Snapshots of Life

Saturday, November 27, 2010

One Year With Clara

Just one year ago last week I became a father. Clara Cherie, named after maternal and paternal grandmothers, arrived safely at about 7:00 a.m. on November 21st. I admit that I didn't know quite what to expect. My main concerns, of course, were that she would be healthy and strong. But, with her father's genes on board I was also a bit worried that she could be an ugly baby! Well, she was healthy and strong, and she was also beautiful from the first second she was born.

To me Clara is a miracle. You mights say that I'm over-reacting or prone to hyperbole, but to me she is another testament in my life of the wonderful kindness of a loving Father. She has been a great blessing for Tania and I.

I have several memories from this first year with Clara that I would like to share. I will never forget when she was born. It was pretty amazing to witness that process and to meet her for the first time. There have been a few occasions in my life where an experience was totally new, yet somehow at the same time quite familiar. So it was with the arrival of Clara. Up until she was born she was only an image in my imagination, but strangely it was as if I knew her all along. My emotional threshold in that moment was overwhelmed, I must admit, and I was choked up as the doctor asked if I wanted to cut the cord, which I did.

The first week after Clara was born was also Thanksgiving. Between the holiday and the days off from work for her birth, we had a whole week together as a family without the interruptions of work and other obligations. I remember one particular day during that week when we brought Clara into the living room and I played the guitar as we sang together. A peaceful, happy spirit filled the room. I remember thinking and feeling at that moment that this is what it is all about!

Giving Clara a name and a blessing through the priesthood was also a special experience. I feel like the Spirit really guided us in naming Clara. I also felt special direction in pronouncing the blessings and promises reserved for this little girl. That was another day when the Spirit was close and emotions were very near the surface.

The first few weeks after Clara was born were a bit difficult at night, much more so for Tania than for me. I tried to help as much as I could, though that was limited because I wasn't the food source. One night very early on I was helping Tania change a diaper. The diaper was off and Clara was lying on my side of the bed. She apparently saw that as an opportune time to relieve some pressure. The projectile excretions were too fast and too extensive to be contained! The result was poop everywhere and a quick changing of clothes and sheets. As long as we are talking about her penchant for dramatic bowel movements, I should also mention that Clara enjoyed that activity during Elder's Quorum for several weeks at one point, much to the embarrassment of her father.

Clara is a very tenacious little baby. She has always been very social, though she has been more clingy to mom lately. Once she warms up she loves interacting and playing with adults and kids. She is also very strong-willed. I am confident that this trait will be a foundation for her to be stalwart and faithful in a difficult world. We have also started to see a very sensitive side to Clara. She will often begin to cry if you laugh at her for doing something silly or if another kid is crying in front of her.

All of the milestones have been fun to watch - smiling, cooing and babbling, rolling over, crawling, learning words and signs, playing games, recognizing people, and singing. I swear that kid's smile and laugh could warm the coldest heart in the world. There are few things better than holding her in my arms and rocking her to sleep, which sadly she has now almost entirely outgrown. For awhile there, as I would rock her she would sing, "Aih, aih, aih, aih, aih." Often as we hold her in our arms she will reach out and touch our faces.

Clara has loved bath time and playing in water since the beginning. She enjoys books and stories, singing primary songs, and clapping to 'The Price is Right'. She insists on climbing the stairs even though she has not yet mastered coming down. She has a sweet tooth to rival her daddy's, even loved root beer in the womb! She is very active, fights sleep at nearly all sleep times (I keep telling her that one day she will find sleep to be glorious!), and she is jabbering and signing more and more all the time.

Admittedly, I don't know much about being a parent yet. Even professional training cannot totally prepare you for the responsibility of appropriately raising a little human being. If I think about that too deeply I get a little overwhelmed. At times the job feels a bit powerless. You cannot force or control, you can't always take away pain, and you can't be sure you're getting it right. Yet, despite that, it brings a lot of happiness, and fun, and optimism. I want so much to do good for Clara. One thing is for sure, I've got plenty of love for her. I used to think that people were exaggerating when they would say, "You can't know the love of a parent for a child until you are one." Now I know what they mean. Just one look at those big brown eyes and puffy cheeks and I soften. When days at work are particularly long or difficult it helps to look at my pictures of Tania and Clara on my desk. Those pictures remind me why I'm doing what I'm doing. They inspire me to persist in gratitude.

I love my Clara. I'm so grateful to be her dad. I pray that God will make me equal to the task of what she deserves. I also pray that we will have many more birthdays with a healthy and happy daughter!

Sunday, October 31, 2010


In May 2009 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints started a radio channel with unique LDS programming all day, everyday. Many of you are likely familiar with The Mormon Channel. In the springtime when I was doing a lot of yard work I was looking around for stuff to put on my ipod that I might listen to as I worked. I had heard about The Mormon Channel and decided to look into it. It was a great discovery! I thought they might just have songs from the Tabernacle Choir and conference talks, which they do, but they also have a lot more. I found several programs that are exclusive and unique to The Mormon Channel. The home page ( shows the current schedule and you can listen live online. You can also find the station on the radio in several U.S. markets (though Cache Valley is not one of them :( ). All of the programs can be downloaded as MP3 files and put into itunes, and I believe most of them are also podcasts. You can also look up individual episodes and listen to the file without any downloading.

There is a program called Conversations that is particularly interesting and uplifting. In these episodes members of the church with an "interesting story or unique perspective" are interviewed by Sheri Dew and Ruth Todd. Many of the episodes are interviews with members of the Quorum of the Twelve, the Seventy, and Auxiliary presidencies. These interviews are typically conducted by Sheri Dew and they usually involve the Church leader and their spouse, though in the case of Elder Scott and Julie Beck they are interviewed with their children. The other interviews consist of people such as Susan Easton Black (BYU professor of Church History), Michael F. Moody (participant on the church music committee for many years), and Gary Ceran (lost his wife and several children in a tragic car accident). Most of these other interviews are hosted by Ruth Todd. The interviews are largely informal, which provides a view of the general authorities that we don't often get. Being a lover of biography, it was especially fun for me to hear of their childhood, the way the Lord shaped their life, and their own family life with spouse and children. All of the episodes have provided great insights and an opportunity to be edified by the Spirit.

Other programs that I find especially entertaining are Mormon Identity and Into All the World. Mormon Identity is a program hosted by Robert Millet (professor of religious education at BYU). He engages in conversations about gospel doctrines or practices with another person, usually a professor, author, educator, or expert. These episodes, which are about 30 minutes each in length, are very meaningful in giving perspective on doctrines and other concepts. Some of my favorites are the episode on "the only true and living church", "justification and sanctification", and "Emotional Health of Latter-day Saints".

Into All the World is a program hosted by an audio-visual guy that works for the Church. He interviews currently serving and recently released mission presidents and stake presidents in all parts of the world. The first episode features Massimo De Feo, who is the current stake president in Rome. This program is great in recognizing the growth, progress, and spirit of the Church in all corners of the globe.

After I discovered all that The Mormon Channel had to offer I downloaded several programs and subscribed to podcasts. It was awesome to listen on my ipod as I ran (when I was running) and as I mowed the lawn or worked in the yard. I really enjoyed the time to learn, to be edified, and to ponder the course of my own life and my attempts at discipleship. I think The Mormon Channel is one of the greatest media forms the Church has produced! It offers an uplifting and unique spiritual feast. I highly recommend it to all.

Monday, October 25, 2010

To Anonymous

I attempted to reply to comments posted by anonymous on my recent series of posts, but I got way too long-winded and it wouldn't let me publish a comment that long! Apparently there is a limit of 4,096 characters (random number!) and this response is 4,812. If you're interested, please see the comment feed from the previous post to follow the dialogue.


I obviously know who you are. Again, I appreciate your feedback and have thought deeply about what you have shared. Please know that my recent posts have not been directed at any one individual. They have been the result of observations in the world around me over the past numerous months. I sincerely love you. The plain fact is, I miss you.

I will clarify a couple of points and then let my comments and your comments stand for what they are (obviously you can feel free to make any additional comments you wish to make). First, narcissistic personality disorder is a disorder of the character or personality of an individual with a pervasive pattern of traits (mentioned in part I) across various domains of life that cause significant impairment. Nevertheless, as with many mental disorders there is a severity spectrum. Someone with this disorder may actually appear quite functional in many aspects of their life. I used an example of what the disorder may look like to illustrate the meaning of the word, with all of its nuances. Often the word narcissism is used interchangeably with the word arrogant or egotistical in common language, but I think it is really quite a bit more than that. However, in talking about intellectual narcissism I switched and was not talking about a diagnosable condition, which is why I repeatedly referred to traits, tendencies, and characteristics. In fact, I even said that often the person with intellectual narcissism from my observation does not necessarily exhibit that narcissism in other areas of their life. I was using the word to express an attitude and a presentation exhibited by some. If this was, or still is, confusing or unclear, I apologize.

Second, I did not suggest that anyone who "merely" disagrees with "my" prophet is an intellectual narcissist. Nor did I suggest that people who get PhDs, use sophisticated vocabulary, or rely on something other than prophetic authority to find truth are intellectual narcissists. It is important to note that I was obviously speaking to a Latter-day Saint audience. I suggested that people who love and inflate their intellect, their degrees, and their vocabulary and use them to put themselves above the revealed word, the prophets, and sometimes God Himself may be intellectual narcissists. I also suggested people with an excessive focus on the intellect at the expense of the spirit, who then use that gift to tear down others and vaunt themselves may be intellectual narcissists as well.

Third, you have implied in your comments here and in your comments in a previous post that I am somehow opposed to truth discovery in any form other than "prophetic authority". This is not the case. I happen to believe in truth from any and all sources from which real truth may sprout. I find doctrines and practices rooted in truth from science, Buddhism, Native American traditions, Catholicism, and many other sources beautiful, miraculous, and profound. I have no qualms with seeming discrepancies. The world is not black and white. I have personal faith that all truth can be circumscribed into one great whole. What I take issue with is the rejection or criticism of truth, no matter its source and no matter its target. Just because I generally write about truths as expressed in Mormonism does not mean that I reject truth from other sources, as long as it is truth. Each person must find that truth for themselves. I may disagree with their methods and their conclusions (and, I believe, should be able to express that) but that does not mean I do not appreciate their efforts. I may even make judgments about their methods and conclusions but I try hard not to make judgments about them! I admit that this was not expressed well in the posts, thus creating an "us vs. them" feel. I have learned for next time.

Fourth, I love President Uchtdorf too! :)

Fifth, I absolutely agree that perceived righteousness is an invitation to pride. Is there pride in me? I am full of it. I pray daily that I can root it out of me and be truly humble. My faith invites me to a conversion of the heart, to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ. That's what I want more than anything in the world. I do not want to be a hypocrite who self-righteously performs checklists and adheres to "cultural doctrines". I do not just "claim" to direct these posts to me - I DO. Are there narcissistic traits in me? Without question. I'm working on that as well. Is there a beam in my eye? There are probably a few. I do appreciate the reminder (that is not sarcastic - I really do).

Sixth, while I disagree with some of the conclusions you have come to in your life, and it appears that you disagree with some of mine, please give me the benefit of the doubt that I have not "forgotten" that "one must depend on God himself and the spirit to decide what is right despite what that authority figure says". I know and trust that your conclusions have not come from a place of malice or ill intent. I know that there has been significant struggle that has brought you to where you are. Please know that it is also excruciating spiritual and emotional struggle that has brought me to where I am. You suggest it is "easy" to "decide that one particular man speaks for God". But I would like to offer that sometimes it is actually quite difficult. It is ONLY because of God and the Spirit that I have taken the path I have taken, independent of any other. It is the personal witness to my mind and heart that has led me to faith, when it would have been significantly more "easy" to go elsewhere. It is the wonderful comfort, the reassuring grace, the unmistakable testimony that has come from Him in the midst of my own suffering that has brought me to want to follow Him and His servants, imperfectly as I do.

I ask for your forgiveness for any offense I have caused in this discussion. I express my love and my desire for eternal friendship.


Sunday, September 05, 2010

Intellectual Narcissism: Part III

The word of God, both ancient and modern, abounds with references to the intellectual narcissist, though that phrase is never used. Scripture and the teachings of modern-day prophets provide prophecies and warnings regarding the man, woman, or society that loves itself and its intellect more than God.


In discussing the "perilous times" of the "last days", Paul the Apostle wrote to Timothy that, "Men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud...heady, highminded, lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God; having a form of Godliness, but denying the power thereof...ever learning, and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth" (2 Tim 3:1-7, italics added).

In Lehi's great dream found in the beginning of the Book of Mormon he saw a group of people who were "clinging" to the iron rod (side note - this is a very interesting word choice here if you compare it to another group of people who pressed forward "continually holding fast" to the rod in 1 Ne. 8:30) and pressing forward to partake of the fruit of the tree of life. They made it to the tree and began to partake of the fruit but became "ashamed" after the exceedingly fine dressed men and women in a great and spacious building started mocking them. After they had partaken of the glorious, sweet, and precious fruit they "fell away into forbidden paths and were lost" because they were embarrassed (1 Ne. 8:24-30). Later when Nephi receives the same dream with additional interpretation we are informed as to what the great and spacious building represents, "Behold the world and the wisdom thereof...the pride of the world (1 Ne. 11:35-36).

In the great prophetic chapters at the conclusion of 2 Nephi, Nephi teaches us again about the latter days, "...and they shall teach with their learning, and deny the Holy Ghost, which giveth utterance. And they deny the power of God...Yea, and there shall be many which shall teach after this manner, false and vain and foolish doctrines, and shall be puffed up in their hearts, and shall seek deep to hide their counsels from the Lord..." (2 Ne. 28:4-9, italics added).

Mormon and Moroni saw our day. Moroni wrote, "I know that ye do walk in the pride of your hearts; and there are none save a few only who do not lift themselves up in the pride of their hearts...unto envying, and strifes, and malice, and persecutions...O ye pollutions, ye hypocrites, ye teachers, who sell yourselves for that which will canker, why have ye polluted the church of God? Why are ye ashamed to take upon you the name of Christ?" (Mormon 8:35-38, italics added).

Finally, from the Savior himself we discover that in the last days some of the "very elect, who are the elect according to the covenant" shall be deceived (JS-Matt 1:22).

Indeed, it is clear that it has long been prophesied that in the latter days intellectual narcissism would be prevalent and prominent. It also appears that, among other issues, it has been and will increasingly be a source of self-deceit and apostasy - including among the elect, even those that have tasted of the precious fruit of the tree of life.


The scriptures and words of prophets are also abundant with warnings regarding intellectual pride.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks gave a wonderful talk years ago entitled, Our Strengths Can Become Our Downfall (see In the discourse he states, "Satan uses every possible device to accomplish his purpose to degrade and enslave every soul...We generally think of Satan attacking us at our weakest spot...But our weakness are not the only areas where we are vulnerable. Satan can also attack us where we think we are strong - in the very areas where we are proud of our strengths. He will approach us through the greatest talents and spiritual gifts we possess. If we are not wary, Satan can cause our spiritual downfall by corrupting us through our strengths as well as by exploiting our weaknesses...Other illustrations of how our strengths can become our downfall concern the activity of learning. A desire to know is surely a great strength. A hunger to learn is laudable, but the fruits of learning make a person particularly susceptible to the sin of pride...It is easy for the learned and the accomplished to forget their own limitations and their total dependence upon God. Accomplishments in higher education bring persons much recognition and real feelings of self-sufficiency. But we should remember the Book of Mormon's frequent cautions not to boast in our own strength or wisdom lest we be left to our own strength or wisdom."

From Lehi's dream we see the tragic ending for the wisdom of the world as found in that great and spacious building. "And it came to pass that I saw and bear record, that the great and spacious building...fell, and the fall thereof was exceedingly great...Thus shall be the destruction of all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, that shall fight against the twelve apostles of the Lamb" (1 Ne. 11:36, italics added).

From the great prophecies of Nephi we hear, "O the wise, and the learned, and the rich, that are puffed up in the pride of their hearts, and all those who preach false doctrines...wo, wo, wo be unto them, saith the Lord God Almighty, for they shall be thrust down to hell!...Yea, wo be unto him that hearkeneth unto the precepts of men, and denieth the power of God, and the gift of the Holy Ghost!...And in fine, wo unto all those who tremble, and are angry because of the truth of God! For behold, he that is built upon the rock receiveth it with gladness...Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man, or maketh flesh his arm, or shall hearken unto the precepts of man..." (2 Ne. 28:15, 26, 28, 31).

From Isaiah we are warned, "Wo unto them that call evil good, and good evil, that put darkness for light, and light for darkness, that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Wo unto the wise in their own eyes and prudent in their own sight!" (2 Ne. 15:20-21, italics added).

Finally, the most direct words come from Jacob, the brother of Nephi. "O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish." (2 Ne. 9:28).

Needless to say, there are a lot of "woes" directed toward the intellectual narcissist! May we remember that "to be learned is good, IF [we] hearken unto the counsels of God" (2 Ne. 9:29). Humility and charity are the great antidotes to the spiritual poison of narcissism.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Intellectual Narcissism: Part II

In the previous post I attempted to define the intellectual, the narcissist, and the intellectual narcissist. It is obvious that the most susceptible crowd to intellectual narcissism is the learned and educated. The gaining of knowledge and intelligence is a noble thing, indeed. However, paradoxically, sometimes our strengths are our greatest weakness.

One of the problems (among many) with intellectual narcissism is that it can have a detrimental effect on faith and spirituality. From a latter-day saint perspective I can see at least two significant issues with this kind of narcissism interfacing with spirituality:

1) In the individual where it finds expression there is typically an arrogant focus on the intellect and reason alone for determining and confirming truth. Again, there is nothing wrong with the intellect or reason, even in matters of spirituality (D&C 88:78-80, 118; 90:15; 93:36; 130:18-19). In fact, we learn that knowledge and wisdom - and the ability to teach those attributes - are spiritual gifts (Moro. 10:9-10; D&C 46:17-18). Nevertheless, a hyper-focus on intellect alone tends to naturally alienate or dismiss thoughts and feelings that are whispered by the unseen Still, Small Voice to the "mind and heart". Intellectual reason encourages acceptance, among other criteria, of observable, repeatable, and quantifiable results to determine truth - appropriately so, I believe. But consequently, when taken alone, any other form of truth discovery, such as those thoughts and feelings mentioned above, is explained away with reductionistic physiological and psychological theories. So, something like the powerful conversion of a soul with accompanying changes of thought, feeling, and behavior, might be described in terms of firing neurotransmitters or attachment theory. As a result, promptings, revelations, miracles, faith, and other spiritual experiences are viewed with disdain, sympathy, or academic distance and either watered-down or rejected; even though the intellectual postulates fall flat in the face of the experience and results of something like a mighty change of heart in an individual life!

For the intellectual narcissist the discovery and recognition of great spiritual truth can thus be impaired, much like seeing the world through one eye. The impairment is often fueled by their perceived success at being a uniquely rational and objective person. Such perceptions tie into their fantasies of ideal intelligence and their need for admiration and acceptance by like-minded intellectuals.

2) Narcissism and pride are twins, who are always found in company together. With the paradigm described above, and the twin characteristics just noted lodged in the heart, there is a tendency for the intellectual narcissist to place him or herself above the word of God. They will not accept that "as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are [God's] ways higher than [our] ways, and [his] thoughts than [our] thoughts" (Isa 55:9). They go about ignoring, criticizing, and/or rejecting God's doctrine and His chosen servants, having - for some at least - forgotten sacred covenants.

There is a story in the Old Testament that at first glance appears rather brutal. The Philistines had captured the ark of the covenant and taken it away after a battle. After having been cursed with plagues they gave the ark back and King David retrieved it to bring it back to Jerusalem. As they traveled, the story goes, the oxen shook the ark so that it appeared it was about to fall. Uzzah "put forth his hand" to prevent the ark from falling and "took hold of it". Uzzah, despite good intentions, made a terrible mistake and "God smote him there for his error". (See 2 Sam. 6:1-11).

This may seem extreme, but a powerful lesson is being taught. The ark of the covenant was a symbol of God's presence. In the temple only the high priest could approach it in the Holy of Holies, and then only with very clear prerequisites. Uzzah's error was that he did not have stewardship or authority to touch the ark, and, most importantly, he doubted that God knew what He was doing and had all power to protect the workmanship of His hands. He presumptuously reached forth to "steady the ark" when it was not his place to do so and God (remember the symbolism here) did not need steadying from a mere mortal.

The ark-steadiers today are those who, even with good intentions, believe they know better than God and the prophets about how to direct His work. They are not those who may be struggling with a particular doctrine or practice and humbly working toward acceptance and testimony. They are, instead, those who may pridefully proclaim that doctrines and prophets are in error. They then seek to counsel the Lord instead of taking counsel from His hand, even though He counsels "in wisdom, and in justice, and in great mercy, over all His works" (Jacob 4:10). This is where a sense of entitlement is especially evident. The intellectual narcissist ark-steadier - with his or her IQ, PhD, and worldly philosophy in hand - tells the church and its leaders by book and blog, by tweet and testimony, what they should and should not be doing. Their unsolicited opinion is rooted in personal preference and self-proclaimed learning. Tragically some get to the point where they eventually exalt themselves to be prophets unto themselves while they reject the oracles of God, and are left to "kick against the pricks". Like Elder Maxwell used to say, "There will always be some who leave the church but can never leave it alone."

President McKay, speaking of the story of Uzzah, stated, "He seemed justified, when the oxen stumbled, in putting forth his hand to steady that symbol of the covenant...[but] let us look around us and see how quickly men who attempt unauthoritatively to steady the ark die spiritually. Their souls become embittered, their minds distorted, their judgments faulty, and their spirits depressed. Such is the pitiable condition of men who, neglecting their own responsibilities, spend their time in finding fault with others." (McKay, Gospel Ideals, p. 258).

No doubt about it, intellectual narcissism erodes, if not destroys, faith and spirituality. It leads to rejection of revelation and spiritual manifestation. It leads to rejection of the prophets and counseling the Lord.

Stay tuned for part III, dealing with prophecies and warnings.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Intellectual Narcissism: Part I

1) a person of superior intellect.

2) a person who places a high value on or pursues things of interest to the intellect or the more complex forms or fields of knowledge.

3) an extremely rational person; a person who relies on intellect rather than on emotions or feelings.


This term has its roots in Greek mythology from the character Narcissus. The story says that Narcissus haughtily rejected romantic admirers and was therefore cursed by the gods to fall in love with himself. One day in the woods he saw his reflection in a pond and fell in love with the mirrored manifestation of himself. He was doomed to pine away his love on an image that could never return the same. He sat at the pond until he died there, unable to leave the grips of his love for the person in the pond, who was actually himself.

In the mental health world we define narcissism as an inflated or grandiose sense of self. It is characterized by several traits:

- An arrogant or haughty attitude with exaggerated self-importance (inflates perceived talents and achievements).
- A sense of entitlement (expects especially favorable treatment and compliance with personal preferences).
- A belief of being special or unique such that the rules for others do not apply to self.
- Fantasies of ideal power, intelligence, love, success, riches, etc.
- An excessive need for praise and admiration from others.
- Envy of others or belief that others are envious of oneself.
- A lack of empathy, the ability to understand the feelings and needs of others.

To a certain extent there is narcissism in all of us. Unfortunately in some it is found in greater degrees and often causes significant impairment in their life, particularly in their relationships (as you might imagine). At the root of narcissism is shame - shame of oneself and in oneself at the core, which is compensated with an inflated ego. Rarely is there full insight and awareness into the shame or the outward narcissism. The narcissist is so fragile internally that most challenges are met with a narcissistic defense, which takes the form of criticism of the challenger or a display of the narcissist's perceived "gifts".

For example, I once worked with a woman (details of story are adjusted to protect identity and confidentiality) for a short time in an acute setting. She was constantly making references to her "position" in the community. She endlessly talked about herself and made sure to drop details about her achievements so that all might recognize her grandeur. She was divorcing her spouse of many years after she engaged in a long pattern of destructive behavior, but it was all "his fault". She had also just lost her job but it was only because the people under her just didn't want to make the environment a better one like she did. The individual was unable to find treatment in Logan because providers just weren't "good enough". Finally, I attempted to lightly and empathically confront the narcissism. I gave her several chapters of a book to read on the subject. She appeared receptive initially and agreed to read. The following day I met with her again. She claimed to have read the whole book. Her only comments were literary criticisms of the author, and she "ought to know" about these things because she had done such and such for many years! Needless to say, the diagnosis had been solidified.

There are several easy to identify examples of narcissism from people in the news these days: Rod Blagojevich (impeached former Illinois governor charged with trying to "sell" the senate seat previously held by President Obama), Rush Limbaugh (controversial radio talk show host who displays a life size portrait of himself in his entry to his home), Lindsay Lohan (decompensating former child star and recent jail bird), and Tiger Woods (pro golfer and sex addict). Sorry to any of you fans out there. I'm not suggesting any of these people are bad people. I'm suggesting that they exhibit observable narcissistic tendencies.

Folks with strong narcissistic traits are not always so blatant. In fact, it is my experience that many times the characteristics are much more subtle. Some narcissists have developed social savvy sufficient to conform to appropriate norms and mores. So, they may be skilled at outward expressions of empathy but at deeper levels do not really feel or act on empathy to any great degree. There is usually hubris in their humility. A sense of entitlement becomes most obvious in their more intimate relationships. Secret fantasies of being rich and famous, or powerful and heroic, or noble and brilliant often fill their imagination. Quiet jealousy reigns when neighbor buys the Escalade, or friend gets accepted to a great school, or acquaintance gets called to a position of authority. Considerable mental time is spent on considering how much better they could carry out a task, calling, or responsibility than the person currently doing it. Behavior is commonly geared toward how it will make them appear in the eyes of others, usually with the hope of getting praise or affirmation. Even when empathy or service is extended it is usually the means to an end (recognition), rather than an end itself. When others do not like them or show apathy toward them it is either because they (the others) are stupid or jealous. Of course, in the subtle narcissist none of these traits would be overtly displayed or expressed lest they be exposed. Instead, they find place in the more private parts of the self.

Intellectual Narcissism:

There are different kinds of narcissism. This particular phrase is not of my own making. I heard it from Truman G. Madsen (well-known Mormon scholar). I don't know if he coined the term or not. I think it is an apt union of words for a certain type of narcissism that seems to be more and more pervasive in the world - or at least I am noticing it more. It is something I have thought about at length. The intellectual narcissist would not be considered narcissistic in most aspects of life, but they would fit the criteria for narcissism in areas of the intellect. They are in love with their own self-attributed brilliance. They cannot get enough of their own words and their own theories. They lack real empathy for others' positions, though they likely give empathy lip service. They long for praise and recognition. They pretend to be humble but really view themselves and their opinions as superior to others who are "less educated", "naive", "emotional", or "fooled". They fantasize about using their brain power and ideas to heal the world, or expose the powerful, or discover the answers to the worlds most pressing problems; again, not to do good but to be seen. They find great satisfaction in displaying reservoirs of knowledge and information, using obscure vocabulary and complex concepts, to show how smart they are, especially if it makes someone feel small or awed in the process. They have likely received positive reinforcement for their intellectual capacity or achievement in the past and base much of their self-concept and their self-esteem on their ability to think and reason and philosophize. They see their world around them not revolving quite the same without their intellectual light.

Stay tuned for part II.

Sunday, June 27, 2010


This summer we are taking on the project of landscaping our yard. After thousands of dollars, which is stressing me out, we are making good progress. It began with getting a final grade on our lot, which is made up of very fine quality Richmond CLAY. Then we had 3' boulders delivered to deal with a little slope in our front yard and also create a planter/flower bed. When the boulders arrived they looked ginormous and we were a bit concerned, but they turned out nice. After that we got our sprinklers done and then laid sod throughout the whole yard. We had lots of family and ward members help us out, which was greatly appreciated. We even lucked out with a nice day in the midst of a month straight of rainy weather.

About three days after we laid the sod it began to look terrible! We thought we were going to lose it, and this after all our neighbors had been telling us, "Oh, you can't screw up sod!" But apparently we were. With a little help from our landscaper neighbor, it came back from the brink of death.

We spent the next FHE planting flowers and shrubs in the bed in the front.

I could spend every day in the yard doing what needs to get done but we have been sidetracked by various events and visits to Salt Lake, not to mention the dreaded on-call routine. Anyway, the inaugural mowing occurred last week, which required the purchase of a mower and a weed-eater - more money! Finally yesterday I got to spend the whole day, from dawn until dusk, working on our projects. I stained the patio and back stairs with the help of my father-in-law, hauled in compost from a neighbor for the various gardens, and worked the rest of the day on an island planter in the front. Tania and I prepped the darn clay and mixed in compost and got it ready for planting. We took a trip to town to purchase plants at Lowe's. Unfortunately, we do not have a truck, van, or SUV. This meant that we had to fit a 9-10' tree into Tania's little Saturn. It was quite the task, particularly since Clara was SCREAMING her face off throughout the maneuvering. We received many a strange look from passers-by, but we finally did it by strategically placing the tree through the trunk into the back seat, over the front seat, and out the front passenger window. We managed to only break off 3-4 branches (probably not the best thing to do with a sapling)! It's been fun to see the progress and I enjoy doing the work, it's very cathartic.

Now to the back yard...

Sunday, April 04, 2010

As Becometh a Latter-day Saint

The airwaves, internet connections, and great halls and parks across this nation have been filled with anger and contention over the past several months. Debates are raging about the current challenges facing the country and the course we will take into the future. Most prominent, of course, has been the health care bill, but there have been plenty of other issues about which to argue, such as the war in Afghanistan, climate change, education reform, immigration reform, and financial sector reform to name a few. The ubiquity of rancor in the rhetoric from all sides is beyond remarkable. There are movements and counter-movements, protests, rallies, riled up politicians, and provocative commentators; all bearing down in a power struggle that finds expression through showmanship as well as self-proclaimed and self-justified indignation. One politician or faction is incensed, fully convinced that their anger is righteous, and soon the antagonist is incensed at their opponent's being incensed.

It is in the midst of this political environment that I have recently been contemplating the appropriate Christian mindset and behavior in the realm of civic affairs and citizenship. As many of you know several members of the LDS church are prominent players in the current debates, including Harry Reid (a Democrat and current U.S. Senate majority leader), Glenn Beck (a libertarian/conservative who is an author, radio host, and Fox News commentator), and Mitt Romney (a Republican and former governor of Massachusetts, as well as candidate for the presidency), among others. My thoughts are in no way commentary on any of these individuals specifically. Rather, they are insights that flow from a personal effort to better understand the teachings of the Savior to guide my own thoughts, feelings, and actions in the domain of politics and public policy.

I have been asking myself the question, what would Jesus do? That very question, or one similar to it, was posed to Mike Huckabee during a 2008 presidential primary debate. He cleverly stated something to the effect that Jesus would be smart enough to stay out of politics! Perhaps so...but in reality his response was just a fun way to dodge the question. What would Jesus do? And what would he have us do? I am not talking about which side of the issue the Savior would fall down on, or which side of the aisle He would have us join. I'm talking about how He would have us behave in the conversations about the issue and how He would have us interact with the person across the aisle.

The Lord through His servants has repeatedly stated that we should be involved in the political process, that we should be informed about the issues, that we should vote, and that we should even run for office where there is interest and ability. He has also said that His church will not endorse political parties or philosophies. The church, of course, will speak out on moral issues in public policy, for which it is much maligned both outside and inside of the general membership. Opinions about the political issues of our time are left to the discretion of the individual with encouraged assistance from the Holy Ghost, even on those moral questions about which the church does make statements. Therefore, there is plenty of room for members of the church with equal levels of faith and conversion to differ widely on a political issue. In this sense I wonder if Christ would be less concerned about the merits or non-merits of health care reform and more concerned about our spiritual health as manifest by the way we care for each other as we debate.

It is concerning to me when as members of the church we look to a political commentator, ideology, or platform to guide our beliefs and behavior more than to the Lord and His doctrine. I have seen members who passionately follow the ideology and rhetoric of leading national figures or groups simply because they are affiliated with a party to which they belong or are endorsed by groups that they identify with. For example, the latter-day saint who takes a conservative position only because it is endorsed by the Republican party and is frequently talked about by other conservative Christian groups, but in actuality is not in harmony with LDS doctrine or understanding. Or, the latter-day saint who takes a liberal professional position only because it is endorsed by the National Association of Social Workers and frequently talked about by the majority of mental health professionals, but in fact is at odds with LDS doctrine and understanding. In both cases the personal opinion is derived from the philosophies of men and a need for belonging in the world, rather than from the truths of God and a comfort with being "peculiar". Tragically for some, religious doctrine is rejected or accepted based off political or social philosophy instead of the reverse - guiding political and social positions from a foundation of true doctrine. Indeed, these positions, and more importantly the mode of expression thereof, do not always seem congruent with Christian discipleship.

It is also troublesome to me when members of the church in conspicuous positions are maligned by other members of the church who have joined the bandwagons of villanization and objectification in their political rhetoric. Even when the target is not a member of the church this is bothersome. Of course, many say that they do not have anything against the person, just their positions. But, the name-calling and mocking often reveal contempt and even hatred. It seems to me that if Harry Reid or Glenn Beck were in my priesthood quorum I would be under the same invitation to love them and be united with them as I would with any brother in the Gospel, whether or not I agree with their political beliefs, statements, or affiliations. I happen to know that Elder Scott gave Harry Reid a hug at General Conference this past weekend and Elder Oaks has met with President Obama and was gracious and kind.

This really isn't just an LDS issue though. The contempt and rage of which I speak is swirling and swelling in every part of the nation, across religion, race, and culture. But of all people, should we not stand out in our political and social behavior? So, what would Jesus say and what would Jesus do? I am not so presumptuous as to suggest I know. However, the scriptures, which are His words and teachings, lend answers.

The standard works have much to say about anger, contention, and wrath. The Lord counsels his children over and over again to avoid such behavior. Here is just a sampling of references:

"Cease from anger and forsake wrath." (Psalms 37:8)
"A soft answer turneth away wrath." (Proverbs 15:1,18)
"Contention is of the devil." (3 Nephi 11:29-30)
"Proclaim my word...not in haste, neither in wrath, nor with strife." (D&C 60:7,14)
"Charity suffereth long, and is kind, not easily provoked." (Moroni 7:45)
"Put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth." (Colossians 3:8)

Anger can be intoxicating and addictive. There is often excitement and adrenaline with the drama of anger. We can easily be consumed in the powerful feelings incited by triggers of anger. There is a bit of a thrill in "going to battle" and advocating a cause or railing against an opponent.

Yet, anger is not necessarily an evil emotion. In my profession I teach anger management skills and classes fairly often. I teach my clients that anger as an emotion is not of itself a problem. The problem is what we do with that emotion. Do we allow it to control us? Do we harbor it in our soul to poison our feelings? Do we act out in aggression and violence? Do we manipulate or oppress? Anger is actually a primary emotional circuit in our brain. It serves in part to protect and to motivate. It is, I believe, God-given just like all the other emotions we experience. Think about it, if anger is evil or bad there would not be a trace of it in God's personality and character. God is perfect and perfectly good, and God has anger. Consider these examples:

"In a little wrath I hid my face from them." (Isaiah 54:8)
"Iniquity provoketh him that he sendeth down his wrath." (Alma 12:36)
"...The Lord in his wrath, for his anger was kindled against them..." (D&C 84:24)
"The wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience." (Colossians 3:6)
The 1st and 2nd cleansing of the temple (John 2:14-17; Matthew 21:12-15)

How do we then reconcile these ideas? I think there are a couple of possibilities, which are purely my own opinion that has developed as I have thought about these principles. First; feelings, thoughts, and behaviors are different things. It is one thing to feel anger, another to think angry, and another to act in anger. All of these phenomena may be experienced simultaneously but can also be separated. I may feel angry and develop hateful thoughts then go out and rage in protests, hurling insults and epithets; or I may feel angry and develop helpful thoughts then channel that emotion into actions that contribute to solutions. It seems to me that God is more concerned about what we do with our feelings in our thoughts and actions than He is with the feeling itself.

Second, it appears that anger should be acted upon only at the direction of the Spirit and always in a manner that is consistent with the Lord's commandments to be patient, long-suffering, and forgiving. For example, in the Doctrine and Covenants we learn we should "reprove betimes (immediately) with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards and increase in love..." (D&C 121:43).

Third, God reserves acting on anger in wrath to Himself, just as He reserves judgment to Himself, because of His perfect omniscience and omnipotence. The Lord has the ability to see situations clearly that to us are clouded by our limited perception. He "looketh on the heart" where we tend only to see the "outward appearance".

Therefore, it seems to me that the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ invites us to use anger that we experience as a reaction to political and social events or circumstances in a constructive way. The gospel invites us to school our feelings and reject angry, contentious, and hateful thoughts and behavior for the Christ-like attributes of charity. There is no caveat or exception regarding political debate or behavior. So shall we be mum and passive? Shall we avoid discussion or participation? NO! We can be examples of civil debate and "Christian courage". We can join the conversation without joining the hate. We can criticize positions and policies without attacking the character of our brother. We can follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost to recognize and denounce evil without "railing accusations" (D&C 50:33). Even in the most passionate and emotional debates we must stand apart from the crowd and disengage from the drama of disdain.

I for one am still learning to school my feelings and to respond as the Lord would have me respond, particularly to some of the most emotionally charged issues of our day. I think this is the standard that I would like to reach - the standard of God. The Savior was our perfect examplar. He did not shy away from discussions or controversy but He didn't grandstand either. When His detractors were "past feeling" and full of contempt, such that any response would go unheard and only invite mocking and scorn, He "answered nothing".

Sunday, January 03, 2010

A White Envelope and a Few Short Steps

The last several months have been very eventful! I've been meaning to post for a long time now but have had so many other to-do items on my list that I haven't gotten around to it. Hopefully the new year and some settling in will give me a few more opportunities to be consistent. Tania has posted pictures of the baby on her blog here, and I plan to post some of my experiences with our little one too.

1999 was an eventful year for me. I graduated from high school, I had my first girlfriend, I travelled across Europe with a choir, I received my mission call, I received my endowment in the temple, and I entered the MTC and began my full-time missionary service. In fact, it was 10 years ago this week (before the turn of the new year) that my family made that 45-minute trek to Provo in our old blue Suburban to drop me off.

I received my call on October 13, 1999. I knew the day my papers had been submitted to headquarters and had calculated the probable arrival date of the call. Justin and I were both awaiting our calls, though he had sent his papers in a week previous. Somehow we had it figured out that the calls would likely come on a Wednesday. I had been anxiously awaiting this moment for a very long time. I had wanted to be a missionary from the time I was a little boy. I don't know exactly from where the feeling came but it was strong enough that beginning on December 29, 1998, one day after my 18th birthday, I began a countdown in my journal to the date I could turn in my papers.

Perhaps it came from an encounter I had as a very young child with President Ezra Taft Benson. I can't remember how old I was but I couldn't have been more than 5 or 6. President Benson was to be attending my aunt's ward's sacrament meeting. I imagine my parents decided to attend to allow us an experience of being in the presence of the prophet. I remember very few details of the meeting. I do remember, however, the opportunity to file by the prophet at the close of the meeting to shake his hand. When my turn arrived the president shook my hand and said, "My boy, some day you will be a great missionary." I do not recall particular emotional reactions associated with this special event, but clearly it was an encounter that has stayed with me all these years. The words meant something to me. I don't know if the president made similar comments to all of the little boys that day as they filed by, but I felt that he was speaking directly to me.

I waited at the front door behind the glass screen as the mail woman pulled up to our rickety mailbox on that autumn day. My brother Shayne and my mom stood there with me. I stared in anticipation toward the box, awaiting the visual that would be the dead give-away the call had come - a large, thick, white envelope. The woman filed through the mail in her truck, reached out, opened the box, and extended her hand full of mail...holding the long-awaited package! I rushed to the mailbox and immediately looked for the confirmation I needed, a return address from 50 E. South Temple St. I jumped in excitement and I may have even picked up my little brother and twirled him around, which is rather humorous to think of now, especially since he is quite a bit bigger than me these days. What can I say? I'm slightly given to cheesiness. I ran around the corner to Justin's house. We had walked through the anticipation and the application process together over the previous year. He ran out of his house as I turned the corner. We met at his mailbox where he also found the blessed white envelope with the same return address.

That night we opened the calls together in my living room, with our families watching. We had waited for my dad to get home from work, so it would have been at least 9:30 or so. We sang Called to Serve and after the customary who-can-guess-where-they're-going game, I went first. Many destinations had crossed my mind in considering where the Lord might send me, but not once did I consider Rome, Italy. Yet, it was perfect. It just clicked in my heart as naturally as seeing a sunset in the evening. Of course it was Rome. I seem to remember that I could barely get through reading the letter. I was prone to tears back then too, especially in a state of such excitement, anxiety, and spiritual influence. I knew the call was of God. I laid in bed that night and was overcome with a feeling of love for the Italian people, and those souls who were spoken of in my patriarchal blessing yet unfamiliar to me.

The next two-and-a-half months flew by. Finally, the day arrived. I was set apart on my birthday. The same day I had been baptized 11 years before. I stayed up well into the morning finishing packing and writing a personalized letter to each member of my family. With very little sleep and a brave face, so as not reveal my trepidation, we piled into that old Suburban. The ride was not quiet, that doesn't happen in my family. It was loud, all of us pretending that we didn't have to say goodbye within a couple of hours. I remember we stopped at Hire's for lunch and then made our way to the MTC. You all know how it goes from there. The meeting room, the movies, the short talks, and then a few moments to say goodbye. Needless to say, a lot of tears were shed. I still have a picture of the back of my head, my brother hugging me and facing the camera with red, puffy eyes. Then the cue was given.

And just like that I walked through a door, a few short steps away from the life I had always known and into the life of a missionary. I put on a tag as a symbol and a stamp of what had been done the day before and began the journey from boy to man. It would become the most significant experience of my life. It was a refining journey, an adventure filled with fear and faith, discouragement and miracles, inadequacy and confidence, buffeting and great spiritual power. It was a period of fun, sensitivity, love, and growth. It is there that I began to learn what discipleship is really about.

It is hard to believe that ten years have passed since that eventful day in Provo, Utah. A day that set me on a path of preparation for all that has transpired since then. Unfortunately, the memories of that day and the next two years are fading. I no longer lie in bed at night and go through names and places or trace city streets. It takes me awhile to remember words and faces. I no longer feel the discouragement and inadequacy that I sometimes felt in my service, but I still feel the love and the joy. That, I believe, is a merciful gift from our Heavenly Father. I am as thankful now as I ever was, that ten years ago a knowing Father called a scared little boy to be one of His emissaries in a vast and complex world. My life has ever been shaped and influenced because of everything that was brought about by a big white envelope and a few short steps. God be thanked that He saw fit to call me when He did, where He did, and how He did. That is a reason for me to reflect and commemorate!