Saturday, March 29, 2008


When the students finally arrived, I felt almost as happy as the day my children were born. In fact, I was so excited to see them, I forgot to take pictures. Their faces were so happy and bright; no doubt they were looking forward to a wonderful experience here in the United States.

After joining the students to their respective host families, my family drove with Marcos to get a bite to eat, and then go home. Marcos will be staying with us during his visit to the US.

As we talked, I learned he had never seen snow before, so of course, we had to take a picture. I also learned he and I share many ideas and experiences about our indigenous spirituality and world view. I'm sure Tupye has caused our paths to cross for a very special reason. I'm excited to greet each new day of this exchange with openness and gratitude.


The Ecuador students were scheduled to arrive late Thursday evening, but American Airlines canceled more than 250 flights in a single day due to some kind of technical failure. As a result, the students were stranded overnight in Dallas, Texas.

The following day, the host families gathered at Spokane International Airport to await their new arrival time, only to discover yet another flight had been canceled. When the students finally caught the final portion of their journey to Spokane, a snowstorm hit and delayed the flight yet another hour. Some of us had been waiting more than five hours, and of course by then, we were quite anxious and exhausted.

My daughter took this photograph of me pacing about the terminal as I called to find the true arrival time of our students. Tanya Riordan is visible in the background doing the same.

Monday, March 24, 2008


Those of you who follow my blog on a regular basis may have noticed the lack of new posts lately. Of course, my two jobs keep me insanely busy, and then I got a terrible sinus infection this last weekend. I just haven't thought much about writing any new blogs.

Something happened tonight to change that.

My coworker had a heart attack this evening and reminded us all how life just is so precious and fragile. After being alerted by one of my students, I ran into the other room and saw my coworker lying unconscious on the floor. Another coworker performed CPR while I called 911. The paramedics pronounced him in "full arrest" when they arrived a few minutes later. They continued CPR and ultimately shocked his heart. After an agonizing seven minutes, my coworker resumed breathing and regained a pulse. Even so, he remained unconscious as they wheeled him out to the ambulance. We dismissed class early and went home. Later, we checked up on him at the ER.

As of this moment, he is still alive, though completely unresponsive.

At family prayer this evening, I started to cry and thanked God for all the love we feel in our family. At times like this, I remember just how much I love my wife and children. That's why I posted this picture. On Easter Sunday, my daughters organized their own family home evening, and reminded me how precious and beautiful they are to me.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Luau

Removing the pig from the pit oven.

A procession of royalty during the luau.

As afternoon activities drew to a close at the Polynesian Cultural Center, those who paid the extra fee lined up to participate in the evening luau. After a brief wait, the doors opened, and the line moved fairly quickly. Staff members gave each luau ticket holder a genuine orchid lei and posed us for a "family portrait" with a pair of beautifully tanned, and partially clothed, young people. Of course, the photographs are displayed on a giant board after the luau and available for purchase for a "small" fee of $18.

The luau presents a variety of cultural opportunities. For example, participants can watch staff members remove the pig from a central pit oven dug into the ground. Later, as the people consumed a somewhat authentic Hawaiian meal, actors enter a stage to perform hula dances and to re-enact a royal procession from the days of the Hawaiian monarchy.

As for the meal, I enjoyed the pit roasted pig, the lomi lomi salmon, and even the poi. It was all delicious.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Polynesian Cultural Center

A temple built in the Fijian style.

Fijian dancers.

This man from Samoa made fire in under 30 seconds by rubbing two sticks.

Climbing a coconut tree.

Tourists got a view of the center from boats.

A Maori warrior/dancer.

The Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC) is owned and operated by Brigham Young University - Hawaii as one of the island's premier tourist attractions. Visitors pay huge amounts of money, sometimes in excess of $100 per person, for a chance to have an "authentic" cultural experience from the Pacific Islands. Proceeds from the center go to support scholarships and work-study options for students attending the university.

Our visit to the Polynesian Cultural Center was perhaps the most memorable highlight of our trip to Hawaii.

But even though we greatly enjoyed our experience, the Polynesian Cultural Center creates a certain degree of cultural confusion and outright contradiction between the forces of commercialism and indigenous spiritual systems. Furthermore, a very subtle undercurrent of tension exists between Polynesian and LDS values of personal expression.

In regard to commercialism, the center operates as a very slick, highly polished, tourist driven money-maker. In addition to paying high entrance fees, visitors constantly face opportunities to spend even more at a variety of on-site gift shops, restaurants, and vendor booths. When we attended the luau and the night show, young men and women in tradtional Polynesian clothing walked up and down the isles selling shaved ice for $5 or pina coladas (carved into the pineapple) for $10.

On one hand, I really didn't mind supporting educational causes, but on the other, the presence of money seemed to clash with traditional Native values. The line between tourism and the sacred was never very clear to me. Sometimes the events seemed "all for show," but other times I definitely felt the presence of something truly divine. It was just plain confusing.

At one point during our visit, Rhonda and I witnessed a representation of Maori culture from New Zealand. When the women sang a song to honor the ancestors, I literally felt a shiver of electricity flash over my skin. Something about their singing resonated with my spirit and reminded me of songs from the winter dances of my culture. Then the men performed a dance that warriors once used to intimidate their enemies. They flashed their arms in threatening poses and extended their tongues defiantly. I really felt everything they did, all the way to my bones. The spirit of their people was truly present.

But then the performance ended abruptly, and the announcer said something about the luau starting in 15 minutes and we had better hurry to get our seats. I'm sure it's meant to be helpful, but his announcement felt like a slap in the face that woke me from my entrancement.

This was not the only tension I felt during our visit.

The Polynesians working at the center dress in traditional clothing, while exposing significant amounts of skin. The men walk around shirtless wearing only lava lavas around their waists and sandals on their feet. Women wear grass skirts and tops that expose their shoulders. Of course, nothing about their dress is even remotely out of order according to their traditional cultures they represent, but it doesn't fit the LDS way of thinking. Most of the workers belong to the LDS Church, and quite frankly, the church would never tolerate that kind of exposure under any other setting. There's nothing "bad" about this apparent contradiction; it's just strange to see. In other settings, the LDS Church promotes itself as an unchanging moral anchor, especially in issues of personal worthiness and dress standards, but they apparently found an exception at the cultural center.

All contradictions aside, we really did have a wonderful experience. But ironically, we didn't really experience Polynesian culture; we simply got a glimpse of the pageantry from an outsider's view. The whole thing made me want to return, not to see more of the show, but to participate in the culture through ceremonies and relationships with real people. Maybe some day the Creator will give me the opportunity to visit the islands and also share a piece of my indigenous culture with them.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Natural Beauty

Beautiful yellow flowers near the LDS Temple.

Tree roots look like snakes.

A view of the coast from the Pali Highway.

The natural environment in Hawai'i is legendary with its tall, green mountains, sparkling, blue waters, and brilliant flowers. This is just a small sampling of the beautiful things we saw. It's easy to get lost in the surroundings and lose all track of time. Of course, we can hardly wait to go back.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Hawaiian Wedding

As the presiding minister, I led the procession down the "aisle" in the sand.

Linda's mom walked her down the "aisle."

Gary and Linda were joined in marriage on Lanikai Beach.

Newlyweds looking forward to a new life together.

The rings...

Gary Harrison and Linda Healy exchanged their marriage vows in the presence of friends and family on Lanikai Beach, near Kailua on the island of Oahu. As an ordained minister, I had the privilege of performing the ceremony. It was a simple and beautiful occasion, filled with sunshine and good wishes for the couple's happiness. Truly, the island provided an ideal setting for starting a new life and for joining together in friendship. I wish them many happy days in years to come.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Elder Matthew

After a weary six hour flight from Salt Lake City, Rhonda and I arrived at Honolulu International Airport with a renewed sense of vigor and excitement. Visiting Hawaii is a dream come true for both of us.

As we gathered our carry-on items, I looked over and saw an LDS missionary was coming home on the same flight. Without meaning to, we followed him out to the baggage claim area and became witnesses to a very simple, but tender reunion with his family. A woman approached with open arms and with such love in her eyes. I can only assume she was his mother. She stopped before reaching him, and placed a beautiful flower lei around his neck. Then she embraced him warmly. Another young man greeted the return missionary enthusiastically and filmed the reunion with a camcorder.

As I looked on, I felt perhaps I had invaded their privacy, but the scene caused a deep stirring in my heart, and I felt my eyes welling with tears. In that exact moment, the missionary called me over and asked me to photograph his family. I gladly agreed and told him I would post the picture on my personal blog.

Elder Matthew, if you're reading this, please know you made my day. Your family inspired me and made me feel of your warmth and love. Thank you.

Please leave me a comment, or send an email to:

Back From Hawai'i

Rhonda and I made it back yesterday afternoon from our whirlwind tour of Hawai'i. There's far too much to tell in this short post, and to be honest, I don't know when I'll find time to edit the 1200 photographs I took during our stay on the island. For now, I'll simply post this teaser photograph from our trip, which is one of my personal favorites taken in front of the LDS Temple at Laie. Hopefully I'll post more soon.


Related Posts with Thumbnails