Two Dinners

I volunteer at a shelter for homeless people two nights per week, helping with the evening meal. I do pretty much the same things there I do with my Mormon priesthood on such occasions, i.e. set up tables and chairs and take them down again. The events I describe in this post took place last week on consecutive evenings.

Wednesday: I notice on the schedule that an LDS ward from the suburbs is scheduled to furnish the dinner tonight. Right on time, three women from the Relief Society arrive, and they are like the two or three dozen women in any ward who make things happen: efficient, capable, and hard-working. They have done this before, and they each know what to do to get the meal ready on time. They are serving chili dogs, so one sister sets a big pan of water on to boil to heat the hot dogs, another starts heating the chili, and I help the third woman fill disposable cups with water. The guests at the shelter start lining up for chow, and after a blessing, the production line starts. Two hot dogs in buns are arranged on each plate, then a ladle full of chili is poured over it all. The guest then moves down the line and helps himself to a baggie of chips, and individual size can of fruit cocktail, and a baggie of sandwich creme style cookies for dessert. They told me that they budget less than a dollar per meal, and I believe them. There are extra hot dogs left over, so they will go home to the freezer until next month, when it’s their turn again. They also told me that they turn in their receipts to the bishop and he reimburses them out of the fast offering fund, which seems like a good arrangement. The only complaint I hear from the guests is that there are no second helpings, and that seems quite petty to me, at first. But upon reflection, many of those people probably had not had lunch, and when you don’t have a refrigerator or pantry, the feeling of having one’s belly full probably takes on more importance.
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TQM, Kaizen, and Women in the Church

If you have worked in the manufacturing industry in the United States within the past three decades you have probably had training in Total Quality Management. The principles of TQM were first popularized in Japan after the second world war. Americans, most notably W. Edwards Deming, helped reorient the Japanese manufacturing industry from making planes and tanks to making cars. TQM, or kaizen in Japanese, refers to a process of continuous improvement, and it relies on teamwork and responsibility rather than a top-down command structure. Toyota was the first big success story.

Let’s say that a mistake keeps getting made at the same place on the assembly line. It might be that the worker at that place (let’s call him Mr. Brown, like in the missionary discussions) is incompetent or doesn’t care. But when the same problem keeps happening on different shifts and in different plants, we can know that the problem is not the worker, but the system itself. Kaizen requires us to try to fix the problem rather than try to fix blame. Instead of finding a scapegoat, we need to find a solution. We have identified the problem at Mr. Brown’s place on the line, but since it is a structural problem rather than a personnel problem, the solution requires teamwork. We might need to hire more workers, provide better training, or reconfigure the line. We might need to do all those things, and more, but the key point is this: Mr. Brown cannot implement any of those solutions by himself. Nothing will improve until the suits in the corner offices get involved.
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[Stuff]mydadsays, Father’s Day Edition

Looking forward to Father’s Day next Sunday, I’ve been thinking about my father who has been gone for two decades now, but whose influence I still feel in my life every day. I’ve tried to identify exactly why and how his character continues to effect me, and in that process I’ve recalled some of the things I remember him saying to me or others. I’ve decided to share some of those things here, and I invite you to share some of the things you remember about your dad in the comments. It can be wise, spiritual, sad, happy, endearing or funny.

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The Truth of Mormonism

Today I put in a shift at the Deseret dairy. Fifteen other men and I packaged and boxed up 1 lb. blocks of cheddar cheese for distribution through the church’s system of bishops’ storehouses.
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Thanks, Mom!

A couple of months ago I made an extraordinary discovery. While sorting through some old boxes and family records I found my mother’s old mission journals, which I didn’t even know existed. There are three hardbound books which say “Ledger” on the front, but when I opened them, I immediately recognized mom’s neat, well-spaced handwriting from notes to my elementary schoolteachers about my homework and long, newsy two page letters every week during my own mission. Reading these journals has been like discovering a gold mine. I have always known my mother as, well, my mother, and these diaries provide a detailed portrait of what she was like as an adult woman, but before she met my father, got married, had kids, and became the person I knew.

The journals are also fascinating in another way. With all our current excitement about more young women serving missions, my mother’s experiences show us what it was like for a woman to be a missionary in the years after World War II. It’s interesting to notice the changes in mission life, as well as some of the things which never change. For this blog post, I wanted to introduce some brief excerpts and quotes, and follow up with commentary.
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Inoculation, Anti-Mormonism, and Me

When I was fourteen years old I had the best job I will ever have. I sold programs at Derks Field, home of Salt Lake City’s AAA baseball franchise. I walked up and down the stairs of the grandstands hawking my wares, just like the beer and hot dog vendors. “Programs here! Get yer program, just one dollar!” It was a great job for a young baseball junkie who was transitioning from baseball cards to the live game. After about the third inning, nobody bought any more programs, so I could get myself a hot dog and a (root) beer, find a place to sit somewhere along the first base line, and enjoy the rest of the game.

Although I didn’t appreciate it sufficiently at the time, I was aware that my father made the effort to drive into town twice, once to drop me off before the game and again after it was over to bring me home. Once, before a Saturday afternoon game, dad told me that he would be delayed for a while after the game, so we had to devise a plan for picking me up. As we neared the ballpark, we saw a storefront bookstore which promised to tell “The Truth About Mormonism!”. Dad suggested that after the game I just walk over to the bookstore and wait for him there. So it was under the direction of my father that I first encountered, as an 8th grader, the Kinderhook plates, Nauvoo polygamy, Mormon racism, and the problems with the Book of Abraham. [Read more...]

1000 Words on Moving Day: A Sabbath Meditation

IMG_20130202_101244

What do you see in this picture?
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All Is Well In Zion

First, go read Karen’s excellent post. Then return here.

The setting was a Sunday evening stake priesthood meeting, in an affluent stake along the Wasatch front. The stake president announced that the theme of the meeting was administering the youth programs, and he invited all the bishops in the stake to join him on the stand. He asked each man to take a few minutes and speak extemporaneously about what his ward did to honor the young men who achieve the rank of eagle scout.

They all proudly described the elaborate celebrations, and it turned into a good-natured competition where each bishop tried to outdo the ones who had spoken before. There were descriptions of dutch oven dinners for 100 people, professional photographers who donated their time to take pictures and video of the big event, and grandparents coming all the way from California, just to be there for such a significant achievement. [Read more...]

Disagreeing with Lincoln

No, this is not about the Oscars. It is about this statement, attributed to Honest Abe:

“I do not like that man. I must get to know him better.”lincoln

I want to know what the Internetz think about this. When I first heard it, I was strongly inclined to agree. I can think of many times over the years where getting to know somebody provided the missing piece of the puzzle. Once I understood that person, I was able to see past my initial dislike. The Will Rogers part of me wants to believe Lincoln is right.

However (and you knew that was coming, didn’t you?), the more I think about it, the more I can remember people I liked better when I didn’t know them very well. Because we were barely acquaintances, I was able to give them the benefit of the doubt. But the more I learned of them, the less likeable they became. Is this the Dr. House in me asserting himself? How can I reconcile this position with my understanding of the gospel?

Please tell me what you think in the comments below.  Are you a Will Rogers or a Dr. House? It isn’t everyday you get to disagree with The Sage of Sangamon county, so please give your reasons.

On New Year’s Resolutions, and The Breaking Thereof

It turns out, the Franklin-Covey people are right. If you want to meet your goals, you need to define them clearly, make sure they are doable, and have clearly delineated measures of success. I knew all this already, of course. All those interminable hours in the corporate salt mines, trying to stay awake while one of the suits walked us through his PowerPoint presentation, explaining how this or that new initiative was going to put us over the top this fiscal year weren’t completely wasted.
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What Alcoholics Anonymous Taught Me About Repentance

In the movie Napoleon Dynamite, Uncle Rico is trying to recruit Kip into his plastic housewares distribution business. When he asks Kip what he is doing that afternoon and Kip replies “Nuthin'”, Uncle Rico imparts this bit of wisdom: “Well, you might as well do something while you’re doing nothing.” Over the past month or so I have found myself taking Uncle Rico’s advice. My work schedule changed so I often have a couple of hours open during the middle of the day, and when a co-worker needed a ride to his AA meeting (his license has been revoked), I decided to commit to driving him back and forth to his 12 step meeting. It turns out, there are more than a few people at these meetings who need rides, so lately I’ve been doing taxi duty. And it has been good for me.

Besides the songs, the one lesson I remember well from my Primary teachers is the one about the 4 R steps of repentance. That lesson has served me well over the years, even though I am still not very good at repenting. Usually my efforts go like this: I take the first step (Recognize) and acknowledge that I need to make a change in my life. I start to explore ways I can change and in that process I realize that the problem goes far deeper than I had first assumed, and that it will be much harder to change than I thought. At this point I take my own personal R step — Rationalize — and decide that the character attribute I started out to change really is a feature, not a bug, and go merrily on with my mediocre efforts at gospel living. [Read more...]

For Labor Day: Joe Hill, The Man Who Never Died

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,
alive as you and me.
Says I, “But Joe, you’re ten years dead.”
“I never died”, said he.
“I never died”, said he.

From San Diego up to Maine,
In every mine and mill.
Where working men defend their rights,
it’s there you’ll find Joe Hill.
It’s there you’ll find Joe Hill.

When both my parents were gone to church meetings at night, my older siblings would get out their contraband Woodstock album and listen. I first heard the song “Joe Hill” from that album, sung by Joan Baez. (You can listen here:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3p4vKd6tNO8 ) Her clear, sweet voice, accompanied only by her acoustic guitar, stood in strong contrast to the amplified electronics of Hendrix, The Who, and Country Joe and The Fish, and I developed a jr. high school version of a celebrity crush on her. It was only years later that I became curious about the subject of her song and learned about his connection to my home state.
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Mormons in the next Congress (Fingers crossed!) Part 1

BCC is pleased to let our readership know about the candidacy of Chris Henrichsen for Congressional representative from Wyoming. He is a friend of BCC and a contributor to the wider bloggernacle. We will begin with some questions and answers in Part 1, and continue on in part 2 with a detailed analysis of his political positions.
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Scars

On my right calf, I have a long, jagged scar, about 6 inches long. I got it the hard way, when I was about 12 years old. I’d been watching the Olympics (USA! USA!) and had become fascinated with the way the hurdlers could sprint so fast around the track and effortlessly rise over the hurdles without even breaking stride. I temporarily put my career plan to become a left-handed reliever in major league baseball on hold in favor of becoming a world-class hurdler. The nearest hurdle I could find was the fence which divided our pasture from our neighbor’s. It was just the right height, and it had a single strand of barbed wire running across the top of it. I would stand back, take a running jump, and try to replicate the hurdlers’ form as they went over obstacles. I did this for hours at a time for several weeks, and got pretty good, for a sixth grader. But as you might have guessed, there came a day when I only almost cleared the hurdle. I remember my right leg hanging up in the wire, then I hit the ground, head-first, hard. I lost consciousness for a few moments, and when my head cleared, I recall having two thoughts: a)that hurts, and b)where is all this blood coming from?
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The Mother’s Day Talk PSA

I am confident that a poll of active Mormons would show that Mother’s Day sacrament meeting is, hands down, the one meeting of the year most fraught with difficulty for the people who attend. I have seen women leave the meeting in tears, and I know others who have learned, through sad experience, that it is best for them to take a break from church on Mother’s Day. I wonder if this phenomenon is uniquely Mormon. Do other Christian women struggle with church-going on this day? If it is unique to us, I wonder why we have a corner on the Mother’s Day anxiety market.

Over the years, I’ve heard some very good Mother’s Day talks, but I have also heard some that were cringe-worthy. I’ve decided to see if I can discern consistent reasons why the good ones are good and the bad ones are terrible. This blog post is the result of my musing. Keep in mind, this is from a male perspective, and my opinions might be worth exactly what you paid for them. Please use the comments to make your own contributions.
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Bott-ulism Outbreaks and Protective Correlation

As I have tried to formulate my thoughts about recent events, I have gained new appreciation for the guy with the shovel whose job it is to follow behind the circus parade after the horses and elephants have passed through. There is certainly a lot of raw material to work with. While there is much to regret, the really interesting question we need to answer is how this even happened in the first place.
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You Make the Call: Missionary Draft Deferrals

It has been interesting for me to watch the reactions this past week as news stories illuminated yet again the contested territory where the free exercise of religion meets civic considerations and obligations. As I observed other LDS people comment on these stories, I realized that in our recent past, we have experienced something even more egregious and more threatening than being pressured to refrain from performing proxy baptisms for Holocaust victims.

In the Vietnam era during the late 1960s,  all young men were required to register for the Selective Service and make themselves available for the draft. Young men who were healthy, single, and heterosexual were classified as 1-A, eligible for military service, and they were quickly inducted into the service to undergo basic training. There was a different classification for ordained ministers, 4-D, and a young man with that classification would not be drafted. Among LDS people, young men who anticipated serving missions often succeeded in getting their classification changed from 1-A to 4-D. But as the war grew more serious and more troops were needed, the Selective Service became more and more reluctant to grant 4-D status to our missionaries, and it notified the church that all our young men should consider themselves candidates for the draft. [Read more...]

Chief Bear Hunter and Boa Ogoi [1]

January 29 marks the anniversary of the day in 1863 when the worst massacre of native Americans in our history took place in Utah territory.  Colonel Patrick Edward Connor led a group of about 300 California volunteers north from Camp Douglas in Salt Lake City.  They reached the winter encampment of the Northwestern band of Shoshone on Bear River, about 4 miles north of what is now Preston, Idaho, early in the morning and attacked when most of the camp was still sleeping.

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Roadtrippin’ With The MoTab

Technology allows us to surround ourselves with music of our choosing any time we want.  The holiday season often means long drives in the car to visit relatives, and an iPod loaded with various kinds of music to fit the moods and tastes of the passengers can make the drive go quickly.  This past week has given me occasion to listen to many recordings from The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and also to listen to some of those same songs by other artists.  The purpose of this post is to describe the immediate, visceral reaction of the listeners to some of the MoTab songs, and also to speculate as to why this is a choir I both love and detest. [Read more...]

Providing In The Lord’s Way, Part 2

Part 1 is here.
In this part, I want to explore some of the reasons we like the LDS welfare system and examine our assumptions, first to see if they are accurate and, second, to see if they could be applied more generally.

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Providing In The Lord’s Way, Part 1

“The building up of Zion is a cause that has interested the people of God in every age…” [1]

This post and the one which will follow are an attempt to think along with Dieter F. Uchtdorf and his sermon in the priesthood meeting at the recent general conference.

He begins by expressing his profound gratitude for the Deseret brand canned peaches and clothing which were donated by latter-day saints in the United States and which blessed his boyhood home in Germany in the aftermath of World War II.  He then goes to our canon of scripture and grounds his sermon in three texts:

“If thou lovest me … thou wilt remember the poor, and consecrate of thy properties for their support” (D&C 52:40)

“Remember in all things the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted, for he that doeth not these things, the same is not my disciple” (D&C 104:18)

“If any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment.” (Matthew 22:36-40) [Read more...]

Cemetourism: Zion Valley, Kansas

About a hundred miles west-northwest of Wichita is the small community of St. John, Kansas.  St John was once known as Zion valley, and this town has played an interesting role in the ongoing restoration of the gospel. 

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My Personal Bishop’s Storehouse

Luke 10:31-32:   And by chance there came down a certain priest that way:  and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.  And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, looked on him, and passed by on the other side. 

The recent devastation by tornadoes in Joplin, MO has reminded me  of one of the finest men I have ever known.  He once taught a lesson in a 5th Sunday combined Priesthood/Relief Society meeting.  He taught us that the bishop’s storehouse is not just the warehouse on the other side of town where people go to fill food orders.  He emphasized that the concept of the bishop’s storehouse extends to the food storage in the homes of each individual member.  In a time of disaster or emergency, the bishop can call upon members of the ward to share their food, warm clothing, blankets, and everything else they have with others.  I left that meeting with a strong conviction, confirmed by the spirit, that the wheat, canned goods, bottled fruit, frozen vegetables, powdered milk, dry beans, camp stove with propane, and everything else in our basement was a resource of the church to be used for the building of Zion, and to be shared as necessary with my neighbors, LDS or not.  A bishop’s storehouse exists wherever a latter-day saint practices provident living. [Read more...]

J. Golden Kimball on the Hegelian Constitutive Other

J. Golden Kimball served in the Southern States mission, both as a proselyting elder and later as mission president.  During his first term of service, he was at the mission office in Chattanooga in August, 1884 when latter-day saints were murdered at Cane Creek, TN.  He, of all people, knew what kind of prejudice and bigotry the Mormons faced in that part of the country.  And yet, in a sermon delivered in the Logan tabernacle in 1891, he said this:

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Outreach, ur doing it wrong

Yesterday I attended a meeting at which Gary Lawrence spoke about the research he conducted which forms the foundation of his book, How Americans View Mormonism.  His firm contacted 1,000 randomly selected Americans and asked 55 questions.  The answers given by the respondents clearly demonstrate that we are doing a poor job of communicating.

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Conference Predictions

Now that everybody’s NCAA bracket is shot, BCC will allow you to exercise your gift of (non-)discernment for the upcoming conference weekend. [Read more...]

Review: The Mormon Menace

Patrick Q. Mason, The Mormon Menace (New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 2011). 264 pages; 6-1/8 x 9-1/4. Hardcover: $29.95. ISBN13: 978-0-19-974002-4

Patrick Mason, of the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, wrote a dissertation in which he examined violence against religious minorities and outsiders in the post-bellum American South. This book builds upon that research, and while limiting itself to Mormonism, it also expands the narrative to include the legal, theological, and cultural objections to Mormonism in the Old Confederacy in the generation following the Civil War and Reconstruction.

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War and Peace in Our Time: Mormon Perspectives

The people at Claremont Graduate University continue to outdo themselves. On March 18-19, 2011, the Howard W. Hunter chair for Mormon Studies is sponsoring this conference.

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Thar He

The recent events in Egypt have kept me thinking about our history of non-violent protest in the United States.  Between the observance of Martin Luther King day in January and Black History month, I’ve tried to make a formal study of the speech that King delivered in Washington, D.C. in August, 1963.  You can read the text of the speech or watch it online.  I found that my appreciation grew the more I studied the speech and the events leading up to it.  In particular, I’ve come to appreciate how important it was for King to emphasize “the fierce urgency of now”, because at that time we still lived under a regime of racial segregation.  We see August, 1963 as a watershed moment for civil rights in America.  It is hard for us to now imagine how deeply our country  was divided by racial hatred and ignorance.  King and the others in the SCLC displayed enormous personal courage by their actions — it could not have been an easy thing to stand in the street as mounted policemen rode towards you, swinging lengths of rubber hose wrapped with barbed wire — but it is also important to remember that others before them also exemplified moral courage, sometime at great personal cost.  This post is about one of those men. [Read more...]

My Wild Night in WeHo

A few months ago I had occasion to spend an evening in West Hollywood, California.  It was a Friday after work, and given that city’s reputation for flamboyant Gayness (I have an LDS friend who calls the place Hollyweird, Californicate), I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  As a worst case, I anticipated scenes of unspeakable depravity — a TGIF-style, alcohol-fueled Pride Parade Bacchanalia with rainbow-haired people French-kissing, buff, shirtless men wearing leather chaps and holding hands, dogs and cats living together — in short, a shocking confirmation of the very worst of our conservative LDS suspicions about The Lifestyle.  And as we turned off La Cienega onto Beverly Boulevard, my very worst fears were realized.

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