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Katy Perry’s “Cozy Little Christmas” | Covered by the Gashlers (A Capella)

We covered a brand new song by Katy Perry (not our usual cup of tea). Following the advice of a famous Youtuber in our neighborhood, the goal was to create something that people are actually searching for. Brilliant, right? So we did a little research and found something so new, it doesn’t appear that anyone has covered it. There’s not even an official music video yet. At the same time, we’re not exactly trendy people, and we wanted to do something unique, so we tried our hand at a capella. Perhaps we were inspired by the BYU Vocal Point concert we attended a few weeks ago.

After I made the video of Teresa and I in our studio, something seemed lacking. I thought of shooting some B roll, but as I listened to the lyrics, I realized I already had all the footage I needed in our previous music videos. It was a perfect opportunity to resurrect Evil Robot Santa, me falling in the snow, Teresa standing in fire, and a love scene between clowns.

It’s too early to say, but since I released the video last night, it’s performed about 4 times better than our usual videos. Neat. Also, in order to stay in line with our cheesy values, we committed a faux pas and changed the lyrics for one phrase. Can you guess where?

At the end of the video, I thank the Katy Perry corporation. I felt inclined to do this after learning more about how the pop music industry works. Without disrespecting any chart-topping artist (as I do love this song and think Katy Perry is talented), the truth is that it takes large corporations and massive amounts of money to make them what they are. Seldom are they self-made, and seldom do they write their own songs. Knowing this makes me feel better about being an underdog. Instead of being dwarfed by superstars with all the talent, independent artists are really up against a bourgeois of music tycoons. Just a few decades ago, it wasn’t this way, but it seems that the proliferation of music through iPods and the Internet was so threatening that it caused a struggling music industry to turn in the opposite direction, scrapping the democracy of the free market and becoming the sole arbiters of what is hot and what is not. In the process, creativity has been stifled, and what’s popular has only gotten harder, louder, more predictable, and less … musical.

Thus it may appear that I’m selling out by covering popular music. In my defense, I’ve created so many videos with original songs that have gotten virtually no traction, that I see no harm in riding a wave in order to gain some momentum. In other words, if the proletariat is to make any advances against the bourgeois, first they must learn to play their game. If projects like this are successful, my other projects will naturally gain more exposure. At the same time, I’ll continue to create original works whether or not they see the light of day. For the most part, what I create is for me and my family.

For example, with our last video, Jump Up Superstar, I knew that we were a year behind the wave, and, not surprisingly, though we poured and our hearts and souls into the video, it’s gotten few hits. But that’s okay. We primarily created this video to record our family’s parkour, gymnastics, and singing skills that we’ve been working on this year, and we’re proud of it.

I create because I have music and stories bubbling inside of me, and I have to get them out. I create in order help my family up their skills and record priceless memories. And I create because it’s fun.

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Timpanogos Storytelling Hauntings 2018 and the Scythe of Sinister Intentions

Oh yeah … I won first place at the Timpanogos Storytelling Hauntings contest on Monday, the spookiest event of the year. The prize was this beautiful work of art, “The Scythe of Sinister Intentions,” which has been great to lug around town. Not only is it a good conversation starter, it gave me an instant Halloween costume without even realizing it. I put on a poncho, because I was cold, and soon people were identifying me as the Grim Reaper.

 

This was the best and fiercest scary storytelling contest I’ve been a part of. Everyone did a bone-chilling job, and I did not envy the predicament of the judges. It was an honor to rub shoulders with so many talented artists, and Mikaela Hansen did a wonderful job in organizing the event.

My story, “Queen of the Flies”, was based on the following premise: what if everything you’ve ever killed were to come back? According to one audience member, as I described a girl’s horrific encounters with bugs, people all over were subconsciously scratching their bodies (the best compliment I could have hoped for). If you’re afraid of spiders or creepy crawlies, then you definitely don’t want to hear my story:

Believe it or not, the story has a strong element of truth. When I was about eight or nine, I was writing in my journal one night when a spider crawled onto it. My older brother happened to be in the room, and he promptly slammed the book shut. Then he wrote around the slimy remains: “Rest in Pieces.” For years (four or five, if I remember correctly), I didn’t want to touch the book. When, as a teenager, I finally confronted my fear, I opened the book, and a spider actually leaped out. I swear it happened. I know what I saw.

If you’ve been following me for a while, you may recall that “Queen of the Flies” is a recurring theme of mine. Years ago, I, Teresa, and my brother Eric made this silly movie for my sister Deanna’ birthday (Deanna had a fear of flies, which fear the protagonist confronts):

Teresa also performed a modern twist on the spooky Mexican folk tale, La llrona, the deranged ghost-woman who will drag your children to watery graves. As I’ve said in previous posts, my wife is scary. And beautiful.

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Come Little Children (From the Movie Hocus Pocus)

My wife is scary.

A week and a half ago, Teresa proposed the concept for this project, and I was sold immediately. But there was a problem: how could we possibly add to Jame’s Horner’s brilliant melody or make a better cover than other artists have made, such as Kate Covington? I wanted something unique, dark, even a little scary, and I’m proud of what came together. Kudos to whoever can identify what the witch is chanting.

The children add a lot, Teresa is bewitching, and Heather Peavler did a great job on her makeup. I love including the whole family in projects like this. Though I’ll add one word to the wise: if you value your sanity: don’t work with children 🙂

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Queen of the Flies

Queen of the Flies

You’ve heard of the Law of Karma. What if every death that was on your hands – every death – came back to haunt you?

Helen was writing in her diary about the hopes, joys, and fears of her complicated, eight-year-old life, when she noticed a brown something with eight legs crawling on the paper. She didn’t mean to scream, stand up, and knock over her chair; it just happened. Seconds later, her older brother ran into the room. “What’s wrong?” he asked.

Helen could only point. Her brother, rolling his eyes, went straight to the book and slammed it shut. Then, with a grin, he opened the book and admired the slimy remains of the spider. And with Helen’s pen, he wrote a fitting epitaph around it: “Rest in Pieces.”

Helen didn’t finish her journal entry that night, nor did she write anything the next night. Each time before she went to sleep, she would glance at the spine of her diary, which was stowed safely away on a shelf. The spider was dead. She knew her fears were irrational. And yet, perhaps that was because part of her knew that the world didn’t always behave in rational ways. For one, why did certain things have to move on eight legs? No legs at all was bad enough, six was disgusting, but eight?

A few months later, it was a rainy day at Quail Hollow Elementary school. This is a true story, by the way. I was there when … well, you’ll find out soon enough. You see, like all of us children, Helen loved to jump through puddles at recess. And the best part of rainy days – at least according to the boys – was the worms. They were everywhere. Helen, however, didn’t take so kindly to the squishy, little things. Following her older brother’s example, she smashed them beneath her shoe and ground their remains into the gravel. She considered it a favor to humanity to rid the world of as many creepies and crawlies as possible.

A girl approached her. She had unkempt hair, thick glasses, and a wardrobe that never seemed to match. Gloria. Gloria didn’t talk much, and she didn’t seem to have any friends. At recess, she would usually sit in a corner and stare at … well, we never did figure out what she was staring at. So Helen was more than a little surprised when Gloria actually initiated a conversation. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Gloria whispered.

Helen looked up from the flattened worm on the asphalt. “Why not?”

“Haven’t you heard about the Queen of the Flies?”

“The who?”

“Years ago, there was a girl who went to this school who loved worms, bug, spiders, flies … anything that moved. She played with them at recess, and she would get in trouble for bringing them into the classroom. She even let mosquitos drink her blood. If ever anyone tried to hurt a bug, she would attack them. That’s why the children called her the Queen of the Flies. Then one day she picked up a black widow, it bit her, and she died. But her ghost still haunts the school. I know. I’ve seen her.”

“That’s a nice story,” said Helen, “but I don’t believe in ghosts.”

“Maybe you should. She doesn’t like it when you kill little things. Remember Anthony Graves, the sixth grader who died of pneumonia?”

“What about him?”

“He loved to step on spiders.”

“That’s very interesting.”

“And remember Diane Fletcher, the girl from our class who disappeared?”

“Her family moved to a different house.”

“That story’s a cover-up. She was also a bug killer, and I heard she was bitten-to-death by centipedes.”

“That’s nice, Gloria.”

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

After school, Helen stayed for orchestra practice. Then she had a private violin lesson. It was late October, and by the time she was walking home, it was already dark outside, and the street lamps were glowing. She had a long walk back to her house, but with all the puddles to jump in, she didn’t mind one bit. Thinking about Gloria’s silly story, she made a point to step on as many worms as possible. While passing a field, she noticed an ant hill. Without even thinking, she set down her violin case, kicked over the dirt mound, and watched with satisfaction as hundreds of tiny ants scurried in a panic. Pathetic things, she thought. To put them out of their misery, she picked up a large rock and flattened the entire mound. Now not a single ant moved.

There was a lot of fog in the neighborhood. Helen could no longer see the school behind her, and she could barely see two houses in front of her. So it took her off guard when she heard the sound of a singing girl:

Little, helpless, wounded souls,
Poor victims of aggression –
Waiting on the other side
Consumed by an obsession

The voice sounded like Gloria’s. “Gloria!” Helen called into the fog, but there was no response and no one in sight. Still, the voice could have been coming from any one of the houses around her. Helen continued walking.

Through the alley, in the shadows,
Rising from the trash can,
When the moon is high, we’ll send you
Running like a madman.

It had to be Gloria. Had the strange girl been watching and waiting all this time only for the hope of spooking Helen? Well it wasn’t working. “Nice try!” Helen shouted into the fog. But again there was no response.

Tickles on the neck and
Buzzing in the ears
Little crawling monsters
Awakening the fears

Helen walked a little faster, glancing back from time to time. At one point she thought she saw a silhouette in the fog, the small outline of a girl. “I see you, Gloria!” she called, but no sooner did she speak the words than the silhouette seemed to vanish. Perhaps she imagined it.

She was almost to her house, when she felt a tingling on her ankle. She bent down to scratch it, but then the tingling was on her thigh. Speaking of which, do you ever get that feeling that something is crawling … [feel clothes, search for something, contort, and scream at maximum volume. Then reveal a piece of lint.] Sorry about that, it was just a piece of lint. Anyway, like me, Helen realized that she was imagining things, and there was absolutely nothing to be afraid of.

Soon she was back in the comfort of her home. After a nice, warm dinner, some much-needed TV, and goodnight kisses from her parents, Helen brushed her teeth, retired to her bedroom, and slipped on her flannel pajamas. She was about to turn off the lamp, when, thinking of her strange day, she glanced at her diary. She really should write something. It had been months since the episode of the squashed spider, and it was time to move on. So, slowly, carefully, she pulled the book down from the shelf. Then, slowly, carefully, she opened up the book, and …

A brown spider leaped out and scurried out of sight!

Again an involuntary scream escaped Helen’s throat, but this time it was well past dark, and no one came to check on her. Which was fine. No doubt, some other spider had slipped into the pages. It’s not like a squashed spider somehow rose from the dead after months of decay. That, of course, was impossible. Though Helen couldn’t help but think about the words of the song she heard in the fog, something about little monsters rising in the moonlight. She knew that when the moon was high, the tides would rise as the gravitational force of the moon pulled on the water particles. She’d heard fanciful tales of other things rising in the moonlight, such as zombies and vampires, but that, of course was fiction. The moon could only raise tiny things like water particles … and bugs.

No, not bugs. Needing to get her mind off these silly thoughts, she wrote down the day’s events, providing rational explanations for the singing voice and the spider in the book. That is, she tried to, but something kept distracting her. There was a buzzing in the room, and the overhead light was flickering as something swarmed around it. When the fly landed on her cheek, that was the last straw. Helen shoed the thing away, went to the kitchen, procured a fly swatter, and put the pest to its rightful end. She looked at the fly’s crumpled body on her desk. She really should clean it up, but then she really didn’t want to touch it.

Try as she did to finish her journal entry, she couldn’t complete another sentence. So she turned off her lamp, crawled into bed, and closed her eyes. But sleep didn’t come. The room was still bright with moonlight. Moonlight? She glanced at the window. They gray clouds had parted, revealing a bright, silvery moon.

Helen rolled over and faced the wall. Somewhere in this room, a brown spider was crawling around. Not that she cared. It was just a spider. Still, sleep was nowhere to be found. Perhaps an hour went by in silence. Then another. She was wide awake when a little something landed on her forehead.

In a mad fury, Helen threw off her covers, turned on the lamp, and saw the fly buzzing around the ceiling. She reached for the fly swatter … and paused. The crumpled body of the dead fly was no longer on the desk. Helen looked at the fly on the ceiling, then back at the empty desk. She noticed the brown spider on the wall … staring at her. Something was very wrong.

And there was that voice again, coming from outside:

[quietly] Through the alley, in the shadows,
Rising from the trash can,
When the moon is high, we’ll send you
Running like a madman.

Helen looked out the window. There was someone standing on her front yard, a girl she’d never seen before. “What do you want?” Helen demanded. The girl sang on.

Tickles on the neck and
Buzzing in the ears
Little crawling monsters
Awakening the fears

Helen felt something crawling up her leg. An ant. Had she carried it home with her from the field? She flicked it off. Then she felt something else tickling her ankle. She looked down and, to her horror, saw that the floor was crawling with black ants. She ran to her door, but the nob was covered with brown spiders.

Anywhere you go,
We’ll be there at your side.
No matter where you run,
There’s nowhere you can hide.

Helen ran to her bed. Somehow a slimy earthworm had gotten onto her pillow. With disgust, she picked it up and flung it across the room. Then, with a sense of dread, she threw off her blanket. Her bed was alive with hundreds of wriggling worms.

Sneaking through the window,
Eating all your food.
We hope you’ll take offense;
We’re trying to be rude.

There were ants and spiders all over her. On her legs, on her back, on her arms, on her face, and crawling into her mouth. This time, there was no room for a scream.

The longer it’s been dead,
The more of it we’ll take.
And we’ll be back for more.
Make no mistake.

So next time you feel inclined to harm something smaller than you, beware, what goes around comes around.

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Why We Need More Films Like Ephraim’s Rescue

As I’m perpetually behind the times, I just saw this 2013 film last night, and I feel impelled to share my thoughts. We live in an age of hyper-materialism. I.e. our concept of the life, the universe, and everything begins with stuff, revolves around stuff, and ends with stuff. The god of this universe is Almighty Naturalism, and at the core of his doctrine is the belief that as the the first proteins of the first cell formed by chance, everything that’s followed, from the formation of humans, to the invention of the spaceship have also been by chance. There is no guiding force, no unseen curtains, no ultimate meaning or purpose beyond our perceptions. Decay, death, and entropy are the final states of all living things. Spirituality, therefore, as it is neither material nor natural, is nonsense.

Ironically, I think this mentality often speaks the loudest in fiction. While there’s no shortage of books and movies about fantastic worlds, these usually come with clear contracts of being fiction and nothing more. When dramatizing real events or events that could be real, I think writers feel a burden to censor their work in order to make it conform to the doctrine of naturalism. That is, if I put my characters in a bind, as tempting as it may be to solve their problems by lowering a god on a trapeze, this would violate of my contract with the audience. I would be feeding them melodrama when they signed up for realism (or so-called realism anyway). If a prophecy is fulfilled or a miracle occurs, there must at least be hints of natural explanations.

But what’s a writer to do when his source material suggests supernatural activity? Say, as was the case with Ephraim’s Rescue, we’re doing a treatment of Mormon pioneers in 1856. We have many journals and publications to reference. There’s an overwhelming harmony of facts. But we know our audience simply won’t believe that someone was raised from the dead.

We could try to play it safe and imply that the person wasn’t really dead in the first place, because, of course, in virtue of our superior education and word view, we know better than some nineteenth century crackpots who had no problems stretching the truth in order to further their religious objectives. But what if a large volume of journals report hundreds of supernatural healings? Was everyone a crackpot? In order to stay naturalistic, we would literally have to start censoring the material, arbitrarily deciding what was true and what was not. I say arbitrarily, because it wouldn’t be through any rules of historicity, as the exact historical sources and methods are used to establish facts. The sole-determining factor would be our twenty-first centuries views of what’s possible and what’s not.

Only, what do you do when incredible events are … credible? As the story goes, Ephraim Hanks, standing in the middle of snowy wasteland, prayed for a buffalo so that he can feed the starving pioneers, and when he opened his eyes, he saw a lone buffalo standing in the snow. This is definitely unnatural, as buffalo migrate in herds before winter hits. But we can’t just dismiss it, as there were too many eye-witnesses of the fact that Hanks showed up to camp with a wagon full of buffalo meat.

I see three possibilities: (1) this really was a miracle, (2) the full truth has been obscured, or (3) it was a grand coincidence. Of course, we’re not allowed to accept possibility one, so let’s consider number two. Maybe Ephraim really did feed the people meat, but maybe he was lying about the implausible means through which he procured it. Maybe the meat was really beef that he picked up from a farmer in Salt Lake City.

But if this were the case, there are other factors to investigate, such as the testimonies of those who accompanied Hanks. And it would follow that Hanks was either delusional or deceitful. If delusional, influenced by wishful thinking, we would be left to wonder how such a confused person could successfully navigate the arduous Mormon trail some fifty times, inspiring the confidence of his leaders, and rescuing so many people. If we’re to believe he was deceitful, we would have to explain a motive and compare this incident to his other actions to check for consistency.

Moving on to possibility number three, if the so-called miracle was really a coincidence, how many coincidences do we allow before the sheer number of coincidences seems too much to be … coincidental? With the story of Ephraim Hanks and the many stories that intersected with his, we would have to conclude that these larger-than-life events represent extreme statistical anomalies.

After omitting any nonsense about raising the dead and such, some of the events in this film could be explained by the afore-mentioned theories (whether or not such explanations are correct). Most, however, don’t bear the marks of delusion, charlatans, or some cooperative hoax, but the direct opposite: earnest people with nothing to gain acting in faith and sacrifice to positively affect other people. Any comprehensive explanation of the events save trusting the testimonies of those who experienced them becomes so convoluted and divorced from verification that it’s simply improbable. In other words, when all things are considered, it becomes illogical to deny the existence of miracles.

Surrounded by comfort, distanced by centuries, and with only shreds of information to draw from, are we really going to say to those who gave their all as they died in the snow, “I know you think you experienced miracles, but we know better”? Perhaps, in turn, they would say to us, “If you don’t believe in miracles, you should spend more time in the snow.”

In summary, how do writers treat anomalies like these? In short, they usually don’t. There’s a plethora of historical treatments of Cleopatra and Abraham Lincoln, and there’s no end of far-fetched fantasies, but as for something that looks like the former but smells like the latter, no matter how great the story, well there’s no place for it other than on the special interest shelf for religious wackos.

For those who are more interested in truth than entertainment (not that the two are mutually exclusive), who are open to considering all logical possibilities, even those that aren’t prescribed by the state religion, I’m glad there’s films like Ephraim’s Rescue. Wonderful script, wonderful message, great acting, great cinematography, overall an inspiration. T.C. Christensen’s films are the best, the fresh air thoughtful audiences have been yearning for. I also highly recommend Christensen’s companion film, 17 Miracles. His film the Cokeville Miracle was incredible. Why these films never rise above a 5 or a 6 on IMDB, to me, can only described by prejudice.

Though I confess that I, myself, wasn’t excited to see Ephraim’s Rescue, as, you know, I automatically assumed it belonged on the special interest shelf for religious wackos. I was short-sided. In my arrogant opinion, films like this remind us of why it’s so glorious to be a Christian: because miracles really do happen. Jesus really did come back, and that changes everything. It’s not that such assertions can’t be disproved; that alone wouldn’t constitute proof, nor be compelling. It’s that, for those who choose the path of faith, miracles not only become real, they become clear evidences of the glorious, transcendent realities we’re a part of. They help us see that there’s so much more to this universe than traffic jams, Facebook feeds, pain, and fiction. They remind us that when we look to the stars and do good, wonderful things are possible.

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Gideon Versus the Gods of Cool to be Picked Up by an NYC Publisher

I just signed a contract with Beacon Publishing Group in NYC for my Young Adult Urban-Fantasy/Humor novel, Gideon Versus the Gods of Cool. They anticipate a release date by early Spring of 2019. I’m excited to see this one take root, as I’ve poured more of my soul into this work than any of my previous novels. That is, it’s very autobiographical … or as autobiographical as you might expect from one of Utah’s Biggest Liars. (Speaking of which, come see me and my family tell our stories at the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival this weekend, the best time of the year!)

From the horrors of gym class, to sneaking out at night, to getting mixed up in inter-school fights, to teen drama and complicated love affairs, to going against the popular grain, to challenging the establishment, to exploring the secret tunnels beneath the school, to joining the football team and getting severely pummeled, to sneaking into a dance dressed in drag, to escaping from detention, to jocks becoming nerds and nerds becoming jocks, to crawling through the halls like elephants, to taking on otherworldly beings and having metaphysical adventures, this book very much happened. I think my high school friends will especially appreciate it, as … well … they were there too. And for the rest of my peers, they’ll finally find answers to the often-asked question: “Why is Steve so weird?”

Earlier this year, I was invited to visit Amelia Earhart Elementary in Provo, where I read the final few chapters of the book to several sixth grade classes who had been reading it. It was fun to hear them gasp when things got scary and cheer when the good guys prevailed. More than one of the students exclaimed, “This book needs to be a movie!” I also read it to my daughters, and every time I finished a chapter, they begged me for just one more. Thus I think young readers will enjoy Gideon Versus the Gods of Cool.

In its self-published form, the book has been temporarily available on Amazon, though I’ll soon be taking it down. So if you want to snag a copy of the first edition (whether in print or eBook form), you’d better do so quickly. You can also order signed copies from me.

Just for fun, here’s an excerpt:

First there’s the familiar shame of being late in front of the entire team. Then there’s the agony of running, the taunts of teammates, the pointless slaps, the cruel calisthenics. The autumn air turns cold and sharp, and time slows down as never before.

Finally the warm-ups end, and the armored players line up head-to-head. A whistle blows, and the violence begins. Gideon slips away to the sidelines, but his sweet catharsis doesn’t last. Coach McPherson says, “Pay attention to the plays, because soon you’ll be tested.”

Gideon tries to take mental notes as the quarterback, Doug Rock, shouts strings of seemingly random words. “Blue, forty-two, check, check, set-hut!” What could it mean? He watches the players assume strange, three-legged positions. Then Doug shouts more nonsense – “slant route,” “six-eighty-six,” “left lover boy” – and the players assume new positions. Gideon tries to memorize the complex geometry of this men’s ballet, but it’s information overload. What’s the difference between the “Quick Ace” and the “Green Eighty”? How is a “Reversed Forward Pass” even possible? It would help if he knew the difference between a linebacker and a nose guard. It all hurts his brain, and he thought football was for dumb brutes!

At last, Coach McPherson blows three long whistles. Practice is over. The assistant coach gathers the team for another boring speech. Then there’s the druidic circle of team spirit. “Go cowboys!” When the rituals are over, Gideon’s mind tells him to run, but for some reason he lingers. As the guys disperse and chat among themselves, Gideon finds himself walking around, pretending he’s looking for something. Why? Could he actually be feeling a sense of camaraderie with these guys?

Deep within, he feels a glowing ember of something he’s long-suppressed: masculinity. While he, of course, is above the society of jocks, if, out of necessity, he were to lower his standards and find a companion with whom to share his misery, this whole ordeal might be more tolerable. There is that guy, Bula, who seemed friendly enough, but then, Bula probably gives his welcome spiel to every new team member. If Gideon is going to make a real friend – or as close to a real friend as one could have with a jock – he’ll have to do it the jock way: by proving his manly prowess.

A hard fist slams into Gideon’s chest, contracting his ribs, and sending him staggering backward. He impacts against the well-padded back of the towering Koa Kamaka, Hawaiian giant. Koa, with a savage scowl, knocks Gideon in the opposite direction. As Gideon finds himself on his hands and knees, he hears the inane laughter of Kyle Slater, who, no doubt, instituted this senseless violence.

Doug Rock is watching the scene as if it’s perfectly normal. “So, Gid, we’ll see you at Riverside Park tonight?”

Kyle adds, “Unless you’re chickening out.”

Climbing to his feet, Gideon has to breathe hard in order to speak. “Um …” He forgot all about his rash commitment to attend their secret escapade. The way they refer to the mysterious event makes him wonder if they’re going to initiate him into some esoteric fraternity … or just murder him. “Tell me when, and I’ll be there.”

“Midnight,” says Doug.

“But it’s a school night,” Gideon protests. No sooner do the words escape his mouth than he regrets saying them.

Ignoring him, Doug reaches into his duffel bag. “I’m sure this is your first time, so you can borrow some of my gear.” He tosses Gideon two metal pieces of something. Brass knuckles. “And in case you get lost …” Doug hands Gideon something else. “Here’s my card. You’ll find my number on the back.”

Gideon examines the card. Printed in elegant cursive are the words:

Douglas W. Rock, Concert Violinist

“What the …” Gideon looks up, but Doug and Kyle are walking away.

As Gideon walks home, the sky has turned golden, the sun beginning to set. Though the air is chilly, he droops his jacket over his shoulder. His stomach growls. The thought of his mother’s cooking has never seemed more divine. And he deserves it.

Dwight and Wanda are sitting on his front lawn. Beside them are a messy array of bags, burger wrappers, and soda cups.

“Hey,” says Wanda, stuffing a handful of fries into her mouth. She extends an oil-splattered box to Gideon. “We saved you some …” Then she observes the empty contents. “Oh, sorry. I think there’s one more burger at the bottom.” She shuffles through the crinkly wrappers in one of the paper bags. “Wait, never mind.”

Gideon can smell marinara sauce wafting from his house. “Well, I’ll catch you guys later.”

Wanda frowns. “We’re going to Movies 8. You wanna come?”

“But it’s a school … I mean, I’d like to, but I have too much homework.”

Dwight bursts into laughter. “Since when do you do homework? Man, this gray lady’s got you on a leash!”

“It has nothing to do with her, it’s just … if you must know, some of the guys and I were going to meet up for some … extra practice.”

Wanda says, “Wow, you mean you’re one of the guys now?”

Gideon shrugs. “I guess so.”

Dwight says, “I see how it is. You won’t be needing us anymore.”

“Dwight –”

“Why would you want to hang out with a couple of nerds when you’ve been accepted into the lofty social circles of Doug Rock and Kyle Slater? Soon you’ll have cheer leaders fighting over you and your varsity jacket. Then, my friend, you’ll have to choose between those who love you for who you truly are and those who flatter your vain ambition but will forsake you in the end … the classic conflict.”

Gideon applauds. “That was very impressive. Now will you shut up?”

Dwight bursts into laughter. “You and I both know you don’t have any friends on the football team.”

“Lay off. It’s only my second day.”

“So you’re really going to stick with it?”

“What do you care?”

“Good point, I don’t.”

Wanda cuts in. “Boys, be nice. Honestly, Gideon, I think you’re brave.”

After another whiff of his imminent dinner, Gideon is beyond done with this conversation. He waves goodbye and heads for the front door.

“Gideon …” says Dwight.

Gideon stops, though he doesn’t turn around.

“Remember who you are.” Dwight bursts into laughter until slugged by Wanda.

 

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Family History Fiction

Last night I developed what may be a new genre: family history fiction. I was tired of reading silly novels with my kids. I thought it was time to tell them something meaningful. At the same time, I didn’t want to bore them with old, family stories. So I found a middle ground by mixing fact with fiction. Because, as the old adage goes, “never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”

It began near the turn of the twentieth century in the decadent, Austro-Hungarian empire, the very center of world culture. My great-great grandfather, Josef Von Gaschler, was a wealthy landowner and adviser to the mighty emperor (true). I began explaining the political climate that led up to World Word I, and my nine-year-old daughter exclaimed, “I know that! The Serbians didn’t want to be ruled by the empire, so a Serbian man named Gavrilo Princip assassinated the Austro-Hungarian prince, Archduke Ferdinand.”

“Yes,” I said, taken aback. Apparently my kids are smart, and I’ve been filling their heads with dribble for too long. I then explained how Josef Von Gaschler advised the emperor to unleash the full power of the empire’s steam-powered zeppelins (false … but so necessary).

Next I introduced our hero, Josef’s Von Gaschler’s son, Franz Xavier. As a young family man living in the mighty Gaschler manor, Franz is constantly blowing holes in the roof and driving the servants mad as he explores the wonders of chemistry (true enough). Meanwhile, Josef Von Gaschler returns from his meeting with the emperor and sees his house in disarray. He chides Franz and asks him when he’s going to settle down and take on the family business of property management (true). But Franz insists that he must follow his passion for chemistry (true).

At this point, my seven-year-old daughter blurts out, “He’s just like me!”

But Josef Von Gaschler will have none of this. He insists that Franz must take on the family business (true). Franz sees that his father will never accept him for who he is, so he takes his wife and children, and they steal off into the night (true enough). They buy one-way tickets to the farthest place imaginable, Australia (true).

But the voyage is fraught with peril. While Franz and his family gaze over the deck of the steamboat, they spy a black flag on the horizon. Pirates! As the rest passengers panic, Franz advises the captain to prepare his men for war. He gives a noble speech about how Gaschlers do not buckle to tyranny; they do not shirk from conflict; Gaschlers stand tall, and Gaschlers fight. While Franz single-handedly knocks invading pirates off the deck, he makes his way to his briefcase, where he retrieves his chemistry supplies. Then, just in the nick of time, he creates an impromptu bomb, which he hurls at the pirates. The explosion scares the willies out of the pirates, and every last invader jumps overboard. Fanz then completes his monologue with, “… and Gaschlers are smart.” (None of this literally happened. Lyrically, it couldn’t be more true.)

When I ended the adventure for the night, my children begged for more. Of course, it’s only a matter of time before they’ll realize that their great-grandfather wasn’t actually a swashbuckling pirate fighter,  but in order to discover that, they’ll have already learned (and will actually remember) more about their great-grandfather than most children will ever know.

In the next episode, they’ll learn about how their grandfather led an army of wild dingoes against the aborigines.

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Some Interesting Statistics About Mormons

Mormons don’t believe in evolution … so it would appear at first glance. But a closer look at the data suggests that (1) while Mormons rank among the highest percentage of people who don’t believe that the human species came about through strictly natural processes, (2) they also comprise the highest percentage of people who admit that they don’t know how the human species came about. Either that’s a paradox or it appears that Mormons have unusually open minds.

Yesterday I presented a lesson at church on the subject of “following the prophets”. I asked myself the question, “Is there any data to suggest that following the prophets is a good idea?” So I took a look at some statistics published by the Pew Research Center, which compares America’s major religious groups. I had some interesting finds, which I’m going to briefly list below. (I recommend checking out the source yourself at http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/religious-tradition/mormon/. Let me know if I’ve misinterpreted any data. I am, of course, biased.)

Here goes. Mormons …

  • Are in the top 25%, overall, for income.

There’s no competing with the Jews.

  • Have the highest percentage of those who have at least completed some college and are among the highest, overall, for education.

I couldn’t help but chuckle at this one. Some college? That pretty much describes what’s going on a BYU, which is first and foremost a mating ground.

  • Have the highest marriage rates and are among the lowest divorce rates.

Utah’s gotten a bad rap fore having high divorce rates. The truth is, while there are many divorces, there are many more successful marriages, so, comparatively, Utah’s divorce rate is actually impressive. (Yes, I’m conflating Utahans with Mormons here, but just look at the first chart, “Mormons by State” …)

  • Are within the top 25% of religions reporting an absolute belief in God.

Jehovah’s Witnesses barely beat Mormons in many of the categories, so hats off to them. It should be noted, however, that Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons score on opposite ends of the education spectrum. In this regard, Mormons are the anomaly. The rest of the groups that score high on education tend to score low on faith.

  • Are among the highest of those who say religion is important in their lives.

Again, the two higher groups also rank lowest in education.

  • Have the second-highest religious worship attendance
  • Have the second-highest in frequency of prayer, scripture study, and meditation
  • Almost tied (minus 1%) for the highest reports of feeling frequent peace and well-being

Isn’t that what it’s all about? This is the evidence I was looking for.

  • Are among the top 25% for feeling wonder about the universe.

This is good, but its not great. Why aren’t Mormons number one? If you’re a Mormon, I want you to go outside, take a deep breath, look at the clouds, and say, “Wow!” Hopefully, then, the next time you get a call from the Pew Research Center, you’ll have a better answer.

  • Tie for highest in belief of absolute standards of right and wrong.
  • Rank highest for a belief in heaven.

Delightful, considering that Mormon view of heaven is totally non-mainstream.

  • Rank highest for the view that government aid for the poor does more harm than good (64%)

Interesting considering that Mormons put a significant amount of their income into the church’s welfare program, which is probably the largest, independent welfare program in the world.

  • Have the highest percentage of Republicans in the nation (70%).
  • Have the highest percentage of conservatives (61%)
  • Have the highest percentage of believers in small government (75%)
  • Rank second-lowest for supporting legalized abortion in all cases.

Like these or not, I think there’s at least something beautiful about a people who want to be unified in all things … even, heaven forbid, politics. I remember reading the journal of Governor Liburn Boggs of nineteenth century Missouri, who complained about how politically unified the Mormons were. Why couldn’t the Mormons provide balance by dividing over the issues like everyone else? I could see how it could be annoying if you’re on the opposite side of the Mormons. I can also see how effective a huge, collective bargaining power can be. And why not play to win?

But it goes deeper than that. Unless there’s something in Utah’s water, I find it unlikely that this unusual spike in politics is the product of culture alone. Even if it is, the question would remain of how the culture evovled. It appears that there’s something foundational in Mormon doctrine that leads to a belief in limited government. It’s almost as if there’s some correlation between high education, strong marriages, high satisfaction, and, yes, limited government.

And finally, Mormons …

  • Have the lowest income inequality

What I see from the data is one of the highest percentages of people in the $50,000 – $100,000 income ranges and fairly average percentages for the rest of the ranges. Most other religious groups report a lot of rich and a lot of poor. I wasn’t sure if I was interpreting this one correctly, so I found on Wikipedia (and a whole bunch of other sites) that Utah ranks #1 among the states for lowest income inequality, AKA the Gini Coefficient (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_Gini_coefficient). Comparatively, Switzerland, Sweden, Poland, and Norway have some of the highest income inequalities in the world (just below the US) (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_income_equality). Personally I don’t think comparing the entire United States with its 325 million in population to countries with about 5 million makes any sense, but comparing a country of 5 million to Utah’s 3 million is a little less absurd. So the next time you hear someone say, “I wish the United States had more progressive policies like [enter Scandanvian country of your choice] so that we could have lower income inequality,” you might tell them (1) to check their facts and (2) that a more realistic and close-to-home means to that end would be an incorporation of the less progressive policies of Utah.

Okay, sorry if I digressed too much into politics. The Pew Research Center started it. The bottom line is, if you’re interested in Mormonism, it would appear that “following the prophets” is a statistically sound thing to do. Have a nice day.