Friday, March 29, 2013

"The Kingdom of God or Nothing"

When I was still a relatively new missionary serving on the streets of Lima, Peru, my mission president informed us that President Gordon B. Hinckley had an announced a new revelation in the recently held General Relief Society Meeting of the Church in Salt Lake City. This revelation, we learned, was titled The Family: A Proclamation to the World, and President Hinckley, along with his counselors in the First Presidency and the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, had collaborated on and signed the message. Among other things, it affirmed the Church's position that "marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God," as well as other important teachings pertaining to the Plan of Salvation.

At the time, we could not have known just how inspired the Proclamation was and the foresight that went into creating it. Our mission president gave each companionship several copies and encouraged us to distribute them in our day-to-day missionary labors. As a result, miracles occurred, and people who may not have otherwise listened to the message of the restored gospel opened their doors and hearts to what we had to teach them.

Fast forward to the present day and to the current week, in which the Supreme Court of the United States is now hearing arguments both for and against California's Proposition 8, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman. People across the country have been very vocal in their support or protest of these proceedings and their possible outcome, and among those are many friends and associates of mine. They've been particularly vocal on Facebook, sometimes changing their profile pictures to a white "equal" sign on a red background, which is akin to support for gay marriage, or by posting other messages about the case.

What surprises me is not my non-LDS friends who are calling for legalization of gay marriage but, rather, my LDS friends who call for it. On the one hand, they claim to sustain the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as prophets, seers, and revelators - the same people who continue to avow that marriage has been, is, and always will be a sacred ordinance "between a man and a woman" - and, on the other hand, they support a philosophy that is totally contrary to this revelation.

How to reconcile these two issues? Though these LDS friends of mine have made me ponder deeply on this point all week long, today's point isn't meant to be a criticism, per se, of them, for we each "must work out (our) own salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12). Rather, it has gotten me thinking about where I stand and whom and what I support. And it's led to me to reaffirm a few absolute truths.

If you will allow me to borrow a line from the musical Oklahoma!: "With me, it's all er nuthin'." When it comes to the gospel, there is not even one shade of grey, let alone fifty. I can either accept all 100 percent of it as truth, or it's all wrong. Joseph Smith either did see God the Father and Jesus Christ in a vision, restored the priesthood and the temple ordinances, translated the Book of Mormon, etc., or he did not; there is no third option. Because I know through the Spirit that he did, and that President Gordon B. Hinckley (now Thomas S. Monson) held those keys when he announced the Proclamation, I know that it, too, is the truth, and truth is "eternal, unchanged, evermore" ("Oh Say, What Is Truth?" Hymns, no. 272).

President John Taylor, another man who held the keys in this dispensation, had a personal motto: "The Kingdom of God or nothing."

In a week's time, we will have another general conference of the Church, during which we will, once again, have the opportunity to raise our right arms to the square, wherever we may be, and sustain the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as prophets, seers, and revelators. When that moment comes, I know that it comes wholeheartedly and without any asterisks or "except for when"s.

It is, as President Taylor said, all or nothing.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Lowered Expectations?

The relatively new film The Perks of Being a Wallflower arrived in the mail yesterday from Netflix. I watched it with great interest.

Don't worry, folks. This isn't going to be another movie review, as the AWL has already posted a couple of those lately. I merely wanted to focus on one particular thought-provoking scene from the film.

The main character, Charlie, is a high school student who develops a major crush on Sam, one of his classmates. (Sam, by the way, is played by Emma Watson in one of her first post-Harry Potter roles.) The only problem, however, is that Sam is dating someone who's not really a very good person for her (or for anyone else), and she seems to be somewhat oblivious to the fact that Charlie likes her, much to his frustration. He's fretting over this fact when he asks his English teacher, Mr. Anderson---one of the few adults he feels he can talk to---about it.

"Why do nice people choose the wrong people to date?" he wonders.

"We accept the love we think we deserve," comes the reply.

It's a very profound response to a question that, I think, we all wonder about at times. It also leads me to a follow-up question: "Why do people, then, feel like they deserve so little or that they don't deserve something better?"

The answer (or answers), I believe, is not an easy one, because people are so different by nature. Some people, for example, choose to date certain other people because they are scared of being alone and fear that they will not meet anyone else who will want to be with them, or perhaps they are tired of waiting around for someone who meets those standards. Consequently, someone who falls below what these people really want is better than no one at all. I call this the "Good Enough for Now" syndrome, if I can borrow the title of a "Weird Al" Yankovic song that pretty well reflects this very idea. (If you haven't heard it, download it from iTunes - now! You won't be sorry.)

Others are attracted to a person not necessarily by the person him/herself but by something else that comes with that person, such as good looks, money, a nice car, etc. Don't get me wrong; there's nothing wrong with any of these things. They are all things I'm looking for in a mate. But when there's no personality to go with them, or the person is not someone who can carry on a conversation, I think, there will be problems.

Don't even get me started on the phenomenon of women who fall in love with convicted murderers---yes, convicted murderers---because they believe they are the only ones who "understand" them or they can "change" them.

Single men out there: Let the thought that there are women who are in love with convicted murderers, and not you, lull you to sleep tonight. (Yes, I realize that it goes both ways, too. Probably.)

I recently had a conversation with a close family member in which the subject of dating happened to come up and also the fact that I am now the lone, remaining single member of my siblings. (By the way, thanks for reminding me about that, family member.) This person pointed out that there had been several girls interested in me over the years, and I had certainly had my "chances." While I recognized that this was, technically, true, I was quick to point out that had I gone ahead with any of the relationships in which I was the one to break things off, I would have ended up being miserable. The same goes, I'm sure, for those relationships in which the girl was the one to break things off.

That's at least one thing I have on my conscience: I did not let go of anyone I shouldn't have let go of. Going forward in the present and future, that idea will be my guide, and I certainly don't want a single female to "settle" for me, either.

No one should ever have to. I want to find someone who not only is a good person at heart but who also makes me want to be a better person than I now am (not hard to do, I freely admit), who makes me count down the days and the hours when she is away, and who makes me ache at the thought of losing her. I would hope that she would feel the same way about me.

As children of God, we all deserve so much. And if we, as Latter-day Saints, truly believe in eternal relationships and marriage, then eternity is a long time to pass with someone we have merely "settled" for. Conversely, it will be paradise, indeed, with someone we truly love and cherish along for the ride.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Borrowing and Lending

"Neither a borrower nor a lender be,
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry."

 -Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3

On the weekends, I am often found eating out at local diners with my friends because, well, that's just the lifestyle of a famous and high-paid thespian such as myself. Our improv shows also tend to start and end at a later hour than many other live theater productions, 'cause that's life when you perform second-class theater, so diners are basically our only option at the hour at which we close up shop. We frequent these places so often that we now know many of our waiters and waitresses on a first-name basis, and many of us can order "the usual" with them knowing exactly what we mean when we say it.

Not along ago, a friend in the troupe carpooled with me over to one of these places and announced that he was very hungry but also out of money. I told him that I would be happy to pay for his meal if he could pay me back within a reasonable amount of time. He was going to be out of town for the next couple of weekends but told me that he would gladly do so when he returned. When he reappeared a few weeks later, we again made one of our weekly visits to the local diner, and rather than broaching the subject with him, I waited to see if he'd volunteer to pay me back.

He did not. A few more weeks passed, additional visits were made to the diner, I saw him each time, and yet my loan was still not repaid. Finally, I brought up the subject with this friend, who acted surprised when I mentioned the unpaid loan and either pretended that he didn't know about it or had forgotten it.

Remember, folks, we're actors.

To make a long story even longer, this same friend never repaid the loan. He, in fact, bummed an additional meal off of me a couple of weeks later only to, likewise, not pay it back, either. Then, as if to solve both problems simultaneously, he convenitenly left for a mission.

I mention this not mar my friend's good name; he remains a good friend, and I will consider him as such when I see him again in two years' time. I am actually now thinking of the debt as paying it forward to his missionary efforts. Nevertheless, it is frustrating whenever someone fails to pay back money that has been borrowed. I use this story merely to illustrate the fact that I hate lending money, and I hate borrowing money almost as much. When I lend money, whatever the amount may be, and people are slow to repay it (as people always are), it is like pulling teeth to get it back, or I am almost made to feel like a big jerk for asking them about it. When I borrow money, the thought of paying it back burns a hole in my pocket until that dollar amount is, once again, safely in that person's hands, and I make an effort to do so the next time I see him or her.

Solutions? 1) Let your friends starve. 2) Pretend you've suddenly gone deaf when they ask to borrow from you, or (3) deftly change the subject. To puppies, for example.

Everybody loves puppies.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Lost and Found

I'm a believer in the old saying that "what goes around, comes around." What I take this to mean is that we tend to become the benficiaries of others' good deeds when we also do good deeds in life, and that the converse is true with regard to bad deeds. Call it karma, if you will. We reap what we sow, or maybe it is the Golden Rule.

Uhh . . . let me check. Yeah, that's it. I'm all out of mottoes and catch phrases for this particular point.

Sometimes, this aspect of life becomes clear to me in a very real, concrete way. Such was the case just the other night, when I walked to my car in the parking lot and spotted a $20 bill lying there on the ground.

It didn't take me long to look up from the $20 bill on the ground to realize that it probably belonged to the man sitting in the car next to me, talking on his cell phone and apparently oblivious to the fact that the 20-spot lay there on the asphalt.

I picked the bill up and tapped on the man's window, and since he was busy talking on the phone, I tried to gesture that it was probably his and may have fallen out of his pocket. He opened his window and thanked me more than once, saying that it had probably fallen out as he was getting his keys out to unlock his car door.

No sooner had I opened the door of my own car and I sat in the driver's seat when I impusively looked at my left wrist to check the time and realized that my watch wasn't there where it normally was. I had left it at the gym, which was my previous stop before going to the grocery store. (Side note: Do not go grocery shopping when you've just been to the gym.)

I drove the half-mile back to the gym and found that my watch was not in any of the places I had been while I was there. My only hope left was the lost-and-found box at the check-in desk, and, fortunately, a good Samaritan had picked up my watch and had left it there for me to retrieve.

My two experiences of finding a lost item, as well as having one of my own returned to me, occurred within a 15-minute timeframe of each other. I had helped someone else find a lost item, and someone had done the same for me. I was grateful at that moment when it hit me, in a very real sense, that, when all is boiled down, people are still good, honest, decent, outgoing, and kind at heart. Our society is not yet doomed.

It would have been very easy for me to have scooped up that $20 bill and to put it into my own pocket - think of all of the curly cheese fries I could have bought with it! - without the man who had lost it realizing that fact until later in the evening (kind of like me and my watch!), but I'm glad I didn't.

The watch, by the way, cost me more than $20, so if anything, I was the one who lucked out.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Condescension of Friends

As a follow-up to my last post, which was on the topic of bullies, today I'd like to address another form of bullying: condescension.

For those who may not be familiar with the term, condescension means, for lack of a better sentence or a simple definition: "I'm better than you, I'm smarter than you, and, doggone it, I'll go out of my way to point that out to you as often as I can, you moron."

Those who are condescending to you may not necessarily be smarter than you are, but they act like it regardless of that fact. Not surprisingly, when I conducted a Google search for images relating to the topic of condescension, several photos of President Barack Hussein Obama came up. I'm not kidding.

To back up their vast array of knowledge, the condescending trot out their college diplomas and say, "Look at this, stupid!"; they quote from a scholarly book no one has ever heard of except for them and their best friends, who happen to run MENSA; they reference a random class they once took a decade ago and were so immediately skilled at that the professor was fired, and they stepped up and began to teach; or they may even resort to name dropping about the famous folks or celebrities they pal around with.

The motto of the condescending person may as well be, as Dave Barry once wrote: "Everybody has their opinion, and yours is wrong."

Most people who fit the above description of the condescending person are not people whom I would want to be nor am I friends with. Naturally, these people should be avoided like the plague.

It's a much more subtle thing, however, when condescension appears in the form of your own circle of friends. These aren't people who necessarily maintain a friendship with you because of how well you get along or how much time you spend together currently but are nonetheless affiliated because you went to school or worked with them, or you lived in the same neighborhood growing up, or you both happened to be members of a memorable college or institute class, or the like. Past shared experiences of one kind or another bond you as "friends" even though they may do less-than-friendly things to you in the present, such as point out in front of a group what an idiot you are; write things on your Facebook wall that may attempt to be funny, pithy, or clever but come across only as rude and insensitive; single out the flaws in your creative efforts while giving little (or, in many cases, zero) positive feedback or encouragement; and on and on.

To be fair to people who fall into this category, I don't think they mean to do it, or at least they don't recognize exactly what the effects of their behavior are. To paraphrase Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) in M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense: "I see condescending people. Walking around like regular people. They only see what they want to see. They don't know they're condescending."
Now, I'm not saying that it isn't good to be smart, to have a good education, to read a lot of books, or anything like that. What I am saying is that it is more important to be charitable than to be smart, because it is possible to be both - but charity is the greatest. Condescending people tend to mix up the order of these two qualities, putting being smart above being charitable.

For an example to illustrate this point, I think back to when I was called to be deacon's quorum president in my ward at age 13. I was set apart to this position but was not given any sort of training as to what a deacon's quorum president should do or how he ought to act. At that vulnerable young age, I stood up to conduct my first deacon's quorum meeting and made some announcements before sitting down in my chair. One of the counselors in the bishopric, who was sitting in on the meeting, then proceeded to lecture me - in front of the entire quorum - about what I had just done wrong and how a deacon's quorum president should act and pointed out multiple things I should have done differently, all to my great embarrassment.

This man wasn't wrong in the sense that I could have done a better job or that I had not presented myself well, but to do it in front of the entire quorum, to me, was not only condescending but very hurtful and wrong. It was the kind of thing that makes some people drop out of church attendance and go inactive.

In the Book of Mormon, Jacob spoke of those who “when they are learned they think they are wise . . . wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not." He also added: “But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God (2 Nephi 9:28-29)."

I got over my little episode as deacon's quorum president. I hope that the counselor in the bishopric did, too. I've since met many people and had friends come and go, and I've known many humble people, as well as a few who, like the aforementioned well-intentioned but poorly executing counselor in the bishopric, were also condescending and who are now people I largely try to avoid. I'm always most impressed by those who really are far more educated than me and have every right to be condescending but who don't act like it, whatever office or position they may hold. Instead, they choose to be humble and are down-to-Earth enough to speak to me as an equal and on my level.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Movie Review: "Bully"

Today, I hope you'll allow me to talk about a serious issue.

Yesterday, the relatively new documentary Bully arrived in the mail from Netflix, and I watched the film last night with a great deal of interest.

As someone who endured my share of bullying in grade school - especially junior high school - I must admit that this movie affected me deeply, and I found myself relating to many of the experiences shared by the five different stories of bullying that were presented. One is of a boy who was born prematurely and is now taunted by his classmates for the birth defects he suffered as a baby; another is of a girl who has had enough of her bullies, pulls a gun on them on the school bus, threatens to shoot them, and then spends the next several months locked up in juvenile detention; and a third tale is of a girl who has come out as a lesbian and is then shunned and avoided by most people she comes in contact with (a type of emotional or psychological bullying).

An additional story, and perhaps the most poignant of the five, is of a bullied teen who is not around to speak for himself and whose parents, siblings, and friends, instead, speak for him. Why is he not around to be interviewed for the film? Because he was hazed and made to feel worthless on a daily basis, up to the point that he made the tragic decision to take his own life at age 17. There is even a reference in the film to an 11-year-old boy - 11 years old! - who, very sadly, has taken the same route.

What exactly was it that happened to the AWL in junior high? you ask? Without going into too many details, in order to protect the guilty, I was made fun of in the locker room because of my eczema while in the seventh grade. Not only did I find myself having to adjust to life as a junior high student that year, dealing with no recess and lockers and going from classroom to classroom, but I also had to take showers in gym class. Those who shared the lockers adjacent to me noticied my skin rash when I changed clothes every day and soon nicknamed me "rash boy." They did other hurtful things such as hiding my clothes when I returned from showering. Finally, I was saved by a doctor's note that excused me from showering, and I could change clothes when my bullies were, thankfully, in the showers.

Then, in the ninth grade, my five siblings and I rode the bus to school each day, as we all attended a private elementary/junior high/high school together in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico. For some reason unknown to us, the others on the bus - comprised of high school and junior high students - decided to gang up on us and make fun of us both individually and collectively each bus ride, finding whatever excuse they could to do so. The worst part of it was that these were people in our own LDS ward that we also had to see on Sundays at church; the ones who should have been our greatest allies were, instead, our biggest enemies. They didn't mind picking on us, whatever their motivations may have been, and the fact that my youngest sibling was then only in kindergarten did not deter them from their cruel actions.

Yes, they were okay with taunting me, but they were also okay with harrassing a six-year-old, too. My best friends from that time in my life were not in my ward but were of other faiths and were my classmates at school.

Back to the movie: It raises some interesting points, the most important of which is bullying others emotionally, mentally, socially, or physically based on their physique, body, sexual orientation, religion, race, or for any other reason is not acceptable. In other words, "don't be a jerk," and teach your kids, be they your own kids or those in your classroom, to be treat others as they want to be treated (something old fashioned we like to call the Golden Rule).

Another important point: Report bullying when it happens so that it can be dealt with immediately. Bullies not only make their targets feel worthless but also make them feel like tattletales or "momma's boys" when they tell an adult - be it a parent, teacher, or principal - about what is going on. As a result, many of them tell no one and suffer in silence for an extended period of time, and that's how I, too, was made to feel and what ended up happening in both of the examples from my own life.

Thirdly, if you're someone who is a witness to bullying, stand up and make your voice heard. Bullies tend to act in groups and not necessarily alone, following the mob mentality. If one friend stands up and says that bullying is not okay, others will follow. Peer pressure can be a positive thing, as well as a negative one. Especially in the seventh grade, I desperately (and silently) hoped one of my classmates would say something or come to my aid, but it did not happen for several weeks. Teachers and administrators look out for bullying and sincerely want to nip it in the bud, but their eyes and ears can't be everywhere at once.

Is this why the AWL is angry and a loner? you now ask? First of all, I'm neither of those things today, since some of you have asked me about it, and "Angry White Loner" is just a name. Those experiences of being bullied affected me for a time, true, but as time passed, those bullies grew up, and most of them have turned out to be good, decent people. A couple of them even issued friend requests to me on Facebook in the last few years.

One of the kids in the movie pounts out that those who are bullied end up wanting to hurt others as a way of feeling better about things or of coping, and I'll admit that I went through that stage, too. Fortunately, that stage also passed, and I grew out of it.

Junior high is hell, and I, for one, know it for a fact. But, it, too, shall pass for everyone who has to go through it.

As a final note: Though the film is rated PG-13, there is one scene in which a camera captures a bully uttering three or four f-bombs in succesion, and they are not bleeped out. Like a similar scene in the otherwise brilliant Waiting for Guffman, it is over quickly. That scene aside, Bully is a must-see for parents, adminstrators, teachers, and kids (at least those in junior high) alike.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Spaghetti Uh-Oh

Who among you out there doesn't enjoy a good meal of SpaghettiOs?

*long pause*

To those of you who just raised your hands: We're no longer friends.

Just kidding. Sort of.

SpaghettiOs have been one of my favorite foods for as long as I can remember. They remain so to this very day, and, as I am a bachelor, they are also one of the few foods I can actually prepare on my own without risking danger of burning down the house. Sure, all it takes just a bowl and the push of a button on a microwave, but who's keeping score?

The other day, I enjoyed just such a meal for dinner. When I finished eating, however, I took a look at the empty SpaghettiOs can and read the expiration date: August 2009!

For those of you keeping score at home, that's three-and-a-half years ago.

Immediately, a few questions popped into my mind: (1) How did a can with such an expiration date end up among my groceries? (2) They tasted just fine . . . or did they? *stomach gurgles* (3) How long befBLEARARAGHGHGGHGHGH!!!

The moral of the story: It pays to read the labels on your food.

Also, note to self: Sign up for that community cooking class at the high school.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Mr. Nice Guy

What's so good about being nice? Sometimes, we members of the male gender are left to ponder deeply on that question.

The problem with being told that we are "nice" or "great" or some sort of equivalent of the term is that it is so often followed by the conjunction but and then a less-than-flattering or backhanded compliment such as, "I'd rather drink a whole bottle of ipecac than go on another date with you."

Okay, to be fair, I've never been dumped with those exact words. But when a girl tells you in no uncertain terms that she's not interested in continuing to pursue a relationship with you, being the gentleman that you are and all, it can sure feel that way.

I don't know if women are naturally programmed to tell you you're "nice" as a means of softening the blow, or whatever their motivation may be. To the guy who is about to get dumped - and, believe me, he knows it's coming - it is something of a death sentence. It's like walking into the dentist's office. You know that an unpleasant experience is about to happen, but you know that you have to do it. The times I've been told I'm "nice" or "a good person" just before a breakup, it honestly does not make me feel one bit better about myself.

I think I should state for the record that I also don't think women intend to be cruel when they do this. I think nature or society or whatever programs us to be this way - both the woman telling the man that he is "nice" and the man feeling like, as gentle or polite as the woman may have been in telling him this, he has just been the victim of Mola Ram's tearing-your-still-beating-heart-out-of-your-chest Thuggee ritual in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

Keep in mind that when actor Christian Bale went on his now-famous rant on the set of The Dark Knight back in 2008, he first told the lightning director or assistant gaffer or whoever it was who had ruined his shot: "You're a nice guy!" He then proceeded to rip the man's head off, deep fry it in vegetable oil, smear it with buffalo sauce, and then take large bites out of it. In a verbal sense.

What to do, then, boys? If being "nice" is actually such a bad thing, what should be our course of action? Is the solution to stop being "Mr. Nice Guy" and become a jerk? This is another question that keeps many in my gender puzzled. Quite often, we look around us and see guys who are jerks to us, as well as to many others, with no lack of female companionship on the weekends. I feel sorry for those female companions, because sooner or later they're in for a world of hurt.

I honestly don't know the answer, so perhaps that is why I pose these questions. One thing I do know: It is better to be kind. It is better to strive to be a good person. It is perhaps best of all to love others as our Savior would. Our actions should not be motivated by what we either expect to receive from others or how we expect to be treated in return but from a sincere, personal desire to love our neighbors as we love our Father in Heaven.

One final thought: Someone who sees the goodness in you and recognizes that as something attractive rather than something repellent is really the kind of person we're all, deep down, looking for anyway, isn't it?