Wednesday, July 2, 2014

How You Become the 'Bad Guy'

Last week the LDS Church excommunicated activist and Ordain Women founder Kate Kelly. The fact that she was condemned by her local church authorities for apostasy is not news. What was news to me was the response the LDS church leaders released late last week claiming that questioning and doubting is something that is allowed within the Mormon community. "Members are always free to ask such questions and earnestly seek greater understanding," the statement reads.

I don't want to talk about Kate Kelly. But I do want to talk about the church's official statement. Thanks to the Internet, many of the questions that were ignored or denied by the authorities of the church can now be discussed.

It has been almost seven years since I started this blog. I started with a very political motivation. At the time, I was wading around in what is now commonly labeled "tea party" ideology. Ron Paul, The Constitution, Ezra Taft Benson, The Constitution, Cleon Skousen, The Constitution. I have since dipped into discussions of religion, among other topics. Over time my views have evolved toward a more liberal ideology, and back toward a more moderate view.

I don't consider myself a talented writer, but I have always enjoyed making the attempt. When I was a college student, I would write letters to the university paper, as well as the town rag. It is a way for me to process my thinking. When I began discussing/debating, at first it didn't seem to be a problem that I made political/religious points; not in the period where I supported conservative causes and followed church doctrine strictly. Later on, in so many cases, trying to talk about these questions caused friction and discomfort among those with whom I interacted in real life (after I was not a conservative ditto-head anymore).

Strangely enough, most of these same people were uncomfortable with what I would write online as well. So... it's not advisable to talk with people face-to-face about topics like politics or religion, but it's also not a good idea to write about them online. This has more often than not caused me much worry and apprehension, and in recent years, I all but stopped writing on this blog. So it was surprising to me to find out that these discussions were somehow welcome at church, of all places. I guess I started blogging because I didn't have a place to go with all these questions. And when I started asking, I found it caused conflict online and offline. I guess I assumed if I couldn't talk about it with most family members, and if I couldn't talk about it online, then bringing it up at church probably wouldn't be a good idea. If only I had known...

The only arrow I had left in my quiver that allowed me to get away with some of my unorthodox behavior and actions was that I was a lifelong active mormon. But since I haven't attended for a few months now, and I don't intend on returning anytime soon, I have no ability to talk about these things in a familiar setting online. To the believers, I am now Kate Kelly; I am the apostate; I am angry; I am whatever they need to label me so as to not have to actually respond to the problems I am pointing out. An ally wouldn't ask these questions anyway. And we don't associate with people like that, either. But yes, we allow for questions....

IF.... you use the right tone
   .... you ask in the right way
   .... you ask in faith and not doubt
   .... you take no for an answer
   .... you come up with the same answer as the leaders in the end

BUT ... don't talk to just anybody
         ... don't post questions/doubts online
         ... don't believe anything that isn't correlated church material
         ... don't assume there are any answers in this life

After listing the countless stipulations for when someone CAN raise questions, there is very little room, and then we all know the right answers already, so I can't really figure out what the questioning is for.

The truth is, for years I had this blog, I listened to Mormon Stories, I was a member of a private Mormon Stories message board, and later part of private Facebook forums. I listened to more podcasts. I read church history books. I wrote blogs that for some reason I hoped no one in the church would read. I met dozens if not hundreds of bloggers who wouldn't even use their real names because they were afraid to be found out by family members and peers. They were afraid possibly to lose their employment with BYU, or be released from callings at church, or looked upon with distrust by family and friends. Seems like strange behavior in a church that "welcomes doubts and questions."

As for myself, I found answers, but they were not the ones I expected, and they often were in conflict with what was said in official church sources, if they were addressed at all. I have been doing this for years, along with tens of thousands of others with similar questions, online. If questions or doubts were welcome in church, there would be no need for places such as these to exist. If they were welcome, local church leaders would actually know about some of these questions and how to respond to at least a portion of them. Why would we feel like we had to go into private hiding places, where we could feel safe behind a cloak of anonymity, like a drug or sex dealer, just because we didn't have that unshaken testimony? 

The simple fact is, what the church, and what my church associations wanted was silence. Silence is so much easier. Believing without questioning is so much more smooth. You see, they are never uncomfortable with religion as a topic; only when the discussion falls in line with what is acceptable at church, or is considered faith-promoting. They send tens of thousands of young men and women out into the world to profess their beliefs on religion throughout the globe. However, the communication is usually only one-way. We have the truth, listen to us, but we aren't interested in anything that falls outside our "truth." As for politics... you are basically always welcome to bring your political views to the table as a Mormon. Mormons are very active citizens, and are very informed on political matters. You usually just can't question war, christianity, capitalism, republicanism, conservatism, scripture, income inequality, patriarchy, misogyny, heterosexuality, or traditional marriage (see: mormon plural marriage). I'm sure I'm leaving some important topics out.

The LDS church is saying questions are welcome because it sounds good for public relations. I welcome anyone to come visit with me about some of the questions I have. I have never been uncomfortable having those kinds of discussions. But there have been so many arbitrary rules imposed on when it's okay to discuss, that I honestly don't know if it's ever okay anymore. So I would love to see it. I would love to find out where the space is for people like me, during regular church activities, where we are allowed to talk about evolution, science, Book of Mormon historicity, gay marriage, Book of Abraham translation, priesthood/temple bans, Adam/God doctrine, blood atonement, Book of Mormon translation, Doctrine and Covenants / church history revisions, etc. I have been out of activity for months now, and have never discussed any of these questions with any true believers within my local church community - the community where I was born and raised. It's uncomfortable to talk about, I understand. I just don't want anyone pointing the finger at me as to why no conversations are happening. I don't point the finger back at my faith community, either. I point it straight at the fact that questions and doubting are NOT welcomed. Not really. Not by most Mormon leaders.

I know of a person who left the church long ago, who will not have anything to do with his family because they still are associated with the Mormon church. I always thought there must be something really wrong with him. Sure, he doesn't want to be Mormon anymore, but why can't he let his family alone? Now I wonder if I understand a little better. I never wanted to be labeled and classified as the enemy. But the longer I don't have contact with my church counterparts, including my family, the narrative that they use to describe me and explain the why's and the how's of it all support the narrative that those who leave the church (who can't leave it alone) are deceived, are unhappy, are sinful, are angry, are whatever we need to label them to support the ideology that the LDS church is perfect. It's sad. I can't imagine not wanting to have anything to do with my family, but I can see how both parties could be going down that path.

Communication is difficult. Certainly, if the antagonism continues to grow, either silently or outwardly, it will not be all their fault. But it will not be all mine, either. It's unfortunate that we let these wedges fester because it is too uncomfortable to talk openly about difficult subjects, where things are not always black and white.

I was raised with the idea that telling the truth was the best policy. I guess telling the truth never was that easy. I guess if you insist long enough, you eventually become the bad guy. 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Nazis/Racists/Homophobes - Different Degrees, Similar Backdrop

Suzy and I just finished watching one of my favorite movies growing up as a teenager, "Swing Kids." Although not quite as cheesy as "Newsies," it is also probably not best picture material.  Either way, if you have never ever seen the film, it's still probably worth your time (even if Roger Ebert rated it ONE star...). 

The film's setting is 1930's Germany during Hitler's rise to power.  The film tells the story of some young men and women (but mostly men) who become involved in an underground dance movement.  This movement was proscribed by the contemporary leadership because it embraced American swing dancing.  You know, "It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing," right?  Truth be told, there is not really a lot of swing dancing portrayed in the movie.  Rather, the movie follows the conflict that exists between and within these young men as they contemplate how to look at and respond to the rise of Nazism in their mother country.  A key element of the tale is when the two main characters, Peter (played by Robert Sean Leonard) and Thomas (Christian Bale), both join the Hitler youth.  As the movie progresses, Thomas becomes entirely taken with Nazi ideology, while Peter is still very opposed to supporting the Nazis.  Peter's father also opposed Hitler's rise, and as a result, was taken by the Nazis, and nearly killed, when Peter was just a small boy.  Since Peter and his younger brother were essentially raised without a father, their mother naturally feels tremendous fear toward the German government. 

As the narrative unfolds, the friendship between Peter and Thomas is shaken because Thomas begins to openly support Nazi goals, while Peter cannot come to grips with what is becoming of Germany.  In a final act of rebellion, Peter returns to a swing club one last time, and dances his heart out until the club is invaded by Nazi soldiers.  The soldiers apprehend Peter, along with many others, and load him in a truck to presumably be shuttled to some sort of concentration camp. 

One scene that stood out to me is when Peter, Willi (Pete's younger brother), and the boys' mother Frau are sitting at the dinner table with one of the more prominent Nazi leaders, Herr Knopp.  While there is still a bit of awkwardness in the atmosphere, here is a family eating mouth-watering food, and drinking fine wine.  When Peter shows visible signs of displeasure at the presence of Knopp, and what Knopp stands for, Peter's mother clearly becomes upset, because this is as good as they have had it in a long time.  Why mess with what's comfortable anyway, right?

Whenever I watch a film portraying uncomfortable historical realities, I naturally consider the implications for questions of cultural and social institutions we have in place today.  Today, Naziism, and antisemitism are repugnant to 99% of us.   Similarly, nearly everyone you meet deplores modern and historical racism, in all its disgusting manifestations.

Yet I can't help but think that in the 1930's and 40's many Germans (and Americans for that matter) aided and abetted in the rise of Hitler.  And even after revelations emerged about the reality of the millions who were brutally murdered in the Nazi's wake, many people justified looking the other way, either out of fear, or just plain denial.  The character Thomas in "Swing Kids," as well as Peter's mother Frau, embody the conflict between knowing something is immoral, but also fearing the ramifications of actually standing up for what is really right.  

If you have seen "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner," "Remember the Titans," "Amazing Grace," or the more recent movies "The Help," or "The Butler," you can see examples of a similar trend in American culture.  As civil rights came more and more to the forefront, many prominent individuals and institutions not only continued to shrug at the old ways of thinking, but they also railed against things like interracial marriage and integration in schools, because of the fear of what these changes might lead to in the future.  And just as with the examples portrayed in Swing Kids, you have many, many Americans unable to stand for what is right because of the fear of how they will be seen by others, be it friends, family, religious peers, or employers.  

The civil rights issue of our time is homosexuality and gay marriage.  Even though apparently a majority of Americans now support gay marriage, many institutions, especially religious organizations, are trying to hold back the tide.  They have their various pet arguments, and they cling to biblical scripture to justify their position. 

Yet I cannot help but look backward (and then forward).  Am I equating Nazis = racists = homophobes, or that someone who opposes gay marriage is a gay-hater?  Not exactly.  But it's hard not to imagine a time somewhere down the road where we will look back at gays and gay marriage, and we will think, "wow, I can't believe people believed THAT or said THIS about gays."  Isn't that how we look back at World War II and the civil rights era?  How could anyone think those awful things about Jews?  How could people believe that embarrassing stuff about blacks (Chinese/Japanese/Irish/Hispanics...)? 

I can't help but assume that most of the individuals and institutions that oppose gay marriage today would be the ones opposing fair treatment of Jews in the early 20th century, and equal rights for blacks in the mid 1900's.  It's easy to oppose those positions today.  When you agree with 99% of society, you really have nothing to lose.  But today, now, when things are still much more divided, is the test of what a person really values.  Loyalty to traditional institutions, or love toward oppressed individuals seems to be the common choice one may have to face.  And while "homophobic' is a label many will not appreciate, racism did not become racism only after the vast majority of people decided blacks weren't inferior to whites.

I don't want to look back and know that I was one of those people.  The one who decides to go along once it's obvious what the correct way to act is, because nearly everyone has finally jumped on the bandwagon.  If we study history, I don't think any of us have a legitimate excuse to be "that" person. 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Disempowering Our Youth

This week I spent a fair amount of time spectating as folks on the Internet reacted to a viral blog from an innocent lady writing to girls that post pijama pictures on Facebook.  Dozens and dozens of other blogs reacted.  Hundreds and thousands of people had to share their opinions.  Modesty (re: Miley Cirus) seems to be the most controversial subject on the Internet in past months/years.  Not starvation.  Not unemployment.  Not child abuse.  Not war with Syria.  

So my gut inclination is to ignore the topic, because God knows we don't need one more opinion on the subject.  But among the pages/opinions I have read, I still haven't seen this simple critique - in response to those who feel that once a young man has seen a girl who is scantily clad, that he cannot "unsee" it, or cannot then see the girl as anything but a sexual object. 

All I have to say is, the best way to make sure your son can't "unsee" an inappropriate image or movie scene is to teach him that he can't.  Once a young man has internalized this mentality, then the power images have over him is more about the erroneous idea that he is powerless to change his thoughts than it is about the images themselves. 

Stop disempowering your youth.  Your son (and your daughter) has the ability to change his (her) thoughts.  There is a lot of crap on the Internet. You clicked on this link, didn't you?  And yet, I bet you will forget about having read this in about 30 more seconds.... unless I tell you you will not be able to forget, ever... hmmm....

Monday, April 4, 2011

P90X Works

April 4, 2011

About a year ago, my wife Suzy decided she wanted to purchase the P90X workout program for her birthday. At the time, I thought, of all the things you could get foryour birthday.... why this? After all, I had heard how extreme the program actually was, and I figured she would just be throwing her money awayfor a bunch of DVDs that she would only use for a few w
eeks before giving up. Not that I didn't have faith in her, but I just figured it was a program with constant Saturday morning infomercials showing people experiencing unbelievable results was just what you would predict - too good to be true.

But she bought the DVDs, the pull up bar, the bands, and the dumbbells, and she did the program for about 6 weeks. We took pictures and measurements. The results were actually pretty noticeable for only a month and a half. I was impressed. But for whatever reason, she stopped working out, and nothing happened for awhile. Then, in September, I decided I would try the workout with her. We lasted 3 weeks, and I enjoyed the workouts,
but sickness preempted week 4, and we never got back in the groove.

For the new year, Suzy made a resolution that she wanted to complete the full 90 days before her 30th birthday. At the same time, some members of my extended family suggeste
d we do a "Biggest Loser" contest for 12 weeks for anyone who wanted to compete. These two goals combined helped us to become re-motivated, and this time we weren't going to quit part of the way through.

What can I say about P90X? It is extreme. But I have to think that most people could do it if they just consistently would continue to work at it. Sometimes you don't think you're getting the results that you want, but you just have to be patient. The part that may be even more difficult than actually doing the workouts is showing up to work out. In our
case, we usually had to wake up between 4:30-5 a.m. so we could get in a workout before our kids started getting out of bed. The program is very time consuming. You have to plan on an hour to 1.5 hours a day, six days a week.

One other misconception I had about the program is that I would be sore for a week or two, but then my muscles would be used to the rigor of the routine. However, P90X is based on the principle of "muscle confusion," which means you can plan on being sore probably some if not most of the whole program. After awhile, you start to get used to it, and feeling sore makes you feel like you worked hard enough. The thing I liked best about doing the work
outs is the variety (there are 12 DVDs total), and the fact that I pretty much felt like Superman once I had act
ually finished. Doing it first thing in the morning, I felt like I had finished something significant before my real day had even started.
The best part of the program? It works with minimal investment in equipment (although as I got stronger, I had to sink a little more money into heavier weights), and you can get great results right in your basement. No travel time to and from the gym, and no membership fees.

My results? I did not take all my measurements, but I think the outcome is pretty visible. I dropped 10 pounds, from 176 to 166, which is about what I weighed
way back in
my high school days. My jeans, which used to fit just right on my waist, are now hanging at least two or three inches loose.

I don't think I will be winning the biggest loser event, but I think the accomplishment of finishing such an intense workout regimen speaks for itself. I figure if I can do it, anyone can. Now it's time for Insanity!!

Here's a few pics:

Day 1 - Day 30

Day 60-Day90

Day 1 - Day 90

Day 1 - Day 90