Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Overlords RFC, Part One

We needed something. Family morale seemed to be sinking, maybe because some strange distance had once again emerged between Mommy and me, a distance I hated and wanted to erase. Why? Because I loved the woman body and soul. I'd tried a bunch of things - giving her lots of space, getting us matching beach bikes for joint evening rides, getting us kayak lessons, trying out various seduction strategies, going to a couple's seminar, giving her even more space, lots of date nights, writing notes and songs, surprise concerts, more space again, fantasy getaway weekends, counselors, everything I could think of - but nothing had really worked, and I couldn't figure out what else to do.

It was spring of 2008. Tracy and I had had a rough time two years earlier, but we had gotten over that. But now...it seemed like the bond was slipping again. What to do?

I thought and thought - kind of like Winnie the Pooh trying to get an idea - and finally I came up with something. Maybe - long shot - but maybe just getting out of town for a couple of weeks would help us re-set. But where? Well...we need happiness, I thought. For that, where else do you go but "the happiest place on earth"? It was worth a try anyway.

That's how in May of 2008, Tracy and I and our six youngest kids wound up driving to Disneyland from Victoria in our RV (our two oldest wanted to stay at home with friends). Ideally, the two of us would have gotten away alone, but it's hard to find someone to watch eight kids for a week or two. In the end, it became obvious that if we wanted to get away, we'd all have to go. Despite that, I hoped there would be some special moments between the two of us...

I don't know what Tracy would say now, but I thought our trip was a blast, and I think the kids thought so, too. We stopped first at one of our favourite little getaway places, Seaside, Oregon, and then next in Florence to ride on buggies on the giant sand dunes, and...finally we got to Disneyland, and did it all: the Matterhorn, Space Mountain, Big Thunder Railroad, Sleeping Beauty's Castle. I don't know what it is - the tidiness, the faint smell of jasmine everywhere, maybe even the comforting predictability - but for some reason, the magic of the place never fades for me. I've been going there since I was a little kid, and each time, I feel the same thrill.

We augmented our trip with a foray to Knott's Berry Farm, during which my son Sno-Cone I think became the youngest child to ever ride on Montezuma's Revenge, and another to a dinner theatre thing with pirates, and a night out at Medieval Times. We also hit the Long Beach aquarium, a few other beaches, etc. On the way home, we stopped at a nice little resort somewhere off the highway near San Luis Obispo. It was awesome.

But the whole time we were gone, I found myself mulling over the follow-up questions: How do we keep the family morale up when we get back? How do we keep having fun together? Even though we all live our own individual lives, how do we remain centered as a family?

And then one day, lightning struck, and I had it: Overlords RFC.

More to come.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Heroes vs. Hypocrites: Mormon Rugby Girls vs. Mormon Leaders

So, let's see.

The BYU women's rugby team drills for hundreds of hours: wind sprints, push-ups, burpees, tackles, line-outs, scrums, rucks, passes, the whole deal. As they are not an official university team, they scramble for financing, holding fund raisers, relying on any source of money they can find. They pull together and make it to the national finals in Florida, where, due to a scheduling error, their second-round game against Penn State is scheduled for Sunday, rather than for Saturday. The BYU girls are then confronted with the heartbreaking choice of either pursuing the dream they have worked so hard to realize, or living up to their religious commitment to keep the Sabbath day holy. Devastated, they finally decide to live their religion. They forfeit the game. And with that, their shot at the title disappears.

But at the same time, the men who run the church they believe in so deeply feel quite happy to require that church-owned businesses - of which there are many dozens - operate every single Sunday. Why? For the same reason those leaders require them to operate the other six days of the week: profit.

This isn't right. Mormon church leaders never tire of telling church members to keep the Sabbath day holy. As an example, consider the words of the late Mormon president Gordon Hinckley in an LDS General Conference talk called "Look to the Future":

"...There are what some may regard as the lesser commandments but which are also of such tremendous importance.

"I mention the Sabbath day. The Sabbath of the Lord is becoming the play day of the people. It is a day of golf and football on television, of buying and selling in our stores and markets. Are we moving to mainstream America as some observers believe? In this I fear we are. What a telling thing it is to see the parking lots of the markets filled on Sunday in communities that are predominately LDS.

"Our strength for the future, our resolution to grow the Church across the world, will be weakened if we violate the will of the Lord in this important matter. He has so very clearly spoken anciently and again in modern revelation. We cannot disregard with impunity that which He has said".

But "disregard with impunity" is exactly what Hinckley did throughout his tenure when it came to the fourth commandment. As the man at the top of the Mormon pyramid, he could have stopped the operation of the church's for-profit businesses on Sunday at any moment. Instead, he authorized it, just as his successor, current church president Thomas Monson, does. To take just one example of this shockingly open hypocrisy, the church's Salt Lake City NBC affiliate, KSL-TV, as a rule broadcasts six hours of sports each Sunday, the watching of which is the very thing that Hinckley, in the talk quoted above, told Mormons was bad. So while the BYU girls refuse to play a game on Sunday for which they will not be paid, on grounds that doing so is incompatible with the Sabbath, the very church leaders who in effect told them not to, are making money off of broadcasting sports every single Sunday of the year!

The BYU girls walk the walk. Why don't Mormon leaders? How can they preach against the very thing they are doing? Easy - the same way Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, Jesse Jackson, and dozens of Catholic priests have all preached chastity while having sex with prostitutes, mistresses, or children; the same way conservative writer Bill Bennett preached a return to old-time virtues while blowing millions in gambling casinos; the same way radio host Rush Limbaugh preached against soft-on-crime liberals while he was illegally buying Oxycontin off of drug dealers in Denny's parking lots; the same way Idaho senator Larry Craig preached family values while cruising for anonymous gay sex in airport restrooms; the same way California senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer preach the evils of guns while both possessing concealed weapons permits...they just say one thing, and then do another. They just exempt themselves from the rules they tell everyone else to live by. It's easy.

Some people might think the BYU girls are stupid. I don't. I think they have demonstrated what character is all about, and I admire them: they sacrificed their own pleasure for the sake of their principles. It's too bad their religious leaders are too busy counting up the profits from the Sunday sports shows they tell everyone are sinful, but happily broadcast anyway, to do the same.

Final score:

BYU women's rugby team: heroes.

Mormon leaders: hypocrites.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Sno-Cone

I'll always remember the night my son Sno-Cone (nickname) was conceived.

It was late July, 2001. We were living in White Rock, BC, and I landed around 5:30 PM in Vancouver that day after a week away. I'd missed Tracy a lot and eagerly jumped in the car to begin the forty minute drive home.

I flicked on the radio as I pulled on to Highway 99, and heard an advertisement for what was then called "The Symphony of Fire" (now "Celebration of Fire"), Vancouver's annual fireworks contest held in English Bay. They haul a giant floating platform out into the water, and then teams from all different countries come and take turns shooting off their fireworks displays every night over the course of a week or so. Judges then award prizes for the best displays. In that instant, listening to the ad, I had an idea.

I grabbed the cellphone and called Tracy, telling her I'd just landed and that I wanted to take her out for a special overnight adventure, and to pack and put on something she'd feel comfortable going out in. When she asked what we were doing, I said it was a surprise, but not to eat. I made a few other calls to get everything arranged, including overnight babysitting, got home, hugged and said hi to the kids, jumped in the shower, threw on some clean clothes, and then we left, heading back to Vancouver. So far, so good, I thought.

It was another amazing sunny summer Vancouver evening, slight ocean breeze, the odd eagle overhead, pines and firs everywhere...it felt great to be back home, and to be out with Tracy. She seemed excited and curious, which was pretty charming, and looked beautiful as ever - like a cross between Brigitte Bardot and Marilyn Monroe. No one could believe she'd already had six children.

As we parked a couple of blocks from English Bay, I revealed that I'd made reservations for us to eat dinner at Rain City Grill, a restaurant we'd never visited, but which I had noticed always got rave reviews in local papers for the top flight dishes it served, using only fresh, seasonal, local food.

We walked in, and to my surprise, the greeters recognized me, and seemed thrilled to meet us. Even with my songs pumping on radio, I wasn't recognized very often; and while I honestly couldn't care less about that sort of thing normally, I have to admit that on that particular night, out on a special date with my wife, hoping that everything would go well, it felt kind of nice to meet people who seemed excited to meet us...it added to the "specialness" of our evening thus far.

I can't for the life of me remember what Tracy ordered that night, but I do remember that I got the short ribs, and they were phenomenal. We ate and chatted and laughed as the sky outside more and more turned indigo, and took bites of each other's dessert, until finally we were done.

We walked down to the beach, just a few metres away from the restaurant, and found a nice place to sit. The fireworks displays were breathtaking, and...I can't really find words to describe how I felt, sitting out there in the warm summer air next to the mother of my children, watching the shooting flames and sparks, thrilling along with the crowd to each surprise, smelling the ocean air and catching glimpses of reflections coming off the water. Everything seemed right in the world that night.

After the climax of the last fireworks display had ended, we made our way a block up the street to the quaint little hotel I'd booked for the night, and, well, you know. Our surreally, powerfully beautiful evening ended in similar fashion.

Well, you know where this is going. A few months later on Salt Spring Island, where we had moved in the meantime, Tracy got the predicted due date of our seventh child after having an ultrasound, and out of curiosity, looked at the calendar, and then exclaimed: "it was the night we went to the fireworks - it had to be!".

Sno-Cone was born April 5, 2002, in Bellingham, Washington, a hale and hearty boy, with white-blonde hair (which he still has), his blue eyes shaped like almonds (like his mother's), and an unusually calm, solid demeanour.

More to come on Sno-Cone.