Most of you reading this know that I’m a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (sometimes better known as “the Mormons”). Many of you know enough about the church not to need this bit of introduction. But I’m going to start by explaining the background for those who don’t know it.

Although the church was founded in 1830, it was meant to be a restoration of Christ’s original church, including apostles. So in 1835, twelve Apostles were ordained and set apart to be a Quorum which would serve and exercise authority underneath the President of the Church (Joseph Smith Jr.). After Smith and his brother were assassinated in 1844, there was some question about who should assume the leadership of the church. Brigham Young, the senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, made a case that when President Smith died, the Presidency was dissolved, and authority fell to the Twelve.  Three years later, it was decided to have Brigham Young be formally set apart as President of the Church. He called two men to be Counselors,1 and they formed a First Presidency. Vacancies in the Twelve would lead to new “replacement” Apostles being chosen, called, ordained, and set apart.

Since then, leadership in the church has continued in that pattern. The Apostles are ranked in order of seniority, which is almost always based on the date on which the Apostle was called.  When the first Twelve were called in 1835, they were ranked in seniority by age. Since then, every time more than one Apostle at a time was called,2 their seniority was determined by their relative ages.

Now, with that out of the way…. Over the last few months, three of the church’s Apostles died. First was Elder3 L. Tom Perry, who died at the age of 92 on May 30. Next was President4 Boyd K. Packer, the second-most senior apostle behind current Church President Thomas S. Monson, died at the age of 90 on July 3. And finally, Elder Richard G. Scott died at age 86 less than a fortnight ago, on September 22.

Every six months, the Church holds a “General Conference”. On the first weekend of April and the first weekend of October, leaders of the church address church members. Conference used to be held at the Tabernacle5 on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah, but a ways back the church built a much bigger Conference Center which can hold 21,000 people. The Conference is also broadcast via satellite to church buildings around the world, and can be viewed live over the Internet. One of the things that happens at these conferences is that members renew their votes to “sustain” the leaders of the church. At that time, any new leaders will be announced. So there’s a very good chance that sometimes on Saturday or Sunday, the names of three new apostles will be read out, and the “church org chart” will be full again.

Now, different people have different “styles”, and that is apparent among church leaders as it is among any other group of people. One apostle, President6 Dieter F. Uchtdorf, has a very warm, open, welcoming, loving style. Many current church members consider him to be their favourite church leader. One of his past conference talks has made a very large impact on many members of the church, especially those who might have doubts about the church, concerns about the church and church history, doubts about their own faith, and so on. On Saturday, October 5, 2013, he spoke on the subject of “Come, Join With Us”, and eloquently expressed his love for all those who have left or drifted away from the church, encouraging them to come back and saying “there is room for you in this Church. Come, join with us!”

The late President Boyd K. Packer had, shall we say, a different style. Those who knew him best testified that he also had a great love for God and for all God’s children, for all of us. But he seemed to be a bit less, how shall I say it, “open”, than someone like President Uchtdorf seems. He often had harsh words to say about gays and lesbians, for example.7 In one 1993 address, he referred to “three areas where members of the Church, influenced by social and political unrest, are being caught up and led away. … The dangers I speak of come from the gay-lesbian movement, the feminist movement … and the ever-present challenge from the so-called scholars or intellectuals.” When a few historians/”intellectuals” (eventually known as the “September Six”) were excommunicated from the church a few months later, many in and out of the church detected President Packer’s hand guiding those disciplinary actions.

As a “so-called … intellectual” myself, and as one whose faith in the church isn’t as “solid”, isn’t as “orthodox”, and isn’t as “automatic” as that of many others, I confess I often found myself offended by things President Packer would say. His derisive references to gays and lesbians just hurt even more after one of our daughter came out to us a few years ago. His conviction that people studying the history of the church should focus only on what is “faith-promoting”, and not delve into situations where church leaders and church members made mistakes or actively hurt others, capped by his statement “Some things that are true are not very useful,” offended my intellectual curiosity and desire to learn the truth of all things. I confess, I never got to the point of feeling the kind of love and respect for President Packer that I have for other church leaders.

I see the tension between these two “styles” as being the key issue facing the Church right now. With the rise of the Internet and the World Wide Web, more and more information about church history is available to church members, and some of them, having been raised on church history that was pretty much pablum, find themselves very frustrated and confused when they learn more about church history that often contradicts the “faith-promoting” stories they were taught as youth. More and more church members are questioning the church’s hard line on same-sex relationships, whether it’s the huge number of resources and amount of money that the church poured into the fight for Proposition 8 in California in 2008, or the church’s refusal to consider any same-sex intimate relationship acceptable conduct for members of the church.  And lately, when members of the church have been open about their questions, whether it’s Kate Kelly trying to persuade church leaders to pray about and consider opening the priesthood to women, or John Dehlin podcasting the stories of people who have questions about the church and stories that don’t fit the Mormon mold, or others questioning if the church has become too “corporate” and less spiritual, the heavy hand of church discipline has come down again; there have been at least six high-profile excommunications of questioning members over the last year and a half, and it appears that more are coming.

One of the organizational units of the church is called a “stake”. It comes from a scripture in the Old Testament, Isaiah 54:2, which uses the metaphor of a tent to represent Zion:

Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes;

I see the Church as being at a bit of a fork in the road. Should the Church be a “Big Tent”, or should it be a “Small Tent”? To me, a “Big Tent” church would be open and welcoming to all, including to those who have doubts and questions, and including those who express concern about the direction of the church. A “Big Tent” would listen to their concerns, and seek to address them with love and compassion and concern; not necessarily changing with every single desire for change, but at least being open to the possibility of change. After all, we see our church as a restoration of all things, including continuing revelation; that’s why we have scriptures that other churches don’t have, and that’s why the church has made changes, sometimes big changes, as a result of revelation from God (which itself often came as the response to many mighty prayers from many many people).

Or should the Church be a “Small Tent” church?  Should it focus only on those whose faith is solid, who don’t ask questions,7 who don’t “rock the boat”, who “fit the mold”? Should those whose faith is wobbly be told to “Shape up or ship out”? Should those with hard questions be accused of rebellion and told to leave? If someone (perhaps someone who is gay or lesbian?) doesn’t feel like there’s a “place” for them in the church, should that become a self-fulfilling prophecy?

The excommunications of the last year or two seem to indicate that the “Small Tent” crowd is winning this tug-of-war. A number of church members are seeing this, and deciding maybe they should “get out while the gettin’ is good.” Others are content and comfortable in their place in the church, and wonder what everyone else is getting so cranky about.

The last time the Church called three new Apostles at once was in 1906. That was a time of big change in the church; The church had officially ended polygamy or “plural marriage” in 1890, for example. One apostle of the time, Elder Reed Smoot, had been elected to represent Utah in the Senate in 1902, but was met with mistrust and concern until a lengthy series of hearings questioned him comprehensively on his beliefs, his relationship with the church, and whether the church really had ended polygamy. The hearings lasted for four years, and generated 3,500 pages of testimony, and also brought a great deal of national attention to the church.

If three new apostles are chosen and called this weekend, I think the choice of who is called will say a great deal about the direction of the church in the next half-century. On the one hand, we believe that those who are chosen and called for any office in the church are chosen and called by God. On the other hand, it’s not like God comes down and taps each person on the shoulder; the will of God comes through people, human beings, imperfect human beings. And so while we trust that the choices made this weekend will reflect the will of God, we also know that they will reflect the will and desires and direction of President Monson, and, to a lesser extent, his counsellors and the other apostles.

Will we get three more apostles like President Uchtdorf?  Will we get three  more apostles like President Packer? Will we get a kind of “mix”? Will the church start going more towards a “Big Tent” approach? Or will church leaders double-down on the “Small Tent” path?

I don’t always pay close attention to every General Conference, but I’m going to be paying very close attention to this one.


1 The church uses the American spelling with one L. I follow that here for actual titles. But for the word in general, I spell it with two Ls.

2 There was one exception, at the time in 1906 when three apostles were called at once. George F. Richards was given seniority, even though he was younger than the second of the three, Orson F. Whitney. (The third of the three, David O. McKay, was the youngest of the three and was ordained last; he went on to become President of the Church from 1951 to 1970.) No one’s quite sure why that was done that way.

3 Most adult male church members hold the priesthood office of “Elder”. (This explains why we give the title to fresh-faced 19-year-old boys who knock on doors around the world to spread the message of the gospel, even though they’re not very “elderly” at all.) And most higher church leaders, even if they are Apostles, are also addressed as “Elder”.

4 Any man bearing the priesthood who holds the office of a President over any group or quorum in the church, and anyone who is a counsellor to a President, is addressed as “President”. As the most senior Apostle in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Boyd K. Packer was the President of the Quorum of the Twelve, and therefore addressed as “President”, while the other apostles are referred to as “Elder”.

5 Yes, that Tabernacle, home of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

6 President Uchtdorf, while also an Apostle, currently serves as the Second Counselor to President Thomas S. Monson in the First Presidency. Counselors in the First Presidency don’t have to be apostles, but they almost always are.

7 There’s a popular saying among Mormons that goes “When the prophet speaks … the debate is over.” It’s from Sister Elaine Cannon, in the General Women’s Meeting on September 16, 1978. At the time, Sister Cannon was the President of the church’s Young Women’s Association, which provides activities and programs for young women aged 12-18 in the church. No, women are not usually addressed as “President” even when they’re presiding over an organization. I try to change that, myself. On the other hand, I vehemently disagree with this statement, especially since there are so many other times when leaders of the church have talked about our need to “study things out for yourselves” and not to just accept everything church leaders say uncritically and unthinkingly.



Her Majesty’s a pretty nice girl, but she doesn’t have a lot to say.

Her Majesty’s a pretty nice girl, but she changes from day to day.

I want to tell her that I love her a lot, but I gotta get a belly full of wine.

Her Majesty’s a pretty nice girl, some day I’m gonna make her mine, Oh yeah, some day I’m going to make her mine.

— “Her Majesty”, Abbey Road, The Beatles, 1969, credited Lennon-McCartney but written and sung by Paul alone

On Wednesday, September 9, Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom, Canada and Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith, marked 63 years and 215 days since her accession to the throne on February 6, 1952.

While she didn’t celebrate it or even talk about it much publicly, it’s a pretty big milestone, as that made her the longest-reigning British (or English or Scottish or Canadian or…) monarch in history. She caught up to the 23,226 days that her great-great-grandmother, Victoria, sat on the same throne between 1837 and 1901.

I’ve always been impressed with Elizabeth.  Unflappable, unfailingly polite but also unfailingly intolerant of fools, intelligent, wise even in her youth, always willing and ready to serve. Every one of us would benefit from these qualities.

Sure, it might seem stupid to have just someone who won the birth lottery to serve as your nation’s head of state. But look at the rest of the world outside the Commonwealth Realms1; in so many nations, their heads of state are elected officials, which makes it easy for people to besmirch their whole nation when they whine about the person elected (cf. US President Obama and the nutjobs who’ve been crapping on him for 7 years straight), or they’re loony dictators.

And heaven knows when it comes to monarchs, there have been some real winners out there. Just because one is raised to become a monarch doesn’t mean that one will necessarily be a good example.

But I’d say we’ve done alright with Elizabeth. Especially for those of us in Canada, it doesn’t cost us much at all to “support” her, she looks good on the coins, and again, she’s a Very Good Example of a decent human being.

God Save The Queen indeed!

1 While Elizabeth is the head of the Commonwealth, an organization made up of 53 nations, there are just 16 nations of which she is the actual Queen and head of state, and these 16 nations are known as the Commonwealth Realms.  In alphabetical order, they are Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, and, of course, The United Kingdom. She’s also Queen of a buttload of leftover territories and colonies; 14 “British Overseas Territories”, namely Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Antarctic Territory, the British Indian Ocean Territory, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, the Turks and Caicos Islands, the Pitcairn Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, and Sovereign Base Areas on Cyprus, and 3 “Crown Dependencies”, the Isle of Man, Jersey, and Guernsey.



This Labour Day weekend is a kind of special anniversary for me. 25 years ago, on the Sunday just before Labour Day, I was at church in Burnaby BC. I’d done the first year of my MBA at UBC, gone home to Yellowknife for the summer, and then returned to the Vancouver area. Our church often creates congregations specifically for “young single adults” (18-30), and that was the congregation I attended.

I’d said Hi to friends from the previous year, all that kind of thing, and then it was time for the meeting to start. For those of you who aren’t Mormons, I’ll tell you about the church meetings we usually have on the first Sunday of each month. Most Sundays, in between the hymns and the announcements and the administration of the Sacrament (think “communion” or “Eucharist”), two or three members will speak after having been assigned to do so by the bishop of the congregation or one of his counsellors. But on the first Sunday, there are no assigned speakers; anyone who wants to can get up to the pulpit and speak for a few minutes about their faith in Christ or whatever. We call that “bearing your testimony”. Also, on those first Sundays, we fast by skipping two meals (usually breakfast and lunch), then taking the money we saved (or more) and donating it to be used to help people who need food or other help. So those first-Sunday meetings are often called “Fast and Testimony Meetings”.

Anyhow, of course, the day before Labour Day is almost always the day for a Fast and Testimony Meeting. (Unless, of course, the first Sunday in September is September 1st.) So I’m sitting there in church, watching different people get up and speak.

And then this cute blonde girl gets up to speak, and I perk up, because a) I hadn’t seen her before in that congregation, and b) she was pretty cute, eh? She talked about how she just finished serving a mission for the church, which explained why she hadn’t been there in BC last year. And I thought “Hmmm … I need to go say Hi to her afterwards.”

So I did. And we talked for I-don’t-know-how-long. And we started dating. And we started talking about getting married … which we finally did about a year and half after we met (May 9, 1992).

Yesterday, of course, was another fast and testimony meetings. And we just moved from Coquitlam to Burnaby (one suburb closer to the city of Vancouver proper), so we’re now part of the Burnaby ward (our congregations are usually called “wards”, like what you call different parts of a city). So we were in the very same building where we met 25 years previously. And I got up and shared how I know God loves me, because he put this wonderful woman in my path so she could become part of my life. And she’s the best thing that ever happened to me. (Now, I know I’m not the best thing that ever happened to her, necessarily … but I’m working on it.)

So Happy Anniversary, Linn-Marie!  Love you so much!



The first musician I became a “fan” of as a kid was Elton John. I distinctly remember buying his 1975 album Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, which is an amazing set of autobiographical vignettes from the lives of Elton himself and his lyricist/co-writer/friend Bernie Taupin. It was the first “non-K-Tel” record I ever bought.

From there, I bought all of Elton’s earlier albums, and was thus introduced to what is probably one of the most amazing creative periods of one of the most amazing musicians in recent history. Starting with his eponymous 1970 album,1 through to the end of 1975, Elton released nine studio albums, containing among them 95 original songs written by Elton and Bernie, along with a movie soundtrack (Friends) with another 10 original songs, plus a Greatest Hits album in 1974, and more than a score of singles. Elton and Bernie are one of the fastest and most prolific songwriting teams ever; it’s said that Bernie would spend an hour writing a few sets of lyrics, which Elton would put to music in about half an hour.

But the speed of their songwriting didn’t mean quality was sacrificed. In that period, Elton John had seven consecutive Billboard number one albums, a feat matched only by Eminem and beaten only by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Six of those albums made Rolling Stone’s 2003 list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.2 He also released 22 singles in that period, of which five hit #1 and three hit #2 on the US Billboard charts.

The pinnacle of this era — perhaps the pinnacle of Elton’s and Bernie’s entire careers — was the 1973 double album, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. Bernie wrote the lyrics for the 17 songs on the album (plus four others that weren’t used) in two-and-a-half weeks, while Elton wrote the music for those songs in three days. After an abortive attempt to record the album in Jamaica, they went back to the Château d’Hérouville in France (where they’d recorded the two previous albums) and recorded the whole album in only two weeks. Four singles from the album charted, of which “Bennie and the Jets” hit #1 in the US and Canada, and also reached US platinum status along with the title track.

Many albums have a unifying theme, and aren’t just a collection of songs. Some have said that the theme of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is “nostalgia for a more humble childhood and an older American culture as seen through eyes of the movies.” But I see it differently. I see the album as being all about misfits.

Misfit” is one of those words which came from other words, but people nowadays have almost forgotten those original words. It’s now used to mean a lot of things, but the original meaning was to denote something — or someone — who is a “mis” fit, who doesn’t “fit” into the hole or socket or pigeonhole it’s “supposed” to fit. And the “characters” in this album are all people who somehow “don’t fit”.

Have you ever felt like no matter who you’re with, no matter where you are, no matter what you’re doing, no matter how you’re acting, you Just. Don’t. Fit. In?

That’s me. That’s the story of my life. I always feel like I Never Fit In with other people. Doesn’t matter when or where or who or what or how or why; just never felt like I “fit”. I can think of a dozen or more possible contributing factors, but the result is the same. Even when I’m with someone who gives me an amazing and unconditional love that I don’t deserve (namely my wife Linn-Marie), I still feel like a misfit. It’s certainly not her “fault” … it’s just something inside me that doesn’t “click” the right way.

So I identify with many of the characters in GYBR. They’re all misfits, all somehow looking for a place to belong.  I won’t discuss Every Single Song here, but I need to mention about half of them, along with what I see as their specific themes.

  • Fame, and how it’s not all it’s cracked up to be:

Goodbye Norma Jean; though I never knew you at all
You had the grace to hold yourself
While those around you crawled.

Goodbye Norma Jean; from the young man in the 22nd row
Who sees you as something more than sexual,
More than just our Marilyn Monroe.

— “Candle in the Wind”

So goodbye yellow brick road, where the dogs of society howl.
You can’t plant me in your penthouse; I’m going back to my plough.
Back to the howling old owl in the woods, hunting the horny back toad;
Oh I’ve finally decided my future lies beyond the yellow brick road.

— “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”

  • Failing relationships:

I can see by your eyes you must be lying when you think I don’t have a clue.
Baby you’re crazy if you think that you can fool me,
Because I’ve seen that movie too.

The one where the players are acting surprised, saying love’s just a four letter word
Between forcing smiles, with the knives in their eyes,
Well, their actions become so absurd.

— “I’ve Seen That Movie Too”

  • The death of a young Depression-era gangster:

Some punk with a shotgun killed young Danny Bailey
In cold blood, in the lobby of a downtown motel.
Killed him in anger, a force he couldn’t handle
Helped pull the trigger that cut short his life.
And there’s not many knew him the way that we did;
Sure enough he was a wild one, but then aren’t most hungry kids?

— “The Ballad Of Danny Bailey (1909-34)”

  • A disillusioned teenager looking for love in all the wrong places:

Raised to be a lady by the golden rule, Alice was the spawn of a public school,
With a double-barrel name in the back of her brain, and a simple case of Mommy-doesn’t-love-me blues.

Reality it seems was just a dream; she couldn’t get it on with the boys on the scene.
But what do you expect from a chick who’s just sixteen?
And hey, hey, hey, you know what I mean.

Poor little darling with a chip out of her heart; it’s like acting in a movie when you got the wrong part.
Getting your kicks in another girl’s bed; and it was only last Tuesday they found you in the subway dead.

— “All the Girls Love Alice”

  • Young working-class toughs boozing it up on the weekend:

Well they’re packed pretty tight in here tonight; I’m looking for a dolly who’ll see me right.
I may use a little muscle to get what I need; I may sink a little drink and shout out “She’s with me!”
A couple of the sounds that I really like are the sounds of a switchblade and a motorbike.
I’m a juvenile product of the working class, whose best friend floats in the bottom of a glass.

— “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)”

  • Someone who doesn’t fit into “polite society”, and is proud of it:

My bulldog is barking in the backyard enough to raise a dead man from his grave.
And I can’t concentrate on what I’m doing; disturbance going to crucify my days.
And the days they get longer and longer, and the nighttime is a time of little use,
For I just get ugly and older; I get juiced on Mateus and just hang loose.

And I get bombed for breakfast in the morning, I get bombed for dinner time and tea;
I dress in rags, smell a lot, and have a real good time; I’m a genuine example of a social disease.

— “Social Disease”

  • Trying to find comfort in nostalgia:

Nine o’clock mornings, five o’clock evenings, I’d liven the pace if I could.
Oh I’d rather have ham in my sandwich than cheese, but complaining wouldn’t do any good.
Lay back in my armchair, close eyes and think clear; I can hear hoofbeats ahead.
Roy and Trigger have just hit the hilltop while the wife and the kids are in bed.

And Roy Rogers is riding tonight, returning to our silver screens.
Comic book characters never grow old; evergreen heroes whose stories were told.
Oh the great sequin cowboy who sings of the plains, of roundups and rustlers and home on the range.
Turn on the T.V., shut out the lights, Roy Rogers is riding tonight.

— “Roy Rogers”

  • And maybe, just at the end, hope for fitting in with one special person:

Hello, baby hello; Open up your heart and let your feelings flow.
You’re not unlucky knowing me, keeping the speed real slow,
In any case I set my own pace by stealing the show; say hello, hello.

Harmony and me, we’re pretty good company,
Looking for an island in our boat upon the sea.
Harmony, gee I really love you and I want to love you forever,
And dream of the never, never, never leaving harmony.

— “Harmony”

If you haven’t ever listened to this album, do so. If you have, do so again.  It may be more than forty years old, but it’s still amazing. And anything that can invoke the kinds of emotions in my heart that these songs do must be worth a listen.

1 We’ll skip over his first album, 1969’s Empty Sky, which was neat and new and experimental and weird, but which didn’t chart at all, and contained only one memorable song, “Skyline Pigeon”.

2 Elton John was #468, Tumbleweed Connection was #458, Honky Château was #359, Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy was #158, Greatest Hits came in at #136, and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was #91.



I’m going to Graceland, Graceland,
In Memphis, Tennessee
I’m going to Graceland.
Poorboys and pilgrims with families
And we are going to Graceland

Paul Simon’s album Graceland was released in August 1986, when my oldest daughter Rebecca was four months old. I really got into listening to it through 1987, and the kids (both Rebecca and my son Stuart) loved singing along to it. Rebecca especially loved doing the “Whoop! Whoop! Whoop! Whoop! Whoop! Whoop! Whoop! Whoop!” bits that punctuate the song “I Know What I Know”.

And then in March 1988, my wife left me.

She comes back to tell me she’s gone.
As if I didn’t know that,
As if I didn’t know my own bed;
As if I’d never noticed
The way she brushed her hair from her forehead.
And she said, “Losing love
Is like a window in your heart;
Everybody sees you’re blown apart
Everybody sees the wind blow.”

Left us, really. Although, to her credit, she later said she wouldn’t have done so if she’d thought I’d try to keep the kids from her.

Still. Odd to have a mid-life crisis before you’re 25 years old. Meanwhile, Stuart’s asking questions, spaced out, very measured, as if he asks one question, gets one answer, and then goes away and processes it for a while before asking the next question, and so on.

My traveling companion is five years old;
He is the child of my first marriage.
But I’ve reason to believe
We both will be received
In Graceland

Yeah, Paul Simon’s version says “nine years old”, but Stuart was five at the time, so that’s how I hear it in my head.

So Graceland, whether the “real” place in Memphis or some imaginary state of grace, is something I hang on to now and then. I don’t know why.

In Graceland, in Graceland;
I’m going to Graceland.
For reasons I cannot explain,
There’s some part of me wants to see Graceland.
And I may be obliged to defend
Every love, every ending,
Or maybe there’s no obligations now;
Maybe I’ve a reason to believe
We all will be received
In Graceland

One of these days, I’m going to call Stuart up, and see if he wants to do a road trip to Memphis. Rebecca as well, of course. I think they’ll understand.