Thursday, April 30, 2009

On Marketing the Mormons

I remember the marketing class I took in the summer of 1987 as part of the "core" requirements for my master's degree in business administration. One of the things that struck me most about the course material was the comparison made between American car manufacturers and Japanese car manufacturers and how each did business in the 1960s and 1970s. The upshot was that American companies essentially designed and made cars that they liked, leaving it up to their dealers to sell those cars to the public, whereas the Japanese companies actually went out and researched what the public wanted and/or needed, and then designed and made cars that essentially sold themselves. This comparison served to underscore the difference between selling, on one hand, and marketing, on the other. In the years since, I've often contemplated the missionary program of the LDS Church, concluding time and again that the church is still stuck in "selling" mode, as opposed to concentrating on improving the "product" it is offering -- that is, making church a place where people actually want to be, instead of the place where they go on Sundays, if at all, out of a sense of guilt or obligation. (And I'm not advocating offering door prizes and holding a drawing at the end of sacrament meeting.)

Thank goodness we haven't arrived at the point...yet... where we go to church for the specific and masochistic purpose of being excoriated by a minister preaching hellfire and damnation (I keep picturing Ian McKellen's "Church of the Quivering Brethren" in the 1995 film Cold Comfort Farm: "Well, I'll tell ye! There'll be no butter in Hell!"). However, in many ways, the message we typically receive on Sundays isn't much more encouraging -- and if "men are that they might have joy," one might wonder to what end we have Sunday church meetings! I'm well aware of my own faults -- I don't need to be reminded of them at every turn, as if that were going to "inspire" me to improve myself. Needless to say, there's no joy in it so far as I can see.

And, of course, this doesn't even address most of the social aspects of church membership, which often seem calculated to elevate and emphasize our differences to the near-exclusion of what we have in common. The resulting tension and disunity among members -- and don't try to tell me I'm imagining it -- is a huge impediment to the whole notion of missionary work. My in-laws mentioned to me the other day how the ward in which their daughter and son-in-law live in Connecticut has an 85% activity rate, which of course is phenomenal by modern standards. The members there often spend time together outside of church and seem to enjoy each other's company, instead of being at unspoken odds with each other. Now, it is an affluent area, and thus the ward undoubtedly is pretty homogeneous in terms of social class and income bracket -- in contrast with our ward here in Albuquerque, which has annual incomes ranging from $200K+ down to less than a tenth of that -- but, notwithstanding, they must be doing something right to achieve that kind of activity rate. The church missionary department would be wise to do some research in that respect.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

April Update

Darren has received another transfer, this time to an area called Lempira, which is still in the city (and in fact is in the Comayag├╝ela Zone, where he served previously in Flor del Campo). His companion is Elder Pac (see photo), a Guatemalan who was in his previous district in the Torocagua Zone. Darren is about to hit 19 months on his mission and, because he and his mission president have made tentative plans for him to come home three weeks early (so that he can attend fall semester at BYU), he only has about 4½ months left. He's still enthusiastic about the work and has been blessed, in the main, with excellent companions.

My sleep situation is still rife with uncertainty. I'd more or less come to the point where I decided I needed to go back on prescription sleep meds, actually asking my sleep doctor for a couple of prescriptions. I tried, for the third time, to take Mirapex, the doctor's preferred med for restless legs/"leg jerks," but it simply wasn't having any positive effect (and in fact was having very annoying side effects). However, I finally agreed, rather than go back on Lunesta and/or Temazepam, to try an alternative "leg jerk" med called Neurontin, which I understand is an anti-convulsive when taken in larger doses. I've taken it the last several nights, and it does at least have a mild sedative effect (although it isn't strong enough to put me out for the entire night), and thus far doesn't seem to have noticeably bad side effects. Thus I think I will be able to take it for a month per the doctor's instructions, and I'll just wait and see what it does.

I still don't think I have any significant problem with being roused by my own "leg jerks" at night, but the sleep doctor seems to think that if a person's inability to sleep isn't attributable to sleep apnea (and my "VPAP Adapt SV" machine seems to be treating that part of my problem well), it is, by default, due to restless legs syndrome or "leg jerks." (Sure, I tossed and turned during the sleep studies I've had done, but I defy anyone to sleep soundly when wired up like that; it seems preposterous to me to base a diagnosis of restless legs on such an unnatural and unrepresentative situation.) For that reason, I'm relatively convinced that sleep medicine isn't in a very advanced state of understanding, and that the "experts" are still really only guessing most of the time. Meanwhile, in cognitive terms I only barely function, and I find it all too easy to fall into profound fits of depression.

Chris and a friend have started their own auto repair business, J&C Auto, which is located on east Central here in Albuquerque. I've long known that Chris would need to open his own shop if he ever wanted to make really good money doing car repairs, but it's a precarious time right now to be starting any kind of business, especially one that depends on the rapid development of a loyal clientele. We're praying for them.

Kiley has now taken the ACT, and she's working on the material for her AYS audition for the '09-'10 school year, which will take place on Friday May 1. One would think that with eight graduating senior cellists, the competition won't be as stiff for next year's group, but of course Kiley doesn't view it that way and is already nervous about it.

It appears that Dorine and I probably won't have to be a "ma and pa" for the stake youth "handcart trek" in June. Our ward will have only a handful of youth going on the trek, and since there is another (younger and hardier) couple called to go, we'll probably be let off the hook. Inasmuch as Kiley will be in Australia at that time with AYS, Dorine and I might actually get to go somewhere by ourselves -- I don't suppose she'd want to go to Las Vegas.

Oh, and in case anyone reading this doesn't already know, Heidi and Devery are both pregnant and are due in late October. They seem to be doing relatively well, especially given their heinous work schedules (Heidi works nights as a labor-and-delivery nurse, and Devery commutes to Salt Lake City from Provo on a UTA bus, which results in very long days). It will be interesting to see if either of the babies is a boy, given the high percentage of girls in our family!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Mark Steyn - The Canary in the Coal Mine

I've been thinking a lot lately about how America, especially under the Obama administration and with a Democratic Congress that is seemingly willing to spend the country into oblivion, is following Europe down a toilet of its own peculiar making. (And, given that high tax rates are invariably death at the ballot box in the U.S., our country may follow an even more direct path to the sewer in light of the astronomical budget deficits we'll be running, and the inevitable inflation -- and the mounting risk associated with owning U.S. Treasury debt instruments -- that such deficits will cause.)

As usual, Mark Steyn has captured all of my unexpressed feelings perfectly in an essay he's published on his website, titled "The Europeanization of America" (http://www.steynonline.com/content/view/1931/26/). As a Mormon, I believe that Thomas S. Monson is God's prophet and mouthpiece on Earth, but no one has given us a clearer vision of America's future -- by illustrating the culturally, spiritually, demographically, and economically enervated state of the Europe that the "progressives" in this country are trying so hard to emulate -- than Steyn has done. When historians write about the whimpering death of western civilization, they'll note that Steyn saw it coming and practically no one listened to him.

Update: Here's a link to the article at a different site: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/2218768/posts