Saturday, November 21, 2015

Depression (mild)

I’ve had to fill out medical forms a couple of times recently (once for a sleep assessment). The forms asked me to check any conditions for which I’ve been diagnosed, and that meant, among other things, checking “depression.” But I wrote in “mild” after the word, because it was many years ago—and the only evidence the doctor had that I was struggling with depression was that I told him I was. I tried (in succession) several antidepressants he prescribed, usually taking very small doses because I’m hypersensitive to just about all medications. Some seemed to help for a while, but eventually I decided that each of the “cures” was worse than the disease. Each left me feeling strange, out of sorts, in some cases a bit emotionally dry or dead.

So the doctor suggested that I try non-chemical treatment: meditation, increased exercise, better sleep and diet. He recommended a book, Minding the Body, Mending the Mind, which I read and tried to apply. With the help of mindfulness, exercise, and other things—especially prayer and scripture reading—and with some improvement in circumstances or in my ability to deal with them, I felt my general emotional health moved up a notch or two. It occurs to me that another thing that helped was trying to get my focus a bit more off myself and turning my focus more to others, especially to loving and serving my wife as much as I could.

I don’t think I ever suffered from the serious kind of depression I’ve seen others struggle with. Even at my worst, I was still functioning pretty well and often had good stretches. And even now I have occasional bad days—but usually I have no more than a bad day or two at a time. Often those bad days can be attributed to sleep deprivation or other identifiable causes. Usually I can shake the condition within hours or a day at most. And I experience lots of satisfaction and many moments of joy.

Earlier today, though, I had an unusually bad stretch of what I would call genuine depression. Luckily it lasted only a couple of hours. I started to become aware of it when I started thinking about “what I should do with my life” and had a strong sense of “I really don’t know.” Intellectually, of course, I could list all sorts of things that are important to me. But I didn’t feel emotionally connected, and I felt temporarily lost, as if I didn’t have a clear sense of direction for moving forward and as if everything I thought of seemed emptied of value and life.

It was about midday (on a Saturday—which for good or ill can seem, more than most days, like a kind of open or empty space). Despite the time of day, I felt like I wanted to rest, even sleep, and I curled up on the floor under a blanket. I let my mind drift, and it made some progress toward harmony (but only part way toward sleep). And I wondered why I was feeling the way I was.

It was cold. Something like winter is on its way. And maybe my body wasn’t handling the temperature drop very well. (Hoping to remedy that, I had turned the temperature up before lying down.) Maybe it was something hormonal. Maybe it was the result of my frequent lack of sleep—though the night before had been a reasonably good night. And maybe it was the effect of the sleeping pill I’ve been trying out, again with a very small dose.

I felt a bit better after getting up; and even better after a bit of yoga and exercise and then a shower. But I knew, for several reasons, that something better was yet to come.

First of all, I often do my exercise/yoga while listening to a talk. This time I listened to parts of a couple of talks that helped awaken hope and expand perspective. (More on that in a moment.) Also, I knew that getting out of the house would help—and I was getting ready to do that. I would get a dose of sunshine and activity. My wife and I were attending (separately) two funerals today. She was already at the funeral of the 54-year-old dentist we have known for many years, a wonderful young man named Eric Vogel who once dated my wife’s younger sister and who had spent much of his too-short life combining dentistry and compassionate service. He is a warm, wise man who succumbed last Sunday to the cancer he has been suffering from for five years.

I would soon be attending the funeral of Mary Jensen, a woman in her 90s who (along with her husband De Lamar) has spent a long, adventurous, and profoundly meaningful life doing good and valuable things. The Jensens have known the Blairs (my wife’s family) for many years. Our own little family—Margaret and I and our children—spent six months with the Jensens in the United Kingdom helping, along with another couple, run BYU’s Study Abroad program there. We loved the Jensens and spent many hours talking and traveling with them. I remember especially that they taught us a card game (I think this was in Edinburgh), a game I found exceptionally entertaining. But I think the entertainment came largely from being with them.

Memorabilia at Mary Jensen's funeral

I anticipated that the funeral would lift my spirits. I don’t know what it’s like for others, but among Latter-day Saints, funerals are often celebrations and are usually events of exceptional spiritual tenderness and illumination. I felt that I needed all of that, especially today.

I can trace a few of today’s minor landmarks on my way toward feeling greater joy. I remember glancing at a copy of the blue-bound Book of Mormon I had been reading from earlier in the day and feeling gratitude for it. I’ve started it again from the beginning (for the 30 or 35th time?) and have felt the power and goodness of each chapter. It also strikes me (from a rational point of view) as interesting that these first few chapters, which were part of the book that was translated last, are among the most powerful. If the book is a fabrication, this part would have had to be put together quickly on the fly to make up for the lost 116 pages that had been translated earlier. But if the book’s own account (along with that of Joseph Smith) is accepted, it was long anticipated that this part of the book would serve a special purpose and would be intentionally reserved for matters of special spiritual power and value. Interestingly enough, they’re not only that (in my judgment) but also among the chapters with the richest evidence of Semitic origins, including stylistic devices, place and personal names, and geographic correspondences that have only recently been corroborated. Without thinking all of this through at the time, I nevertheless felt a wave of gratitude for the existence of the book and what it had offered me this morning when I read from it.

As I did my exercising, I listened to parts of two talks from the most recent LDS General Conference. Both were from the Saturday evening session, one I had been less touched by when I first heard it (mainly because of tiredness) but that I’m finding especially inspiring now that I listen to it again. Today I listened to the last part of a talk by Henry B. Eyring that recounts, among other things, experiences of his great-grandfather (also named Henry), who joined the LDS Church in March of 1855 and was sent as a missionary to the Cherokee Nation in October of the same year. Three years later, he was made president of the mission (he wrote: “It was quite unexpected to me to be called to that responsible office but as it was the will of the brethren I cheerfully accepted, feeling at the same time my great weakness and lack of experience”). A year after that, wondering how long he should stay, he wrote to Church headquarters, and not hearing back, he decided to “[call] upon the Lord in prayer, asking him to reveal to me his mind and will in regard to my remaining longer or going up to Zion.” In response, he dreamed that he returned, met with Brigham Young, told him he had “come of my own accord, but if there is anything wrong in this, I am willing to return and finish my mission.” In this dream, President Young responded: “You have stayed long enough, it is all right.” (All of this, by the way, comes from original letters, journals, and reminiscences dating back to the 1800s.)

In his journal Henry wrote, “Having had dreams before which were literally fulfilled I had faith to believe, that this also would be and consequently commenced at once to prepare for a start.” After arriving in Salt Lake City (walking most of the way), Henry met with Brigham Young and told him, “I have come without being sent for, if I have done wrong, I am willing to return and finish my mission.” President Young responded, “It is all right, we have been looking for you.” Henry later recorded, “Thus my dream was literally fulfilled.”

My own response—exercising while listening to this—was “It’s nice to know that spiritual things are real.”

I then listened to the first part of a talk by President Thomas S. Monson and felt, much more strongly than when I had first heard it, that what he presented was absolutely genuine prophetic guidance: simple, clear, direct, essential. As always, it was offered in President Monson’s genial, upbeat voice, but it was a pointed explanation of why a loving God gives us specific direction.

After showering and dressing, I headed to Mary Jensen’s funeral. At the gathering before the funeral I was able to talk with her husband briefly and tell him of our love. I asked how he was doing. He said he was doing all right now but anticipated it would get harder. I promised we would keep in touch. I know he is being buoyed up now, but in a few weeks the loss will hit him much harder.

Evidences of a life well lived

There’s so much of the funeral that would be worth recording, but I’ll save that for another day. For now, I’ll note a few things that especially affected me. All five of Mary’s children spoke, and a foster daughter from Peru gave the opening prayer, partly in English, partly in Spanish. There were two beautiful musical numbers, with professional quality strings and piano (“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” and “O Divine Redeemer”). The children gave a vivid, entertaining, inspiring portrait of their mother and of their life as a family, including travel around the world.

What struck me most toward the end, though, were some questions and reminders that connected with my earlier feelings of temporary meaninglessness and directionlessness. The youngest daughter (who is now a middle aged adult) asked, “What do we treasure? What is of most worth?” As I searched for an answer to those questions, what occurred to me was, first of all, service and relationships, and then learning. It’s all part of a package, though: learning to love, learning what’s important, learning how things work, and choosing to serve—but all ultimately with the aim of forming and sustaining relationships.

The Jensens' bishop, a biologist by profession, spoke about patterns and especially a pattern involving relationships. He suggested that relationships are at the foundation of the great struggle between good and evil: God seeks to strengthen and seal relationships; the Adversary seeks to destroy them. He reflected on the experiences of Alma the Younger, who was engaged in destroying relationships, including relationships between people and their Savior, and who after being stopped by an angel, revealed his extreme isolation by expressing his desire to be “banished” or “extinct.” But then, after turning to Christ for redemption and healing, he longed to be in the presence of God—to be restored to intimate relationship. And he went on to serve as a restorer of relationships himself as he did missionary work. Mary Jensen (the bishop said) had become a “fountain of righteousness,” engaged in a pattern that began with testimony, then joining in a relationship of trust and love with her husband, the two of them then sharing that love with others, in their family and throughout the world. He noted that he and Mary’s husband had given her a blessing a week ago and that, with the veil very thin, they were privileged to see what awaited Mary beyond the veil: glorious relationships and the continuing good she would be engaged in.

The final speaker was the new stake president—my young brother-in-law Jim Blair—and his brief but powerful remarks reminded me again that this kid I first knew as a teenager has become a great and good man. After noting the friendship between the Jensens and the Blairs, he shared two thoughts. First: Those who spent time with Mary Jensen felt better as a result, and wanted to be better and knew they could be better. He compared the feeling to what the disciples on the road to Emmaus felt after speaking with the Savior: “Did not our hearts burn within us, while he talked with us by the way?”

His second thought was for Mary’s husband, De Lamar. This has been a celebration of a woman who lived about as well as she could, who was (as the bishop said) a “fountain of righteousness.” His promise to De Lamar was based on Ephesians 2:14: “For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us.” The Savior, President Blair said, has made you one: the two of you (he testified) will be together, and your family will be bound together because of the covenants you have made.

Jim Blair (brother-in-law, new stake president, really good guy)

I was emotionally and spiritually tenderized and nurtured during the funeral and left it feeling alive and well. But I also pondered my weaknesses (my laziness and selfishness especially) and my desire and need to serve and love, and following those feelings, stopped at someone’s home to say hello and tell them I hoped I would see them at church tomorrow. (It was the family of a girl I baptized and confirmed a member of the Church a week ago.)

When I arrived home, I was happy to greet my beloved wife, who is spending much of the day grading papers. She told me that Eric Vogel’s funeral was probably the most powerful and inspiring she has ever attended. I gave her a brief report of Mary Jensen’s funeral. She’ll give me a fuller report of Eric’s tomorrow.

I don’t feel perfect. It’s still cold. I too have papers to grade and don’t especially feel like doing the grading. But life is good. There is great reason for hope and happiness. And (as I pondered earlier in the day) there must be a reason things are sometimes hard. It must be true, it must necessarily be the case, that we have to experience the bitter—and the cold and lonely and desolate—to know and appreciate the sweet, warm sense of meaning and belonging.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Surprised by Faith

Over the past couple of months I've had a feeling that I need to write a book about my faith. (Part of that feeling may come because I'm also writing an academic book on Shakespeare--and you know how being obligated to do one thing makes doing almost anything else suddenly attractive.)

Here's a draft of the beginning of my proposed book, which I may called something like Surprised by Faith: Why I Believe What I Believe and Can't Help Wanting to Share It:

Sometimes I am surprised not just by what I believe but that I believe at all. We live in a world that in many ways is hostile to belief in anything except the prevailing views and attitudes of contemporary culture, views and attitudes imposed on us through media and in many other ways. But I cannot deny the reality and goodness of things I have experienced, even if they seem strange or foolish to those who are attuned mainly to the dominant culture. To be true to the things I have felt and witnessed, I find I must refuse to yield myself to many of the world's prevailing intellectual and cultural currents.

Of course, I am influenced by contemporary culture, and there is much (perhaps too much at times) I value and enjoy in it. In this, as in other things, I find I must be discerning. I must test what surrounds me and hold to what is good and not allow myself to be damaged or swept away by what is not. In general, I think it’s healthy to be skeptical of what is popular. Sometimes popularity represents a genuine response to things that are good and true. Sometimes it stems from a relatively mindless collective complicity in a cycle of imitation, based not so much on the quality of what is popular as on the craving not to be left out. Sometimes popularity has causes more complicated than either of these. Few—even among those trying to make choices with care— think through their grounds for valuing or rejecting what is popular very deliberately, and when examined, these grounds often turn out to be opaque or inconsistent. Many of us spend a good deal of our lives with “a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about” in our heads, as C. S. Lewis put it (The Screwtape Letters, Letter 1). Today, I think, “a dozen” would be a very low estimate.

So how is it possible, as Charles Dickens phrased it, to believe in “seeing visions in the age of railways”—or to update the question, in an age of space travel and the Internet? (See Charles Dickens, “In the Name of the Prophet—Smith!,” Household Words 3.69 [19 July 1851]: 385.) To me such belief seems far from impossible, and not even all that strange. But many people react otherwise, not only to a belief in visions and angels, but to belief in miracles, the literal reality of bodily resurrection, the idea that God is actively involved in the affairs of the world, and the idea that a particular organization—a church—might act with his authority and be an instrument to accomplish his work.

I want to acknowledge and respect the experiences and feelings of others. The world is much larger and more complicated than any of us can comprehend, and we’re more likely to see things truly if we listen to each other. So I offer this, not as the final word on anything, but as my view, based on long thought and experience. I think I understand something—even from the inside—about why it can be hard to believe. I have useful things to share, I think, about why belief makes sense—even why particular beliefs make sense.

Along with all that is confusing and challenging in this world, I can bear witness of the reality of spiritual things, the value of every human being, the goodness of much that is taking place in this world, and the truth and value of certain ways of living. I can share the reasons for my conviction that we are spiritual beings, that our lives have meaning and purpose, that there is a loving God who is actively involved in our lives, that God has worked and continues to work through human beings, that revelation from God continues, that God’s transforming power is made available in specific ways for the blessing of his children, and that the scriptural claims about Jesus Christ and his reality and role are true. And I can share my reasons for being confident not only that these things are true but that they matter. Even the mere possibility that the things I’ve listed are true raises issues of unavoidable importance to everyone living on this planet.

For me, belief is an essential step from the start and remains essential from beginning to end. It is valuable because it makes happiness and hope and love and goodness possible. I want to share my faith because I believe it opens the door to exciting adventures, in this world and the world to come, including, for me and many others, membership in a vibrant institution that is accomplishing remarkable good in this world. Faith also opens the door to relationships that can bring great joy and wonderful blessings, relationships that can endure beyond this life and serve as the foundations for a heavenly life.

To put it simply, faith opens the door to all that we could possibly want and all that we most deeply need, to all that is most truly and transcendently valuable and good. I find it hard to believe that anyone wouldn’t want to consider, at least, the possibility of opening that door.

[I'll keep working on the book . . . and let everyone know when it's done.]

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Stake Conference weekend, April 2015: Magical moments, promptings, tender feelings

Chapel in the Provo Utah Central Stake Center (including a magnificent pipe organ)

It's early afternoon on Sunday, April 19. I'm at home following wonderful--inspiring, empowering--Stake Conference meetings for the Provo Utah Central Stake. The following is not a detailed account but a few notes about some of the highlights.

First, some definitions and background:

Definition 1: "Stake" = an ecclesiastical unit in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints comprising several wards (congregations).

Definition 2: "Stake Conference" = a series of meetings, usually held twice a year in a given stake, to which members of the stake are invited.

Some background: The Provo Utah Central Stake is one of the oldest stakes in the LDS Church. Established in the 1850s, it was the first in Utah Valley. All stakes now in the valley (and there are dozens of them) trace their origin back to this stake. That means that in the High Council room in our Stake Center are pictures of stake presidents going back to pioneer times (the 1850s). Since moving into the stake in 1983, I've served in various callings in the stake and wards in the stake, including counselor in the stake presidency from 1997-2007, with President Lewis Billings and then with President Brian Wolsey. Later (from 2009-2015) I served as bishop of ones of the wards in the stake.

I'm now an assistant clerk in my ward and also serve as an ordinance worker in the Provo Temple.

On my own (temporarily)

I've been alone for the past few days, except for my 29-year-old son, who lives (more or less on his own) in our basement. My wife, Margaret Blair Young, left on Wednesday for an almost week-long trip to Denver and Seattle. She flew to Denver (staying with her sister Lisa), then left early Thursday morning for Seattle so she could attend a meeting titled "Women’s Leadership in the Great Lakes of Central Africa" sponsored by the World Affairs Council of Seattle. Speakers included Roger A. Meece, former ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Muadi Mekenge, program director for sub-Saharan Africa – Global Fund for Women; and Whitney Williams, Founder and CEO, williamsworks, and co-founder and vice chair of the board for Eastern Congo Initiative (a non-profit organization founded by Ben Affleck). Margaret had a great time, made important contacts, and learned more about the Congo (and learned that the speakers share her vision of the Congo and its potential).

How I was involved: I looked up the meeting partly to see where it was located so I could help Margaret find it (long distance, by phone). I noticed that registration for the meeting was required and wondered if Margaret had registered. She thought she had but wasn't sure.

So I called the World Affairs Council of Seattle about an hour and a half before the meeting was to start, discovered that she had joined the organization but not registered for the meeting (which was sold out), and told them she had flown there especially for the event and that it would be very sad if they didn't let her in. They told me they were pretty sure there would be at least one absence and that they should be able to admit her--which they did. I was happy to smooth the way for Margaret to make it to the meeting. She was in Seattle ONLY for that day and mainly for that one event.

Flying back to Denver was even more of an adventure. Snow had fallen in Denver. It took Margaret 3 hours (with the help of an airport worker) to find where she had parked her sister's car. Then it took another hour and a half (part of the time lost) to make it to her sister's house--at 5 or 6 in the morning. She got a few hours sleep and went on to have good days in Denver. On Saturday, she attended presentations given by her friends Terryl and Fiona Givens--about faith and doubt and the wonders of life. (The newspaper article linked here gives a flavor for what they're all about:,)

Margaret is still in Denver. She'll return on Tuesday, in time for her to join me in serving in the Provo Temple.

Magical moments

Like most men in the Church, I'm a home teacher: I visit the homes of several members, offer my help, and try to be their friend. I wanted to make sure the people I visit knew (and remembered) that we wouldn't have regular church meetings this weekend but would have stake conference instead. I started--a couple of days or so ago--by taking a letter from the stake presidency (copied in part below) to my home teaching companion, John Dalley. He was under the weather, so I left the letter with his dad.

John Dalley (center) on the day of his baptism in Sept. 2014, with the sister missionaries on one side and me and Rod Elwood on the other.

Later, while walking our dog, I found John outside and asked if we could visit some of our assigned families on Sunday. If all goes well, we'll be doing some of that today. This encounter with John--and later with people I visit as a home teacher--felt magical for a couple of reasons. The weather has been gorgeous, and it's nice to get out and about. The other reason is that it's often VERY hard to find these people--to find them at home or even get hold of them by phone. Running into John was the first in a series of magical moments.

I spent much of the day on Saturday in my pajamas, grading exams while (part of the time) watching selected episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. About 4:00 p.m. I got dressed and ready to locate some of the people I visit as a home teacher. I had called and texted the first one (who lives across the street) without getting a response. I knocked on her door, which started her dog barking, and hearing that (but not my knocking) brought her to the door and we had a nice conversation on her doorstep.

I then drove a couple of blocks away and knocked on another door, waking up another woman I visit, which led to another brief chat, at the end of which she was almost willing to smile. Then I drove to another woman's apartment. I called her (got no response), rang the doorbell, left a copy of the stake presidency's letter at her door, and was back in my car--when she pulled up behind me, just returning home along with her kids. We had a nice conversation and set up a possible time to meet on Monday.

By then, it was just about time to attend the Saturday evening session of Stake Conference. But to keep up the theme of magical encounters, I'll skip ahead to a post-meeting event.  I went to a local grocery store to get a few supplies. Just as I was checking out, another woman I visit appeared, along with her son. This woman works at the grocery store and works the night shift (till midnight) all this week. So this really was the best way to visit with her. Her son (about 20 years old, stationed at Camp Lejeune) was here briefly because of his father's life-threatening hospitalization--so this was a rare chance for me to meet him. He asked me how he could arrange to have missionaries visit a friend of his in Spain, and so I could help him with that task, I gave him my phone number and e-mail address.

I don't know if I've effectively conveyed how these various encounters felt to me: they just seemed to fall into place. I was in the right place at several moments to see people it's usually much harder and more awkward to locate. I felt somehow that, by going out when I did, by having the desire to be out there and available, I had been allowed to play my part in a little episode of happy encounters, events that had lifted up all of us who were involved and strengthened our bonds.

I kept thinking--in connection with these encounters, but also the one young man's desire to contact missionaries and a host of other things I'm involved with--that when you feel the impulse to do something good, you need to do it. Resisting or putting things off is generally not a good thing. (This reminds me of Ivan Karamazov's resolve to report Smerdyakov's confession--but then his decision to put it off till the next day, a delay that proved to be fatal. You Brothers Karamazov fans out there will know what I'm talking about.)

This weekend's Stake Conference

So . . . before the grocery store trip, I attended the Saturday 6:00 p.m. adult session of Stake Conference.  There were four speakers, President James Pettersson, Sister Tiffany Sorensen, Bishop Dana Dean, and President Edward Carter--each of whom gave very real, very genuinely felt and honestly expressed, very inspired and inspiring talks, the first three mainly about effectively using ward councils.  I was especially affected by the last speaker, President Carter, our stake president, partly because he involved us in a discussion, partly because of the topic. Actually, he brought up several things, including some legal issues related to religious freedom (he's a journalism and legal scholar--has published articles about the Supreme Court, etc.--so he had some useful insights).

But the main topic was how the sacrament (the sacrament of the Lord's Supper) can help us achieve lasting conversion. The discussion was powerful and thought provoking. I got to stand and read some verses from 3 Nephi 18, one of which I had a hard time getting through because it struck me with great emotional force as I was reading it.  (That verse is 11, the words of Jesus in connection with the wine to be drunk as part of the sacrament: "And this shall ye always do to those who repent and are baptized in my name; and ye shall do it in remembrance of my blood, which I have shed for you, that ye may witness unto the Father that ye do always remember me. And if ye do always remember me ye shall have my Spirit to be with you." I've read those words many times before, but reading them out loud, during a Spirit-filled meeting, was especially powerful.)

Earlier in the day I had felt a bit depressed--from inadequate sleep and from being alone, separated from Margaret for several days. But the magical moments of meeting people and the powerful Stake Conference meeting turned my feelings around--lifted me up, renewed me, made me feel in harmony with the flow of life, made me feel, "Yes, this is the way I want to feel. This is the way I want to live." I anticipate the usual ups and downs. But I hope I hold on to the memory of this weekend and its reminder of what life can be like.

Which leads me to Sunday: I was asked to be the chorister--the music leader--for the 7:00 a.m. priesthood leadership session. I got to the meeting 10 minutes early so I could put up the hymn numbers and be ready. I think I did a decent job (though nothing like the expert job Carol Dean had done leading the music the evening before). I heard several good talks about caring for those in need and lasting conversion. What struck me about a couple of them was the personal approach. One talk was entirely the life story (with ups and downs) of an unnamed person--I'm guessing maybe the speaker himself. And President Carter, before talking about teaching and ministered, talked about his life--about his ambition to do something great but the feelings he and his wife kept having to turn down what might have led to opportunities to be part of the newspaper world in Chicago or work in a major law firm. He said he's come to feel that the seemingly small and simple things in life--raising a family, serving others--can be among the most powerful and meaningful.

I had a brief break before the next session--the 10:00 a.m. general session. I was to be there at 9:30 a.m. to be a greeter at one of the chapel entrances. I loved doing that--greeting people, shaking hands. At the end I got to return to the door and hand out cards with the stake's vision and goals for the year.

The talks were excellent (on self-reliance, conversion, answering difficult questions). President Carter again was a bit personal, talking about the challenges of the past four months (tearing a tendon, the death of a young brother-in-law, having an operation, waking up during a night after the operation in momentary panic, feeling abandoned and hopeless). But for me, some of what made the meeting powerful was the music. Several numbers were done by a choir of Primary children. Those numbers had a supernal spiritual clarity and power. My favorite was one with this chorus:
God gave us families
To help us become what he wants us to be.
This is how he shows his love,
For the family is of God.
Set to music--and with the children's voices and all the thoughts and feelings that poured through me as they sang--this was like a vision from heaven. I felt the truth and power of what was sung through my whole being.

The other number that struck me was a congregational hymn in the middle of the meeting. We stood and sang "How Firm a Foundation," verses 1-5 and 7. This hymn has special meaning to me because we often sing it in family gatherings at my parents-in-law's home, and it's a favorite of my father-in-law, especially the last verse. As I sang it along with hundreds of other people today, my emotions threatened to overwhelm me at several points, and I dug the nails of one hand into my palm to help me focus and keep singing.

Of course, I don't want to embarrass myself by bawling--but I'm grateful that my feelings are tender, that I'm responsive to truth and goodness and beauty, that tears flow as sweet, warm feelings come. Those who know me will attest that I'm a thinker--that logic and analysis are a big part of who I am. But I've increasingly come to feel that knowing truth is more like direct apprehension than analysis. That is, when we see light--when we see objects illuminated by light--when we see and feel the freshness and beauty of the world, we are experiencing reality more truly and fully than when we analyze the experience. Likewise, the feelings we have about truth, about love, about people, about life--the felt insights into what is real and good: this is to experience reality more fully and directly than a logical analysis would provide, whatever the value of such analysis.

After the conference meetings

At the beginning of the 10:00 a.m. session, names were presented for us to sustain (give our approval for) priesthood ordinations. One name presented was Joshua Carter, President Carter's 18-year-old son, to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood and be ordained an Elder. Because I'm the Carters' home teacher--and because until recently I was their bishop--I was invited to take part in the ordination after the end of the stake conference session. It was a sweet event, with both Joshua's mother and his father becoming emotional. I joined the circle as President Carter ordained his son. Afterwards, Joshua and I embraced. I've known him and met with him--and hiked and camped with him--for the past 4 1/2 years, more or less--since he was about 13, I think. So we have a strong bond.

After returning home, I felt I wanted to get down in writing some of what I had experienced during stake conference weekend.

In the spirit of my feeling that I should follow a good impulse when it comes, I interrupted the writing of this blog to Skype with my son Michael, when I noticed he was online. We had a great talk--and since he was visiting my daughter Kaila, I also got to see my grandchildren, Oliver, Alex, and Gabby, and reminisce (among other things) about being present by phone when two of them were born.  (I called from England just as Kaila was giving birth to her first child, Gabby; and my wife and I called from the airport in Beijing, as we prepared to return to the US, just as Alex was being born.)

Later in the afternoon, I visited with my daughter Julie and her boyfriend Travis (they came over so Julie could photograph and digitize an amazing painting we have--a creation of Chiloba Chirwa).  And I did some home teaching--with John Dalley (see above); and upon dropping John off at home, chatted with Leon Harward (a neighbor) about his fishing exploits. He showed me a photo of a 15-pound German brown he caught recently. I'll be heading off soon to spend time with Margaret's parents and extended family, and then I'll spend some time later this evening with my son Rob.

So the magical moments continue. I have plenty of work to do--tasks to be accomplished. And it's important for me to do them, mainly because whether I do will affect the welfare of people. But I hope I leave space open for the promptings of the moment and to enjoy what each moment brings.

Appendix: Stake presidency letter and Stake vision and goals

The stake presidency wrote a letter inviting people to attend Stake Conference. It includes the following paragraphs:
The faith that we have in Jesus Christ can motivate righteous action, help us overcome challenges and give us strength to persevere in obeying god's commandments. Jesus Christ, under direction of His Father, is the Creator. He is the Savior and Redeemer of the entire world. Yet he understands each of us, in our trials and blessings, personally and intimately.
One of the great blessings of our time is the many things and people to testify of Jesus Christ and His gospel. We have the Holy Ghost to guide us in truth. We have scriptures that lead us to Christ. We have modern prophets who receive revelation and teach God's will today. We have the priesthood ordinances, including in the temple, to give us access to eternal covenants and blessings. We are under divine mandate to share these blessings with all of God's children, and we have been asked to lift the poor and needy; comfort the afflicted; teach the gospel in our families; perform vicarious ordinances for our ancestors; and share our testimonies with those around us. In this stake conference, we look forward to rejoicing with you in these opportunities.
Here are the stake vision and goals for 2015:
We are children of God with divine destinies and eternal potential, and we will achieve exaltation in God's Celestial Kingdom, through the Atonement of Christ, as we exercise faith in Jesus Christ, obey the commandments, make and keep sacred covenants through priesthood ordinances and participate in the work of salvation.
Goal No. 1--convert baptisms: Families pray for missionary opportunities, invite friends for meals and FHE.
Goal No. 2--temple ordinances: All youth do temple baptisms and 10 percent of members submit names.
Goal No. 3--gospel teaching: Families teaching gospel in weekly FHE, daily prayer and scripture study.
Goal No. 4--retention: All new converts have calling, friend, and word of God and each ward finds 5 families to bring back to church participation.
Goal No. .5--self-reliance and assisting the poor and needy: Families commit to live the law of the fast.

Friday, November 28, 2014

What makes "Glorious" Mormon (and Mormonism glorious)

I want to start by saying that "Glorious" is a good song--a dang good song.  It's beautifully constructed, engaging, deeply felt, with intelligent, inspiring lyrics.  One indication of its quality is the fact that it still sounds fresh after having enjoyed (or in some cases suffered from) being covered over 400 times in various styles, from country to choral, by performers ranging from a 4-year-old to the PS22 Chorus in Staten Island.  I haven't heard all 400 covers, but I've heard a good number of them.

But I want to focus here on what is "Mormon" about the song.  The song uses no uniquely Mormon language and can be enjoyed even by those who find nothing in it specifically religious.  In fact, when I first heard the song, I wondered where it had come from and whether the writer was a Latter-day Saint.  The more I've listened to it, though, the more I've felt that (whether the writer intended it or not) it beautifully expresses much that is distinctive about Mormonism--much that is not just culturally but doctrinally and spiritually foundational to the living and understanding of life associated with members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

That is not to say that it isn't also universal, conveying much that all or most human beings can relate to.  I believe, in fact, that much of what makes the Latter-day Saint understanding of life so powerful and appealing is that it responds to needs and aspirations deeply woven into every human heart.

My reasons for focusing on what is "Mormon" about the song include wanting to understand something about Mormonism and its role in the world.  The song was, after all, selected for the culminating moments of the Church's first venture in releasing a feature film in commercial theaters.  That film, Meet the Mormons, is also a remarkable phenomenon, rising as high as the 9th most successful film at the box office in the United States soon after its release, ranking 11th in the nation during its first weekend (despite a very small turnout on its first Sunday) and 10th in the nation during its first full week. 

  A disclaimer: My wife appears briefly in the first segment of the film.  But I would love the film even without that.  It offers a powerfully authentic portrait of what it is like to be a Latter-day Saint, including the challenges, the joys, the impulse to serve and bless and connect with others, the cultural diversity and sense of community, and the moments of redemption and transcendence.  (You can read my review of the film at and  After segments about six extraordinary--but in some ways typical--Latter-day Saints, we hear David Archuleta singing "Glorious" against a collage of images from the film.  The song serves in some ways as a summary of the film's message, especially the idea that each human being is important and plays a significant role in the symphony of life.

After a little searching, I discovered that the composer of "Glorious" is Stephanie Mabey, a gifted young performer and songwriter with a Latter-day Saint background.  (You can learn more about her work herehere, and here; and you can listen to the original version of "Glorious," her version, at

The song was first popularized (though I only just learned this) by being included on a CD for EFY (Especially for Youth) 2012, where it is sung by Russ Dixon.  (His version is at   I also discovered some of the many covers of the song, many (though not all) of them prompted by David Archuleta's announcement of a competition to appear in a "supercut" of the song--a version that would include bits and pieces from many renditions.  Here's a link to the "supercut":  I'll provide links to other versions below, near the end of this post.

To consider what is "Mormon" about the song (as well as what is universal), let's start with the lyrics:

There are times when you might feel aimless;
You can't see the places where you belong.
But you will find that there is a purpose;
It's been there within you all along
And when you're near it,
You can almost hear it.

It's like a symphony: just keep listening,
And pretty soon you'll start to figure out your part.
Everyone plays a piece, and there are melodies
In each one of us.
Oh, it's glorious.

You will know how to let it ring out
As you discover who you are.
Others around you will start to wake up
To the sounds that are in their hearts.
It's so amazing, what we're all creating.

It's like a symphony: just keep listening,
And pretty soon you'll start to figure out your part.
Everyone plays a piece, and there are melodies
In each one of us.
Oh, it's glorious.

And as you feel the notes build, ah,
You will see:

It's like a symphony: just keep listening,
And pretty soon you'll start to figure out your part.
Everyone plays a piece, and there are melodies
In each one of us.
Oh, it's glorious.

What will strike many as typically "Mormon" about the song is its optimism.  Mormons are known for their positive--some would say naively positive--view of life.  Yet as anyone would know who has any real experience with Latter-day Saints, we are well acquainted with heartache, struggle, and confusion.  It's true that many Latter-day Saints don't realize how many others around them have just the same sorts of struggles they themselves are going through.  Yet these are not problems we refuse to talk about.  There are many ways we can confide in and seek help from others.  And sermons by Church leaders as well as in our local congregations often touch on afflictions and trials and how to deal with them.  What gets us through is genuine faith that there is a God--a perfectly wise and loving God--who is in charge, and hope that everything will work out if we are faithful.

The song captures both the idealism and the realism of the Mormon approach to life.  Yes, we sometimes feel aimless and isolated.  But we believe that if we keep at it, we'll find meaning and connection.  That leads to another set of distinctively Mormon elements in the song: the understanding of life--and even eternal life--as a process, a process of discovery and growth and creation.  In some views, but not the Mormon one, the world is essentially finished: God's creation is complete, and all we can do is accept our place in it--if we can even do that.  The Mormon view is fundamentally different.  Creation is ongoing, and we are taking part in it.  We have been endowed with agency--the ability to choose and act--not simply to accept what is already finished but to participate in the creation of the world, to establish relationships that can be eternal, to take an active part in the divine project of salvation and exaltation.  God has established a perfect plan, but he invites us to take part in bringing that plan to fruition.

"Glorious" celebrates not just the world we live in but the process of discovery and creation that we are invited to engage in.  "You will find that there is a purpose . . . you can almost hear it . . . just keep listening . . . you'll start to figure out your part . . .": all these phrases call to mind the Latter-day Saint understanding of personal revelation, the process of attuning ourselves to God's voice and to the divine meaning woven into the world, a process that requires us to "study it out in our minds" and recognize confirming insight and feelings.  Along with our own individual discoveries, we seek to awaken others--not forcing insight on them, but helping them to hear what is in their own hearts.  The comparison of revelation to music is apt: knowledge is not so much abstract formulation, arrived at as the product of mechanical, rule-driven logic, as it is direct, first-hand recognition of light and truth, something resonating within us, like a voice: "I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost" (Doctrine and Covenants 8:2).

The song also hints at our eternal natures, which in some fundamental way partake of light and truth.  The understanding of purpose and meaning that we seek is somehow within us and always has been: "It's been there within you all along."  For "man is spirit" and "was also in the beginning with God" (Doctrine and Covenants 93:33, 29).  We bring with us something that not only recognizes but contributes to the meaning and beauty of the world.  There are "melodies in each one of us"--spiritual melodies, characteristics deriving from our divine parentage and witnessing to our divine potential.   We are the offspring of God and (as Spencer W. Kimball put it) have within us "the seeds of godhood."  In the words of Lorenzo Snow, "There is the nature of deity in the composition of our spiritual organization; in our spiritual birth our Father transmitted to us the capabilities, powers and faculties which He Himself possessed--as much so as the child on its mother's bosom possesses, although in an undeveloped state, the faculties, powers, and susceptibilities of its parent."  The song is not explicit about all of this, but it certainly affirms our essential spiritual natures.

Yet besides celebrating what is glorious about each of us, the song also celebrates our connection with others.  In fact, the song does not say "we're glorious," but instead "it's glorious": the whole plan, the whole process of ongoing discovery and creation.  It's "amazing, what we're all creating"--all of us, working together.  Each of us has a part, but a part in a symphony in which we seek to join with others in harmony and cooperation.  As you figure out how to let what is within you "ring out," others will also "start to wake up," sense what they can contribute and join in the music.  We all seek to offer the melodies within us to a much larger enterprise, a symphony of creativity, love, and joy.

As often happens with popular songs, people hear words and phrases that are not there.  Many have thought the song "Glorious" says, "Everyone plays a piece in their own melodies," as if the point was for each of us to express our individuality by playing a separate piece.  Someone told me that this led them to imagine cacophony as everybody discovered and played "their own thing."  But that's not what the song says.  "Everyone plays a piece"--end of phrase--"AND there are melodies in each one of us."  Yes, we each contribute something, and it is something that no one else can do in quite the same way.  Yet it is only a "part" of the larger "symphony."  "There are melodies in each one of us," melodies that derive from our spiritual natures and our divine heritage, but we contribute these melodies to a larger tapestry of harmonious sound.  Rightly understood, the song affirms both individuality and community--something essential to the Mormon understanding of life and of eternity.  We believe we are unique and eternal individuals.  Yet our lives have meaning only through relationship with others.  God's purpose is the exaltation of his children, yet that exaltation is brought about not only through the unfolding and transformation of their individual natures but through their being joined together in familial relationships.  In the practical life of Latter-day Saints in this world, there is a similar emphasis both on individual agency and on responsibility and familial and communal connection.

In these and related ways, the song "Glorious" beautifully expresses what might be called the spirit of Mormonism--the sense of engaging in a glorious process of awakening, of self-discovery and communal cooperation, of struggle and hope, of appreciation and creation.  It speaks to the immediate here and now while also opening us to a vision of eternity--in fact, suggesting that eternity is unfolding within the here and now.  In all of these ways and in all of these dimensions, "it"--including the world, our lives, our relationships, our eternal prospects--is "glorious."


 Having said all of this, I recognize that not all of this is utterly unique to Mormonism and that much of what I find in the song may be different from what others will find.  (By the way, the term "Mormonism" isn't used much these days--but I've found it a useful shorthand for the view of life widely shared by Latter-day Saints and affirmed by our scriptures and other authoritative sources of doctrine.)  Still, though not entirely unique, the tone and ideas expressed in "Glorious" have as a whole a distinctly Mormon flavor, and at least some of what the song expresses and implies comes close to being unique to Mormonism.

That is not to say that there isn't much that is glorious in other understandings of life--Catholicism, Lutheranism, Calvinism, Judaism, Buddhism, to name a few.  And in fact, there is much overlap among these various approaches to life, as well as distinctive insights in each that can contribute to a deeper and richer vision of the complex diversity of human experience and of what lies beyond current human experience and understanding.  But I've chosen to emphasize what is distinctive and glorious about Mormonism because it is the view I know best--and because I believe it has its roots in divine revelation--and also because I'm writing about a song that I believe is attuned in many ways to the Mormon understanding of things, especially when heard or sung by those familiar with that understanding.

Now, a couple of personal notes and then links to some of my favorite covers of the song "Glorious."

As I mentioned earlier, David Archuleta sings the song near the end of the movie Meet the Mormons.  So far I've seen the film three times, and each time I've felt the song beautifully sums up the film's message of service, relationship, love, faith, and individual worth.  You can hear this rendition, along with clips of scenes from the film at (I've also embedded it further below).

A few weeks after the film came out, my son Michael was skyping with my wife and me and shared a link to another version of the song, one  sung by the One Voice Children's Choir. The song spoke to him, he said, because he's trying to find his part in the symphony of life--a part that will allow him to serve and bless other people. We were touched by those feelings that came from our son's beautiful heart--and we were also moved by the One Voice Children's Choir's performance.  Part of what makes that performance so powerful is that individual members of the choir sing various parts of the song--yet they all come together as a group as well.  As individuals sing, we focus on their beautiful, divinely beautiful, faces.  But we also hear them join together in glorious harmony.  You can listen and watch at

Having heard that version, we began to run into yet others including eventually the "fan supercut" that combines various renditions (  Among the dozens of versions I've listened to, some are much better done than others.  Yet something apart from the quality of the performances has touched me as I've listened.  Part of what has drawn me to the many covers of "Glorious" is the way so many of them open windows into the inner lives of individuals and families--their loves, their yearnings, their struggles.  Many of those who submitted covers are young, very young--many between 8 and 18, not to mention the 4 and 6 year olds. I see in them such profound goodness and longing. The song seems to provide many of them a way of expressing their hopes and desires and connecting with others.  Hearing them give voice to the song has given me a glimpse into their spiritual natures, into what in each of them is precious and eternal and associated with divinity.

While I love many of the renditions--and will share some of my favorites in a playlist below--I want to focus on the "fan supercut" for a moment because it reveals another distinctive element of Mormonism: the desire to reach out to, and celebrate, and connect the entire human family.  Though the film Meet the Mormons has been shown only in the United States so far, the invitation to do a cover of the song "Glorious" reached far beyond the nation's borders.  There were responses from Latin America, Caribbean islands, Asia, and Europe.  Among those chosen for use in the "fan supercut" were contributors from Canada, China, Costa Rica, Indonesia, Mexico, the Philippines, and Vietnam, as well as the United States.  Among participants from the United States, there was some attempt at ethnic and stylistic diversity.  The finished product deliberately used contributions that would reflect the diversity among Latter-day Saints--and in the human family--including a 4-year-old, many teenagers, and a few older adults.  In addition, the fan supercut included two covers performed by signing for the deaf.  (They didn't choose my favorite sign language performance, though, one by a young deaf girl: see

In a similar way, the film tells the stories of a variety of Latter-day Saints: an African-American bishop in Atlanta (that's the segment in which my wife appears); the coach (of Samoan extraction) of the Navy football team; a mother (and kick boxer) in Costa Rica; an American pilot, known as the "candy bomber," who helped sustain West Berliners during the 1949 airlift; another man, a native Nepalese, who does humanitarian work in Nepal; and (in the most moving, heart-wrenching segment) a woman who, after rough years as a single mom, now has a beautiful family and is sending her oldest son on a mission.  The film includes scenes in Costa Rica, Germany, Nepal, South Africa, and various parts of the United States--including the White House.  The film's cinematography is superb: there are stunning scenes from around the world, reminded us that God's creations are indeed glorious.

Some might cynically suggest that this emphasis on diversity is a public relations ploy.  But in reality it is a fundamental element of Mormonism.  It is an essential teaching of the Church that we are all members of God's universal family, that we are all brothers and sisters.  The Church has been commanded from the beginning to share the gospel with the entire world.  We believe that God's plan of salvation provides a way for all the human family to be saved--those who have lived before Christ as well as after, and those who never heard the gospel message in life as well as those who did.  Though we have done so imperfectly, it has been the impulse of Latter-day Saints as a people to respect and love and connect with people of all nations.  A few years ago I re-read (this time in French) a book highly respected by Latter-day Saints, the book Jesus the Christ, first published in the early twentieth century.  I was pleased to find in the book a strong emphasis on universal outreach and on the belief that "God is no respecter of persons."  So this is not a new idea among Latter-day Saints.

In fact, our scriptures express the idea clearly: "Know ye not that there are more nations than one? Know ye not that I, the Lord your God, have created all men?" (2 Nephi 29:7); "the Lord doth grant unto all nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word" (Alma 29:8).  The Book of Mormon teaches that God invites all to come to him: "all men are privileged the one like unto the other, and none are forbidden"; "he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; . . . and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile" (2 Nephi 26:28, 33).  This clear statement of God's universal love for his children is one reason many Latter-day Saints felt uncomfortable with the racial restrictions that formerly operated in the Church and rejoiced when they were lifted.

That sense that we are sharing life together, that we are "members of one another," is also expressed in the song "Glorious."  All that is said there is true, by implication, for every human being: "Everyone plays a piece, and there are melodies in each one of us."  The film too expresses this view and affirms that we all have a part to play in this exciting and often challenging adventure in which we are all taking part.

(Another Meet the Mormons Trailer)


Here are two of the versions I mentioned above, plus one other, one of my favorites, performed by the PS22 Chorus of Staten Island, New York--another evidence of the wide appeal of the song.

David Archuleta (with clips from the film Meet the Mormons):

One Voice Children's Choir:

Finally, I'm going to link you to a playlist with a few other of my favorites. Here it is:

Friday, November 7, 2014

When I turned 64: The Great Beatles Party

My wife and I have been talking for years about what would happen when I turn 64.  Of course, it would have to be a Beatles party.  Well, the party took place this past Monday, November 3, 2014.

Margaret planned the event, invited lots of people, prepared food, and served as the hostess.  I helped too.  I couldn't restrain myself.  I created a playlist of my favorite 64 Beatles songs, came up with ideas for Beatles themed foods, and created a quiz--only part of which we had time for on the evening in question.

And then it happened.  The official tally of people who came is 52.  Three came only briefly, and not everyone was there at the same time.  But most were.  So we had over 40 people in our home for a couple of hours.

As people came, we asked them to identify the food items in the dining room, living room, and kitchen by Beatles song and album or otherwise guess why they were relevant.  We also asked them to cast a "secret ballot" indicating their favorite Beatle, their favorite Beatles song and album, and their least favorite Beatles song and album.  (A few people refused to pick a least favorite album, or said they didn't have one.)  I originally had the ballot ask people to pick their two favorite Beatles songs, but then when I tried to fill it out myself, after starting with 15 favorites and narrowing it to eight, I finally couldn't bear to list fewer than five favorites.  So I changed the ballots to allow everyone to pick up to five.

About a half hour after the official start time of 7:00 p.m., I asked everyone to gather and find out the Beatles-related meaning of all the food items.  Someone in the group knew the answers to just about all the questions I asked (actually, most of the answers came from three or four people who had crammed lots of Beatles information into their heads)--except for the question, "Why do we have 64 candles on a pie instead of a cake?"  The fairly obvious part of the answer is that I was turning 64 and that we were thinking of the song "When I'm 64."  But why a pie?

Phil Snyder (a friend of many years and currently the chair of BYU's English Department) reminded everyone that Paul McCartney had an album titled Flaming Pie.  OK . . . he was on the right track.  But where did that title come from?  As a very select group of readers may know, the answer is this.  In 1961 John Lennon explained in an interview where the name "Beatles" had come from:
It came in a vision--a man appeared on a flaming pie and said unto them, "from this day on you are Beatles with an A."

After revealing the meaning of the food items, we had a blessing on the food (offered by Mary Elwood, an amazing lady who lives in the neighborhood) and got people eating.  Some had already partaken of treats that were set around the rooms in various spots: peanuts, truffles, dark chocolate coconut almond candies, apples, and tangerines.

But it was time now for the main dishes: rice, scrambled eggs, gluten free spaghetti, red pepper in a bed of humus and parsley (more on what that was all about below).  We also had two kinds of herbal tea: mint and vanilla hazelnut--neither of which many people had because we got so busy socializing that we failed to uncover the containers.  Other items that none or few partook of were pepper, mustard, and orange marmalade.

But there were quite a few takers for the remaining sweets: strawberry pie; another pie made from vanilla pudding, chocolate bars, and marshmallows; cookies made from cornflakes; and boxes of chocolates Margaret got from See's but patterned after the British product known as Mackintosh's Good News.  (More on that later.)

So . . just to whet your appetite:

What do scrambled eggs have to do with anything?

Which song mentions lemonade?

Five songs mention tea; can you name them?

Which song mentions peanuts?

Which song mentions rice?

Which two songs have a connection with Kellogg's Cornflakes?

And how about marshmallow pie? marmalade? tangerines (connected with two songs)? truffles? strawberries? apples?

Which songs mention honey?

And can you think of anything spaghetti would have to do with the Beatles?

For answers, see The Beatles themed food items link below.

(By the way, our daughter Jules and her boyfriend Travis noticed we were a bit thin in the main dish department and went out and got a bunch of pizzas.  This pleased many, especially some of the young people.)

In the background through much of the evening, I had my playlist of 64 favorite Beatles songs playing.  We never got around to the rest of my quiz or to counting the ballots and announcing the results.  (But the results will be revealed later in this post!)

But we did have one other major activity.  My son Robert--also a Beatles fan and quite well informed--decided to get me a present, one of the kind that keeps on giving: Beatles Rock Band for Xbox.  (It's his Xbox, so I don't know what we'll do when he moves.)  So part of our sizable congregation went downstairs to sing along with the Beatles.  I was busy saying goodbye to those who had to leave--including an unhappy 8-year-old who had not gotten a turn with the singing downstairs.  So I promised him and his family--the Westovers (including Paul, a colleague and friend of mine who is remarkably knowledgeable about the Beatles, especially considering that he's a long ways away from being 64)--that we would invite them over for a Beatles Rock Band session sometimes in the near future.

Among those who attended were colleagues from BYU, members of our local church congregation (for which I'm still serving as bishop), and relatives.  (I'll provide a link to a full list below.)  One family weren't able to spend as much time with us as they (and we) would have liked because they performed a special service for us: they picked up our former foster son, Tyrece Traylor, from the care center where he staying and had to get him back there back a predetermined hour.  The family I'm referring to are the Kennedys: Sheila and Branden and their sons T. J. and Justice.  It was great having them at least for part of the evening, along with Tyrece, who had lots of fun--including time with the Beatles Rock Band downstairs.

Something else important happened (upstairs) before the party ended.  Among the relatives who attended were nieces and nephews and several siblings-in-law (Dell Blair, Jen Lambert, and Traci Blair).  Along with Traci, was her daughter Sophie, who (at age 16) is just about as big a Beatles fan as I am at 64.  I had asked her to bring her ukulele and sing for us.  She insisted on having us join her in singing, which made it all the more fun.  I believe she started with "Yesterday."  I don't remember if she did anything else--except to accompany a special number that had been prepared by the Sabeys--nephews and (in some cases) their spouses: Brian and Dia (they also brought their infant child Zina [short for Alsina]), Josh and Sarah, and Matt (not married--but he distinguished himself at the party by making me a guitar out of balloons, i.e., a genuine "air guitar").  They had written a song that they sang to the tune of "Yellow Submarine":
In a town known as Provo Lives a man we all adore,
And we'll tel l you of his life Now that he has reached age 64.
Well he studied in the East till he gained a few degrees,
Wed his student, had some kids, Now he's past age 63! 
Chorus: We're all glad Bruce has past age 63, past age 63, past age 63.
We're all glad Bruce has past age 63, past age 63 happily. 
And his wife is still on board! he has lots of friends around the world,
And the karaoke plays (do do do do do doo do doo do do do do do do do do do!) 
Though it's not a life of ease--Every spare second spent bishoping--
He will be forever Young, though he's past age 63! 
All right, yes, very clever.  But more than that, I felt amazingly blessed to have these beautiful young people (each averaging about a third of my age) showering me with wit and affection.  I felt surrounded by the warmth of their love.

As the evening wound down a bit, I took a turn going downstairs, and joined Jules, Travis, the Elwoods, and Traci and Sophie in singing with the Beatles.  At least one other friend was downstairs--Yoko Stevenson--and yes, she is named after Yoko Ono.  She told us that, unfortunately, she needed to leave--and so I started singing, "I don't want to spoil the party so I'll go . . ."  (Again, I'm tempted to say I couldn't help myself.)

My singing of "I don't want to spoil the party . . ." was without accompaniment (I don't think it's on the Beatles Rock Bank list).  But soon I took my turn singing along with the Beatles.  I sang "When I'm 64" and am delighted to say that, having set the bar at the "expert" level, got a score of 98%.  I got a bit lower on other songs, partly because I wasn't very good at the oohs and ahs and yelling and general silliness that comes in the final stretch of several of them.

As we passed 9:30 and parents started persuading the remaining young people they needed to get home, it was clear the party would finally have to end.  Margaret and I were left with lots of leftovers and lots of good memories.

On the left: I'm ready to blow out 64 candles; guests in the background.
On the right: My daughter Jules checks out my tummy; I'm wearing the Sgt. Pepper's shirt gifted me by the Snyders.


For more details, check the following links:

The playlist of my 64 favorite Beatles songs​ 
(and for a list of the songs:

The fabulous 52 people who attended

The Beatles themed food items (including items mentioned above and others):  (Among other things, you'll find out more about Mackintosh's Good News chocolates--and whatever we . . .or I should say Margaret . . . made out of a red pepper, humus, and parsley.)

The rest of the Beatles quiz (the part I didn't actually get around to asking):

The results of the "secret ballot" (favorite Beatle, favorite Beatles songs and albums, and least favorite Beatles songs and albums--and besides getting the overall results for the group, you'll find out what MY votes were):

For those who don't want to go to the trouble of getting the FULL results, here are partial results:

(1) Favorite Beatle: Paul won by a landslide (13 out of 25 votes)

(2) Favorite Beatles songs: The winner was "Eleanor Rigby," followed by "Here Comes the Sun," "Let It Be," "Hey Jude," "Blackbird," and five other songs that tied for 6th place ("Penny Lane," "Something," "A Hard Day's Night," "I Want to Hold Your Hand," and "I Will").

(3) Favorite Beatles albums: The winner was Abbey Road, followed by Revolver and three others that tied (Rubber Soul, Sgt. Pepper's, and Let It Be).  Interesting results.  In the post that accompanies the full results, I ponder why I think the results are a bit skewed--meaning distorted a bit by many voters' lack of thorough knowledge of all the albums.

(4) Least favorite Beatles song: The clear winner was "Revolution 9" (on the "White Album")--which, as someone pointed out, is not really a song.  There was no clear consensus for second place, though one odd result (explored if you follow the "secret ballot" link above) was that some songs had votes as both favorite and least favorite.  Someone also pointed out that most of the votes were for well-known songs that people didn't care for.  Only those who know all 211 songs we have listed on the ballot might be aware of how bad a few of the more obscure songs are.

(5) Least favorite Beatles albums: Again there was a clear "winner"--Yellow Submarine.  The only problem is that it's not really an album in the sense the others are.  It has only four new songs, repeats two from other albums, and then has orchestral music by George Martin.  I should probably have asked what your least favorite album is other than Yellow Submarine.

As you may have noticed, only 25 of our 52 guests cast ballots.  I guess that's a fairly good percentage as far as midterm elections go.  I have to say that the group's votes don't exactly match mine--I'm referring to the ballots cast at the party, not the actual midterm election that took place the following day (though I wasn't entirely happy with the results of that election either).  But to learn how I voted (in the Beatles "secret ballot"), you'll have to go the link listed above.

Finally, some related links:

Margaret has already published a post about the party on her nationally known "Welcome Table" blog. See

I also noticed that about a year ago, shortly before my 63rd birthday, I had another Beatles post--a fun one playing with song titles:

And then there's the Stake Picnic Beatles interview from many years ago:

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Young Women's Camp 2014

One of the great pleasures of my life has been attending bits and pieces of Stake Young Women's Camp over the years, usually held at Camp MIA Shalom near Fairview, Utah, about an hour and a half from where I live.  The week-long camping experience is organized and run by the women of the stake--including many of the young women--and includes fun, craziness, music, adventure, and spiritual peace and power.

This year I got to attend as the bishop of my ward.  I was invited to make it in time for lunch on Wednesday, July 2, take part in a hike, followed by dinner, help present a skit, and then join with the leaders and young women from our ward in a testimony meeting around a campfire.  Several years I have brought cobbler I've made for this last event, but this time I brought Klondike bars.

The hike was lots of fun.  We did geocaching--my first time doing that.  We were given the coordinates, along with hints, and then (using GPS devices) needed to find ammo boxes, each of which contained a log book for us to sign, stickers, and a story to read.

Each box was associated with one of the Young Women values (faith, divine nature, individual worth, knowledge, choice and accountability, good works, integrity, and virtue).  The story in each box had to do with one of the values and was printed on paper of the color associated with the value.  We left candy in each of the boxes, the idea being that the candy would be of the color associated with the box's value.  (There's actually a Wikipedia article explaining all of this: )

In the evening everyone from Provo Utah Central Stake gathered for singing and other activities--including skits performed by the bishoprics of each ward.

There are currently 6 wards--geographical divisions of the stake: Pioneer 1st, Pioneer 2nd, Pioneer 4th (that's the ward of which I'm bishop), Pioneer 5th (aka Pionero quinto, the Spanish-speaking ward), Rivergrove 1st, and Rivergrove 2nd.  The other skits including a clever one based on the Studio C "Lobster Bisque" routine, off-key singing accompanied by throwing candy, singing "Cielito Lindo" with everyone joining in the chorus, pie throwing, and an amazing magic act.

I was the only bishopric member from my ward able to come, so I recruited Brian Grimsman, one of our Young Men leaders who had come for the day.  I told him while we were driving to the camp.  (He drove; the others in the car included me, Brian's wife Cody, and Courtney Bulsiewicz.)  We thought there was a chance my first counselor, Mike Hoffman, would make it, but he wasn't able to.  But it turns out Brother Grimsman was a godsend--he is a natural ham, and he does an expert job at saying "lobster bisque" in the bizarre Studio C pronunciation we needed for the skit.  For any who are curious, I've copied the skit at the end of this post.

After the evening's entertainment, we gathered as ward groups.  We built a fire, I shared Klondike bars, and then I gave a brief message (about how perfection is a process that will continue even after this life, and that we must be "patient until [we] are perfected").  Then we had a testimony meeting in which everyone said something.  It was dark by the time we finished (about 9:40 p.m.), and those of us who were not staying the night got ready to leave.  (They close the gates at 10pm.)  And I arrive home about 11:20pm.

I have lots of fun photos on Facebook, which you'll find by following this link: (I hope this works--even for people who are not my "friends.")

Here--for your enjoyment and illumination--is the skit Brian Grimsman and I performed:

[It began with me speaking:] I’m not sure we’re really following the rules: we sort of forgot about the skit until last night; one of my counselors is out of town for the summer, and the other wasn’t able to come.  So this is not a member of the bishopric; it’s one of our Young Men leaders, Brian Grimsman.  Anyway, we decided to do a skit about coming up with our skit; so imagine us last night trying to decide what to do.

(B=me, Bruce Young; G=Brian Grimsman)

G: So what should we do for our skit?

B: Well, you know I teach Shakespeare, and there are lots of funny things in Shakespeare.

G: I'm not sure that would work for Young Women’s camp.  You know, the language, and explaining the story, and all that.

B: I think you're right, unfortunately.
Hey, I know.  Back in 1997 at a Stake Picnic, I did a skit with my son, who was 10 years old at the time,
and he interviewed me and I answered every question with the title of a Beatles song. 
You’ve heard of the Beatles, right? 

G: Yeah. [we should have had him say: yeah, yeah, yeah]

B: I happen to be an expert on the Beatles.

G: No, I don't think that would work.  That is so YESTERDAY.

B: (singing) Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away. 
(speaking) Seriously, I think I could pull it off--with a little help from my friends.
Get it? No?  Ok. So what do we do.

G: We could tell jokes.

B: My wife tells me I'm really awful at tellinig jokes.

G: OK.  But . . . do you know any jokes?

B: Sort of.   OK--you know what a kleptomaniac is?  I ask because I told this joke at stake youth conference and nobody got it.

G: A kleptomaniac is a compulsive thief, somebody who is always stealing things.

B: OK. And you know what a pun is, right?

G: Of course.

B: Something with a double meaning, right?  OK.  So do you know why you should not use puns with kleptomaniacs?

G: No, why?

B: Because they're always taking things, literally.  Literally, right? [BTW, this joke was apparently the creation of my nephew Brian Sabey.]

G: Uh, yes.  I think you kind of explained the joke a little bit too much.  Speaking of "literally," though, have you ever heard of Captain Literally on Studio C?

B: Yes.  Oh, that’s perfect.  We could rip off a skit from Studio C.  I hear another of the bishoprics is planning on doing that.

G: Yeah, that could work.

B: You know my wife is actually friends with Mallory.

G: Is she on Studio C?

B: yes.  She’s actually been in our house, literally.  (Oops, sorry.) 

G: So which skit could we rip off?

B: Well, one of my favorites is the one about lobster bisque.  Lobster beh-issk.  I can’t say that very well. [BTW, it turns out Brian Grimsman knows the Studio C skit and can say “lobster bisque” just like the actor on that show.]

G: OK.

B: Actually ... this is really true ... I was at Zupas the other day, and I actually said: Do you have have lobster beh-issk. [Every time I was supposed to say this, I pointed to Brother Grimsman, and he said the word.]  And they said yes.  And then they said they also had mushroom bisque too.  So I asked them if they had different kinds of mushroom beh-isssk.  And they said, no, they had only one kind.  And the guy behind the counter, the server, said—seriously, he literally . . . I mean, he actually said this: we only have one kind, and we don’t have any bisque made with poisonous mushrooms.

G: Well, you know the poison cooks out, right?

B: I’m not sure it really does.

G: OK.  Well.  So what are we going to do for the skit?  It looks like we can’t pull off a scene from Shakespeare, we’re not very good at telling jokes, Beatles songs will probably go over their heads, and if we do Studio C, they’ll just think about how much better those guys are than we are.

B: Well, maybe we could try bribing the judges. [Another bishopric had thrown candy at both the audience and the judges as a kind of “bribe,” so this was an allusion to them.] Anyway, it says here (in this letter from the stake Young Women’s presidency) that the young women like to see their leaders having fun.

G: I think that maybe means making fools of themselves.

B: All right.  I have an idea.  Let’s do rock-paper-scissors, and then just one of us has to make a fool of himself.


[rock-paper-scissors; the loser does a trick]

[I lost and did a “magic trick,” using my fingers as rings that got interlinked and then unlinked, while Brother Grimsman provided musical background.]

[Afterwards, the panel of “judges”—several of the Young Women—grilled me, mostly about whether I really thought they were not up to understanding the Beatles or Shakespeare, and I assured them I knew that they and everybody else there knew all about those things.  We were just short on time to prepare anything.  Unbeknownst to me, while I was trying to butter up the judges, Brother Grimsman was behind me, pantomiming the action of shoveling—I guess suggesting I was digging myself a deeper hole, or more likely that I was piling it higher and deeper.  Anyway, his action had people in stitches and probably helped ensure our 3rd place finish..  That and—as I later learned—the fact that I was so much more relaxed than they had remembered me being last year.  Which was true.]


One final note: For any who are curious about Studio C, here's a link: