Sunday, July 25, 2010

An Average Ending

What? Doth mine eyes deceive me? Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it an overly-long, drawn-out, poorly worded treatise on nothing?

Why yes. Yes it is.

After a several month hiatus, the Average Joel is back. And what message of good tidings do I bring to my avid and devoted reader? Well, to the both of you I have only this to say: so long suckers!

Allow me to 'esplain.

12 years ago, I found myself on a flight from Houston Texas to Bogota Colombia to begin my two-year Mormon mission. While all the other passengers calmly looked out the window as we crossed the Caribbean in twilight, I sat in a cold sweat, nervously clutching the air-sickness bag in the hopes of catching the remnants of dinner I was sure was about to come back for an encore. Did all these people on the plane not realize where we were going? COLOMBIA! SOUTH AMERICA! I was only minutes away from stepping foot in a country where I did not know a living soul and I could not speak the language. Heck, I could not even pronounce the name of the capital.( It turns out, Bogota does not rhyme with Dakota, seriously, who knew?). As if that wasn't bad enough, I was about to spend the next two years of my life in a country whose penchant for narco-terrorism and kidnappings had scared away every tourist since Romancing the Stone was made. Over the last twenty-years, the only movies made about Colombia have been written by Tom freakin' Clancy! Does this sound like the kind of place where you would want to sell religion door-to-door?

Well the plane, as all good planes do, eventually landed. And, unlike Hawaii where you are greeted by Hula Girls with flowers around their necks, I was greeted by sub-machine gun toting soldiers with bullets draped across their chests who surrounded the plane as soon as it pulled up to the gate. Bienvenidos, indeed.

As everyone else calmly filed out of the plane I stared blankly ahead of me like a nine-year- old boy at the top of a water slide he is sure will kill him. Too afraid to go. Too stupid/proud to turn back.

Then I remembered why I was there: to answer the call. So I stood up, walked off the plane and, in so doing, committed to serve the Lord whenever and wherever he wanted me to. Even Colombia.

That decision to serve has shaped every facet of my life ever since.

A few weeks ago, I discovered something scary and disconcerting. I was content with my life. And every time I have ever felt content with my life, the Lord has always decided to through me a pitch I haven't seen yet.

And then the phone rang.

To understand what I am about to say you need to know a little bit about the Mormon church. All you Mormons can go ahead and skip this paragraph and get back to eating your green jell-o. For you non-Mormons, please keep reading. Each LDS congregation is called a Ward and constitutes a set geographic area (usually a couple square miles). As Mormons, we do not have paid clergy. Each member of the Ward, is assigned a role and we rotate through these roles. It can be anything from teaching Sunday School, to leading music, to organizing church activities. Even the leaders of the Ward serve on a volunteer basis and are not paid. The leader of a Ward is a called a Bishopand he is assisted by two counselors. Together, these three men constitute a Bishopric. The Bishopric is responsible for the spiritual and temporal well being of all the people in the ward, usually about 100 families. Their role goes far beyond overseeing the church administration and organizing Sunday services. They help struggling bread-winners get a job and pay the mortgage. They help families get food through a special grocery store called the Bishops Store House. They counsel struggling marriages. They tend to the sick and needy. They help people overcome sin and addiction. They assist in the total well-being of every person in the ward. It is a tremendous responsibility, requires a large time commitment and, oh, did I mention it does not pay a dime?

Well, the phone call came from Stake Presidency (the guys who are in charge of the Bishops. Try to keep up.) The Stake Presidency needed to meet with me and right away I knew what was coming. We were due for a new Bishopric and there was really only one reason why they would want to talk to me.

Sure enough, at 7:45 a.m. on Sunday, July 11th, I heard the words that would change my entire life. Will you serve as Second Counselor in the Bishopric?

Just like 12 year ago, sitting on the plane, every sensible part of my screamed no and frankly, the sensible part of me made some pretty good arguments. I am only 31 years old, isn't this a job better suited for someone older and wiser? I have five kids under the age of seven, how is this fair to my wife? I have a demanding job, how am I going to find the time necessary to serve effectively?

Despite all this, I could not ignore my decade-old commitment to serve. Anytime. Anywhere.

So I said Yes.

Now each Sunday, while the rest of the world sleeps, I get up early for my 6:45 a.m. Bishopric meeting, to be followed by 3 hours of church service to be followed by more meetings to be followed by in-home visits to be followed by...well, you get the picture.

Where does this leave me? Well, it leaves me saying good bye. For almost two years now, it has been the highlight of my week being able to stir up my thoughts and throw them out onto the internet like a Jackson Pollock painting. With the birth of the twins this has become next to impossible. Getting called to the Bishopric, I am afraid, was the last nail in the Average Joel coffin.

Before I ride off into the blogosphere sunset, let say thanks for reading and especially for commenting. I am a feedback junkie and I appreciate all the kind words, even when we disagreed. This site will remain up if you ever care to peruse my thoughts but new content will have to stay trapped inside my head, where it probably belongs.

However, before your internet- induced ADD compels you to click on something else (oooooh look..LOL cats!) allow me the chance to unmask myself and reveal my not-so-secret identity. My name is Joel. I am married to Wonderwoman. I have five children who, despite my best efforts, are as beautiful as they are smart. I am a proud, unabashed and vocal member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I accept Jesus Christ as my Savior. I am a child of a loving Heavenly Father who knows and cares for me. The same hands that made the sun, the moon and the stars made me.

Maybe I am not so average after all.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Mr. Obama: What Can Brown do for You?

"Ted Kennedy's Karmatic Comeuppance". In a perfect world, that's what headlines across America would have said the day after Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts. Alas, most headlines tended to side with some sort of spin on old revolutionary themes, such as "The Scott Heard Round the World" or "The Boston Massacre." No matter what you call it, there is no questioning the magnitude of a Republican victory in such a historically and culturally left-leaning locale. Watching Scott Brown get elected to a Massachusetts Senate seat is like watching Rosie O'Donnell get elected President of Weight Watchers. This is certainly not the change Barack Obama hoped for.

Nevertheless, Scott Brown's victory could be the best thing that ever happened to Barack Obama. Just as Bill Clinton now gets credit for Newt Gingrich's "Contract with America" (balanced budget, lower taxes, welfare reform) Scott Brown could be just what Barack Obama needs to save himself from...himself. So, Mr. Obama, what can Brown do for you?

Lesson #1: Time to Ditch Obama Care. Scott Brown's victory shows that America wants Obamacare as much as a person with bowel incontinence wants a pet tarantula. ( Sorry, obscure metaphors and Rose O'Donnell jokes are all I have to offer this world). Our healthcare system is broken, nobody denies that. But nobody in their right mind thinks that the solution to government-induced problems is more government involvement. Would anybody struggling with their car insurance company expect the DMV to make it better?

Obama's healthcare solutions show that he views public policy like a large McDonalds, where you can order whatever you want and make the guy behind you in line pay for it. Obamacare certainly started out with the best of intentions but what he ended up with was a trillion-dollar boondoggle wrought with union favoritism, and special interest buyouts. Comparing the fabrication of Obamacare to the making of sausage is an insult to sausage everywhere. What Obama ended up with was a pork-filled tube of government-largesse that not even the most obese progressive could swallow.

So what should Obama do? Cut that sausage into the pieces America can stomach. Focus on pre-existing conditions, making insurance cheaper (by allowing it to be purchased across state lines) and include tort reform to bring down the cost of healthcare.

Lesson #3: Rhetoric Makes for a Great Candidate but a Lousy President. President Obama loves to point out that words matter. After all, it was words (certainly not experience) that got him elected, right? But you know what matters even more than words? Action. Results. Success. While President Obama loves to attack the failed ideas of the past eight years, he so often neglects that Democrats ruled congress for two of those years. Blaming all of the problems he inherited on Bush may have worked for the first few months, but Democrats have been calling the shots in Washington for three years now and what do they have to show for it? We have the worst unemployment rate in decades and record deficits that will burden our country for generations.

For all his talk of bipartisanship, President Obama has done nothing conciliatory. He accuses Republicans of cow-towing to special interests while at the same time he is allowing insurance companies and unions to build his healthcare bill. He accuses Republicans of fiscal recklessness while at the same time proposing the largest budget in American history. He accuses Republicans of unprecedented obstructionism when he holds a filibuster proof majority. It is difficult to set a reconciliatory tone in Washington, Mr. Obama, when you spend most of your time accusing Republicans of, well, acting like Democrats.

Lesson #3: The Tea Party- It's ALIVE!. Considering Scott Brown was the first Republican elected to a Massachusetts Senate seat in a generation, you would think it would be worth mentioning this convenient fact in his victory speech. Alas, Scott Brown droned on and on about the importance of his victory without once mentioning the Republican party. The Republican Party, as an ideology, is dead. Stating you are a Republican no longer means you are a social and fiscal conservative. The meaning of Republican has become so muddied by the reckless spending of the Bush administration that it no longer has any actionable power or authority. President Obama needs to realize that the Republican party is beginning to function only as the administrative and organizational arm for the Tea Party.

Mrs. Pelosi's arrogant, down-her-nose sneering at the Tea Party movement notwithstanding, Scott brown proves that the movement has real power and real force. Far from being an Astroturf movement, the Tea Party is true grass roots with people of all shapes and sizes uniting around conservative principles. What distinguishes this from conservative movements of the past is the willingness of the Tea party to act out. Conservative activism used to be a complete oxymoron. Protests and petitions used to be the exclusive domain of people on the left. Conservatives were too busy, you know, working. However, enough people are concerned about the direction President Obama is taking this country that they were able to take Ted Kennedy's seat. As much as you may despise them, you can't ignore the termites when the roof caves in.

How bad is President Obama? Less than a year into office his actions have given rise to the fastest swing in political pendulum history. Conservatives have always outnumbered liberals 2-1, yet we are seeing in the Tea Party movement the silent majority finally come to life.

If President Obama wishes to have any success, he and the other Democratic leaders of congress, need to recognize the legitimate force of the Tea Party movement. This is no longer about getting more Republicans into congress than Democrats. This is no longer a political football game where we spend all our time pushing the ball back and forth along strict party lines. With the defeat of Republican Dede Scozzafava in upstate New York a few months ago, the Tea Party movement proved it is more content taking a risk on an unelectable conservative over an electable liberal. Because candidates will need the endorsement of the Tea Party masses in order to win election in this current political climate, you are more likely to have true conservatives, regardless of party, headed to Washington. If Barack Obama wishes to salvage his Presidency, and in essence, the country, he has to pivot to the center.

Unfortunately for Democrats, Obama's presidential victory was more like the Japanese victory in Pearl Harbor: momentous, short lived and serving only to wake the sleeping conservative giant. Scott Brown's election is the moment where Barack Obama needs to decide if he is going to be a permanent political force, or a short- lived kamikaze.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Maybe I am Just High on HopeyChangey

Mormons are crazy. Anyone who has read even three sentences of the ill-conceived drivel I contribute to the blogosphere on a not-so-regular basis already knows this. But on this particular day, this particular Mormon is particularly crazy. Why? Because I am fasting (Mormon custom of abstaining from food and water for 24 hours) but I did drink enough water to slide a Claritin-D down my throat to combat the fact that I am Allergic. To. Texas. Shoving jitter-inducing drugs into an already jittery guy is like feeding pixie sticks to a ferret. The low pitched whirring you hear is not the fan from your computer, it is my heart desperately racing to keep up with the low-blood sugar drug fueled semi-panicked state I now find myself in.

The previous paragraph, my peeps, was totally random. And unfortunately, because of the ferret like stupor I now find myself in, so will the rest of this column be. Or so will be the rest of this column. Or the rest of this column will so be. Pick whichever grammatical construct best suits you. It's like a choose your own adventure but with grammar instead of, you know, adventure.

Wow, even the paragraph describing how this column was going to be random ended up being random. Now, let the randomness commence, if it has not already.

Everybody keeps giving President Obama credit for appointing the first transgendered person to his cabinet. Oh how quickly we forget Janet Reno.

It is good to see President Obama keeping his campaign promise (which he re-iterated over eight times on the campaign trail) to allow C-SPAN cameras into the healthcare bill deliberations. Wait..what? You mean he has not? You mean to tell me that the most significant legislation in the past 30 years is being deliberated exclusively behind closed doors and the American public won't even have 24 hours to look at it before it is approved along a strictly partisan line? That Obama campaign was like a fun night out on the town, getting drunk on HopeyChangey only to wake up next to the Reid-Pelosi Healthcare love child. How much HopeyChangey do you have to drink for that to look good? Answer: Ask Keith Olbermann.

I have said it before and I will say it again: worrying about the American Health care system while unemployment hovers around 10% is like worrying about watering the plants while the house burns down.

Considering the last two would-be terrorists on American-bound planes have smuggled explosives in their shoes and underwear, I think the answer to our security problems is rather obvious. Forget the full body scanners, just ban footwear and undergarments. It would be like flying through the sky on a plane full of Mathew McConaugheys.

As Jeff Jacoby from the Boston Globe pointed out this week, the Mayo Clinic, which Barack Obama has touted as a model of efficiency and compassion that the whole healthcare system should emulate, announced that it will no longer accept patients using Medicare. Why? Because Medicare only covers 50% of the cost to deliver service. This is particularly important in light of the fact that much of the proposed healthcare bill is paid for by slashing Medicare payouts to doctors. I guess once everybody on Medicare is unable to find a Doctor to treat them, the costs of Medicare really will go down. After all, the cheapest healthcare is the healthcare you never receive.

It turns out Barack Obama is against gay marriage after all. If you look into the details of the healthcare bill being bandied about in the shadows of congress, you will find that some couples could pay up to $2,000 more in health insurance premiums just for having the gall to be married. Barack Obama is trying to combat gay marriage by making the institution of marriage as unattractive as possible. Well played Mr. President, I knew there was a heartless conservative in there somewhere!

So I went to a home football game for the University of Texas and I noticed a few things:

1) The longhorn really is the perfect mascot for the University of Texas. After all, with Bevo by your side you are never more than a few feet away from a potential BBQ.

2) The University of Texas needs a choir director in the stadium. Every time they "sing" the fight song, all you hear is a conglomeration of chanting and swearing (mostly swearing) that vaguely resembles a biker-gang initiation. I probably heard the Texas fight song 20 times and the only words I could decipher with certainty were "Texas", "Fight" and "Sucks". No seriously. Maybe they just need to sing "Popcorn Popping on the Apricot Tree" to get warmed up.

If you just got that last joke then you are a full on BYU-lovin, green jello eatin' Mormon. I salute you.

3) Do not laugh when Colt McCoy gets hit hard and stays down on the ground for a while. Even though I was wearing full on burnt-orange (when in Rome) and I was sitting in the faculty section surrounded by 75-year old professors, I still almost got a good-old Texas tarin' and featherin' for that one.

4) You know you are in Austin when you walk into a gas station and there is a guy wearing 6-inch platform shoes, white bell-bottoms and a silver sequined shirt unbuttoned to the navel and no one even takes a second glance.

Just for the record all you University of Texas football fans: Brigham Young University has as many national championships and Heisman trophy winners in the last 25 years as you. Recognize!!!

Avatar was the awesomest version of Pocahontas I have ever seen.

When we elected Barack Obama, we elected a good looking, eloquent ideologue. Basically, we elected Sarah Palin without the experience.

One of my good friends, the Contemplative Tulsan, recently wrote about the decade that was and all the things that happened to him. Which got me thinking about the last ten years of my life and all I can say is HOLY MOTHER OF MARVIN THE MARTIAN! I've done a whole lot of livin'! Consider that in the last ten years I have: Returned from a mission to a third world country, met the love of my life, gotten married, received both a bachelors degree and a masters degree, stood on the Great Wall of China, floated in Hong Kong harbor, squatted in a Viet-cong tunnel, ridden a Cambodian elephant, gotten a full time job, moved seven times, bought my first home, saw every episode of Firefly twice, and brought five of my own children into this world.

Now one final word before I pass out from my Claritin-D'licious induced haze: desultory. Why? Because it is random.