Friday, February 24, 2012

The Star Spangled Banner by Francis Scott Key

Oh, say can you see by the dawn's early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
A home and a country should leave us no more!
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust."
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Here's a beautiful rendition of The Star Spangled Banner by Alex Boye, a member of The Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  He sang this at his naturalization ceremony as he became a citizen of The United States of America.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Running Quotes

I was just going to post these running quotes and make this a simple blog post.  But, then I remembered something a couple of my sisters said to me about my posts recently.  They compared me to Dr. Doofenshmirtz from “Phineas and Ferb” because like the evil doctor I always add a back-story to my story.  So, here’s my back-story to this story…

As I was preparing to enter the Air Force back in 1999 I was recovering from a couple of years of newlywed/college diet—a lot of frozen burritos, meat pies, and ice cream.  I started what then seemed to be a vigorous running program, sometimes getting up to just above three miles.  The running, combined with a healthier diet, paid the desired dividends as I lost the weight necessary and entered the Air Force.  For the next eight years I ran on a regular basis increasing my distance to five miles and even once hitting eight miles.

A couple of years after I left the Air Force I still maintained what I considered a strong running program, often getting in three to five miles four or five days a week.  I was happy with my status as a very amateur runner.  In December 2010 I received the fateful phone call that continues to haunt (bless) my life.  My dad called and asked a question, a question that was very difficult to answer:

“Are you tough enough to run a marathon with me?”

He informed me that he was running in the Ogden Marathon coming up that May.  Despite common sense screaming in my head to say no, I acquiesced.  The training program kicked in right away.  My first run over ten miles, excuse the pun, was a milestone for me.  By the time I put in my first eighteen mile run I was pretty impressed with myself.

Now, two years later I’ve put in three marathons, three Ragnars, a couple of half marathons, and a few other races.  Currently I’m training for my fourth marathon and another Ragnar.  Most of the family, to include my wife, my father, my sisters, my cousins, and some friends are involved.  It’s been great.  It’s been painful. 

"Running is a big question mark that's there each and every day. It asks you, 'Are you going to be a wimp or are you going to be strong today?'"
- Peter Maher, Canadian marathon runner

"Running long and hard is an ideal antidepressant, since it's hard to run and feel sorry for yourself at the same time. Also, there are those hours of clearheadedness that follow a long run."
-Monte Davis

"You also need to look back, not just at the people who are running behind you but especially at those who don't run and never will... those who run but don't race...those who started training for a race but didn't carry through...those who got to the starting line but didn't in the finish line...those who once raced better than you but no longer run at all. You're still here. Take pride in wherever you finish. Look at all the people you've outlasted."
- Joe Henderson

"When it's pouring rain and you're bowling along through the wet, there's satisfaction in knowing you're out there and the others aren't."
-Peter Snell

"There's no such thing as bad weather, just soft people."
-Bill Bowerman

"Those who think they have not time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness."
-Edward Stanley

"Many people shy away from hills. They make it easy on themselves, but that limits their improvement. The more you repeat something, the stronger you get."
- Joe Catalano

-       Clarence DeMar

-       John Bryant

To keep from decaying, to be a winner, the athlete must accept pain - not only accept it, but look for it, live with it, learn not to fear it.
- Dr. George Sheehan

The truth is that running hurts.
- Unknown

I can do even better
- John Landy
"To describe the agony of a marathon to someone who's never run it is like trying to explain color to someone who was born blind."
Jerome Drayton

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Memory Lane and Wrestling

This weekend my family and I came up to Provo from Henderson, NV.  My nephew, Brady Farnsworth, was set to win the state wrestling title for his weight class in 1A high schools.  I knew months ago I wanted to be there to support him in his attempt.  Almost equally important, it was one of those great opportunities to live vicariously, albeit for a brief moment, through someone else.

From first grade through seventh grade I was a very active wrestler.  Never anything special, I nonetheless managed to rack up more wins than losses during that period.  During that time I owe any success I had in the sport primarily to Dave Moat, my good friend’s dad and long time Duchesne High School wrestling coach.  Each year Coach Moat offered wrestling classes for the elementary age boys in the community.  We would have wrestling practices for a short period followed by a tournament.  I loved the sport and tried to be involved as often as I could.  Coach Moat and his son Brandon often invited me over to their house for additional practices and they would drag me along to tournaments in different places. Of course I owe so much to my parents for their willingness to cart me around to and from practices and tournaments.  My dad was always my best wrestling partner.

By the time junior high rolled around, I was a solid wrestler, again nothing special, but decent.  In eighth grade our family moved to Florida.  Disappointment set in as I realized that my middle school and high school did not have a wrestling program.  For three years I focused my athletic efforts solely on football and weightlifting.  My junior year I moved back to Duchesne.  By the time wrestling season rolled around, my nerves were in disarray in anticipation of stepping out onto the mat by myself.  In practice I quickly learned that wrestling is a perishable skill and mine had three years to stagnate.  But I jumped back into it anyway.

My junior year was rough with only a few wins and a lot of humiliation.  Things improved a bit my senior year and I even made it to the state tournament.  Looking back on those two years of what many would consider unsuccessful wrestling, I wouldn’t trade them away.  Great lessons come from loss and from being around those who put personal success and failure on the line.

Wrestling is unique among high school sports.  All the others are based strongly on team effort, providing valuable lessons in working together and sharing success and failure.  Wrestling teaches personal responsibility in a way that few high school sports can.  When a wrestler walks out onto the mat, he carries with him the knowledge that any success or failure he experiences are his alone for that particular match.  Sure he’s had people teach him and show him how to wrestle.  Of course others have encouraged and helped him to work hard and control his diet to maintain weight.  But, on that mat only his efforts will matter.  It’s a one on one contest between two wrestlers who, in most cases, have had equal amount of time to prepare for that season.  Sometimes it comes down to who has the heart to push through the pain and struggle of the last minute of the third round.

Back to the 2012 Utah State High School Wrestling Tournament.  My nephew wrestles for Altamont High School, my alma mater’s biggest rival in the Uintah Basin.  The first day of the tournament, I found myself sitting in Longhorn territory.  As many of my former classmates and fellow Eagles can imagine, it wasn’t an entirely pleasant experience but I was there for Brady.  He wrestled first, being in the 106 lbs. weight class.  His first round match was against tall kid from Wayne that he hadn’t before wrestled.  All of us were a bit nervous but none of us were as nervous as Korey, Brady's dad.  He had poured his heart and soul into giving Brady the opportunity of being a great wrestler.

He pinned him about 40 seconds into the first round.  The next round was the semi-final.  I don’t remember where the kid was from but Brady pinned him in the first round as well.  Brady is a powerful and quick wrestler, quick to take control and dominate the match while remaining patient enough to avoid costly mistakes.

In between matches my sister pointed down to a nearby section.

“Jarad, there’s Dave Moat.”

I hadn’t seen him in over 10 years.  Jumping up I headed down.  I was relieved when he recognized me since I no longer meet the parameters to wrestle at 160 lbs as I did my senior year.  Coach Moat spent over 30 years at Duchesne High School, teaching English and coaching wrestling and track.  It was great to get caught up with him and reminisce a bit.  We talked about his children and grandchildren and about his amazing parents who were in my home ward growing up in Duchesne.  His son Cody was at the tournament as a coach for Millard High School down in Fillmore.  It was the most relaxed I had ever seen Coach Moat at a wrestling tournament.  He was enjoying watching the matches and playing with his grandchildren.  I also had the chance to speak with his wonderfully kind wife for a few minutes.  The experience reminded me how grateful I am to all those who helped me along as a young man. 

After my conversation with Coach Moat I visited with Justin Robb, a good friend and teammate from football.  He married Whitney Farnsworth, one of Korey’s cousins and now lives up in the Altamont area.  He joked about how he still bleeds blue and has a difficult time cheering for Altamont.  We shared some good laughs about the present and the past.

It was fun to watch the current coaching staffs of the Duchesne and Altamont wrestling teams.  Today, Mike Foy, a great athlete at Duchesne (a few years before my time) is now one of the coaches at Altamont.  He works hard to teach the boys how to wrestle and the value of hard work.  At the same time Bobby Bird, a former Altamont wrestler, coaches the Duchesne team with Kelly Kielbasa.  Both work hard to coach their boys as well. 

On Saturday evening all of the Van Wagoner clan was gathered together to watch Brady wrestle for the state championship round.  The only one missing was Marcelo, Janalee’s husband.  We took up a big chunk of a section waiting anxiously for the match.

I knew I wouldn’t be able to sit through the match so I stood up at the back near my dad and a few others.  While standing up there I ran into a few other good friends and neighbors from back in the day.  Growing up in a small town is great for several reasons.  It gives many a sense of belonging and kinship that you won’t find in bigger communities.  I had a good chat with Shon McKinnon.  He’s as friendly as ever.  My dad and I visited with Travis Peatross.  The Peatross family, Travis and his father Ron in particular, had a significant impact on our family.  It was great to see someone after so many years and feel the affinity immediately.

The championship round kicked off right at 5pm with a parade of champions.  All those wrestling for the state title came in first, by weight.  Brady and his opponent from Panguitch, both being in the smallest weight class and in 1A high schools, led the way.  All of the other wrestlers who made it to state followed them into the arena.  We all stood for their entrance and for the singing of the National Anthem. 

As the start of the match approached I felt my own adrenaline and nerves kick in.  As I mentioned previously, this was a vicarious moment for me.  I was bouncing from foot to foot, shaking my arms loose, and getting ready. Looking behind me I could see Korey in the dark by the bleachers, watching controlling his apprehension.  They called the wrestlers to the mat.  After the introductions and preliminaries the match was on.  Brady, as always, was quick to engage quickly locking up with his opponent.  They had wrestled each other before, so both had an idea of what to expect.  Brady was quick to get the take down and scored some near fall points a couple of times during the first round.  The Panguitch kid fought hard to keep his shoulders off the mat.  Second round.  Brady won the coin toss deferring to the other wrestler.  If I remember correctly, he chose to be down.  After 60 seconds into the second round Brady had him on his back again, scored some more near fall points.  The score was 11-0.  Brady turned him onto his back again fighting to hold him down.  His strength proved too much for his opponent as Brady pinned him.

Brady, as a freshman, won the state wrestling title for the 106 lbs weight class.  It was an amazing night for him, the reward of years of hard work and dedication.  It was an amazing night for his father who couldn’t have been prouder of what his son had just accomplished.  It was an amazing night for his mother who worked so hard to raise him and get him to all the places he needed to be.  It was an amazing night for all of his family, the Van Wagoners and Farnsworths, to experience his success together.

It was an amazing two days for me.  I was able to live vicariously through my nephew, to feel the exhilaration of his victories.  I was able to reflect on the value of friendships, old and renewed.  I was able to reflect on the value of family and the support we provide to one another.  I was able to reflect on how wonderful it was to grow up in place like the Uintah Basin.

My oldest boy Elijah is now in wrestling classes.  I hope to live vicariously once again through him…

- Jarad Van Wagoner

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Charge of The Light Brigade By Alfred, Lord Tennyson

I love this poem especially after visiting the battlefield a few times in recent years.

The Charge Of The Light Brigade

by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Memorializing Events in the Battle of Balaclava, October 25, 1854
Written 1854

Half a league half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred:
'Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns' he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

'Forward, the Light Brigade!'
Was there a man dismay'd ?
Not tho' the soldier knew
Some one had blunder'd:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do & die,
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley'd & thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.

Flash'd all their sabres bare,
Flash'd as they turn'd in air
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army while
All the world wonder'd:
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right thro' the line they broke;
Cossack & Russian
Reel'd from the sabre-stroke,
Shatter'd & sunder'd.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
While horse & hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro' the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wonder'd.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Embracing Optimism

In his book Standing for Something, President Gordon B. Hinckley, a past leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, addresses some neglected virtues that will help make our society and country a better place.  Politics and the free press thrive on cynicism and negativity, often at the expense of our well-being.  In his book President Hinckley offers the following:

"We are constantly fed a steady and sour diet of pessimism, faultfinding, second-guessing, and evil speaking one of another.  The pathetic fact is: Negativism sells.

"Some writers of our news columns are brilliant.  They are men and women of incisive language and scintillating expression.  They are masters of the written and spoken word.  Likewise, some television commentators are masters.  But some seem unable to deal with balanced truth, notwithstanding their protests to the contrary.  The attitude of many is negative.  With studied art, they pour out vinegar of invective and anger, judging as if all wisdom belonged to them.  Under the guise of analysis and informed opinion, they frequently dwell on their subjects' failings rather than their strengths.  If we took such pundits seriously, we might think the whole nation and indeed the whole world was going down the drain.  There have been times when a particularly heavy dose of such cynicism has caused me to reflect that surely this is the age and place of the gifted pickle sucker!"

We see this everyday in the media and online.  When pushing a cause or a candidate, or even just reporting on them, we often take the path of least resistance highlighting the negative rather than the positive.  If we can make someone or something else sound bad enough, then we assume that our stock will increase.  Unfortunately, the result is not so good.  Cynicism may help your idea win the day, but the cynicism remains, its acidic effect lingering.

As a people we need to spend more time seeking out that, which is good amongst us.  Our culture and our history lend themselves to the twin virtues of hard work and success.  Our challenges are real.  Today our economy is struggling and people are suffering.  The family is under attack weakening the foundation of our society.  As a nation we struggle to define the role of the government and the liberties of the people.  On the global stage we continue to experience unrest and war.  Take the time to pause, however, and think of our capacity for good, our capacity to meet our challenges and to correct our course.  President Hinckley, in the same chapter wrote:

“What might become of this land if we spoke less of its weaknesses and more of its goodness and strength, its capacity and potential?  Without doubt, we shall have days of trial.  So long as we have more politicians than statesmen, we shall have problems.  But if we will turn our time and talents away from vituperative criticism, away from constantly looking for evil, and will emphasize instead the greater good, America will continue to go forward with the blessing of the Almighty and stand as an ensign of strength and peace and generosity to all the world.  This is a great land, a choice land, a chosen land.”

Our current round of political campaigning is full of this negativism and the level likely will increase.  We live in a country of entrepreneurs who are willing to take risk in an effort to succeed.  They bring with them their ingenuity and creativity.  Our people have a heritage of hard work, of starting fresh, and restoring hope.  Our Constitution, our form of government, places the responsibility for our success or failure upon our own heads.  We can make the necessary changes; we can make the required adjustments.  Elections and political campaigns should be based on hope and optimism; hope for a tomorrow better than today. 

Optimism is of greatest value when combined with a healthy dose of reality.  We must work first to understand our problems.  Second we need to seek the best solutions to those problems.  Third, we need to move forward with the faith that we and those we elect can solve those problems.

This current election cycle we face some serious choices.  America has suffered some significant setbacks, mostly of our own making.  Our current leadership, in my opinion, is not qualified to fix the problems.  The change promised either wasn’t delivered or turned out to be something we didn’t expect.  It seems that some holding political office today have given up on the optimism, on the idea that America is and should be something special.  We can recover and rebuild and regain our forward momentum but we need leaders with the necessary optimism. 

Beyond the elections we must realize that the overwhelming bulk of our success must occur independent of our government and elected officials.  Our government should only serve as a referee in a system that allows us to pursue our interests freely.  It is our responsibility to do the work, to take the risks, and to succeed.   

President Hinckley continued:

“What I am suggesting is that we have had missing from our society a buoyant spirit of optimism.  What I am asking is that we turn from the negativism that so permeates our culture and look for the remarkable good in the land and times in which we live; that we speak of one another’s virtues more than we speak of one another’s faults; that optimism replace pessimism; that uncertainty and worry be pushed aside by an enduring feeling of hope.”

As we work to select the next President of the United States, let’s find the candidate who is a statesman, who loves America, who has optimism for her future, and who has a record of success to deal with the challenges at hand.  As we work to select our representatives in Congress, let’s look for the same.  Let each of us engage in the civil life of this country to solve our problems and make things better.  Let us support our free market system and elevate the value of ingenuity, hard work, and success.  Let us celebrate the value of the individual and the contributions of the individual.  Let us work and compete together with shared values of honesty and fair play.  We are no more limited today in our possibilities and opportunities than at any other time in our history as a nation.

We should speak out for our causes; we should do so with passion and decisiveness.  We should refrain from crushing negativism and instead embrace optimism.  We should support the candidates who represent our values and have the best chances of making a positive difference.  We should maintain civility in our discussions and mutual respect for those with different opinions.   

I don’t believe that our best days are behind us.  To admit that would be to admit that we’ve failed and that success is no longer possible.  I believe success, for us and our posterity, is possible.  I believe our best days are ahead of us.  I believe we are up to the challenge, that we have the right people with the right skills and virtues to push us forward.  I believe God Almighty has blessed this land and its people.  It is up to us to seek out the blessing, to work for it and to be worthy of it.  The choice is ours.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Books, Books, Books

Books constitute capital. A library book lasts as long as a house, for hundreds of years. It is not, then, an article of mere consumption but fairly of capital, and often in the case of professional men, setting out in life, it is their only capital.
Thomas Jefferson 

I love books, especially good books.  Books have provided me the opportunity to see, learn and experience things that I could never pull all together on my own.  How grateful I am that people are inspired to write down the information they gather and the stories that give insight into history and culture.  I love all types of books—fiction, non-fiction, current events, politics, history, science, biography.  Knowing that all that information is there for the taking keeps me up at night, quite literally. 

Time is limited.  There’s no way I’ll be able to read all the books that might interest me.  Over 33 million books are in the Library of Congress with around 300,000 new books written each year in the U.S.   Currently I am 36 years old.  By 2050 the average male life expectancy in the U.S. will be around 80 years old.  Assuming I’m in good enough mental condition to continue reading until I’m 75 I have just over 2,000 weeks of good reading remaining.  If I average one book a week, that means just 2,000 more books.  Of course, I’m going to shoot for a slightly higher average, maybe closer to 1.5 books per week.

With such a limited number of books I can read in the time I have remaining, the need to be selective in my reading continues to weigh on me.  I’m constantly looking for books that provide the most interest and benefit.  I try to balance my choices between fiction and non-fiction.  In making my selections I’ve considered avoiding fiction more, but I love the cultural and social insights provided by fiction.  Fiction provides a window into our own souls and experiences.  It allows us to see into other cultures, to experience different viewpoints. 

When looking for books I always appreciate suggestions from others.  As one of my heroes, Abraham Lincoln once said:

“The things I want to know are in books; my best friend is the man who'll get me a book I ain't read.”

With that in mind I thought I would share a short list of books I’ve read and enjoyed recently. 

Stone’s Fall by Iain Pearse (Fiction)
Born to Run by Christopher McDougall
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
The Passage by Justin Cronin (Fiction)
To the Rescue: The Biography of Thomas S. Monson by Heidi S. Swinton
Good to Great by Jim Collins
Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water by Marc Reisner
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (Fiction)
Hidden Empire by Orson Scott Card (Fiction)

Please feel free to share some of the books you’ve read recently and would suggest to others.

- Jarad Van Wagoner

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Obstacles and Challenges

Mitt Romney continues to face challenges and obstacles in his bid for the GOP nomination.  Each time his supporters and some in the media begin to believe that his time has come the campaign hits another bump.  To be fair, his campaign is facing some challenges and obstacles with which his competitors either haven’t faced or haven’t faced to the same degree.  Despite each of these challenges, many of them recurring, he continues to remain the frontrunner, the one all the others are trying to catch.  During the 2008 campaign his biggest obstacles were name recognition and the end of an unpopular Republican presidency.  This time around all the necessary pieces are in place.

Here’s a quick look at some of the challenges faced by the Romney campaign:

1.     Right Wing Media.  Governor Romney has faced a concerted effort among portions of the right wing media to discredit him and his campaign.  Fox News along with some very influential pundits is quite open in their preference for another, any other, GOP candidate.  It’s interesting because some of these pundits were much more open and supportive of a Romney candidacy four years ago.  I’m not sure what changed for them but I would like to venture a guess.  Three years of an Obama presidency has been great for ratings.  Many of these pundits make a living off of fear of the other side.  If the other side becomes impotent, they have no more Kool-Aid to sell.  None of the other GOP candidates, with the possible exception of Ron Paul, have faced such openly negative press up to this point.  

2.     Anti-Mormon Bias.  There remains a strong bias among certain segments of the GOP/conservative base against a Mormon candidate.  Common sense and reason often are insufficient to overcome bigotry.  Voters affected by this malady are unlikely to do what’s best for them and the country out of fear of offering legitimacy to a set of beliefs different from their own, even if that set of beliefs upholds their own values.  

3.     Moderate Image.  As a former senate candidate and governor of Massachusetts, Romney dealt with a political reality that favored liberal policies.  His conservative opponents have used his former position on abortion as a battering ram.  The issue of Romneycare, despite its real and significant differences from Obamacare, remains a liability.

4.     Opponents.  Every candidate has to convince the voters that they are a better choice than their competitors.  Romney has had to face off against almost every GOP candidate as the next “real thing.”  Bachmann won the Iowa straw poll and then faded.  Rick Perry had it all, but then he opened his mouth.  Herman Cain had 9-9-9, but then old friends remembered the past and shared.  Gingrich was next in line.  Everyone took a trip down memory lane with him and then he reinforced what we already knew.  Jon Huntsman.  Did you remember he used to be a candidate?  That leaves us with two other opponents: Rick Santorum and Ron Paul.  Rick Santorum is the next “anyone but Romney”.  Ron Paul presents a unique challenge, but is highly unlikely to get the nomination.

5.     Mr. Nice Guy.  Governor Romney has a reputation as a nice guy based on his performance during the debates.  Many of his competitors thought and continue to think that they can take advantage of his kind personality.  Gingrich thought he could walk over him with negative comments and advertisements.  Pundits and voters wonder if he’s tough enough to take on President Obama and the Democrats in the general election.

While facing these challenges may seem daunting it’s worth noting how Governor Romney has met each of them and how his strengths offset them.

1.     Cool Under Fire and Optimism.  Governor Romney has faced political attacks in the past as well as currently.  Throughout the process he has managed to maintain a level of calm that has to frustrate his opponents.  He doesn’t overreact to misrepresentations of his positions.  He doesn’t give into despair and hopelessness.  He maintains a clear focus on the task at hand.  He learns from his mistakes and makes adjustments.

2.     Organized and Prepared.  His sense of calm stems in large part because of his ability to organize and focus his efforts.  This allows him to be prepared for setbacks.  It allows him to be ready for the ABR flavor of the month.  Perhaps most importantly he is preparing for the general election.  He only reacts to the GOP competition when forced to do so.  This is smart because it allows him to conserve resources when possible and minimize the intraparty bickering.

3.     Business and Executive Skills.  Governor Romney spent his professional career in the business world.  He took new companies and failing companies and worked to turn them around.  He knows how to make the tough decisions.  He knows how to negotiate in a hostile environment.  He knows how to do what has to be done in order to be successful.  This not only prepares him to be the Chief Executive, it provides him the skills necessary to run a successful campaign.  He can handle the rough and tumble with his fellow candidates when necessary.  Gingrich learned this in the last two debates.  

4.     Moderate Image.  This same perceived weakness in the GOP nomination process will be strength in the general election.  America is not ready for a self-proclaimed right-wing conservative like Rick Santorum.  Moderate and independent voters will run from a Santorum or Paul candidacy.  Santorum claims the title of conservative but is in fact a big government Republican.  Paul excites people with his talk of returning to Constitutional principles but many of his ideas remain outside of the mainstream and he has no idea or experience that would lend itself being able to accomplish his stated goals.  The election against Obama will not be an easy one to win if we don’t have a candidate with the skill set and experience to turn things around.  Romney has governed in a liberal, eastern state.  This affected his conservative credentials to a degree giving some on the right the opportunity to challenge him.  In the end I think it will help him get moderate and independent support.  Governor Romney is a conservative.  I believe that once he is in office many will be surprised at his level of commitment to conservative principles and Constitutional government.   As President of the United States of America with a conservative majority in Congress and the support of the American people he will have the ability to govern as a conservative from a position of strength. 

5.     Core Values and Success.  Governor Romney has lead his private and public life in accordance with a strong set of core values.  He is loyal to his faith, his family and his country.  He is a problem solver who wants to make things work as best as possible to benefit the most people.  He believes in the value of hard work and success.  He has been successful in almost every endeavor in his life.  When he’s come up short on something he reapplies himself with the lessons learned.  His core values and successes frustrate his GOP contenders and the Obama Administration.  They have no scandal to pin on him in his personal life.  Additionally, all of his policy decisions were based on doing what he thought was best for his constituents, not on what he could gain out of it personally.  His opponents, outside of perhaps Ron Paul, don’t have the record of success guided by core values and a desire to do what’s best for the country.  Gingrich is interested in himself.  Santorum is a big government conservative who after being soundly defeated for his senate seat made his millions as a lobbyist.  It is also important to note that his character and personality are driven in a very significant part by his religious beliefs—his “Mormon” beliefs.

Many on the right and the left are opposed to a Romney presidency because he has the skill and the passion to make real change in Washington.  His election would bring additional Republicans to Congress who would help him make the change.  He will continue to face oppositions, obstacles and challenges.  As he overcomes these challenges moving toward the general election he will become a stronger candidate, immune to many attacks already faced.  As with Reagan before him, conservatives will vote for him, though many may wish for a different candidate in the general election.  These same conservatives, within a short span will begin to laud the efforts and successes of President Romney.

- Jarad Van Wagoner

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

If by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on";

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run -
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!

- Rudyard Kipling

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Latter Day Beliefs and Mormon Values

Events over the last few years have resulted in an increased focus on the beliefs and culture of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.   The amplified attention is bringing to light many aspects of LDS beliefs that may not be widely known and are often misunderstood.  As is common with outsiders looking into a different set of beliefs, some things will appear strange and difficult to understand or to accept.  I am not attempting in this post to convince anyone that these beliefs are true, although if someone wants to know more, please let me know and I’ll be sure to send the missionaries!

In a few brief paragraphs I hope to shed some light on these beliefs and some interesting corollaries to LDS culture and values.  What follows is purely my opinion and is not an official representation of beliefs or views of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Additionally, my statements are not meant to reflect on the religious beliefs of any other group.  My goal is to show that some of what makes “Mormons” strange or peculiar contributes to our core values, our successes and our desire to make the best of life for others and ourselves.   We, as Americans, can disagree on religious doctrine while at the same time accepting that our various beliefs and faiths strengthen us, making us better than we might be otherwise.

First Vision, New Scripture and Continuing Revelation
Let’s start at the beginning with Joseph Smith.  Joseph Smith was a young man in the early part of the 19th century who was caught up in the midst of a religious revival in upstate New York.  During the course of his search for a place amidst all the Christian churches of the day he came across a verse in the Bible that told him God would answer his prayer.  As a result he went into a nearby grove a trees not far from the family farm to pray vocally for the first time.  Without attempting to share the history of the episode in its entirety, the main point is that he came out of that grove sharing a story that God the Eternal Father and His Son Jesus Christ had visited him.  In the course of their visit they informed Joseph that through him the true Church of Jesus Christ would be restored.

In subsequent angelic visitations Joseph Smith was shown the location of golden plates that contained the history and revelations of an ancient people who had lived on the American continent.  Through Joseph Smith and successive prophets additional revelation and scripture have come forth.  Today LDS faithful believe that the Lord has provided them with living prophets and apostles to lead and guide the Church.

Now for many the idea of divine visitations, new scripture and living prophets may range from the realm of strange to blasphemous.  But, the question must be asked, does the belief in such a direct connection from God to man weaken or strengthen the LDS faithful?  First, I posit that the LDS faithful draw strength from the idea and faith that God cares for and loves them enough to provide them revelation and direction today.  Second, if anyone has taken the time to read the teachings of LDS prophets and scripture, they will find that the primary focus of the teachings is to encourage the members to live Christ centered lives of service, morality and honesty.   They are encouraged to love their families and to serve God and man.  Granted, some of the deeper doctrine may be different, but the goal of this life is the same as that encouraged by so many religious faiths—to live a good life.  Third, the faith that God continues to speak to man provides strength when life is difficult; it encourages believers to seek answers from an authority and intelligence higher than their own.  Latter-day Saints are driven to understand the world around them.  They seek answers and solutions to problems.

Eternal Progression and Godhood?  Really?
Latter-day Saints believe that they are the literal spiritual sons and daughters of a loving Heavenly Father.  They believe that they have a familial relationship with the Creator that began before their tenure on this earth.  Additionally, they hold to the belief that their Heavenly Father wants them to become as much like him as possible, that he wants to share His glory with them—even though the process will be long.  They believe that their God, their Eternal Father, has provided them a path to become like him.  He provided a Savior to allow them to overcome their sins and imperfections.  

This is a heavy doctrine, a deep doctrine—one that many may find blasphemous in the extreme.  How dare the Mormons assume that they can become like God or even become a God?  They believe the words of Christ that they can become joint heirs with him.  Even though many won’t accept this doctrine and may think that those who hold to it are at best confused and at the worst on a train bound for, well, you know to where, it bears thinking about the impact of this belief on their psyche, their actions and attitude toward life.  

Latter-day Saints take the injunction to be perfect seriously.  They believe that in order to become like their Savior and their Heavenly Father they must do all they can to obey the commandments and serve others.  They believe in the importance of actual works as part of their religious observance.  This focus on works causes them to be anxiously engaged in good causes, from the raising of their own families to serving in their Church and communities.  It gives them the motivation to try to excel across multiple facets of their lives.  This belief makes education more important, success acceptable and desirable, and every day behavior meaningful.  In short this belief that their works can help them return to God and become like him, inspires them to live the best life possible.  

While pursuing the injunction to be like Christ, Latter-day Saints understand very well that they will not be perfect in this life.  Perfection and salvation are not attainable without divine help.  They believe that the grace of Christ, made available through his suffering and sacrifice, are necessary to return to God and become like him.  In many Latter-day Saints this understanding contributes to a level of humility that allows them to work well with others, to be teachable and to accept success without claiming all the credit.

What about Polygamy?
People outside of the LDS faith love to bring up polygamy.  In our culture this definitely comes across as a strange idea.  Multiple wives for one husband at the command of God?  Even many Latter-day Saints have a difficult time explaining and/or understanding the reasoning behind this religious practice.  When the principle was first introduced most of the early Latter-day Saints embraced it grudgingly and slowly.  Today, not many would jump at the opportunity to go back to it.  

While polygamy seems anathema to the idea of the traditional family, it’s worth taking a look at the place of the family in the Church today.  Latter-day Saints see the family as the most important social unit.  They believe that God has charged them to protect the family now and into the future.  Life is considered sacred and purposeful; it is not something to be wasted.  

How did a people who embraced polygamy develop such a positive and strong set of values on the family?  In part it did so because the part of the purpose of polygamy was to strengthen, grow and sustain families.  Family members were expected to contribute to the welfare of the whole.  They protected one another and kept one another safe.  Success and livelihood were determined at the family level first.  

I’ve always been impressed at the strength of LDS women to include my wife, my mother, my mother-in-law and grandmothers.  Perhaps the combination of polygamy and the pioneer lifestyle where men were often gone on missions or for other reasons created a culture of strong, independent women focused on taking care of their families.  At the same time perhaps the responsibility for large families created a culture where men learned to work hard and effectively to provide for so many.  Is polygamy a strange and peculiar idea?  Absolutely, but I believe it contributed to a belief system and culture where the family is preserved, protected and perpetuated.  These cultural values, in part, were developed in the crucible of polygamy and passed down to the current generation of LDS wives and mothers and fathers and husbands.  These values are encapsulated in their lives and teachings.

WoW!  No alcohol, no tobacco, no coffee, no tea!
Mormons are well known for their peculiar health code.  Received as a revelation by Joseph Smith in 1833, this code is known among Latter-day Saints as the Word of Wisdom.  The revelation provides guidelines for foods that are healthy and substances that were to be avoided.  For most it’s as much a matter of faith and obedience as it is a matter of health. 

Latter-day Saints understand that in many social gatherings the refusal to partake of alcoholic beverages or coffee or tea sets them apart from others.  Yet, think of the purely physical benefits of living this law.  Ahead of its time the revelation provided excellent guidance on proper diet and the need to avoid addictive substances.  The result is that those Latter-day Saints who strive to live this law, both the dos and don’ts, tend to enjoy good health.  They spend less time sick and more time working and serving.  Understanding of the health code encourages adherents to take personal responsibility for their health and well being.

Temple Worship and Ordinances
Since the early days of the Church, Mormons have built and worshipped in temples.  Today over 130 temples operate across the world.  These buildings are separate and different from normal Sunday houses of worship.  Only members deemed worthy may enter into these temples.  For Latter-day Saints the temples represent the house of God, a place of learning and place to make covenants to obey God’s law.  It serves as a connecting place between this world and heaven.  Temple worship is considered sacred and not spoken of in detail openly.  Temple worship is a very private matter between a loving Heavenly Father and his children.  

Temple worship among the Latter-day Saints is considered unique among outsiders for two other reasons: eternal marriage and ordinance work for the dead.  Latter-day Saints believe that marriage, performed in the proper place and under the proper authority, can last forever.  This doctrine is connected with the importance of families.  They believe that the family unit, based on the marriage between a man and a woman, doesn’t end with this life but can continue on into the next life and last for the eternities. 

Baptism and other ordinances are performed for and in behalf of deceased persons in the temples.  These ordinances are considered necessary for salvation and exaltation.  In order for a man or woman to achieve the ultimate purpose of this life, these ordinances must be performed.  Many of God’s children have entered and left this life without the opportunity to receive these ordinances from those with the proper authority.  Latter-day Saints believe that a loving Heavenly Father has provided a way for these individuals to receive these ordinances.  As part of this doctrine members are encouraged to perform these ordinances in the temples for their kindred dead and others who didn’t receive them while alive.  Basically, a person can receive these ordinances for and in behalf of someone who has died.

While these two concepts may seem foreign to one outside the faith, perhaps even shocking, they provide the believing Latter-day Saint a unique perspective on this life and their purpose in it.  Mormons believe not only that they are spirit children of their Heavenly Father who lived with him before this life; they also believe that after this life they have the opportunity to return to him.  The purpose of this life is prove ourselves, to be tested, to live by obedience and grace through faith so that reunion and everlasting life with God is possible.  The idea of eternal marriage and work for the dead give weight to these beliefs.  Marriage and family, for Latter-day Saints, are eternal and are worthy of every effort to protect and save.  Personal responsibility and action is paramount because it affects the outcome of our existence after this life.

Temple worship provides Latter-day Saints with a foundation that pushes them toward responsible action.  One may disagree with the truthfulness of the doctrine, yet the effect in this life is real.  It encourages people to do the right thing.  It provides them the strength to be better, to overcome adversity and to serve others.  For Latter-day Saints, this existence is a momentary blip on their eternal progression, but it’s one that matters and it affects their everyday life.  These doctrines provide the incentive for the adherents to be the best they can be and to repent and change when they fall short.

As a practicing and believing Mormon, I don’t expect people to accept my beliefs.  My ego and faith don’t even have a problem with people telling me that my beliefs are strange or wrong.  What I would ask, and what I offer to those of other beliefs and faiths, is respect for the right to believe how I want and in what I want.  I ask for others to judge me on the quality of my character, not the specific contents of my beliefs.  

As Jesus Christ taught in his sermon on the mount, “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”  (Matthew 7:20).  Latter-day Saints may believe differently from others, but their beliefs and practices encourage them to be people of high moral character and strong values.  Their doctrines encourage them to serve others and contribute to their communities.  Even if you think your Mormon neighbor or acquaintance believes some crazy stuff, look at the content of their character and the quality of their actions.  Mormons aren’t perfect.  Many of us struggle to do what is right and some fall well short of their expectations.  But, our doctrine encourages us to strive for something better and to help as many along in the process as possible.

UPDATE:  Due to the recent comments by Pastor Dozier, I've included a link to the recent press release by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints regarding race and the priesthood.

(For more information about LDS doctrine and beliefs please visit:

Jarad Van Wagoner