Working on the Design for a Playground Elevated Fort

In the last couple years, we have been working on the design for a playground elevated fort. Our initial try was at Queen of Peace Junior School in Mbale, Uganda. This fort has a climbing wall, 2 double-rail slides, and stairs. The slides, in particular, proved to be wildly popular.

Elevated Playground Fort at Queen of Peace Junior School

The materials for fort are wood, pipe, metal, and plastic handholds. It was recently repainted, as seen above.

Our most recent effort is at Byana Mary Hill Junior School and Orphanage in Masaka, Uganda. It has 5 2-rail slides, a climbing wall, and 2 slopped ladders. Construction was recently completed by Gabriel Arahi, a Ugandan colleague. It is made of the same materials as the elevated fort in Mbale.

Newly-Installed Elevated Fort at Byana Maria Hill Orphanage

Unfortunately, Gabriel ran out of handholds, so I will take more on my next trip to Uganda.

Climbing Wall on Elevated Fort at Byana Mary Hill

Since school is out in Uganda, we haven’t been able to observe the popularity of the second elevated fort.

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Visiting Bryce Canyon in Winter

My mother and I drove from St. George over the mountains to Bryce Canyon National Park. It had snowed in southern Utah the day before. This made for a beautiful excursion. Particularly since it was a luxuriously sunny day.

The road to Bryce winds up Red Canyon. The snow on the orange/red rock formations and the evergreens made for colorful extremes. Our first attempt to get into the national park was unsuccessful. The park’s parking lots were full, and there were cars trapped in the snow. They told us to return in a hour. After a leisurely lunch, we made another run at the park. They were again turning cars away. But just as we got to the front of the line, they opened the park.

The View to the North from Inspiration Point, Bryce Canyon

The road was snow packed but doable in my mother’s 16-yr-old Buick. Unfortunately, it was difficult for mother to get a good view because she was unable to leave the car. But the park drive was still very pleasant. As we were leaving, there was an SUV stuck in a snowbank.

The View from the Road to Tropic, Utah

After leaving the park, we drove down the road to Tropic. This gave mother a chance to see the rock formations, the evergreens, and the snow. On the way home. we drove back through Red Canyon. The late afternoon sun intensified the colors, the rock formations seemed to glow.

Late Afternoon Sun of the Red Canyon Rock Formations

Oh, the wonders of southern Utah.

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Wonderful Advice from Richard Bushman to LDS Church Leaders

LDS Church leaders should worry less about doubters and more about how to engage the youth (of all ages) in the work of Christ. I contend that helping the poor, disadvantaged, homeless, etc. is the foundation of Christianity. Mormon scholar Richard Bushman in an interview with Peggy Fletcher-Stack, posted on strib.com, suggests that the Church needs a more global vision:

“We [LDS Church] need a mission that will inspire our young people and everyone who will say, ‘Yes, my church is taking major action to make the world a better place. And I want to be part of it.'”

Unfortunately, this recommendation was made in the last paragraph of the post. I hope readers made it that far. To paraphrase Bushman, we need to give members a compelling reason stay.

Bushman further observes that the Church has the resources to accomplish great things:

“We’ve become a very powerful organization, not just because of our wealth — which is a critical part of power — but because of the very loyal members who are in positions of power, especially in the United States, but more and more in other countries, too. In government, business, scholarships, we have men and women who are right in the center of things. We’ve become influential as a people because there are so many Mormons doing good for their communities. That’s a core strength that is unmatched in the world.”

The LDS Church has the financial resources to do great things. But more importantly, it has a well-educated, well-motivated membership to accomplish great things, to have a global impact for good. Right now, the majority of this work is being undertaken at the local level. With the right encouragement and financial support, these local activities could be expanded by orders of magnitude.

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Two Important Op-ed Pieces This Christmas Season

Two very insightful op-ed pieces were published during this Christmas season. They suggest that instead of feeling trapped by our 2020 conditions, we should look beyond our small world and look at the bigger global picture. There is much good that individuals, institutions, and governments can do. Both op-ed pieces are a call to action.

The first article is by Gregory A. Prince and appears on sltrib.com. While it specifically addresses Mormon Church issues, his message is universal.

“People of goodwill throughout the world, and particularly within religious traditions, need to stand shoulder to shoulder to take on climate change, poverty, global disease, illiteracy, war, domestic violence, racism — the list gets longer with time.

Taking on also means speaking out, something that largely has been missing from the public square for the past four years. Where is the prophetic voice — the voice that calls out wickedness, corruption, dishonesty, and calls people to a higher level of living?”

Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA) has long been an advocate for the poor. Writing for the liberal magazine The Nation, he recommends:

“A comprehensive approach by the Biden administration that prioritizes hunger could restore the mantle of America’s leadership and return us to the days of addressing both the immediate needs and underlying causes of global poverty.

This kind of holistic leadership is desperately needed. The Covid-19 pandemic has laid bare the fragility of our national, regional, and global food systems. A preliminary July assessment by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization suggests that Covid-19 could add between 83 million and 132 million people to the total number of undernourished in the world.”

The poignant observations and recommendations by both Prince and McGovern are timely and important for all levels of society: individual, group, and government. Prince’s call is mainly directed at the LDS Church (and all churches for that matter) and its leaders. He is calling for moral leadership. McGovern’s recommendation is directed at the Federal government. But with the lack of leadership at the organizational and governmental level, the individual can still take action.

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Tithing Is Giving 10 Percent, But to Whom Is It Owed?

At the end of the year, Mormons have tithing settlement. The members meet with their Bishop to discuss whether they have paid a full 10 percent of their earnings to the Church. In Mormondom, tithing is strictly defined as donations to the Church. But there are issues with this approach. Most are outlined in a recent op-ed by Jana Riess. Of concern, are he Church’s

  • $100,000,000,000 nest egg
  • the lack of financial accountability
  • possible misallocation of funds

Jana has decided to stop paying official tithing, but to donate her 10 percent to worthy humanitarian organizations.

Homeless Encampment in Phoenix

“At tithing settlement this year, I [Jana] declared myself a full-tithe payer and explained why none of that money has gone to the church. I don’t know what fallout there will be from this decision, if any. Frankly, it’s not important whether I continue to hold a temple recommend or not. What’s important to me is that at least a few kids who didn’t have food or access to education will have meals, school and the basics. I should have done this a long time ago.”

Robert Kirby, humor writer for sltrib.com, has made a similar decision. He and his wife, who is no longer a member, have decided to give to charity in lieu of making payments to their churches. Both Jana and Robert consider themselves full tithe payers.

This is a wonderful approach. Instead of letting the Church leadership decide on how tithing money is allocated, the individual member makes his/her own decision.

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My Strangest Christmas

Back in the mid-60’s, missions to foreign-speaking countries were at least 2-1/2 years, with the extra half year tacked on to learn the language. I was called to Europe, and spent 3 Christmases in France or Belgium. The last was at the time of my release. Christmas was a difficult time to proselyte, so 5 of us had asked to be released a week early so we could travel around Spain. We needed the early release because the Viet Nam War was on and we needed to get back into college at the first of the year. Our mission president (MP) approved the request. Transfers had gone out. At the last moment, our request was vetoed in SLC. We were subsequently transferred to the mission home to spend a week there working on a study guide of the OT (a make work project if there ever was one).

I took over a day getting to the mission home. First, I stopped along the way to visit one of our converts. She was no longer active, and the visit was awkward. Second, I played tourist in Ghent (outside my mission boundaries) and stayed overnight. Visiting the medieval city did wonders for my mental health. When I got to the mission home, the MP (a future general authority) was justifiably pissed. I was called in for “counseling.”

Medieval Guild Halls in Ghent, Belgium

He was mad about my unescorted 2 days of wandering around. He said he should send me home early with a dishonorable release. In the middle of his lecture, a parent of one of the other missionaries, sequestered in the mission home, called. He was mad. He wanted to know why son was sitting in the mission home and not on his way home. The MP didn’t have a good answer, and he knew we were just killing time for a week. The MP dismissed me, telling me to sin no more. It’s a good thing he didn’t ask me what I did on my days of freedom. I spent my third missionary Christmas in the mission home perusing the OT, not my favorite scripture.

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LDS Doctrine: When Do the Body and Spirit Unite?

Mormons are dualists: They believe that humans are made up of body and spirit. When the two elements unite is an open question. According to the latest Church handbook (as quoted here):

“The handbook changes ‘temple ordinances are not performed for stillborn children’ to stating that such rites are ‘not necessary for children who die before birth.’

The new version eliminates the statement: ‘It is a fact that the child has life before birth. However, there is no direct revelation on when the spirit enters the body.’”

These statements make the question of abortion murky at best. Because of the Church’s attitude toward stillborn babies, it would appear that “at birth” is certainly the most likely option for unification. If that is the case, then it is hard to be stridently anti-abortion or obsessively pro-life.

The decision maker on abortion needs to be the woman, in consultation with whomever she chooses.

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Comments on McKay Coppins’ Recent Article in The Atlantic

McKay Coppins is LDS (Mormon) and active. I separated myself from the Church after my LDS mission. But my name is still on the Church membership records.

In a recent article “The Most American Religion” in The Atlantic, Coppins writes about his church in a lengthy 9,000-word article. The article left me disappointed. McKay had a chance to write something of substance, instead he takes the easy route. He chooses to rehash well worn subjects.

The article bifurcates into two homogenized segments. The first is background information on the Church’s past, present, and future. The second is his personal relationship with the Church. The mix of the two is uncomfortable, and Coppins is unable to pull it off. He is an excellent writer, but he cuts the Church too much slack and he fails to reveal much about his personal faith.

The subject of the article is the Church’s uneasy attempt at assimilation with American culture, or perhaps its attempt to curry favor with the Christian right. This subject has been discussed in detail by Mormon sociologist Armand Mauss. Yet Armand’s work of is not mentioned or hinted at in the article. The exhaustive work of Jana Riess is also largely ignored. Instead he takes the easy route, and interviews and discusses the candidacy and beliefs of Mitt Romney, whose presidential campaign he covered as a journalist. Yawn.

When it comes to Mormon history, Coppins gives a sanitized version which is truly unfortunate. Mormon history in the last few decades has matured greatly. His attempt to let Mormons off the hook for Trumpism is filled with selective stats. As is his implication that the Church still has a rapidly expanding membership (in reality, it is stalled in developed countries, and expanding in developing countries). Plus there is a problem with Mormon youth leaving the Church.

McKay briefly mentions his mission, but provides few impressions of what the experience brought to his life. Was it a defining factor? From a personal perspective, how productive was it? How could the mission experience be improve? This was a opportunity lost.

Coppins does make a couple of suggestions: (1) that the Church apologize for its historic racism and (2) that the Church not give up too much of uniqueness in its efforts to assimilate. The first placates progressive Mormons and the second should make conservatives happy. A nice balance I guess.

There were two segments in the article I did find truly revealing, one an interchange with Elder Ballard and a second with President Nelson. The latter an introspective moment for the 96-yr-old leader.

One Internet commenter pointed out that the article would be appropriate material for the Deseret News, a LDS organ. I doubt this opinion was meant as a compliment. The article is also referred to in the ezine Meridian Magazine, which has a conservative Mormon list.

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We Lost A Swing Set to Metal Scavengers

We recently received a report from Chrispus, who coordinates our activities in Uganda’s Rwenzori Mts, that one of the swing sets we had installed has been vandalized by thieves. We lost everything that was above grounds. The thieves had cut the metal legs off at ground level.

Missing Swing Set Leg

Yesterday, a letter from the school’s (Kalonge II) head teacher was forward to me. It first gave reasons why the swing set was important: it (1) encourages students to attend school; (2) provides physical exercise; (3) breaks up class monotony; and (4) provides joy to the students. The head teacher asked that we replace the swing set and add a security fence. The school volunteered to provide a night guard.

Kalonge II Primary School with Missing Playground

Clearly playground equipment is considered an important component of the school grounds. Which is gratifying to hear.

The Kalonge II Primary School is located high in the Rwenzori Mtns and is not easy to reach. But replacing the swing set is a high priority item for our non-profit: Playgrounds Everywhere. Hopefully, we can add additional features to the playground besides the swing set.

So far, our playgrounds have been the object of little vandalism. Mostly repairs are limited to maintenance caused by heavy usage or defective materials.

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LDS Leaders Bare Their Souls

In a recent article in The Atlantic, author McKay Coppins relates two incidents relayed to him by LDS General Authorities. The first by Elder M. Russell Ballard:

“Ballard told me about a trip he’d made to Greece on behalf of the Church. During a visit to a refugee camp, he witnessed a Syrian family get tossed from a dinghy into the Aegean Sea and crawl onto the beach, shivering, soaked, and hungry. As volunteers handed them towels and food, one of the children, a 9-year-old boy named Amer, tore into a package of Oreos and offered the first one to Ballard. Today, the cookie sits encased in a small cube on the apostle’s desk—a reminder, he says, to reach out to “those people running for their lives” all over the world.”

The second was a bit of introspection from President Russell M. Nelson:

“After another pause, Nelson began to contemplate what he would have to answer for in his imminent interview with God [he’s 96]. ‘I doubt if I’ll be judged by the number of operations I did, or the number of scientific publications I had,’ he told me. ‘I doubt if I’ll even be judged by the growth of the Church during my presidency. I don’t think it’ll be a quantitative experience. I think he’ll want to know: What about your faith? What about virtue? What about your knowledge? Were you temperate? Were you kind to people? Did you have charity, humility?’

In the end, Nelson told me, ‘we exist to make life better for people.’ As mission statements go, a Church could do worse.”

A wonderful Christmas message to all of us.

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