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I love the game of Fizzbin.  I haven’t played since college, but…

What is Fizzbin, you ask?  Oh, you poor, uncultured, geek-challenged…  I’d wager (if I were a betting man) that you are deluded enough to think that Jean-Luc Picard was the greatest starship captain ever, which OBVIOUSLY is not the case.

Fizzbin is a glorious game played with a standard set of playing cards.  And the “standard” set of playing cards is ALL that is standard about Fizzbin.  You see, the rules of Fizzbin change constantly, depending on the day of the week or whether it’s day or night or just how gullible you are.

Fizzbin was brilliantly invented, on-the-fly, by Captain James Tiberius Kirk.  Here is one of the craziest and funniest scenes from Star Trek (yes, the ORIGINAL series):

When I was in a sophomore in high school, some brave and clever trekker compiled all the rules of Fizzbin, added a few more to make it more interesting and complete, and published them.  Once I educated my friends about the glories of Fizzbin, we would get together on some Friday nights and play.  (Yes, as a matter of fact, I DID go out on actual dates with real GIRLS.  You know, pretty humans of the feminine persuasion?  I was, after all, a geek—not a nerd.)  I don’t remember all the rules, but I DO remember that in the case of a tie, the winner was determined to be the first one who could pin his opponent to the floor…

Here’s a link to the rules as originally published in 1976:  http://nazarenespace.ning.com/profiles/blogs/just-for-fun-how-to-play-fizzbin-only-trekers-will-get-it

If Fizzbin sounds confusing, well obviously, it was meant to be.  After all, it was invented by the greatest starship captain to confuse those who held Kirk, Mr. Spock, and Dr. McCoy captive.  And it worked.  Fizzbin saved the day!

Imagine, though, if real life were like Fizzbin.  Imagine if the rules constantly changed, sometimes without our knowledge, and what was right was suddenly wrong…

The ancient Greeks and Romans (and the Norse, as well) believed in gods that were, well, mercurial.  The gods changed their minds.  A lot.  And mere mortals were constantly tossed about by their divine whims.  One could anger the gods without knowing it.  One might anger one god even while gaining the favor of another.  What a way to live!  But then again, the gods were jealous and petty and FLAWED.  In other words, they were modelled after mortal patterns of behavior.  The GODS reflected US.

But the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob does not change.  The great Jehovah does not vary from His eternal course.  He turns not to the right hand nor to the left.  He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  Some practices may change (e.g., going from a three-hour meeting block to a two-hour meeting block on Sundays or changing from home and visiting teaching to ministering or being forbidden to eat pork and shrimp), but eternal truths do not change.

I recently read about a group of “faith leaders” blessing an abortion clinic, saying that the murder of the most defenseless among us is a “godly act.”

Oh, my.

How could we have possibly convinced ourselves that evil is now good and good is now evil?  Because we think we’re smarter than God?  We imagine up unto ourselves a god who changes with the times.  Modern churches seem to morph and twist themselves to suit the prevailing wisdom of man.  “But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matthew 15:9)  Things that were unconscionable not so long ago are now celebrated and called “godly.”

Sometimes we listen to General Conference and hear the voice of the Lord as spoken through living prophets and apostles… and we are offended.  Why?  Because we have become invested in something we know is wrong.  Because we think our circumstances or that of someone we love must justify our standing in opposition to what the Lord has said time and time again, has been saying for millennia.  We seem to expect that the Lord will someday “figure it out,” that someday the Lord will see things OUR way.  Because we are now more enlightened than the exalted Being who sees the end from the beginning?

I’m currently reading the Book of Job in my personal scripture study.  Job does NOT understand why he has been afflicted.  His friends think it is because Job has sinned.  We have all sinned, yes, but Job maintains his integrity and asserts that he has lived a godly life.  At the end of the book, the Lord rebukes Job’s friends, but the Lord also rebukes JOB.  The eternal Jehovah tells Job that He knows and sees all.  He sees what Job does not and cannot.  And how does Job respond to this rebuke?  Job humbles himself before the Lord.  Job REPENTS.  He submits to the Lord’s will.  Because the Lord is perfect.  The Lord does not change.  He is omniscient.  And after Job humbly submits to the Lord’s will, the Lord blesses Job doubly.

God does not change with the times.  Jesus Christ is smarter than I am.  He knows all.  And I take great comfort in that.

Because, after all, as much fun as a game of Fizzbin can be, I don’t want to live my life that way.

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When the author offered an ARC to review his new book, I was curious. Having not read his previous novels, I was intrigued by the premise of combining the genres of Christian fiction, LDS fiction, and horror. I wasn’t disappointed.

The story is well crafted and researched. I loved learning about the lives of the Roman legionnaires as I met Marcus. The trials of being a former princess, now defeated as a slave, as I met Maelona. The conflicting emotions of loving a human, but being compelled to kill those who do evil, when I met Branwen. I say met, because that is what it felt like. The characters are easily pictured, well written, and easy to connect with.

The word “Prophecy”, as written in the title, plays a major part in the story. Marcus has the Gift of Prophecy, and each chapter begins with one quoted. I enjoyed the challenge of first trying to determine the meaning, and then discovering it as the chapter played out.

Don’t let the idea that this is part of a series, or the horror genre, turn you away. There is enough back-story given to catch you up with the extra characters, and Mr. Belt does a wonderful job of letting your imagination fill in the details that constitute the horror. This story is easily read as a stand-alone novel. Bravo, Mr. Belt!

Cydnie Dial
South Jordan, UT

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I once had the privilege of meeting James Doohan (“Scotty” from the original Star Trek television series). He was a genuinely nice guy and very gracious to me personally. However, when I first met him, I noticed immediately that he was missing the middle finger of his right hand. Of course, I didn’t ask him how he lost it. I was fifteen at the time, and I thought it might be rude.

I immediately sought out a mutual friend who told me that Mr. Doohan had landed at Juno Beach with a Royal Canadian Artillery Unit on D-day. It was his first combat experience. Let me say that again—D-day was his first combat experience. James Doohan was a bona fide WWII hero.

Being a young, rabid trekker—I was never a trekkie, and yes, there’s a difference—I had seen all of the original Star Trek episodes, most of them many times. This was in the unimaginably distant past when we didn’t have DVDs or VCRs. I had to run home from school to be able to catch the show in local syndication. And from that day forward, I watched every episode, paying special attention to Scotty, looking for that missing finger. Although extra care was taken not to show his right hand directly, there were times when it was unavoidable. I was astonished to find that, while I had never noticed the absence of a finger before, once I had “eyes to see,” it was easy to see it—or rather to not see it.

Mr. Doohan personally inspired many, many people to pursue engineering and astronautics. He was awarded an honorary degree in engineering from the Milwaukee School of Engineering where half the students polled said that “Scotty” had inspired them to study the discipline.

But it was Mr. Doohan’s passion for Shakespeare that inspired me. Mr. Doohan told me that his greatest ambition was to play King Lear. As far as I can determine, he never achieved that goal. And that is a shame, because he was a great actor. He would have made a great King Lear. Perhaps he is playing Lear for the angels now.

After meeting Mr. Doohan, I took a special interest in the story of King Lear. I read the play a number of times. I was most fascinated by the story of Edgar, Edmund, and Gloucester. Here was a tale of love, loyalty, and betrayal, of hatred and madness, of violence and horror, and of honor, sacrifice, and friendship in the unlikeliest of places. King Lear is Shakespeare at his tragic best.

Time’s Plague, while inspired by King Lear, is not a retelling of Shakespeare’s play. I have borrowed character names and themes—Shakespeare himself borrowed and adapted stories from other sources—but I have not attempted to repaint the Bard’s masterpiece with a sci-fi brush, except perhaps in the very broadest of strokes.

At its heart, the central theme of King Lear and Time’s Plague is blindness, both physical and spiritual. Lear cannot see Regan and Goneril for what they are. He cannot see Cordelia’s love. Gloucester cannot see Edmund’s perfidy or Edgar’s nobility and loyalty. And this spiritual blindness costs him his eyes.

Which brings me back to Mr. Doohan. After Star Trek, he had a hard time getting work. Nobody could see past “Scotty.” And I, for one, believe that this cost the world a truly great King Lear.

C. David Belt
August 7th, 2018
unwillingchild@hotmail.com

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“Time’s Plague” is scheduled for release in September.  And here is the front cover by Ben Savage, Cover Artist Supreme!

Times_Plague

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“The Arawn Prophecy” was a beautifully crafted story. I was drawn in by characters so well-written, I could have sworn I was there with them. This was a story built around keeping faith during times that seemed to contradict everything, and rising above and becoming stronger for it.

Kimberly King – Logan, UT

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“The Arawn Prophecy” drew me in and made me feel as though I was part of the story. I joined Marcus Scribonius “Audaxus” as he fought physical battles in the Roman army and struggled with matters of faith and temptation. I joined Maelona as she transformed from slave to princess. As their relationship changed from fear to love, I felt the emotions they were going through. I joined Branwen while she was having her own inner struggles with her feelings for Marcus. I joined them all on their journey to fight the wicked priests of Arawn as they put their fear behind and found the courage they needed to face what could possibly be their last battle. I did not want the story to end! I couldn’t put the book down.

Thank you for an amazing, exciting, wonderful journey, C. David Belt!

Carrie Farnsworth – Kaysville, UT

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I just watched a great movie–in my head, from reading this outstanding story! Attend the tale of Marcus Scribonius Audaxus, Roman legionnaire extraordinaire! Having suffered the loss of his mother at the hands of wicked men, Marcus joins the Roman army and grows to become a great leader. Also having been baptized by an original member of the Quorum of the Seventy, an elder named Aristobulus who served with Jesus Christ during His earthly ministry, Marcus experiences many great challenges that test his faith, including fighting with extremely wicked men who worship Arawn, Lord of the Dead. Marcus is not only valiant, courageous, humble, faithful, loyal, and full of integrity, but he has a special gift of receiving prophecies that proves to be a great blessing to him and those he loves. His steadfastness, courage, faith, and his love prove to be a great catalyst in causing two beautiful women, a slave-turned-princess named Maelona and a mortal-turned-vampire named Branwen, to fall incredibly in love with him. This love permeates the story and plays a role in tying together the past with the future as the heroes who defeated Lilith (see Belt’s “The Children of Lilith”) learn all about Marcus and those who nobly fought beside him. These two heroes honor Marcus and his descendants in a final act of selfless love, and then the final prophecy is fulfilled. ‘Tis an epic tale of great magnitude and a tear jerker in the end!
John Abercrombie — Bountiful, Utah

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I used to love the movie Braveheart.  I mean, I loved it.  Such an inspiring story of courage!  Like great bagpipe music, it stirred my blood.  (And to those who might say, “There’s no such thing as ‘great bagpipe music,’” I say, you have never heard the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sing “Amazing Grace” with bagpipes…)

I teach classes on Medieval weaponry and armor at writers’ conferences and Renaissance faires—“Swords and Spears and Axes, Oh My (Medieval Weapons 101).”  I have collected a rather large arsenal of ancient weapons— some are truly ancient, while most are battle-ready, museum-quality replicas of actual museum pieces.  I pass the swords, spears, axes, war hammers, maces, daggers, etc. around and allow participants to heft and handle them, while I sing songs and tell tales from history and talk about how those lovely, lethal objects were actually used.

At writers’ conferences, the purpose of the class is to allow authors and aspiring authors the opportunity to describe combat with a greater degree of accuracy, and in many cases, to wisely choose which weapons their characters should use in their stories.  At the Ren faires, I’m attempting to infuse a greater love of history and a love and respect for the brave men and women who stand between us and the darkness and have done so throughout history.

In my classes, when I talk about the Battle of Bannockburn, I ask, “How many of ye have ever seen the “entertainment” known as Braveheart?  (I call it an “entertainment”, because it’s a Ren faire and movies didn’t exist in whatever time period is being portrayed.  Also, I do my classes “in-character” to match my full Scottish garb, including kilt.)  In answer to my question, a great number of people raise their hands, including myself.  Then I ask, “How many of ye ken it’s all a pack of lies?”

That elicits a laugh.

Then I list off some of those lies—

“Nobody wore kilts at the time.”

“William Wallace was a nobleman, nae a commoner.  He was Laird Protector of Scotland, fer cryin’ out loud!”

“William Wallace was a Lowlander, nae a Highlander.”

“William Wallace did nae cry, ‘Freedom!’ as ’tis impossible tae yell anythin’ when your diaphragm has been removed, which is part of the mode of execution known as drawing-and-quartering.”

“There was nae ever any such a thing as prima nocta.”

“Robert was a true Scottish patriot, nae a craven political maneuver.”

“Oh, and the princess?  She was six years-old when Wallace died and had ne’er been tae Scotland.  So… that did nae happen.”

So when, to my dismay, I learned of all the inaccuracies and blatant lies that were portrayed in that beloved movie, I did some research of my own on the screenwriter who wrote the movie (who claims to be a descendant of William Wallace and whom I will not name here).  When questioned about the non-historical nature of the film, he said, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”

Well, I simply can’t do that.  Yes, I know I’m writing fiction, but I want to keep the story as close to the truth as possible.  No, “want” isn’t a strong-enough word.  I need to stay as close to the truth as possible, otherwise, the story rings false.  But, especially in the case of this story, I am fighting Hollywood tooth and nail.  Ancient Rome has been depicted many times in film, and so, increasingly, has first century Roman Britannia.  And the inaccuracies are often stunning.

So while I am no scholarly expert on this period of history and this setting, I have painstakingly researched in order to keep the details as accurate as possible.  And I have consulted with a former professor of antiquities, a friend of mine in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  In fact, I have talked his ear off.  And he has graciously and patiently listened and advised.

So, as you read this story, I am going to challenge (and decimate) many of the images that Hollywood has spoon-fed into your minds.  (By the way, decimate is a very interesting word with Roman military origins.  It didn’t mean then what it means today…)  So, please be prepared to set aside many of your preconceived notions.

Here’s one example—did you know that there were only eighteen Roman male first names in use during the first century?  The main character is named Marcus Scribonius.  And in his century (Roman military unit) of eighty men, fifteen other men would have the first name of Marcus.  So at this period, one would never refer to Marcus Scribonius simply as “Marcus.”  One would almost always use his first name and his family name—Marcus Scribonius.  Only in an intimate setting would he ever be called “Marcus,” and then only if there were no other Marcuses in the room.

Another example—the Romans, while obsessed with bathing, did not use soap (and, yes, soap was around at the time).  They cleaned their skin by rubbing olive oil into the skin, and then scraping it off with a flat, hook-shaped instrument called a strigil.  I have to admit, when I discovered this little fact, my mind was officially blown.  And they washed clothes in urine.

And in spite of what you have seen in the movies, the Roman short sword known as the gladius was not used to hack at the enemy.  It was a thrusting weapon, used to stab at the enemy.  So there was none of this sword-clashing-on-sword fighting in the Roman army.  In fact, legionnaires were not trained in one-on-one combat—they trained and fought only as organized units.  And they were extremely effective.

If you have read my other published works, you may recognize certain characters and circumstances, and I hope that will bring you joy.  If you have not read my other published novels, don’t worry—you will still be able to fully enjoy the story.

For me, this has been a fun ride—all of it, including the late nights of historical research.  I sincerely hope you enjoy it.

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John Dickinson (1732-1808) is not the best-remembered of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America, and that is, in my not-so-humble (and almost always correct) opinion, a profound shame, especially today.

Dickinson was a member of the Pennsylvania delegation to the Second Continental Congress, and in that congress, he was the leading voice AGAINST American independence.  In fact, when it came time to sign the Declaration of Independence and to pledge to each other their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor, Dickinson resigned from Congress, refusing to sign.

His reasons for doing so, when viewed strictly through a modern lens, seem misguided at best, self-serving, unamerican, or even treasonous at worst.  However, to do so would be to do a great and loyal American a terrible disservice.  Dickinson was a true American patriot and an honest and selfless man who laid his life on the line for his country (meaning, the U.S.A.).  He argued forcibly that American independence was wrong at that time, because he believed the colonies could not win a war against the greatest military power in the world at the time (Great Britain), he believed the colonies would need the help of a great foreign nation (and we did—France) before we could declare independence, he believed we needed a national government in place before we could declare independence (he was one of the authors of the Articles of Confederation and insisted they be completed first), and he believed that violence was not the answer to settling the dispute.  While I am grateful that the voices for independence won out (and that very narrowly and only by a miracle—and by that, I mean Divine intervention), I can understand all of Dickinson’s arguments.  A lot of what he said made a lot of sense viewed through the lens of 1776.  What Dickinson did, he did out of deeply held principles.

After refusing to sign the Declaration and resigning from the congress, John Dickinson enlisted in the militia and served with the Continental (U.S.) Army.  He served faithfully and bravely.  In fact, at one point, he refused a commission and served as a lowly private.  After the revolution, he continued to serve this nation until the end of his life.

John Adams (1735-1826, Second President of the United States) led the push for independence, and he and Dickinson were bitter and vocal opponents in congress.  But when Dickinson refused to sign the Declaration, Adams said of his opponent, “Mr. Dickinson’s alacrity and spirit certainly become his character and sets a fine example.”  In other words, he praised his rival.  Even though they were political enemies in a cause they both held to be of supreme importance, they respected each other as human beings.

Can we not today learn from Dickinson’s and Adams’s example?  We can disagree strongly over issues we think to be of vital importance and still not resort to HATRED and VIOLENCE against those with whom we disagree.  Dickinson was WRONG, but he was SINCERELY and HONESTLY wrong in his firmly held principles, and he was still an HONORABLE and a BRAVE man.

Mr. Dickinson was a true American patriot.  May we learn from his example.  And that of his adversary, John Adams.  To do less, would be unamerican.

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July 3nd, Salt Lake City, UT

Home again, home again… 

Not much to say about the travel itself, but I do have a few parting words about my last tour with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. 

It has been my great and humbling privilege to sing with the Choir on this tour.  I learned a lot of lessons about obedience and humility.  I learned more lessons about enduring pain, and sanctifying pain as an offering to the Lord.  I did suffer and endure pain, and weighed against simply singing in the Choir on this tour alone, I’m not certain it would have been worth it.  But as an offering to the Lord, I am grateful that I was able to sacrifice in the service of my Savior. 

As we sang “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” and, especially last night, “Come. Come, Ye Saints,”  I reflected and wept in gratitude and wonder at the limitless grace of my Lord, Jesus Christ. 

I am grateful that my wonderful, lovely Cindy is here, with me.  She is the most tangible evidence of the perfect love of my Savior.  She had to put up with a lot from me on this tour.  And I am humbled that she did put up with me. 

My knee surgery is scheduled.  Relief from my pain is coming, but the road has been difficult.  But I don’t count the cost, because I was allowed to sing on tour once more with the Lord’s Choir.  There are many choirs that belong to the Lord.  I am humbly and eternally grateful to have been a part of this choir for the past eleven years.  So very few get to have this privilege, and I am very much aware that it is NOT because I am more talented or more deserving than others.  I am not.  I am just very, very blessed—and undeservedly so. 

And my pain is nothing compared to what my Savior has suffered for me. 

And so, for every moment I am privileged to participate with this Choir, I will continue to work very hard, to memorize every piece of music, to sing every note as perfectly in-tune as I possibly can, to strive to improve—right to the end of the last performance.  Because, no matter how hard I try, no matter how hard I work, no matter how difficult it might be, I will never DESERVE this calling, I will never be ENTITLED to this calling.  I will simply be humbly grateful. 

At the end of this tour, I recognize that so many people put in so much work—many of them with very little recognition—who made this marvelous experience possible.  Simply saying, “Thank you,” is not enough, but I say it anyway.  Thank you. 

Oh, and I got some great writing done on “The Arawn Option”. 

On the airplane home, we sat in front of Elder and Sister Pingree.  He said to me, “The level of consecration shown by the Choir is impressive.” 

That’s what this tour was to me—consecration. 

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July 2nd, Seattle, WA

What?  No SEAHAWK for guest conductor?  Didn’t the Choir leadership read my blog post?  Don’t they listen to me? 

Well, apparently not. 

We had the Washington Secretary of State.  And she was a lot of fun.  (And she was a lot prettier than Russell Wilson…) 

Great concert, and my last tour concert ever.  <sigh> 

Tonight, I sat next to the timpani.  I actually learned a lot about that amazing instrument.  For example, I had no idea you can cover two octaves with those four drums, because you can change pitch on the fly! 

I also learned that the puddle underneath a tuba or trombone is CONDENSATION, not spit.  (You see, spit comes out in long strings.  So you can tell the difference.  But yes, it does come out of those brass horns…) 

Before the concert, Cindy and I went down the waterfront in Seattle.  We did some shopping and had lunch.  But that’s really all the time we had to sightsee in Seattle. 

When they fed us dinner at the venue (between the rehearsal/sound-check and the actual concert), we got to the end of the food line.  There were forks and knives and napkins.  And a little sign that said, “All these items are compostable.”  Yep, our forks and knives were bio-degradable.  Just stew on that for a minute.  You see, Seattle just passed a law OUTLAWING plastic utensils and straws.  So now you get to put compostable forks and spoons in your mouth.  Yeah. 

Tomorrow, we fly home. 

 

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July 1st, Seattle, WA

Another travel day, with the added twist of crossing the border back into the good, ol’ U.S. of A.  On CANADA DAY, no less! 

It was supposed to be less than a three-hour bus ride.  (A three-hour tour.  A three-hour tour.  The weather started getting rough…  Actually, the weather was GREAT.)  We got to the border station, and of course, we all had to get off the bus and go through customs and immigration.  The customs and immigration portion was QUICK.  No problems.  The line for the bathroom after we got through ICE was… longer.  And I DID notice that the ladies’ line moved much more quickly than the men’s.  (They were timing themselves.  No, literally.  I’m not kidding.)  But soon we were on our way. 

Suddenly, however, traffic started to slow.  (The tiny ship was tossed.  If not for courage of the fearless crew…)  Our AWESOME bus driver quickly figured out that we needed to take an alternate route.  We found ourselves travelling down skinny back roads.  (We passed a restaurant called “The Cedar Stump” which had a sign which read, “Rest your rump at the Cedar Stump!”)  We traveled back roads for an hour, some of it in stop-and-go traffic. 

The entire delay was caused by a fatal highway accident.  At one point, I saw a car inverted on the interstate, and Cindy saw a car inverted on the grass median.  We later learned that an “impaired” driver was driving north in the southbound lanes (our lanes). 

The final result (which for us, thankfully, did not include a fatality) was that we got to our lovely hotel in downtown Seattle an hour late.  HOWEVER, our bus started out third (3 out of 11 busses).  We arrived FIRST.  The other busses were delayed by up to three hours. 

Bottom line?  Our bus driver was AWESOME!!!! 

Tomorrow, we have a few hours to sightsee, and then we have our final concert.  Personally, I’m PRAYING for a SEAHAWK to be our guest conductor.  Russell Wilson!  Pete Carroll!  Come on!  It would be totally awesome!  Besides, I want to make my son, Jacob (who doesn’t WANT to join the Choir), insanely jealous!!! 

BTW, our welcome dinner (our last meal together on tour) was fantastic.  It had pork with Walla-Walla Sweet Onions!  (And yeah, the meal was delayed for a bit, so everyone could get there and eat it…) 

My last tour is coming to an end.  One more full day and one more concert.  And then it’s home on Tuesday, and I no longer get Cindy all to myself…  Talk about depressing… 

 

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June 30th, Vancouver, BC

The Orpheum Theatre in Vancouver.  This older venue was not built for a choir and orchestra of our size.  So, space on stage was very tight.  But BEHIND stage, there was a passage that we had to pass through.  It was cramped—only one line of people could pass through at a time.  I literally had to duck my head in places (and I’m not that tall).  I kept thinking, “The Phantom of the Opera is there inside your mind…” 

From where I was sitting (yes, I was sitting for the concert), I was right behind the trombones and the tuba and just to the right of the percussion section.  I couldn’t see anyone else in the Choir.  I couldn’t hear anyone else singing.  I could only hear myself, the trombones, the tuba, and the drums and cymbals.  Boy, could I hear the cymbals! 

I learned three things at this concert: 

1.       Since I couldn’t see anyone else clapping, I had to be absolutely certain I was correct on the songs where we do synchronized clapping. 

2.       I had to be absolutely certain of every note and every word (since I couldn’t hear anyone else singing).

3.       An ENORMOUS puddle of spit forms at the feet of a trombone or tuba player. 

Tomorrow, it’s Canada Day, and that’s also the day we return to the U.S.A. 

 

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June 29th, Vancouver, BC

We are BORING people!  We are in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and what do we do on our “recovery/sightseeing” day?  We slept in (or at least I did), we ordered room service for breakfast, we went to Boston Pizza for lunch (I had French onion soup at Boston Pizza—at a pizza joint!), and then we went to the movies!  We saw “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” (which was very good, BTW).  Then we went shopping (and by that, I mean GROCERY shopping TWICE).  Then we came back to hotel.  We ate dinner in the hotel restaurant and split a steak (which was EXCELLENT).  Then we went up to our room and watched Mission: Impossible 3 on my laptop. 

That was our whole day!  Other people did EXCITING things.  Not us.  Nope.  And you know what?  It was a lot of fun being boring with my bestest girl. 

 

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June 28th, Vancouver, BC

This was a travel day.  Cindy and I didn’t have to get up until 8 (although Cindy was up before then) and didn’t leave the hotel until shortly before 9:30.  Others had to leave the hotel at 3:15.  By the time we all arrived in Vancouver, they looked like “frogs in a flashlight beam” (to use an old Midwest expression). 

Our travel was uneventful.  Even our passage through customs and immigration in Vancouver went well, with the assistance of a very helpful lady with a strong Chinese accent at the passport station.  This reminded me, of course, that Vancouver is a very international city. 

The welcome dinner was EXCELLENT, the best catered dinner we’ve had on our trip.  Our room is fantastic, with a great view. 

But our bus driver from the airport to the hotel was wonderful.  He told us all about the area and the buildings along the way.  And he’s not even from Canada! 

Also, we saw the huge geodesic ball that gets lit up in the background of one of the early Highlander episodes (which is supposedly set in Seattle, but was actually filmed in Vancouver).  So the trip is a complete success! 

 

 

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June 27th, San Francisco, CA

We had a great concert at Weill Hall at Sonoma State University.  The hall itself was phenomenal, but it OPENED up at the back to allow for more people to sit on the grass behind the hall.  I understand there were 2000 people sitting in chairs on “The Green”.

The audience was great.  This is an area that was devastated by the wildfires.  There was a man who was there whose every piece of clothing, including his sunglasses, had been donated after the fire. 

Our guest conductor was a former publisher of the SF Chronicle.  He helped raise over $33,000,000.00 to help victims of the wildfires.    

Tomorrow, we get up early to fly to Vancouver, BC.  Some of the Choir and Orchestra members have to leave the hotel at 3:15 AM.  I don’t know how or if those folks will bother to try to sleep.  Cindy and I don’t have to leave until 9:45.  Feeling very blessed. 

 

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June 26th, San Francisco, CA

Cindy and I had a wonderful day together. 

We breakfasted on crepes at Pier 39.  We went shopping.  I bought her an Alcatraz nightshirt that fits her more snugly that she might like, but she looks hot in it.  We went to the Aquarium on the Bay. 

We’ve visited this aquarium a few times in years past.  They have a large octopus there.  In the past, the octopus has been very shy.  You couldn’t use flash photography and you had to be very quiet, because she spent most of her time hiding from humans. 

But no more.  She LOVES humans.  She is NOT shy at all.  She was crawling all over the glass.  Children were noisy.  (So were adults.)  Both Cindy and I shot great videos of her.  In a cage on the floor were six large crabs.  Apparently, they were waiting to be fed to our friendly octopus… 

Rather than eating live crabs, Cindy and I opted to eat at the Boudin Café.  I had chili.  Cindy had a turkey and avocado sandwich.  Both Cindy and I have discovered that when eating sliced turkey in sandwiches, about halfway through, the turkey begins to taste like tuna…  So, she didn’t finish her turkey, but my small bowl of chili was delicious! 

Next, we took a bus tour that drove us across the Golden Gate Bridge and out to Muir Woods.  Our bus driver/tour guide was Willie.  Willie was fantastic!  He told us bits of history that you just don’t get on pre-recorded audio tours.  He made an extra stop to show us the Palace of the Arts.  Driving across the Golden Gate Bridge was thrilling, but it was NOTHING compared the twisty, turny, NARROW, winding road up to Muir Woods.  That was thrilling, but not in a fun way.  However, Willie kept pointing out all the dangerous spots.  Sometimes he would crack a joke about it.  Sometimes, he would… ENHANCE our fear.  The poor guy across from me looked like he might lose his lunch at any time.  (Maybe he had a sliced turkey sandwich too…) 

The Muir Woods park was magnificent, with giant redwood trees that were thousands of years old.  This particular tour was very important to Cindy.  I’m very glad we got the chance to see these majestic, ancient, living things. 

Then we reboarded the bus, and Willie drove us to Sausalito.  And the drive down was… exciting.  And the poor fellow across from us didn’t look like he was doing so well…  Willie gave some great commentary on the way down (and not all of it was about the dangerous road).  Cindy closed her eyes most of the way down, but when the road is as EXCITING as it was, that might be a recipe for reheated lunch. 

Cindy and I walked along downtown Sausalito, had dinner, and boarded the ferry back to Fisherman’s Wharf.  The ferry ride was the perfect end to the day—relaxing and just cold enough for Cindy to snuggle up next to me.  (YES!!!!) 

 

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June 25th, San Francisco, CA

So we sang at this wonderful outdoor venue in Mountain View, CA.  Once again, I was not allowed to stand for the performance, but I WAS on-stage, I DID get to sing, and I was right at the front of the Choir (so I didn’t feel hidden away).  And the concert went very well.

Our guest conductor for the encore number, “This Land is Your Land,” was the director of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.  25 members of the SFGMC sang with us during the rehearsal.  (We usually have guests who sing with us during the rehearsal, so that part is NOT unusual.)  As for the conductor, he did a great job.  (He knows how to conduct a choir.)  One might expect for there to be tension, but (from where I was sitting), there wasn’t.  Everyone treated each other with respect.  Obviously, we disagree on very important subjects, but we can still be nice to each other without betraying our principles.

The conductor of the SFGMC stated on social media that he hoped to be able to help some closeted gay member of the Choir to know that he is not alone and to support him in his secret gay lifestyle.  Oh, well…

I have a dear friend who is a member of the Choir, has a current temple recommend, and is openly GAY.   (Meaning, he is sexually attracted only to men.)  He keeps his temple covenants.  He is a great guy.  He is chaste.  Yes, it is possible to be gay and still keep ALL the Lord’s commandments without equivocation.  This guy is one of my HEROES.

So, during the rehearsal, I looked back, and my friend was seated right between two of our guests from the SFGMC.  There were smiles, and there was respect.  And we sang together.  And that was very cool.  And my friend is not going to suddenly abandon his temple covenants.

So often I am told how much I HATE gay people, because I, like my gay friend, believe that sexual relations are sanctioned ONLY between a man and a woman legally and lawfully married.  Seriously?  I disagree, therefore I HATE?  Disagreement on principles is not hatred.  We can love and respect each other and still keep the commandments of the God who gave us life.

To quote one of my favorite hymns,

Oh, to grace how great a debtor

Daily I’m constrained to be. 

Let Thy goodness like a fetter

Bind my wand’ring heart to Thee. 

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it. 

Prone to leave the God I love. 

Here’s my heart.  Oh, take and seal it. 

Seal it for Thy courts above. 

 

Music can and does unite us.  Love, the pure love of Christ, can and does unite us.

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June 24th, San Francisco, CA

The Pride Parade today passed right by our hotel.  It was LOUD.  Fortunately for me, I couldn’t understand most of the music and… stuff braying outside.  Unfortunately for Cindy, she could. 

But during the early part of the celebration, we were inside having a wonderful sacrament meeting with Elder and Sister Hallstrom.  His talk was on “reverence.”  One of my biggest takeaways from that sermon was that reverence is the same as “humble submission to the will of God.” 

After sacrament meeting, Cindy and I returned to our room.  I wrote some, then took a nap.  Cindy was unable to sleep with all the noise.  We had to eat out, so we waited until well after the parade was over.  Then we went out.  We went to Chinatown and ate at the House of Nanking.  Cindy and I have been there at least twice (once on a previous visit to San Francisco), and I must say that it is the best Chinese restaurant we have ever visited.  Ever.  The best meal of the trip so far. 

But getting there and back?  An absolute nightmare.  We had to wait 45 minutes for our Uber ride (and two drivers finally just said they couldn’t get to us, so they left us hanging).  To be fair, several city blocks were blocked off for the celebration of depravity.  I know.  I know.  People will object and say it was a celebration of “love”.  Well, tell that to the guy who was completely naked from his waist down to his white furry boots.  Not even a thong.  Completely bare.  He walked up and down our block, stopping to talk for extended periods with women on the street, pretending as if what he was doing was completely acceptable.  Tell that to the guy in the rainbow Pride shirt who threw his trash down right in front of us and sneered at me as he did it.  Tell that to the two women holding hands and wearing T-shirts that read in rainbow letters, “I’m awesome.  F— you!”  And those were some of the milder ones, frankly. 

There are WONDERFUL people here, but so many of the LOUDER voices seem to be shouting about only one thing.  And it isn’t love. 

 I have my own temptations, my own failings, and my own sins, so I’m not claiming to be more holy or more righteous than others with different temptations, failings, and sins.  But the only true love is made possible by the atonement of He Who loves all the children of His Father.  And what does He ask of us?  A broken heart and a contrite spirit.  He requires reverence, not loud voices celebrating that which He has forbidden.  He invites us to partake of true love, and that means humble submission in this life. 

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June 23rd, San Francisco, CA

Berkeley, California?  In the middle of the Pride Festival?  What were they thinking?

Honestly, I expected someone to expectorate on me or throw things at me.  (I.e., I expected to get stoned—and not in the “California” sense…)  However, everyone was really nice to us.  It was an outdoor venue.  The weather was great.  (It was hot during the rehearsal, but I was in the shade.  Some members of the orchestra had to use parasols to protect themselves and their instruments.)  But during the concert itself, the weather was fantastic.  The audience was into it.  They really enjoyed it.

Personally, though, I had a setback.  Because of my problems during the last concert, I was not allowed to stand during the concert at all.  I was on-stage in the second row.  I sang.  But I was not allowed to stand.  Physically, the concert was very easy.  No pain at all.  Emotionally, I felt disconnected and discouraged.  I hope this isn’t going to be the pattern for the rest of the tour.  However, one of the great lessons of the Choir is that we do what we are told to do.  We serve where we are allowed to serve.  “What e’er thou art, act well thy part.”

Berkeley is an interesting town, especially compared with San Francisco.  It looked very NORMAL for an older college town.  Older houses, a 7-11 (covered with ivy).  Lots and lots of fraternity houses.

However, as we passed under a bridge, I saw a beautiful playground (complete with swings and slides) on one side of the road.  It was completely EMPTY.  Deserted.  Across the road was a long, semi-permanent-looking homeless camp.  I wonder if there is a connection here…

Now, we are back in our lovely hotel room.  We ordered pizza delivered.  A medium pizza with 5 toppings.  $35.  Not kidding.  Obviously, it wasn’t Dominoes…

Oh, and last night in our room, we watched Rowan Atkinson in “Johnny English: Reborn”.  I didn’t think the first one was all that great, but this one was HILARIOUS.  A sequel comes out this year.  I can’t wait.

One last thing.  At dinner, the Choir and Orchestra was served (among other tasty things) a KALE salad.  Sorry, to all you kale-fanatics out there, but it doesn’t matter what dressing you put on kale—it will still taste AWFUL.  Honestly, if God wanted us to eat kale, He would have made it taste good.  To whomever came up with the idea of eating kale, there may very well be an especially dark place in…  Well, you get the idea.

Tomorrow is Sunday.  I LOVE Choir sacrament meetings!

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