Tag Archives: mormons

Black (Family) History Month

I can trace my paternal family line back to a pair of brothers who left Ireland for America in the 1730’s. Our surname goes back past the Battle of Hastings to a Roman who settled in Normandy. I can follow my mother’s line back to the Mayflower.

A year ago my wife could only trace her line back to her great grandmother who was alive in the 1980’s.img_4337

Family history is hard for many black people in more ways than some might expect. First it is hard because there is a dearth of records, which is a lesson in and of itself, but it is also hard because so often there is stuff in there that can be hard to deal with. Sometimes digging up graves only exposes more questions than answers.

My wife and I are okay with questions. Asking questions is a good thing. Unfortunately we don’t have Skip Gates at our disposal so digging up those questions is largely up to us. We started with DNA.img_1105

It is pretty easy. You order a kit online, then they ship you a tube that you spit in and send back. About a month later they send you an email.

There were no Earth shattering revelations, but there were some small surprises. For instance my wife has often been stopped on the street by expatriated Ethiopians who were excited to see one of their countrymen. Not knowing of any roots past New Orleans in the 80’s, Ethiopia sounded pretty cool. DNA killed that idea. Nope. No Ethiopia. The test results came back showing her lineage to be 61% West Africa, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, and Mali. The other 38% was white people. 10% Ireland and dribs and drabs of everywhere else, Italy, Spain, etc. This wasn’t really surprising. Most African Americans know there are white people back in the chain somewhere but it isn’t usually celebrated. In fact, quite often, as Skip Gates has illustrated time and again, these white folks get paved over in family legend by the myth of American Indians. Such was the case with her family. Both sides swore there were Cherokee or somebody like that in there somewhere. Her Dad was adamant that his grandfather was full blooded Indian. Her DNA said zero.img_2337-2

To understand why anyone’s whiteness would be something to cover, we should understand that most African American’s European lineage didn’t get there in some interracial romantic way. Not at all. I remember learning about the horrors of slavery in high school but said horrors were mostly whips, chains, and bondage. I don’t recall rape being mentioned. I suppose the idea of rape is something salacious enough that many teachers prefer to gloss it over, but I have since learned that cases of rape weren’t really outlier events. In slavery rape was normal. It makes sense that many would rather claim to be Seminole.

DNA gives data but only hints at stories. Knowing that there are more pieces to the puzzle we have begun looking for more. Thanks in large part to the efforts of Mormon volunteers, the entire Freedman’s Bank records have been digitized and made available online- the same with census records. There is now more promise of finding out who was who then we would have thought possible 50 years ago. Now begins the work of connecting broken links of a chain. It is a work of in-home black history.

Happy Black History Month.

Also… I am 9% Asian.img_4328

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My Mormonism: The beauty found in a Philthy place

I am Mormon. I think most people I know, know this. It’s not so much that I wear it on my sleeve, but moreso it is just sort of who I am.

BOFMIPADWe could discuss the ins and outs of what exactly being a Mormon means, lets do that one day, but not today. Today I will indulge myself in just one little aspect of what being Mormon means.

church on broadBeing Mormon is not so much what you believe, or where you sit on Sunday, but it is very much who sits next to you on Sunday. It is even more about who you hang out with on Wednesdays.

wardcouncilIn the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, there are no pastors or priests, at least not in the professional sense. There are plenty of people doing a lot of preaching, just not a whole lot of getting paid to do it. By not a whole lot I mean none.

But things still need to get done. Lessons to be taught, sick to be visited, Sunday sermons to be given. This is why Mormonism is about who sits next to you. Because that is who does these things. Better yet, you do too.

IMG_6798Sometimes it works out well, sometimes not, but that is how it works, and because this is how it works I have been forced to learn a few things.

Frazier readingI have not learned so much about what is in our books, which is important, but I have learned a little more about how the stuff in those books doesn’t matter a bit if I ignore the person in the chair sitting next to me. No matter who it is.

camp1Some of the people who have sat next to me have been right, even more have been wrong, and better yet, I’ve been both of those things too. Some have been beautiful, some not so much. Some well educated, others not so much. Some have been nice, many more quite the opposite. On and on and on, and still things have to get done. And when it comes time to get those things done, you look around, and that is all you have.

The people sitting next to you. CIMG2407

And you learn to love.

grndbrkmayorandusA family kind of love. The kind of love where you want to strangle your cousin Larry, because he deserves to be strangled, but he is your cousin and always will be. So you have to love him. You don’t have a choice whether or not to be cousins, you only have the choice to learn to love him or be miserable.

It isn’t easy.

But thats the point.

This is simply how it is.

IMG_8702 By “it” I mean reality.

Truth.

This is reality.

Take a look at the people around you and this is how it is. It is like this now, and it will be like this in eternity.

It is not clouds and space,

it is faces.

IMG_8194This is not to say that all these faces are just or justified, including that one in the mirror.

But here we all are. In this together. And our charge is to get better.

A lot better.

IMG_9425Christianity, of which we are part, is based on the idea that this human persuit of perfection is impossible. We can’t do it and are doomed to be failures, hence the need for a Christ to redeem us from ourselves.

And that is Mormonism.

IMG_6640This role of Christ, is where one sacrificed and helped another get better, even though that “other” was deficient.

And we are charged with the task of becoming more Christ-like.

So we have to help the person in the chair next to us, even if they are no longer sitting in that chair, even if they don’t deserve it, even if they are horrible…

Or even if they are wonderful.

IMG_2755And we have to be helped too.

Because on any given day or in any one way, I am both horrible, or even wonderful.

IMG_0990

And this role of Christ, this role of helping others strive for perfection, the role we are charged to take part in, has to be done with love.

Love must be the motivator.

Sometimes this is hard.DSC04973

It takes practice.

So you go about trying to get stuff done; great lessons or boring ones, false doctrines or clear and simple ones, friendships or trials.

bishopriccrewNo matter what you get right or wrong, no matter how much you improve yourself or the others around you,

If you figure out the love part,

It is wonderful.

meandmargie

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Southern Virginia University

At the southern end of the Shenandoah valley, up on hill, sits a school. It was once called the Bowling Green Female Seminary, a girls school with a focus on equestrian training. That was 1867.
statue

Fast forward to the 1990’s and the school has begun admitting boys. Interesting that when the doors were opened wider, people stopped going in the door. The school was dwindling, going, going, then gone. But not in the way you might think.chairs outside

In the year 2000 Glade Knight and his associates were handed the reigns as a completely new board of trustees. They were new, had energy, had money (at least compared to the old board), and what set them apart above all else, was that they were Mormons. Maybe I should say they are Mormons.
girl sitting room

Now note I did not say the Mormon church assumed control of the school, just that those who took control were Latter-Day Saints. This is an important distinction.

Today the school remains small, less than 1,000 students, but it is vibrant.  It has the look, feel, and in reality is, a small liberal arts college with all that that entails or infers. Small class, lots of personal attention, broad educational focus with emphasis on arts and sciences. And it also has church.gym floor

Some locals where I live, and even sometimes those at SVU itself, might say Southern Virginia is a sort of BYU East Coast. It isn’t. They should be proud of this.

Now what they mean when they say this is that the two schools share a religo-cultural tie. The two schools both require students to sign the same honor code. A code that strictly forbids any use of alcohol, tobacco, premarital sex, and of course it requires strict academic integrity. Religion classes, taught from the same texts as BYU are part of the general curriculum. All the markers of a Mormon educational experience are well entrenched in the Virginia hills. If that is what you want, school and personal development devoid of debauchery and keg stands, both schools have that.

But BYU also has 34,000 students. It is a well entrenched research institution in the “heart of the beast” if you will. There are a lot of cracks in which an 18 year old can slip through. Sports are a glorified professional institution, not a general participatory student experience.

SVU has something different. It has romance.

Personal attention that leads to academic exploration and opportunity. It has that. A community of young scholars who can participate in a DIII athletic team, that too. A first class choir? A student advisor who knows not just your name but your aspirations and dreams? Yes, they have that.

They call it the beauty of small. I have been there and they are right.

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Mancation: Joseph Smith and an old Navy Pilot

We woke Sunday morning having slept in the car at a highway rest stop. The night before we attempted to get a spot at Camp Joseph. I knocked on the door of a cabin and a confused gentleman explained it was after hours and reservations must be made in advance. He wished us luck and we drove off looking for an inconspicuous place to sleep. We were tired.walking birthplace monument

This same man saw us parked in the church parking lot early the next morning. He strolled past, paused, then came back and inquired how we were. We said we were great. He asked where we spent the night. As Kaleo answered him, the man’s face fell. Kaleo ensured him we were fine, but the man entered the church building with newly slumped shoulders.

Having guessed at the start time of services, we arrived more than an hour early. This was fine with us, church wasn’t the only reason we were here.

Sharon Vermont is the birthplace of the prophet Joseph Smith. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has constructed a visitors center and a sort of memorial on the site of the Smith’s ancestral home. It wasn’t yet open that morning but a grey haired man wearing a missionary name tag, neck tie in hand, emerged from a side door as we crossed the lot.

With an honest smile he waved us over, fishing in his pocket for a set of keys. “Come on, come on. Let me open things up for you. I was headed to choir practice but I think they can wait a minute or two.” The man, without asking us our religious affiliation, pulled us in and commenced to giving us the tour complete with explanations of the roots of Mormonism. Half way through he paused and asked us how much we already knew about the church. Learning our answer he paused, chuckled a little, then launched right back into his explanations. The man was sincere, informative, and in an incredibly good mood for having opened up shop more than four hours early. After giving us the lay of the land, he headed off for choir practice, and we headed off into the woods.

Great beards in Mormonism

Great beards in Mormonism

The woods where Joseph was born 208 years ago are green and rocky. The family had 100 acres that sat alongside a ‘highway’, complete with babbling brook. The moss growing over the stone foundations of a home long gone was reminiscent of a Tolkien novel and we half expected to meet a hobbit, or maybe a talking lion. We met none of those things, but once we made it to church we did meet possibly the coolest guy ever.stream

Wearing the same clothes from yesterday we sat near the back of a crowded chapel. A voice from the row behind us loudly asked, “Where did you get that tan?” directing his question toward Kaleo.

“I’m Hawaiian”.

The voice came from a grey haired man with a chiseled jaw. He wore a tweed jacket, sported bushy eyebrows rivaling the infomercial juicer guy, and spoke a little too loudly. Hard of hearing perhaps.

“I used to own a hundred acres on the big island; worked as a ranch hand. I was a pilot flying the one plane that used to go between the big island and Oahu.”

“You should have held on to that. Its probably worth a lot of money now.”

“People used to try to get me to sell that property all the time. There was this one guy from Japan, he bought up all the acres on the coast and I sold to him. He built a resort there and every day he flies in a plane full of people from Tokyo. I had put into the contract that I would have a free room in the resort for the rest of my life. I’ve never used it.”

With these two paragraphs our aged friend cemented his place as forever cooler than any of the three of us will ever be.

Preston’s curiosity was piqued and he asked when he started flying.

“Flew in the navy in World War 2, but I don’t talk about the navy.”

Preston offered that his grandfather-in-law flew in the navy. “I do not talk about the navy.” was his direct reply.

With that the services began. As the prelude music started up, our new friend began belting out an unintended solo, unaware that the chorister up front had not yet waved in the congregation. The old man did not care and we added a couple more cool points to his ledger.

Kaleo fell asleep during sacrament meeting.

As we left our tour guide from earlier ran to catch us. “I have to tell you how happy it made me when I saw you three waltz in to the services in your street clothes. You looked completely comfortable.” He has obviously never been to my home church in Philly.leaving church bigger

We loaded back up.

“So where exactly is Cape Cod?”

“I’m not sure,” Preston answered, “…but that’s where we are headed.”

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Missionary Suiting

There is a clothing store in Salt Lake City that specializes in outfitting newly minted missionaries.   I was nearly 19, had received my “call”, and with more than a little hesitation my mother and I paid Mr. Mac a visit.

Pre-mission Brohammas circa 1994

Up till this point I had never owned a suit my mother did not make herself, owned one tie since I was 12, and had worn the same Payless “Sunday” shoes since I was 15.  The paperwork in my call included a required clothing list that would take a considerable investment, as I owned nearly nothing on said list.  Mr. Mac offered a “new missionary discount.”

Two dark suits, two pairs black/brown dress shoes with matching laces and no contrasting stitching (the Dr. Marten clause), 5-7 white dress shirts long and short sleeve, dark socks, conservative ties, belt.  It seemed an understandable and easy list but looking from the paper to the racks of jackets and back, I was lost.

An old gentleman approached and asked where I was called.  “Atlanta” was my reply.  He nodded and got to work stacking items on a table, not even glimpsing the list I brought for reference.  “You will want light weight because it’s hot.  One suit navy, that is a must, and the other you can play with a little. I suggest a charcoal with some sort of color stripe; you can pick a color you like so you don’t get bored.  This one looks nice, what color do you like?  Do you know your size?  Step up here and we’ll measure.  Now what color do you want?”

Not really understanding anything I was looking at, why this man had just ran a string up the inside of my leg, or having previously considered what color of pinstripe I liked in a charcoal suit, I said, “Can I get double breasted?”  This was the only suit lingo I knew.  I believe I had heard the term in a mob movie once and while not knowing what it meant, I knew I liked how the characters looked.  That was when I was 13.  I had been holding that term since then for just this instance.  The man looked at me sideways, told me he would grant the request for the navy and might he suggest a green for my pinstripes in the charcoal?  I shrugged a yes.

We placed two, two pant suits on the table and an assistant began stacking plastic wrapped white shirts next to the suits; four oxford button downs, four broadcloth point collars.  Five short sleeve, four long.  I paid no attention; to me they were just a bunch of white shirts.  I do not know what brand wingtips were grabbed.  They had thick foamy soles and I learned a new word “cordovan.”  I had been told by returning missionaries to get “Docs” (Dr. Marten’s), but ever the one to keep a rule, I was afraid of contrast stitching.

I drew the line at ties.  I knew a girl who worked at the outlet mall who was sure she could beat the discount.  I figured suits were all the same; because to me they all looked the same, so what really mattered was the tie.  I did not trust this guy.  He was old and because of this deficiency he could never know what was cool.  I didn’t either but I was sure this teenage girl at the outlet was the expert.

We moved my new wardrobe past the checkout and into the car.  There was no excitement over the new clothes, they were a technicality.  There was neither anticipation nor appreciation for the wardrobe or the man who had assembled it, I simply did not care.

As my mother and I drove home I think she was talking about luggage.  I’m not sure, I wasn’t listening.  With stacks of new shirts and suits, I was looking at the example photo my call included of what an appropriate haircut looked like.  Since the day I was old and brave enough to voice an opinion, I had never sported such a look.  I knew the trip to the barber was coming, I had been anticipating that haircut for years.

I looked down the list again.

It was as if  an eraser had been dragged across everything I had ever known of style.

Saying goodbye to family at the airport

It was a long list.  It was a list of clothing more expensive than anything I had previously owned.  Yet at the end of it all, all I could see, was nothing.

Then there was that haircut…

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Trad Retrospective, a Response

Having been inspired by the fine gentleman over at TheTrad, I have elected to do likewise.

What A fine Trad family. Respectable folk.

Can you guess the institution or volume? 

Class of 195?

Building brotherhood through exertion and competition.

We pride ourselves in the pick and roll.

Give up?  Dartmouth we are not, Animal House we are not, Big Love we are not.

I didn’t look at the title page, but from my experience and memory, this was probably published in 1997.

Want me to sing our fight song?

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Mission Stories

Bankhead Hwy, Atlanta Georgia, circ 1995

Planks asked how we were received.

Missionaries are always in pairs, sometimes in threes.  They do not choose to whom they are paired, nor do they stay with that person for the entire two years.  The rule book says these “companions” are to be within sight and sound of each other at all times, the restroom being the sole exemption.

There is scriptural basis for this practice “in the mouths of two or three witnesses shall every word  be established”, (2 Cor. 13:1) but there are also reasons practical.  When sending 19 year old males out into the world it is safer for all concerned that they have another with them.  It is also wise to have another set of eyes to witness what goes on; to later defend or quite often mock, the players in events that transpire.

Doorsteps were usually safe.  If large dogs were present and angry, we went elsewhere.  If inhabitants were present and angry, they would usually just curse us and our cause, and then we would go elsewhere.  The thing that was probably least safe was the commute to elsewhere.

While riding my bike along city streets I dodged three beer bottles (that I can recall) but was unable to avoid a bagel, two donuts, and one motorcyclist.

I was riding a good 50 yards in front of my companion, he was slow.  I was well over on the shoulder, a good five feet from the lanes of traffic.  It was a busy highway so I did not think to be alarmed at the motorcycle swerving over toward me.  I never saw it.  No, I take that back, I did see it as it sped away.  There was a passenger riding on the back, twisting around to watch me.  I could not see, but I’m sure the passenger was smiling.  There was no way not to see my companion’s smile when he finally came skidding to a halt beside me.

“Dude, that was the funniest thing I have ever seen!” He exclaimed as I stared up at him from the ditch.  “I totally saw it coming too.  That guy was riding the yellow line and the passenger leaned way over to get a good shove on your backpack.”  I asked him why he didn’t warn me.  He said there may not have been time but more importantly, he wanted to watch it happen.

I was luckier than another missionary we knew.  He was in a more rural part of Georgia with a different demographic.  Rather than a motorcycle his assailants were in a pickup, with a bat, and he received two broken arms.  He healed just fine.  I have no idea if his companion warned him.

I’m smiling as I type this.  I’m remembering Elder Reese and me walking down Campbellton Road.  We were on the sidewalk, he between me and the road.  A large town car, built before either of us were born, honked as it went by, the passenger leaning out the window screaming.  This was normal, I just kept walking.  Elder Reese didn’t.  He stood frozen and silent.  As I turned to look at him I saw he was completely wet from head to foot.  “It’s warm.  Is it…?” He couldn’t finish his question.  I sniffed him.  “It’s just beer, maybe Schlitz’s, I’m not sure.”  Relieved, he simply swiveled about and began walking back home to change.  I just chuckled as I caught up to him, taking my turn to walk on the side facing the street.

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