Favorite Sports Movie

I’m off to another meeting in Bangor today, so time is tight. But I thought it would be interesting to have a quick discussion topic. Favorite sports movie of all time.

There are a few movies that jump to mind right away, of course. Hoosiers, Field of Dreams, Rocky, Chariots of Fire, Rudy, Caddyshack, Raging Bull. I love a good come from behind victory. I love character building stories. But I’m always amazed at some movies that I have missed.

(For example, I just asked a friend this question, and he mentioned Escape to Victory. A movie where Sylvester Stallone is a POW in a Nazi camp, and he organizes a soccer game against the Nazis to cover their escape. I have literally never heard of that movie before in my life. How have I been missing out all this time? This sounds almost as good as Over the Top, where Stallone is a truck driver entering an arm wrestling tournament.)

In any case, my personal favorite sports movie has got to be The Natural. Robert Redford. Adaptation of a fantastic book by Bernard Malamud. I must have watched that movie at least seven or eight times over the course of my life. I love everything about it. The acting The writing. The soundtrack. The story. The cinematography. Just a fantastic movie, though at this time, it probably retains the top spot out of nostalgia more than anything. Movies I watched when I was younger just have an easier time of the competing in lists like this.

Anyway. What’s your favorite? It has to be primarily about sports, but I’d love to hear what you love, and why.

On the High Council

I alluded to this tangentially in my post earlier this week, when I put up my talk from Sunday. (One of my most-viewed Sunday talks ever, might I add. Apparently there are a lot of people who are thinking about that topic!) But I recently received a new calling in church.

For context (and since it’s been a while since I posted about this), the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS/Mormon) is a lay priesthood. What that means is that we don’t have any paid clergy (except at the highest levels of church organization). So local church members end up filling roles in congregations. Organists. Bishops. Teachers. That sort of thing. We call these roles “callings,” and they are switched from time to time, by inspiration. So someone who’s been the Bishop of a ward for five years might switch callings and become the teacher of the seven-year-olds, just like that.

Since I’ve been in Maine, I’ve had several callings. I’ve been a Sunday School teacher, Elders Quorum President, Seminary Teacher, Ward Mission Leader, Teacher Training Facilitator, and more. Back in August, I received word I would be getting a new calling: High Councilor.

What does this mean? It means I’ll be one of a group of people who organize the work of the church in this area (the Bangor Maine Stake). I’ll be assigned a ward (not where I go to church usually) to watch over and help train and visit at least once a month. I’ll be assigned a congregation to deliver a talk to once a month, sometimes as far east as Machias, or as far north as Lincoln. (Does the stake go further north than that? I’m not honestly sure.) Machias is about a 3.5 hour drive, give or take, but I likely won’t be going there very often. I’ll also be assigned some part of the church body to supervise and shepherd along. (ie Young Mens, Primary, Sunday School, etc.)

Honestly, I don’t truly understand all of what I’ll be doing myself just yet. This is a level of church leadership that I’ve formerly only observed from afar, and so I’ll need to figure out some of it as I go along. It’ll certainly be an adventure, and it will be an additional item to devote some of my time to each week. Still, I believe these callings come through inspiration, and so I accepted it, despite having felt like I was already super busy before the call came in.

To become a High Councilor, I had to be ordained a High Priest. (There are several levels of the priesthood in the LDS faith. Deacon, Teacher, Priest, Elder, then High Priest, and a couple beyond there.) The last time I was ordained to a higher level was when I was 19 and became an Elder, almost 20 years ago. Up until that point, it had been a regular occurrence. (I became a Deacon at 12, Teacher at 14, Priest at 16, and Elder at 19, all typical ages for such ordinations.) So being ordained once again reminded me of all those earlier ordinations twenty years ago.

I’m excited to see how this all works. I’m not really worried about the talks, though typically they’re 20 minutes long, which is a hefty talk to prepare each month. Expect to see one of those from me more regularly now. (I think we have October and November off, however. So maybe not another until December?)

Practically, there will be a lot more driving and meetings in my future. I’ll be away quite a few Sundays and sometimes during the week. As always has been my experience in the church, I feel like things seem much more sacred and inspired until you’re suddenly in the room being part of decisions. Then you discover that we’re all doing our best to follow inspiration, just the same as everyone else. But there’ll be more time to talk about that in a later post, no doubt.

In the meantime, I’ve got to get back to work. Thanks for reading, and all prayers and best wishes are greatly appreciated. I’m sure I’ll need them.

Thank You to the Voters

The slashed budget came up for a vote yesterday. It was representing almost $1 million in cuts for the coming year, and I was very concerned what would happen if it passed. Needless to say, I was on edge the whole day. My gut told me the budget hawks were already bringing out as many people to the polls as they could. The big question in my mind was how many people the school supporters could really turn out. We’d seen some great response the last few weeks, but none of it matters if people don’t show up to vote.

The result?

Our opposition increased their turnout by 12.5%. They had one of their strongest showings, with 1,608 votes in their favor. But that’s about where they’ve fallen in before. Our side increased turnout by 124.3%. Read that number again. We more than doubled our support, bringing in 2,893 votes. So we ended up defeating the slashed budget by 1,285 votes. 64% opposed to 36% in favor.

Naturally I’m ecstatic. It felt so validating to have so many people turn out to show their support. Though I will admit 36% is still a very concerning number to me. It means that a full third of the community was totally ready and willing to accept the massive cuts that were on the table. I recognize many of them thought it was a bluff. That the school board would never really cut sports, drama, music, arts, and more. Up to 30 teaching positions. But they heard all of that and decided it was worth the risk anyway.

That’s troubling, and I think it speaks to how serious they are about the need to reduce spending. When a third of the community feels like that, I believe they should be listened to. Not that we should go through with all the cuts they wanted, but they need to be recognized and feel like their voice was heard. Otherwise, the rift only grows greater.

And we’re going to need some mended fences to come together, because we’re not done yet. From here, the school board goes back to the drawing board to see what sort of a budget they want to propose next. (The fourth such proposal.) That will then go to another budget meeting, where the public can vote to approve it or change it. And then that final budget will need to be voted on one more time.

Hopefully, that budget will be one that spares the schools from massive cuts, but reassures voters who are concerned about spending increases. Communication will be key.

And turning up to vote, both at the meeting and at the polls, will remain essential.

But for today, I’m just relieved and happy. Celebrations are in order, and then it’s back to work. Thanks to everyone for their words of support and encouragement. It really means a lot.

A Comparison of School District Budget Spending in Maine

There’s a consistent complaint aimed at my school district: it’s spending too much. It’s out of control. It’s trying to compete with rich districts in southern Maine. And budget hawks come up with any number of statistics to try and support this. The budget is up millions in a few years! Our administration has gotten huge raises! Grab your pitchforks and torches!

On the flip side, I’ve heard school supporters continually claim we’re well below our peers, and that the district is very careful with its money.

Both sides can’t be right. So instead of buying into the hype on either side, I did what I wish everyone would do in cases like these: I looked into the matter myself. The Department of Education in Maine publishes all the relevant data. You can look at it all here. And with a bit of research, you can interpret that data by region, comparing it to a map of the districts here. For 2015-2016′s budget (the most recent published), I compared my district to each of the surrounding districts, going on the assumption that those districts closest to us would be the fairest peers to compare ourselves to. Here’s how it broke down

  • RSU 9 (Mount Blue): 10,277.85
  • RSU 58 (Philips/Strong): 10,947.24
  • RSU 74 (New Portland): 11,305.85
  • RSU 59 (Madison): 11,712.27
  • RSU 54: (Skowhegan) 11,111,91
  • RSU 18 (Belgrade): 10,504.59
  • RSU 38 (Mount Vernon): 11,127.93
  • Fayette: 9,980.68
  • RSU 73 (Jay): 11,094.05
  • RSU 10 (Rumford): 14,470.53
  • Average: 11,348.78

And here’s that in graph form:

Per Pupil

You’ll see numbers that don’t match that graph. It’s because they’re made up by people who want to tilt the scales one way or the other. The official Per Pupil Operating Costs are calculated by the state by excluding major capital outlay, debt service, transportation, and federal expenditure. Why is it calculated that way? Because it’s the best way to compare apples to apples.

For example, our district recently constructed or renovated two buildings. The state pays for the bulk of the cost (something like $5.5 million of the $6 million cost), but that isn’t reflected in the bottom line of our budget, which shows *all* costs of the district, including those covered by the state. To include that number when trying to compare per pupil operating costs would warp the data. It would make it appear Mount Blue is spending far more on its students than it actually is.

Which, of course, is why budget hawks try to do just that when they do their calculations. Try to tell them about the state figures, and they get all huffy, trying to discredit the state. “They don’t know what they’re doing. It’s all mumbo jumbo.” Well it isn’t.

We’re told our district’s budget has been skyrocketing while every other district’s in the state hasn’t. Again: not true. The average annual increases for the past fourteen years?

  • 3.2%
  • 4.0%
  • 5.0%
  • 2.9%
  • 1.0%
  • -0.3%
  • 0.4%
  • 2.6%
  • 6.1%
  • 6.5%
  • 5.7%
  • 5.5%
  • 4.3%
  • 5.4%

The dip in numbers is around the Great Recession. Which was the last time the school board was under fire, except back then it was because they were trying to cut the budget too much(!) It’s just getting more expensive to teach kids in an age of rapidly advancing technology and rising utility costs. I wish it weren’t so, but it is. And that applies across the board.

The fact is, every single time I try to look into what’s actually happening in the district, I discover the school board has been open and honest in its presentation, and the detractors have been warping and misleading the public. Their whole campaign to reduce the budget is built on misinformation and outright lies. (What’s the difference? I’ll give people the benefit of the doubt when they first state something. That’s just misinformation. But when they’ve been corrected and shown the accurate information and persist in spreading that misinformation? Then they’re just lying.)

Don’t buy what they’re selling. Vote no today!

Resisting Conformity in Church

I had the chance to give another talk in church on Sunday (more on that later, when I have more time to post), and as is my habit, I’m presenting that talk to you here. It’s based on a talk by President Uchtdorf entitled “Perfect Love Casteth Out Fear.” Here’s my ten minutes on the subject:

This past April, President Uchtdorf gave a talk on fear. He speaks of the importance of avoiding using fear as a motivating factor in our lives, particularly within the Church. It’s a fantastic talk, as his so often are, but after I read it over in preparation for my talk today on the same topic, I realized I wasn’t quite sure what people in the Church are really afraid of.

Some things are clear. We’re afraid of getting callings we don’t want. Afraid of being assigned to speak in church. We’re obviously afraid of damnation and hellfire, or falling short of our potential. We’re afraid of disappointing ourselves or our leaders. Afraid of saying the wrong thing.

But as I looked at each of these fears in turn, they didn’t feel right as a topic to base my talk around. President Uchtdorf mentions much more serious fears. People who use unrighteous dominion to manipulate family, friends, and church members into doing things. Emotional and physical abuse both use fear as a common tool. Guilt is another flavor of fear often employed in life and the Church.

And while these are all topics I could speak on at length, they still didn’t click for today. And then I came across another idea.

Sometimes one of the biggest fears we may have in the church is the fear of being different. There is a strong pull in the church’s culture for all of us to dress the same, look the same, speak the same, believe the same, and act the same, and when someone shows up who doesn’t fit the norm, it can feel like the old Sesame Street game. One of these things is not like the other. One of these things just doesn’t belong.

If a man shows up to church without a tie on, or a woman attends in slacks, how long does it take before some well meaning member goes up to them to explain what they’re doing wrong? And yet what actual direction are we given for dress standards? We are told repeatedly to be well groomed and modest. That our appearance and clothing should show reverence and respect for the Lord. They should be tasteful and appropriate for the activity. The closest the handbook gets to dictating style and actual articles of clothing comes when it instructs priesthood holders on how to dress when preparing, blessing, and passing the sacrament.

Let’s play a quick game. Try to guess what exactly the handbook says about this. We know what young men typically look like. White shirts and ties. What if a young man were to wear a blue shirt? What if he were to wear no tie at all? Would that matter? The handbook suggests priesthood holders have ties and white shirts, because they add to the dignity of the ordinance. And yet it notes “they should not be required as a mandatory prerequisite for a priesthood holder to participate.”

Think about that. If even the sacred ordinance of the Sacrament only has suggestions for a dress code, how strictly do you think God really is when it comes to caring what you’re wearing? I would say He cares much more about what you’re feeling, believing, and doing. This isn’t to say we should all start showing up to church in our gardening clothes. The instruction to be well-groomed, modest, and reverent is still clear. But remember that the definition of well-groomed and reverent could well mean very different things to very different people. And they could both be right. It is not my job to inflict my definition on others.

The drive to conform extends to many areas of the Church. One of the times I felt its sway the most in my life was when I entered the Missionary Training Center. I think we all have an idea in our heads of how missionaries should behave, speak, and dress. I know I did. And for the first week or so, I tried very hard to conform to that picture in my head of the ideal missionary. It was difficult, and it didn’t feel natural to me. Those who know me know I enjoy a good joke and like to use a light mood to make work more pleasant. And I was struggling to maintain a facade. One where I was nothing more than a cog in the machinery of the missionary program.

One evening, I finally couldn’t take it. I knelt in my bed and prayed. Hard. I was praying for the strength to accept my new position and learn how to adapt to it. I wasn’t trying to get out of it or escape any duties or obligations. I was just looking forward at the next twenty four months and asking for assistance to make it through them. Suddenly, I felt an overwhelming feeling of peace and acceptance. And just like that, I realized something. I had been called on my mission because I was unique. God knew my personality. My strengths and weaknesses. To be the best missionary I could be didn’t involve changing myself to fit some ideal form or mold that all missionaries must conform to. It meant improving myself, yes, but in the end, I was called for my differences, not for my similarities to everyone else.

Still, even with those experiences, and even trying to always keep in mind that I should be accepting of others’ differences, there are times that I wonder what in the world other people are thinking or doing. Not just my friends outside the Gospel, but my friends within it. Their tastes, their activities, their politics–their entire way of life in some cases seems almost antithetical to the one I have chosen to lead. And I don’t just mean Red Sox fans. But at times like these, I think back to another experience: Timpanogos.

If you’ve been to Provo, you’ve seen Mount Timpanogos. It’s a huge monster of a mountain, just to the East as you pass the Point of the Mountain. Its peak reaches 11,752 feet into the sky, more than double Mount Katahdin’s 5,269. It’s a 7.5 mile hike one way to reach the summit, with an elevation gain of 4,580 feet. When I was about twelve years old, I hiked to its summit. I use the term “hike” rather loosely, because by the end, it basically consisted of me taking five or six steps and then sitting down to rest for a minute or two before repeating the process.

But the hike has stayed with me for a number of reasons. It’s one of the most challenging physical things I have done, but more importantly, it gave me a new view on life.

From the top of a mountain like that, you feel like you’re on top of the world. You can see for miles. The air was crisp, and the wind strong, and I could look down any direction and see the valleys below me. Up on top of a mountain, you stand at the center. The destination. If your goal is to reach the peak, any path up the side will get you there. Some of them might be much more challenging than others. Some of them might be easier on the knees. It all depends on your personal ability and where you started.

It’s the same way in life. We can all be heading to an identical goal, but we can and will all take very different paths to reach that goal. If my path is going right at the time when someone else’s is heading to the left, the solution isn’t for us to get together and decide on the exact same direction to turn at once. We’re both on different paths. We can counsel and advise, but the ultimate guide for each of us is the Holy Ghost, not popular opinion. We can and will receive detailed, tailored instruction direct from our Heavenly Father, and we should pay close attention.

So. Fear of conformity should not be something that dominates our lives. What can we do about it? For one thing, we can stop going around encouraging others to conform. The “kindness begins with me” principle. But beyond that, President Uchtdorf gives us a key:

“If we ever find ourselves living in fear or anxiety, or if we ever find that our own words, attitudes, or actions are causing fear in others, I pray with all the strength of my soul that we may become liberated from this fear by the divinely appointed antidote to fear: the pure love of Christ, for ‘perfect love casteth out fear.’”

I believe that when we feel that need to conform, it’s often just a symptom of our own uncertainty. Could God really love us for who we are, even with all of our mistakes? It’s easy to look around at everyone else and see how happy they all seem to be. How content. This is particularly true in this day of social media.

Academics at Yale and the University of California did a study earlier this year that found that greater than average use of Facebook decreases both happiness and mental health. One of the causes for this is that the things we read on Facebook are generally carefully curated. After all, who wants to go online and talk to the world about how their marriage is falling apart, their children joined the circus, and their job might be letting them go at any moment. So when we go to Facebook, all we see is confirmation that everyone else leads a perfect life while ours is in total shambles.

When faced with that, is it any wonder we start thinking we’re doing something wrong, and that we’d probably be better off if we just started shaving off our corners so we could fit into more round holes?

President Uchtdorf says, “Christ’s perfect love allows us to walk with humility, dignity, and a bold confidence as followers of our beloved Savior. Christ’s perfect love gives us the confidence to press through our fears and place our complete trust in the power and goodness of our Heavenly Father and of His Son, Jesus Christ.”

Doctrine and Covenants 121:45 states “Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.”

Remember Moroni 7:47: “But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.”

The answer to the fear of non-conformity is charity. As we have charity, we will be able to look past the differences of others and see their desires of their hearts. As we have charity, we will accept our own differences and embrace them, confident that God does the same for us.

I didn’t set out to write a talk on charity. The word isn’t mentioned once in all of President Uchtdorf’s talk. But looking back on it, it’s so obvious to me I wonder how I didn’t see it right off.

May we all be charitable to each other and to ourselves. May we guide our lives with love and not fear is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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