Thursday, October 23, 2008

Filthy Lucre

I know this post is not going to be a popular one, so feel free to click on that single star or roast me to dust in the comments. Or hate me in your mind and cast hexes from your living room. I’m fully aware that by criticizing a byproduct of the church, miniscule and unimportant as it may be, I’m eliciting strong emotional responses. I ask that you keep in mind that I am an intensely proud member of the LDS faith. I just happen to have a problem with parts of its culture.

Many of you may be familiar with Mormons Exposed, the controversial steamy calendar depicting former LDS missionaries in proselyting gear on one page, and then posing in their waist-up buffness on another. I use the term “former” simply because they are not CURRENT missionaries laboring in the field from 9 to 9 with occasional breaks for lunch, dinner, scripture study, and oiling up their abs for that evening’s photo shoot. I don’t mean to suggest that they are no longer members of the church in perfectly good standing. They’ve simply been released as missionaries.

The calendar is the brainchild of one Chad Hardy, a BYU student at the time of the calendar’s release. He was excommunicated from the church and also had his diploma put on hold from BYU until he is reinstated in good standing, all as a result of the calendar. He allegedly holds no ill will toward the church and feels they did what was best for everyone. He must have really felt strongly about what he was doing.

At this point you may be wondering how this calendar could possibly be considered a “byproduct” of the church. Clearly it’s not.

My own personal opinion is this. Mr. Hardy’s calendar filled with half-naked missionaries is not much of a stretch from Michael McLean’s latest CD on sale at Seagull Book and Tape. The ONLY thing, in my opinion, that makes Hardy’s calendar wrong is how it so closely relates the missionary to the boy toy. In all honesty, the pictures in the calendar are quite tastefully done. Long pants and shirtless…that’s all. I’m 99% positive that there are LDS models all over the world that do work in magazines, possibly swimsuit models. We’ve had Mormon Ms. Utah’s that compete on a national stage in a bathing suit. My studly younger brother has a friend at BYU that is the reigning Mr. Hong Kong. Michael’s parents are 1st generation Chinese and he himself served a mission in Hong Kong. He got to parade around in a Speedo and do choreographed dance steps and martial arts with his pecs and lats flanging for 2 billion raving Chinese folk. Why is that different than some LDS “models” posing for a calendar? In my not-so-humble opinion, IT IS NOT. Again, the only thing that makes the calendar filthy is the close tie to sacred things and the obvious attempt to advertise it as something pure becoming not-so-pure-anymore.

That said, I have a problem with it. I have a problem with ANYONE that abuses the LDS community to make a living. Yes, this is a capitalist country; a place where men are free to increase their wealth using their own wit and power. I believe in free enterprise. I also believe in having access to spiritually uplifting media. I enjoy The Forgotten Carols as much as the next guy. But I don’t think the CD should be sold at $18.00 a pop so Michael McLean can get rich off of my spiritual uplift.

Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; (1 Peter 5:2)

I interpret that passage on a personal level and I see it thus… If you have a talent, a skill, a story, or a thing that can benefit a soul then that talent, skill, story, or thing should be made available to society. I’m not saying that it should be GIVEN away, but it should be made available at low cost. No one should “get gain” from the transaction. Your mind should be ready to “feed the flock of God” which is clearly among us, and your mind should not be racing to figure out how to make a buck off of the flock.

My favorite band is Phish. Part of the magic behind Phish is that they are “taper friendly.” Anyone is encouraged to bring his audio equipment and record a Phish show. That taper can then transfer the data in a high quality digital format to a CD, then make the CD(s) available to the community. There are only two rules. 1) Do NOT encode the data to lossy formats such as MP3. Offenders will have the hands cut off at the wrist and will be shunned as pariahs wherever good music is heard. 2) DO NOT SELL FOR PROFIT. Phish doesn’t care if they make money on the show or not, as long as no one else does.

Something can be done about filthy lucre. The official church organization can easily get involved. There are 13 million members of the church, a good majority of which pays a 10% tithe. That’s a lot of freaking money. If Janice Kapp Perry has a new album that she thinks will spiritually edify, then she could submit the product to the church. The church could then contract with Janice to purchase the product and make it available to members of the church at close-to-cost prices through the church distribution centers. BAM. Instead of selling out Abravanel Hall at $45 per ticket, Kurt Bestor could submit his plan to the church who could then arrange for the show to be given at The Conference Center, free of charge or at $8 per ticket to cover operating costs. That, my friends, is tithing funds well spent.

I don’t know that there is a magic bullet. But I just don’t believe that the gospel message was intended to be sold. Joseph Smith didn’t sell first printings of the Book of Mormon for personal profit. He inflated cost for the sole purpose of growing the church and printing more books. I believe that if The Big Man himself were on the earth today, he would be saddened at the profit centers and weasels that take advantage of the oft-gullible LDS culture. If you have a talent that can improve people spirituality, share it. Don’t sell it. Or the next time my bishop asks me to play that joke of a Fisher Price keyboard in priesthood; I’m putting a Dixie cup on top for tips.

Friday, October 17, 2008

My Friend, Levi

I work in an office. In fact, my office is very much like The Office. I can basically pin one of my co-workers to the exact position and personality of their Hollywood mirrors. I’d like to think of myself as the Jim of the office. Although everyone else may think I’m our Dwight. I’m probably closer to Andy. Always singing weird obscure songs, speaking in terrible Cockney accents, and sucking up to the boss with sickening effect. But I genuinely enjoy the people I work with.

In my particular wing of the office pre-menopausal women surround me, though I have very few complaints. It makes for incredibly bizarre and fun conversation. It’s a cubicle environment, where my ladies have their spaces brightly decorated with Tim McGraw posters dating back to 2003, various plants, and pictures. I decorate my space with Crystal Light wrappers and sunflower seed husks. Three cubicles down the hall sits my friend Levi.

Levi is one of the more unique people I’ve ever known. He’s exceptionally quiet but sharp as a tack. He rarely joins in office banter, but when he does it is pure gold. For instance, the ladies and I will be swapping stories back and forth all day long while we work on our accounts. We’re salespeople….we’re loud and constant. Levi is clearly within earshot, likely rolling his eyes, but stays silent until the opportune moment. Then at the perfect magical instant, he’ll throw out “that’s because you’re old” or “you shouldn’t eat that…it has a mother AND a face.” His commentary is never consistent, always abstract, and naturally brilliant.

He is also our office’s practical joker. He has put fake spiders in Cheryl’s umbrella. He prints off Hell’s Angels logos and tapes them to Kathy’s biker helmet. He used to make little dialogue bubbles out of post-it notes and would stick them to various McGraw calendars with messages like, “Man these jeans are tight” or “Has anyone seen my hair?”

Levi is exceptionally giving. At least twice a year he arranges for a soft serve ice cream machine from the plant he used to work at to be lent to Cookietree for a few days. He picks up the behemoth himself and secures all kinds of sprinkles and garnishes to make “ice cream week” special.

Levi and I share many things in common. We are both obsessed with music. I burned him a few Phish CDs, which he hated, and he let me borrow a couple of his discs, which I also hated. We both have exploited the public library system for movies and records. We both love pop culture trivia. And we both have owned our own small side businesses, which brings me to the point of this post.

When I got into work last Monday I came with a DVD to give to Levi. It was a documentary shown on VH1 where Dave Matthews and Trey Anastasio (of Phish) went to Africa to play a concert with the legendary “Orchestra Baobab.” He wasn’t in the office yet, which was weird. About an hour later we received a mass email from our CFO notifying us that Levi had fallen 22 feet from a ladder while washing windows in Utah county and was in intensive care. He had broken his back, sustained massive damage to his head, had surgery to remove pressure/swelling/blood clots from his brain, and was still unconscious. I was devastated. We all were. This was one of those occasions where you look to the sky and wonder “why him?” This could not have happened to a better man. The rest of the day went by with a somber tone.

I have been anxiously following Levi’s progress. His good friend Chris, who incidentally found Levi unconscious, also works here at Cookietree and gives us updates. His family has set up a blog to keep all interested informed as to developments and improvements.

I marvel at human resilience and Levi’s iron will. I chuckle when I read about him always trying to disconnect the tubes coming out of his body, or fighting the doctor when he tries to adjust stuff. The man is a fighter. I’m also in awe of the perseverance and positive attitude shown by Levi’s family. It’s hard for me to look at things in the right light. For instance, I hear that Levi is able to lift a finger or say the word “no” and I feel anger and sadness because I am comparing his current state to the Levi that I work with. And that isn’t fair. His family sees every little action as a sign of improvement and a signal of hope.

I also have hope. I hope for a full recovery. I hope to have Levi back here to help me ward off the raving lunatic women in the office who batter me daily like waves against the rocks with giddy laughter and female hygiene talk. But no matter what the degree of recovery ends up being, I am thankful that Levi is alive. I am thankful that he is improving. And I am grateful that I know him. I look forward to seeing that toothy grin again and chatting about Beatles lore and conservative politics. I wish all the best to Levi and his family. You are all in my constant thoughts and daily prayers.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Obama is Bloody Brilliant

Yeah, I know. I swore off political pieces on the blog. But this topic is more about business, marketing, and advertising than anything else. I heard a quick blurb on the radio this morning about Barrack Obama targeting video games as an advertising vehicle. Being a gamer, I knew this was an absolutely brilliant move. As soon as I got into the office I jumped online and found this article confirming what I’d heard on the radio.

How does it work? The Microsoft XBOX can be connected to the Internet, allowing for important updates and patches and also facilitating cooperative or competitive play online through XBOX Live. When the gamer connects his XBOX to the web, he will get an update or patch that contains the Obama advertising. Then when he plays certain games online such as racing games, Guitar Hero, Rock Band, or any other game where there are banners, billboards, or signs, Obama’s “vote early” message will be displayed on the billboard. This is pure genius.

The older generation won’t understand why anyone would throw millions of dollars at advertising via XBOX. Video game players are 14-year-old kids with no social skills, pale grey skin, oily faces, and 30 pounds over/underweight. Right? WRONG. The following data was pulled from the most current news release I could find from the ESA, Entertainment Software Association, dated July 16, 2008:

The average age of game players is 35 years old.
65% of American households play computer and video games.
38% of American households have a video game console.
1 out of 4 gamers is over age 50.
33% of the gamer population is women over age 18.
41% of Americans plan to purchase 1 or more games this year.

This article also has some fascinating data that surprised me. It shows that parents are highly involved in the purchase of video games and are largely present when the games are played in the home. 63% of parents believe games are a positive part of their children’s lives. I’m part of that statistic. I was also thrilled to see that 85% of games purchased last year were rated “Everyone (E) or Teen (T) as opposed to mature content games with a “Mature (M)” rating.

I think it’s fair to say that a good portion of America is undecided on which candidate will get its vote. It’s also probably fair to say that a decent percentage of that statistic doesn’t have a firm understanding on issues and tickets but still plans to vote. Seeing Barrack Obama’s grill on a billboard stage left while you shred your Les Paul controller on “Cliffs of Dover” is just freaking cool. If I were one of the undecided ignoranti, I’d vote for him based on coolness factor alone. Obama is effectively reaching his target demographic while showing he is in touch with the "hip" generation. McCain is likely hobnobbing bingo parlors and spreading the word via squeezebox.

Brilliant move senator. Well-played sir.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Teaching Moments

I was blessed with a bright and highly inquisitive son. Luckily for me, Talmage is also very trusting. In fact, he’s quite gullible. This is fortunate because sometimes I am asked questions that I just don’t have an answer for. Have you ever tried to explain electricity to a 4-year-old? Having a gullible child makes it easy for me to get creative instead of logical. I don’t need to go into detail about friction, charged particles, or alternating current. I just explain that there is a family of mice inside the wall on pedal bikes that ride really fast to make the plugs work. And if the answer makes sense to his young brain, he accepts it as absolute truth. Of course this might prove damaging when he tells his 5th grade teacher that birds can float because their stomachs are helium balloons filled up by circus clowns and dwarves. But we’ll cross that bridge later.

Talmage’s constant questions have presented me with a variety of neat teaching opportunities. At times I can let my creative waters flow. “The juice that comes out of the spider you squished with your shoe is poison, because spiders are evil and God hates them.” “Leaves change color in autumn because they are mad at the cold weather, then they fall like tears before it snows.” And then other times the questions are very sincere and honest, deserving fair and serious answers. One such teaching opportunity came on Saturday.

We were driving toward the freeway after a fun afternoon of bowling at Fat Cats. I was oblivious to my surroundings; I’d just bowled two awesome games and came out the ultimate winner among Pearsons. As we pulled up to a red light, Talmage asked, “What’s ‘vetname’ mean dada?” I lifted my head to see what he was talking about and saw a very dirty, very sad looking homeless man standing just outside Talmage’s window holding a sign that read “Vietnam Vet. Need food. Need help.” This topic is ironic. The queen of the Blogiverse, Dooce, hit this very subject recently, found here. Her take is different than mine, but very respectable. If you want an occasional chortle and highly entertaining read, check out The Dooce. Very edgy, very bright, and sometimes uncomfortable. But a brilliant blogger nonetheless. Heads up to the LDS folk though. She has regular target practice at our expense.

My own personal feelings toward the homeless have never changed. My heart aches for them. My stomach is a mixture of sadness, pity, shame, guilt, and disgust. Each and every time, I wonder what circumstances could have lead to this person’s situation. Where is he from? What’s his name? What’s his family like? Would he REALLY spend my $5 on beer?

My feelings for panhandlers, however, have changed dramatically. I used to allow my emotions for destitute people to govern my thoughts toward beggars. Now that I have a few years under my belt and a few bad experiences giving money to panhandlers, I see things very differently. Living in Italy introduced me to the gypsy culture. Filthy dirty homeless looking women, children, and babies all over the streets begging for money as a cover for their true source of income, pick-pocketing. President Flosi warned us on our very first night in the country. He was a former FBI agent that went undercover in Rome, infiltrating the mob. He was very familiar with the gypsy culture as an organization. He told us that no matter how badly our heart bled, do not under any circumstances give money to the gypsies. They were not poor. They were not homeless. Gypsy men drove nice cars and they lived in decent homes. They didn’t work honest jobs and allowed their centuries-old tradition of begging and thieving to fund their lives.

From time to time, especially in Europe, you’ll find someone that will actually perform something, THEN ask for money. I’ve seen people play harmonicas, violins, flutes, bucket drums, and guitars. I’ve seen singers, dancers, gymnasts, and magicians. I’ve seen people selling flowers, jewelry, and even rocks. All clearly poor, and all clearly in need. But they were doing something to EARN their loose change. They were respectable. The only difference between John Popper and the kid on the train is skill level and choice of venue. They both do the same thing for a living. It’s the people that don’t provide any product or service, but still expect reward that bother me.

I had a man come to my window when I was a teller at Wells Fargo wanting to change a $50 bill for smaller notes. The bill was clearly a fake. He went on and on about how he had fallen on hard times and was working as a laborer on a construction site and the foreman paid him that bill for his day’s work. He claimed to be a convert to the LDS church and carried on about charity and second chances for close to an hour. My branch manager got involved and PERSONALLY lent the man $50.00 with the understanding that he would pay it back. I’m not sure if he was exercising charity or just trying to get the guy to leave. I would have bet my kingdom that he would have come back to repay the $50; he was so convincing and sincere. We never saw him again.

Have you ever met the guy at the mall parking lot that needs money for a bus ticket back to Provo? I’ve seen him several times. On one occasion he hit me up twice in the same day, at two different malls. When I called him to the carpet he smiled, shrugged his shoulders, and walked away.

I was truly uncomfortable talking to Talmage about homelessness, poverty, and charity. He couldn’t wrap his young brain around the fact that people would choose to live on streets and beg for money:

“Why does he sleep on a street daddy? Wouldn’t cars hit him?”
Well, he’s not actually ON the street buddy. Probably in a park or in a parking lot.
“Why doesn’t he sleep in a house?”
Because he doesn’t have a house, kiddo.
“Why doesn’t he buy one?”
Because he doesn’t have any money.
“Why doesn’t he work at Cookietree and make bacon like dad?”
Cookietree isn’t hiring, broseph.
“Well why doesn’t he get a job somewhere else then?”

Why, indeed. I want to give him money. I’m a sucker for things in pain. I can’t hunt, I won’t fish, and I flinch when I kill a moth. Suffering people pain my soul. But unless the circumstance is truly inspired, I won’t give panhandlers money.

I explained to Talmage that most homeless people can work to improve their situation. The government has programs in place for employment, housing, and health care. I also explained that every month, on a particular Sunday, we don’t eat lunch or dinner and give the money we would have spent to help feed hungry people. We donate our time whenever we can at the DI, the cannery, the dairy, and the pasta plant to make sure that food is made to feed them.

I don’t think my answers satisfied Talmage, and I’m thankful that they didn’t. I want him to form his own moral compass as he grows up. I want him to treat the destitute in his own unique fashion, hopefully with empathy and compassion. He may be the guy that gives the man $20, or a combo meal from McDonalds, or a heavy coat. I bet he won’t care if he’s really a vet or if he’d spend the money on cigarettes or sell the coat for drugs. I’m already beaming with pride. I’m grateful for the chances I have to exercise fatherhood and teach my children.

On a humorous note, here’s a collection of photos of unique signs asking for money. I would absolutely throw down some spare change for this kind of creativity and humor:

Friday, October 10, 2008

Piano - The Ultimate Chick Magnet

The decision had been made many years before I was born. I would play the piano. My parents bought a baby grand long before there was anyone in their home that could even remotely play the thing. My history at the piano has been much like a Hollywood love/hate relationship.

You would be hard pressed to find a man in the state of Utah that can’t play “Swans on the Lake” or at the very least “Heart and Soul.” Our culture demands that kids take piano lessons…period. I started seriously taking lessons at the age of eight, right around the same time as all my friends started. Playing the piano was not an option. I would take lessons and put in the necessary practice time until I was 16 years old. If I fought my parents I would lose.

As I progressed in music some of my friends fell by the wayside. Piano gave way to football or basketball. While my friends developed their buffness, I developed my sight-reading. As I worked on memorizing my recital piece, my buddies would memorize playbooks. I got jealous and began to despise those 88 keys more and more.

The transition to junior high school was a tough one. I finally started playing football, but I was about 4 years behind everyone else. I also decided I wanted to be like my dad and play tight end. He was Mr. Football so it must have been a sweet job, right? No one told me that 90% of my job was blocking hogs or fighting off hungry defensive ends. Those dudes could grab my jersey and sling me around like a mongrel, but I couldn’t use my hands OR cut block. 5% of the time I got to catch passes. There’s nothing worse than having your number called for a quick slant pass, 3 yards in front of the line right in the cross-hairs of an angry linebacker looking for blood and bone, thrown by Danny Castro…a fantastic football player that felt the only way to get the ball from point A to B was to throw it hard enough to knock the head off a donkey. The other 5% was running the ball off center…to the same deadly linebacker. I was a terrible football player. It was a waste of two good summers.

Now imagine having to tell your coach that you had to leave football practice 30 minutes early to get to piano lessons. I may as well have put a bright pink sign on my back that read “Estrogen Lives Here.” I was teased, and teased hard.

Something magical happens right around age 15-16. The focus on what is considered “cool” shifts from the manly to the artsy. At the time I wasn’t aware of this phenomenon. I still believed that chicks dug muscles and sweat, not refinement and culture. But my life was about to change.

During the spring of my 9th grade year, my friend Rashelle had a party at her house. There was food, music, chicks, and volleyball. All the other dudes, jocks, were in the back yard playing volleyball showing off by hitting the ball as hard as 15-year-old muscles would allow without any regard for placement, or by giving their best Top Gun impressions. I wasn’t included in that particular game so I watched. Boredom gave way to curiosity, so I went inside and casually walked around looking at family pictures and d├ęcor. Then I noticed the small upright piano tucked into a corner in the family room. I looked around making sure I was alone and sat down to the keys. I had been working on “Claire de Lune” for my graduation recital piece and had the first half memorized. I began to play.

Claire de Lune starts out very slow, very soft, very pretty, then builds to an intricate section of runs and ladders. Fingers fly, but the mood and feel of the piece remains delicate and beautiful. Within 90 seconds of hitting the first key, every single Betty at that party was gathered around the piano. Naturally I got embarrassed and stopped playing, but they all begged me to play on. So I fired it back up and completed what I remembered. Those girls ate it up. They asked me to play more music, and I obliged. Before long, some of the guys playing volleyball realized they were now just showing off for each other and startled to trickle in to the piano room to see what had distracted their female fans.

I left that party on cloud nine. I had arrived! I began to practice with a purpose. Instead of putting in my required 30 minutes, I would play for hours on end. As I grew older, the focus shifted even further from the brawn and moved to the brain. In high school, attention was given to arts, music, academics, and drama. The jocks no longer commanded the female population. There were new players in town.

Piano has given me many opportunities. I’ve had the privilege of playing in many different capacities and environments. I’ve done weddings, funerals, and pageants. I played in a full 4-piano quartet. I traveled southern Italy playing for mission district conferences. My piano training has expanded my mind, allowing me to memorize things quickly and pay attention to detail. I am able to pick up other instruments more quickly and my dexterous Guitar Hero fingers will be forever grateful to the piano.

Now that I’m old, I rarely look at those football players and think, “Boy I wish I’d played football in high school. Knee surgery sounds fun.” But I can guarantee you there are ex jocks everywhere that think, “Man, I’d give anything to be able to play the piano.” My response? “No you wouldn’t.” Or you would have.


Monday, October 6, 2008

Lift Where You Stand

Before I begin...Lori, your comment made my day.

There have been three speeches given in the history of the world that have changed my life. The first, delivered to the Sorbonne in Paris in 1910, came from Theodore Roosevelt. The topic was citizenship in a republic and what it takes to be a good citizen. From this speech comes the oft-quoted selection, “The Man in the Arena:”

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

I will never forget that. While I may not always be the man IN the arena, I am always fully aware of where I stand in relation to the arena. Sometimes I’m a spectator. Other times I’m the imported albino tiger being repeatedly shield-bashed by the loincloth-clad gladiators. Maybe I’m the pickpocket outside or the dude selling various meats on a stick to the audience. And occasionally I really am the one IN the arena, striving, succeeding and erring.

The second was the last lecture given by Randy Pausch at Carnegie Mellon University, laying out a framework for following your childhood dreams. I’ve blogged about Professor Pausch before so I’ll refrain from beating dead horses. Here is the old post.

The third speech was given this past Saturday at the evening priesthood session of the general conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I purposely avoid church-related subject matter. Seriously So Blessed houses the holy grail of LDS-centered satire and standard mormoblog parody. I’ll happily let the monopoly rest there and do my own thing. But Dieter F. Uchtdorf delivered a talk entitled “Lift Where You Stand” that spoke to my soul.

He began the talk recounting an experience he had in moving a grand piano from one room to another. We’ve all had experience moving awkward and heavy furniture, oftentimes through openings that have no business allowing, say, a couch to pass by. The group actively moving the couch is always comprised of the same four guys. First, there’s the guy that owns the home. He’s just so happy to have help moving into the house that he refuses to offer suggestion for fear of offending the helpers. Then there’s the engineer…the guy that thinks he is smarter than the other three. “You know, given the dimensions of the available opening, minus the mass of the casing, the natural angle of the couch suggests a counter angle of 39 degrees blah blah blah.” Additionally there’s the muscle man. He’s the guy that knows that “engineer” is just another word for NERD. If you want this couch through the door, you just have to push really hard. And finally there’s the quiet guy that lets the nerd and the jock fight it out, softly snickering all along, then finally suggests taking the feet off the couch or the door off its hinges, which was clearly the right idea in the first place. Elder Uchtdorf’s experience was similar, involving a big heavy awkward object that was difficult to move. And finally, the quiet guy suggests, “brethren, just stand close together and lift where you stand.” The simplicity in this statement was beautiful.

He went on to talk about people in the church organization that are “seeking a crown, or a cave.” Too often there are people in the church that are upset with their current responsibility. There are those that see their job in the library as a complete waste of their ability. These are the crown-seekers…constantly trying to climb that hierarchical ladder. Then there are those that just want to be left the hell alone. They see their job in the library as a nuisance. Instead of welcoming opportunities to serve, they turn them down or do as little as possible to do the job well. These are the cave-seekers.

The aim of the talk was to inform church members that the grand piano cannot be successfully moved if everyone involved is either looking to lead or hide. The function of the church is dependent upon everyone accepting their assignments, and simply lifting where they stand.

But "Lift Where You Stand" can be applied to every aspect of life, not just church. If I look too intently on future opportunities and promotion in the workplace, I could lose focus on my current responsibilities and my performance would suffer. If I ignore the crown and lift where I stand, I will perform and naturally move toward the crown. Instead of looking at the successes and economic position of my friends, I should evaluate where I am in life and buckle down. The crown can wait. Hard work where I am will naturally lead to success, which in turn will put me on the path to the crown. Even something as simple as getting in shape applies. There is no sense in expecting Matthew McConaughey’s body. That’s a blindingly bright crown that could crush my girthy frame with its jeweled mass. If I just focus on swimming every other day and eating saltines instead of brownies, then eventually I’ll earn my crown. It might not be as ostentatious as Matt’s, but it’s still a crown. Besides, Matt talks funny and I could beat his ass at Guitar Hero. And Fool’s Gold SUCKED.

The three speeches that impacted me so deeply all have common threads. Don’t avoid life. Get involved. Work hard. Live in the now. I see the irony here….these are all things I struggle with. But I’m firmly committed to live my dreams, get in that arena, and lift where I stand.

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Cynic and The Optimist

I am officially through with politics. It brings out the worst in people and I never feel good after discussing issues. It’s quite similar to how my gut feels after an afternoon at Golden Corral. The bipartisan politician is a mythical creature, like the unicorn or Frumious Bandersnatch; it just doesn’t exist. I certainly have an opinion on issues, but I’ve always been taught that opinions are like butt holes…everyone has one and most of them stink. So from this point forward I’m going to keep my pungent opinion to myself.

In doing some quick blog evaluation, I’ve come to realize that I may not be the person I thought I was. I generally look at myself as an optimist. I tend to look for silver linings and hold to the notion that things will work themselves out in the end. But this blog would suggest the exact opposite. I seem to be pretty cynical, sarcastic, and sometimes mean and depressing. The glass isn’t half full. It’s questionable the freaking glass even exists, and if there is a glass it’s probably a Dixie cup filled with some noxious chemical created to kill reproductive organs or cause one to break out in eyeball hives. So to establish my true optimistic self to the world I shall now make a short list of things I love and believe strongly in. Things that identify me:

I believe people are generally good by nature. I don’t underestimate the efficiency with which society can take a good person and completely break his soul and poison his purpose (look at Barbara Streisand), but in general I believe people are good and I look for that goodness in everyone.

I love a good afro.

I like scented candles. In fact, I’ve been toying with the notion of creating a line of scented candles just for men. “BBQ Ribs”, “Freshly Cut Grass”, “Fried Chicken”, and “Fireworks” are some sample scents.

I like me a good Jane Austen movie. I won’t read the book, but Pride and Prejudice on screen is frankly impossible to not enjoy. The humor is sharp, the characters are real, and the A&E Eliza Bennett is the most perfectly cast character in the history of film.

I believe hunting is wrong…FOR ME. If you want to go out into the wilderness to murder and butcher animals then feel free to do so. I have no moral issue with it. I’ll clean/gut the fish and cook it up with some salt and lemon, but I can’t catch and kill it. I’ve hunted before. I’ve killed rabbits, birds, and I drilled a deer in the hoof with an arrow once. The deer casually glanced my direction, snickered and bounded off into the trees, but I hit that mother. Each and every time I’ve killed something my heart has screamed in agony and I’m sure an angel lost its wings somewhere. Have you ever seen a fish swallow a hook? Saddest thing ever. I just can’t do it.

I believe in absolute truth. Perception may be reality to an individual soul, but perception IS NOT reality in the grand game of life. There is purpose. There is truth. There is right and there is wrong. There is action and consequence. And I actively look for truth in everything.

I am insanely patriotic. I’ve lived outside of our country and I know firsthand what the world thinks of America, and the general opinion is not kind. But I know what went into obtaining and securing this country, and I will not discount that sacrifice and effort. My freedom was paid for in blood and I am honored to stand beneath the red white and blue. My pride swells when I see the flag fly or soldiers in uniform.

I believe in God as a Supreme Being and creator. I believe He is keenly interested in what I do.

I believe there is such a thing as BAD music. This ties in to my previous point that perception is not necessarily reality. I cannot stress how strongly I feel about this. Too many times I’ve had this discussion with friends and family. I’ve softened a bit over the years, but my general stance remains solid. Memo to all of you: Just because you LIKE something does not mean that it is good. To qualify as good music, the song must have any one of the following: 1) talented and creative instrumentation/musicianship, 2) poetic writing or lyrical content, or 3) beautiful vocal quality. If your song has any one of these three, then I cannot tell you it is bad music. If your song has two of the three, then it’s a fantastic piece of music. If your song has all three, then you are looking at a true rarity. But people, there absolutely ARE instances where music lacks all three. Creed, Lifehouse, Hoobastank, Barry Manilow, William Shatner, Alan Jackson are all examples of music that completely sucks. You may like it, but it doesn’t change the fact that the music is most heinous. Truth.

I believe in crying during a movie. Doesn’t have to be sad. Doesn’t have to be happy. If a movie, or a scene in a movie is truly great, the best way to show approval is to shed tears. Examples: ET finally going home, The Terminator giving the thumbs up sign as he is completely submerged in the boiling hot molten metal, Kate watching the doors close as Michael Corleone is welcomed as the new godfather, Marlon finding Nemo, and Rocky bellowing for Adrian. Manly men of the world, it is time for reform. Let loose your inner beauty and allow the estrogen to course through your vessel. When a film moves you, cry.

I fully realize this short list puts me at risk of seeming shallow. But these are a few things that make me who I am. The cynic and the optimist.