22 November 2020

How to Hear the Voice of the Lord

 I delivered this talk during Sacrament meeting on November 22, 2020:

I’m so glad to be able to speak to you today, and about something that has been on my mind in the past few weeks.


I think my message is a simple and straightforward one, but in some ways that makes it a little more challenging.


Our society is obsessed with complexity.  When things are simple, they are easy to overlook. But it is true what Alma taught his son Helaman:

“...by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.“

“...by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls.”


I see this in my work as a financial advisor. There seems to be a never-ending search for the next great investment idea, or the next big company or product that will revolutionize the world and provide a huge return, a fast payday. I’m sure that the same is true in other fields like medicine, nutrition, and technology- what magic pill or shot will eliminate the need for exercise, healthy eating, or tedious tasks?


The truth is, for almost all of us, there is no get-rich-quick, magic pill, or shot that will eliminate all of our problems. AND THAT IS OKAY. It’s not a flaw in the plan, but actually an important part of it.


My clients who are best prepared for their future are the ones who have done small and simple things for a long time. If they are able they save, they put money to work in a systematic and consistent pattern over a long period of time. They plant the seeds that eventually bear good fruit. This same principle applies to our spiritual health and readiness.


BUT, EVEN KNOWING THIS, WE STILL LOOK FOR THE EASY ROUTE, not realizing that the easy route is the one that has been in front of our face the entire time.


In that same talk to Helaman, Alma provided one of my favorite teachings in the Book of Mormon, and it centered on the role that the Liahona played in the lives of their ancestors Lehi and Nephi. I will read some parts of what Alma taught:


38 And now, my son, I have somewhat to say concerning the thing which our fathers call a ball, or director—or our fathers called it Liahona, which is, being interpreted, a compass; and the Lord prepared it.

39 ....And behold, it was prepared to show unto our fathers the course which they should travel in the wilderness.

40 And it did work for them according to their faith in God; therefore, if they had faith to believe that God could cause that those spindles should point the way they should go, behold, it was done; therefore they had this miracle, and also many other miracles wrought by the power of God, day by day.

41 Nevertheless, because those miracles were worked by small means it did show unto them marvelous works. They were slothful, and forgot to exercise their faith and diligence and then those marvelous works ceased, and they did not progress in their journey;

42 Therefore, they tarried in the wilderness, or did not travel a direct course, and were afflicted with hunger and thirst, because of their transgressions.

43 And now, my son, I would that ye should understand that these things are not without a shadow; for as our fathers were slothful to give heed to this compass (now these things were temporal) they did not prosper; even so it is with things which are spiritual.

44 For behold, it is as easy to give heed to the word of Christ, which will point to you a straight course to eternal bliss, as it was for our fathers to give heed to this compass, which would point unto them a straight course to the promised land.

45 And now I say, is there not a type in this thing? For just as surely as this director did bring our fathers, by following its course, to the promised land, shall the words of Christ, if we follow their course, carry us beyond this vale of sorrow into a far better land of promise.

46 O my son, do not let us be slothful because of the easiness of the way; for so was it with our fathers; for so was it prepared for them, that if they would look they might live; even so it is with us. The way is prepared, and if we will look we may live forever.


Alma refers several times to the “easiness of the way.” Many of us may thing, “Life isn’t easy.” And often it isn’t. Another way to think of “easy” may be simple, straightforward, or plain. The way is not mysterious and doesn’t require some guru to show it to you. It has been provided to us plainly through prophets of God.


What I want to share today is how we can better receive guidance from our Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ- how we can make sure that our personal Liahona is functioning?


Hopefully you have seen some of the brief videos that the Church has published on YouTube and elsewhere titled “How I Hear Him.” Members of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles and the other general leaders of the Church share how they receive guidance from the Lord. If you haven’t, I recommend watching them.


One of the recent ones is from Elder Dale Renlund and it really stuck with me.


A longer version of his thoughts is available on the Church website and I strongly encourage you to read it. I’ll just share a few pieces of it with you now:


Through the difficult challenges in my life, I have learned an important lesson about myself: my initial impulse sometimes has been to back away from personal, private acts of devotion that keep me connected to heaven. And yet I have learned this is the time when, instead of leaning back, I should lean in and do my utmost to continue seeking the Lords guidance.


It is powerful to hear an apostle of the Lord share a challenge that so many of us can identify with. 


There is a reason that the scriptures associate this impulse with the term “the natural man.” To feel this is not something to be ashamed of. What matters is what we choose after that feeling. 


After all, what separates the spiritually successful from those who go down a different path is what they do when that impulse arrives


Another story from Elder Renlund illustrates this, during a time when he was training as a physician.


My internship was overwhelmingly busy and exhausting. One Sunday, I knew that if I hurried home from work, I could go with Ruth and Ashley to church. They left at about 2:00 in the afternoon to go to our ward that met at 2:30. But, instead, I decided to stall on my way home from work. That way, I would just walk home and lie down for a nap. And I did that.

But when I got home and I lay down, I couldnt sleep. I realized that the testimony and the zeal that had always been part of me werent there anymore. I remember getting off the couch, kneeling down, pleading for forgiveness, and pledging that I would change.

The next day, I took a paperback copy of the Book of Mormon to the hospital so I could read in the scriptures every day, no matter what. And some days it was not very much—but every day I read something. I made a list of things I would do, including praying at least twice a day and going to church if my schedule allowed. And then within just a couple of weeks, that zeal and warmth of my testimony were back. I shudder to think what would have happened if Id continued down that course—if I had fallen asleep and found joy in skipping church. I believe our lives would have been very different


What did Elder Renlund do that allowed him to feel “the zeal and warmth” of his testimony again? Did he fast alone in the wilderness for 40 days? Did he take a trip to the Holy Land? Did he perform some dramatic act that reconnected him to the Spirit and fired up his personal Liahona?


No. Maybe those would have been impactful things to do, but he did what most of us could do, something that is within all of our reach.


He made sure he could read in the scriptures, specifically the Book of Mormon, every day without fail. 


He decided to pray at least two times a day.


He committed to attending Church whenever he could.


Small and simple things. Elder Renlund also said:


That experience, and many others, taught me about the importance of feeding myself spiritually. When I am struggling or busy, I need to lean in and do my best to engage in personal revelation. Those are the times when I need heavens help most in determining my priorities.


Sometimes, when people are challenged spiritually or otherwise, they feel the temptation to blame the gospel, or blame the church, or blame God. The do not consider, as Elder Renlund did, whether they are doing the small and simple things that bring about miracles and that will lead us on a straight course back to our Heavenly Father.


On Friday, President Russell M. Nelson, the president of the church and our living prophet, shared an important message about gratitude and the important of focusing on our blessings and not our challenges, especially during a year as distressing as this one. In addition to teaching this principle and inviting us to flood social media with messages of gratitude, he offered a prayer of gratitude to the Lord, providing a great example.


He explained why he decided to share this important message with us:


A few weeks ago, I woke in the middle of the night with the thought that I should offer a prayer of gratitude to God for all of His children around the globe. Thoughts flooded my mind of all of the things for which we should be grateful and how expressing that gratitude could become a healing spirit in our lives. As the inspiration came, specific details, including when and how I should share this message, came to my mind and heart. The video message shared today was not one that came by chance; it is one that came from heaven.

Since my service as President of the Church in 2018, one of the things the Spirit has repeatedly impressed upon my mind is how willing the Lord is to reveal His mind and will. The marvelous privilege of receiving revelation is one of the greatest gifts of God to His children—available to every one of us.

No matter who you are, you can pray to your Heavenly Father for guidance and direction in your life. If you learn to hear the Lord through His promptings, you may receive divine guidance in matters large and small.


Elder Renlund received revelation from Heavenly Father to help him rekindle his passion for worship.


Through revelation, President Nelson taught us that gratitude can be a way of reconnecting to the Spirit as well, and he has taught this for many years. In 2016, he said:


Saints can be happy under every circumstance. We can feel joy even while having a bad day, a bad week, or even a bad year!

My dear brothers and sisters, the joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives.

When the focus of our lives is on Gods plan of salvation and Jesus Christ and His gospel, we can feel joy regardless of what is happening—or not happening—in our lives. Joy comes from and because of Him. He is the source of all joy. We feel it at Christmastime when we sing, Joy to the world, the Lord is come.” And we can feel it all year round. For Latter-day Saints, Jesus Christ is joy!


I want to repeat part of that message:


The joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives.


Why does this matter?


Because we cannot control all of the circumstances of our lives. Despite our best efforts, illness, hardship and other problems will ruin plans and expectations.

But we can choose where we focus our mental and spiritual energy.


Is the gospel different for some people than it is for others?


NO! The gospel of salvation, which proclaims the atonement of our Savior Jesus Christ, is a universal gospel. The promises of the Lord are totally reliable. The love that he has for us is unending. I testify to all of you that He knows who you are, as individuals. He wants you to hear HIM and he will teach you how to do that.


This is how we receive and maintain the strength to place the focus of our lives where it needs to be. This is not an empty self-esteem message to just think positive thoughts. This is the actual receipt of truth and spiritual strength through the power of Christ’s atonement.


The Holy Ghost WILL provide this knowledge, comfort, and peace if we seek it. If we are having a difficult time feeling that, we can ask ourselves a few questions:


“What am I doing that is helping me to hear His voice?”


“What am I doing that is making it harder for me to hear Him?


“What should I start doing to help me in the goal?


I’m going to stop for a moment so we can consider these questions for ourselves.


I hope that during my talk something has come to your mind, some answer to one of these questions or something else that will help you better hear the voice of the Lord in your life.


It is my testimony that Our Heavenly Father DOES speak to us, We can learn to hear that voice. We can make the small and simple choice EVERY DAY, to look to God. The way is prepared for all of us and if we will we can look to God and live.


I know that Jesus Christ is our Savior. I know that he knows me and loves me in spite of my many imperfections. The Holy Ghost has testified to me, in a manner clear and undeniable to me, that this is true.


This is my testimony, and I leave it with you in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

18 October 2017

On racism, Racism, Spencer and the First Amendment

I'm not a lawyer, and I'm far from an expert on the Constitution. So I'm just sharing my own, possibly unpopular, opinion.

I don't like Richard Spencer. He can use whatever label he wants for himself and his ideology, but he is a Racist. Some time ago I started to think in terms of little "r" and capital "R" racism. I have found the distinction helpful.

Little "r" racism (hereafter simply written "racism") is very common. Most of us possess it. racism is a function of the implicit biases that we all possess. These biases come from nature, as in our innate preference for grouping people according to obvious traits, documented in books like Nurture Schock. I'm white, he's black, she's Asian. We draw conclusions based on those distinctions. These biases can be learned, often indirectly through observing parents, friends and directly through media, school, and other forms of instruction and indoctrination.  Some of these conclusions are correct, some incorrect. Some are simply unfair, based on ignorance. Some have an aspect of malice to them, but don't rise to the level of Capital "R" Racism (Racism from now on).

The distinction for me between racism and Racism is a question of mindfulness or intent. The Racist possesses explicit biases that inform their actions and thinking. They actively view their world through the prism of that bias, rather than being indirectly influenced by it.

White Supremacy is a Racist ideology. Nazism is Racist. Richard Spencer is Racist

The First Amendment allows someone to be Racist. It doesn't protect them from the consequences of their Racism, but as deplorable as it is, our Constitution allows them the right to that belief. In fact, they are guaranteed the right to express that belief. That right is not without cost or consequence, as stated above, but the government does not, and should not, legislate belief.

I don’t want Richard Spencer to speak at the University of Florida tomorrow, but I think President Fuchs made the correct, difficult decision. I am among those who thinks the best outcome would be for Spencer to express his Racism into an empty room. People like him are fueled by the controversy they create. Any hint of violent opposition to his words is considered (by him) proof of their correctness.

I hope those in proximity to tomorrow’s event remember this. No one is justified who confronts speech with violence. All of us are responsible for our own actions. Those who support Racism, and then find themselves out of work or abandoned by friends and neighbors, are paying the price for their choices.

I won't be protesting Richard Spencer's event tomorrow. I have work to do, a school carnival to attend with my family, and church commitments to keep. Lacy and I will share our feelings with our children as we have in the past, exercising our freedom of expression in the most important venue we have- our home.

I wish safety for those who do protest, and for the many law enforcement officers and others who will keep the peace.

02 October 2017


I wrote today on my Twitter feed that
Like everyone I have spoken to, I frequently checked the news for updates, hoping to understand what prompted the attack, what the killer’s motivation might be.

In social media feeds, I frequently saw people remark how “the world is going crazy.” That is true, in many ways.

In other, very important ways, it is not.

We are much less likely to die prematurely today than at any other time in human history. There is less war, less crime, less disease, less poverty. We have seen wonderful acts of kindness and service following the recent hurricanes, and we will continue to see it.

The evil we see today is often carried out by individuals and small groups. Their motivations and ideologies are not broadly accepted. It is no less despicable for that fact, but I believe that these events seem more heinous precisely because we have been blessed by tremendous physical safety.

This doesn’t bring back those who died last night in Las Vegas, or heal the injuries of those who lived. But I stand with the millions who will help them recover, and there is great power in that association.

The horrific nature of these shootings does seem to represent a deepening evil, and we could spend a lot of time examining its roots. But I also see a compensatory good that rises in opposition to it, and that is what I want to recognize tonight.

18 August 2017


I'd like to write a few things about what has happened in Virginia and elsewhere. I'll start with a simple expression of wonder at the energy being expended to equate statuary with history. A monument is intended to commemorate a historical figure or event. Removing the statue or monument does not change history, but it does say something about how we view that history.

There is a right way to do this. Follow the rules, uphold the law if there is one related to the object in question, and move when appropriate. Otherwise you end up doing something stupid like this:

The Atlanta monument damaged by protesters Sunday night was erected in 1911 to urge reconciliation after the Civil War, not to venerate the Confederacy.

25 April 2017

The Truth in Fiction

I went to the movies twice last week and my experiences were pretty distinct. 

The first movie I went to was The Fate of the Furious. I was definitely entertained by the movie, as I have been since the first one came out when I was in college. I remember driving back to the house with my roommates (Tom & Justin) and definitely doing so in a manner "inspired" by what we'd watched.

I think the film franchise peaked with the 5th movie. The 6th and 7th were entertaining, trying to top the extremes reached in the climactic vault race through the streets. The 8th certainly exceeds the scope in some ways but it is not a better movie.

The longevity of the franchise is impressive, but I think it has caused a little too much praise for what these movies really are. I understand and often enjoy movies that require a high amount of disbelief suspension, but I feel like I had to try too hard this time. Maybe it began with the initial street race through Havana, imagining the kind of vibrant and romantic street racing scene that seems ludicrous in light of decades of communist repression. 

The bigger issue behind my Furious-fatigue is what I think is a lack of truth in the films. This is particularly evident as they've bent over backwards to explain the motivations of previous bad guys (like Jason Statham). Earlier movies, especially the first, have some realistic and relatable motivations behind the characters' behavior, beyond lazy storytelling.

This leads to my second trip to the theater, to watch The Lost City of Z. This is a good time to explain that when I say Fate of the Furious lacked truth, it doesn't mean that I am looking for documentary filmmaking. By the director's own admission, The Lost City of Z is not meant to be 100 factual. Time is condensed, characters combined to composites, and conversations are imagined. This is a requirement of condensing a story to a 2.5 hour runtime.

But even if a movie is not "true," it can contain truth, and I felt that truth in much of The Lost City. Even a scene which we know to be fabricated by the writer can convey truthful and relatable emotions. This is what makes a movie (or any story) special and enduring.

I don't know that The Lost City of Z will be considered a classic, but the themes it conveys are timeless, and I'm glad I could see it.

06 March 2017

In which I no longer resemble Kevin James (or the lies we tell ourselves)

I bet most of you have heard of the idea that we all have a doppelganger. For some people, mine was Kevin James:

My reaction to this comparison usually followed a pattern:
1. It's because he's funny, right? Because I'm funny?!?
2. We kind of have similar hair?

Eventually I would accept the real reason- We were both kind of fat. But it was the friendly kind of fat, the jovial sort, well-distributed and just part of the package.

Just before Isaac was born, in March 2010, I went to the gym and decided to check my weight on the scale. I was waiting behind a former Gator quarterback, a pretty lean guy who, at 6'3", tipped the scales at 217 or so. I stood on the scale and saw 267 lbs.

I had become very relaxed in my exercise (I wasn't) and eating (I was), and it showed. Call it sympathy weight during the pregnancy, or laziness, but I was not taking good care of myself. I hadn't really admitted this yet, because I had become very good at lying to myself. My shirt is too small? Must have shrunk in the laundry. My knees hurt when I run? Old age comes to us all. This is a small sample of the kind of things that I would tell myself, rather than make difficult and necessary choices about my health. The photo below is from February 2010:

I was ready to make some changes, and started by running a few times each week, usually short distances. I didn't change my diet very much, but by August I implemented a program of eating and exercise (explained here in a February 2011 post). I had made a lot of progress over that year, and at that time was hoping to get below 200 lbs. By June of 2011 I had gotten there, and set a new goal of 195 and then 190. It took me quite a while to hit it "officially," but I did so in May 2015.

So I set a new goal, 185, and I'm still working on it. I can now say that I've lost 80 lbs since the day in March 2010 when I saw 267 on that scale. My goal is more than a weight number, even though those numbers still have a lot of power for me. I'm trying to get faster, stronger, and leaner.

I weigh myself every day, twice a day, though I only record my weight on Mondays and Fridays. I enter all of my meals in MyFitnessPal. I workout at least 5 times a week and love to track my activity on my Garmin watch. I'm more relaxed about my diet than I was 5 years ago, but I'm also trying to make better choices with my diet, not just focusing on the calorie number (though focus I do).

The lesson for me has been to protect myself from self-deception. The scale provides an objective measurement. By measuring and recording, the self-comforting (false) narrative that can be so tempting and easy to form dies in its infancy. More than anything, this has been the key to my ability to maintain and improve my health.

In addition to this (healthy) obsession, other things have changed for me:
  • I don't instantly start perspiring when I walk to my car in July- this is a big deal for this proud Floridian.
  • I have more energy- One of the things that inspired these changes was my desire to be a more energetic father to my kids. I also want to model a healthy lifestyle that might help them make better choices.
  • I'm a runner- It took me years to accept that the term applied to me. I have run a mile in less than 7 minutes twice, including this morning. Considering my 5th grade soccer coach called me "Slow Joe," I take real pride in this.
  • I feel good about how I look. It would be nice if it didn't matter, but it does (to me). 
I still see room to improve, and I don't think this desire goes away. In his wonderful little book on improvement, Dan Sullivan explains that we often focus on the Gap between where we are and where we want to be. By recording my progress and reflecting on it periodically I can see the progress I've made and focus on that, instead of just focusing on where I wish I was.

This might be the last thing I want to share this evening. Making improvements in my physical self has had an effect on my professional, emotional, and spiritual selves. It started by realizing that I wasn't happy where I was, and by stepping on a scale, giving myself the objective truth about why. 

Then I started moving.

26 February 2017

Movie Groovy

Many of my friends know this, but I once harbored ambitions of becoming a film director. For a number of reasons I took a different path. The bottom line is that I realized I was someone who just really liked movies.

I used to follow the Oscar race very closely, but it has less personal significance than it used to. The ceremony itself is pretty bloated, and I don't find the self-congratulatory aspects very compelling. But I do have some opinions this year.

Of the 9 best picture nominees, I've seen Arrival, Hidden Figures, and La-La Land.

I thought Arrival was a great movie. Very thought-provoking, beautifully shot. It stayed with me and was very emotionally resonant. Original and unexpected, and I would be happy if it won.

Hidden Figures is a truly wonderful story. Great performances and solid execution. It doesn't feel like a special movie in the sense that it is very conventional in its storytelling and style. It deserves the level of commercial sucess it has attained. It is unlikely to win, but the importance of the story, and the timing, would justify a win.

I loved La-La Land. It's not a perfect movie but it deeply affected me. Before we left to go home I had added the soundtrack on Apple Music so Lacy and I could listen on the way home. Occasionally I play the long epilogue track and the feeling that came with those scenes returns.

I shouldn't have enjoyed it as much as I did. I enjoy musicals, but it's not my favorite genre. It has a bittersweet ending, with characters making choices I would not have made. But it felt real, while very much a modern kind of fantasy. It even made me more fond of Los Angeles, which is an accomplishment,

It has been criticized lately, which often happens when popular entertainment doesn't achieve the level of importance that the cognizenti would prefer.

It is likely to win. There may be better films among the other nominees. Not having seen them, I'll root for the fools who dream.

30 January 2017

Huddled Masses

I haven't written about politics here since Fidel Castro died, and haven't touched domestic politics since just after the election. Partly I was tired of it and given the strong feelings on left and right, I didn't want to alienate anyone. At heart, I'm a diplomat. I'm not afraid of conflict, but I find it counterproductive. It's a lot harder to find compromise, and I like a challenge.

I want to look at Trump's immigration order in a few ways. My feelings on the subject can be mirrored by an excellent column by Walter Russell Mead and Nicholas Gallagher. A small excerpt:

Not since Franklin D. Roosevelt has an American President done anything so cruel and bigoted. And only Barack Obama has exhibited this degree of callous indifference to the suffering of the Syrian people. President Trump signed an executive order on Friday suspending the admission of refugees from Syria indefinitely, suspending the U.S. refugee program for 120 days, and restricting immigration from parts of the Muslim world. Implementation failures—chaos and screw-ups at various airports as low-level officials wrestled with what the new order meant—compounded the callousness.  
The timing was far from auspicious. Friday was Holocaust Memorial Day, and the symbolism was too great to ignore. On Twitter, the account @Stl_Manifest, which tweeted one at a time the stories of the European Jewish refugees whose ship was turned away from the United States in 1939, and most of whose passengers later perished in the Holocaust, gained over 40,000 followers in a day and sparked commentary in outlets from Vox to USA Today. This history—that at the time of greatest need America’s “golden door” was slammed firmly shut—must haunt anyone who cares about basic human decency. Unfortunately, at a time when urgent problems around the world demand serious and searching thought, many people seem more interested in hang-wringing and virtue-signaling than in taking the time to think through refugee and migration policy. 
The real story of immigration and restriction, as opposed to the dumbed-down and sentimentalized hazy myths that pass for history in our impoverished national discourse, could not be more relevant to our times.
Mead and Gallagher's entire article is worth your time. It deconstructs a complex problem, and the sentence I highlighted is critical: "The dumbed-down and sentimentalized hazy myths that pass for history..."

Already, the focus on Trump's order has overshadowed what Mead and Gallagher call "Obama's feckless foreign policy." Obama often lamented the bad economy that he inherited from George W. Bush. Trump inherited a messy and ineffectual Syria policy that was well-explained in this piece by Rany Jazayerli. An excerpt:
One talking point we’re hearing a lot during Obama’s final days as president is that he avoided a scandal throughout his eight years in office, something no two-term president has been able to say going back to Eisenhower. I respectfully disagree. Nearly six years ago, unarmed, peaceful civilian protesters took to the streets in towns throughout Syria, as they had in Tunisia, and Libya, and Egypt, and Bahrain, as a generation of young Arabs exposed to democratic ideas through satellite television and the internet stood up to demand their inalienable rights from the tyrants who had oppressed them for generations. Within weeks of each other, peaceful protesters had overthrown dictators in Tunisia — a nation that stands today as arguably the most democratic the modern Arab world has seen — and Egypt, where in 2012 free and fair elections produced the first democratically appointed ruler in the country’s 5,000-year history before the nation backslid into autocracy again two years later. 
But in the other countries, protesters asking for ballots were met with bullets, and nowhere more so than in Syria by the Assad regime. Unarmed civilians were gunned down, or arrested and tortured before being killed, which led to more protests and more anger, which led to more killing, which led to civilians trying to defend themselves by any means necessary, which led to a full-on armed rebellion. Rebels of diverse religious and ideological backgrounds were united in opposing a tyrannical dictatorship that compensated for its lack of popular support with military firepower. Hundreds of killings become thousands, thousands became tens of thousands, the vast majority perpetrated by the Assad regime. 
And in the face of these killings, and despite considerable support from both sides of the aisle to do something to alleviate the slow-burning slaughter, President Obama chose to basically stand pat. (There have been diplomatic efforts; a trickle of weapons was sent by the CIA to moderate rebels after long delays and with many preconditions; in 2015, a plan to train up to around 5,000 rebels was scrapped after training about five — yes, five.) And no change in the facts on the ground would change his mind. Not the use of chemical weapons to kill more than 1,400 civilians, including many children. Not a death toll that reached almost half a million nearly a year ago. Not the wholesale destruction of cities that now resemble Dresden in 1945. Not the fact that 11 million Syrians — out of a total prewar population of 23 million — have been forced out of their homes. Not the fact that the Syrian apocalypse now ranks as the greatest humanitarian disaster the world has seen since World War II.
This is what Trump inherited. I disagree with his policy on this matter, but I can't deny that there is a problem. Mead and Gallagher address this in their piece:
This country needs a serious and humane immigration and refugee policy that is both enlightened and sustainable. We didn’t have it under Obama; we are unlikely to have it under Trump. Despite deporting hundreds of thousands of illegals, Obama never embraced the cause of defending America’s borders or regulating immigration in ways that clearly reassured marginalized American communities that the U.S. government was first and foremost committed to their welfare and to the defense of their way of life. And he never took responsibility for the ways in which his own repeated errors of judgment about the Middle East contributed to the mass refugee flows that he then tried to guilt-trip Americans into accommodating. Dumb cosmopolitanism leads to dumb nationalist reaction. The Obama years led to the Trump win—even as W’s years led to Obama. 
Bad foreign policy, not bad immigration policy, was the primary American contribution to the global disasters of the 1940s, the Holocaust very much included. This is also true today, and the need for an enlightened but grounded nationalism, as opposed to unicorn-hunting cosmopolitanism and braggadocious jingoism, is as strong and as urgent as it has ever been—but appears as much out of reach as it was in the 1930s. 
And so here we are: steering erratically into stormy waters, haunted by the cries of the refugees and the dispossessed, squabbling among ourselves as the clouds grow darker overhead. Not since the 1930s has the world, or American foreign policy, been in this much trouble. We are growing more angry and more bitter even as the need for clear thought and wise action grows.
There is a middle ground, and as Mead and Gallagher point out, it is not where we are going.Even if you think Trump's plan was a good move, the implementation was amateur-hour, and employed the same poor tactic (issuance of executive orders) that Obama was criticized for using. Human feeling aside, for someone with such limited political capital, Trump seems to be using it very poorly.

Finally, some thoughts from Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert. Adams has done a fantastic job of explaining why Trump was so effective at persuading people to support his candidacy. His take on Trump's approach to governance is worth your time.

 A final thought, from a leader of my church:

26 November 2016

He's Dead

I ate corn flakes with sugar tonight. I did it to remember my abuelitos (grandparents). I don't think that they ever ate corn flakes with sugar, but whenever I was at their house, that was my standard breakfast. And because their home was the only place I ever ate it, it seemed fitting to do it tonight. I wonder how they would have felt today.

This blog exists because I love the Spanish language and culture. I love Spanish because it is part of my heritage, as the son of a Cuban exile. I started an email list to share Spanish phrases with friends in 2002. It has been a long time since I have done a Spanish phrase, but the cause of liberty for Cuba has never been far from my heart.

I woke up early this morning and noticed the headline that Castro had died. I tweeted the following:

I have been thinking about Castro a lot today. I think that this Miami Herald obituary does an excellent job of exploring Castro's life without pretending that he was a good person.

He was not.

Canada's Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, made one of the worst comments on Castro's death that I have read:
It is with deep sorrow that I learned today of the death of Cuba’s longest serving President.Fidel Castro was a larger than life leader who served his people for almost half a century. A legendary revolutionary and orator, Mr. Castro made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation.While a controversial figure, both Mr. Castro’s supporters and detractors recognized his tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people who had a deep and lasting affection for “el Comandante”.I know my father was very proud to call him a friend and I had the opportunity to meet Fidel when my father passed away. It was also a real honour to meet his three sons and his brother President Raúl Castro during my recent visit to Cuba.On behalf of all Canadians, Sophie and I offer our deepest condolences to the family, friends and many, many supporters of Mr. Castro. We join the people of Cuba today in mourning the loss of this remarkable leader.
To say that Castro "served his people" as "Cuba's longest serving president" is a mind-numbingly stupid comment. As the Herald explained (emphasis added):
Millions cheered Fidel Castro on the day he entered Havana. Millions more fled the communist dictator’s repressive police state, leaving behind their possessions, their families, the island they loved and often their very lives. It’s part of the paradox of Castro that many people belonged to both groups.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/fidel-castro-en/article117186483.html#storylink=cpy
He was not an elected leader but:
He also was a ruthless dictator, the Maximum Leader who reneged on his promise of free elections, executed thousands of opponents, imprisoned tens of thousands, installed a Communist regime and made his island a pawn in the Cold War. His alliance with the Soviet Union brought the world to the brink of nuclear war in 1962.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/fidel-castro-en/article117186483.html#storylink=cpy
Castro did not have "dedication and love for the Cuban people," unless they adhered to:
"...an undemocratic government that represses nearly all forms of political dissent,” the independent group Human Rights Watch observed in 2008. “Cubans are systematically denied basic rights to free expression, association, assembly, privacy, movement, and due process of law.”

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/fidel-castro-en/article117186483.html#storylink=cpy
I'll conclude with some thoughts from the Wall Street Journal:
Castro’s Cuba exists today as a reminder of the worst of the 20th-century when dictators invoked socialist ideals to hammer human beings into nails for the state. Too many Western fellow-travelers indulged its fantasies as long as they didn’t have to live there. Perhaps the influence of Cuba’s exiles will be able, over time, to reseed the message of liberty on the island. But freedom starts by seeing clearly the human suffering that Fidel Castro wrought.

13 November 2016

My Answer

I've been thinking a lot about the turmoil that has followed the election. I've spoken to friends and others, some who are overjoyed and some who are deeply dismayed, and I've felt distressed by the divide. I have not felt either extreme. I'm very intrigued by the positive disruption that Trump may provide and also concerned about some of his proposals, but I don't feel fear or anger or joy. Maybe that's because I picked "none of the above" when the time came to vote. As I wrote the other day, I had accepted that either Trump or Clinton would win, with me supporting neither.

While in Church today, I read these words shared by a former leader of my Church, President Howard Hunter. He related a well-known story from the life of Jesus:
On one occasion while Jesus was teaching the people, a certain lawyer approached him and posed this question: “Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus, the master teacher, replied to the man, who obviously was well-versed in the law, with a counter-question, “What is written in the law? how readest thou?” 
The man replied with resolute summary the two great commandments: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.”
With approval Christ responded, “This do, and thou shalt live” (Luke 10:25–28).
I recognize that the fortunate circumstances of my life have provided me with many advantages and freed me from many worries. But that truth does not limit the truth of Christ's words to that lawyer (and all of us). My duty and honor is to love God, and to love my fellow man and woman. This leaves no room for hate or anger. To love is an activity that does not permit such emotional multitasking.

So that's my personal answer to this mess, and the standard against which I will judge my actions.

12 November 2016


I tend to trust film critic reviews, at least in the aggregate. While I willingly suspend disbelief at the movies, and as a result may be more forgiving than many, when a film has positive reviews I often agree. For this reason, I was looking forward to seeing Arrival.

I was not disappointed. From a technical standpoint it was really well done. There are very good performances from the actors and it is visually enthralling. It is conceptually similar to another recent film that I really enjoyed, but is better. I don't want to say anymore that might give too much away.

One reviewer mentioned that this story was welcome given the tumult of the last week. I can't disagree. Even in the absence of that, there is real human truth in it that would be welcome at any time.

Several hours later, I continue to contemplate it and the deep feeling it prompted. It is a great piece of work, a meaningful expression of the power of storytelling. It's worth your time.

08 November 2016


I'm watching early returns, and it's fascinating. At this point, there is a lot of time left and electoral history still favors Clinton. But what if Trump wins- what does it mean?

I didn't vote for Trump or Clinton, and by doing so I indicated a willingness to accept either candidate, while voicing my distaste for both. From the beginning (you can ask my family to verify) I have never feared either candidate. I have been concerned about certain implications, such as the Supreme Court under Clinton or a number of things under Trump, but I have never felt that our country was doomed in either case.

I have little patience for those who will attribute a Trump win, if it happens, to racism. There is an element of this behind some of his support, but it is so myopic to claim it can be attributed solely to that.

A Trump loss could be attributed to the failure of his message.

A Clinton loss should be attributed to the same failing.

Please avoid the urge to paint almost half of your fellow citizens by any broad brush. Don't rely on knee jerk analyses by people blinded by their own prejudice (and I'm speaking of both parties).

Whatever happens tonight, I continue to believe in a brighter tomorrow.

21 October 2016

Counting Votes

By this time, many of us are extremely tired of politics. The level of election fatigue we are experiencing is unprecedented. I've seen people take Facebook breaks, or wish they could mute everything political. I understand this feeling, but I have a different take on it. These feelings present a real opportunity. If enough of us are tired of the way this election has been handled, we should engage MORE, not LESS. Otherwise we will be back in the same situation in four years.

I understand why some would choose to support Clinton or Trump. I believe that you can make a moral and ethical case for why each candidate is the right choice. It really comes down to how you weight different priorities. For many Republicans, Trump represents the best option for preventing a Democratic takeover of the Supreme Court. For many Democrats, Hillary Clinton has the experience, credentials, and temperament to serve as President, representing many of the beliefs that are central to the party.

I happen to have different criteria than either of these positions, and as a result cannot support Trump or Clinton. So what do I intend to do on election day?

I will vote.

Since I find both of these candidates unacceptable, I think it is important to register my distaste with an officially counted vote for President. This limits my choices to one of several small party candidates or a registered write-in candidate. Up-and-coming candidate Evan McMullin is not an option because he is not a registered write-in candidate in Florida.

I will probably vote for Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party. I understand that this is a protest vote and that Johnson has no chance of winning. The Libertarian Party is a bit of a trainwreck, so this is not expressing my new party affiliation. However, my vote does need a home, and this is where it will probably go.

This brings us to an argument that we see often. Expressed by both Democrats and Republicans, it goes something like this:

"The winner will be either Clinton or Trump, so a vote for anyone other than Trump helps Clinton and a vote for anyone other than Clinton helps Trump."

I will vote for someone other than Trump or Clinton, understanding and accepting the statement above as fact. I don't think there is any reasonable scenario where Trump or Clinton is not president. Is it very likely that my vote, as someone who has voted Republican in every presidential election since I registered to vote, will help Hillary Clinton? It is.

But that does not mean that I should vote for Donald Trump.

The Republican Party has traditionally been a fair reflection of many of my political views. But the party is not my religion, it's politicians are not prophets, and its platform is not my doctrine. And during this electoral season, especially with Trump as nominee, the Party has moved away from me (and as a result, me from it).

I owe nothing to the Republican Party. I certainly owe nothing to Donald Trump. My vote is not something to be blindly bestowed on whichever candidate my party selects. The candidates job is to win that vote, through a combination of policy and demonstrated leadership. And neither major candidate as done so. I would be happy to discuss my specific concerns with anyone, but that's not the main purpose of this post.

As I said in an earlier post, I do not want Hillary Clinton to be President of the United States. But I am willing to accept that occurring if it means that a more effective and representative party emerges. For that to happen, Donald Trump has to lose, and badly. He will have himself to blame.

The Republican party needs to become something capable of winning presidential elections, or it needs to go away. I choose to use my vote to express that, and to me that counts for something.

07 October 2016

Reaping the Whirlwind

I wrote about why I didn't support Donald Trump back in March. That hasn't changed. I don't feel vindicated by the information that was published today about lewd comments Trump made years ago.  It is not surprising. Something like this was inevitable. So why should I feel good about being right? I find it depressing and completely predictable. And there is probably more to come.
It is too late at this point for the Republican Party to do anything about it. Elevating Pence to the top of the ticket? For what purpose? It's too late, and I'm no fan of Pence, whose acceptance of the role demonstrated poor judgement (or vain ambition). Why set him up to run in 2020? Just because he knows how to behave in public? No thanks.
2016 may well mark the end of the Republican Party as I've known it, or to the loyalty I've felt to it. This is saying something for someone who has often said he was "born Republican." Do GOP elites think that doing something drastic NOW will atone for this mess? To paraphrase a great spiritual leader, when it comes to repentance "the bandage must be as wide as the sore." The Republican Party must suffer through this to the bitter end.
I don't want Hillary Clinton to be President of the United States, but at this point she should win. And we deserve the result. I believe in our system, I believe in the Constitution. I believe in our country. I'll keep working hard, taking care of my family, and enjoying the rich relationships that continue to make life here beautiful and worthwhile. I have a lot to be grateful for.