People and Airports

Airports are amazing. They are the perfect crucible for mankind. Each person may have a different destination, yet each must go through the same communal process of the airport.

There is no doubt where you have landed if you go through the Salt Lake Airport on a Tuesday. There are LDS missionaries everywhere. It has been over 11 years since I departed from the Salt Lake airport to head to Eastern Europe on my mission. My parents drove out from Colorado to wait with me at the gate. In our post-terrorist airport culture, visitors at the gate are no longer allowed. Instead the missionaries were huddled around the phone banks each with their own calling card saying their farewells to their loved ones before they embarked on their two-year adventure.

I caught up with a gaggle of missionaries in Atlanta that were heading to Sweden. I remember the kindness of many that stopped me when I was waiting at JFK to head east, so I saddled up next to the group and said hello. The whole group was relieved to have someone friendly talking to them. Most admitted that they had never been outside of Utah so Atlanta was really intimidating to them.

We chatted for a half-hour about what the LDS Church was like in Scandinavia (which was just across the Baltic Sea from my mission). I explained to them that I was heading down to Argentina for two months to study with the University of Utah. Seeing an opportunity, one of the more adventurous Elders asked me if I knew much about the LDS Church. They were all astounded when I told them where I served my mission.

I don’t really fit the profile of a returned missionary anymore. I have earrings, facial hair and clearly I wasn’t wearing any temple garments anymore. Politely, they did not pry, nor did I offer an explanation, but we did have a sincere and meaningful exchange about what to expect their first few months in the field.

One elder asked me for advice on being a good missionary (in which I found both honor and irony). I told the group the only advice I ever give missionaries these days; love the people, the culture and the country (ies) where you are serving. I explained that while it was key to study the language and the scriptures each day, it was just as important to study the culture, the history and the dynamics of the communities where they will be.

People seek for a common bond, and by knowing (even a little) about the place where a person is from binds their heart to you one conversation at a time.

I sat by a lovely older white woman that grew up in apartheid South Africa on the plane to Atlanta. I asked her a few key questions: How was life in Capetown? Had she been to Durban? What did she think of their newly elected president Jacob Zuma? Instantly she knew that I could relate to where she was from even though I have never visited that vast continent. She almost had me in tears twice as she described her first-hand experiences in Cape Town through the transition out of apartheid. She told stories that were incredibly personal and powerfully moving. (South Africa just bumped way up on the list of places to visit).

The plane ride would have been very different if I hadn’t known anything about South Africa.

As I related this story to the group of missionaries at the Atlanta airport, they got the point. And while I did not conform to their expectations of what a returned missionary should be, they (and I) were grateful for their conversation.

As I stood up to leave, one of the elders asked me if there was anything they could do for me.

I just grinned, asked them to keep me in their prayers and told them that they would be in mine.


A Transition

The semester is over. No more ethics, no more stats. No time for relaxing though.

I’ve written a lot the past four months and explored areas of ethical life that I didn’t even realize existed.

The jury is still out whether or not my personal ethics have changed. I really don’t think so. I do know that I am much more aware of issues that affect our lives everyday, and that to me, is a successful semester.

Now, I embark on a new chapter and another new adventure in my life. Most of you know that one of my greatest passions is traveling. The opportunity to spend two months in Argentina was just too good to pass up.

I leave with an open mind and a grateful heart. I am already falling in love with that country, her history and her people. There is generosity of spirit and life in Argentina and I am anxious to harvest all of the knowledge and wisdom that I can during my two-month stay.

And so this serves as a transition chapter for my blog. I will be updating this frequently while I am away.

I finish with the prayer for travelers that my parish prayed with me this past Sunday:

O God, our heavenly Father whose glory fills the whole creation, and whose presence we find wherever we go: Preserve those who travel; surround them with your loving care; protect them from every danger; and bring them in safety to their journey’s end; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

It is my hope that I can somehow capture my experiences in word, pictures and video and share them with all of you. This will be my first crack at a travel blog.

I hope you enjoy . . .

. . . and for now, a very warm adieu.



Whenever I attend the public meetings in the city and county building, I sit in the far corner so I have a view of both those officiating the meetings and the public attendees. I walked out of the meeting tonight feeling embarrassed for my future profession and quite honestly a little incensed at how the board treated one of the applicants.

I think that there is a very nuanced ethical dilemma that creeps into some of the applications presented at these meetings. While the majority are fairly cut and dry cases, there are those that really test the notion of the letter versus the spirit of the law.

I sat there and watched the faces of the applicants as their cases were approved or denied tonight and I couldn’t help but recognize that there are real people’s lives that are affected by these decisions. Their emotions were palpable at times.

The board members did not look at the public once during their votes. (Even if it was in their favor).

There was a complete disconnect.

In my mind this is unacceptable. Zoning, planning, adjustments, master plans are all tools that are designed to enhance the community and its citizen’s lives. They are not to be used against them. Those that do should be ashamed and sent to the next village down the road.

If everyone owned a piece of property that was perfectly equal in size the rules would be easy to apply. In the real world though, the zoning rules just don’t make sense for certain outliers.

It is the duty of the planning staff to understand this and to make thoughtful (and dare I say wise) recommendations. They failed. During the meeting, the planning staff behaved like petulant adolescents, gossiping and mocking both the board members and some members of the public. Their body language indicated their displeasure with being there and after each of their cases were decided they ungraciously exited the meeting.

Am I being harsh? Definitely. I expect any organization, be it public or private, to have pride, passion and professionalism in what they do. This was clearly absent from this event.

The members of the board of adjustment and the planning staff of Salt Lake City are walking a very fine line when they portray they are doing the public a favor simply by showing up.

It may be time to hit reset and clean house.