) and the ritual dance he performed. “This dovetails rather nicely with what we know about Egyptian kingship rites,” Midgley-Welch asserted. “And we are aggressively researching the etymology of those two strange phrases, ‘thumpety, thump-thump’ and ‘bumpety, bump-bump.’ We expect to release our findings in a forthcoming edition of the “Journal of Elf, Easter bunny, Reindeer, and Snowmen.”

Asked of skeptics’ claims of a lost Gene Autry manuscript, Midgley-Welch was dismissive. “That’s been floating around for years, and so far we have nothing but a few unfounded word-print studies. I’m confident that Rollins and Nelson will be vindicated in the end.”


In church yesterday

December 5, 2011

Before priesthood meeting, I spoke with a visitor from Manchester, England, and he made my day. I told him my favorite philosopher is from Manchester: Karl Pilkington. He replied, “I wonder if he’s related to our former stake president, President Pilkington.” Now, that would be amazing to have Karl Pilkington as your stake president.

So, in honor of President Pilkington, here’s Karl on Christmas gifts:


What Matters

January 21, 2010

The other day as I was running at the gym, I watched an interview with Sarla Chand, vice-president of IMA World Health, a charitable organization that provides health care to the poor in various parts of the world. She and other members of IMA were in a hotel in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, when the earthquake struck last week. After 50 hours under the rubble, she and the others were rescued, though one, Rev. Samuel Dixon, Jr., died in the hotel collapse.

She said something that really hit me. She said that, although she is a devout Methodist, she believes in all religions. She keeps in her office “artifacts” from every religion she has come across to celebrate the faith of others, as she believes that we are all trying to find our way to God in our own way.

When I was an active Mormon, I was concerned for the spiritual welfare of millions of people who did not have a knowledge of the true and restored gospel of Jesus Christ. It was that concern that motivated me to serve as a missionary and to share my beliefs with my friends.

Some people see the desire to “save” others as a sign of spiritual arrogance, but I don’t believe it is. Most Mormons genuinely believe that people would be happier and the world would be a better place if everyone were Mormon. I know I did.

But I’m not really a Mormon anymore, though I’m still officially on the rolls as a high priest. And I don’t believe that people will be necessarily happier if they join the LDS church. Of course, if Mormonism works for people and makes them happy, I’m all for their joining and participating in it.

For a time I took the opposite approach toward Mormonism: I genuinely thought that if Mormons really understood the truth about their religion, they would be happier. I knew I was right about Mormonism, and I wanted others to know it, too. But I realize that’s just as wrong as my prior assumptions. I know a lot of people who are much happier having left the church than they were as active participants. I don’t know that I’d say I’m happier out of the church, but I do feel better about myself, and I’ve become a little better equipped to deal with my own problems. But I know people who have had a miserable time after leaving the church. A small number have gone back simply because being Mormon is comfortable and safe for them, whereas “apostasy” is uncharted waters.

I was reminded that there are much more important things than being right, however (I still think I’m right, though I reserve the right to be wrong). No one group has a monopoly on kindness, on charity, on compassion. On Sunday, I sat in the beautiful Provo LDS Tabernacle for stake conference with my wife, and we ended up sitting behind the man who was our bishop some twenty years ago when I was in graduate school. Christmas of 1990, we were about as poor as we could be, we had two small children, and we had nowhere to go. This good man and his wife invited us to share Christmas dinner with them and their children. We spent Christmas that year feeling as if we were family, as we joined in Christmas traditions and activities with people who had, up to that time, been relative strangers. Twenty years later we still remember how much that meant, and it was wonderful to be able to thank them after all this time.

At the same meeting, a young man in our ward approached me to thank me for words of encouragement and specific advice I had given him a few months ago when he had been laid off. He said that my advice (I do not remember what it was) had helped him land a job at BYU that was much better than the previous job. I barely recalled the conversation we had had months ago, but I was glad that something I said was helpful to him.

That’s when I realized that I will have a much more positive impact on the world by focusing on doing good, rather than on being right. I’ve been accused of “evangelizing” for the ex-Mormon cause, and that’s always puzzled me. But I realize that most people see things in terms of doing rather than being. For me, expressing my thoughts about Mormonism was about being right and being true, but for them, it was the doing that mattered. And what I was doing, from their perspective, was tearing down their religion. I still disagree with that perspective, but I think I understand it better.

But these days I am going to try to remind myself to do good. It’s amazing the effort I’ve spent in trying to be right. I’ve looked up sources, read books, made logical arguments, all in the service of showing I was right. But I wonder what has come of it. As far as I know, no one has either joined or left Mormonism because of anything I’ve said or done, and that suits me fine. But what I have noticed is that my relationships with people have become based less on friendship and shared values than they have on which side of the fence we stand on. That’s unfortunate, but that’s what happens when you insist on being right. Eventually you start seeing things in terms of a battle with enemies, and you try to score points or get revenge. That gets us nowhere.

I’m about as opinionated a person as I know (as my dear wife can attest), but what would happen if I gave up the need to be right all the time? It’s probably not a realistic goal, but it’s something I can work on.


A Christmas Trip

December 8, 2009

Christmas of 1987 was my first as a married man. I had found the love of my life when we were both missionaries in Bolivia, and we had been married for nearly six months. We lived in perhaps Provo’s tiniest apartment, where you could sit on the couch, put your feet out straight, and touch the wall with them. The bedroom was so small that we couldn’t kneel in prayer at the side of the bed.

I was going to BYU full time and working nights waxing floors at the Wilkinson Center on campus. My wife was working on an assembly line making lasagna at the Stouffer’s plant in Springville. We drove an old red Chevette with “Famous Potatoes” license plates, and we were dirt poor.

I didn’t mind. We were happy.

Sometime in November, my brother Danny had come to see me. I had never seen him so distraught. He told me he had gone to see his bishop to “confess everything I’ve ever done.” He was terrified that he’d be kicked out of school or at least lose his scholarship. But he felt like he needed to go.

A few weeks later, he attended what is charitably called a “disciplinary council” with his bishop. That afternoon he came over for dinner. His face was tired and swollen, his eyes almost slits they were so puffy. He hadn’t slept at all in two days, and he was exhausted. But he was relieved. His bishop had given him a list of assignments that he wanted him to do over the following six months. They weren’t anything difficult, just attending meetings, keeping the commandments, and so on. He said if he did those things, at the end of six months he would not take any church action. If my brother failed to do them, he would be disfellowshipped. I didn’t ask my brother what had happened, as I thought he would tell me if he wanted me to know. It was enough to know he was feeling better about things.

My mother called me a few weeks before Christmas and told me that she really wanted us to come home to California for Christmas so that our family could all be together. I was noncommittal, as I wasn’t sure about my work schedule or my wife’s, and I wasn’t sure we could afford the trip, anyway. As Christmas got closer, my mom became more insistent. Finally, we learned that we had three days at Christmas when we wouldn’t have to work, so I told my mom we would be coming.

A few days before Christmas, I suddenly realized that I hadn’t done any Christmas shopping, so I made plans to go out that evening and buy something small for my siblings and parents. Shortly after I got home, my wife called and said she had been in an accident. She wasn’t hurt, but the car was pretty badly damaged and would need to be towed. We had the car towed to a repair shop, and they told us it would take several days to get the right parts and repair it. We wouldn’t be going anywhere for Christmas.

That night, I called my mom and reluctantly told her we would not be able to get home for Christmas. She was almost in tears she was so disappointed. “But you have to come!” she said. “I was going to surprise everyone, but I’ve arranged for us to take a family portrait together on Christmas Day. Please find a way to come home.”

We hadn’t done a family portrait since I was nine or ten, so I knew this was important to my mom. But we didn’t have any money, especially now that we would have to pay to repair the car. I couldn’t see any way to get home, so I told her I just didn’t think it was possible.

An hour later my father called and said they had arranged for us to rent a car to drive to California. Because it was so close to Christmas, there were no cars available in Provo, but a place in Salt Lake said they would hold a car for us. I felt a little guilty that they were bailing us out, but then I knew how important this was to my mother. My grandfather drove to Provo and picked me up to take me to the rental agency. It had already snowed about six inches, but the snow fell heavily as we inched our way up the freeway to Salt Lake.

The car was buried under a deep snowbank, but it started once we dug it out, and I headed back to Provo in the same blinding snowstorm. After I picked up my wife at work, we went to the BYU Bookstore and bought some inexpensive books, and then we had an early dinner at the Cougareat before leaving town. The snow was still coming down hard when we left. Traffic was moving about twenty miles an hour, and the roads were slick with packed snow. I settled in behind a semi and crept along carefully but steadily. My wife wrapped the few gifts we had in the back seat as we drove.

We kept on at a slow speed until just past Cedar City, when the snow finally cleared and we were able speed up to a more normal rate. We arrived at my parents’ home not too long before daybreak, both of us exhausted. My family was happy to see us, but they understood when we went directly to the bedroom and went to sleep.

I don’t really remember anything about Christmas morning, really. I have no memory of what we did that morning, who got which presents, what we had for dinner. All I remember is driving over the hill to Malibu Canyon to take our photo at the house of my mother’s friend. We stood in front of a teal curtain, our family having grown by four spouses and one grandchild. My brother Ross borrowed a sweater from me because he didn’t have a jacket or anything nice to wear. Of course, Ross was six inches taller than I am, so if you look closely at the photo, you see that the sweater was stretched to the breaking point.

Danny wasn’t feeling well at all that day, but he smiled through the photo shoot, cracking his usual jokes. He had on the blue sharkskin suit he had bought at the Salvation Army store.

We left the next morning. I went back to the Wilkinson Center, where I spent the next week working long hours resealing the floors. The car came back, battered but functioning. We had been able to afford the mechanical repairs, but it would forever bear the deep wounds of its misfortune on its left side.

The six months came and went quickly, and I really hadn’t given it much though. Just before Easter, Danny and Ross and I went to the Richards Building to swim, and Danny told me he had an appointment the Tuesday after Easter to report to his bishop how things had gone. Danny and Ross made another trip home, this time for Easter and my mother’s birthday. On Monday evening, my father called me and said simply, “The sheriff was just here. There was an accident, and Danny and Ross were killed.”

I saw them one last time in their caskets at the mortuary, Ross in a brown suit and Danny in the sharkskin. I’ve often thought I’m glad I have that one last picture to remind me of my family. I thought of how easy it would have been not to go home that Christmas, and I know I would have regretted it always.

So I choose to think of my family as it was that day. Yes, we have added a lot of grandchildren, but that day we were together and complete.


Christmas Time Is Here

November 10, 2009

Correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s November 10 today. That means that we’re still a few weeks away from Thanksgiving, and Christmas isn’t even close. But apparently, it’s not too early to start celebrating the Savior’s birth.

When we moved back to Utah, I purposely set my alarm clock to “Lite” FM 100, the local easy listening station here in Utah. Why? Simple. The music is guaranteed at least 80% of the time to be some schmaltzy 70s or 80s love song that I can’t stand. It’s much more motivating to get up and turn off the alarm than it would be if it were a song I liked. But I digress.

This morning, the alarm went off as usual at 5:45, but I sat up in disbelief as I heard Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmas Time Is Here” from the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack. You have got to be kidding me.

I hit snooze (I do that sometimes), and when it went off again, it was Harry Connick, Jr.’s version of “The Christmas Song.”

What. The. Hell.

I honestly don’t know what to make of this. Perhaps they’re trying to encourage early Christmas shopping this year to help get us out of a deep recession. Or maybe they think that Christmas will cheer us all up in the wake of so much doom and gloom. Or maybe they’re just idiots who don’t know when December is.

In other news, the cost of the LDS Church’s City Creek Mall project is now officially estimated to be $3 billion. Originally, then-Church President Gordon B. Hinckley said the project would cost approximately $750 million. Since that time, the cost estimates have steadily crept upward, just as predicted by a construction expert involved in the project. He says the true cost is $8 billion and that we can expect further increases in the public estimate until that figure is met. I suppose time will tell.

Come to think of it, FM 100 is owned by Bonneville Communications, which is owned by the LDS church. I wonder if there’s a connection between the Christmas music and the mall. Maybe they’re trying to get people used to having an early jump on Christmas so that, when the mall finally opens, people will buy early and often.

After all, the mall isn’t going to pay for itself.


Evidence Trending in Frosty’s Direction, FARMS Says

December 16, 2008

Researchers for the Foundation for Arctic, Reindeer, and Magical Snowmen say that, despite the claims of skeptics, more and more evidence supports the belief that Frosty the Snowman really did come to life that day. Food Sciences professor and FARMS president Daniel Midgley-Welch summarized discoveries in 2008 as “very promising and encouraging, indeed. For more than half a century,” Midgley-Welch said, “scoffers have ridiculed the idea of a living, breathing snowman, but these days, there’s just too much evidence for anyone, except the hardcore anti-Snowmen and ex-snows, to ignore.”

Midgley-Welch explained that the best evidence for the reality of Frosty is the warm feeling children everywhere get when they sing “bumpety-bump-bump” and think of the “jolly, happy soul” frolicking in the winter snow. But no longer must believers rely solely on their own personal knowledge of the Snowman.

“First of all, the production of the text is miraculous in and of itself. After the success of 1949’s ‘Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer,’ writers Jack Nelson and Steve Rollins had only months to write, produce, and record the song for the upcoming 1950 Christmas season. There’s no way two ordinary mortals could have accomplished that without some kind of divine intervention.”

“But perhaps the strongest evidence of divinity is the text itself,” said Russell Thwetwipes, professor of Greek History. “Our first clue is the use of very specific items in the construction of the snowman itself.”

Several things stand out initially as anachronistic to 1950. Corncob pipes, silk hats, and coal had all been supplanted by cigarettes, fedoras (which were on their way out), and central heating. The use of these items suggests a deeper rooting in the past, which would be unusual for popular writers of the 1950s. But the images seem to have been chosen with care. A corncob situates the story in the Americas, which squares nicely with the use of the word “cop” to refer to a policeman (how could Nelson and Rollins have scored such a bullseye?). The coal for the eyes suggests the Biblical idea of coal as burning fire and life being breathed into mortals (see Ezek. 1:13). And of course, the old silk hat has reference to the ancient practice of using seerstones to connect with the divine. Indeed, the text specifically places the “magic” (which here may refer more to spiritual power) in the hat itself.

The text also anticipates skepticism. “Frosty the snowman is a fairy tale, they say” speaks to the song’s prophetic nature. The writers (Thwetwipes prefers “transcribers”) expected that their claims would be ridiculed, and indeed they have. “Once you have heard ‘Frosty the Snowman,’ you are no longer on neutral ground,” said Midgley-Welch.

Expecting a poor reception in an increasingly godless world, the transcribers made sure that there were witnesses to the miraculous event. We are told that the children “know” that he really did live and breathe. Their testimony is clear and specific: “Frosty the snowman was alive as he could be, and the children say he could laugh and play just the same as you and me.” There is no equivocation, no hesitation in the testimony. “We aren’t sure how many children there were, but the use of the plural indicates more than one,” said Thwetwipes. “And none of them ever denied their testimony. They had plenty of opportunity to deny what they had seen and expose the fraud, if there had been one. But they remained faithful to the end of their lives.”

Forthcoming research will explore the relationship between the broom Frosty carried (perhaps symbolic of a sceptre?) and the ritual dance he performed. “This dovetails rather nicely with what we know about Egyptian kingship rites,” Midgley-Welch asserted. “And we are aggressively researching the etymology of those two strange phrases, ‘thumpety, thump-thump’ and ‘bumpety, bump-bump.’ We expect to release our findings in a forthcoming edition of the “Journal of Elf, Easter bunny, Reindeer, and Snowmen.”

Asked of skeptics’ claims of a lost Gene Autry manuscript, Midgley-Welch was dismissive. “That’s been floating around for years, and so far we have nothing but a few unfounded word-print studies. I’m confident that Rollins and Nelson will be vindicated in the end.”