Move Along, Just Another Vague Post Here

Could two men have been more polarizing?

Thanks to everyone who voted. To those who didn’t: really?

One time on facebook I posted a biased article about a politician who said a very dumb thing about the very serious subject of rape, and the writer presented the article such that the this politician’s philosophy represented his entire political party. We all say things we regret, and we all latch onto the mistakes of those we want to lose to feel a sense of winning, advantage. We stand on any defeat — at any cost — to gain even minimal height. Definitely, rape is serious, but I wonder just how seriously we should have taken one (or several) politician(s) with a relatively fringey opinion.

I should have been more thoughtful about posting that article.

It must be so, so hard to be the President of the United States. I was president of the Free Club with some of my college roommates, and it was hard. All we had to do was get things for free. We could go to grocery stores and try all the free samples, get rebates, win prizes. I didn’t know how much responsibility I had.

I was nervous for both men. I was ready to support both men. Throughout this election season, I thought secretly, if one wins, couldn’t he appoint the other to be an advisor or something? A member of the Cabinet? Wasn’t one’s healthcare plan modeled after the other? Wasn’t that earlier healthcare plan one of greatest achievements of the one candidate? Couldn’t one use his business expertise to advise the other about fixing the economy? If one wins, couldn’t one consult the other in foreign policy or legislation deadlocks? What would our divided Congress do if these two men actually worked together?

What if?

What the if?

That’s not how politics works.

But that’s how we can work.

If our nation continues to divide, I won’t have a choice but to run for president of my square block in Orem, Utah. I’d construct a soundproof highway barrier that would reduce freeway noise and would still let my citizens see the sunset. I’d also reduce rent.

If we can’t at least seek to understand other points of view and acknowledge when others try to understand ours, then our nation will continue its downward spiral into a pit of poop.

If we sidestep accountability and responsibility in our own lives, families will crumble, and entire communities will landslide into the pit of poop.

If we pray for our country but are unkind to one another: pit of poop.

Are these two men standing on opposite ends of this pit?

Or are a better state and happier times a happy medium of something less poopy?

States of America, we are supposed to be United.

Let us make that true.

Reliability

A month is not
twenty-eight days.
On time is always
early.
The fifth of September means
October third then
thirty-first.
Whites of my eyes can bleed
twice in October.
Excuse for swinging moods.
Pressure that only
caffeine and a nap
lessen.
Excuse for insecurity,
inferiority, opportunity
missed.
Weakness.
Just an excuse.
Logic, charm, work, love,
strength,
with the clock
and her bell to chime
every twenty-eight
days as
a reason.
Indicate my sex–
XX marks the spot.
Eggs float
hot,
flow
red, unused.
Almost too eager,
never late.

Before My Sunday Nap

Yawn.

Stretch.

Oh, Sunday. How I love thee and those quiet afternoons which beckon me like a righteous siren to slumber. Naps are nice.

So I have this talk that I gave about three weeks ago. Speaking in church makes me very nervous, and so I wrote the whole thing out. It’s maybe 5 minutes long, there’s no room for tangents or anecdotes; I had in mind that the other seminary teachers were speaking, and I wanted to keep it short. I tried choosing my words carefully, and I tried staying true to the topic, which was the blessings of seminary and regular scripture study. I gave the talk, I sat down, I let it alone. I wondered if it helped people. It was the day we turned our clocks ahead, so that made me nervous. I don’t know.

I’ve been thinking about it since. Some friends have wanted me to deliver this talk because they weren’t able to attend that meeting. And then some things are popping up in seminary that contradict what I presented in my talk. And it’s not like none of that is my fault. I can’t talk about it here. The only people who should take part in this discussion are my seminary class.

Anyway, I haven’t yet been able to read this talk to my friends. And I’ve been thinking about just posting it here, because this is where my writing goes to settle down and sometimes rest. My writing likes napping, too. But I like my friends, and I wonder if they’d feel jilted if I didn’t read it to them. I mean, other things have come up; a good time to be spiritual outside of church hasn’t presented itself. But it’s not like we couldn’t create that kind of situation, either. But, it’s not like the talk was anything new or profound. Still, it did come from my heart.

I think I’ll just let it be.

Today has been quite fabulous. Church every Sunday just brings it. The social interaction is nice, but it’s good to discuss deep and important and spiritual things. The learning and growing and nurturing of our souls that goes on is incredible. The friends I have who share the same beliefs are a tremendous support.

And, maybe today, I talked to more guys than girls, but the deeper dialogue was with the women. And they’re women who are funny and charming and so intelligent it’s ridiculous, and I totally want to be them because they inspire and stimulate my brain and I feel … twinkled just by being around them.

It was fun sitting between the guys during Sunday school, though. For some reason that helps when that happens every once in a while.

So, as you know, I was sick last week. This week, I have a residual, persistent cough. This happens often after having a cold or some other respiratory infection. Then a couple of weeks later, I’ll still be coughing, more out of habit than a result of being ill.

So maybe this cough that’s become second nature can be likened to my gospel behavior. Maybe circumstances are such that I have to do this unpleasant thing, but it’s a purgatory thing, ultimately beneficial. And then I find I’m still doing this thing, involuntarily, subconsciously, because it’s what I’ve constantly been doing for weeks.

But then again, sometimes, I want to be more deliberate about it. But sometimes, it happens – out of my control, and it’s just better that way.

Just like this nap I’m about to take.

Dipping, the Skinny Kind

Wednesday night at Carnegie Hall was a tribute to R.E.M., where various artists sang their favorite R.E.M. songs. Ingrid Michaelson was one of these artists.

I went to her concert last night at the City Winery. She described her part in the R.E.M. tribute, and when she mentioned the song she sang, my heart leapt:

“Nightswimming”

Nightswimming deserves a quiet night.
The photograph on the dashboard, taken years ago,
Turned around backwards so the windshield shows.
Every streetlight reveals the picture in reverse.
Still, it’s so much clearer.
I forgot my shirt at the water’s edge.
The moon is low tonight.

Nightswimming deserves a quiet night.
I’m not sure all these people understand.
It’s not like years ago,
The fear of getting caught,
Of recklessness and water.
They cannot see me naked.
These things, they go away,
Replaced by everyday.

Nightswimming, remembering that night.
September’s coming soon.
I’m pining for the moon.
And what if there were two
Side by side in orbit
Around the fairest sun?
That bright, tight forever drum
Could not describe nightswimming.

You, I thought I knew you.
You I cannot judge.
You, I thought you knew me,
this one laughing quietly underneath my breath.
Nightswimming.

The photograph reflects,
Every streetlight a reminder.
Nightswimming deserves a quiet night, deserves a quiet night.

I have never been skinny dipping. I’ve always wanted to. I hear other people’s experiences, and it sounds wonderful. Seeming vulnerable and nervous, yet empowered. This song is the way I imagine my experience when it finally happens, in setting and thoughts and  feelings. I’m glad Ingrid got to sing this song for Michael Stipe and friends. She sang it for us, and she did a bangup job. It was her and her voice and a looping pedal at the microphone and an upright bass. I loved it.

This song was part of a mix tape my friend, Sarah, gave me before I left for college, some 15 years ago, almost. It always stirs nostalgia. Its images haunt my mind. Its power draws me to the water’s edge, toes squishing in the sand, the water’s chilling air gently bristling my legs as I slowly step deeper. No one’s around, just me and the moon and a certain unexplained yet understood freedom, sprawled out, reaching out to each other just because we can. Splashing, gliding, floating. Goosebumps, then temperance, then utter and incomprehensible joy.

It’s one of the things I have to do before I die. It’s one of the things I’m definitely going to shave my legs for.

My Eyeballs Are Dry.

Have you ever been working on a thing, let’s say, writing, and hit a nice groove and are typing along, thoughts flowing steadily, then all of a sudden, someone not only turned the faucet all the way off, but s/he turned it all the way righty-tighty, twisted off the handle, and threw it into the lake? Let’s say, the Pond at Central Park. Where the rowboats are. Where I’m sure lots of other faucet handles and maybe a few dead bodies are. Raccoon bodies and human torsos. And now I’m screening the lake, and it’s gross and biohazardous and the tourists think I’m odd, and I can’t find the handle. Nothing but an event of Excalibur proportions would make it appear. Ah, yes. The handle would levitate, glowing with creative magic; it would float from the lake all the way back to the faucet – which is my brain – reattach itself, go lefty-loosy, and water would at first trickle, then become a steady stream.

I wish that would happen. Last Monday’s nostalgia entry just sits there, unpublished, incomplete. I’m trying to refocus to refinish the post, because as you’ll recall, the dang thing disappeared on me. I want to write this post, though. But, I want to make sure I do it right. I can’t find my faucet handle. So, people, I’ve hit a rut, but I’m determined to write every day, still. It might be disjointed and random and I may use the word and way too many times in a sentence and I would like a grilled Swiss cheese sandwich. With tomato.

Not that I normally keep track of these numbers, but when I was at my very fittest, I weighed 14 pounds less than I do right now. Shedding all that weight in 6 weeks is extremely unrealisitic, since I gained it over a year and a half, but that weight is a huge factor in how my body responds to working out. I could lose half of that and be perfectly content, since that puts me in the range I weighed most of my adult life. I say “most” because I have to be honest and count the summer I worked at a bagel shop. So, May. Start pounding the pavement/asphalt. Get back on your bike.

Oh. I joined a rec center, actually the city’s network of rec centers. Because I need a pool to practice swimming. I’ve been visualizing my freestyle stroke; hopefully I can make it work at the pool.

And maybe that’s where my faucet handle is.

This is not a perfect metaphor.

The new gymnastics scoring system consists of two parts: the “Start Value,” which indicates a routine’s difficulty. From what I’ve seen, anything from the mid 6s to low 7s is pretty hard and warrants an overall higher score; then Execution is how well the routine was performed. This is based on a 10-point scale, similar to the old system. Add these subscores for a total score to determine ranking for the event.

What I appreciate about the new system is that extends beyond the notion of the “Perfect 10.” 10 was absolute, but 10 did not elaborate on itself. If you received one, your performance was perfect; if you didn’t receive one something was obviously wrong with your presentation. Flawed.

The other day during my air balance beam practice, I decided to try a dismount off the ottoman. I perched about twelve inches above the ground. I pointed my right toe down in front of me, took a step, and then I sprung off the end of the ottoman and followed my leap to the floor. No somersaults, no twists; just pointed toes which turned to strongly planted feet and an extended body. I stuck the landing! No balance checks, just a big smile. Perfect 10, right?

The old system would want to deduct everything from my routine, but it has no choice but to roll its eyes in a smugly objective way. I performed that landing perfectly.

The new system would mock me. It would assign the routine a start value of negative 6 trillion, give me a “perfect” score of -5,999,999,999,990 then pat my head ever so condescendingly and send me on my way.

(New system, would you please not pat my head? I’m a whole inch taller than Shawn Johnson. I’m also TWICE HER AGE. Thanks.)

The new system, however, allows for more accountability. You’re in charge of your performance. A more difficult routine increases the chances of receiving a higher score. Difficulty involves more spins and twists and quickness between those elements. Connectivity and continuity are key. Then if you can make the routine look beautiful with flowing lines, exceptional, balletic extension and no bobbles and falls, that further improves your score.

The new system rewards what kind of gymnast you are; the old system did not make that distinction. The new system encourages creativity and fine-tuning. The new system nurtures the thinking gymnast; it stirs desire and does not emphasize absolute perfection. Just do your best, and get better.

So far in Olympics gymnastics, I’ve seen ambition and grace in different combinations. The gymnasts fared in varying degrees, from truly disappointing to unbelievably successful. In the women’s balance beam finals, Shawn Johnson had power, precision and pluck. Nastia Liukin had elegance, emotion and enigma. Each was captivating in her own way. Though Nastia scored higher in execution, Shawn’s higher start value gave her the win.

They understood the system. They gave their best and hoped for a higher score.

This year in seminary we’ll be studying the New Testament. Last year as we studied the Old Testament we discussed the many stories that foretold the Messiah or were a type of Christ. Moses carved a staff for his snakebitten people to simply look upon and be healed. Esther intervened to save the Jews from destruction.

We got a hefty dose of the Law of Moses and a deeper look at its purpose. This law was to prepare the Israelites for their promised land and how to live once they got there.

The God of the Old Testament always seemed so harsh and merciless. Many stories ended with someone or a lot of people being struck dead. On the spot. With little or no explanation. The only way I can reconcile this in my finite mind is to remind myself how stubborn the Israelites were. They wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, not because they were so far away from their destination geographically, but because their hearts were so distant from the Lord.

This continued to be the case, and God showed his wrath in extreme ways throughout the Old Testament. Donkeys talked to people. Walls crumbled. Armies of thousands collapsed, dead. One has to wonder if these events would have happened if the people had listened to God the first time and wanted to obey him.

The strongest lesson I took from studying the Old Testament is that the Lord knows our hearts. He smote and he blessed according to people’s hearts, but he did it because it was his will to do it. It plays into the big picture, the grand scheme, the eternal plan.

The New Testament offers Christ himself as a character. He is born; he lives in a community, amongst rich and diverse cultures. There is no “type” or foreshadow. He is the symbol, living and breathing. All the journeys, wars, plights, and strict enforcement of the Law of Moses during the previous 5,000 years have come to a climax. Christ, because he can, sets aside the Law of Moses and introduces the Higher Law.

Christ teaches that precisely obeying the hundreds of rules of the Law of Moses does not prove one’s perfection as a person. Christ teaches that if you’ve coveted something of your neighbor’s, you’ve already stolen it. If you’ve lusted after someone, you’ve already committed immorality. He also teaches that while you weren’t specifically commanded to help a mother with her stroller down the stairs to the subway platform, if you don’t offer to help her, you might as well have pushed her down the stairs.

This Higher Law requires a heightened awareness. It involves a bigger spiritual effort. It demands humility to ask for the capacity of heart to become a better person. It not only demonstrates the Lord knowing our hearts, but it necessitates that we have to own up to what’s in them, regardless of whether it leads to perceptible behavior. Life’s start value can and does get harder. How do we execute? The Higher Law really gets down to the type of people we are.

The Higher Law redefines perfection beyond the minutiae of the Law of Moses. We are not ranked against each other, but judged as individuals according to the law, which our hearts have hopefully clung to. We cannot settle for a “Perfect 10” but must continually strive for an elevated score, for improvement, for as close to perfect as we can possibly get, a score we cannot possibly comprehend. Because, if we can progress perfectly – if we can give our best with all our hearts – that might be the ticket to a gold medal.

Don’t pay attention to the time stamp. Oh. You can’t see it, anyway.

So yeah, I didn’t get to start watching the Olympics until almost 11 this evening. My roommates and I watched Michael Phelps and the Lochte guy. Ryan. Fun stuff. Then we nearly had a heart attack watching the women’s beach volleyball team almost look weak with a win of the first set after five set points, then got down to business for the second set. Then more swimming, then women’s all-around gymnastics. My roommates went to bed, then of course I’m here all alone, me and China hanging out, not doing much to ease my anxiety. Now I’m in present tense. I keep close track of those in the running for the all-around title, and I disagree with some of the scores. I’m biting my nails and standing up and my stomach churns hoping my American friends Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson don’t royally mess up. The DVR is set to record until 1AM and I’m minding my business, cheering for my country and our girls have just finished the balance beam and I notice the record light on the cable box is off. It is 1:10AM, and I switch to “Live” to make sure I didn’t miss any important coverage. And I see the medal podium, but it’s too late to switch back, because I know the positions of the gold, silver and bronze winners: middle, left, right. I see who’re standing in the respective positions before they step onto the podium. I press record, and I jump up and down and tears well up in my eyes because Francis Scott Key somehow saw my two American friends cherishing this moment, being so grateful and proud their hard work paid off. Gold. Silver. They become emotional, and I continue standing with my hand over my heart. The three winners are all on the top step posing for a photograph, and sportsmanship reigns. I switch back to the DVR to watch the floor exercise – the last rotation – to make sense of the math, to see the Olympic spirit weave through competition and friendship and simple human decency, and I rejoice, because isn’t this how it’s supposed to feel? Everyone’s crying; everyone’s hugging; everyone’s cheering for everyone.

Some of my friends are up against plain ol’ life. Like, the really lousy, nearly impossible parts. It happens, and some moments are hard to comprehend, much less cope with. But these friends do it; they get through, rise above, stand tall and proud.  I believe them. They deserve that much. They deserve more.

I’m cheering for you.