Not So Much Loving My Mission

I’ll be 50 years old soon. I served my mission from 1987 to 1989 in Italy.  Unlike most of the young men and women with whom I served, I didn’t grow up in the Church; I had been a member for 13 months when I entered the MTC at age 21.  However, I had a long history of undiagnosed anxiety and depression.  Missionary work was hard, and it seemed to me, mostly futile.  We got relatively little member support, people were not terribly receptive, and my dreams of being the Wilford Woodruff of Sicily were soon recalibrated.  But I toughed it out, because I couldn’t imagine any other option.

One lovely friend of mine – a sister missionary who had been serving in my home ward before I left – understood what I was going through, and our exchange of letters (while she was in the field and after her return) did much to help and sustain me while I was out.  At one point, when I had been out for about 17 months, my circuits finally blew and I left my apartment one morning and just stood there in the street with no idea what I should do, or where I should go.  My companion finally took me by the elbow, led me to a local park, and sat me down for three hours and told me stories of his upbringing and his experiences in the National Guard, while I stared blankly off into space.  I recognize that now as an anxiety reaction, but at the time, I had no idea what was going on.  I went to the doctor, and they put me on Xanax since my blood pressure was through the roof, and my mission president cautiously OKed it.  I don’t think he knew what to do.  He knew me well as I had served as mission secretary for five months earlier.

I made it back, and mostly kept quiet about the fact that I had hated my mission.  It took me years to get past the common trope that it should have been “the best two years.”  What had I done wrong that I had such a miserable experience? It was hell.  At one point, a GA (a seventy, now mercifully dead) visited my mission and told us in a zone conference that if we didn’t give the mission everything we had, “the Lord would never trust us again” (a direct quote).  It took me years to be convinced that I hadn’t failed and doomed myself to a terrestrial eternity at best.

My second son came back from his mission three months early.  Like me, he had depression and anxiety issues.  He had meds; they didn’t work.  He worked his tail off, he taught, he baptized.  His mission president pleaded with him to go home to take care of his health.  He was talking to a mental health professional, at Church expense, at the direction of the Missionary Department, during the last six months of his mission.  His mission president finally called us and spoke with us at great length.  He told us how much he loved our son, how hard he had worked, how many lives he had blessed, how strongly he brought the Spirit into his work.  He told us that my son simply shouldn’t have to deal with his crippling anxiety and depression anymore, that his sacrifice was more than acceptable to the Lord, and that he would be sending our son home to us with an honorable release.  The Missionary Department called.  They told us that a GA had reviewed our son’s case, and that as far as the Church was concerned, he had managed to complete a 24-month mission in 21 months, and that he should not feel as if he had fallen short in any way.  He was given a blessing by his mission president before he left, in which he was released from all guilt or feelings of inadequacy, and another confirming blessing when he got home – two, in fact, one from our wonderful stake president and one from me.  He is now at school at BYU-I, he is soon to marry a wonderful young woman, and he is at peace.  He knows he did his part. He will deal with depression and anxiety, most likely, for the rest of his life; but he will not have the additional burden of feeling that he failed the Lord.

Oh, what a wonderful difference!  I am so glad that he has not had to suffer what I did, that he had the help and understanding that I didn’t have.  I am so glad that somewhere in the great plan, the Lord has touched some hearts and opened them to young men like me and my son, to make it easier for them to be the men they are capable of being, without being handicapped by that unnecessary guilt and shame.

Bit by bit, we’re getting better. As a people, as a Church, as Saints, as children of God. How slow it seems sometimes – but we are getting better.

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And now for something totally different.

A word about stocks and stock markets.

From this article about Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer:

[In] January [2013], Mayer was upset because someone at Yahoo leaked news of a sales-force “realignment” to a Wall Street analyst, and that analyst’s negative report sent Yahoo’s stock down several points.

Mayer, on stage in Yahoo’s big cafeteria, told the entire company that this leak effectively cost Yahoo $550 million — the amount its market cap shrank following the analyst’s report.

This is nonsense, and Marissa Mayer knows it. That leak didn’t cost Yahoo! a dime.  Let me explain a little something about “market cap[italization].”

“Market capitalization” is the total outstanding value of a company’s stock.  That stock is valued by the market, based on the price at which people are currently buying and selling it.  That’s often referred to, and thought of, as the “value” of the company, since if you bought all of the stock, (a) that’s what it would cost, and (b) you would own the entire company.  That value doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with actual money value – the value of all of the physical and intangible assets that the company owns – but that’s a different post. Continue reading

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O Say What Is Truth?

Truth is like that little drop of mercury on the desk.  It squitters around when you try to grasp it, can’t easily be pinned down, and if you catch it, could very well kill you.


Postscript:  Best comment seen on the Web in a long time, while we’re speaking of truth.  “Maybe we aren’t given agency. Maybe that’s the natural state of things, and it just isn’t taken away from us.”

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Charlie and the censors and the guns

Je non suis Charlie.

But, je suis d’accord with Charlie’s right to publish whatever foul crap they want to, without being shot for it by some self-proclaimed spokesgunman for Allah.

You see, folks, once you start to posit that there are limits to that freedom, you have to decide:

1) who decides those limits
2) where those limits are
3) who enforces them

And there is no way to agree on any of those three things in any modern, pluralistic society. Heck, there’s no way to agree on those things in any human society. All you can do is pressure those who disagree to shut up, by social pressure or physical coercion.

When we don’t think this through, we react from our own viewpoint of right and wrong and start thinking as if our own ideas of the limits are True and Universal.™ And so we get prima facie “reasonable” statements like this, from an Internet blog:

of course I’m not saying Charlie should have been censured [sic]. That is not my argument. But please, don’t say that we have a responsibility to fight for freedom of the press at all times and in all places. We don’t necessarily have to fight every “slight infraction.”

Yes, we do have that responsibility. Because I don’t want this poster to decide the limits, and s/he shouldn’t want me deciding, and none of you should want either of us doing it or vice versa.

And we also get people keeping score to see who wins, like this comment:

Whatever jerk Charlie Hebdo may have been is outweighed a million times by the bullying murderous jerkishness of Islamic terrorism.

(“Jerkishness”? Really?) Anyway, so how bad does Islamic terrorist jerkishness have to be to be worse than Charlie Hebdo jerkishness? If the terrorists had broken into the office, tied up the staff, filled their ears with whipped cream and drawn mustaches on them with Sharpies, would that be jerkish enough to outweigh Charlie jerkish, or would Charlie be jerkier than that? If they’d only killed 10? 8? 1? How much Islamic terrorist jerkishness is one one-millionth of a dozen deaths, so we’ll know next time where the line is, and we can stop denouncing Islamic terrorists and start denouncing shock journalists? Those may seem like ridiculous examples, but this is an extreme case. If you start making the comparison, then you must admit there exists, and you will eventually arrive at, a point where the comparison is close and someone must decide. Who?

“But,” you say, “we can all agree on this one.” Well, obviously we don’t; there are commenters all over the place who seem to think that anyone qui n’est pas Charlie is some kind of terrorist. It’s become some kind of grisly litmus test. Also, I guarantee that there are Muslims (and others!) in France and the US and a hundred other countries who are going about their business very quietly thinking, “They got exactly what they deserved.”

No, the only painful but consistent answer I can in good conscience arrive at is that I would rather see Charlie than hand my choices over to the Board of Censors; that I would teach others correct principles and hope they read good things and don’t shoot people they don’t agree with, and I pray that others do likewise. Some will not. Passing laws against provoking them will not prevent that.

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OhByTheWay. . .

Yes, I know, I’m lazy.  Great essays run through my head with regularity; they just never do it when I’m sitting in front of a keyboard.  (This is not a great one.)  It’s been a busy summer and fall, and here we are coming up on Christmas.

When I was a kid, Christmas was a calm and peaceful time of the year.  My parents, whose relationship was always a little tense, seemed to get along a bit better in that season.  There was a certain spirit in the house, even though we were not a terribly religious family.  My dad was not a believer, and although Mom and us kids were practicing Catholics, we didn’t spend a lot of time thinking and talking about our religion, or making a big deal of it, in the home.  Still, my parents, and especially my mother, did their level best to make Christmas a special time for us.  That probably changed as we got older; I was pretty busy during that time of year in high school as a debater, and I was usually in a play as well.  But I never got over that feeling.

I’ve only understood since having kids of my own how much work it was for my folks to make that happen.  I’m not at all sure that my wife and I have succeeded in creating the same feeling of calm and the same spirit that I recall from my childhood.  I know I don’t feel it as an adult; the season leaves me rushed and feeling as if I’ve missed something important.  I really don’t even relax until Christmas morning, and it doesn’t always work even then.

Music plays a big part in setting my mental stage for Christmas.  My mom had two classic Christmas albums, Nat King Cole’s The Christmas Song, and Johnny Mathis’s Merry Christmas, and that was about all the holiday music that was played on our old console stereo.  I taped them (on cassette) when I got my first stereo in college, and bought them on CD when I could, and they’ve been a part of my Christmas mood setting all my life.  As a result, I’m very picky about Christmas music.  Very little of it measures up to Nat and Johnny.

As my own religious journey led me away from and then back to the actual Christ Child, contemplating Him has become a bigger part of what I do for Christmas.  I love the Nativity story in the Gospel of Luke, from the Annunciation to Mary (Luke 1:26-38) to the Magnificat (46-55), to the Annunciation to the Shepherds (Luke 2:8-14).  Parenthetically, I think Latter-day Saint worship is missing something in our lack of names for these things; I have to go back to my Roman Catholic roots for them.  I can say “Magnificat” to any Catholic (over the age of 40, anyhow) and they’ll know what I mean; a Mormon will require an explanation even if s/he is familiar with the passage of Scripture.

At any rate, I do love Christmas.  Somehow Easter has never been the same, perhaps because the rest of the world doesn’t seem to participate as readily.  Although Easter is a more Christian holiday – babies are born every day, even if only one has ever been Him, while the Atonement and Resurrection are unique events – Christmas seems to have more impact on everyone.  It leaks out of Christian homes and hearts and a little bit seems to soak into everybody.  Just for a brief while, we get a small taste of what the world could be like if, despite our differences, we could love each other as He loves us.

For lo!, the days are hastening on,
By prophets seen of old,
When with the ever-circling years
Shall come the time foretold
When the new heaven and earth shall own
The prince of Peace their King
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.

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A must-share essay

Russ Peterson at Modern Mormon Men has written a long, well-footnoted, scholarly, compassionate essay on gender incongruence and Mormonism that I think every Saint should read.  This is one of those issues fraught with misunderstanding that drives people away from the Church every year, and prevents still more from ever seriously investigating.  If more of us understood this kind of gospel context – and acted in a Christlike way, instead of mimicking the bigotry of so much of the Christian right – our little corner of Zion would be a much more welcoming and loving place.  “Come, let us reason together.”

But don’t listen to me – read it yourself.

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Articulate voices, passionate voices, like Crystal’s need to be heard. We need not all speak with one voice in all things. We cannot, must not, fear to be different or imperfect.

Recovering alcoholics often say, “Religion is for those who fear hell. Spirituality is for those who have been through it.” Let us worry less about the strictures of the former and concentrate on the good we can do through the latter.

The Most Well-behaved Mormon Woman

Today I am writing my first blog post on my first blog. Through tears. Through sorrow. Today a bishop in VA tried to tell me and everyone like me that we are not welcome in the Church that we love when he excommunicated my friend, Kate Kelly. 


Today is the day that my emotions are raw, the pain is real. But today is the day where I also say, I do belong.

Last week Ally Isom told KUER’s Doug Fabrizio that Kate’s sin wasn’t that she asked questions. Her sin was that she asked questions on a website with a name that included an imperative. Ms. Isom told us that Relief Society was the proper place to discuss whether or not women could hold the Priesthood. Ms. Isom has reiterated time and time again that it wasn’t the “what” Kate asked but the “how.” I keep seeing people post…

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The Coming Storm

Another blogger has written, regarding the much-publicized pending disciplinary action against the founder of the Ordain Women movement, “Kate Kelly wants the priesthood but she wants it in the Mormon way.”

Well, no, not exactly. It’s subtle but pretty clear.

I have “lots of feelings” about this whole thing, as my daughter would say. I think it’s all very tragic. At the same time, I was cringing because it was pretty obviously coming. The irresistable force was cruising full-speed toward the immovable object. Here’s my reasoning:

Words matter.  Language has meaning.  Kate Kelly knows this; as an attorney, it’s how she makes her living.

The OW mission statement is very clear and very carefully crafted.  It doesn’t really leave room for revelation, it doesn’t seek further guidance from prophetic leadership. It states that the OW movement “believes women must be ordained”, is “committed to work for equality and the ordination of Mormon women”, and they state that they “intend to put [them]selves in the public eye and call attention to the need for the ordination of Mormon women” [emphases added]. That is not a humble, compromise-seeking position, and it places itself in direct opposition to the current position of Church leadership.  Further, the statement “[w]e sincerely ask our leaders to take this matter to the Lord in prayer,” in context of the absolute positions noted (“must,” “committed,” “need”), is not an offer to accept guidance. It’s an invitation to the Church leadership to get their thinking in line with OW. It’s an open challenge.

In effect, they’re saying, “We are in the right, and Church leaders are wrong. Take this matter to the Lord in prayer and get yourself straight.” It is difficult to believe that the language used was accidental or casual. It was intentional. It appears that this has not gone unnoticed in SLC.

Both sides are now claiming the high ground of correctness, and this is unfortunate as it makes compromise and understanding difficult.  However, if we’re willing to excuse the one side for that approach, we shouldn’t be too harsh on the other for taking the same approach, simply because we disagree with their conclusions, tactics, or attitude.  We simply mourn, and wish that things might have turned out differently.

It’s also unfortunate that many people seem to be seeing this (incorrectly, in my view, and in light of published statements and actions) as disciplinary action taken because of questions or doubts.  I don’t think that’s the case, although it’s certainly advantageous to have it be seen that way – in a strange way, advantageous to both sides.  To one for the martyrdom effect and its potential, to the other for the chilling effect and its potential.

I think this denouement was manufactured intentionally, or is at the least not unwelcome. I am not implying any ill intent by so saying – I think motives are all good, which only adds to the tragedy. It may be that the intent is to force awareness, an awakening, a mini-martyrdom, a Birmingham Jail watershed moment. It may even accomplish that end; it remains to be seen. The Lord works in mysterious ways through imperfect, and often stubborn and wilful, humans. He wins in the end, and we either go with him or attempt to break ourselves against him.

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My Review of Gettysburg: The Last Invasion

Gettysburg: The Last Invasion

by Allen C. Guelzo

(See my review on
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
An excellent description of the days leading up to, and the events of, the Battle of Gettysburg. If you don’t have the heart to read Harry Pfanz‘s exhaustive and exhausting minute-by-minute descriptions of the action, Guelzo will nonetheless satisfy your desire for detail while providing you with a very readable and entertaining narrative rich in primary source detail.

Although he breaks relatively little new ground, he nonetheless has enough common sense to look objectively at and through 150 years of myth and legend to analyze what the evidence really indicates happened during those three days. He takes a straightforward approach to the battle itself. For example, in describing the action of the second day, his approach is somewhat chronological, but in effect, he starts at the southern end of Cemetery Ridge and works his way, brigade by brigade, northwards until the sun sets on Culp’s Hill.

My only real complaint is that the maps, frankly, suck. This book deserves much better. Maps are provided for each little chunk of the action as it’s described in the text, and often units, commanders, houses/barns, towns, or geographic features discussed in the narrative are missing or unlabeled on the maps. It would not be difficult to do this right, and I’d suggest that Guelzo consider redoing the maps, preferably with a more competent cartographer, in future editions. For people not intimately familiar with northern Maryland and southern Pennsylvania, and/or the Gettysburg battlefield itself, this would be a great boon.

View all my Goodreads reviews

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Referring you to a better place

Since Connor Boyack puts this as succinctly as I could, and has already gone to the trouble of doing so, I hope he won’t mind if I just post the link to his excellent blog post and let people know that they should read it.

Connor Boyack: What the New Statement on Blacks and the Priesthood Means to Me

A couple of years ago, I was involved in the reactivation of a gentleman, who has become a good friend of mine, who essentially left the Church nearly 50 years ago over this issue. At the time he started coming back, he was motivated by a desire to be sealed to his deceased spouse, but it became clear as we talked (he was the only attendee in my Gospel Essentials class, the one we hold for investigators, the newly-baptized, and people returning to church after a long time away) that one of the issues that had bothered him, and which still bothered him even 30-plus years after , was the Church’s stand on the priesthood and men of African descent. It still bothered him that it had taken so long to change that practice, and that no real explanation of its reason had ever been given. One of the things that brought us close is that, when he challenged me on the issue, he didn’t get the canned Peter Priesthood response. I simply said, “I don’t know. I suspect it has a lot to do with 19th-century racism, institutional inertia, and fear of change. I think most everyone involved has been sincere, but I also think they’ve been chasing their tails for a long time.”

I don’t teach that class anymore, and although I speak with my friend every Sunday in church, I haven’t spoken to him of this new statement yet. I should. I think he would like it a great deal, if he hasn’t seen it already (he’s not much of an Internet user).

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