Friday, October 28, 2011

The Birthday List, Item #7: Lose 20 Pounds

I never thought the day would come that would see me excited about losing weight. I never thought the day would come where I would ever need to lose weight. Thanks to a chance moment at Gold's Gym earlier this year, both of those days have arrived.

Last February, in the middle of another half-cocked workout that was light on lifting, lighter on cardio, and heavy on people-watching, I stepped on an electronic scale and stared long and hard at the reading. According to the little digital readout, I was heavier than I had ever weighed, and in spite of five years of workouts, it was clear that the weight I was putting on was not the good kind. I was five pounds shy of a sobering threshold I did not want to cross.

It was the culmination of a long work in progress. Around the time I turned 30, my previously reliable metabolism decided to shut down, and I gained 20 pounds in about the time it took to say "Del Taco Tuesdays." Since then, I'd often noted that while in generally good shape, I could probably lose fifteen pounds or so. Six months later I would note that I could probably stand to lose twenty pounds. I would often make such notations after finishing my second hamburger at Maddox, or in the middle of another sad showing at a pickup basketball game.

But after that moment last February, my good intentions finally became tangible action. As the winter transitioned into spring, I started going to the gym an extra time or two every week. And when I was there, I started lifting less and running more.* I tried to stop eating dinner so late, and when I did eat, I tried to cut back on my portions. I didn't make a single drastic move, like cutting out sugar or starting P90x. I just made minor adjustments to what I was already doing. And within a couple of months, I had lost over ten pounds.

At that point, I decided to make a goal out of my efforts. An even twenty sounded good, and by mid-summer, I was within about five pounds of my goal. I was wary of the month of July, since I would be spending time in Seattle and Chicago eating foods that wouldn't help my cause. But thanks to my hotel fitness centers, I returned from the Windy City within striking distance of the finish line.

A week or so into August, I walked downstairs from another cardio session, hopped on the scale, and smiled at a readout that was exactly 20 pounds less than my February high. Other people have lost far more, and accomplished far better, but it was good to know that I had set a goal and followed through. It's nice to think that in that stretch I lost the pound-for-pound equivalent of:

  • 6 bowling pins
  • My desktop computer
  • Two frozen Ted Williams heads
  • 160 copies of Lionel Ritchie's breakthrough eponymous solo album on CD
  • Two turntables and a microphone
  • $400 worth of beef jerky
  • My nine month old niece
Of course, since then I've faced a different kind of problem: none of my old clothes fit. But I think most would agree that running up a tab buying clothes because you finally got in shape is a pretty good problem to have.


*The people-watching remained heavy. I mean seriously, Wilford Brimley and Admiral Ackbar work out at my gym. The constant comedy is too omnipresent for a mere mortal like me to turn away.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Mormon FAQ

Between the Book of Mormon Musical and the presidential campaigns of Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, Mormons have been in the news a lot lately. I find this very interesting because, well, I’m a Mormon. With all this publicity, I thought it might be a good idea to post an introductory FAQ page on my church, just in case anyone I know who isn’t LDS is interested in hearing about the church from an actual Mormon. I emphasize the word “introductory” because there are a ton of different issues I could address, and frankly, I don’t want to take the time to write about all of them if only five people are going to read this post. If you read through this and do have additional questions, say, about the LDS view on the doctrine of Faith vs. Works, or why people in Utah can’t drive for crap, feel free to comment, and we can either hash it out there, or I can put together Mormon FAQ Volume II.

That being said, I want to stress that while I am a fully active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this blog doesn’t officially represent the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If you want a more canonical set of answers to your questions, visit, or better yet, read the official Articles of Faith. This is merely my attempt to put a practical voice to some commonly asked questions.

1. Are Mormons Christians?

The short answer is yes. That’s why the church is called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The reason I think this comes into dispute is because we don’t subscribe to the concept of the Trinity, IE, that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are the same guy. We believe that Jesus Christ is the Only Begotten of the Father, and the Savior and Redeemer of the World, but that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are separate and distinct beings (See the baptism of Christ for a Biblical example).

2. Are Mormons a cult?

When someone gets in trouble for calling some group a cult, they usually hide behind some clinical definition that refers to a group of people who are dedicated to a peculiar set of beliefs, or in our case, a group that doesn’t subscribe to their own definition of “historical Christianity.” But let’s be honest, that’s not why people call Mormons a cult. They’re doing it because when most people hear the word cult, they think of deception, human sacrifice, and Ozzy Ozbourne albums. In short, they’re trying to associate a group they dislike with something that will make that group as unappealing as possible. So in that sense, the answer is no: Mormons are not a cult. And frankly, Ozzy’s stuff was a lot better before he left Black Sabbath.

3. Why can’t I go inside the temple?

Because you’re not a Mormon. The key issue here is the difference between the words “sacred” and “secret.” The temple is a sacred place for Mormons, and even we have to be living a high level of devotion to go inside. But whenever you tell someone you can’t go someplace, or tell them what goes on inside, people assume the worst. Think of the “Unnecessary Censorship” bit Jimmy Kimmel used to do. We don’t talk about what goes on in the temple because what goes on is between you and God. But rest assured, no one is sacrificing virgins or juggling squirrels behind the recommend desk.

4. How come you guys have so many wives?

We don’t. Mormons discontinued the practice of polygamy back in the 1890’s, which means people who make jokes about it are hitting material that hasn’t been fresh in nearly 125 years. The people who practice polygamy today are spin-off sects that broke off around that time.

5. What’s with the magic underwear?

A married man wears a wedding band to remind him of the promise he’s made to his wife. Presumably, it helps to keep him out of harm’s way. Faithful Mormons wear the temple garment to remind them of the promise they’ve made with the Lord to be faithful to him. Therefore, presumably it helps to keep us out of harm’s way. It’s kind of His way of saying, “if you remember Me, I’ve got your back.”

6. Why do you all have to be Republicans?

We don’t, unless we want to get elected to public office in Utah. Mormons just tend to gravitate towards a more conservative ideology, because our moral compass tends to gravitate towards a more conservative ideology. But you can be a Democrat and be a Mormon.

7. How come you don’t like the Bible?

Mormons like the Bible just fine. But we also like the Book of Mormon. The central idea here is our understanding of the nature of scripture. The Bible wasn’t gift-wrapped and air mailed from Heaven with an autographed “See y’all in 2012!” dedication on the inside cover*. It’s a collection of inspired manuscripts that were assembled into a single volume around 325AD. Mormons believe the Word of God is the Word of God, whether it comes through the Gospel of Luke, a prophet who lived in the ancient Americas (IE, the Book of Mormon), or through modern day prophets like the ones that spoke to us in our semi-annual General Conference earlier this month. In short, if God has something to say, it’s not up to us to put limitations on when or where He says it.

8. So do you really believe that story about John Smith and the gold plates, then?

Yes, I do. If you described a jet airliner to a European serf in the Middle Ages, would it sound kind of implausible? You can make any story sound ridiculous if you twist it the right way. But if you take the time to understand the big picture, suddenly it doesn’t sound so crazy.

The thing you need to understand here is that God gets the Big Picture (He wouldn’t be God if He didn’t, right?). He knew that years after the time of Christ, there would be all sorts of different churches disputing the meaning of the same book (The Bible). Therefore, he directed his children in the Americas to write down the tenets of the Gospel as well, and they carved them onto golden plates, so they wouldn’t wear out over time. These plates were hidden in upstate New York, and that’s what JOSEPH Smith translated into the Book of Mormon. Now, there’s still all the stuff about angelic visitation, but let’s be honest: if you believe that kind of thing was possible in Biblical times, why wouldn’t it be possible in the 1800’s? And if you don’t believe that kind of thing was possible in Biblical times, then why are you asking?

9. Why do you guys keep insisting that you are the only true church?

This one always confuses me. If you think about it logically, shouldn’t everyone believe their church is the only true church? But that’s beside the point. The unstated assumption here is that if Mormons say we’re the only true church, then we must believe that all other churches suck and are only good for a one-way ticket to the Bowels of Hell, and that’s completely ridiculous and untrue. Mormons believe that our church is the modern restoration of the original church Christ established when he lived on Earth. But there are tons of good people doing tons of good things in other churches, and I’m not even referring exclusively to Christian churches, either. I also know a lot of non-religious people who are great people, too. What Mormons are offering is a transition from good to better, not from bad to good. Unless your church tells you drink poison Kool-aid and hop on spaceships. Then maybe your church really does suck.

10. Do you really think you’re all going to become gods?

Mormons believe they are going to become gods in the same way a five-year-old believes that he will grow up to be just like his dad. We believe that all mankind are spiritual children of our Father in Heaven. Thus, when we “grow up,” we will be like our dad, and do the kind of stuff He does. But He will always be our Dad, just like my dad will always be my dad.

* * *

Again, I don’t mean for this to be any kind of official declaration of Mormon beliefs. There are much more authoritative sources out there. Heck, I don’t even mean for this to be an endorsement of Mitt Romney, in spite of his impressive hair. I just know that people hear a lot of crazy things about my church, and I’d rather they get their answers from a real Mormon. Hopefully, if any of you had any questions, this helped. If not, make a comment or something.


*For the record, Mormons don’t believe the world is going to end in 2012. This was a joke.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Birthday List, Item #6: Sing in Public

When it comes to singing in public, my resume is short and checkered. It begins with an ill-fated tryout for my fifth grade musical, when I gave a horrid rendition of some long-forgotten tune about five feet from the accusing eyes of my grade school crush. Then there was the time I was all set to sing lead for my band Thunderlips when we were going to headline the ill-fated 32nd Ward Toga Party of 2001. A well-timed lightning bolt put an end to that effort. Later that fall, when I did manage to sing lead for the band (during a brief set we played out of our guitarist and bass player's garage), I barely had my voice back before I was dumped by my would-be girlfriend of the time.

The only thing that ever kept me thinking I might have the chops for a lead vocal (aside from my genetic connection to my sister, an accomplished opera-style vocal minor at Weber State University) was a brief but memorable performance at the Blue Chicago--my favorite Windy City blues club--almost fifteen years ago. Ever since I warbled my way through a single stanza of "Baby Meet Me with Your Black Drawers On," I had always wondered if I could really pull off a legit bluesy lead vocal for a whole song. Or any lead vocal, really.

Thanks to a dual show at the Layton Amphitheater last month, I finally got my answer. And that answer was: yeah, pretty much. Halfway through my blues band's set, I stepped down from my drum riser, passed off my sticks to our normal lead singer, put on my beloved leather fringe jacket, and sang a little Neil Diamond for the dedicated crowd. I didn't blow anyone away, or make my bandmates think I should take over permanently on lead vocals while we look for a new drummer, but I didn't embarass myself, and when I watched the video recording of the set later that night, I didn't recoil in horror and destroy the footage in desperation. I got the job done, plain and simple.

As fun as the actual performance was, the best part of the experience was talking to people after the show and noting how much it seemed to surprise them. Outside of the band itself, only one or two people knew the switch was coming, and so my take on "You Got to Me" was a complete surprise to nearly everyone. As a band, one of our main concerns going into the show was that we didn't offer a repetitive experience to what they'd seen in previous performances. Shaking things up with something as simple as me taking over lead vocals helped to accomplish that goal. And on a personal level, it was a lot of fun to see the reaction of friends and family to me doing something they wouldn't expect me to do. I think that idea--the idea of pushing yourself into challenging and unfamiliar situations--is at the heart of this whole list I've been ticking away at for the last few months.

Last summer I stepped out of my comfort zone and played the drums on a stage that was out of my league, but I felt good about it because I tried. It's a lot nicer to do the same thing and find out that it isn't out of your league after all.