Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Pushing Against the Boulder

Sometimes when I'm saying prayers, it feels like I'm pushing against a boulder. I'm asking for some things indefinitely, and while I'm hopeful, I'm not always (definitely) sure that those things will come to pass. I think part of that has to do with my own lack of faith, but I think part of it is just being unsure about whether what I'm asking for corresponds with the will of Heavenly Father. I try to pray at least a couple of times a day, and there tends to be a few things that I'm asking for at any given time.

And that's where the boulder comes in. I'm pushing and heaving, hoping that this massive object will move, feeling like there's no effect, but hoping that my efforts are, in fact, making a difference. Sometimes it'll take weeks, other times months, and still other times even longer - years, even.

Then, all of a sudden, that thing that I had been pushing against has actually been moving. I didn't know it, but my hands became calloused in the process and I'm able to push with greater frequency and force. Where my hands and shoulders may have been thrusting, now there are hand holds and indentations that allow me to get greater leverage. And after much time, effort, bruises and hardening of skin, muscles, and determination, the huge obstacle has actually begun to roll.

I've been thinking a lot about this recently with some prayers being answered after months of constant pleading. Some of these prayers weren't even for my own direct benefit, but I still never get tired of seeing how those prayers get answered and that thing that seemed so far off has actually been attended to by Father.

I thought about this last night as Amy and I were able to attend the temple. Admittedly, I got very little out of the endowment session itself, but once I got into that last room and began to think over some different things, I just felt so grateful to be there.

It reminds me of when Jesus is transfigured before Peter, James, and John, and probably not knowing what else to say, but still feeling the magnitude of the moment, Peter says aloud, "Lord, it is good for us to be here."

I often feel that when I'm in the temple, and I think Amy and I always end up actually saying that to each other once we meet in the celestial room: "It is good for us to be here."

The biggest boulder in my life that finally moved was being single. Even though we're coming up on almost a year of being married now, Amy and I still remark to each other frequently about how we can't believe that we're actually married, and that time is now and we each have finally arrived. I think it's a little different when you get married a little bit later like we did. Some others will get married much later, and some not at all, but I think we're still further along in the spectrum than most LDS couples when it comes to age at nuptials.

It's different when you've had severe heartbreaks and actually consider that maybe marriage is not just around the corner, but you wonder whether it will happen at all in the way and to the person that you hope it will be.One thing that kept me going through all of my years of singleness was something my best friend said to me in Del Taco in Provo after my first real heartbreak: "If you want it that much and it is right, then imagine how much more the Lord wants it for you, who sees all things perfectly, loves you perfectly, and knows all things. It will happen, just trust in him and let him work in your behalf."

It's not far off from what one prophet of old said, "how is it that ye have forgotten that the Lord is able to do all things according to his will, for the children of men, if it so be that they exercise faith in him? Wherefore, let us be faithful to him."

During this Christmas season, it's a hard thing for us to imagine how much people looked forward to and yearned for the coming of the Lord. It amazes me to think about the believers in the book of Helaman, and faced not only with ridicule and scorn, but also with the prospect of death and how they must have agonized for the coming of the Lord, for the signs to be shown so that everyone might know that what they believed in and had been living for all of their lives was actually true. Then to imagine what that felt like as those prayers were finally answered.

At this time of year we celebrate all of the figurative boulders that have been and will be moved in our behalf. We celebrate the literal fulfillment of thousands of years of prophecies that have led each of us to this moment in our lives. And what's more, we celebrate the literal moving of that final boulder that would attempt to symbolize the squashing of all of the prayers and faith that sat in waiting in that garden tomb. But move, it did, and with it came, and will come, the evidence of our faith and of God's supernal love for us.

Have a merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Those Who Are In Charge

I thought this picture was really interesting. It's a shot from Earth's orbit of the power usage of North and South Korea. It helps illustrate a lot about the country's (North) lack of development. The CIA estimates that GDP in North Korea was $1800 per capita, which is comparable to what the GDP in the US was back in...1847. Unreal. (HT: Mark Perry at this post).

The editors at NRO have come out with this statement about how the US needs to take advantage of the shifting of power in that country due to the death of Kim Jong Il and apply some real pressure so that the country can make some real advancements.

It's amazing what is done by those who are in power. North Korea has been selling nuclear arms to hostile countries, it has openly killed South Koreans, and no one will do a thing about it. They are a legitimate threat to our peace, no matter how small or insignificant they might seem. And even if they're not, they're a threat to their own people, right? This is the kind of case when it illustrates just how off base Ron Paul is as a viable candidate for the POTUS. He does have a lot of views that are quite commendable, but his stance on isolationism for the United States is completely unacceptable. It is not simply a matter of, if we leave them alone, they will leave us alone. That wasn't the case with either of the World Wars, and more recently with the terrorism that has visited our shores. Enough about that though...

I meant to get to this little excerpt about the treatment of a Chinese dissident:
According to reliable sources, Huang, while in prison, was transferred to the Liyang Psychiatric Hospital in Changzhou because he appealed his sentence and refused to kneel on one knee while speaking with prison authorities. After being returned to prison, he was placed in the strict supervision block, where he was subjected to torture and physical and verbal abuse, including beating, being shocked with an electric baton on his legs and mouth, having his toes crushed, and solitary confinement. During this period, he was forced to run 150 laps a day on gravel, and, when he could not run anymore, was dragged through gravel, which tore through his clothes.

The abuses and torture resulted in torn cartilage in both of his knees and torn ligaments in his legs. He developed traumatic arthritis and inflammation of the joints. At his worst moment, he was unable to stand to walk and lost some of his ability to care for himself. The prison hospital refused him treatment.
Again, this is from those who hold all of the cards. Even actor Christian Bale tried to visit a Chinese dissident and he was strong-armed by plain clothes officers of the Chinese government to leave the premises.

It's scary how much real evil is out there. Another example? Take Egypt. Read this post for more news on the crackdown on protests there, but I think more useful is the recent appearance by the interim Egyptian Prime Minister who broke down and wept openly in front of journalists, saying that the Egyptian economy is "worse than anyone imagines." It's really something for the leader of a nation to have that kind of breakdown in public. For more on that story, go here.

Anyway, that's a lot of what's wrong in the world.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

We have been getting into the Christmas season quite well these last few weeks starting with having our fresh tree up by December 1st, which now is not as great with our tree going from a nice hunter green to a light shade of brown, but it's the spirit that counts, right?

This month has been great so far, though. There was Amy's work Christmas party, a few different get togethers with friends, but the Christmasy events have been really fun too. Just in case you had any doubts about it, the Silvas are very cultured people.Early this month we swung by Temple Square to check out the lights, and last week we caught The Nutcracker performed by the Ballet West dance company.

I hadn't seen it since I was really young, but I think the music is really great and although I probably wouldn't go and see ballet on a normal basis, it's fun to see something so classic performed that's so appropriate for the season. It's pretty amazing what they can do, and I can definitely appreciate that. The performance that we saw seemed like a pretty traditional version of it, which is neat to think that this is the same kind of dance that has been done for over a hundred years.

Last night Amy and I went up to Salt Lake to a local stake center to see a performance of Handel's Messiah. I had never seen that live before, and what I really liked about it was that it was a professional level performance just put on by some people in the community. The concertmaster is a lady that is actually in the Salt Lake Symphony, and it featured 70 voices in the choir, and 40 instruments in the orchestra, including a harpsichord! I thought was really cool. Not sure if I have ever heard one live before.

The story behind The Messiah is one that is really amazing. Handel, at 56 years old, in near poverty, and with no significant pieces to his name was commissioned to write a Christmas piece, and in 24 days he wrote the whole thing. Speaking of his masterpiece he said that if it only entertains, then he has failed; it should inspire men to be better people. It was pretty cool.

One of my favorite things, however, was watching a Charlie Brown Christmas yesterday. I read this article a few weeks ago and it gives a lot of great background to the special:

The executives did not want to have Linus reciting the story of the birth of Christ from the Gospel of Luke. The network orthodoxy of the time assumed that viewers would not want to sit through passages of the King James Bible.

There was a standoff of sorts, but Schulz did not back down, and because of the tight production schedule and CBS’s prior promotion, the network executives aired the special as Schulz intended it. But they were certain they had a flop on their hands.

“They were freaking out about something so overtly religious in a Christmas special,” explained Melendez.

“They basically wrote it off, like, hey, this is just isn’t going to be interesting to anyone, and it’s just going to be like a big tax write-off.”

Melendez himself was somewhat hesitant about the reading from Luke. “I was leery of the religion that came into it, and I was right away opposed to it. But Sparky just assumed what he had to say was important to somebody.”

Which is why Charles Schulz was Charles Schulz. He knew that the Luke reading by Linus was the heart and soul of the story.

As Charlie Brown sinks into a state of despair trying to find the true meaning of Christmas, Linus quietly saves the day. He walks to the center of the stage where the Peanuts characters have gathered, and under a narrow spotlight, quotes the second chapter of the Gospel According to Luke, verses 8 through 14:
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and goodwill towards men.
“ . . . And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown,” Linus concluded.

The scene lasted 51 seconds. When Linus finished up, Charlie Brown realized he did not have to let commercialism ruin his Christmas. With a sense of inspiration and purpose, he picked up his fragile tree and walked out of the auditorium, intending to take it home to decorate and show all who cared to see how it would work in the school play.

When CBS executives saw the final product, they were horrified. They believed the special would be a complete flop. CBS programmers were equally pessimistic, informing the production team, “We will, of course, air it next week, but I’m afraid we won’t be ordering any more.”

The half-hour special aired on Thursday, December 9, 1965, preempting The Munsters and following Gilligan’s Island. To the surprise of the executives, 50 percent of the televisions in the United States tuned in to the first broadcast. The cartoon was a critical and commercial hit; it won an Emmy and a Peabody award.

Anyway, we don't have much left on our Christmas event plates besides time with family and presents and such, but all of that is probably the best stuff anyway.

The Charlie Brown special is really great because even all those years ago people felt like Christmas was being overrun by all of the commercialism, and lucky for us, there was a man like Charles Schulz to help us collectively regain our bearings and realize what the season is really about.

So go watch your It's a Wonderful Lifes, Christmas Carols, or Charlie Brown Christmas specials. And don't forget to crack open your scriptures to those wonderful words penned by Luke and the other prophets and apostles. It really is the most wonderful time of the year.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Condemn Not

I hate when people misuse the scripture talking about judging. Not everyone has the JST for that scripture that includes the adverb "righteously," but still, you'd think it's intuitive. Obviously you have to make judgments, the caveat is the nature of your judgments. I prefer to think of it as condemn not, and that helps me figure it out.

There have been a few things in the last week that has made me think a lot about this topic. The first one being the signing of Albert Pujols (yes, that's pronounced "poo-holes") by the Angels this last week. A lot of people are jumping on him, mainly in St. Louis, because he seems to be leaving the Cardinals not only for greener pastures, but just plain ol' more green. The result has been a barrage by him and his wife saying that they didn't do it for the money.

Leaving that rationale aside, is there anything wrong for him doing it for the money? The Angels offered him $40 million more to play for them, and that's not including the continued involvement that the club wrote into his contract once he retires from actually playing baseball. $40 million is a sum I can't even comprehend, but what about a 20% increase. Wouldn't most people choose the higher offer if they were given the choice between $50k and $60k a year?

There are many other factors that went into that decision, and I think the thing that bothers me the most is that people are applying to others criteria for behavior that they wouldn't impose on themselves. I'm sure that I fall for that tendency myself, but this seems to be one of those things that's really easy for me to pick out because I tend to think about these personnel moves so often.

The other instance comes from one of the recent ESPN 30 for 30 documentaries that they had recently about Todd Marinovich called The Marinovich Project. He was a former Raiders QB so that's why the story piqued my interest, but it was an incredible story about the development of Todd as a can't miss prospect for the NFL. He grew up in Newport Beach, played at high school powerhouse Mater Dei, went to USC and won the Rose Bowl his freshman year, succumbed to drugs and seemingly wasted his talent and opportunity.

I thought he asked the most interesting question though: Just because you are good at something, does it mean that you were meant to do it?

In the film he goes on to talk about how when he was on hard times many people would look at him with derision and openly criticize him for wasting what he had. I really felt for him. What is it like to be forever known for and judged by people for the worst thing(s) you have ever done when you have paid your debts for those offenses? That's a question I've wondered a lot about.

I know this is an area that I need to work on a lot myself. It's so easy to cast aspersions when we're on the outside looking in. I just thought these were two very interesting instances of that phenomena. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Freaking Out

I have been checking feverishly the last several days and Sportscenter to see what was going to happen with the big free agent signings for the Angels. I had a feeling that something big was going to happen, and even aside from the Angels interests I have, I was interested in seeing where Albert Pujols was going to go. Just as a fan, it was going to be huge news if he was going to be moving anywhere. For you baseball uninitiated, it's as big as Wayne Gretzky moving to Los Angeles after his time with Edmonton. Pujols is one of the best players of the last 50 years, easily. He just came off a World Series performance where he had one of the greatest games in World Series history with his 3-home run outburst in Game 3. The guy is amazing.

But I didn't think there was any realistic chance the Angels would sign him. Not in a million years. We have been swinging and missing a lot on the big guys the last several years. I thought at most we would pick up CJ Wilson and add depth to our starting rotation. I thought that was both realistic and very good for our ballclub.

So you can imagine my reaction this morning when I woke up and checked first thing on for any updates about the free agents and baseball winter general manager meetings and discovered this kind of headline:

Sent From Heaven: Albert Pujols signs with the Angels for 10 years, 250 million.

And then this was my reaction:

Is that not the funniest thing you've ever seen?

And THEN, they signed CJ Wilson shortly thereafter, adding to what was already their greatest strength.

Some baseball commentary: I just can't tell you how big this is. The best and brightest star of the last ten years signing with your team for the next ten years. It remains to be seen if this will really be beneficial over the next ten as it was for the last ten, but still, you can't doubt that adding someone of his caliber to your roster completely changes the make-up of your team. With just his added presence in the line-up we shore up our greatest weakness, and all of a sudden, our "stars" that were carrying us before have that huge burden lifted immediately from their shoulders and if they can just go back to having what is for them average years, then the Angels will surely be in contention.

I'm pretty sure this move will precipitate further moves with either Trumbo, Morales, or Bourjos. We could end up moving those guys in their positions, or even to other teams. We got bullpen help, upgraded our catcher, and here is one thing that no one else has mentioned yet: We still have what is widely regarded as the best prospect in all of MLB only a year or two away from becoming a mainstay in our lineup in Mike Trout.

I desperately want to be there for the first home game at Angel stadium.

And as I said before, this is in addition to securing for ourselves an ace in Wilson who would be the number one starter on many other pitching staffs, and he comes in probably as a number 3 or 4 starter. Unbelievable.

It's just so wonderful. I want to go to spring training. I want to live in Southern California this summer. I want I want I want.

The landscape of the American League has dramatically changed on this day.


Now it's just time for the Lakers to follow suit and pick up Dwight Howard and CP3.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Around the Web

Some interesting articles from around the interwebs. This article talks about how higher taxes drive down home values. With having few other ways to account for budget shortfalls in government, oftentimes money is stripped from homeowners through property taxes. I know that is certainly the case in places like California where so much is committed to government spending without other sources of revenue. Property taxes are hugely expensive, and have become worse over the years, and this helps to relieve government debt. It wasn't an issue before when property values were soaring, but is felt now when homeowners are looking for ways to absorb losses from their home equity.

This article is an op-ed from the Professor over at Harvard whose students walked out on his economics lecture. Not sure how many of you heard of that, but the students were trying to express solidarity with the OWS movement. The professor is an adviser to the Romney campaign, and he gives a very measured, thoughtful response, mainly, "know what you're protesting." He mentions:

[My] reaction was sadness at how poorly informed the Harvard protesters seemed to be. As with much of the Occupy movement across the country, their complaints seemed to me to be a grab bag of anti-establishment platitudes without much hard-headed analysis or clear policy prescriptions. Ironically, the topic of the lecture that the protesters chose to boycott was economic inequality, including a discussion of recent trends and their causes. 

I loved this article from Michael Lewis about the 1%. He's the same guy who wrote Moneyball and The Blind Side. He has also written some other pieces about the economic crisis and writes for Bloomberg. I really like his insights. In this piece he writes from the perspective of the 1% and writes ironically. It's great. An excerpt:

Hence our committee’s conclusion: We must be able to quit American society altogether, and they must know it. For too long we have simply accepted the idea that we and they are all in something together, subject to the same laws and rituals and cares and concerns. This state of social relations between rich and poor isn’t merely unnatural and unsustainable, but, in its way, shameful. (Who among us could hold his head high in the presence of Louis XIV or those Russian czars or, for that matter, Croesus?)

The modern Greeks offer the example in the world today that is, the committee has determined, best in class. Ordinary Greeks seldom harass their rich, for the simple reason that they have no idea where to find them. To a member of the Greek Lower 99 a Greek Upper One is as good as invisible.

He pays no taxes, lives no place and bears no relationship to his fellow citizens. As the public expects nothing of him, he always meets, and sometimes even exceeds, their expectations. As a result, the chief concern of the ordinary Greek about the rich Greek is that he will cease to pay the occasional visit.

That is the sort of relationship with the Lower 99 we must cultivate if we are to survive. We must inculcate, in ourselves as much as in them, the understanding that our relationship to each other is provisional, almost accidental and their claims on us nonexistent. 

Very clever writing.

And lastly, this one about the pro-life 'good war' and the anti-same-sex-marriage 'bad war.' The pro-life is enjoying some pretty widespread support, and as far as the social conservative movements goes, it is both a winning and more easily supportable cause than the anti-SSM movement. For one, the victims of abortions are obvious, but the homosexual marriage victims less so. The author gives some very thoughtful insight:

After more than a generation of no-fault divorce, the very concept of “traditional marriage” is seeping out of our cultural DNA, replaced, sadly, by the core conviction that marriage is no longer a covenant, but a contract — specifically a contract for the fulfillment and enjoyment of adults. Our churches not only acquiesced in this cultural change, many of them continue to facilitate it even as they argue against same-sex marriage. There are many taboos in the modern evangelical church, and one of them is “judging” anyone’s divorce. Even wayward and unfaithful spouses will rationalize their betrayals through long lists of real and imagined slights, and church discipline for adultery and divorce is largely a thing of the past.  

What kind of message does this send? Imagine the incredulity of a Christian college student — themselves too often the product of a broken home, where they had a front-row seat to their parents’ contentious festival of self-love — watching a thrice-married fellow congregant rail against gay marriage. It just doesn’t add up.

The battle over marriage, frankly, needs to broaden. We shouldn’t necessarily speak of “defending traditional marriage” when traditional marriage has already been mortally wounded by no-fault divorce. Perhaps we should instead emphasize marriage restoration over marriage defense. What do social conservatives want? To restore marriage to its rightful place and definition in our culture (which includes defining it as a covenant, not a contract) and to repair what is broken. To be sure, making and winning such an argument is an immense cultural challenge, but as the pro-life movement has demonstrated, courage, persistence, and truth can turn the tide. 

Couldn't agree more.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Best in Worst Christmas Things

There are some monumentally bad, but amazing Christmas songs out there. My friend Doug posted this one on FB this week:

Dave likes to send me a link to this website this time of year, which features some pretty awful remixes and original work as well. Unfortunately, nothing is posted on YouTube so you'll have to visit that site to partake of that treasure. As a preview though, one of his songs borrows heavily from Depeche Mode's People are People, but titled, Jingles Bells Jingle. Good stuff.

Although The Biebs' Christmas song Mistletoe is reasonably catchy, don't let that distract you from the pure awfulness of his rendition of Drummer Boy:

And just in case you're still searching for a gift idea, try this one. Totally not a joke:

Have a merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Very Vegas Thanksgiving

This was my first year heading down to Las Vegas as part of the Polley-Walton-Redford-Thompson Thanksgiving party. It's an every other yearly tradition for Amy's family to go down to stay in Vegas and celebrate the holiday with her mom's side of the family.

Between Amy's family and my connections with the Redford side, I knew that I was going to really enjoy the weekend. I wanted to get a lot of video of the weekend, but as it turns out, I messed up the two time-lapse footage that I was going to use and just quit trying in frustration after that. Turns out, not even Amy really does much photo-documenting during the weekend. There would have been a lot of fun videos to capture, but so it goes.

Anyway, so here are a few brief highlights from the weekend:
  • 55 people staying in two houses next door to each other. The Redfords and most of the Thompsons in the neighbor's house, and the Waltons, Polleys, and a few Thompsons in the Polley home. Amy and I were lucky enough to get put into an office with glass doors, but more importantly, also houses two main computers which everyone likes using, so we didn't really have a private space. It was fine for most of the weekend, except for when I started to get sick at the end and just wanted a place to lay my weary head.
  • Visit to Grandma and Grandpa Polley's graves. I have had very little interaction with Jim Polley prior to this weekend, but I was really impressed with him. We arrived at the cemetery with the entire family (including family dog) in tow. It was a nice Fall evening in Vegas, as every night and day was during this trip, when he introduced us to the burial sites of his parents. "This is my mom and dad," he said, voice cracking from his obvious affection, and I think at that moment everyone felt the love that binds not only those adult children to their parents, but everyone present to each other as they continue on with this Thanksgiving reunion in their absence. It was really touching.
  • Much food, many games, and many pies. Most of the family played volleyball Thanksgiving morning, which was really fun. Volleyball is not one of those sports that I think I really get into, but it turned out to be a lot of fun. There was a ping pong tournament which crowned the dark horse candidate Mark Redford as the champion. The Walton boys started off strong, but had a rough final couple of matches. One of my favorites ended up being horseshoes. It's just fun. It just is. There weren't as many board games as I would have liked, but we managed to keep ourselves occupied. 
  • Probably my favorite part was getting to spend a good chunk of time with Greg. It's so funny that we each happened to marry cousins, and it's funny how close you can be to certain people and forget that until you start spending time and realize how well they know you. I just really loved that.
You know what else was funny? Teenage boy affection. I got along pretty well with the Polley twins and it's funny to me the way that boys show affection. Every time one of them would walk past me he'd hit my arm or kick my foot, but then other times be just really nice and asking personal questions. That grudging respect is funny to me.

Amy and I grabbed some sushi with some Redfords one night, and then Chinese with her family the next night. I was able to go running outside every day that I was there, which kind of surprised me that I was so motivated. While the temperatures were inviting, the terrain was boring. Ah well.

And there you have it. Sorry for no visuals, but it turned out to be a pretty great weekend.