My Yugo Affair

The used Ford Fiesta I purchased in Queens, New York in 1989 was a lemon. The previous owner wasn’t trying to cheat me out of $600; neither of us know how worn-out the car really was.

Over several months, I purchased new rotors, brakes, a muffler, radiator, heater core, ignition parts. All my meager disposable earnings were spent in desperation to keep the car running. Why was having a car so important to me? I can’t really say. There were plenty of buses and trains to get me where I needed to go, and with a little planning, most were fairly reliable. Parking was a bit of a chore. Because I didn’t have a driveway at home, I had to hunt for parking spaces on the streets.

Maybe having that car was my trophy, evidence my declaration of  independence from public transportation. Or perhaps it was merely showing off – how I had something above and beyond what most of my peers in Queens had. It made me popular with other LDS singles, especially girls, who asked for rides to church activities.

The last day I drove the Ford Fiesta was on a trip to the LDS Temple in Silver Spring, Maryland – also known as the Washington DC Temple. I had two friends with me. One was a lovely single young lady from the LDS Uniondale Ward; the other, one of her married mentors.

Sure we prayed before we left New York. I hoped that God’s blessings would be sufficient for our needs, but it didn’t seem to turn out that way. I am grateful that there was no collision, and none of us were physically harmed; however, in spite of my tender loving care, that little Ford Fiesta had to die, and didn’t get us back to New York. We had no choice but to ride an Amtrack train, which was quite expensive. I get perturbed to think about that car, even today.

The hassles I experienced with that Ford Fiesta would be sufficient for a different blog. This blog is more about my next car.

It was early 1991. I was relying on my landlord and friend – Albert Tan – to drive me to work from Rosedale every day. I asked him to drive me to a certain Ford/Yugo dealership in Nassau County, to inquire about how I might purchase a new car. I had seen several small cars in their lot, and Yugo was the most affordable car on the market. A kind salesman answered a few questions I had, and said I could purchase a new white Yugo GV for less than $4000. That included a dealer-installed Radio/CD player.

I was already saving a few hundred each month toward a down-payment. The salesman had me fill out an application for an auto loan, which he then faxed to Ford Credit. There was no internet in those days. After about an hour, I was approved for a term loan of no longer than 18 months. If I could find an affordable auto insurance policy, I might be able to drive away with a new Yugo after a month or two when I had more cash on hand. The salesman offered me an additional incentive; if I didn’t need the Radio/CD player, he could reduce the price by about $300.  I liked this scenario, and was emotionally sold that very day.

When my co-workers heard I was looking at Yugos, they tried to dissuade me, saying “they are not good cars”. My idea of a good car was anything with a warranty, at a price I could afford. Yugo certainly seemed like a good car to me.

The annual auto insurance price quoted me, by an Allstate agent in Queens was $1995. She considered me a high risk driver, at the immature age of 28. Even if I managed to save up the money for her ridiculous auto insurance, I would not have any money left to buy a car.

The GEICO company offered me affordable insurance, but it was a phone and mail-order company.  I had to wait for US postal service to deliver my personal check to GEICO, then for GEICO to send me an insurance card, which was my proof of insurance on the exact white Yugo GV that was waiting for me.

After I cashed the critical paycheck from my employer in Little Neck, I returned to the Ford/Yugo dealership to complete my purchase. The salesman who had helped me before passed my contract to a different sales person, a Yugo specialist of sorts.

She was an attractive young caucasian woman with long straight hair, and ugly fake fingernails. I was sitting in front of her desk in a fairly quiet office, listening to her add-on offers. I politely refused them, knowing I could not afford anything more than just the basic car. Suddenly a menacing voice scowled at us from the doorway. I turned to see a buff black haired goonish dude standing there with a smug look on his face. I do not recall exactly what he said, because it didn’t even register to me. He was her main squeeze – I noticed him in a picture frame on the desk, where he was holding or embracing this sales lady – again with a smug look on his face.  Now why was her main squeeze interrupting my purchase experience? Maybe he was just guarding the door; trying to prevent me from escaping.

I was about ready for the part where I laid out my cash on the desk, but at that moment, her main squeeze was making me nervous. The sales lady seemed to ignore him, and asked for my money.

So I laid out the cash, which I had been saving for months. She counted it and decided it wasn’t enough. She said I had to come up with more. I wasn’t expecting this. I explained that my real salesman had already come to an agreement with me, which didn’t include the radio/CD player. The sales lady wasn’t sure about that. She would have to check with the real salesman, and she asked me to wait in the lobby for him to return and explain things to her.

Her main squeeze was still hanging out by the door, but he nodded and smiled at me as I walked past him. After waiting for another 30 minutes or so, the real salesman came back and explained the somewhat messy contract he had drawn up, so that I was allowed to drive away in a new 1990 Yugo GV – without a radio.

Driving a new car, for the first time in my life, was exhilarating. I placed great trust in this Yugo automobile. Great trust. It would take me to church, to work, to anywhere in North America I wanted to go. If it ever broke down, I had towing insurance, and a repair warranty to pay for repairs. Having no stereo radio or CD player was a blessing to me. Car stereos were the most common temptation for thieves to break into cars.

The only annoying problem I had with that Yugo was a faulty heater cable. It came loose from the clamp behind the dash, so I couldn’t control the heater while driving. I brought the car back to the dealership, and had to leave it there to be repaired. I picked up my car after work one day, and it seemed like the problem was fixed, but it really wasn’t. I moved the heater lever a few times, back and forth, and the cable was loose again.

I didn’t have the tools or the knowledge or the time to open up the dash or the console and try to fix it myself. I didn’t want to leave my car at the dealership again, and I didn’t want to have to hire a ride back to Queens. So I drove it home with very hot feet. Eventually I figured out a way to control the heater by opening the hood, and manually moving a lever next to the fresh air intake port.

Aside from the odd way of controlling the heater, I had virtually trouble-free driving with that Yugo for over three years. No unexpected car expenses. No getting stranded without a ride.

The Zastava (Yugo) factory was started with old Fiat tooling, and the cars were actually designed by Fiat in Italy. The Yugo cars were not too difficult to maintain, with the right parts, but the ecomomic design and low price fit more into American throw-away mentality. In other words, drive the car for a few years, then throw it away and buy a new one.

Yugo dealerships in America would soon stop importing Yugos. I’m sure it had something to do with the poor reputation of the brand. Another thing; civil war was brewing in Yugoslavia, which would tear that country apart.



Zumi Rice


I used a Lodge brand flat-bottom 5-quart dutch oven for this recipe. Used to be, all Lodge Cast Iron was made in Tennessee, but no more. More stuff is imported from China. So what happens if we send all our money to China? Just curious.

If you have trouble getting your rice to stay fluffy, but not sticky, parboiled rice is the trick. You may use ordinary rice here, but only if you’re already familiar with how your rice behaves.

When you stir this recipe, use a wooden spoon. If you must scrape the edges of your pan with a metal spoon or spatula, something’s wrong. It may be your pan, it may be your recipe, it may be YOU. Think about it.

Don’t freak out about my unconventional presentation. I will list ingredients as I give the instructions.

Let’s start the food part of the recipe here.

>250 grams of sliced sausage (that’s a half pound, Yankee)

Fry the meat in the bottom of a 3.5 liter dutch oven. Retain all fat and juices. If your meat is “extra lean” and you don’t see any juice or fat, use a drizzle of olive oil to make up for it.

>125 ml dry parboiled rice

Spread the rice out over the cooked meat. That’s right. Same pot.

>175 ml water, 30 ml olive oil, 10 ml (2 tsp) buffalo seasoning, 1 chopped yellow onion (large), 1 chopped bell pepper (choose your own color).

Add these ingredients right on top of the meat and rice. Same dutch oven pot. Bring the water to a boil. ¿How do you tell? Well, you might have to peek down through those pieces of onion and bell pepper. While you’re peeking, ¡DO NOT stir this stuff! Let it get really bubbly, then cover the pot. I mean, put a lid on it. Immediately, reduce the heat to a low simmer. Let it cook thus for 10 minutes. Nine is cool. Eleven is acceptable. Eight is stretching the limits of reason.

>1 large fresh chopped portabella mushroom. You could substitute about 8 ounces of sliced baby bella mushrooms. Rinse well before adding to the pot.

Keep the pot on the low heat, and add the mushroom. Now stir it up. Stir the bottom, the sides, the middle, the edges, the fringes, the corners, the top. The rice should appear soft by now, and the water should be gone. Put the lid on it again, and let it simmer for another three minutes. Now remove the heat. Turn it off. Take the pot out of the fire, or off the electric stove. Last thing is, let the pot sit covered, with the lid on, for 10 minutes.

Some folks like it a little saltier, so you can add some sea salt to your plate only. When I call for sea salt, there is no substitute. Cheap table salt may have silicoaluminate mixed in.


A favorite saying of mine often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi reads, “Preach the gospel at all times and if necessary, use words.” Implicit in this saying is the understanding that often the most powerful sermons are unspoken.

Naomi Chipman

Often, I look back at my youth and wonder why I hated piano lessons so much. Part of it was probably because my mother made me practice for 30 minutes each day. I liked toying with the piano for fun, on my terms,  but I resented being forced into anything.

While attending LDS Seminary classes at Valley Junior High School, and later at Granger High School, I became the expected pianist. My instructors often expected me to sit at the piano bench and choose a hymn to start the class. If one of them asked politely, then how could a kid like me refuse, in front of 20 or more classmates who were expecting me to perform?

I was the usually the only one in my class who knew how to play any hymns on the piano. Some people praised me for having this talent. It never seemed to me that playing the piano was a talent; it was sitting on a hard wooden bench every day, trying to learn songs I did not particularly like.

My first piano teacher, Naomi Chipman, was a jewel. She was a plump, cheerful woman, who lived in a modest house in South Salt Lake City, not far from Stratford Avenue where I spent the first 9 years of my life. She taught dozens of children how to play the piano, including some of my schoolmates.

Naomi Chipman

Naomi Chipman, about 1971.

Naomi enjoyed her pet – a black poodle she named Midnight – and wanted to offer a similar opportunity to me. My mother must have agreed with Naomi in advance, because she was not surprised when we made a special visit to the Chipman home to pick up a small black mixed breed poodle pup. She was my dog, and I named her Betsy.

Naomi knew how to help me de-stress. If I was struggling with a classical tune, she might pause and bring out chocolate chip cookies from her freezer to share with me and my sisters.  I remember talking to her, in private, as she made another suggestion to me for dealing with stress, or traumatic events. I could write my feelings on paper, as a way of letting them go, or releasing stress. When I felt better, I could rip-up the paper, so nobody needed to read it. This was one thing that spawned my interest in writing.

She sometimes shared stories about people she met at her other job. When a certain man exclaimed, “Gee, you’re fat!” she replied, “Yes, but my husband likes me that way.”

Naomi’s health declined enough that she and her husband decided it would be best to discontinue her piano teaching. My mother didn’t let that stop me from rehearsing, or taking lessons. She sent my sister Joy and I to a different teacher who lived closer to us.

I visited Naomi a few times after that, with my dog Betsy, but we hardly ever talked about the piano. I don’t think I ever played her piano again.

In Livingston, Montana a member of the bishopric in my church met with me in private one day, and asked me to be the ward organist. I was almost overwhelmed with anxiety. While I had created a nice comfort zone there, playing piano for the primary children, I had never played a church organ.

I understand this happens to hundreds of pianists every year. Many of them don’t really want to learn the pedalboard, so they make due with two or three manual keyboards, which is similar to an ordinary piano. Some organs have a switch which will link or activate some bass notes from the manual keys alone. This can somewhat compensate for a musician who has no pedalboard skills.

In accepting this church calling, I decided it was a great opportunity to learn the pedalboard. In order to do this, I rehearsed footwork on the church organ, while resting my hands. I learned that there were special organ shoes to help people use the pedalboard more efficiently. Some organists prefer playing without shoes. I needed some extra help, so I ordered a pair of organ shoes.

SJB at organ

James Beall, in Livingston Ward Chapel

In the years since I left Montana, I have rarely been able to rehearse the organ, and only rehearse piano hymns at church, between meetings. You see, I do not own a piano, or organ. I would not know where to put a piano in my small home, if someone gave me one.

Southaven Blues

The day I drove into Memphis, there was a race car on a trailer with the name Memphis 501 Blues. Very cool. While Memphis is the home of Blues music, a city south of Memphis was where I experienced more than my share of blues.

I was working a good job at a manufacturing plant, in Southaven Mississippi. It would have been a better job if it was located in Memphis, because the state of Tennessee had no income tax. Just driving across the border into Mississippi for work every day cost me an extra 6% of my gross income.

As a youngster, I wanted to be a policeman, but as a 30-something professional, I wanted nothing of the sort. Close and personal encounters with uniformed policemen would diminish the admiration I once held for them. They usually had something negative to say to me, which often involved a traffic fine.

I became wary of Southaven uniforms when I was stuck in a New-York-City style traffic jam on Goodman Road early in the morning on my way to work. I didn’t usually take Goodman Road to work, but I had driven it enough to believe that such a traffic jam would never happen there so early in the morning.

Exceptions do happen. Was it a bad accident? Was there something spilled on the road? Had a tree fallen onto the road? None of that. Several police officers were standing at a forest-surrounded intersection, stopping everybody. I hope they were looking for an escaped felon, or a drug smuggler, or something important. They didn’t look like they were doing anything more than making people late for work – and more than a few minutes late, in my case. They weren’t even talking to every motorist. When I asked an officer, “What’s the holdup?” he ignored me.

I saw another officer strolling along the side of the road, with a cigarette flapping in his mouth as he suggested that a certain car should be pulled over for having too much stuff packed in the back.

There was a time when I walked to work, after I destroyed my pickup truck. There were no sidewalks or even bike lanes in Southaven in those days. I crossed Stateline Road at a convenient area where I had no problems before. I had seen a few other people also cross there at the same time. It was near the old Golden Corral building, far from the nearest traffic signal.

That day, the motorists all seemed to be in a hurry. I stood alone in the middle of the road, in the turn lane, waiting for a break in east-bound traffic. It seemed when people saw me there, they would accelerate to avoid having to wait for me to cross. Nobody slowed down for me. Maybe some of them even got a thrill from keeping me standing in the middle of the road. I was there long enough to get the attention of a police officer.

He was standing on the south side of the road, near Burger King, waiting for me to cross over. I was rather surprised when he said that the reason he stopped me was because I was jaywalking. He asked for identification, so I showed him my employee badge. It was the most convenient thing at the time. He wasn’t happy with that. He wanted a government issued identification, like a driver license.

When I hesitated, or perhaps protested – from his point of view – because I wasn’t driving anything, and didn’t see the need to show my driver license, he said, “I don’t need no attitude.” He was just having a friendly conversation, he said. Not trying to be mean.

This man actually was one of the most friendly police officers I have encountered, but friendliness notwithstanding, I was being detained. I pulled out my driver license and handed it to him. This made him happy.

He quizzed me about why didn’t I cross at the intersection with the traffic signal, and what I was carrying in my satchel. When I told him I was kind of anxious to get to work, he offered to take me to work, in his patrol car. He said he didn’t want to search my bag, and he wouldn’t search me if he could put the satchel in the trunk of his patrol car. I had nothing to hide, except my pride. So I agreed.

The officer tried to chit-chat a little more with me as he drove me to my work. I asked him to let me off by the guard shack. Just after I got out and retrieved my satchel, my boss came driving up, and offered me a lift. It was still quite a distance from the guard shack to the main entrance of the plant. It was an awkward moment, and I felt like I should say something. I stated the obvious: I got a ride with the Southaven police. Thankfully, my boss didn’t quiz me about it.

I once complained to my plant manager about potholes in the parking lot, which needed to be filled. They were hazardous, in my estimation, because you couldn’t see them after a heavy rain. That parking lot, through which at least 30 plant employees had to drive, would be covered with standing water. He said he would get to it when he had time. This man drove a Ford Expedition, by the way.

The very next day I drove my little car through that pond-covered parking lot, and hit a rather deep hole. It ripped a hole in the sidewall of my new tire. It wasn’t one of the old tires; it was the new tire that I had purchased the day before. And now it was ruined beyond repair. I complained to the plant manager about that, and got no satisfaction. The company would not reimburse me.

I mentioned this to a co-worker, who suggested I shouldn’t have been driving so fast. How fast can you drive through a pond? The speed wasn’t really the issue. I was looking for some sympathy, and instead got a pithy response. Like rubbing salt in my wound.

I was getting tired of working in Southaven, not because of the drive from Memphis, or the extra taxes, but rather because some of the people I associated with saw things very differently than I did. Especially the women.

There were many hispanic people working at the same plant where I worked. One of them was a cute girl who I had visited with on my breaks, over several weeks. The main problem betweeen us was communication. I did not know much Spanish and she did not know much English.

One day, while I was waiting for her in the breakroom, the plant manager happened to come in and gave me a boxed lunch. I had already eaten, wasn’t hungry, didn’t want a boxed lunch; he gave it to me anyway. Save it for later, he suggested. I decided to try using the lunch as an excuse to go find my hispanic friend, in one of the plant production areas. I also wanted to get a picture of her, so I borrowed a company camera, and carried it with me.

I found her working alone, where she normally worked. After presenting the boxed lunch, I asked her if I could take her picture. She refused. Not even one picture? Please? No, no and no. It was like I was trying to steal her soul. So I left with no pictures, and started working at my desk.

Meanwhile, the girl told her supervisor and co-workers about the incident. That supervisor complained to a production manager. The production manager complained to my supervisor. My supervisor called me into his office, and asked, “James, were you in the plant taking pictures?”

One unfortunate morning in 1999 , I left my apartment, located in midtown Memphis, to discover that a thief had broken out a passenger side window in my Honda CRX, and used my own tools (which I kept in the car) to remove my radio/cd player from the dash. This had happened without alerting anyone in the neighborhood.

That radio had a removable front control panel, which I should have taken out when I parked the car the prior evening. But I had been too tired to remember then.

The thief was probably a junkie, looking for a way to fund his next fix. The console was somewhat damaged from the operation. There was shattered glass strewn all over the inside of the car. The thief had used a cushion from a neighbor’s lawn chair to sit on, to protect his greedy tush from getting cut on the glass while removing my radio.

The thief had thrown out all my personal things onto the ground and sidewalk, looking for valuables I suppose. My accumulation of mail (ads, personal letters and bills) which I had intended to review during my lunch break, was also scattered on the sidewalk, and damp from the morning dew.

Of course I felt violated. I was angry about the radio, and the broken glass. I didn’t have time to make much sense of this, because I was due at work shortly. I gathered up my things from the ground, stuffed them into plastic shopping bags, brushed the glass off my seat, and drove to work.

After work, I drove to Jitney Premier, a grocery store on Stateline Road. It was near the old Walmart building. Not many cars were in that lot, and I chose a parking spot near a floodlight, where I could read better . The sun was going down. I didn’t want to go shopping; I just wanted to be alone, get my thoughts together, sort out my mail.

A fabric store employee was locking up her store for the night. She got into her car, and I heard the engine cranking but it wouldn’t start. I hardly paid any attention, because I was busy with my mail. Shortly a police patrol car drove up to her and some officer tried to get the woman’s car started. I thought, “That’s nice, a policeman actually helping someone.”

The officer approached me and asked me for identification. Sure. I rolled my window down, and handed him my driver license, which he took back to his patrol car. Another patrol car arrived.

The officer returned with my license, and asked what I was doing sitting there, without buying anything. I was starting to get agitated; he probably sensed it in my tone, when I said I was looking through my things, minding my own business. “Is that your garbage?” He assumed that my mail and papers were garbage, because they were in plastic bags. Yes, was my reply.

The officer told me to step out of the car. For some reason, I felt like I should take my key out of the ignition switch, and hold onto it. A different officer approached, and asked essentially the same questions as the previous. I wanted to know what the fuss was all about, and this officer claimed that they (the police) had a couple complaints about me being on the property. They did not use the term loitering but that was the implication. He wanted to know “my story”. Why was I there looking through my things without buying anything?

I wanted to retort that my story was none of their business, but I chose a response that was less inflammatory. “As a matter of fact”, I replied, “I am a customer of Jitney Premier, if that’s one you’re referring to … although I haven’t been in there tonight. Did another store complain about me?”

He replied that there was a complaint from the fabric store. Then I started to understand. That woman was afraid that a boogeyman (me) parked on the same lot as her troubled car, might try to rob her or kidnap her or rape her, or who knows what I might do to her. She called the police to protect her.

There were now several officers standing around watching me. They evidently didn’t like me sitting in my own car, looking through my own things, minding my own business, because the officer said, “Mr. Beall, I’m going to search you for weapons. Put your hands on the car.”

I turned my back on the officer, and slipped my key into my pants pocket. That made the officer freak. “What the hell are you thinking?!” He grabbed my arm, pulled it back, and kicked my ankles, shouting “Spread ’em!”

He searched everything I was wearing, from my jacket to my pants. Finding nothing but my keys, he yelled at me for reaching into my pocket. One of the other officers concluded, “Well Mr. Beall, if you don’t have any business here, you better hit the road.”

I got into my car, and drove home, with a sour attitude toward police, and a more sour attitude toward the fabric store woman. I wrote a letter expressing my displeasure, and personally delivered it to the manager of the fabric store. In part:

“I am a not a customer of your store. After the treatment I received from the Southaven Police on the tenth of March 1999, at the request of YOU or one of your employees, I never will be.”

I delivered a similar letter to a manager at Jitney Premier. That poor guy didn’t know anything about what happened to me, and even though he had nothing to do with it, he apologized in advance for what someone in his store might have said or done to cause it. It seems likely that nobody at Jitney Premier ever complained about me to the police.

The Unkind Cut

A Portland teenager, Blue Kalmbach, was convicted of carving a swastika into the forehead of his former best friend.

The victims’s mother was quoted as saying, “The biggest question I have is: How can anyone do this to another human being?

Later, she told reporters her son has yet to forgive Kalmbach, who once was his best friend. “(He’s) still very angry, as I am,” she said.

I mention this because it offers a good introduction to some issues I’ve struggled with for many years. I guess it all started about 5000 years ago, when God gave this commandment to Abraham:

This is My covenant, which ye shall keep, between Me and you and thy seed after thee: every male among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of a covenant betwixt Me and you.

[See Holy Bible – KJV, Genesis, chapter 17 verses 10-11]

I must affirm that I love God, and want to keep his commandments, but I resent this one commandment, on several levels. Why would the creator of man in His own image, the one who designed men with foreskins, command a prophet to cut them off? I’ve read all the holy scriptures (and some not-so-holy) and in them failed to find any satisfactory reasoning for circumcision.

Jewish physician Maimonides, who lived in the 12th century AD, wrote commentary on the Torah in an effort to show that every law had a practical purpose. Many religious leaders in the centuries since then, both Jewish and non-Jewish, used his reasoning for promoting the practice of routine circumcision:

The fact that circumcision weakens the faculty of sexual excitement and sometimes perhaps diminishes the pleasure is indubitable. For if at birth this member has been made to bleed and has had its covering taken away from it, it must indubitably be weakened. The Sages, may their memory be blessed, have explicitly stated: It is hard for a woman with whom an uncircumcised man has had sexual intercourse to separate from him. In my opinion this is the strongest of the reasons for circumcision.
~THE GUIDE TO THE PERPLEXED, by Moses Maimonides; translated by Shlomo Pines. (University of Chicago, 1963) Part III, Chapter 49, Page 609.

[also see Jews Against Circumcision]

Let me remind the reader, that God has never condemned sexual excitement or sexual pleasure between a husband and wife married to each other. It is merely men – with convoluted ideas about human sexuality – who obsess with depriving not only themselves of sexual pleasure, but as many other men and women as possible. Misery loves company. And circumcision has been their most effective tool to this end.

Most Jews today insist on keeping the law of circumcision, even if they ignore the dozens of other laws in the Torah. Some Orthodox Jews in New York have been in the news lately because of their circumcision ritual, in which blood is withdrawn from the baby’s foreskin by the mohel’s mouth. This has led to several cases of infants becoming infected with herpes.

With my limited understanding of God’s intentions, I can only suppose  that He was a God of blood sacrifice. Any man who submitted an animal to a priest for sacrifice was expected to have already made a more personal sacrifice; a part of his manhood.

One of the greatest things about being a Christian, is that God gave his Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, as the greatest, and last sacrifice for mankind. Jesus declared to his followers in the Americas:

18 I am the light and the life of the world. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.

19 And ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings.

20 And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not.

[see Book Of Mormon, 3 Nephi, chapter 9 verses 18-20]

The first Christians were Jews, and many of them did not fully understand the implications of Christ’s sacrifice. Some clung to their old traditions, including circumcision, insisting that gentile converts must also be circumcised.

One major Christian conference following Christ’s death was about the law of circumcision. The outcome of this conference was that the apostles sent this message of instruction to the various churches:

23And they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia:

24Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment:

25It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul,

26Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

27We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth.

28For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things;

29That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.

[see Holy Bible – KJV, Acts, chapter 15 verses 23-29]

In summary, the apostles, acting under the Holy Spirit, saw no need to require circumcision for any follower of Christ. Even so, there are Christians today who have the funny idea that since Christ was circumcised, everyone should be circumcised.

I would ask in a very cheeky sense here, since Christ drank wine, should not everyone drink wine? Since Christ ate fish, should not everyone eat fish? Since Christ fasted 40 days, should not everyone fast 40 days? Since Christ was beaten with a scourge, should not everyone be beaten with a scourge? Since Christ was crucified, should not everyone be crucified?

The apostle Paul discoursed on this topic rather eloquently. For example:

For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.” [see Holy Bible – KJV, Galatians, chapter 5 verse 6]

Other people have promoted circumcision for non-religious reasons. We have heard claims that Circumcision can prevent HIV [see Time / December 24, 2007 / Circumcision Can Prevent HIV]. There were some circumcision studies in Africa which seem to support this idea. There were other studies in North America which seem to contradict the circumcision studies in Africa.

I have some experience with research, so when I hear someone claim that their research proves this or that, my skepticism engages. Even the best research studies have some built-in bias. These African circumcision doctors failed to consider, or perhaps ignored important behavioral factors in their control groups and their conclusions. I don’t know that anybody there intentionally lied about their research, but some people do lie. And some people are human, and are not competent in reading and interpreting technical results. Some researchers report only the results that support their agenda, and hide the results that do not.

I personally support Marilyn Milos’ take on this.

“Circumcision cannot prevent the spread of HIV; circumcised men contract HIV, transmit HIV, and die from AIDS. Transmission of HIV infection is caused by risky behaviors, such as multiple sex partners, failure to use condoms, and contaminated instruments or needles. Anyone who engages in high-risk behavior, whether circumcised or intact, is in danger of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases”

[see Mothering / July ° August 2008 / The Truth About Circumcision and HIV, by Gussie Fauntleroy].

John Harvey Kellogg was a respected surgeon and nutritionist who blamed several maladies on sexual activity, and especially masturbation. Here is one of his remedies.

A remedy which is almost always successful in small boys is circumcision, especially when there is any degree of phimosis. The operation should be performed by a surgeon without administering an anaesthetic, as the brief pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind, especially if it be connected with the idea of punishment, as it may well be in some cases.

[Plain Facts For Old And Young: Embracing The Natural History And Hygiene Of Organic Life, by J. H. KELLOGG, M. D., / I. F. SEGNER, BURLINGTON, IOWA. 1887. TREATMENT FOR SELF-ABUSE AND ITS EFFECTS, page 295].

Medical professionals today disagree with this theory, that masturbation can be prevented by administering circumcision pain, whether the patient is a young boy or young man or a frisky goat. Some studies suggest that circumcised men on average, masturbate more than uncircumcised men. Changing a person’s genitalia will probably change their behavior, but not necessarily for the better.

Routine infant circumcision continues in North America, and proponents keep inventing all sorts of ridiculous reasons to support it. It has nothing to do with good health, and everything to do with appearance, and tradition, and money.

Some people argue it prevents infections, like urinary tract infections. Dr. Dean Edell, who hosted a radio program for three decades, reported that it would take about 500 routine infant circumcisions to prevent one case of a UTI. Is all that really necessary?

A friend of mine knew personally of a baby who had a problem with his foreskin, and was subsequently circumcised. She told me, “I think every boy should be circumcised.” I explained that I did not believe that being born with a foreskin was a medical problem requiring surgery, but I did concede that some babies might have a genuine medical condition that might require surgery.

This same friend had her gall bladder removed. I considered asking her if she thought everyone should have their gall bladder removed as a preventative measure. Then I realized that her opinion was emotionally motivated. You can’t argue with somebody’s emotions, even if they make absolutely no sense.

I was born in 1962, at the LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City, and there an anonymous surgeon amputated my foreskin, using a Gomko clamp. I grew up for the most part, not knowing that I had lost anything important. This began to change one day when I was standing at an outside latrine, next to my father. He was also circumcised, and he felt like I needed to know something about it. He said, “They cut the skin off the end of it. Makes it look nicer.” This wasn’t much information to go on, and I still wasn’t quite sure what it meant.

After many years of consideration, and making visual comparisons with uncircumcised men, I’ve decided that my bald rosebud (glans) doesn’t look nicer than others’ who escaped the cut. Even if we had a penis parade, and I won first prize for the nicest-looking circumcision, it wouldn’t change my mind.

My main complaint about this tradition, is that it’s child abuse at its very core. It sets aside the personal agency of the victim. In my religion, the greatest gift that God has given man, next to life itself, is the power to direct that life. Personal choice. It’s time to break the cycle of abuse, and ask ourselves…

How can anyone do this to another human being?

My wife and I watched several episodes of The Killing on Netflix [there are some adulterous scenes in this series, that made us decide it was not worth continuing]. In one memorable episode, the police apprehended a Somali man who was hiding a young girl. Upon further investigation, they learn that he was actually protecting the girl from her parents, who wanted to force upon her a ritual circumcision. The police sympathized with the girl, to the point that they let her escape along with the man who at first appeared to be her kidnapper. They even lied to their police captain about it.

Sensible people in my culture would not insist their daughter endure circumcision, for the sake of appearance; however, one bad tradition has made many of these people toss their sensibility into the garbage, along with their sons’ foreskins.

If a young man wants to have a body piercing, stick ornaments through his earlobes, have a tattoo, wear a bone through his nose, or get circumcised, that’s his personal choice. I may disagree with his judgment on these matters, and if it were my son I could refuse to pay for such things, but far be it from me to force my personal tastes upon anyone. And far be it from me to insist that someone change their body simply for the sake of appearance.

For those who are interested in making sense of this issue, and can set aside emotional bias, this NOCIRC website provides objective information about infant circumcision.

National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers

For those who cannot focus on technical facts and real research, Leo Freyer has written a good analogy which I have included below.

 It’s His Piano

by Leo Freyer

Let me express my opinion in the form of an analogy. It applies to both boys and girls even though I use the male tense.

Each child is born with a special gift. A magical piano. It is not the size or shape you imagine. A very personal instrument, it is highly specialized and took a very long time to design. When played, it gives great pleasure to the owner. Besides being of a unique design, its beautiful music can only be heard by the owner… no matter who else plays it.

When starting out in life, the infant doesn’t even know he has a piano. But as he grows, he gradually becomes aware of its existence, slowly learning of its functions. He will have to experiment with it as he gets older to figure out how it works and what it can do. It will be a wonderful experience for him and he will strongly identify with his piano.

As with all such gifts, it comes with a protective cover designed to keep the keyboard in its pristine condition until the owner becomes old enough to be interested in music. He will eventually learn of the beautiful sensations his magic piano will make for him… and his partner when he learns to play duets. The cover is attached when the piano is new and the owner will gradually work it open when the time is right for him. It may take a few months or it may take several years.

Unfortunately, some adults are of the opinion that his piano wasn’t made right when he was born and it is somehow faulty. Some aren’t really sure what it is and can only generalize, saying they think it might be “better for him later” if they changed it while he is too young to remember. Before he has any say in the matter. Some don’t like its looks. Saying it “looks cuter” when it is broken. Some say it’s easier to keep clean. Some think the protective cover makes it smell musty, and that it should be “aired out”. Other adults had their own pianos broken and they want junior’s to be the same, so “they will look alike”. To some, it is a sign of faith or belonging to a group, even though the baby will make up his own mind about such things when he is old enough. Some even make a lot of money from it as a sideline (being professional piano damagers as an adjunct to their regular vocation), but will usually give some other reason to hide the fact that making a quick buck is their main objective.

There are lots of reasons given, but they all have the same end result. The little guy’s piano is altered by someone else and it will never be the same for him. Even though the adults’ justifications are extremely weak when compared to the permanent damage done, they still just have to get their hands on it and break it anyway. Even when the little guy is lucky enough to escape having his piano damaged soon after birth, he still has to run a gauntlet while growing up. During his adventures in childhood he will encounter many people that are “piano ignorant” (meaning they just don’t know the proper way to care for it – which is to only clean off the outside and then leave it alone). These “piano ignorant” people feel they have some sort of an “obligation” to fiddle with his piano. They try to force open the protective cover, feeling some need to get in there to inspect it or clean it out. They do what ever they can to make it look like an adult’s damaged piano, not realizing that little magic pianos go through a natural evolution and maturing process. They want it to operate like an adult’s piano way before it is time for it to naturally do so. The usual way a piano is damaged is to tear off the cover protecting the keyboard and to remove most of the keys, leaving him just enough to play an octave or so. It is a traumatic and painful process that leaves indelible marks which affect his behavior, some of which aren’t recognized until he is much older. However, when he does get older he will still be able to play music. But he will have to struggle along in his one octave, never being able to experience the full expressive range of music his piano was supposed to provide for him. He may have to play at it harder to get much music from it and it will probably wear out faster without its protective cover.

Since his piano was damaged before he was aware of its intended purpose and capabilities he will have to grow up satisfied with what little music he can make, thinking that is all there is… or was supposed to be. It is no longer in perfect shape the way it was when he was born with it. He will be stuck with his damaged piano, because that’s all he has left. He can only experience what he has left. He may never realize what he was intended to have.

If he does eventually realize that someone else decided to break his piano for him before he could experience its magic, he may become sad or angry. He may become resentful that someone deprived him of his opportunity to enjoy the very personal experiences his piano could have provided him for all of his life.

So when someone wants to damage a little boy’s piano, and you can make the difference in whether it will be or won’t be damaged, here’s my advice.

It’s HIS piano. Leave it alone!

Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.
~Horace Mann (1796-1859, American educator)