Two Important Facets of Utah’s Culture

On Sundays, I like to eat at the “El Mexsal” restaurant in Provo.  It is a great place to eat.  The food is inexpensive and tasty, and the service is friendly.  I like Sundays, because the customers are mostly Hispanics and I get the mistaken feeling that Provo has a diverse culture.

El Mexsal, a Mexican and Salvadorian Restaurant on Freedom Blvd

El Mexsal, a Mexican and Salvadorian Restaurant on Freedom Blvd

On days other than Sunday, at lunch anyway, the restaurant attracts Anglo blue-collar customers, and the place just doesn’t have the same south-of-the-border atmosphere.  During one of my luncheon meals at El Mexsal, Jason Chaffetz, our conservative representative in Washington DC, and his posse came in to eat.  I hope he got the correct impression that the vast majority of Hispanics are the U.S. with the sole purpose of providing a better life for their families, and are in no way a threat.

Last Friday, I attended a water planning meeting at the Navajo Mountain Chapter, located northeast of Page AZ.  The area served by the Chapter is the most remote in the Navajo Nation.  It also has some of the reservation’s best scenery:  deep arid canyons, expansive red-rock arches, archaeological ruins, abandoned and forlorn hogans, and of course, the domed-shaped mountain.

Hawkeye Natural Bridge Located North of Navajo Mountain

Hawkeye Natural Bridge Located North of Navajo Mountain

Most of the meeting I attended was conducted in Navajo, a language I do not speak.  But it was great to see that the language is still very much alive and vibrant.  During World War II, it was used as a code to send important military messages.  One of the last code-talkers, who was a Chapter resident, recently died.  The Navajos are very proud of their veterans.  Even though you have to enter the Navajo Mountain area from Arizona, the chapterhouse and the majority of its residents live in Utah.

Entry to a Hogan in Piute Canyon near Navajo Mountain

Entry to a Hogan in Piute Canyon near Navajo Mountain

Knowing that the El Mexsal restaurant and the Navajo Mountain Chapter exist makes me feel a whole lot better about Utah and the United States.

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Playground Equipment for Jewish and Islamic Schools in Mbale, Uganda

During a recent visit to Mbale, Uganda, we visited 2 schools: one Jewish and one Islamic.  We first visited a black Jewish primary school located in the hills above Mbale.  The school, with an enrollment that is approximately 65 percent Jewish, appears to be well financed (by Ugandan standards), but their playground area was in a state of disrepair.  We promised to help.  We didn’t have our swing set equipment with us, but we were able to provide a locally-constructed climbing tower.

Jewish School Located in the Hills Above Mbale, Uganda

Jewish School Located in the Hills Above Mbale, Uganda

According to our guide, who was born Jewish, there are about 2,000 Jews in Uganda.  Only about 500 live in the Mbale area, the rest are dispersed throughout the country.  The Mbale community has a very nice synagogue.  I need to learn more about this unique community.

Inside of the Synagogue Located near Mbale, Uganda

Inside of the Synagogue Located near Mbale, Uganda

We next visited an Islamic primary school located near our driver’s ancestral home.  A couple of years ago, we had installed a swing set there.  This time we promised to provide a climbing tower like the one provided to the Jewish school.  The school director agreed to handle the installation.

Islamic Primary School Located Just Outside of Mbala, Uganda

Islamic Primary School Located Just Outside of Mbala, Uganda

Islamic School Employees Installing a Climbing Tower

Islamic School Employees Installing a Climbing Tower

According to estimates, about 30 percent of Uganda’s population is Muslim, and that includes our driver (who also heads up our playground installation efforts).

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Skateboarding Park near Kampala, Uganda

As my friends and I were nearing Kampala, Uganda, I spotted something unexpected.  A concrete skateboarding park located next to the road we on.  According to my friends, it was only recently completed.

Skateboarding Park Located north of Kampala on the Jinja Road

Skateboarding Park Located north of Kampala on the Jinja Road

The Concrete Park Appears to Be Professionally Designed and Well Constructed

The Concrete Park Appears to Be Professionally Designed and Well Constructed

Our driver pulled off the road, and I walked back to take a few photographs.  Not only were there quite a few skateboarders, but there was also a sizable crowd watching.  This is the first skateboarding park that I have seen in Uganda.  It appears to be professionally designed and well constructed.  I need to find out more about it.  Providing more skateboards might be a fun opportunity.

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New President at BYU-Idaho: Another Opportunity Lost

Elder Dallin H. Oaks recently announced that Henry J. Eyring will be the next President of BYU-Idaho.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks Congradulating Henry J. Eyring

Elder Dallin H. Oaks Congratulating Henry J. Eyring

This would have been a great opportunity to diversify LDS Church leadership.  Was a woman even considered?  Was a non-white considered?  Was someone with roots outside of Utah/Idaho considered?  Was someone not a product of the Church education system considered?

Instead, we have a white male whose father is a General Authority.  Whose father was a past president of Ricks College (a precursor to BYU-Idaho).  A man who earned all of his degrees at BYU-Provo.  A man who is currently employed at BYU-Idaho.  Hardly a glowing example of the diversity which exists in the membership.

As far as I know, there is no priesthood requirement to be President of BYU-Idaho.  This was another opportunity to diversify that is lost.

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Mission of the LDS Church Relief Society, Really?

According to an article titled “The Gospel in Action” by the LDS Relief Society Presidency in the Church News, 12 Feb 2017, p. 15:

. . . be reminded that the work of salvation includes covenant keeping work such as the following:

  • Sharing the gospel
  • Retaining converts
  • Activating members
  • Participating in temple and family history work
  • Teaching the gospel
  • Caring for the poor and needy

So we have a list of 6 works.  Last on the list is “Caring for the poor and needy” (I assume that includes refugees).  Fourth on the list is work for the dead.  Are we to believe that work for the dearly departed is more important than assistance to the poor?  Based on a nonrandom survey of social media, I get the impression that raising the priority of assisting those in need would be very popular with the membership.  And it is certainly in line with the teachings in the New Testament.

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A.J. Walker and the Trolley Square Shootings

Webmaster’s Note:  A few years ago, I spent a couple of weeks in Uganda with A.J. Walker and one of his post-shooting mentors, Tim Peters.  A.J. was a huge hit with the Ugandan children.  They loved him and he loved them.

A.J. Walker in Uganda (photograph by Jeremiah Stettler)

A.J. Walker in Uganda (Photograph by Jeremiah Stettler)

By Robert Kirby, Columnist [1]

Ten years ago today, a lone gunman murdered five people and seriously wounded four others at Trolley Square.

On that appalling evening, AJ Walker’s father, 52-year-old Jeffrey Phillip Walker, was killed. AJ was shot in the head and critically wounded. Stacy Hanson was shot three times with a 12-gauge shotgun. He survived.

A few days later, Stacy’s wife ignored requests from the real media and chose a fool of a columnist to tell his story. Honestly, I didn’t want to. The last thing I needed was more terrible images in my head.

I did it because Colleen said I made her husband laugh and she desperately needed to see Stacy at least smile again.

In a similar fashion, I met teenage A.J. and his recently widowed mother, Vickie. A.J. still had pellets in his head, and Vickie still mourned for Alan.

I expected bitterness. I didn’t get it.

The Walkers’ behavior confused me at first. Instead of wallowing in their loss the way I might have, they kept turning the conversation to the more positive elements of their shattered new life.

A.J. was still determined to be a normal teenager and eventually serve an LDS mission. Vickie already had plans to organize programs to help the victims of violence.

I stay in touch with the Hansons and the Walkers. I need to. The courage they brought to bear against the worst moment in their lives is an inspiration to anyone who knows them.

That’s not to say that every day isn’t a fight. Some things that happen to us are so terrible they never stop happening. Our nightmares are proof of that.

There’s no explanation that makes sense of what happened in Trolley Square that night. It’s the days, months and years since then that matter now, the willingness to fight what happened and to move forward.

In that sense, Stacy and A.J. have helped me more than they know. When my own nightmares occasionally tear me from sleep, it’s thoughts of their courage today that bring back enough hope for my own life that I can eventually go back to sleep.


[1], 11 Feb 2017

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Holes and Gaps in LDS Church History

In the February 2017 issue of The Ensign, Keith A. Erekson, LDS Church History Library Director, tries unsuccessfully to sell historical research short.  And why does Erekson, who is a trained historian, try such an ironic task?  Apparently, he doesn’t want religious doubt to creep in because of recent discoveries concerning LDS history.  His reasoning is:  there are still gaps in our knowledge.  To quote Erekson:

In the study of history, the absence of evidence is not a valid cause of doubt.

First, before dealing with the merits of this statement, I need to make one point “perfectly clear.”  It is not Erekson’s business to determine what an individual’s “valid cause of doubt” is.  He has let his ego get in the way of his better judgement.

Second, the above quote follows the statement:

. . . though we have records of the priesthood’s being withheld from men of black African descent, no record has survived that authentically explains why the practice began.

This statement is disingenuous; I wonder how long he struggled to come up with the word “authentically.”

There are basically 2 possible explanations for the ban:

  • It was directed by God.  Unfortunately this explanation throws God “under the bus.”  And for many Mormons, this is unacceptable for any number of reasons.
  • It was the result of the prejudice of Brigham Young (continued by successors until 1978).  We do have statements by BY that indicate the depth of his racial feelings.  And the LDS Church currently disavows any theological justifications for the priesthood ban and explains how racism created a context for the Mormon policy.  Plus it is important to note that the ban resulted in Utah being one of the most racially prejudice areas in the United States outside of the South.  This behavior alone would indicate that the ban was a product of man and not God.

Since I’m not willing to “throw God under the bus,” and there is reasonable evidence that human prejudice was an important factor, Erekson is on “thin ice” when he states that there is no record “that authentically explains why the practice began.”  While we don’t have perfect knowledge about the ban and never will, we do have enough evidence to point to BY as the author and not God.

Erekson is selling his profession short.  Mormon history has made great strides in the last few decades.  Unfortunately, LDS leaders have so far been slow to deal with the continuing ticker tape of historical revelations.

Erekson would have been better served if he had written about the inadequacies of past LDS manuals and Deseret Books as they discuss Mormon history, and praise the on-going efforts of contemporary historians as they endeavor to set the record straight.  He might even try to explain why the Church leaders felt that a sanitized version of Mormon history was even necessary.

Sure there are holes and gaps in our knowledge of the past.  But let us not use these as an excuse for ignoring history as we currently understand it.  LDS leaders need to deal with historical revelations on a more timely basis, and not just claim there are holes and gaps.

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