Tuesday, October 5, 2010


October 5, 2010

This weekend was the Semiannual General Conference of the LDS Church. It was a beautiful weekend in a lot of ways. It was also a very difficult weekend for me personally.

To avoid my long-winded tendencies, I will simply state that I was hurt by comments made by a leader of the LDS church, Elder Boyd K. Packer. I won't repeat the words here. They are all over the Internet by now. Not only do I disagree with this good man, but I felt hurt because I knew that now there will be even more ammunition to use against the gay community and people like me who try to defend their rights. Once again, I can be told by a vast majority of my people that I don't follow the prophet, amongst other less flattering statements.

On the other hand, I have read a lot of the responses to Elder Packer, and it hurts me just as much to see all the hatred and anger directed at the church because of the words of a leader. I know Elder Packer's words are offensive to many, but I have never understood when people choose to fight what they consider hateful with more hate of their own. Just as many have a keen inability to recognize a gay relationship as more than just a question of sex, there are too many people who take an LDS church leader's words and determine that Mormonism is a bunch of garbage. In my opinion, both of these approaches are seriously flawed.

I just want to stand off to the side and weep as I watch people being hurt on both sides. I cannot understand why we have to always find ways to divide ourselves, when as another leader (Dieter Uchtdorf) of the church puts it: "All of God's children wear the same jersey. Our team is the brotherhood of man." I wonder if God is weeping as well when he sees His children divided as we always seem to be.

I regret that some people are angry with me because they disagree with my position on homosexuality. I do not mean to offend, and I realize there are valid grounds on which to disagree with me. I have long maintained that we can learn a lot more about ourselves by seeing HOW we disagree on issues than looking at the issues themselves. And I see a lot of hatred and bitterness on both sides. I wish we could find a better way.

For now I guess the best I can do is make a pledge that personally I will try to be less angry, less defensive, and more sensitive to the feelings and opinions of others. I will try to be less concerned about always being right, and more concerned about respecting and loving people despite our differences. I hope and pray that others will join me.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Cantankerous Myth

May 31, 2010

Coming from an upbringing that insists constantly to be the custodian of truth, I find it interesting that some in my religious heritage do not even seem to begin understanding the erroneous nature of some of their most basic beliefs.

While my church purports to be politically neutral, it is often difficult to disconnect religion from politics completely. Sometimes the two are one and the same. In this context, one of the ideas that has affected me most negatively is simply this: you can't be Mormon and a democrat.

Just for the record, I am not a part of any political party. But while some might point out the simply benign nature of the above statement, it is obvious that among many of your average mainstream LDS people, this is basically a play off of a statement made by one of Mormon conservatives most beloved disciple, Ezra Taft Benson: "No true Latter-day Saint and no true American can be a socialist or a communist or support programs leading in that direction." Today we could just insert the word "democrat" for "socialist."

Many conservatives want to use words like those of Benson to contend that being a so-called liberal means you are not worthy, not faithful, not patriotic. It seems that such individuals are unaware of the history of the church, yet they sometimes take this idea to such an extreme that they cannot tolerate anyone who has a distinct point of view. Progressives/liberals are enemies to the causes of God and country. They are a cancer that undermines the foundation of our constitutional government. I have personally experienced this lack of understanding and tolerance from people, some of them very close to me.

While I am despised by some for just acknowledging that it is okay for people to have different points of view, whatever the religious background, the viewpoint that a Mormon has to be connected with republicanism/conservatism is simply false.

Take this opinion from Hugh B. Brown, at the time a member of the church's First Presidency:

"Every person is entitled to his or her opinion, which will be respected as long as he or she respects the opinions of others. Individual General Authorities have the right and privilege to express their own opinions, which, when expressed, represent their opinions only. There may be different opinions among the General Authorities, but we are united on the basic principles of the gospel. When it comes to expressing an opinion on some other organization or some political or quasi-political question, one hopes that the authorities of the church will have the good grace not to be extreme, to keep near the center of the road. All my life I have advocated that people in and out of the church should think through every proposition presented to them. Positions may be modified as time passes by discussing them with others, but there should be no question that both liberals and conservatives in the church are free to express their opinions."
** from "An Abundant Life: The Memoirs of Hugh B. Brown," p. 131.**

More recently it is well known that the late James E. Faust, also an Apostle and member of the First Presidency, was a Utah democrat.

I was especially miffed to just recently find an article from 1998 of an interview with Marlin K. Jensen, another democrat, and current church historian:

"There is sort of a division along Mormon/non-Mormon, Republican/Democratic lines," says Elder Marlin Jensen, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy. "We regret that more than anything -- that there would become a church party and a non-church party. That would be the last thing that we would want to have happen."

How is it that I could be taught for years that being a democrat was akin to being an apostate when this is simply not true? Did most of the individuals from whom I heard this idea even know any democrats personally? Even if they feel strongly about their conservative views, are they justified in ostracizing and rejecting those of different opinions? Is their behavior in any way Christlike? Coming from a tradition of being cruelly persecuted as Mormons, it is jaw-dropping to see Mormons do an about-face and persecute others just because they have differing political views.

Jesus taught us to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us. I do not really think that differing opinions are really justification for classifying people as enemies. We should be able to appreciate and respect one another. We should be glad that not everyone has the same point of view. We should expect that even with the most righteous of motivations, different people will see the world in opposing ways. As President Brown said, as long as we are respectful, we deserve others' respect.

I am convinced that the conservatives I know have good intentions. Their reasoning is generally sound for believing the things they do. But there is no justification for judgments of large segments of society because of their politics. Defending the indefensible in this way makes their position appear tenuous and weak, for they refuse to even engage in discussion of anything but that which merely goes along with what they already believe. Such an attitude has the potential to be just as damaging to the country as any supposed progressive cancer.

On a day when we honor those who have sacrificed their lives and families for our freedoms, it would be good to remember that those heroes died in defense of the rights we all enjoy to think and believe as we choose, black and white, liberal and conservative, democrat and republican, christian and atheist.

Monday, April 19, 2010

AIDS Awareness

April 19, 2010

I had a surprising experience over the weekend. While it would be difficult for me to explain the effect this Elton John song has had on me, I think today is a slight indicator. The song tells of an estranged son who has been rejected by his father for being gay. In real life, the son's name was Ryan White, who will be familiar to many. The song also tells of warm reconciliation. Even though I never knew a gay person growing up, nor had I met anyone with AIDS, this song would always touch my heart.

I have garnered much more experiences since then, therefore I still hold the song very dear. However, there is a side of me that wants to weep when I hear the song. There are times when I am frankly ashamed and embarrassed of myself and the way I felt about the world in the past. Without getting too detailed, I will simply state that my attitude toward homosexuality and AIDS as a young man was something like: "Well, they deserve to die for getting AIDS, and God is punishing them." I won't even get into how this narrow view doesn't even capture the broad segment who contracted AIDS through no fault of their own, but I'm sure at the time I was certain the gays were to blame for the spread.

On Saturday I was listening to Elton John's song, and I felt intense shame for my past feelings on the matter. What a horrible way to view the world! Why would anyone think anything other than how sad it is that people even have to deal with such an awful disease, and that many had to die from it. How awful to think that in our country, we may have hesitated to help those who could have otherwise survived, because of thinking I displayed previously - the very thinking that many probably still believe today?

I did not realize it until today, but there was an AIDS walk taking place on Saturday in Laramie. I don't think I was even aware it was going on until I ran into a friend who had participated. But I wonder if I was maybe there in spirit as I was having these thoughts in my mind. The thing is, AIDS is still a horrific disease that kills people all around the world. I don't know why we don't hear more about it, but I am saddened by every death, no matter where or how it happens. I think in the future I will want to raise more awareness of this disease, and be more involved in lending understanding and compassion to those who may be suffering because of it. Although I regret the way I have felt about this matter in my youth, I take solace in the fact that I have been able to change my perspective for the future.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Accepting Differing Opinions

April 18, 2010

The more I learn, the less I know. On the other hand, the more I learn, the more sure I am about certain things. For one, people have many different views and perspectives of the world. This is not a new phenomenon. It is not an earth-shattering revelation. And yet, it is a slightly novel idea to me in some respects.

You see, growing up, I was taught that there was only one "right" way to think - about religion, and about politics. I was not taught to have respect for those views that were contrary or distinct in some way to mine. Rather, I was basically taught to ridicule those ideas as inferior, because if people were intelligent, they would obviously come to same conclusions that I had reached in my life.

I have since just started to scratch the surface of learning the wonder of a world full of diversity. There are myriad religions, political parties, clubs, and family arrangements. While they are not all exactly in agreement with the way I conduct my life, I rejoice in the differences, and the similarities. I strongly detest those who mock others' ways of viewing the world.

I also question the need to mock and/or be defensive with regards to one's own beliefs. To me these days, an excessive amount of defensiveness, or invoking of the persecution card, or belittling of others, may be nothing more than insecurity on the part of the individual doing such acts. If one has a conviction and a confidence about what they believe, they need not feel a need to act in such a way. Security in belief is best reflected in accepting fully that others have different viewpoints, and that is okay.

Accepting differing opinions is the first step in opening up the mind and the intellect to view the world in a whole new spectrum/paradigm/light. I am so glad that I took the risk to understand the world better, and to have more respect for as many perspectives and views as possible. I invite anyone to make the jump.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

A Long Journey - Moving Forward

April 10, 2010

It has been sometime since I have given a strong opinion on this issue or that. I often have a hard time capturing an accurate description of my philosophies because they seem to always be evolving as I gain newer information. I try to avoid labels because they don't help; they only bring on overgeneralized stereotypes and judgmental reactions.

Over the last several years I have been on a long journey. I remember several years ago thinking how I wanted to be able to understand opposing points of view without becoming furious all the time, which at the time was how I always seemed to react. Back then I was a bloody red conservative. I could have never imagined that actually making the decision to look at differing views as objectively as possible would change my entire world view so drastically.

I now can accept others' viewpoints as just as valid as mine, in the context of their experiences and worldview. This does not undermine the fact that my perspective is just as valid - for me. In my view, this is much more realistic in relation to how the world really turns today. Diversity is the rule, and I have come to embrace that fact, with the idea in mind that we still have more in common than we have differences.

I do not regret questioning the long-held beliefs of my youth, even though it has caused some friction now and again with some of my closest associations. While I feel I have walked this path despite the uncertainty of where it would lead, I can see why some might believe I am just another example of why people generally are afraid to take those first tenuous steps. It is scary and uncomfortable changing viewpoints and being humble enough to admit you may have been wrong, or that you might even be wrong now. A lot of times along the way I have felt like I was losing my faith because so many things I thought were rock solid beliefs started to crumble before my eyes. But I continue to hang on to things I have always valued greatly, and the other things I let go of.

It has taken me awhile, but I am getting comfortable having views that contradict some of the things I was taught growing up, at church, at school, at home. I feel I am nearing the point where I can talk about those 'aberrant' beliefs openly, regardless of the consequences. I hope to do so in a respectful way. And I hope to bring a perspective that can verify that my perspective and views are not crazy, or unfounded. I hope that someday I can be a comfort to others who feel they have 'unorthodox' political, religious, or social views, to help them feel they are not alon
e - as I have often felt at times during my journey - and that having differing views does not make them wrong.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

January 24, 2010

I have been playing the organ on and off for the last couple years. Maybe that's what makes this performance all the more impressive. The organ is an incredibly cool musical instrument, especially if you have mad organ skills like Richard Elliot of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Watch with amazement.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Jon Stewart Smacks Olbermann

January 22, 2010

Just around the time of the last presidential election, I posted an entry from Saturday Night Live with Ben Affleck mocking Keith Olbermann's self-important, pseudo-intellectual, psycho-babble.

Well, after Olbermann called Senator-elect Scott Brown from Massachusetts about every name you could possibly imagine (with the suffix -ist usually incorporated), Jon Stewart decided to take issue. And though I don't like the wallow in the name-calling myself, Stewart aptly shows why I have, for quite sometime now, considered Olbermann a cotton-headed ninnymuggins.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
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Thursday, January 21, 2010

I am the WORST!

January 21, 2010

I have completed one year of grad school, and have quite enjoyed the experience so far. Apparently there are those in the world who don't think too highly of grad students. Here are two of my favorite video clips in regards to the matter; one from 30 Rock and one from The Simpsons. They make me laugh every time.