Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thirty Years Ago Today

Today I attended church where my nephew was speaking. He is leaving in a couple of weeks for Argentina to serve a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Sitting there caused me to reminisce...

I don't really remember much about the day. I think it was cloudy. It was probably a bit chilly. I remember the week before had been very emotional.

We had dinner at my grandparents home on Thanksgiving. The next day I attended the Salt Lake temple for the first time. On Sunday I said goodbye to my brothers and girlfriend -- I would have a long term relationship with my brothers, not so the girlfriend. Wednesday I was set apart by President Jesse E. Godfrey as a missionary and said goodbye to my younger sister.

On Thursday, November 30, 1978 I entered the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah with my parents in preparation to serve two years in the Michigan Dearborn Mission. My parents left after about an hour, but I stayed for five weeks. That mission doesn't exist anymore - at least by that name. It is now the Michigan Detroit Mission, but in 1978 there wasn't a mother anywhere in the Church who would willing send her son to Detroit.

It was the hardest thing I have ever done. Harder than 50 mile back pack trips. Harder than recovering from knee replacement surgery. Harder than anything I have faced in life. That's probably why I look back on those two years so fondly.

I had lots of expectations of what the missionary experience would be like. Looking back, I realize that I didn't have a clue as to what lay ahead.

I made some of the best friends I ever had. Although it seems odd to write that as I haven't really kept in touch with any of them. I have run into them at various times and places. Most have remained faithful to their testimonies. A few, sadly, have not.

Maybe it was because I was more sensitive to the workings of God at the time, but I literally saw miracles. After being in Michigan for five weeks I met a sixteen year old girl, Rose Buccaletto. In answer to prayer she had seen the Salt Lake temple in a dream, but she didn't know what the building was or what it meant. A few days later she saw a picture of the temple in a magazine and called the missionaries. For some reason they only visited her one time and never came back. When I got transferred to the area I was picking up a book and a little scrap of paper with her name and address fell out. One day while on her street I remembered seeing that little scrap of paper. We knocked on the door and when she saw us there she started crying and asked us in.

We taught her the missionary discussions and I baptized her a few weeks later. Towards the end of my two years I was invited to speak to a comparative religion class at a local high school. Several of the students in the class recognized me from a picture that Rose had shown them from the day of her baptism. They said she was always talking to them about the Church and the joy she felt. I haven't ever seen her since then, but I did receive a wedding announcement from her a few years after I had returned home. I think she was marrying a young man from a nearby ward in the Washington D.C. temple. I hope I sent her a card, but I probably didn't.

Dale and Martha Daniels had three young children. Their oldest daughter who was seven at the time had leukemia. The chemotherapy she was receiving caused her to lose all of her hair and she wore a wig most of the time. Her parents were baptized in June of 1980 and I left the area at the end of July. To this day I can remember her telling me how she knew that she was loved by the Savior. She felt His support when sick and His comfort when other kids would tease her about having no hair. Today I wonder where the family is and how they are doing.

I met some wonderful people who had a tremendous influence on me. From my mission president's, William R. Horton and Vernon A. Cooley, to bishops Kurt Mikat and Ray Hansen from Fenton and Adrian, respectively. I got to participate in organizing a regional church conference, held in Ann Arbor on September 20-21 of 1980 with some extraordinary church, business and political leaders -- George Romney, Richard Headlee, Bud Stoddard and Ed Jones, among others. They encouraged me to keep in contact with them after returning home. They offered to mentor me in my schooling and career decisions. Unfortunately, I have never spoken with any of them after leaving Michigan.

For a few years after returning home I felt as though I had 'grown up' while in Michigan. In reality, a mission was just another stepping stone along my continuing path to growing up. I made friends with other missionaries that I hoped would last a long time. In reality I have only spoken with a few after leaving Michigan. I learned a great deal about people, the Savior, the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the joy of service. Mostly, I learned about myself in a way that could not have happened at any other time or any other place.

Looking back I see how unprepared I was for the serving as a missionary. I wonder if I could have made a bigger difference in the lives of others. I wonder if my service was acceptable to the Lord. I wonder if anyone can say that meeting me helped them in any way. Ultimately, I was the biggest benefactor of my missionary service and that is not something that I am entirely comfortable with. My guess is that everyone who has ever served has felt this way.

Looking back thirty years I can still say that it was the hardest thing I have ever done. The hardest and most influential experience in my life.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

The Day I Defended the Indefensible

I moved from Utah to New York in December of 1984. My wife, Kerry, had accepted a job at WROC-TV in Rochester as the weekday meteorologist. We arrived in Rochester on Friday, the 14th of December and she began working the following Monday.

Three days later I went to the TV station between the 6:00 and 11:00 news broadcasts and met some of the people that she worked with. I remember vividly meeting the sports anchor and discussing college football with him. Eventually our conversation moved to the Holiday Bowl that was being played the following night in San Diego between #1 rated BYU (11-0) and Michigan (6-5).

It was his opinion that even if BYU beat Michigan they should not be awarded the 'mythical' national championship as they 'hadn't played anyone'. It was true. They were the first, and remain to this day, the only college football team to be ranked #1 at the end of the regular season without having played even one team ranked in the top 25 in any major poll. I was as ticked off as anyone that BYU was playing for a 'national championship', but I felt obliged to defend them.

I maintained that it really wasn't their fault that their schedule wasn't very strong. As schedules are booked several years in advance it is virtually impossible to know who will be good in any particular year. In their defense, I pointed out that they had played at Pittsburgh (1984 record of 3-7-1) the first game of the season and won. When that game was originally scheduled, Pittsburgh was coming off of a national championship season themselves (1976) and had back-to-back-to-back one loss seasons from 1979 - 1981.

Further, I argued that if anyone was particularly interested in proving that BYU wasn't the best team in the nation they should arrange to play them in a bowl game. BYU, by virtue of being WAC champions, was committed to play in the Holiday Bowl , and nobody (not even BYU, as I recall) was willing to discuss a buyout of that commitment so that BYU could have played a top ranked team in a bowl game.

There were a number of teams that could have accepted an invitation to play BYU, including third ranked Washington (10-1), but they all decided to take a larger payout and hope that Michigan beat BYU. For their part Washington accepted an invitation to play #2 Oklahoma (10-1) in the Orange Bowl. BYU ended up beating Michigan in a very unconvincing manner 24-17, while Washington beat #2 Oklahoma 28-17 in the infamous Sooner Schooner penalty game.

BYU was voted the 'mythical' national championship at the end of the season. I guess they deserved it for the most part. They were the only undefeated team in the nation. No team could claim that they were better by proving it on the field. I think BYU was certainly a top 10 team that year - maybe even a top 5, but most assuredly were not the best. In my opinion the BYU 1983 team was better.

There was minor outrage at the end of the season that BYU had been awarded the championship. It seemed for a while that this incident would lead to a true national championship game. Instead, eight years later in an even bigger money grab, the six largest football conferences and Notre Dame developed the Bowl Championship Series (BCS). Sorry, the BCS is even too indefensible for me to try mounting a defense.

Tomorrow in Salt Lake City, the University of Utah (11-0) will play BYU (10-1) for the Mountain West Conference championship. If, as expected Utah (the good guys, wearing the red hats) beats BYU (booooooooo!) they will have a far stronger claim for consideration of the national championship than BYU did in 1984. They will have beaten five teams that had been ranked in the top 25 during the year (Michigan - okay they didn't deserve it, but they were ranked at the time, Oregon State, Air Force, TCU and BYU). They will likely receive a big bowl game payout from one of the BCS bowls, but should be a given a chance to PLAY for a title.

Utah went undefeated in 2004 and became the first team from outside the BCS structure to be awarded a berth in a big payout BCS game. Unfortunately, they were invited play an extremely undermatched, Big East Conference champion, Pittsburgh team in the Fiesta Bowl who they beat 35-7. I wouldn't for one minute claim that Utah was the best team in the nation that year. They probably would have put up a better fight against USC, however, than Oklahoma did in the Orange Bowl (final score 55-7).

Our newly elected president of the United States, Barack Obama, has indicated that he thinks that college football should have an end of season tournament to determine a national champion. It is maybe the only thing he has said that makes sense to me. It may not happen in my lifetime, however. The money for the six BCS conferences is just too big and the rest of the country doesn't have the clout (or television viewing populations) to unseat it at this time.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

True Colors of the Rainbow

I saw a video clip of a rally protesting California's Proposition 8, the constitutional amendment that established marriage as between one man and one woman in California. In the video clip there were people waving rainbow flags as a symbol of their protest.

I remember in a eighth grade science class an acronym for the colors of the rainbow. Roy G. Biv - standing for Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet. In honor of my science teacher, Mr. Hauser, I've decided to take the acronym and provide my own words to describe the 'rainbow' as it relates to these rallies in opposition to Proposition 8. Perhaps, this better describes their true colors.

Rage - those opposed to Prop 8 have sunk to unthinkable lows in their exhibition of anger.
Ostracism - a well defined coaltion worked to pass Prop 8. Oppenents are simply attempting to break up that coalition by singling out individuals or groups in attempts to have them ostracized by the rest of the coalition.
Yell - If your argument isn't convincing, simply yell louder. Adopt the mantra of teenage rock bands - If your music stinks, just turn up the volume and maybe someone will notice you.
Government by the people - what they don't believe in. They want government to just grant unwarranted special treatment to groups that really have no legal standing for such treatment.
Bigotry - No other way to describe the hatred and venom spit at people who's religious beliefs led them to vote for Prop 8.
Intolerance & intimidation - They speak of tolerance, but redefine it to mean 'if you don't agree with me you are intolerant, but if I spit, scream and curse at you, that is within the bounds of tolerance.'
Violence - If all else fails, vanadalize property, deface churches or threaten women and children.

People have the right to peaceful assembly and protest. Those protesting the passage of Prop 8 have gone well oustide the lines of decency in this case. Opponents to Prop 8 speak of hate, but the only hatred in this campaign has been exhibited by them.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Barack the Builder?

On Tuesday night in Barack Obama's acceptance speech after John McCain had conceded the presidential election, he repeatedly would cite something that he hoped to accomplish as president and would say 'yes we can'. The crowd would then repeat the words 'yes we can'.

I started to laugh because it reminded me of the animated television show that my younger boys used to watch, Bob the Builder. Bob would ask his crew, 'can we do it', and all of his tools would reply 'yes we can'. If President-elect Obama will ever be more than an animated version of a president of the United States, then he must do more than repeat trite, catchy phrases.

The television pundits repeatedly said that it was an historic night. I agree with them. I wish that I could have found reason to celebrate that historic night. There may have been one, but electing a president with the policies that President-elect Obama campaigned on is decidedly not a reason for me to have been excited about the historic night.

Mr. Obama, you said you understood that people like me did not agree with his views and policies, but that you would work hard to be my president as well. I am assuming that you are a man of your word, so I would like to offer some advice on how to gain my support as the president.

First, the economy doesn't grow without population growth. Jobs aren't created without a demand for goods and services. Demand is created by people and businesses. Governments can't do that over an extended period of time. They never have. They never will. You need to adopt policies that encourage the development and support of families - the traditional marriage families that you claim to believe in. They are the only people that can create consumers for the goods and services that will create jobs. It won't happen overnight, but you can be the president that put policies into place for the long term.

Second, don't appoint judges to enact policies that you know won't pass muster with the people. Appoint judges that will exercise restraint and not legislate from the bench. Many political analysts speak of a 'litmus test' for the judiciary. A judge not prone to judicial activism should be your only 'litmus test'.

Finally, your record in the Senate was the most partisan and liberal leaning of any candidate that has run for president in history. You must move beyond rhetoric and catch phrases to govern effectively. Please don't repeat the errors of the past Democratic president and govern based on public opinion polls. It is important that you govern based on principle, not public opinion. Remember the words of Winston Churchill -- "There is no such thing as public opinion. There is only published opinion."

I am hopeful that you can be my president as well. You will have to work at it, however. I haven't seen anything in your campaign or public record that leads me to believe that this will be possible.