The Prairies Calling

Encircled though I am by mountains and city, I can feel the quiet pulse of the prairies today.  I can almost hear the wind whistling through last year's corn stalks standing in the field, half-covered by snow.  I sense the winter wheat lying close to the ground, patiently, patiently awaiting the spring thaw.  And I, too, await a day when I will shed the coldness of this world, this body, this heart so prone to wandering.

Maybe it's because I've been re-reading the classic Giants In the Earth, a story of Norwegian pioneers in Dakota Territory.  The land in Rølvaag's novel is vast, stark, and richly fertile, and it leaves no one unchanged who seeks to survive it, much less tame it.

After 130 years, the land had been survived and peopled and maybe even slightly tamed, but it still inspired awe for Rich Mullins, who wrote a song to the Keeper of the Plains.

And so, in belated celebration of Kansas Day (I spent the majority of yesterday sick in bed, alas); and because there are some days when I just miss the prairies, and even more days when I long to be "shaken free of this old world"; and also because this is a beautifully poignant song and a good cover that begs to be shared...


Reflections on Sanctity of Human Life Sunday

What does it mean to be pro-life?

For me, it means I vote in every possible election in my district, with the primary consideration being the candidates' position on moral issues.  Not the economy or foreign policy; not their business experience or endorsements.  Those are secondary.  What I care about most: which candidate will do the most to protect and value human life?

It means I actively support my local Pregnancy Resource Center, through my time and finances.

It means I sign petitions and participate in respectful, gracious public demonstrations.  I contact my elected representatives about related issues.  I choose health care sharing instead of medical insurance.

But being pro-life means so much more.

It means I volunteer in my church's nursery on a regular basis.  I wipe noses and I wipe bottoms; I read books aloud and go to great and goofy lengths to make the new toddler giggle.

It means I go out of my way to spend evenings with an elderly, home-bound friend.  I listen to her stories even though I've heard them before.  I do her laundry and her errands.

It means I seek out employment where I can directly serve other people, improving their quality of life.  Currently, that means helping people obtain better vision.  My favorite cases are the children from low-income families who, through a philanthropic program, are able to receive their first pair of glasses.  Their faces light up when they realize what it is to see shapes, colors, and faces with clarity for the first time.

It means I try to stay informed on human trafficking, sex slavery, unjust imprisonment, child labor, government-enforced one-child policies, and the rise of Christian martyrdom around the world.  I refuse to give into my desire to remain ignorant of these ugly facts.  I weep when I encounter stories of injustice.  To the best of my ability, I boycott businesses who do not properly address these issues.

It means I support the men and women who serve in my country's military, placing themselves in harm's way to preserve the life of freedom I enjoy.

It means I send money every month to missionaries who are faithfully serving their communities in Asia and South America, sharing the life-giving Word of God in places characterized by poverty and persecution.

It means I choose to live in a place far from family and familiarity, to serve a cause bigger than myself: spreading the message of God's grace that leads to eternal and abundant life for all who believe.

And it means I pray to a sovereign God for others' needs, physical and spiritual, when they are made known to me.

Are any of these actions extraordinary?  Nope; lots of people do them.  Could I be doing more?  I'm sure.

But don't miss the point.  Being pro-life is not merely a "right-wing" political stance.  It is a fundamental worldview that touches every aspect of life.  When you believe in the inherent value of each and every human from conception through eternity, every decision you make, every action you take will be driven by it.

Nor is it an original idea.  My Jesus fed the hungry, healed the sick, raised the dead, embraced children, protected women, and went so far as to lay down His own precious life that you and I might be made alive forever.  Without ever signing a petition or endorsing a political candidate, He is the ultimate pro-life activist.  May our lives be patterned after His.

"I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep."  John 10


Valleyisms: The Ratio

The Ratio.  It never ceases to amaze me: the number of Latter-day Saint congregations versus other churches here.

This is a photo I took after climbing Squaw Mountain in November.  It shows a section of north Provo along with a sliver of east Orem.  Near the center of the picture is the building where I work part-time.  If you zoom in and you know what to look for, you'll count at least nine LDS meeting houses.  Each of these chapels hosts two or three LDS wards (congregations).  (The size of a ward varies, but if we can trust Wikipedia, it's typically between 200-500 people.)  To the best of my knowledge, the only church of any other type located within the frame of this photo is the lone small Lutheran church in the city.

That's a congregation ratio of something like 21:1.  Do you know of anywhere else in the U.S. like this?

To live here, one must all but dismiss any notions of American diversity.  But you can always, like me, work out the angst of this by climbing a mountain.

Only in Utah Valley.


Valleyisms: Alma and... Coffee Shops?

If you had to get your CatchPhrase team to guess the phrase alma mater, what would you say?  How about: "The first word is the longest book in The Book of Mormon!"

That's how it went down at a game night I went to recently, the token Gentile in a circle of Latter-day Saint young adults.  And yes, it worked; Team 1 quickly guessed their teammate's word.

But I am proud to say my Team 2 won two out of three rounds, despite the challenge I had of hurriedly describing my phrase,"coffee shop", to people who have probably never been in one.  Oh, the irony of that!  Not unlike describing a cut of pork to an Orthodox Jew.  But my teammates were good sports and guessed the answer within a few tries.  Then: "Coffee shop?  What's a coffee shop?" one guy, nineteen days away from beginning his two-year mission, jokingly asked as I passed the game piece to the next player.  Kudos to those of us who can laugh good-naturedly at the quirks of our traditions.  Indeed, respectful humor is not a bad place to start a conversation between or about vastly different belief systems.  At least I'm pretty sure he was kidding.

Next time, maybe we can play a rousing game of Book of Mormon WHO?

Only in Utah Valley.


Valleyisms: Missionary Shoes

Missionary shoes.  Google the phrase and you'll get sites like MissionShoe.com.  They have a clever logo, a catchy slogan ("Helping you serve, one step at a time"), and a page of glowing testimonials ("I have worn them everyday since I got out of the MTC [Missionary Training Center] and they rock").

But for those local Latter-day Saints who have received their mission callings and who prefer a brick-and-mortar store for their footwear needs, there are shops like this one I photographed.

If you're wondering what exactly a "missionary shoe" is: it's black, pricey, nondescript, and ultra-sensible.  It must stand up to two years (or one and a half for the ladies) of almost constant wear by a Mormon missionary going door-to-door in Boise or Buenas Aires or Bangkok.  It has also been paired for time and all eternity to a matching shoe for the opposite foot.  <---This is a joke.  I think.

Only in Utah Valley.