A Little Dazed–Maybe Even Catatonic

Dear Will:

I don’t quite believe what I have gotten myself into.

Several months ago the local church leaders approached me to see what I would think about an idea they had. To be specific, they wondered if I might be willing to teach early morning Seminary. Now in case you don’t know—or you maybe purged it from your personal memory—early morning Seminary is sort of like Bible Study for Mormons. The catch: It’s held at 6 a.m. . . . for high schoolers—by any measure the humans least likely to be alert at six in the morning.

For some reason I said yes. Not that I really know that much about the Old Testament, you understand. But I felt pretty strongly that it was something that God wanted me to do—so I agreed without really knowing how in the world I would pull it off.

The early morning part is no big deal for me. What is proving much harder, however, is finding time to prepare for 6 a.m. without staying up past midnight to get it done. As one who has grown accustomed in recent years to using the hours after the kids and Dana have gone to bed to try to get a little work done, I’ve had a hard time adjusting to the reallocation of my evening hours. Now I have to find an hour or so to prepare a lesson and I need to get to bed by around 10:30 p.m. if I want to avoid passing out on my way to work. And it ain’t easy.

Case in point: Although I am adjusting, the other day I was having such a hard time staying awake on the drive to work that I finally pulled into a McDonald’s parking lot, tilted back the seat, and took a little nap—at 8:20 a.m. Not good. Fortunately, now that I’m about three weeks in to this new assignment, I’m doing much better.

Here’s what’s cool about this job. First off, the kids are terrific. I’m teaching a bunch of seniors who are a total delight, reasonably enthusiastic and for the most part willing to participate. (Still, 6 a.m. is early, so there’s only so much energy and enthusiasm that they can reasonably summon. There are always a handful who looked a little dazed—maybe even catatonic. I probably look the same to them.) I’m also enjoying the necessity of reading and studying the scriptures each day. Not that I haven’t done that to some degree or the other for some time—but when you have to teach what you’re reading to someone else, it adds both focus and intensity to your exploration.

The biggest pay-off of all is that teaching Seminary is filling my mind with the word of God, which is (I hope) making me a better person. Since I have to ponder and teach eternal truths each day, I also feel compelled to try harder to apply those truths. Although I still holler at my kids too much and get grumpy and commit any number of other daily transgressions, I can already feel the difference it is making to be preoccupied with the Gospel. There are certainly worse things to fill your mind with, wouldn’t you say?

So if, in the months ahead, I start to write you a letter and nod off part way through, I hope you’ll understand and jfiosdklkjfk jkdkjkjj zzzzzjjjjjjjjjjjjzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. . . . . . . . .

PW

The Fellowship of Less-Than-Basic Cable

Dear Will:

When we moved to Orange in 1998, we owned a single, 13-inch color TV with rabbit ears. For the first 12 years of our marriage it served us well, both as an entertainment medium and as a symbol of the importance of television in our lives. Unfortunately, tucked in among the hills of Orange we found it virtually impossible to get television reception through old-fashioned , over-the-air technology. And so it was with reluctance that we phoned TimeWarner and, for the first time ever, we signed up for cable, or I should say, the cheapest cable possible: local channels and not much else. It’s the less-than-basic package they refuse to advertise and will sell to you—reluctantly—only if you ask.

Which is to say, the only TV programs we get at our house are mostly unwatchable. (That may also be true if we got the Gazillion Channel Package, but we would never know.) We don’t get HBO or FSN or even Animal Planet for that matter. Its just UPN, ABC, and several others which are incomprehensible even with the subtitles.

So how is it, you might wonder, that my seven-year-old sports nut, Seth, is in the grips of World Cup Fever? Since we don’t get ESPN, most of the games are available to us only in Spanish on Univision. And Seth doesn’t speak a lick of Spanish. In spite of it all, there he is at 6 a.m.—watching Lithuania versus Bora Bora or whatever—and trying to explain to me why the officiating is so bad. At the same time, he has developed a curious vocabulary: falta, tiro de esquina, fuera de lugar, and the one word we all understand, ¡gooooooooooooooool!

What I find so interesting is how this event has begun to introduce Seth to other lands and other cultures. (Do you know where Trinidad & Tobago is? I didn’t. Seth does.) It’s not just that the announcers are speaking in a foreign tongue, but he gets a chance to see the passion of the spectacle which isn’t present at all in the United States. When I was on my mission in Uruguay, I witnessed firsthand the way in which the sport both divided the country (Nacional and Peñarol were the Yankees and Red Sox of their pro soccer league) and united it (in international competition anyway). I even found myself out working one night when Uruguay won the Gold Cup soccer tournament, and all 1.5 million citizens of Montevideo (or so it seemed) streamed into my neighborhood to celebrate. It was as if I had stepped into a completely different universe where I watched, agog, as the citizenry joined in song, deliriously happy, united by a silly game.

Or perhaps not so silly. After all, the World Cup brings people from all over the world into close proximity and forces them, for a couple of hours anyway, to give some thought to another place and people. I witnessed, for example, a moment at the conclusion of one of these matches in which players from opposing teams exchanged jerseys in a traditional display of post-game sportsmanship. One of the players noticed blood on his shirt—the result, no doubt, of rough play—and then good-naturedly insisted on giving his opponent a clean, unstained one instead. It was a marvelous moment of international goodwill, and I was pleased to have Seth see it.

I’m even pleased to have him watching in Spanish inasmuch as we now find ourselves living in an increasingly multi-cultural, bilingual city. Watching a game is helping him to resist the ethnocentric tendencies to which we all fall prey, and if we can begin that process at seven instead of seventeen, I’m all for it. One of the things that the gospel of Jesus Christ is supposed to do is make us “no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens” (Ephesians 2:19). I just never imagined that less-than-basic cable could contribute to that end.

PW

On the Wrong Road

Dear Will:

I recently began reading the autobiographical Beat classic On the Road by Jack Kerouac.  Jack and his book are so often referenced in other things I read that I finally decided to see what all of the references mean.

If you’ve never read it, I’m not sure I would recommend it—I’ve yet to find a single, endearing person with any redeeming value in the book. If you have read it, you know that it is sort of an out-of-control treatise on self-indulgence.  The characters in the book are unprincipled hedonists seeking to maximize the buzz of any given moment.  It is an amoral tale of drifters and con artists, careening through life without concern for tomorrow.

In other words, it has nothing to do with the things I believe in.

As I read this tale, it’s not hard to look into the hearts of its characters and see a deep, abiding sadness.  Without the benefit of eternal perspective, their lives are reduced to a futile quest for fun and excitement.  Unfortunately, the thrill of the moment, as we know, is transitory at best.  It is as if they search without knowing they are searching, and thus they find precisely what they are searching for.

Of course, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is precisely what these spiritual nomads need.  It provides purpose and meaning along with a moral compass.  It points to a Source for comfort, inspiration, and direction.  It provides perspective and hope even in times (such as these) when evil is all around us.

What Jack and his friends really needed, in my opinion, is a copy of the Book of Mormon.  I know that sounds funny, but the thought keeps coming back to me as I read his narrative.  “If they had simply read the Book of Mormon they could have begun to understand that there is more to life than cheap thrills and selfishness.  And if they had lived the principles it teaches, they could have avoided both imposing and suffering an awful lot of heartache.”

Like it does any good to mentally evangelize dead authors, right?

Still, if I had had the chance, I might have pointed them to the great discourse of King Benjamin (see Mosiah, chapters 1 through 5).  For in that section there is wonderful explanation of the Atonement and a real life example of the change of heart which makes eternal joy possible.  One passage, in particular, illustrates so much of what was missing in the lives of those depicted in On the Road:

“And moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God.  For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness. O remember, remember that these things are true; for the Lord God hath spoken it.”  (Mosiah 2:41)

Of course, unless you’re a big Jack Kerouac fan, I’m not sure what any of that necessarily has to do with you, but it was on my mind and I thought I’d share.  If nothing else, should you have a Book of Mormon handy, you might take it out and read those few pages in Mosiah.  I guarantee that you will be moved by the account.

Hope all is well for you and yours.

PW