Saturday, September 25, 2010

An Analogy

This post (with only slight editing) comes from an entry that I wrote in my journal on August 17, 2010:

I was thinking of an interesting analogy involving the church last night.  I was remembering how I took Darren out to the Albuquerque Academy [exclusive private school] when he was finishing fifth grade and had him take the entrance exam there.  What I didn't know at the time was that AA didn't (and still doesn't) have merit-based financial aid, and though Darren was accepted, we didn't qualify for need-based financial aid (by most people's standards, we were, and are, pretty well-off, although of course our paying tithing and having four kids at home at the time made us a lot "poorer" than we appeared on paper).  I came to the conclusion that AA was a rich kids' school, and that the school administration was doing what it had to do to keep it that way.  Oh, it provided "scholarships" to less-well-off kids as a means of avoiding the "elitist" label and to assuage the consciences of the elitists who ran the place, but the fact of the matter is that it purposely made the financial burden of attending school there so inordinate to the means of the middle class that the middle class would be greatly discouraged from sending their kids there.

I'm sure there are middle-class families who make great sacrifices to send a child or two there (the D_____s [members of our ward], for one, sent both S____ and J____ there, although I understand that they were sufficiently "paper poor" that they got half-tuition scholarships based on need).  However, I keep coming back to this idea that the middle class must make wildly disproportionate sacrifices to send a kid there.  (Clare S________ [a lady I used to work with] and her husband send two kids to AA -- she works full-time largely so that they can afford it.)

Anyway, there's the tie-in to the church in my mind.  Clearly, there are three "spiritual" classes in the church: (1) the "upper" class, for whom serving in church callings is not much of a burden or stretch; (2) the "lower" class, who, being low on resources, aren't expected to do much (but who are, still, allowed to feel good about themselves); and (3) the "middle" class, who are judged to have resources but who, in fact, aren't as "gifted" spiritually as they seem "on paper."  The latter, in which group I fall squarely, can fully participate in church membership and even be highly thought of, but they must sacrifice at a level which is inordinate to their means.  Clearly, some do, but most end up questioning the whole notion whether the rewards are worth the sacrifices, and thus they "renege" on making those sacrifices.

Is going to AA that advantageous to a kid?  The quality of education there is presumably high, but are the marginal (i.e., incremental) academic benefits worth the price?  I'd say probably not, as it is possible to get a decent education in the public schools for a kid who is disposed to seek it out.  But there is one clear benefit to kids who do go to AA -- I haven't met an AA grad yet who didn't have an extremely high opinion of himself, and self-esteem (even if not fully merited) can, of itself, be a great reward.  Those who do fully "participate" in church membership, holding down heavy leadership positions, tend to acquire great self-esteem as well (regardless of how good people they really are), but I am of the opinion that the calling doesn't make the innate person.

In any case, I clearly have made the decision that the disproportionate sacrifices I'd have to make to break into the "elite" ranks of church membership are simply not worth the rewards, and perhaps it's simply because I've never fully bought into church doctrines.  I seem to think that the alternative (the "public school" option, if you will) is just as good, and a whole lot less-expensive.  That says a lot about my testimony or lack thereof.  But it is really difficult to be lukewarm as I am, feeling that even if the church is true, my paying tithing, attending church, working in the temple, doing home teaching, etc., isn't buying me anything outside of keeping my marriage together.  In fact, it makes my life miserable to such a degree that I often wonder if my marriage (or, by extension, my life) is worth keeping together.

I feel like Clark Gable (as Rhett Butler) at the end of Gone With the Wind, when he tells Vivien Leigh (as Scarlett O'Hara/Hamilton/Kennedy/Butler), "No, I'm through with everything here.  I want peace.  I want to see if somewhere there is something left in life of charm and grace."  I feel the same way about the church -- I'd like to live out the rest of my life (the church having mucked so much of it up to this point) trying to find charm and grace, instead of hating the world.

[Update, 9/27/10: The logical conclusion of my having decided that the Albuquerque Academy is an elitist institution, then comparing it to the LDS church, is that I think the latter is also an elitist institution, and I'm not sure I'd go quite that far.  There obviously are plenty of elitists in the church, but the people whom I describe above as the "spiritual middle class" of the church are, and heretofore always have been, its lifeblood, paying most of the tithing, holding most of the callings, making most of the home-teaching visits, bearing most of the guilt trips, etc.  The observation I would make, however, is that if this type of person isn't already a member of the church, the likelihood that he would be receptive these days to the missionaries and their message is slim.  Just as the Albuquerque Academy was way too expensive for us, the sheer expense of church membership (and tithes and offerings are just one part of that expense) is simply too great for most people compared to the perceived incremental benefits.  And thus the "lifeblood" of the church drains away, drop by drop.]

[Update, 10/2/10: I was impressed by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland's talk in General Conference this morning, in which he actually acknowledged, and expressed gratitude for, the contributions made by the "little people" in the church.  What a rarity....]

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Artist as a Growing Boy


These old photos show me at age 11 (Fall 1970) and age 12 (Fall 1971), respectively.  (Look how much darker my hair got in just a year!)  Both were taken by my mother -- obviously on Sundays, as I'm wearing what was church attire for me at the time.  (I always shake my head at the fact that Aaronic Priesthood holders are now "required" to wear white shirts and ties to administer the sacrament in church.  Heck, I'm not sure I owned a white shirt until I went on my mission, and I hardly ever wore a tie, to church or anywhere else, until I was much older.)  I was always thin, although by today's standards I wouldn't be considered painfully so.  (I remember that the girls next door, who were anything but svelte, thought they were being cute one time by requesting information on the Charles Atlas body-building program in my name and having it sent to my address.  I seriously considered returning the favor by requesting information on some weight-loss program in their names, but I never got around to it.)

The photo on the left, taken when I was in sixth grade (which I can tell by the octagonal wire-frame glasses I'm wearing), shows me with my very first electric guitar, a single-pickup Harmony (model "POS") that my mother paid $15 for at a garage sale on the next street over.  I can't remember whether I really knew any chords at the time, but, regardless, I didn't start playing a lot of guitar until I was about 14, when my brother Kelly went on his mission to Taiwan and left his 12-string acoustic guitar behind.

The photo on the right, taken when I was in seventh grade (which I can tell by the plastic "aviator" glasses with the photo-gray lenses), shows me astride Kelly's Honda 350 motorcycle.  I wasn't actually riding it, although I had a deep lust at the time for a motorcycle of my own, voraciously reading various motorcycle magazines every month; my parents finally bought me my Honda CL-70 the following summer.  I almost "inherited" the 350 when Kelly went on his mission in September 1973 -- I did get to ride it for a short time after he left, which was a real thrill for a 14-year-old -- but my mother quickly sold it to a guy in our ward who was a couple of years younger than Kelly.

It's interesting to take note of the cars in the background in the two photos.  On the left, the gold car is my brother Jeff's 1968 AMC Javelin, which he later painted maroon (and which stayed in our family for a while after it suffered a wreck that mashed in the passenger door -- it was one of the cars in which I learned to drive).  The car behind it is my father's 1952 Chevy (called "Bartholomew" by my cousin and me), which he bought from an older lady who supposedly won it, brand-new, playing craps in Las Vegas.  (I remember taking "Bartholomew" on a joyride up in the "mesa" with my friend Ken Foley, shortly after I got my driver's license in 1974.  The car didn't have a current registration, so we switched license plates with another car; of course, I ended up getting pulled over by a cop -- my first time -- and being cited for having the wrong tags on the car.  Ken and I scrounged the money to pay the fine so that I wouldn't have to confess to having taken the car without permission, and I didn't tell my mother about it until years later.)  On the right, the light-colored car with the dark roof is my brother Robin's (1970?) Ford Maverick, which he drove for a number of years, and the car behind it and to the right is my parents' old 1965 Ford station wagon, which was our "family car" from roughly 1967 to 1973.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Hike in the Sandias, 9/3/10

Satellite View of the Trail
Typical Stretch of Trail
Well, on Friday I tried hiking in the Sandia Mountains for the first time this year.  I felt like I'd been doing a little better, off and on, in the previous few weeks and wanted to see how I'd fare on the trail, so I made plans to hike the Embudito Trail with John Brewer and Jimmy Romero.  Notwithstanding the fact that we got a late start (due to an appointment Jimmy had with the eye doctor), our plan was to hike all the way to South Sandia Peak and back, but it was apparent early on that I wasn't going to make it that far.  In fact, for a while I thought I was going to have to turn around where the trail crosses over to the south side of the main drainage, which (at least according to the guidebook) is only a couple of miles into the hike; finally, however, after gobbling a couple of handfuls of trail mix I was able to keep going all the way to Oso Pass, but I simply couldn't have made it to the Peak, which is two really brutal miles beyond the Pass (see attached photo of South Peak taken at Oso Pass).  I told John and Jimmy that they should go "tag" the peak and catch up to me on the way down, but the hour was getting late and they decided to turn around with me.  The hike down was easier on me than the hike up, but, frankly, I was amazed, given how bad I'd felt on the ascent and the steepness of the trail, that I made it up as far as I did.

I've never had much in the way of aerobic capacity, but the difference between what I could hike last year and what I can do this year is stark. "Disembarkation Syndrome" truly has left me feeling twenty years older!  I'm left wondering if I'll ever see South Peak, my favorite place in the Sandias, again, as there is no easy route to get there (in fact, Embudito Trail is probably as "easy" a route as there is).

View of South Sandia Peak from Oso Pass
View up Embudito Canyon from Near the Drainage Crossing