Monday, January 28, 2008

There is a verse in the Doctrine and Covenants that aptly describes how members of the church gravitated to President Hinckley: "without compulsory means [they] shall flow unto [him]." President Hinckley was so wonderful that it was easy to want to listen to him, it was easy to love and admire and respect him. I am honored to be numbered among those who called him Prophet.

Friday, January 18, 2008

So much depends on time

There are those precipitous moments in life when timing is everything: the meeting of a spouse, the avoidance of an accident, the miracle of conception. Events where, upon reflection, it would seem that there was an intelligent design in the way occurences unfolded to produce such a felicitious moment. Such events elevate the seemingly trivial details of our lives: missed phone calls, forgotten jackets, and class schedules become key players in our personal narratives. Call it a "Sliding Doors" moment, when the seemingly trivial event of missing or catching a train dramatically changes the course of one's life.

One such "Sliding Doors" moment occured shortly after Bubba and I moved into a new apartment after our second year of marriage. At the time, I was working at an office job and Bubba was going to school and painting apartments part-time. Each day Bubba called his boss to see what apartment complex they would be working on. As we had just moved over the weekend, our phone wasn't set up, and so Bubba came to the office to use the phone. While he was there, he ran into my boss, and struck up a conversation about school and his philosophy degree and possible career paths. My boss was friends with a man who was a lobbyist, and moments later they were on a conference call with his friend, who just happened to immediately need someone to work on a campaign in New Mexico. By the end of the day we were shopping for suits at ZCMI, and by the end of the week Bubba was driving to New Mexico to start a new job.

This was the moment that set Bubba on the path to becoming a lawyer. If we hadn't have moved that particular weekend, he wouldn't have needed to use my office phone on that exact day, and he wouldn't have run into my boss at that moment, and he wouldn't have accepted an immediate job opening in New Mexico, which in turn helped him become a legislative intern, which in turn influenced him to take the LSAT, etc.

Of course, this may all be complete nonsense. You may be reading this thinking, yeah right. And I must admit, it is quite possible that Bubba would have decided to go to law school whether or not this particular event had occured. I mean, what else was he supposed to do with a philosophy degree?

Maybe "Sliding Doors" moments only exist in retrospect. Maybe we create them to organize our personal narratives, to make sense of the random events that take place, to identify the catalyst of a change. By naming the moment that sparked a change, we also allow ourselves to muse on the parrallel lives we might have lived if the moment hadn't happened. If not "X", we wonder, than maybe "Y" or "Z" would have occured. And even if we imagine these alternative lifes to be better or worse than reality, their pretend existences help us identify our feelings about our own life.

Even so, it can't be denied that our lives move through time, and that time, and timing, has an undeniable effect on us. As the poet William Carlos Williams so sparsely penned:

"so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

Friday, January 11, 2008

Idol Chatter

How is a raven like a writing desk? How is the presidential election like American Idol? I don't have the answer to the first question, but I've tried my best to answer the second in the following comparisons:

Hillary (and Bill) Clinton and Terrell (and Darrell) Brittendum

One proposed benefit of voting for Hillary Clinton is it's a 2 for 1 deal - you get Bill, too. The Brittendums operated pretty much the same way. When Terrell (or Darrell) suspected that Darrell (or Terrell), hadn't made it to the next round, he gave an impassioned speech claiming that if his brother was out, he was too. Oops, too bad the brother hadn't really been kicked off. We watched in glee as the other pleaded with the judges to remain on the show. When Hillary was predicted to lose New Hampshire, Bill came to her defense, telling voters he couldn't make her younger and speculating whether they should pull out of the Nevada caucus. Oops, scratch that,she ended up winning New Hampshire. The Brittendum plea was similarly in vain because both soon left the show to deal with charges of fraud and theft. Illegal and sketchy behaviour seems to plague the Clinton camp too.

Ron Paul and Crazy Dave Hoover
When Dave Hoover auditioned for American Idol, he was bare-foot, sang an "original" song, and appeared to be under the influence of drugs. Much to everyone's surprise, he made it through to the Hollywood round. Ron Paul is the Crazy Dave of the presidential election. His ideas are clearly Libertarian, his foreign policy is isolationist and he wants to eliminate Social Security, the Department of Education, and basically every federally sponsored program. He's a contestant in a competition, but it doesn't seem to be the right one. One of these things is definitely not like the others. Still, like Crazy Dave, he has a surprising and loyal following.

John McCain and Chris Daughtry
"Maverick" is an apt adjective for both McCain and Daughtry.
Chris Daughtry wasn't the Idol type - he was a rocker - and
Simon, Paula, and Randy wondered how he'd fare in a pop competition. Still, he was "true to himself", he had musical integrity, he made each song "his own." McCain is the Daughtry in the race for the White House. He's rough around the edges, not as polished as the other candidates, but like Daughtry, he's true to himself, and eager to give anyone who will listen an earful of "straight talk."

Bill Richardson and Lakisha Jones
American Idol tauts itself as a singing competition. And there's one thing you can say about Lakisha Jones: girl can sing. If the competition really were about straight singing, she definitely would have made it further in the contest. In a Democratic race that seems to be between experience and change, you would think Richardson would stand out as the experienced candidate. Hillary's years as First Lady pale in comparison to Richardson's resume: Congressman, Ambassador to the U.N., Secretary of Energy, Governor. But somehow, Richardson's campaign never caught fire. He seems to be like Lakisha Jones, voted out before the final showdown.

Mitt Romney and Katherine McPhee
On paper, Katherine McPhee was a shoo-in for the American Idol title. She's beautiful, has an incredible voice, and great stage presence. Mitt Romney similarly is, on the surface at least, certainly the most presidential of the Republican field. He's smart, good-looking, articulate, and has relevant leadership experience. Still, there is something about both that prevents their audiences from taking the step from admiration to adoration. Both have been attacked for being plastic, insincere, fake. Katherine McPhee was good enough to take second place, and so far Mitt has been too, but it's not certain whether Mitt has what it takes to win the approval of the Republican party.

Fred Thompson and John Stevens
Do you remember John Stevens? He was horrible. When he performed
Elton John's Crocodile Rock, he had less enthusiasm than a dead fish. The best word to describe his performances is lethargic. And still, week after week, he kept progressing to the next round. Fred Thompson similarly is able to generate a lot of buzz despite his lethargic, uninspiring campaign. He seems bored with his own campaign, but for some reason keeps going week after week, the anti-Energizer bunny.

Mike Huckabee and Garet Johnson

When we first met the Littlest Cowboy, he was on his ranch in Wyoming, singing to the turkeys. And it was hard not to love Garet Johnson, with his wide-eyed optimism, cowboy hat, and funny way of talking. His chance of winning the competition was hopeless, but somehow this hopelessness propelled him farther than anyone expected. Mike Huckabee is in the same category, the Little Engine that Could, who somehow has made his lack of funding an asset, his folksy way of talking endearing. Still, as much as we all loved the Littlest Cowboy, none of us were really going to buy his album. When Huckabee began getting more attention, he was similarly loveable, but none of us were really going to vote for him. Only now I'm not so sure that's the case.

Barack Obama and Carrie Underwood or Fantasia Barino

When Fantasia Barino performed "Summertime", it was inspiring. Amazing. Different. That performance ensured her victory of the American Idol contest. However, after winning the title, her career hasn't been as promising as one might have expected. Carrie Underwood, on the other hand, has been the most successful Idol of all. Barack Obama's candidacy is imbued with a certain electricity, and we dare to hope that if elected, he may be one of the most successful presidents of all. But his candidacy is also plagued with uncertainty, and we fear that if elected, he may shrink into mediocrity.

Monday, January 7, 2008

God is not a vending machine

I recently received an email claiming that if I needed financial assistance, all I had to do was read the attached prayer. The sender claimed that one woman, after saying the prayer, miraculously received enough money to pay off the balance on all her credit cards. I realize that by reproducing the text of the prayer below, I am further propagating something which I despise. But... here it is:

Heavenly Father, most Gracious and Loving God, I pray to you that you abundantly bless my family and me. I know that you recognize that a family is more than just a mother, father, sister, brother, husband and wife, but all who believe and trust in You. GOD, I send up a prayer request for financial blessing for not only the person who sent this to me, but for me and all that I have forwarded this message on to. And that the power of joined prayer by those who believe and trust in you is more powerful than anything! I thank you in advance for your blessings. God, deliver the person reading this right now from debt and debt burdens.

After I read this prayer, I was reminded of a talk I heard in church once titled "God is not a vending machine." I think saying this prayer is like selecting a Twix bar from a vending machine by pushing D4. Except instead of pushing a button you say "deliver me from debt right now!" and instead of getting a candy bar you get a check for $12, 000. I have to admit, at times I think it would be pretty sweet if prayer really did work that way. I think a lot of us could muster up a lot of faith pretty fast. Mustard seed, nothing. I'm talking a whole redwood tree full of faith.

Figuring out how prayer works is hard; and I'm definitely no expert, but I'm pretty sure it doesn't work the vending-machine way. I think it requires more give and take. More listening than demanding. More humility and less pride. I'd like my debt erased as much as the next person, but I don't think it will happen if I follow the email's instructions and say the prayer and forward it to 8 friends. And that doesn't mean I'm not praying for help, because believe me, I am. I believe the Lord will provide, but I have to do my part, too.
Doing my part is hard, and entails trying to stick to a budget, avoid incurring further debt, and limiting eating out to only once a week. On second thought, maybe the sender of the email was on the right track. Don't be surprised if you see an email from me in your inbox with the subject "Financial Assistance Available." You only have to forward it to 8 other people, and the results are virtually guaranteed...