Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Goodbye Columbo

To: Abbottsville Fourth Ward
From: Donna Banta
Subject: Peter Falk, 1927-2011

Back in the early 1970's, when I was a kid growing up in Glendale, California, my mother invited me to spend a day with her at Universal Studios, where she was employed as a secretary. I was very excited to wander around a real movie studio and go places where tourists weren't permitted. That morning I saw the great character actor, Martin Milner, who then played a policeman on the show Adam 12. I also caught a glimpse of Desi Arnaz, Jr. who was something of a teen idol at the time.

Later we went to the commissary to eat. We sat at one end of the semi-circular lunch counter. I was chattering on about having seen Desi Jr. and "Officer Pete Malloy" when my mom put her hand on my knee and nodded to a spot opposite me at the counter. I looked over and locked eyes with none other than Lieutenant Columbo, the star of my favorite TV show. He wore his wrinkled raincoat and sported a five-o'clock shadow. When I smiled at him, he smiled back and gave me a little nod. -- Just like he did with all the kids who figured into his plots. -- Then he took a bite out of his sandwich, sipped his iced tea, and studied a page from a script sitting in front of him. It wasn't until I saw the script that I realized that he wasn't really Lieutenant Columbo, he was the amazing actor, Peter Falk.

But it's Columbo's image at the lunch counter that will forever be burned in my brain. It was the closest I've come to meeting a fictional character in real life. True to his craft, I imagine that 's how Mr. Falk would like me to remember that moment.

Peter Falk decided that Columbo needed a raincoat, and found one in his own closet to wear for the pilot episode. Later, he developed the character into the rumpled, absent minded, painstakingly polite, crime-solving Einstein he would become. Falk chose the lieutenant's famous broken down Peugeot off the studio lot, in part because it matched the raincoat. Later, he picked out a basset hound named "Dog."

"Murder by the Book" was written by
Steven  Bochco and directed
by Steven Spielberg
Columbo was the perfect foil to the celebrities and socialites who were his suspects -- humble, self deprecating, but never intimidated by wealth, power, and the hubris they inspired. He was the everyday guy who was always underestimated. Typically, an episode began with a brilliant criminal committing the perfect murder. Convinced he was above suspicion, the murderer smugly attempted to help Columbo "solve" the crime. Then at some point the balance of power subtly shifted and the killer's alibi weakened, usually after the lieutenant prefaced a question with, "Just one more thing . . ."

I own every episode of Columbo and have enjoyed many marathon viewings. Most memorably when my cousin and his family visited from upstate New York. When I look at Columbo today, he's not only the smartest guy in the room, but also the coolest. His groomed but tousled hair, camel suits, and skinny ties look stylish now when juxtaposed against the 1970's schlock of long sideburns, wide lapels, shag carpet, and rooms draped in bolt after bolt of velvet. Such is the case with any classic.

Perhaps in a decade or two another actor will emerge who can convincingly play the character. But for now, it seems Columbo has died along with his brilliant creator, Peter Falk. The loss of both is sad for all of us.

Personally, I feel cheated that Columbo never investigated the Mormons.

Imagine this plot line: the Mormon Prophet commits murder and The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles vouch for him. Columbo comes to the Church Office Building to get statements from the General Authorities. He appears to accept the Prophet's alibi, falls into small talk with the "Seer and Revelator," then pulls out a cigar and pats his trench coat pockets in search of matches.

Columbo: Say President, you don't happen to have a light, do you?

President: We don't smoke, Lieutenant.

Columbo: Oh I'm sorry, sir, I had no idea. How rude of me. . . . Now, my wife, she would've known that, see, because she has some nice Mormon friends in Vegas. She meets up with them whenever she goes there to gamble.

The Prophet is so charmed by Columbo's deference that he overlooks the faux pas, laughs at the lieutenant's homey stories, and even helps him find his pen. After that, Columbo tours Temple Square, chats up coeds at BYU, visits a food storage superstore and a missionary emporium, samples fry sauce, attends Sacrament Meeting, and pays a call on some polygamists.

Finally he returns with more questions for the Prophet. This time the church president is not charmed, but Columbo doesn't appear to notice, much less care.

Columbo: You know sir, this is my first visit to Utah, and I must say, it's a fascinating place.

President: Well, I'm glad you think so, now if you don't mind . . .

Columbo: See up until now, all I knew about Utah was what I heard from my nephew. Did I tell you I've got a nephew who's a park ranger at Bryce Canyon?

President: Really Lieutenant? Perhaps you should go visit him.

Columbo: No sir, I think it's more interesting here. The other day I took a tour of the Visitor's Center, you know, over there by the temple.

President: (exhales loudly) Is that right?

Columbo: Nice lady showed me around, name was Sister Bagby. Boy did she teach me a lot about the Mormons.

President: Well then, you needn't be asking me . . .

Columbo: Say, do you know her?

President: Do I know who, Lieutenant?

Columbo: Sister Bagby.

President: NO I DON'T . . . No . . . I haven't had the pleasure.

Columbo: I tell you what, that Sister Bagby, she really knows her stuff. She told me that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon from plates made out of gold, and that when he was through translating them, the Lord took those plates back up to heaven so nobody could see them.

President: Almost right, Lieutenant. There were eleven others who saw the plates before the Lord took them.

Columbo: Oh I know. Sister Bagby, she told me about the witnesses.

President: I hope Sister Bagby also told you that not one of them ever recanted his testimony of having seen the plates.

Columbo: Oh right, those witnesses, they kept their stories straight. But then, they were members of Joseph Smith's inner circle. Sort of like those Twelve Apostles are your inner circle.

President: In a way, I suppose.

Columbo: (Scratches his forehead.) See, and that's what puzzles me.

President: What Lieutenant?

Columbo: Well, sir, that story Joseph told about the plates, that's pretty fantastical. You'd think the average Mormon would need more proof than just the word of eleven of Smith's cronies.

President: Perhaps it seems like a fantastic story to you, but the testimonies of the eleven witnesses is a cornerstone of our faith.

Columbo: Yes sir, I see that now.

President: Well, if there's nothing else, I'll let my secretary show you out.

Columbo: Fine sir, thank you for your time.

Columbo: (turns, heads for the door then stops and turns back around)

President, just one more thing . . .

May he rest in peace.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Don't Just Sit There, Stand For Something!

To: Abbottsville Fourth Ward
From: Ward Mission Leader, H. LaVar Turley
Subject: Overcoming excuses about missionary work

When it comes to doing member missionary work, excuses can abound. Here are some common excuses and tips to overcome them:

1. I'm no scriptorian: No problem! Suppose your friend asks, "Where in the Bible does it say anything about Joseph Smith?" -- or -- "Why did Joseph Smith marry other men's wives?" -- or -- "Why didn't blacks get the priesthood until 1978?" A scholar would have a heck of a time answering those questions. But you won't! Fact is, the best representatives of the LDS Church are those who are armed with as little information as possible. So rather than bother with a bunch of boring research, realize the strength of your position, shake off your friend's silly questions, and invite him out to the next super yummy pot luck.

2. I can't risk a friendship: Some think that talking about religion may ruin a friendship. True friends respect the things we believe. They may not agree, but that doesn't mean they mind being preached at, shown the error of their ways, and called to repentance. Anyone who objects to that is not a true friend, and anyway, why would you even have a non-member friend in the first place?

3. My neighbors have already heard it: That may be, but the Lord prepares people in their circumstance, not just their location. Who knows? Since you last talked, your neighbor may have lost a loved one, been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, caught his wife in bed with his business partner, or suffered some other calamity that has left him so confused and vulnerable he'll sign on to any crazy scheme you throw his way. Now's your chance!

4. My house is -- fill in the blank -- a mess, noisy, not conducive to the Spirit:  Elder Ballard said,

"Creating a gospel-sharing home means inviting our friends and neighbors into the ongoing flow of family and church activities." 

A few months ago, we invited our neighbors over to enjoy some of my wife's famous nut loaf, along with our everyday  family camaraderie. Our eldest Tommy spent the better part of evening in the shower, moaning. Tessie had just started her period, and banged on the bathroom door until he finally dried off and let her in. Timmy magnified his calling as future missionary by lecturing the Mayfields about all the wine bottles he's seen in their recycle. As usual, Teddy sat around and did nothing. But that little rascal, Toby, caused a flurry of joyous pandemonium when he snuck into the garage, got a hold of my chainsaw, and started to slice the coffee table in half. Meanwhile Terry entertained everybody with adorable questions like, "Why are Mrs. Smith's ankles so fat?" and "Why is that noise always coming out of Mr. and Mrs. Mayfield's bedroom window?" Suffice to say, we had a great time, nobody was seriously injured, and our neighbors were able to see what we stand for in the natural flow of being in our home.

Finally, the most common excuse church members use for avoiding missionary work is:

5. I'm afraid: Fair enough. I can understand that. The first time I had sex with my wife I was terrified. Now . . . I still am. But I don't let fear stop me and neither should you!

The church is true!

If you would like to stop receiving these e-mails, we'll send Sister Turley over to scare the crap out of you.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Tolerance 101 -- For Mormons

To: Abbottsville Stake Single Adults
From: Ricky and Mindy Foote, Stake Single Adult Leaders
Subject: Come to our next super special ACTIVITY!!! . . . or else.

Hey there, you single boys and girls. As you all know, after the prophet's admonition to LDS Singles who are having too much fun, President Knightly decided to reinstate the Stake Single Adults program. And what does that make Mindy and I?


We want nothing more than for all of you to join the ranks of the happiest of happily marrieds as well, because nothing's too good for a group that includes my former seminary teacher, Mindy's old high school principal, Sister Post who helped me earn my Duty to Country badge, and, of course, Mom.

But before we get into the details of the upcoming super fun event, President Knightly has asked that you all read the following:
Latter-day Saints have been blessed with revealed truths regarding families that remain unknown to the world at large. For example, we know that dividing up chores makes housekeeping easier, canoeing together is fun, and little kids are really really cute. We also know that our specific gender roles, as defined in THE FAMILY: A PROCLAMATION TO THE WORLD, are woven into the very fabric of the universe. Accordingly, it is our sacred duty to marry and raise families. Any of us who shirk this obligation ensure not only their own damnation, but also assist in the downfall of society as we know it. 
Lately too many Latter-day Saints are opting out of having kids, pursuing "alternative lifestyles," and putting off marriage to have too much fun. It seems that members of our church have turned a deaf ear to the Brethren and are instead listening to the liberal media, a false and selfish source that sends out messages like:
"You're special."
"Do your own thing."
"You deserve to be happy."
These sentiments are in direct opposition to our inspired General Authorities, who know that you're nothing special, expect you to do their thing, and in return believe you deserve zip.
Another selfish trend driven by the media is an over-emphasis on something they call "tolerance." Unfortunately, the definition of "tolerance" has shifted over the years. Until recently in our national history, tolerance referred to racial and religious non-discrimination -- things that God changed his mind about in the 1970's. The Brethren have no problem with that. In fact the LDS Church preaches tolerance. It is important that people listen to other points of view, appreciate cultural differences, and, above all, take care not to impose their views on others.
Unless, of course, THEY'RE RIGHT! 
As the General Authorities obviously are.
Remember that tolerance is secondary to the higher virtue of love. Indeed, Jesus loves all of His children unconditionally. Except for those He can't tolerate. For example:
People who pick out their own underwear
Single adults
History buffs
Working mothers
Men with pierced ears
-- A full list of those Jesus can't tolerate has been condensed into a 175MB PDF file and can be downloaded off the church website. -- But in short, the only tolerable Latter-day Saint is married in the temple, active in the church, pays his tithing, has at least four kids, protests gay marriage, votes Republican, and has no tolerance for anyone who doesn't do all of the above.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Okey-Dokey boys and girls, after reading that I bet you're really anxious to come to our super fun activity -- and guess what -- it's a LUAU!! That's right kids, I'm brushing up on my Don Ho repertoire as we speak. Mindy's mixed up a big vat of poi. Also she's stringing you all some super cute puka shell necklaces out of frosted Cheerios. So dig out your Hawaiian shirts and hula skirts, dust off your ukuleles, and get ready to drink the requisite kool-aid.

If you would like to stop receiving these emails, the Footes will be dropping by your house to perform their rendition of "Tiny Bubbles."

Thursday, June 9, 2011

London -- The One And Only True Tour

To: Abbottsville Fourth Ward
From: Sister Millie Loomis, self-appointed ward media and culture critic
Subject: London Calling

By now you all know that a certain disreputable ex-Mormon blogger recently met her spinster daughter in London for a week of sin.
She's way too old to be having fun!
But you should also know that whilst they were engaging in their wanton revelry, I too was touring London, albeit in a far more reverent (and sober) fashion.
All my life I've wanted to see Merrie Olde England through the protective lens of the LDS Church. So I signed up for the See Zion First tour of London. As usual, it did not disappoint.

Our trip began at the spacious Heathrow Ward Meeting House, with its splendid view of the long-term parking lot. The local saints treated us to an authentic pub dinner of tater-tot shepherd's pie, a pint of Mott's Apple Juice, and sticky toffee Rice Krispie treats. Afterwards, we enjoyed an authentic Shakespearean reading performed by the Deacons Quorum.

The next day we travelled to historic Canterbury. The bus ride over was quite jolly, thanks to a certain sister who entertained us with this faith promoting story:

The Wife of Bountiful's Tale
There once was a young knight who had too much fun with the maidens at his single ward's mix and mingle. At the end he left without even proposing marriage! The next day, the bishop called him into his office.
"Such selfish behaviour can not go unpunished," the bishop told the knight. "However, I will  grant you a reprieve if in the next 24 hours you can find the answer to the question: 
'What do women want?'"
The knight mounted his mighty Schwinn and travelled  to the far reaches of his stake boundaries. Some told him women wanted breast implants, some said they wanted a Shelf Reliant Food Rotation System, and others suggested unlimited access to free quilting patterns. 
The following day the knight returned to his bishop's office in a state of confusion. Just before reaching the door, the bishop's daughter blocked his way, looked deep into his eyes, and told him the correct answer:
Women want to be obedient to their husbands.
The bishop granted his reprieve and the knight married the bishop's daughter. The knight in turn gave his woman exactly what she wanted. Under her husband's command, she cooked, cleaned, mended, gardened, and cheerfully submitted to a nightly schtooping over the back of their chesterfield.  
He lived happily ever after.

The architecture rivals the LA temple
Inspired by the wisdom of the good wife's story, we arrived at the stately cathedral just as a worship service was about to commence. Our tour guide seemed to think our timing was extremely fortunate, and actually suggested we attend. I grudgingly went along, not because I wanted to, but because as a representative of the one and only true church, I felt obligated to exemplify the open-minded and ecumenical philosophy that Latter-day Saints have long embraced. 

Only their so-called worship was intolerable.

Don't get me wrong. Being LDS, I knew better than to expect their choir and organ to match those in our Tabernacle. But I certainly wasn't prepared to see crucifixes, women in trousers, pictures of Jesus without his garments, lady priests, and other hateful things like candles!
Non-members are so disrespectful

I walked out.

 Thankfully, this unfortunate experience served as a wake-up call. From then on, we stuck to the appropriate schedule.

Our destinations were either the church or like-minded places compatible with Mormon culture and doctrine -- such as the wax museum and Ripley's Believe it or Not.

We even made a few bob on the side.

On our final day in London, Brother Hyde graciously took us on a motor tour of the city in his Fish and Chips cart. 

Thanks to the dear brother, we whizzed by it all -- without ever having to mix with London's non-member community!
At the end of the tour we said tearful good-byes to our British brothers and sisters, then boarded the plane for America. Not a one of us slept on that flight, as we were too busy reminiscing about the sights we saw, the diverse group of church members we met, the food we enjoyed, and the wonderful time we had thanks to LDS owned See Zion First.

After all, only the church could send us on a trip like this.

If you would like to stop receiving these emails, we'll send you the DVD version of the Heathrow Ward Deacons Quorum's performance of Hamlet.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Sorry Fourth Ward This Week You're Spam

To: Abbottsville Fourth Ward
From: Donna Banta
Subject: I'm not reading your e-mails this week because . . .

I'm in London with my daughter, Emily, who isn't married because she's having too much fun.

So there.
The sublime: Emily outside the home of Jane Austen's brother Henry's house in Chelsea.

Who needs Westminster Abbey?
The ridiculous: me outside the LDS church at the entrance to Hyde Park.