Archive for December, 2007

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I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions (or how the krueger saved christmas)

December 31, 2007

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions.

The above line was going to be the entirety of my post this week, but I decided to tag on a post I had written earlier today for my personal blog – because it can be a New Year’s resolution if I want to call it that. I usually write my personal blog in all lowercase. I hope it’s not too hard to read

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*how the krueger saved christmas*

-by the narrator

for a few different reasons, the christmas season just wasn’t that holly jolly for me this year. i tried to merry up the days, but nothing seemed to work. christmas music (even sufjan stevens) didn’t have the magic it used to. tv specials and holiday movies did not entice me. hot chocolate. forget it. gift shopping wasn’t the joy it usually was. and christmas lights were only amusing when i got to point out how pathetic some house displays were with their single strands across a garage or window.

bah humbug indeed.

then came the night before the night before christmas. i joined up with a handful of friends to watch a couple south park christmas specials as well as the mormon christmas classic, mr. krueger’s christmas, starring jimmy stewart. for those of you who haven’t seen it, this 1980 production tells the story of willy krueger, an elderly widower who lives in the basement of an apartment complex with his cat george. the first 2/3 of the movie basically consists of willy krueger going off into day-dream land where he rides sleighs, thinks he’s nobility, conducts the mormon tabernacle choir, and other things that crazy old men day dream of.

i haven’t seen this movie for several years and the first two-thirds had me wondering, what the hell is this movie?

but then the last third suddenly changed everything. while adjusting his small end-table nativity scene, willy’s day dreaming takes him to bethlehem where he finds himself in a stable approaching the baby jesus in his manger.

Hello there… I-I-I-I… Oh dear… Oh… Oh, you’re-you’re… I’m Willy Krueger and I’m custodian over at the Beck Apartments, but, but you know that, don’t you. You know that. I guess nobody here can see me or hear me except you. I didn’t bring a gift, I, but I, I guess that’s not important. Thank you for everything you’ve done for me. As long as I can remember you’ve been right by my side. I’ll never forget when you walked with me right in those first few hours after I lost Martha. I-I’ve always been able to count on you, when I felt dark inside and when I… You were right there, right, every time, right there. Even when I didn’t feel good about myself, I knew that you cared for me enough, and that, that made me feel better. Like that time I got mad with Mabel Huntington because she broke her pipes on purpose just so she could have somebody to see while I came up and fixed them for her. Boy, I hollered at her, boy I hollered real loud. But then, then I got to thinking – you loved Mabel just as much as you loved me and I should treat her the way you want me to. I believe I talked to you about that at the time. Well, I started visiting her and we became friends. I saw her almost every day until the day she died. I love you. You’re my closest, my finest friend. And that means that I can hold my head high, wherever I go. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

while this scene had a sudden and profound effect on me, it was what happens next that really hit me. a young girl who is accompanying a group of carolers invites willy to join their group. while he initially plays it off, it’s clear that this was what willy wanted and needed more than anything that christmas – someone to befriend and love him. afterall, isn’t that what anyone really wants?

krueger saved my christmas that night. i realized that i had something to offer this christmas… well not necessarily for christmas… but i had something to offer. like willy, there are plenty of people who need someone. people who are struggling and need support, friendship, help, and love. however, i don’t want to help old people. you see… old people scare me. not only do they go all willy and day dream all the time, they have stuff growing on them, say weird things, get mad for no reason, smell funny, have memory trouble, call me names of former lovers, wear diapers, and a plethora of other things that i just don’t handle well. rather, i really want to do something i’ve been planning on doing, but haven’t gotten around to.. mentoring a child. a few months ago i had the paper work all ready to go, but a sudden car accident ruined everything. now, however, i’ve got the car, time, and means to do it. all i lack are excuses.

so that is how the krueger saved christmas. he helped me realize that i do have a christmas gift to offer this season. now i just need to make sure that i follow through with it.

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“I love you.” That’s what Christmas is all about… Clarissa said it to Mr. Krueger; Mr. Krueger said it to Jesus; and Jesus in so many ways said it to all of us.
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My gift to you!!!

December 29, 2007

About three years ago, my friend Ryan introduced me to a band called plus minus. I listened to a couple of their songs online but was not impressed enough to buy their albums. While I was poking around their site, I came across something fascinating. Their yearly, continental food tour.

Plus Minus toured Asia a few times and while they were there they chronicled everything they ate in series of photo essays called the Authentic Asian Food Tour. I have taken all the tours and am now sharing with this “gift”. I thought it was interesting, and usually am hungry/nauseated after the tour (Frankly there are some things that just do not look good).

On a related note, Plus Minus has inspired me to do my own tour and photo essay that I am going to call the Authentic Provo Food Tour. I will work on it gradually and post it when it is finished. I doubt that I will ever be able to eat at every restaurant in Provo any time soon but should have completed my tour sometime this summer.

So here is a link that will allow you to take the Food tour because after all, since Mormons do not smoke or drink, some find their outlet in food. So take the tour. If you dare!!!!!!!!!!!

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Thoughts on Gifts and Toenails

December 25, 2007

by BiV

I have received several notable gifts through heredity.  One of the most fascinating to me is my baby toenail.  It’s strange how, for at least 4 generations, the women on the maternal side of my family have been born with a very small toenail on our little toes.  It is so small it looks more like a dot than a toenail.  It is too small to apply nail polish.  I’ve always appreciated this genetic gift from my forebears–odd enough to be distinctive, yet not really a deformity.  When each of my daughters was born, I didn’t check for five fingers; rather, I glanced down at the smallest toe first.  How sad I felt when I saw that I had not passed down this distinguishing characteristic!  In each case, their baby toenail was larger at Day One than my own. 

 Other gifts passed down may not be so welcome.  My sister and I, having passed the age of 40, have noticed evidence that we may have received the gift of jowls–so prominent in the aged members on my father’s side of the family.  Yikes!  Another gift I’ve noticed lately that I’ve given to my daughters is the “Nancy Lund” voice.  When my mother was angry, she began to speak in a tight, controlled voice, enunciating each word and speaking down as if to a preschooler.  I didn’t realize I did the same thing until I began to recognize it in my older children. 

As children of Christ, his sons and his daughters, we are partakers of the divine nature.  Lately I’ve been wondering what this means in terms of heredity.  Are there gifts we inherit from our spirit parents?  Are we predisposed to receive the gift of healing, or the gift of tongues, or even the gift of weeping from our Heavenly Father and Mother?  Is becoming like Christ a difficult task we must fight for, or are there things that come to us easily, as gifts, simply because we have chosen to follow him and become his children? 

It’s been a constant struggle for me to try to develop a Christlike character.  Almost every good quality exhibited by the Savior is something that has been difficult for me to emulate.  But my thoughts on spiritual gifts have led me to two areas where I feel that I have been gifted.  I won’t share them here, because for some reason it would be more embarrassing to tell you what they are than to describe the appearance of my smallest toenail.  I’m not sure why–maybe because these gifts pale in comparison with the abilities of other Latter-Day Saints.  Yet I feel deep within that they are strengths.  One of these has always been with me.  Perhaps it is indeed inherited at a spirit level.  The other became evident when I was baptized and received the gift of the Holy Ghost at age 19.  It was as if when I was adopted into the covenant there actually was a change in my character and this gift was bestowed upon me. 

Of course, there are many other gifts we may lay hold of because of our desire and our diligence.  I know that the gifts we obtain this way come from God and are valuable and useful.  However, the things that have been given to me through no effort of my own are somehow so precious and sweet.  They make me feel so close to the Divine, simply because they identify my heritage.  It’s like looking in the mirror, and seeing the shadow of jowls coming on, and smiling at my great-grandfather.

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Giving Jesus the Gift of Captain Underpants

December 23, 2007

by the narrator

This is a little early, but I’m getting kinda desperate here. You see, normally I LOVE Christmas. I listen to Christmas music all month long. I wear a stupid Christmas hat with blinking lights everywhere. I get all excited about buy gifts for friends and family. i look at lights. I do all that holly jolly Christmas stuff.

The problem is that this year I have had zero Christmas spirit. Nothing. Nada. I have had no desire to sing or listen to Christmas songs. I haven’t even looked for that hat. I could care less about getting gifts. The only time I have looked at Christmas lights was to point out which houses should probably just take theirs down. I’ve pretty much been the Grinch who you wouldn’t touch with a 30 foot pole. It’s not a fun place to be.

Having had no Christmas spirit, here is a blog post about gift giving that I wrote a few years ago:

i needed a little break from paper writing, so i went to our ward’s fhe tonight. the bishop told a little story and then said that we need to think about giving jesus a present. what are we going to give him? not an ipod, he says.

i’m sure most in the room were thinking “ooh, i’ll give him a broken heart and a contrite spirit” “i’ll give him my prayers” “i’ll give him more of my faith” “i’ll give him 20 minutes of scripture reading”

i think jesus would almost rather have an ipod, but i’m not sure what to give him this year.

last year i gave jesus harry potter and captain underpants. i’ve never read captain underpants, but one of my cousins loved it, so i thought jesus would appreciate it too.

not to sound braggish, but last christmas eve i met up with one of my old roommates for some breakfast at the village inn. yeah… i know… why would i brag about that. lots of people do that. i’m not done with the story stupid.

after breakfast, i went over to barnes and noble to window shop ( i usually order my books through amazon). in the center of the store there was a little tree with ornaments labeled “boy, age 14” “girl, age 8” “girl, age 4” etc… these all represented under-priveledged kids who didn’t have much. grab an ornament, pick out a book, pay at the register, kid gets a brand new book for christmas… not some crappy, beat up hand me down.

girl, age 12 got harry potter, books 1, 2, and 3. boy, age seven got the captain underpants collection.

“inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

this was by far, the highlight of my christmas.

So here’s my dilemma. I need some Christmas spirit. I need to find something, some form of charity, some Christmas grace, something that gives me that Christmas joy I have completely lacked this holiday season. I only have a couple days left. Please help.

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Mandy Moore, Macaulay Culkin, and Christian Meanness

December 21, 2007

Last weekend my wife and I rented the movie Saved!, a mild satire about life in an evangelical Christian high school. It’s a reasonably entertaining movie, although it gets a bit preachy toward the end. Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore), the pious socialite, represents what has become a common stereotype of Christians–one who hypocritically pledges devotion to Christ while using her faith to justify really nasty actions. Hilary Faye is contrasted with other stereotypes–Roland (Macaulay Culkin) and Cassandra (Eva Amurri), the shoplifting, smoking, fornicating delinquents who end up having hearts of gold.

As with many stereotypes, the stereotype of “mean Christians” is not without basis. There are some well-meaning Christians out there who, I’m not afraid to say, strike me as being really extreme, judgmental, and narrow-minded. Like the ones who hold “Church of the Devil” signs and yell condemnations into bullhorns outside temple square during General Conference, or the ones I saw protesting outside the local Planned Parenthood a couple months ago. But then, I’ve met lots of non-Christians who fit the same mold. I don’t think that Christians, as a group, are particularly meaner than other groups.

However, I think there is something about the Fundamentalist mindset that makes one susceptible to being judgmental. If you are convinced that you are right and that everybody else is wrong, it’s hard to avoid judging others or being condescending. And, as Pema Chodron has put it, “We are all capable of becoming fundamentalists because we get addicted to other people’s wrongness” (thanks Exponent II!). I witnessed the same Fundamentalist-meanness trend in Utah. Even well-meaning, good-hearted Mormons occasionally found themselves making some disparaging comment about the non-religious, intellectuals, gays, “liberals,” or some other group they deemed to be “wrong.” For some, these comments occurred more than “occasionally.” Much more.

But then, I’ve often found myself making disparaging comments about those people–about how they are wrong (and I am right), how they are judgmental (and I am not). It looks like I’m just as susceptible to the self-aggrandizing delusions that I despise in others. Crap.

I think that pretty much any group of strong-willed, like-minded individuals is prone to the us vs. them, “we’re right and they’re wrong” mentality. Christians certainly may fall into this trap, but they are by no means its only victims.

This is by no means a novel idea, but if we (be we Christian, Mormon, secular, or whatever) could all avoid judgment, exercise more tolerance, and admit our own susceptibility to error, meanness probably wouldn’t be much of a concern for any of us.

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My Mullings and Musings on Meanness

December 20, 2007

I have to get to Christmas stuff, but I did want to post something this week.

In reality, I think it’s pretty unproductive, and usually unfair, to label an entire group of people as mean. I would rather understand why meanness happens and what I might be able to do about it.

I have been reading a book that has helped me personally understand this better. I will briefly sum up some of my thoughts from what I have read and experienced (imperfect as I am).

If we understand that meanness is often the result of fear (or, I would add, sometimes the result of pain), we can better understand how to approach those who are mean (or be more self-aware when we are acting mean ourselves). (The book doesn’t use these words, but the concepts are there.)

If we run into a person who is acting in a mean manner, we might ask ourselves, “What is he/she afraid of? What is causing a felt need for defensive behavior?” And then, at the same time, we can ask, “What can I do so this person does not feel afraid or hurt or threatened?”

As simple as it sounds, I believe more than ever that the more we can help others feel safe and cared about, the less meanness we might run into. And the less inclined we will be to act in a mean manner as well!

Perhaps this a reason the Savior commanded us to love our enemies and pray for them and do good to them. The more we do that, the more we are sure that our hearts are right (a key to making sure we are acting in love, and that we have the Spirit so we can see things and others more clearly). Also, the more we act and react with love, the more chance we have of helping someone else feel more safe. In the end, our choice to love may be the choice that blesses our own lives as fear is reduced and meanness lessened.

Of course, this approach won’t always work. We may not always have the power to reduce the fear and pain in others’ lives because their source may run deep. But I think it’s worthwhile to do all we can not to unnecessarily add to others’ pain. We should also always be willing to look inside; someone’s meanness isn’t always just about what that person needs to change. Sometimes our own behavior can be a part of the problem. Often, we can change the nature of others’ reactions simply by changing ourselves and opening our hearts in love.

A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger. (Proverbs 15:1)

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you…. (Matthew 5:44; see also 3 Nephi 12:44)

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You Big Meanie!

December 19, 2007

I don’t think that Christians are mean. There is no good reason for the stereotype. The reason we think that Christians are mean as a whole is because the duplicitous preacher/priest/monk as a literary device goes all the way back the the middle ages (probably earlier, we do have false prophets in the Old Testament, after all). There is no better way to embody hypocrisy and cruelty than to take someone who is supposed to represent a kind and loving God and then making them a hypocrite or cruel.

Certainly there are plenty of mean Christians, but there are plenty of mean Buddhists, too, I am sure. People come in all types and flavors and some of those are pretty sour. I don’t believe that Christians are exempt from this truth. In fact, the only way to exempt Christians from this would be to engage in some sort of wordplay. “Christianity implies kindness and humility and therefore the self-professed Christian who is proud and mean is not an actual Christian.” That is well and good if all you are interested in is a party wherein the righteous hang out with the really righteous. But we aren’t.

The Christian party is all access. Therefore, you do not actually have to be nice to participate. You just have to want to be better. Expecting someone to go from jerk to shining beacon of love and graciousness overnight is a bit absurd. People do change under Christ’s influence, but unusually it isn’t the sort of change that is immediately evident.

Our duty to the mean Christian is to love them. If we would be true Christians, we will do it because we ourselves want to. For, while they may be unpleasant, annoying, self-righteous, reactionary, self-important, prideful, unsympathetic, ugly, and smell funny, they are our brothers and sisters in Christ. If we take that notion seriously, these mean Christians are our mean Christians. If a child is unpleasant, you don’t abandon it. You teach it, love it, and give it a chance to grow. And not one of us can claim membership among the nice or the perfect Christians. That’s a club far too exclusive for the likes of mortals.

Remember your duty to the mean Christian, for that Christian is you.