Musings on Mormonism

Category Archive

The following is a list of all entries from the Personal category.

Spring – a time for rebirth and renewed ambition

Well, spring time is finally upon us. And by us, I mean people who don’t live in Utah, because I understand things have been quite un-springlike there lately.

Over here in the East, however, we have finally left winter behind; Snowpocalypse 2010 is just a vague, strange memory. Now, the sun is shining. Plants are growing and sprouting new colors. Girls are looking mighty fine again. I find myself in a good mood when I go outside, and things no longer seem as dreary and crowded. Would I appreciate spring as much without winter and fall? Perhaps not. That said, I sure am grateful for spring!

I find my ambitions returning as well. This cannot be completely explained by the change of seasons – it also has to do with my own painstaking, gradual figuring-out of things. Gone are any serious plans of a nonprofit career (part of the problem was that I could not envision any “serious”, practical way of marketing my ideas. And that may be for the best) – at least in the forseeable future. Plans to scope out North Carolina are on hiatus for the time being, as I presently find myself more content with DC. I have finally decided to make my program concentration budget and public finance, and am looking forward to my first associated course, Governmental Budgeting, over the summer. I call this nerd-citement!

Now, I am looking for jobs, including government jobs, which I used to deliberately overlook as a matter of libertarian-ish pride; that’s a big step for me, especially since it will greatly increase my long-term chances for employment! I really, really look forward to being employed in some capacity which is a good fit for me. I recently hypothesized that my ability to move forward with dating and relationships will be greatly improved by a stable income and a more structured lifestyle to keep my curiosity, creativity, and aspirations more in check. As much as I love, and I mean love freedom, I also recognize that freedom without structure, commitment, and discipline is kind of a sham. If we willingly refuse our assent to all norms, standards, and expectations, we will inevitably find that we have in fact become enslaved by our appetites and passions instead.

Although more structure and more time spent in gainful employment is preferrable over all, I also look forward to being done with job searching so I can spend more time on more interesting things: learning to play drums and bass, getting people together to jam, playing Starcraft with buddies (oh wait, I do that already), playing with friends in general, starting a new blog (and making this one more private), updating my threads (income is essential for that!), putting together a discussion series on interesting topics, getting more exercise to shed some winter pounds – those are my big ones right now. Even without the job search weighing on me, I acknowledge that I probably won’t get around to all of these, which is probably just as well. I’m just happy to have renewed aspirations ūüôā


Assorted thoughts, courtesy of the health care bill

I stayed up late tonight watching the results of the health bill vote, and it got me thinking about a number of things:

-how rhtetoric factors into the political and policy process.

-the general reasons that rhetoric¬†can be¬†effective (usually because the¬†target audience doesn’t¬†have access to better information and/or a sound¬†understanding of the relevant issues, but also because of emotional appeals)

-what does this health care bill actually do? I have a¬†vague understanding, which I have acquired primarily¬†from newspapers and news on TV, neither of which is beyond reproach. I sure haven’t read the bill, and the prospect of doing so makes me start to feel dizzy. Incidentally, I recently saw the world’s fastest speed reader go through the bill¬†on live TV, and then summarize it (I only saw portions of the show, unfortunately). As I understand, the bill prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, eliminates life-time coverage limits, provides a way for¬†all people to be insured (I don’t know exactly¬†how, but apparently it’s not the public option),¬†requires everyone to purchase insurance and, as with any good health care legislation, nationalizes the student loan industry. A more complete understanding is pending.

-I was blessed to have a very erudite father and a lively and intellectually-engaging family culture growing up, and currently have roommates who are renaissance men in their own rights. However, I think most people lack a forum where they can comfortably ask questions, seek understanding of confusing or complicated issues, and not have to worry that they are somehow being duped.

-because I want to start a nonprofit organization some day, and am constantly on the lookout for compelling ideas that are also sufficiently marketable, I wonder if I can somehow convert these ideas about rhetoric, persuasion, and complex or poorly understood issues into a viable nonprofit organization.

-along the same lines, if I were to pursue a course providing research, analysis, and communication of poorly understood and/or complicated issues, how could I make it work? For one, I would have to be, or to be able to become, knowledegable about relevant topics. Also, I would have to exude some sort of credibility, achieved by a fair-minded, thorough approach, as well as credentials (part of the persistent rationale for sticking with my grad program – I want to understand policy)

-thinking about how I can be considered credible, I recalled the range of college courses I have taken, and (here’s where I toot my horn) the intellectual curiosity¬†which motivated me. Also, while searching¬†for my contact lens after its unexpected¬†exodus from my eyeball to the bathroom floor, it occurred to me that my current¬†political understanding (admittedly incomplete, but not half-bad either, if I do say so myself)¬†is almost completely self-taught, something of which¬†I am¬†quite proud. I have taken only two political science courses in my lifetime, both of which were more focused on specific areas (the international¬†political economy of women, and urban policy problems)¬†rather than providing a general framework for political thinking (that I mostly had to figure out myself, which again, I pride myself on).

-lastly, do people value being helped to understand current events and salient issues enough to pay for such a¬†nonprofit? I have some doubts, but I don’t really know for sure, one way or the other.

Thoughts on love, family, and North Carolina

For a while now, I have had long-term plans of checking out and quite possibly settling in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina. That area, between Durham, Raleigh, and Chapel Hill, is known for its high-tech industries and highly educated populace. As I see it, living there would be like living in DC, except that people would be friendly and not as absorbed in work, politics, and other things with which elites occupy their time. My hope is that it would also provide social opportunities with people more like myself (i.e. those who are intellectually curious and ambitious, but laid-back and easygoing). Yes, I am talking about dating as much as I am talking about making new friends. More, really ūüėČ

Anyway, I haven’t actually been there yet, so this is all speculation based on a number of positive reports of the area. I have a roadtrip planned for next weekend, however, which will allow me to scope things out. Specifically, I will be trying to figure out if it is possible to transfer to one of the grad schools down there, and/or find a good job. As I like to put it, I’m not married to anyone, nor to DC, nor to George Washington University, so if I find a sufficiently appealing option elsewhere, I’ll take it!

I just finished talking to Tiff on the phone, and catching up on her blog. I learn good things from the examples of each of my family members, and one thing I always take from Tiff is the happiness that comes from parenthood (although she may be tempted to question such a perception). Single life is much easier than married/family life, I’m sure, but I know it is not as fulfilling, and far from the end-all of existence. Whenever I visit with family – especially when there are nieces and nephews involved – I feel like a dormant part of me comes alive again. Much of it has to do with love, I think. A life focused on meeting one’s own selfish needs is hardly a life at all, it seems.¬† Real joy comes through putting others first, from living for others. My guess is that this kind of love comes about only in the most sacred of human relationships, those between husband and wife, and between parents and children.

During the Christmas holiday, Dad shared a quote by Dag Hammarskjöld (not a household name, but a wise man, nonetheless). He said:

It is more noble to give yourself completely to one individual than to labor diligently for the salvation of the masses.

I have thought much about this quote since Dad shared it with me. It is the kind of notion which flies in the face of conventional wisdom of single people like me (and yet, so unlike me!). If I ever brought it up in class, my peers would scratch their heads in bewilderment, and not just because I’m talking about Dag Hammarskj√∂ld in an economics class ūüôā To clarify, I am not against laboring “diligently for the salvation of the masses”, and I certainly do not think it ignoble. However, I am completely convinced that family life is more important than any other aspect of life, and I strongly suspect that to ignore and replace the impulse for family with other things, even very good things which help other people, is to miss the mark. Such a realignment may even be motivated by selfish reasons (fear is another plausible motivation). After all, a happy family comes about from hard work, self-sacrifice, humility, discipline – in other words, a happy family is costly, and not everyone is willing to pay such prices. I’m reminded of Leo Tolstoy’s keen observation in the beginning of Anna Karenina that “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Admittedly, I didn’t get very far into the book, but I interpret this to mean that the happiness of a family depends on the application of certain principles, and that the failure to discover, commit to, and apply such principles may very likely lead to the discovery of a unique brand of unhappiness! Some innovations should never be made, I say ūüôā

So, to sum up, families and love are good, and North Carolina might be good too!

Things on my mind: December 13, 2009 edition

I want to jot a few things down before I go to bed at a decent hour for church in the morning. This will more of a journal-ish post, but I hope that doesn’t bother anyone. I’ve never been able to figure out the appropriate balance between sharing things about yourself and keeping personal things personal, and digital media certainly haven’t resolved that issue.

First, I helped a cute girl friend (note it’s not hyphenated, so don’t get any ideas) get a free bed this morning. It was good to see her, and help her get an upgrade in her sleeping arrangements. Acquiring a bed is actually a big step forward in getting settled in a new place. I didn’t get mine until I had been here for several months. In fact, for one uncomfy month, I slept on a leaky air mattress on a cold basement floor. Anyway, she made us yummy pancakes afterwards, and then we went looking for an ugly sweater for me at Goodwill (for an ugly sweater party later on). Surprisingly, Goodwill was short on marginally-Christmas-looking, flagrantly ugly sweaters. No, biggie though.

Anyway, it was good to spend time with her. Afterwards, I took a nap for a few hours, then decided my Econ final on Monday wasn’t studying for itself and got down to brass tacks. It takes so much more will power to sit down and study than it used to, and it’s something I admit I need to get better about, what with being in grad school and all ūüôā Later tonight, I went to the aforementioned ugly sweater party, and it was both really great and really short on hideous sweaters. The novelty of deliberately dressing poorly apparently doesn’t appeal to a lot of people, but also no biggie.

I just finished studying for the night, and had a few additional specific ideas I wanted to jot down. They are:

1) My social life is really quite good these days. For some reason, this occurred to me as I was studying econ. I think I am probably much more satisfied with my social life now than I ever was as a student at BYU. I count myself very fortunate to know so many great people here – not just smart people, not just successful people, but genuinely good, happy people. Life is far from complete for me, and the same holds true for my peers, but I’m grateful for I what I have, and what I have is quite a lot, really. I think Michael Scott from The Office sums it up well:

“As I watched Pam‚Äôs big, strong hand coming towards my face, I saw my entire life flash before my eyes. And guess what? I have four kids, and I have a hover car and a hover house. And my wife is a runner, and it shows. And Pam and Jim are our best friends, and our kids play together. And I‚Äôm happy, I‚Äôm rich, and I never die. And it doesn‚Äôt sound like much, but it‚Äôs enough for me.”

2) Happiness. This one has been on my mind a lot lately. In part, this is because of my concern for certain people who are close to me, and in part it’s because of my concern for myself ūüėČ Interestingly, we don’t talk much about happiness in our daily conversations, and yet I think most people, on a subconscious level at the very least, operate with it as their overall goal. But what is happiness exactly? And how do we obtain it? I’ll share my thoughts on those questions another time. For now, here’s what Joseph Smith said:

“Happiness is the object and design of our existence and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God.”

Some might find this controversial; I just find it to make a whole lot of intuitive sense.

3) Discipline. This is closely related to #2. I had a thought today, which seemed sufficiently profound to justify being broadcast to the world via Facebook: discipline is necessary for happiness. I’ve had far too much experience with undiscipline and unhappiness which supports this, as well as a fair amount of happiness and discipline which support it. This is also something I intend to write more about some time.

Well, that’s all I wanted to write for now. Happy readings, everyone!

What’s on my mind lately

Nothing too profound this time around, just a little update for my dedicated blog-readers out there (I appreciate your loyalty, too!).

1) Grad school is so expensive! Counting up the costs and then determining how much money I’m going to need to borrow is stressing me out, especially because a good portion of what I’ll be borrowing will be unsubsidized loans, which accrue interest while I’m actually in school. Paying for interest while still in school! At the risk of sounding like yet another entitlement-expecting Generation Y-er, I have to ask myself, is this still America?

2) Related to #1 is this: in the long term, how will I become financially and intellectually independent? If possible (and I believe it is), I want to develop some sort of idea or expertise which will allow me to enjoy a high degree of independence. This is definitely a long-term goal, and in the short term I expect to put in a number of years working for the man for the sake of gaining experience and some measure of financial stability for myself and my theoretical family. Finance and energy seem to be promising areas which I will probably look into.

3) Speaking of theoretical families, the proper pursuit of ladies is a near-constant topic of inquiry for me. Recently, one of my best DC friends got engaged, and naturally it has gotten me thinking about my current and potential relationships with the fine Bryce-aged ladies of the DC area. Of course, even if my friend weren’t getting married, I’d still probably be thinking about this. However, his progression towards marriage has made my own future marriage seem more urgent and, thankfully, more possible!

One thing in particular I’ve been thinking about relationships lately is how crucial open and clear communication is. I think it would be an exaggeration to say that communication is the most important part of a relationship, but it definitely is a crucial component. Reflecting on certain of the very attractive (and I mean that in all senses of the word – certainly the physical, but also the spiritual, intellectual, social, and emotional) ladies I have met out here and the reasons why I have not moved forward with any of them, I recognize that communication issues offer much explanation. Ultimately, I do think principles such as sacrifice, service, humility, patience, faith and, of course, love are the most critical for the success of dating and marriage relationships. However, if the goal of a marriage is to become absolutely unified as one in righteousness, and I wholeheartedly affirm that it is, then communicating well with each other seems to be fundamental to such a noble endeavor as well. There are, as I see it, different communication styles largely intertwined with personality types, and a mismatch of communication styles between two otherwise excellent people is, sadly, unlikely to lead to a positive outcome.

I have also been wrapping my mind around the idea that my expectations for my future companion are probably too high and unrealistic. This is, I believe, where principles such as patience, sacrifice and love come in. For, to reference President Kimball’s very wise insight, although us single people will rightly seek out a person with whom life can be most compatible and beautiful, it is nevertheless true that marital happiness and success is ultimately a matter of what price each person is willing to pay for it. In other words, there ain’t no free lunch when it comes to marriage, either. Being such a high-minded idealist, I have historically had very high expectations of my future wife. While I am not about to completely throw these ideals out just yet, I am willing to re-evaluate them, especially in light of my current dating options. And I am also becoming more comfortable with the idea that, let’s face it, I will never, ever find that perfect person, and I should expect that I will need to patiently adapt to whomever I do marry (and of course, she will have plenty of that to do in regards to me). Really, I just need to find someone who is very good inside (outside, too) and is a good match for me. The perfection part comes much, much later.

Hm. I didn’t intend to write as much as I did for #3, but perhaps some of you will consider such abundance of thought on marriage encouraging for my future ūüėČ

Entrepreneurial stirrings

As I discussed in “A Manifesto”, I am eager to break into new, more fulfilling economic territory. Although it’s still much too early to say what I’d like to do specifically, being self-employed sounds extremely appealing to me. The past year and a quarter or so has provided some pretty good evidence that I just do not like working for “the man”. I really don’t think I like that guy! Actually, let me clarify: I don’t have anything against him personally, but I just don’t think I’m cut out to be his subordinate. I could, however, picture myself being one of his peers.

Right now, I’m looking for bright ideas, or specifically, I’m looking for unmet economic demands. What goods and services would people value enough to pay for? Despite our ailing economy, I bet there are still opportunities to meet such demands – perhaps such opportunities will even arise as a result of the economic downturn!

My Tucker Carlson Encounter

American Enterprise Institute held its 2009 Annual Dinner tonight, honoring Charles Murray with the Irving Kristol Award. But the really important news is that I saw, nay, was in close proximity to Tucker Carlson!

That’s right, him——-> tucker-carlson4

Now, I am not a card-carrying Republican, but in substance I definitely lean right politically. I think free markets basically promote prosperity across the board, that individual choice (including the choice of how to spend our hard-earned money) should be infringed upon as little as possible, that our government ought to try to do much less and do it much better, and that we ought to exercise a great deal of caution and restraint when evaluating our policies and values. In my personal style, however, I’m pretty free-spirited, emotionally sensitive, idealistic, and relatively disinterested in maintaining order – I tend to value freedom more. In other words, my style is somewhat more liberal than the substance of my political views (but actually, my style is probably more libertarian than it is liberal). Anyway, what I’m getting at is that I don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye with avowed conservatives, even if I basically agree with them, but Tucker Carlson is a conservative-ish guy whose style I really appreciate. A lot of it has to do with his sense of humor, I think. He just seems like a cool guy, someone I’d want to sit around a dinner table and joke with. Well, tonight I almost had my chance!

So, at the beginning of tonight’s dinner we were each given a seating booklet to know where to sit. As the booklet basically doubled as a guest list, I curiously perused it to see if there were any famous people in attendance that I’d recognize (admittedly, I’m not very in-the-know politically, so it was a little bit of a long shot). Well, as predicted, there were very few names I recognized – but Tucker Carlson I knew! Interns like myself, of course, had previously been discouraged from making fools of ourselves by seeking photo-ops and autographs from famous people, and even without that admonition I was not eager to just barge in on a stranger and try to strike up a rapport . So I didn’t give a meeting with Tucker too much thought, and just enjoyed my time with the other interns and their guests. Later on in the evening when it was acceptable for people to be up and walking around the dining hall, I made my rounds in search of DC celebrities to gawk at, and came up empty-handed. No Tucker. Still, when it came time to call it a night, I bid farewell to my friends, and headed for the door to the stairway without any further thought about meeting Tucker Carlson.

As I passed through the door, however, I turned back to see if I had missed saying goodbye to anyone I knew (and, frankly, to take one more look at all the well-dressed and, in many cases, attractive ladies). Two men passed by me through the doorway, and I smiled politely at them as I scanned the room. Having had my last look at the festivities, I turned to the stairs, ascending just a few feet behind the two men who had passed just seconds before. Well, it took me about a second to recognize the voice of the taller man as they were talking – that’s right, Tucker Carlson! “This could be my chance, don’t blow it!”, I thought to myself. Unfortunately, I really didn’t have an “in” with them, so I just smiled to myself and tried to act like I wasn’t secretly pleased to be in the presence of a famous guy I think is cool. I swear that he turned to look at me once or twice (perhaps wondering “Who is this strange, smiling kid behind us?”), but his attention was soon enough diverted by his encountering other friends. Not wanting to be creepy, I just walked past, as he made some joke about libertarian gatherings with his friends. Soon enough, our crossed paths diverged, and I was left to contemplate on my brush with a famous cool guy.

It’s too bad that he and I didn’t at least get to have some sort of verbal exchange. But even if I had gotten a chance to say something, it probably wouldn’t have been too witty or impressive; most of my conversational energy had already been used up that evening and, being both weary and an introvert, I needed some time to rest before I could again engage in banter. Also, he looked like he had had a few drinks, and in my experience (with others who are drinking, that is), alcohol tends to dilute the quality of conversation anyway. Then again, I wasn’t looking for a heart-to-heart, I just wanted to meet him! Oh well, another time, I guess. I hear he’s working at the Cato Institute these days…

You Can’t Control for Happiness

I seem to be entering a new phase in my interpersonal relationships here in DC, and I like it. Perhaps it is not a new phase so much as an old phase revisited after having acquired greater insight and maturity through experience. Either way, I think I can best summarize the new emphasis in this way: chill out and enjoy life and the people around you. In large part, this shift has been possible because of the friendships I’ve been able to form with my neighbors, who are a great bunch of girls. Associating with them helps me be a better and happier person, plus their house is a lot less ghetto than mine. In a way, it is like having a family again – although incomplete, there are discernible parallels, for which I am very grateful. I feel that my social life in DC up until now has been more solitary and self-centered than is healthy, but it is starting to turn around as I am now able to enjoy a greater sense of community.

This city seems to attract people who are preoccupied with being in control, and mostly sub-consciously. I don’t necessarily mean self-control, which I think is a virtue, but rather being in control of all situations, the desire to be the one pulling the strings instead of the one whose strings are pulled. I do not think this inclination is all bad, and certainly I think it is understandable for all who live in this¬† dangerous and uncertain fallen world. Nevertheless, I think preoccupation with being in control stunts our personal growth and curbs our happiness, and I think it is something we all grapple with to one degree or another.

I think preoccupation with control is a particular hindrance for developing healthy interpersonal relationships and sharing the gospel (two things which are closely related and, as I see it, require many of the same skills and attributes for success). Both require a sincere sharing of thoughts and feelings in a context of respect and love. Also, both must be done with a respect for individual choice, and certainly cannot be forced. It seems to me that love, openness of thought and feeling, and a respect for the freedom to choose can clash very much with being in control. However, ultimately the fruits of the former are so much sweeter than the fruits of the latter. Yet, relinquishing control in these two areas of life, as necessary, is easier said than done. It requires patience, trust, and a certain calm inner strength and confidence which can seem quite elusive (but is, fortunately,  even more attainable in this life than we may realize). Also, it requires that we put forth an effort to offer something precious and valuable (our friendship or the gospel) without expectations for recompense or fear of failure. In other words, that we give people an opportunity to act and accept an invitation, that we do the right thing, without worrying too much about the consequences.

Anyway, these are just a few of my abstract thoughts on the matter. What do you think?

A personal loss, and other assorted happenings

A piece of me died yesterday. Yes, I am talking about my lower left molar. After a year of neglecting my damaged tooth (out of lack of funds and insurance), it finally started to really hurt this past Monday, thus necessitating an urgent¬†trip to the dentist. Now, I count it a matter of divine¬†providence that one of my home teachers* just¬†happens to be a dental student who¬†was able to connect me with a fellow student who was available to help me out on short notice for a reasonable price**. Well, as it turns out, I need a root canal, which they started yesterday by removing most of¬†the soft tissue in my tooth (the technical term used¬†was “scoop out”), and temporarily capping the gaping hole until we can schedule another appointment. I left feeling relieved, groggy and ugly (anesthesia and lying¬†at an unusual angle¬†for hours leave you feeling and looking¬†like Quasimodo), and¬†very grateful. I do have regrets, however:

1) I wish I had somehow addressed this sooner so that I could keep my tooth alive (a root canal basically kills all living tissue in the tooth and turns it into a dried out husk which retains its chewing ability). I prefer my body parts to be living, thank you very much.

2) I wish I had had some way of watching what they were doing in there! It’s not every day you get to see the inside of a tooth – I wonder what the nerves look like?

In other news, I took the GRE on Monday, and it went so much better than the first time (also, it was thankfully after the GRE and not before that my tooth started hurting). It leaves me much more competitive for getting into the grad schools I’m looking at, George Washington being my top pick. Unfortunately, I dropped the ball¬†on applying to Georgetown, whose deadline is very soon¬†– it¬†occurred to me this week¬†that¬†they require 3 letters of recommendation,¬†and I only have¬†2. Boooo! ¬†Even now, I’m debating whether to try and find an emergency recommender to¬†make my application complete. On the other side of the debate, however, I’m trying to console myself with thoughts like “you didn’t want to go there anyway”, or “it’s really expensive there”, or my personal favorite, “the location is really inconvenient”. Still, I am no quitter, and I have a hard time just rolling over and accepting defeat (admittedly largely self-inflicted defeat).

Anyway, one more topic, and then I’ve got to get going on those grad school apps. Last night, I was quite fortunate to go to a Rock Band 2 party, and it was awesome!¬†Family, you’d better believe I played “Carry On Wayward Son”, although with the throng of people there, I didn’t get a chance to try some old favorites (“That means no Rush,” Bob nods¬†knowingly).¬†The emergence of Rock Band and Guitar Hero have been a big boon in my life; they channel my nerdy love of¬† music and video games into an outlet which is not only more¬†socially acceptable but also tons of fun! But you know, it also gets me thinking about whether party games like these are merely “childish things” which I will have to give up when I eventually get married and start a family. My money is on “yes”, and if so, I’m certainly willing to do it. Nevertheless, I often¬†wonder how marriage will¬†affect my lifestyle, specifically my approach to fun (which I think is more important to me than most – as discussed previously, it is an important recreative outlet for me). But who knows? Until I have to cross that bridge, I guess¬†I’ll continue to enjoy Rock Band parties.

One more thing: I’m unable to attend the Sunstone Symposium this weekend (Sunstone is¬†an organization which does scholarly work on Mormon thought and culture – not officially affiliated with the Church, but at least intriguing to guys like me). If anyone reading this attended the symposium¬†or has thoughts about Sunstone, I’d like to hear what you have to say. I mean, Sunstone ain’t General Conference, but I’m interested to know what¬†thoughtful people in the Church are discussing (I’m guessing¬†I would have a lot to disagree with, but also surely many¬†points of agreement). Also, I really wanted to see the documentary¬†Nobody Knows: The Untold Story¬†of Black Mormons;¬†perhaps I’ll have to wait until it’s on DVD ūüė¶¬†

Like an ugly Senate bill***, I’m attaching one more thing to this post – a video of “Limelight” by Rush. They rock!

*for those unfamiliar with the LDS Church, home teachers are the first line of support and assistance provided for each family, even families of one like mine.

**as an aside, have you ever noticed how a larger than normal proportion of dentists are really, really nice and pleasant people? A profession that requires digging around in people’s mouths must favor a certain¬†easygoing, pleasant¬†temperament. It gratefully¬†makes dental work relatively¬†less unpleasant.

***According to a friend of mine who works for a Congressman, the recent stimulus bill for which none/almost none of the Republicans voted contained lots of pet projects attached, such as spending $60 million to re-sod the National Mall. I suppose it needs to be done some time, but $60 million, in a stimulus bill? It will stimulate the sodding industry, I suppose.

Hero Worship

[This one is pretty long, and might seem a little boring or irrelevant to the casual reader. But if you’re curiosity’s piqued, please read on!]

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. For some reason, in fact, in the mornings I sometimes find myself waking up and thinking, practically first thing, “Man, I should really write about hero worship!” Here’s how I think it started:

I recently began interning at a think tank, where I work in close proximity with some pretty prominent people. Among the list of people I would love to meet while there are Newt Gingrich, Christina Hoff Sommers, and Greg Mankiw (whose econ textbook I found so enjoyable that I forewent a pretty generous sell-back price to keep it). The other day, while helping stuff envelopes for an event (a very glamorous task), I encountered some other famous names you’d definitely recognize if you ever watched the news.* Now, it’s pretty easy to get drunk on the thrill of celebrity (or, in my case, mere distant association to celebrity), but for me, at least, the intoxication is relatively short-lived and unfulfilling.** As Peggy Noonan recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal, even US presidents are merely men: “We hire them, we fire them, they come back for photo-ops. They’re not magic.”***

Nevertheless, there seems to be a common yearning for heroes and leaders. There is an apparent demand for people who will show us the way, those we can look up to with admiration and expectation. On such people, we seem to place our hopes – hopes of deliverance from our difficulties, from danger, insecurity, our own weakness and shortcomings, purposelessness, loneliness. I do not think this yearning for leaders is inappropriate – in fact, I think it is a very natural by-product of our experience as mortals separated from our Heavenly Father. However, I think it is important, as Peggy Noonan has suggested, not to place undue expectations on people who are, notwithstanding their great talents and accomplishments as leader and role models, still just people. Furthermore, we ought to be careful not to divest ourselves of personal accountability and place it on the shoulders of these “great people”; their role ought to be to aid and encourage us and not, with one very notable exception, to save us.

That said, I’d like to laud certain people who have made, and continue to make, a huge and positive impact in my life, who have earned my admiration and inspired me to greater heights. This is not an exhaustive list – I’ve been abundantly blessed with countless wonderful people who have left their mark in my life, but these are the ones that stand out most clearly. ‚ÄúThey’re not magic,‚ÄĚ but by small means they have done great things for me.

1) Dr. Michael Murdock: one of the best teachers I’ve ever had, and certainly one of the more strangely charismatic ones. Despite his huge intellect and exacting academic standards, behind the layers Dr. Murdock is generous and, although it may surprise some, quite gentle and kind. He helped me make big improvements in my thinking and writing (still plenty of room for improvement though!), and helped me discover that I really like history after all. Also, he went beyond the call of duty by being a very patient listening ear as I tried to chart my academic course.

2) Dr. Edwin Gantt: he did a great service for me, and continues to do a great service for the students of BYU by teaching psychology from a perspective that takes religion (particularly, but not exclusively, the religion of the Latter-day Saints) seriously. This is an uncommon practice in the social sciences, especially psychology. Along with Dr. Slife, another great professor, he helped me recognize the assumptions and perspectives (certain of which are tragically misleading, if not spiritually dangerous) currently prevalent in the behavioral sciences, and to recognize some alternative views and assumptions which are just as viable. With insight, enthusiasm, and a great sense of humor, Dr. Gantt is helping prepare LDS scholars to enter the professional world without compromising their membership in the kingdom.****

3) Bishop Kerry Morgan: it seems like he was my bishop in Oregon for a long time, but I think that is because he was a true and loving friend to me in- and outside of his tenure as bishop. He is a true Christian who has gone the extra mile for me and countless others.

4) Dr. Valerie Hudson: she, along with Dr. Bowen, another wonderful woman, not only introduced me to the complex, fascinating world of women’s issues but also to political science (I had never taken a Poli Sci course before taking theirs). Thankfully, they did it in a way that was bold and forthright, yet thoughtful, loving, and full of faith. Dr. Hudson is a big hero(ine) in my eyes – not just because she is kicking butt on a regular basis to improve the lives of women and children around the world, but because that is not even close her first priority, but rather secondary to her cherished role as a wife and mother. She has continued to work and teach not because she prefers it to the work of home and family, but unselfishly and for a different reason entirely. One who champions womanhood institutionally and especially in the home¬†earns a place at the top of my list. Which takes me to my next person…

5) My beloved Mom! She is such a delightful, wonderful woman, that merely talking to her on the phone refreshes my spirits and gladdens my heart! Intensely and lovingly committed to her children, it would be impossible for me not to love her in return. She has been a tremendous source of strength and encouragement in my life. My mom is a born leader with an iron will (she’s mellowed out over the years, fortunately) and a heart of gold who finds her greatest joy in serving others. I was truly born of goodly parents – the other of whom is…

6) My Dad! I do not know a wiser, more intelligent man than my dad, nor one who is also as gentle and kind (if that is what fatherhood does to a man, then I want in!). Very often, my dad contributes a voice of incomparable reason to dispel confusion in my life and help me maintain my most important priorities. He’s done his best to shape me into a man (one can only do so much), and has taught me by word and deed to sacrifice for and unselfishly love his family. As a father, he has exemplified righteous priesthood leadership ‚Äúby persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy‚ÄĚ (see Doctrine & Covenants 121:41-44).

7) Joseph Smith, Jr.: some people have built entire careers out of trying to assassinate this man’s character (and indeed, his message was and is a bold one, which some find threatening), but for me, it is exactly his character that I admire so much. I like to think that he and I share similar dispositions. A study of Joseph Smith’s life reveals him to have been, from an early age, prone to serious and sober reflection on the questions of the soul, yet endowed with a “native cheery temperament”. He possessed a unique blend of intellectual and spiritual depth and purpose and a certain earthy affability; some, expecting the austere demeanor of a Moses from a prophet of God, were unpleasantly surprised to find Joseph quite too approachable and gregarious upon first meeting him. Joseph Smith was no brooding introvert, nor was he merely a charismatic people-person – he was a courageous, self-sacrificing leader and prophet, entrusted with a sacred work and responsibility, but brimming with a love of all people and an eagerness for the company and well-being of all who were friends. I do not wish to stretch the comparison between he and I too far -certainly, I am not Joseph Smith-, but I see facets of myself, undeveloped as I am, in him. That gives me comfort and encouragement when I feel alone, uncertain, or misunderstood, but perhaps more importantly, it gives me an example to follow as I seek to grow.* (x5)

…and lastly, but most significantly,

8 ) Jesus Christ: All that is good and noble comes through Him. I have never met Him, and yet I see and feel His influence all around me – not always, and perhaps not even most of the time, but I have an assurance that He is closely involved in the details of our lives, whether or not we sense it (the trick, of course is to do our part to better sense and invite Him into our lives). He is my Savior and friend, who makes it possible for me to be cleaned, forgiven, and refined, shaped into someone new and holy. He has the power to heal us of all our infirmities and weaknesses, in the proper time and by the proper processes. His promises are sure: if we will simply trust and follow Him, we will have joy and ultimately eternal life. In the end, there is nothing as important as trusting and following Jesus Christ. I love Him, I want to be like Him, and I want to be with Him. He is my hero.

*One more (very distant) claim to fame: yesterday, thanks to a tip-off from a co-worker, I was able to see Mitt Romney through a cafe window, talking excitedly with some important-looking guys.

**Perhaps if I were truly closer to the action and prestige, and not just a distant intern, it would be harder to shrug off. But really, I haven’t had any substantial brushes with fame, and if I did, they would probably be pretty low-key and relatively unremarkable over all.

***My favorite quote from the article, in regards to a recent presidential photo-op: “Did you notice how they all leaned away from Jimmy Carter, the official Cootieman of former presidents? It was like high-school students to the new girl: “You can’t sit here, we’re the Most Popular table.”

****see “Some Thoughts on the Gospel and the Behavioral Sciences” by Neal A. Maxwell.

* (x5) For some very accessible insights and information on the life and teachings of Joseph Smith, see Joseph Smith the Prophet and The Life and Teachings of the Prophet Joseph, both by Truman G. Madsen.