30 December 2008

Mormon Kids Are So Tolerant That They're Blind to Right and Wrong

Yeah, that's what she said. Telling me about one kid in her ward's youth program who had expressed some difficulty and disagreement with the Church's stance on Proposition 8.

I've known her for some time and she is a wonderful person. She is kind, smart, talented, devoted to faith and family, accomplished, energetic, well-read, intelligent, a great mother to her kids and well-regarded in her community. Outstanding in every way. I have always respected her judgment. But I was surprised by her perspective.

I listened quietly as she told me how the youth of the Church today have grown up in an atmosphere that pushes and stresses tolerance as the supreme virtue above all else. And obviously she thinks this is a bad thing. Everything is out there for them, she said. Everything is available, and everything is presented as just "an option." So in her opinion, they think everything is equally acceptable, and thus when it comes to same-sex marriage, they have lost the ability to even recognize that it is just intrinsically, fundamentally wrong. By definition.

I didn't disagree or quarrel with her. No good purpose would have been served. But this brief conversation captures very well the essence of the whole issue and why for many, this gap will and can never ever be bridged.

Many, especially in the LDS Church, are locked into seeing this as a non-negotiable matter of divinely ordained moral absolutes to which ideally everyone must adhere. They see the voice of God in the First Presidency's letter advocating support for Proposition 8. Non-Mormons point to the Bible as establishing God's Pattern For Marriage. Both feel threatened to their foundations by any prospect of change.

Many others see no solid historical or scriptural basis for that perspective other than personal prejudice and bigotry, point out that marriage has been "re-defined" many times throughout history, and believe that the tolerance lamented by my friend is in fact a long-overdue abandonment of an irrational hostility toward something that's always been part of the human condition anyway. They point to the fact that slavery was finally eradicated in most of the world only after millennia of its being an unquestioned and assumed part of The Divinely Fixed Order Of Things, with apparently supportive references to it throughout the Bible (far more than references to homosexuality in fact), and ferociously defended by many good Christians as approved by God. But that still didn't make it right.

With rare exceptions, this gap cannot be bridged. There is simply no way to reconcile these perspectives. They are as different as chalk and cheese, and are destined to duke it out until one prevails either through the courts or through the ballot box. About the only time I've ever heard of any individual changing from the first category to the second is when they discover that a loved one is gay and suddenly the issue becomes personal and provokes some very profound re-assessment of beliefs.

What think ye? Are today's Mormon youth so soaked in a culture of tolerance that they have lost the ability to discern right from wrong?

25 December 2008

The Appearance of Godliness, But . . .

While channel-surfing recently in search of minimally interesting audio wallpaper to accompany housecleaning, I stumbled on a Discovery Science Channel series about a family with 17 children and one on the way (10 boys and 8 girls). Amazed but without time to stop and watch right then, I set the box to record this thing and went back later to skim through the various episodes and find out what kind of people would have 18 kids today and how they did it. Results follow.

This is an extremely conservative fundamentalist Christian family in Arkansas. Kids are homeschooled and allowed only very restricted access to the Internet. Parents send two chaperones with each child who goes on a date because “when you're alone bad things can happen” and the kids “want to stay pure.” They are under strict instructions never to kiss until after marriage; handholding and the occasional hug is it. The families' conversation and their Web site are saturated with references to God, to “the Lord,” the Bible, and so forth. One Web site slide show photo shows wife Michelle gazing at husband Jim Bob (yes, his real name) with an adoring look in her eye as he sits at the head of a 20 seat dining table lecturing to the kids with an open Bible before him; it's captioned “Michelle admiring Jim Bob for being the spiritual leader of their home.”

One episode featured 20 year old eldest son proposing marriage to a girl younger than him whom he'd met a few months prior at a homeschooling conference, the first girl he'd ever fallen for. Footage shot during their engagement showed them holding hands and saying “I love you” to each other over and over and over again. They were obviously seething with hormones and gritting their teeth to be satisfied with arms-length hand-holds and finger caresses until after they said “I do” and could really let loose. But no kissing! He explained that when you kiss someone, you give part of your heart away to them, but he wanted to keep his heart “pure” for the one he married. They're now hitched and he's running his own used car dealership in their Arkansas town. Neither has been been to college, no indication that either one plans on it.

Now, I come from a very traditional LDS family and was raised to respect faith and good moral values. I should applaud any family that teaches the same to their kids, right? So I was surprised by my reaction to this family and to their rules, particularly for dating and courtship. What reaction? Visceral, gut-level revulsion. I was baffled. Why should I feel that way about this apparently happy family that seemed to be teaching their kids many of the values I also thought I supported? Certainly these parents have the right to organize their home and teach their kids the way they want. So why such disgust? After days of pondering, I think I've got it. My reasons have nothing to do with their efforts to raise a stable family and everything to do with their view of the world and of the right way to navigate it.

These people look at the world in black & white terms, God and godly things on one side, evil everywhere else. While this may be a psychologically comforting and easy approach, it's just not how real life works. These parents are stuck in a less-than-fully mature stage of faith which, if imposed on their kids, will probably fracture the faith and world view of some of those kids when they bump up against some life experience their parents' overly simplistic approach can't explain. There are 10 boys in this family so statistically there's a good chance one of them will discover that he's gay; what will happen to him, coming from this environment? Life is far more complex and the world far more vast than these people seem to want to believe, and God is the creator of all. Yet their approach seems intended to prevent intellectual curiosity and exploration of that world. Example: full parental support for eldest son's marriage at age 20 to the only girl he'd ever fallen for, with neither kid having even started college or dated anyone else seriously before. Personally I couldn't imagine doing that without taking time to leave home, learn about the world and life and relationships on my own, and figure out based on my own experience what I wanted for my life. But this kid didn't seem remotely interested in such stuff. Now that's certainly his choice, and he's not me. But the fact that the idea of something like that didn't even seem to occur to him? That is not the stuff of which Galileos or Columbuses or Einsteins are made.

These folks seem blithely convinced that their way is God's way and everything they do is divinely directed. They teach their kids this, and someday at least one of those kids will discover otherwise. When that happens, watch out kid for some serious blowback. The parents' support of the Quiverfull movement confirms that they take an extreme fundamentalist and literalist view of the Bible. This is the same mindset that produced the Scopes Monkey Trial and 150 years of unrelenting anti-Mormon bigotry which continues today and makes a profitable business out of teaching lies and prejudice to ostensible “Christians.” In short, it fosters hypocrisy, which I hate more than just about anything else. I am no shining example of peerless personal consistency, but I don't go around claiming I have God's truth while charging people to hear me spread falsehoods and bigotry about others. This family believes in a strain of “Christianity” which actively promotes just that.

Which brings me to one of my biggest beefs with their approach. It's overly extreme and unnecessary! It's Puritanical in every bad sense. They deny their children innocent and pleasurable learning and experience not for any real moral purpose but just because they seem more scared of the evil they think lurks in everyone than willing to trust their kids to make the right choices for the right reasons, or to teach them how to do so. They seem to think people can't control their own physical passions unless someone else is there to make them do it. They are teaching their kids that even the most innocent displays of affection are dangerous and disloyal, that God wants them to remain unequipped to bridle their own passions or learn how to deal with a variety of challenges on their own. Puritanism = anger over the relentless, nagging suspicion that somebody somewhere may be happy.

My conclusion? These parents don't seem to want their kids to learn how to find their own ways in life or decide what they individually want to be. And to me, that doesn't seem like love. It seems like control masquerading as love. The purpose of our coming to earth was to gain experience in freely choosing amongst all the alternatives we'd confront. Sometimes our choices are black & white, but often they just aren't that clear, and we struggle to decide what's right and best. That struggle is a crucial part of acquiring greater wisdom, knowledge, and judgment. I think a mature parent who truly loves their child for the right reasons and wants that child's greatest happiness will do what God our Father did: equip the children as best He can, then gradually set them free to make their own choices, find their own paths and destinies. He will stay close to give instruction and support when called on, but He will never limit or restrict their own ability to choose for themselves. That would destroy the purpose, which is admittedly high risk for Him: He risks losing the eternal companionship of many of His children as a result of their own choices. But He knows that only through free exercise of the right choices can any of us become as He is—which is, after all, the whole point.

So while I support many of the values these parents are trying to teach their kids, I can't support how they do it. Why did I feel repelled by this family? Because they seem unwilling to take the risks necessary to allow their children to be everything they could be. They are limiting their own childrens' ability to grow and gain wisdom, knowledge & experience in the name of “love” that is actually fear and control. And that is the opposite of the way God runs his family; it has an outward form that pretends to be godliness, but denies its power.

24 December 2008

23 December 2008

What I Would Give

Two days till Christmas. The weather sucks, the shopping's done, I can feel smug about sitting back and avoiding the traffic and the airports. Managing to concentrate on work but not with matchless enthusiasm, that's for sure. Aspirations fading fast that I will be able to discipline myself to do anything productive tomorrow.

With little kids at home I'm fortunate to have reached the stage where I don't care about my own Christmas presents anymore, for me the best thing about the season is the focus on giving and making others happy. My mind is wandering to friends and on-line family members I have been blessed to meet these past few months. Can you love people you haven't met? I think so. I've met a handful of blogmates--you know who you are--and I consider myself very blessed to know each of you. In this on-line family I see strength and weakness and faith and doubt and hope and discouragement and determination and talent and all the other wonderful paradoxes that are part of life. Each of you inspires me. Like Bravone, I wish I could dig into a bottomless barrel of wealth and give each of you every temporal gift you ever wanted. I wish I could invoke some magical power to give you every happiness you ever sought.

With all of us so far-flung and tied down by life's commitments and resources, I know I can't do all that. But I can and do keep you in my prayers and wishes for a wonderful Christmas. If I could wish one thing for each of you, it'd be what you see in this picture. Someone's hand to hold. Someone there for you, somehow, in some way. Someone to let you know that you're not alone, that you're loved, accepted, understood. If Christmas is a tough time for you, reach out. Let someone know. Heck, let ME know. I'm only one tiny voice in cyberspace but even if I can do nothing more than provide a listening ear or keep you company for a while, I'm glad to do it.

And just as importantly, I wish for you the opportunity to be that person for someone else. I've been blessed to be able to do that more than once and few things make me happier. To be the one to extend the hand, the assurance, the caring, isn't that what the Savior would want each of us to do. In the closing words of my favorite Christmas movie "The Bishop's Wife": "Let us ask ourselves what He would wish for most, and then let us each put in our share: kind words, warm hearts, and the outstretched hand of tolerance--all the shining gifts that make peace on earth."

20 December 2008

Strikes When You Least Expect It - Ain't It Great?

One of life's greatest pleasures is to discover after the fact that you just might have had a little inspiration strike when you didn't even recognize it, and you only see how things fell into place from the rear view mirror. I am no pillar of exemplary spirituality, but have been lucky enough to have had this happen to me a few times. And it happened again tonight. My heart is dancing.

On the way home from a busy day, it suddenly occurred to me that I should stop at a nearby mall to look for one last-minute Christmas present. I hadn't previously planned to do this, but went with the inpulse. After breaking the 10th Commandment at the Apple Store while hefting an iPod Touch, I walked past a large central plaza and saw a fairly good-sized group of people standing in a big circle round the fountain in the middle. They stood quietly, holding candles and with signs pinned to their shirts that said something about equal rights. But nothing more specific. Curious, I approached and asked the purpose for the vigil.

The woman I approached said in a very kind and soft voice that they were there to protest the passage of Proposition 8, to let all its supporters know that they and this issue were not going away, and that they wanted to make a peaceful public statement.

I extended my hand, took hers, and said “I am an active Mormon, and I apologize for everything that has been done by my church to perpetuate hostility and misunderstanding. We are not all like that; many disagreed with the directive from Salt Lake which was extremely troubling to lots of us, and it has caused tremendous conflict within the church membership that you would not otherwise hear about. But there are lots of us who support you, so don't let the media's focus persuade you otherwise.”

A group instantly gathered around me. They interrupted each other to say over and over “Thank you, thank you thank you, that gives us hope.” I told them of my children who, when Proposition 8 was explained to them, recoiled and instantly recognized its unfairness. The group gathered round me were amazed and touched, and said “that is the future we rely on to bring more charity and tolerance to the world.”

Then came the part for which I later wondered whether I had been sent there. One young woman interrupted the others and said “I can't tell you how much it means to me to hear you say these things. My father's family is all Mormon, and they have cut off all contact with me ever since my dad died eight years ago.” Clearly this young woman was a lesbian and had been completely ostracized by her active Mormon family. I told her that her family was wrong to do that, and she should not lose heart. She was nearly in tears as she said “Hearing you say these things gives me hope that maybe things will change in my family.”

I shook hands with several of them, again assured them that there were many Latter-day Saints who shared their dreams of tolerance and equality, told them to keep their chins up and their candles lit, wished them all a Merry Christmas, and headed to my car.

In Doc. & Cov. 81:5, the Savior instructs us to “lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees.” I am elated and humbled to think the Spirit may have whispered today to someone as flawed and fallible as me, in order to point me to another child of God whose hands were low and knees were weak and whose heart yearned for her family, so that she would be comforted and gain renewed hope for the future. As I said above, my heart dances still. And thus we see that God truly is mindful of all His children.

19 December 2008

Prop 8 News Flash - The March Continues

Flouting what seemed to be widespread legal opinion prior to November 4th that pre-election same sex marriages would remain intact if Prop 8 passed, today the "Protect Marriage Coalition" filed suit to have all pre-election marriages of same-sex couples in California invalidated, thus confirming that Prop 8 proponents are not content simply with the new constitutional provision but are also determined to retroactively wipe out all pre-election same-sex marriages in the state.

Today's second surprising development was the announcement by California Attorney General Jerry Brown that he is reversing his prior position on Prop 8. While he previously said he would defend the measure before the California Supreme Court after it passed, on "further reflection and a deeper probing into all aspects of our Constitution, it became evident that the Article I provision guaranteeing basic liberty, which includes the right to marry, took precedence over the initiative" and therefore, based on his "duty to defend the law and the entire Constitution, [he] concluded the [supreme] court should protect the right to marry even in the face of the 52 percent vote."

In short, California's Attorney General will now urge the California Supreme Court to throw out Proposition 8 as creating an inherent and internal conflict within the state constitution.

No links necessary. Google any of this and you'll find the story. The roller coaster ride continues!

17 December 2008

Several Thousand Words

That's what this one's worth. Discovery, joy, fear, bigotry, loss, hope, the prospect of a brighter future. Delightful and very touching. And it's only a few minutes long. The Closet. Enjoy.

And if you're in the mood for a shocking news story about a flaw in California's new constitutional provision, go here.

16 December 2008

Skirmish Over, But Analysis Continues

Those of you sick of hearing about Prop 8 will be happier if you click elsewhere before reading further.

If you're still here, then I'll assume it's because you remain interested in the whole packet of issues that congealed as Prop 8 in California. Yesterday I heard a radio interview with someone in the leadership of one of the organizations that's appealed Prop 8 to the California Supreme Court. He said the long-term plan was to overturn Prop 8 and the constitutional amendment in California, whether at the Supreme Court or by another ballot measure in 2010, and then go state by state with similar efforts to repeal their constitutional provisions as well. He took a very long-term view and counted on the fact that a majority of younger voters opposed Prop 8, a trend he expected would remain constant nationwide. Those who spend their time looking for conspiracy theories to explain major events and trends needn't waste their time here; conspiracies are by definition secret, but this plan is very "out" in the open.

That said, today I read a very thought-provoking discussion of the Church's involvement in this issue. It's worth pasting here:

"Singled Out

In the turbulent aftermath of proposition 8’s passage in California, the Church made some noise about being unfairly singled out by gay rights activitists. Whether or not the Church served as a lynchpin in the coalition that pushed the proposition through, its centralization alone makes it a logical target.

But here I’m interested in turning the question around: why have gays been singled out by the Church?

In my opinion, the Church’s strongest argument against gay marriage is that which highlights the importance of maintaining the status of opposite-sexed parents in our image of the ideal family. Maybe there’s some validity to the contention that, given its potential benefits to society, government incentives should adhere to and support this particular ideal, which begins to erode if it loses its singular status.

But there’s a lot that could be done, on the policy front, to support families in various ways. And the Church is not involved in any of it. The utopic vision the Church invokes in the gay marriage debate cuts a remarkably broad swath across society, yet its political focus is bewilderingly narrow. Do gay unions pose a particular threat qualitatively different from–and more virulent to our social fabric–than no-fault divorce laws or absent, deadbeat parents, for example?

Should they so choose (and many do), mothers and fathers are accorded the legal right to sleep around, divorce their partner (if they were married in the first place), and abandon their children in pursuit of their own happiness. Where the needs of the community (here children’s need for involved parents) and the desires of individuals are in tension, the law, it seems to me, largely triumphs individual opportunity. Divorce affects nuclear families directly and immediately in a way that gay marriage can only exert a weak, indirect, nonspecific influence (if at all). Given this context, would it not be consonant with our established values to champion gay marriage? It may be individualistic, but for that very reason it should hold some attraction. After all, why should gays sacrifice themselves by accepting the status of outcast in order to preserve a particular vision of society when others who are disrupting that vision more violently are not being asked to make comparable sacrifices?

Is gay marriage really the most alarming threat to the Church’s current vision of acceptable family arrangements? (And I mean in society at large, not merely among its members, since this is the turf on which gay marriage is being fought.) Is this simply a question of pragmatics–the Church is choosing a battle it thinks it can win, whether or not it is the most important battle to win? Is it a matter of dispositional conservatism, which reflexively recoils from enacting change while throwing its energy into preventing it? Or are there cases in which the Church would (or should) fight to effect change rather than simply hinder it?"

You can read the entire post and discussion here.

12 December 2008

Today I Saw The Future - Sort Of - I Think

When I first started my career I worked at a place I'll call Company X. I was just a kid and thrown into this big, sophisticated place and expected to work alongside some pretty seasoned senior executives sometimes. Sink or swim. Fortunately, I ended up having a great experience although I always felt outclassed by the age and expertise of just about everybody I worked with. It's been a few years since I left but I still keep in touch with a handful of friends I made there. Company X has since been acquired by someone else and virtually everyone I knew there has left. The business world is like that. No surprise.

Today I attended a lunch for Company X alumni. I still felt like the inexperienced kid as I sat near the end of a long table and watched several dozen of my former work colleagues get together, visit, and reminisce. Most had gone on to other places, continuing successful careers. A few had reached retirement age. There was more gray hair in the room than I remembered from years ago, and less hair overall on most heads. These people were still my seniors and superiors in every way.

Sitting at the table, I was struck by something. The last time we were together, we were all surrounded and enveloped by the hard-grinding, high-pressure, stress-filled atmosphere created by the relentless pursuit of profit and company business. Our noses were all to the grindstone, our schedules packed with meetings and projects and metrics and goals and measurements and reviews and meeting the numbers (gee, sounds like life as an active Mormon, doesn't it). Days were long and performance expectations high.

This time, there was none of that. Everyone was there because they wanted to be, because they cared about the others, because they valued the friendships and wanted them to continue. The atmosphere was one of caring and contentment, of missions accomplished, of affection and relaxation after all the battles were over.

So as I watched all these reunions, I couldn't help thinking ahead to, say, 100 years from now, when I and all my blogging brothers will have moved on to the next place. After the hard-grinding, high-pressure, stress-filled adventure of mortal life and the relentless pursuit of—well, whatever we pursue here—is over. I envisioned all of us gathering together someplace, having somehow weathered all the storms and strife of life, meeting for the sheer joy of reunion and cameraderie. To talk about old times, old struggles, old questions, to simply savor the happiness of being together, of affection and relaxation after all the battles are over.

I don't have anything close to the answers I want from the gospel or the Church about a lot of pretty serious questions. I don't think the Church itself knows the answers to some of them. The road that lies between us and that far future reunion I imagined today is going to be very rocky sometimes, and some battles are really tough for all of us. I don't how how we're going to get there, or what shape we'll be in when we arrive. I think there's a pretty tough slog ahead. It's tough to have a testimony of the gospel taught by a church that denies you the hope it extends to most other members and can't explain how you should expect to achieve the same eternal blessings they look for. Talk about a rock and a hard place. Tough, very tough.

But all the same, today's reunions were warm and sweet and peaceful and somehow gave me hope that the Father of us all will indeed give us the righteous desires of our hearts sometime, somewhere. I wish I knew how, or when. I wish I knew what He knows about why he made so many of us the way He did. But I do have faith that at some future time, the battles will be over, we'll know what we need to know, and everything will be worked out. Today I had a little glimpse of how that might feel. It was really wonderful. So to all my blogosphere brethren, I am glad and honored to be here with you, to be part of this big “family,” and I hope that what I saw today really is a foretaste of some wonderful, peaceful, joyful future gathering for all of us when the missions are finally accomplished.

08 December 2008

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad and Irresistible Christmas Gift

Well, it's the holidays and I can finally let loose after waiting months to say this.

MoHoHo, Merry Christmas.

Okay, anti-climactic at best. Keep the tomatoes, cabbages and rocks to yourself please. I can't be the first one to think of that, can I?

I believe in living a balanced life. Hence, yesterday's burst of seriousness expended, today I turn to the utterly frivolous, but with this expectation. Someone somewhere who reads this post will end up seriously in my debt, because I am about to enable that person to wreak horrible, delightful revenge on whoever is the bane of their existence. So with that conviction, I hereby present my readers with this Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad and Irresistible Christmas Present for whoever in your life drives you almost unforgivably nuts.

I am not responsible for the consequences of your choices.

07 December 2008

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

All right, Mormons. Every one of you who fears "the gay agenda" or sees any degree of homosexuality as a threat to The Plan, every one of you who's ever called something "gay" in a general sense as a putdown (and that means most people between ages 10 and 25 in the Church right now), every one of you who fears public school indoctrination of Our Innocent Little Ones with stories of princes marrying princes, or of the Church being sued for not permitting gay marriages in temples, every one of you at BYU who opposes any public mention of homosexuality that isn't pejorative. Listen up. I'm about to tell you why all of that is just a distraction, and who you should really be scared of. Believe me, it ain't who you think.

Will and Grace, Ellen, Brokeback Mountain, candlelight vigils and marches in front of temples, all of the screaming, yelling dykes on bikes, the limp-wristed, aggressively gender-bending thong-wearing RuPaul wannabes and mincing teabags who march in Gay Pride parades—these are no real threat to you. They are an extreme fringe that gets media attention out of all proportion to their numbers. They are not your enemy. Getting all worked up over them is like picking a fight with an inflatable weighted Bozo the Clown punching bag. It'll tire you out, they won't go away, and they won't have any real effect on your life either.

For anybody who's even remotely homophobic, who believes that being gay is a choice and that their precious youth could be "persuaded" into adopting it, who believe that "the gays" are out to destroy their families, the real threat is elsewhere. Who and what is it?

Drum roll please.

The real threat to you is every gay or bisexual person, whether in the Church or not, who does not gender-bend. Who is not in-your-face militant about gay rights 24/7. Who is or has been married (regardless of genders). Who has kids or wants them. Who has a good job and tries to do it well and responsibly. Who doesn't sleep around, cruise the bars and abuse drugs or alcohol, and who tries to live an honest, ethical, decent life according to the Golden Rule. Who watches and plays sports as well as loving some of the arts. Who tries to be tolerant and respectful of others, and who tries to make life better for themselves and everyone around them. AND, by the way, just also happens to be attracted to persons of the same gender.

People like that—they are the biggest threat you face. Do you know why? It's because all homophobia depends on irrational judgments and stereotypes. It's easy to catcall and hoot and pick fights with a depersonalized stereotype, even one that actually happens to be a living, breathing person. No problem to indulge some self-righteousness there, some complacency, some sense of virtuous defense of The Kingdom against the encroaching Destroyers Of All We Hold Traditional and Dear.

But what if you suddenly found out that your best friend from high school, or the guy you played football with, or served a mission with, or the woman you worked in Relief Society with, whose temple wedding you attended, whose career you envied, whose kids you know, whose testimony you've heard in church—what if you suddenly discovered one day that they've actually been gay all along? What if you discovered that your kids' new playmates, who are bright and cheerful and well-behaved and apparently doing great, come from a home with two daddies or two mommies? What if it's your son or daughter who you've watched growing up and whose heart you know to be good and faithful and true?

Suddenly all the neat, simple, easy black and white categories of your prior judgmental life don't seem so easily applied anymore, do they. These aren't the abrasive, foul-mouthed, boozed-up, AIDS-flaunting cartoon characters you've imagined storming The Gates of Zion at Satan's bidding. These are good, decent people that you know and love, who you've seen are trying to do and be their best. When you see that someone can be and do all the "normal" things you approve of and which you yourself also love and support, and they can also be gay--oops. Suddenly something doesn't compute anymore.

Light and truth are toxic to the mold and fungus of prejudice. So anybody who wants to continue clinging comfortably to their beliefs that The Gays Are Coming To Get Us had better avoid any possibility of finding out who in their circle of apparently normal, average, ordinary family and friends is gay. Because chances are there's somebody who qualifies. Somebody you love, somebody you've always thought was just a "regular person." And who would thus seriously threaten your carefully constructed house of fantasy cards that shelters your favorite myths about Those People. Nothing angers a person more than to be shown irrefutably that one of their precious prejudices is wrong. So if you don't want to have your world rocked like that, then do your best to keep the blinders on. Because your real enemy may be a lot closer than you think.

Of course, if you can weather such a discovery with some calm common sense and the charity that Christ commands us all to have, you may just discover that there was never anything to fear in the first place. And you might find yourself not only rid of an imagined enemy, but of a crippling prejudice as well. Funny how that works sometimes.

Don't say I didn't warn you.

06 December 2008

Thank You Bill O'Reilly

Thanks Bill for tipping me off to one of the funnier things I've seen lately. I never would have heard of it if you hadn't kicked up a fuss. It's clear you didn't think this was one bit humorous, but I think you should lighten up just a bit. We've had enough grit-your-teeth seriousness over this issue, let's at least laugh a bit before the next round.

03 December 2008

The Best Christmas Movies

I like classics and understatement. So my two favorite Christmas movies are a lot older than me, and both are quite restrained, compared to more recent beat-them-over-the-head fare like The Santa Clause and such. I've seen almost all the holiday movies in recent memory and in my opinion, they don't match my two favorites for quality, production value, and message. Both have been re-made at least once, and one of them several times. But the remakes just aren't as good. I can't decide which of these two I like more. I think I like them equally well, for different reasons. So on the assumption that few of my blogmates have seen the great originals, let me pass on a couple of recommendations.

First is the 1951 black & white version of A Christmas Carol starring Alastair Sim. Faithful to the original Dickens story, it has a little bit of the schmaltz that sometimes shows up in movies from that era, but overall it is a very compelling production and the best of all the film versions of this story. It is not all touchy-feely. It deals with serious issues. There are no song & dance numbers. Parts of it scare my kids. But the seriousness at times makes the redemption at the end all the more wonderful. You can see that it really is a “mighty change of heart”, which is what the Savior's message is all about.

Second is the original 1948 version of The Bishop's Wife with Loretta Young, David Niven, and Cary Grant. Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston should spend time in purgatory for their recent dismal remake called “The Preacher's Wife” which was way dumbed down. In a story set just before Christmas, Niven plays an Episcopalian bishop trying to raise money for a new cathedral. In response to his prayer for guidance, God sends an angel (Cary Grant) who reveals his identity only to Niven. They don't get along very well, and the angel ends up falling in love with the bishop's wife (Young). Everyone but the bishop marvels at the angel's knowledge and experience and are baffled by the little miracles he works here and there. There is a wonderful bit of music by the kind of boy's choir that's unknown today in a neighborhood church. I won't tell you how it all resolves, you'll have to watch it for yourself. But the very last scene is one of the most touching and sweet I've ever seen and I never tire of watching it. Hint: it mentions “tolerance” specifically as one of the “shining gifts that make peace on earth.”

Buy both. You won't be disappointed. And let me know what you think.

01 December 2008

Different Perspectives

A good friend of mine is a Church employee. He was born and raised in Utah County, as was his wife. Though he has traveled some (always in some Church-related capacity), they have never lived anywhere but Salt Lake or Orem. Recently he has asked me some very pointed questions about Prop 8, wanting in good faith to know the perspective of a “non-Utah Mormon” who has seen the issue close up as he knows he has not.

We've discussed virtually every issue and factoid that's been raised since this whole thing started. You can probably guess which side he supports. I've explained to him my perspectives and how I understood the arguments on both sides of the question.

Three conclusions emerged from our conversation. First, we both have faith in and a testimony of the gospel. Second, he says I am what he calls a classical liberal, someone who has the basic view of rights and role of government that Jefferson and his contemporaries had, and who makes no important distinctions between economic liberties and civil liberties, and this colors my view of proposed laws that affect civil liberties. He's probably right. I think that he is politically very conservative but not pig-headedly so.

Third, and most salient here, was our different perspectives on the First Presidency's letter that kick-started the whole Mormon Machine into action in California. Essentially, we differed on how to identify revelation. I laid out for him the history of First Presidency letters over the years which have shifted Church policies and teachings, sometimes 180 degrees about, even flatly contradicting previous FP statements (e.g. on birth control). Since truth is always internally consistent, I told him, this history suggests to me that First Presidency letters can sometimes include the personal advice and opinions of the First Presidency. Otherwise, to use the same example, if birth control was “contrary to the teachings of the Church” in the 1960's when David O. McKay issued his letter on it, it would still be “contrary to the teachings of the Church” today. But it isn't. I don't see this shift as the result of revelation since it seems highly unlikely to me that the Lord would instruct the prophet that birth control was sinful at one point and then just 40 years later, for no apparent reason, change His mind and tell another prophet something else. Occam's Razor always applies: All other things being equal, the simplest solution is the best. The simplest solution here is to explain this shift as the result of near-universal acceptance of the use of birth control in the United States and the almost complete breakdown of all objections to it on any basis. I did not analogize specifically to Prop 8 but my friend's discomfort with this line of analysis confirmed that he understood where it could lead.

Friend in question did not see things as I did. To him, letters from the First Presidency constitute The Voice of The Lord on whatever question they address. Therefore, if those letters change Church policies or positions, then that constitutes continuing revelation. He believes that all official acts of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve are based on revelation and that any “correction” (as he sees it) should come from God alone. He acknowledges that we both believe in continuing revelation but he does not see “the Brethren” making “corrections along the way” whereas I do (and he's right, that's how I see things). He sees them as “always inspired” and believes I see them as “working through things until they eventually get it right, if they do.” I think that last phrase was a bit overstated, but he is correct that I see even top Church leaders as often using their own best judgment in running Church affairs. I believe they do receive revelation in that process but I've seen enough in the Church to know that many if not the majority of decisions taken at all levels are taken according to the individual leaders' own opinions and personal judgment. Sometimes those decisions proved to have been inspired after all. Sometimes they are demonstrably bone-headed and reversed. I allow for both possibilities. Friend in question would simply see all decisions of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve as always inspired according to particular circumstances.

I pointed out to him various quotes from past presidents of the Church which urged individual members not to rely on their leaders without question, but to get for themselves a testimony that what they were being taught and the ways they were being led were truthful, that prophets were only prophets when speaking as such, and that they always remained fallible men whose own experiences colored their perceptions. He acknowledged all of this and it made no difference. To him, FP letters are the modern equivalent of “thus saith the Lord” and are to be followed. Period. I'm sure he wouldn't object to individual efforts to gain a testimony of any particular FP instruction because to him, there can be only one right answer to such efforts.

He assured me that he didn't doubt my faithfulness, that we simply had a different perspective on this issue. I suspect that privately he worries I am on shaky ground because I “question The Brethren” and even “presume to correct them.” For my part, I think his approach is a little bit pie-in-the-sky-ish and it doesn't reflect the reality I have personally seen of how the Church is run.

Naturally this made for a very interesting discussion about Proposition 8 in particular. I'll spare you the details of that. But it seems pretty clear to me that he's the “Iron Rod” type of Mormon whereas I'm more of the “Liahona” type. And I'm curious to know what others think of Friend in Question's approach, whether in the context of Prop 8 (assuming we're not all heartily sick of the subject yet) or otherwise.

25 November 2008


Personality tests are all over the map, of course, as are opinions about their usefulness and accuracy. But today I ran across one that I just couldn't resist. Run your own blog and/or those you follow through this thing for a new perspective on yourself and the other bloggers you hang out with online. Might be interesting to see who you line up with! Just for fun, I ran this tool for all the blogs of everyone at Scott's party last Saturday. There was a definite predominance of one type.

To begin, click here.

24 November 2008

Jumping the Gun on the Holiday

This Thanksgiving will be different from all the others. This year I'm thankful for something I've never had before: membership in a new family. Of course my own “bio” family of origin is strong and solid and loving as ever. But this year I'm part of another one too, for the first time. One many of whose members I met for the first time last Saturday. It was joyful. Delightful. Warm, welcoming, refreshing in ways I'd never known before. The time flew by far too quickly and I can't wait for the next one. To each of you that were there (and I mean that sincerely, each one of you individually), and especially to our gracious hosts, I apologize that “thank you” is so pitifully thin an expression for the depth of my gratitude and of my happiness in meeting each of you. In many ways it felt more like a family reunion.

I usually don't recycle material, but this time it's appropriate. Turns out I've already written the best expression of my feelings after being with “the family” Saturday night and I hope you'll forgive the recycle because I can do no better than this:

For the beauty of my bro's,
For the beauty in their eyes,
For the love that each one knows
Over and around us lies,
Lord of all, to thee I raise
This my hymn of grateful praise.

For the beauty of my friends,
For their hearts and helping hands,
Their support that never ends
Reaching out to many lands,
Lord of all, to thee I raise
This my hymn of grateful praise.

For the joy of brothers' love,
Giv'n by God to each and all,
Friends on earth and friends above,
With them, standing proud and tall,
Savior, Lord, to thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise.

19 November 2008

Protest in Provo

I don't know how I missed this news story, but it's worth passing on:

Gay Humility Parade Keeps Low Profile

PROVO, UTAH—"We're here, we're same-gender challenged, and we're awfully sorry to impose," said Provo Gay Humility Parade organizer Thomas Smith. "If we had our choice, believe me, we wouldn't hold this parade at all. But who are we to deny what God hath wrought?"

Involving about fifty men and a handful of women, the parade started at the corner of Fifth East and Second South in a Provo residential neighborhood and disbanded a block later at Fifth East and Third South. "We stayed on the sidewalk, so we wouldn't get in anyone's way," said Smith. "We didn't want to trouble the city for a permit."

Most of the men wore white shirts, ties, and clean, ironed Levi's creased down the middle. "We handed out rainbow key-chain fobs to our marchers beforehand," Smith said, "but we asked everyone to keep them in their pockets during the parade."

Some of the participants carried signs. Held discreetly in front of her chest, Lily Spainhower's sign was laserprinted on white paper in Helvetica 16-point font: TELESTIAL KINGDOM OR BUST. "I'm actually hoping for terrestrial," Spainhower said, "but I wouldn't want to presume." A man who declined to give his name carried a sign that said, JESUS LOVES ME, BUT HE'S NOT IN LOVE WITH ME.

Smith arranged for a handful of protesters to picket the parade and berate the marchers in order to intensify their humility. "Walking through the fire of affliction burns away the dross," Smith said. Priests and teachers from the East Bay Twenty-Second Ward held signs reading GET THEE BEHIND ME—BUT NOT LITERALLY and NO PRIESTHOOD FOR PANSIES. As instructed they chanted, "Gay, gay, go away—get born again some other way!"

Jeff Paulsen marched next to his long-term partner Frank Hume. Both men kept their arms reverently folded and did not indulge in any physical contact with each other, as per parade rules. "Frank attends the local family ward, and I attend the over-thirty singles ward," Paulsen said after the parade. "When the sacrament comes around, we don't take it, and we pinch ourselves until it hurts."

"While we didn't want to draw undue attention, it felt good to be ourselves in public for a few minutes," Smith said. "I'd say about twenty onlookers saw us. We just hope the Provo City Library still honors our library cards after this."


18 November 2008

I'm Still Standing

One of the set pieces of a rugby match is called a "maul." It is appropriately named. The guy with the ball is head down and running. Opposing team guy slams into him. Ball runner pivots and hopes another team member is there to hand off to. Other team members come up, lock arms around shoulders, heads down, 90 degrees at the waist, and push opposing team members back. Everyone stays on their feet, theoretically. When you get 8 or 10 or more guys all like this pushing against each other, well, that's probably why it's called a maul.

Guess what we did tonight. And guess where your humble correspondent got hit. Again. Full force slam. Yep, same place. But this time, I was just winded for a few moments. Getting stronger? Oh yeah, left elbow pretty banged up too. Coach happened to be the runner on that play and shredded his knee. It was probably the most brutal play of the night. But we all got up, huffed and puffed, recovered, and went on. After it was all over I discovered I now have matching bruises on the right side too, plus some muscles in my left inner thigh that are complaining very loudly. One of the veterans told me that in a few months I'll be able to tell which bruise I got on which day by the different colors. LOL. Right now, it's time for Motrin and the jacuzzi.

Comment already received from one reader: "You're freakin nuts." Probably.

I love this game.

"It" in a Nutshell

A great riposte in the comments to a staunch and reveling-in-his-sense-of-persecution advocate of Prop 8 captures virtually every issue gay Mormons face (could it be from a "Michael" we know?):

"Reason trumps emotion and until it is fully explained how gays and lesbians fit into the plan of salvation then the emotion will win the day. Where do we fit? Are we meant to be eliminated due to something we did not choose? Are we denied love and companionship forever? Or will we be switched back to heterosexuality upon our entrance into the spirit world? Do we change our fundamental makeup when we get to the other side?

We can always remain faithful to the Gospel but when will we get the answers we need to remain faithful to the Church?"

I think that about sums it up!

17 November 2008

The New Brand and Make Some Room

Two more excellent discussions to pass on.

Make Some Room talks about how the predominance of just one political perspective within the Church is essentially suicidal for that perspective. Thought-provoking to honest cultural conservative Mormons who really are more interested in truth than in being right. And encouraging to those LDS who may find themselves just a little to the left of Ezra Taft Benson and Cleon Skousen. Side note: I was pleased to see that Clint has already posted a comment to this thread.

The New Mormon Brand may, alas, be intolerance. Another thought-provoking post, but this time depressing for those who care about how non-Mormons look at the Church. Warning: this discussion is strictly for realists; Iron Rodders who see themselves as valiantly defending the bastions of Zion against Prop 8 opponents and others of Satan's minions needn't bother reading this one, it will only make them angry and defensive.

16 November 2008

Shirts and Shibboleths – When the "Unwritten Order" Becomes Compulsory

In 1996 Boyd Packer spoke at BYU about "The Unwritten Order of Things." In that speech he briefly but forcefully advocated wearing "Sunday best" to church and decried "more informal, even slouchy clothing" at church meetings which, he said, would lead to "informal and slouchy conduct."

Since then, two other members of the Quorum of the Twelve have used General Conference addresses to urge LDS men to wear white shirts to church, particularly when performing priesthood ordinances. This "advice" has not been official, and has been expressed in terms of personal preference. However, most active Mormons tend to take every word from every General Authority as virtually canonical, and little details like this, easily adopted as badges of faithfulness, usually catch on fast in Mormon circles. The result is a strong cultural trend over the last 20 years or so which pressures every LDS man and boy to wear nothing but white shirts to church as the "uniform of the priesthood."

Today I counted among 12 year old and older males in Sacrament meeting the number of non-white shirts. This is not a small ward. Every week it fills a stake center chapel and many rows in the overflow section. Total non-white shirts: seven, out of close to a hundred, and even the renegades confined themselves to a conservative pale solid blue (but only one tie with any green at all, guess who). Clearly the white shirt part of the "unwritten order of things" has taken hold in my ward and stake.

Before I go further, I want to emphasize that this post is not about the merits of white or non-white shirts. As far as I'm concerned, God our Father cares a lot more about the color of the virtues in our hearts and probably not a whit about our shirts. My purpose here is to examine the phenomenon of how this personal preference of a couple of General Authorities has been adopted as a de facto requirement and badge of orthodoxy, the discomfort which it seems more than a few members of the Church feel when it's not followed, and most importantly, what that discomfort says about those members and about the culture of the Church.

A member of my extended family who lives in a very conservative area of Utah has an Aaronic Priesthood-age son. He has a strong Holden Caulfield streak, and is going through the predictable stage of testing the boundaries to figure out what he personally believes, trusts, doubts, has faith in, and so forth. Not surprisingly, he chafes at the strong "suggestion" that only white shirts be worn to church, and his local leadership's admonition that repeated breaches of this rule will exclude him from administering the sacrament. He thinks this is a stupid rule and regards those who emphasize it as the modern equivalents of those in the Savior's time who strained at gnats. And we all know what the Savior said about them. He knows too.

His parents, loving and devoted Church members of unquestioned faithfulness, don't make a big issue of this. But they are extremely worried about him. In their eyes, if he is unwilling to be obedient in little things, how will he ever be trusted or able to be obedient in larger things?

This is the crux of the issue. The white shirt rule is not Scripture. It is not policy (except for full-timers like missionaries and GA's). As far as I know, it is the preference of two members of the Quorum of the Twelve speaking in their individual capacities. Yet it has been adopted and elevated to a near-commandment by the rank and file of the Church, and when LDS youth fail to comply strictly with it, their parents have significant worry that the Youth of Zion are indeed faltering, are disobedient in little things and thus are on their way to failing in greater things.

This state of affairs worries me too, but not for the same reasons. Whenever I hear admonitions to "obey," my first question is "obey whom, what, and for what reason?" This is not disrespect, it is honest inquiry and in some cases self-preservation. A demand for obedience by itself is morally neutral. One must ask who is requiring the obedience, for what reason, and to what end. The Savior counseled obedience. Hitler insisted on it. Obedience in a vacuum is not necessarily a virtue. If we are to be safe and know whom to trust, we have no choice but to ask "Obey what?' And why?"

I have three concerns. First, some Church members seem to have elevated the personal sartorial preferences of a couple of General Authorities to nearly the same level as express commands in the Scriptures or temple covenants. Second, they seem to be worrying that failure to conform to those preferences is tantamount (though on a smaller scale) to disobeying express commandments in the Scriptures. Third, and most thought-provoking for me, is why this skew of priorities occurs in the first place.

What is it about Mormon culture that seems to lead so many to so quickly adopt comparatively minor details like this as virtual divine mandates, and to cause so much worry when they're not followed to the letter? Is it the obsession which LDS doctrine has with achieving perfection, an attitude which can turn even little details into life or death matters when it comes to achieving exaltation? Is it the last 20 or 30 years' trend in the Church to insist on obedience obedience obedience, follow the prophet follow the prophet follow the prophet, in an effort to preserve some core of consistent orthodoxy as the Church expands into more countries and cultures? Are we so frantic to avoid another apostasy as an institution that we obsess over details even as small as this? Is it the increasing pace of modern life (in the United States, at least) which has more of us feeling so overwhelmed so much of the time with the demands of family, school or work, and church activity that whenever we can do something quick and easy to demonstrate faithfulness, it's almost a relief? Is it the collective paranoia that The World Is Getting Worse and we must do everything we can to stand apart and demonstrate, even if only outwardly, that we are Zion and not Babylon, and we worry that anybody who doesn't wear a white shirt is still trying to keep one foot on the other side of the fence?

As Freud said, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. No more. Sometimes a blue shirt is just that, a blue shirt. No big deal. Its wearer could well be just as faithful to his covenants as ever, he just happened to have a blue shirt next on the rack in the closet. The only thing I understand about those who fret and worry about non-white shirts, and about those who pressure others to wear nothing but, is that they seem to be focused on non-essentials and potentially judging others' faithfulness based on outward symbols that probably have nothing to do with the hearts of those being judged. At the end of the day, that's what bothers me most: that I live in a religious culture that not only fosters such beliefs, but persuades those who hold them that they are being rigorously righteous in doing so.

I can't reverse this trend. All I can do is live so that I don't adopt it myself. Keep the commandments, keep my covenants, keep my eye on the Savior's example of charity for all, regardless of whether their shirt is white or blue or tie-dyed. I don't think He would care, and I'm not going to either.

15 November 2008

Debate Continues

Just a quick alert to readers who haven't yet had enough of the Prop 8 debate. Today I ran across some of the best content yet in the ongoing discussion not only of Prop 8, but of the broader questions it presents.

The first, entitled Inconclusive Musings On Gays In Eternity, is an elegantly thoughtful examination of the broader question of how gay persons fit into the eternal plan. One of the commenters aptly concludes that "the entire situation [of Church statements and doctrinal tidbits on the issue] is, in a word, a mess."

The second, The Prop 8 Debate and the Fiction of the Autonomous Self, examines a question I've often thought of, namely, the extent to which this whole issue arises from a culture that exalts individual freedoms above everything else, starting from the often-heard argument of "Why should it make any difference to Cinderella and Prince Charming if the gay couple down the street, Hansel and Jack of the Beanstock, are married as well?"

Both are thought-provoking reads for anyone more interested in substance than sound bites.

14 November 2008

13 November 2008


The ribs are feeling a bit better. I couldn't do the crunches or Supermans tonight but had a blast with the rest of it. Drills starting from prone on the ground, face in the turf, ball suddenly smacked down on the deck next to my shoulder, up and off like a rocket for teammates 50 yards away, smacked the ball down next to his shoulder and off he went. Back and forth. Dirt, grass, sweat. Passing a ball back and forth afterward with my little son who was gleefully getting into it just like me. Did I mention I like rugby? Like, love, passionate about, addicted to? Yeah, what you see up there is really what happens. All my troubles disappear when I'm flying across that field and handing off that ball or grabbing a pass and running with it. OMG I love this game.

Afterward as we walked through WalMart, still tossing a rugby ball back and forth, me still in my kit and covered in grass and dust, an African-American man sitting outside called out to us. Hey rugger! He grew up in Bermuda and played rugby when he was young. He grinned ear to ear as we talked about the game. Delightful. Instant friends. Rugby does that.

You are probably all tired of hearing about it so I will shut up now.

12 November 2008

Dear President Monson

Dear President Monson:

Our prayers are with you in your new calling. It is a responsibility like no other on earth. May the Lord bless you as you serve.

By now I'm sure you know that the Saints have reacted in different ways to your letter urging support for Proposition 8 in California. Elder Clayton has confirmed that they are free to do so. I'm sure you also know that even after the election, vigorous debate continues among the members of the church over the matter. Many take the position that since you urged support for the measure, no further debate is necessary or even desirable.

President Monson, we want to support and sustain you in your calling. We earnestly desire to do what's right. But I still have questions that so far, nobody in the Church has answered—not Elder Clayton, not Elder Oaks, not Elder Bednar or Elder Wickman. They and others have painted doomsday scenarios about abridgment of our freedoms of speech and religion if Proposition 8 failed. In all honesty, I and many other members of the Church just don't see how this is possible. And countless others outside the Church across the nation and in other countries agree with us, including dozens of distinguished legal scholars. These are not uninformed or agenda-driven zealots. They are intelligent, thoughtful people, many professionals, many people of faith themselves, and many with the highest credentials in their field who have, in the opinion of myself and others, completely refuted all of the imagined negative results if Proposition 8 failed.

By contrast, what I saw from Elders Clayton, Oaks, Bednar and Wickman was essentially just a push to re-write secular law based on LDS religious doctrine. We were the target of that very same kind of effort 120 years ago when the Edmunds-Tucker Act, propelled by others' own “moral” and religious objections to polygamy, nearly destroyed us as a church. How can we now do that to others, especially when the result has been to take away legal and social stability from thousands of families and make such stability impossible for more people who want it? Isn't that exactly what we faced ourselves before? How can we now inflict that same thing on those who are not even of our faith, have no desire to be, and for whom, according to our own doctrine, it thus shouldn't matter whether they enter the temple or not?

President Monson, we sustain you as a seer. What do you see that we don't? With all due respect, the letter urging support for Proposition 8 and the subsequent discussions by a handful of General Authorities haven't answered this question for me. Forgive me if you think this means I lack faith, but I need more than what the Church has given us so far, which is essentially that our doctrine justifies re-writing secular law and we will live in a genderless police state if we don't. I don't wish to sound picky, but just quoting the Proclamation on the Family's bit about “nations bringing on themselves the consequences foretold” is just too abstract and sounds like a corporate press release. I need to know more.

I need to know what you, specifically, as the prophet of the Lord, see will happen if same-sex marriage becomes legal in our country. I don't mean to be disrespectful or ungrateful or faithless. I have a testimony of the gospel and have been active in the Church all my life. But we are supposed to study things out in our mind, as the Doctrine & Covenants says, and we are supposed to worship the Lord with all of our mind as well as our hearts. That's what I'm trying to do. So on this issue, one of the ways for me to sustain you in your calling is to hope and pray that you see more than I do, because I and countless others just don't see as realistic all the drastic consequences that Proposition 8 supporters threatened us with if it had failed.

Please, tell us what you see. Don't dispatch Church PR people. Don't deputize a couple of other General Authorities for a roundtable discussion that creates as many questions as it tries to answer. Don't just issue a letter asking that we do what we can to support a ballot measure. You are the prophet of the Lord. Please, tell us what YOU see.

Very truly yours,


It's True, Believe Me

11 November 2008

What's Pain? It's French Bread. Suck It Up.

I don't know if I'm being stubborn or stupid. Last Thursday during a big tackle pile-up somebody banged their knee into my left side at full force. I was winded but got up and kept playing. By next day I was in serious pain. Yesterday doctor confirmed I probably had some cracked ribs and said I should stay away from rugby for several weeks at least until it healed.

Yeah right. That's like telling a Provo Mormon Mom to keep her hands off the scrapbooking kit. It wasn't feeling too bad today, and when told of the situation, coach said Come and just do what you can. So I did. I had to stay out of the tackling drills tonight, but managed the rest of it, even though my whole left side hurt like You Know What, and the payoff was being able to play in a sevens match at the end (normal rugby matches have 15 players per side). I wish I had the words to describe the sheer delight of running up and down that field in crisp cold evening air, shifting with the line, constantly alert for passes and tackles, keeping the line evenly spaced, rushing, defending, passing again, and finally seeing your team score. The action never stops for more than a couple of seconds. I'm a forward, not a back, so I usually won't be the one to run the ball in for a try, but I don't care. It's exhilarating enough just to be able to play. Like I said before, this is the game they play in heaven. I know what the doctor said, but I can't stay away. I must be nuts. But it sure feels good.

09 November 2008


It's becoming clear, as I mentioned before, that Proposition 8 will end up being only a bump in a road, not the end of the line. So the various arguments pro and con have continued to rattle around in my brain, because they're likely to come up again. This evening one point which had really been bothering me has finally crystallized sufficiently to write it down here.

I've read several times the August 2006 interview with Elders Oaks and Wickman about “same gender attraction,” specifically with an eye toward legal analysis and argument they may have offered in support of the Church's stance against same-sex marriage. Elder Oaks is a former law professor and justice of the Utah Supreme Court, and Elder Wickman was a prominent attorney in California before becoming a General Authority.

I found the interview surprisingly devoid of any such analysis other than from a religious doctrinal perspective. Perhaps that was a function of their audience. Regardless, the consistent focus was on “God's law,” revealed “Word”, the Proclamation on the Family's statement that marriage between a man and a woman is “central to God's plan”, etc. as reasons for the Church to oppose what both men called "genderless marriage."

As an active member of the Church I have no quarrel with Church doctrines as stated in the Scriptures. I also hope, with many others, that there is more for us to learn about marriages and partnerships in the eternities. I see no other way to resolve the impossible situation the Church now finds itself in with respect to its GLB members, because as it now stands, LDS doctrine essentially condemns unmarried gay and lesbian members to celibacy in this life and an unknown future in the next, if they wish to remain members of the Church in good standing and to qualify for the highest celestial rewards later. The Church asks this superhuman sacrifice of no other group solely because of the accident of birth with such a “core characteristic.”

But I am surprised to find myself so disturbed that two senior Church leaders, both accomplished lawyers, are citing LDS religious doctrine as the justification for what in California's case has been Church support for efforts to take away an existing constitutional right from a specifically targeted subset of Californians. There is no other way to describe what happened. This is not a pejorative description, it is simply a legal fact.

I fully support the Church's right to speak out publicly on what it sees as moral issues. But Elders Oaks' and Wickman's statements seem to go beyond that. They appear to be arguing that religious doctrine is sufficient basis to change secular law so as to deprive certain people of a constitutional right that those people would otherwise retain. I don't think we want this camel's nose under anybody's tent. What if Evangelical Christians were able to muster the lungpower and political clout to ram through a federal law saying that since nothing in the Bible authorizes “secret” religious ceremonies, in order to reduce the risk of child abuse all such ceremonies had to be public? The Church lost its defense of polygamy on free exercise of religion grounds in the 19th century , and there's no guarantee that the free exercise clause would protect temple admission practices today if the Evangelicals really geared up and went after us like this. My point is that they'd be able to justify their efforts with exactly the same approach Elders Oaks and Wickman gave for pushing Proposition 8. That worries me.

Regardless of one's position on Proposition 8, I think that the Mormons of all people should look with suspicion on the idea that doctrinal differences are sufficient basis to change secular law and restrict the constitutional rights of a very specifically targeted group of citizens. This could come back to haunt the Church. It looks like the same approach used a little over a century ago to justify the Edmunds-Tucker Act, a federal law which tried to destroy a small, quirky church with its own alternative form of marriage which all good traditional Christians back then knew was contrary to God's law and the revealed Word too.

08 November 2008

Hey Doug, There's A Letter For You

Dear Doug:

Sorry I got chapped at you earlier today. But when you up and left so early without telling anyone, and didn't even take a cell phone or anything so we could find you, well, you know. I was really disappointed. You're so good on that cello, I was looking forward to some duets. I know you are a smart and level-headed guy and no doubt had your reasons for suddenly going AWOL like that. Someday you'll have to explain it to me, when we finally manage to get together for some Beethoven.

Hey, here's a small world story for you. Today I discovered that you are right across the street from my mom! No lie. Like not even a stone's throw away. I took her some flowers today, you know moms like that stuff. Visited with her for a while, then was just walking around a bit afterward and suddenly found your place. I had NO idea you were even there, let alone that you were so close. I felt like turning round and calling out Hey Mom, this is my bro Doug! I hope you didn't mind the basket, it was a little kitschy, but you don't have one of those permanent reversible steel things to put flowers in. So I just left them out front in the basket they came in. You'll see them. I wanted to let you know that I'm thinking of you and miss you a lot. So cool to know that whenever I come round to see Mom, I can stop by and see you too.

Things have been kind of rough here lately. It looks like not enough people have gotten Stuart's message yet. If you see him, Doug, tell him there's still a lot to do here, but also there are lots of people working hard to improve things. Nobody wants any more of what happened to you two. There's been too much of that. In time, with more of us doing what we can, we hope we can make sure no more stories end like yours. Both of you were so talented and smart and gave so much and so many people loved you, I hope you both realize what huge gaps you left behind. We could have had such great times if you'd stuck around. I know it was really tough for both of you. But I don't think I'm being completely selfish when I say that I really miss you both, a lot. And I'm not the only one. So with luck, the other as-yet unknown Stuarts and Dougs out there can be persuaded to stick around and help make things better.

Anyway, Doug, back to the neighborhood thing. I know Mom is always good about my visits, so she probably saw me walk over to see you. Heck, she may have already come to find you herself. If she hasn't, you should go look her up. I know your mom isn't with you right now, so if you ever need someone to give you some mothering, my Mom always treated my friends as if they were her own kids. So go find her. Tell her about yourself. She knows all about me, you'll have a great time talking to her. Believe me, she'll make you promise that someday we will play some music together for her. She was never bashful about command performances like that.

Hey I have to get ready for Sunday so will stop for now. I really miss you bro and really wish you hadn't done what you did. But I know it's only temporary, and I love you anyway. So keep that cello tuned up and one of these days we will knock a few million socks off with some amazing duets. I'll stop by to see you again as soon as I can.

Your Bro

06 November 2008

The Play About Henry

A very interesting and perceptive observation from a non-Mormon's review of "Missa Solemnis, or The Play About Henry", which tells the story of Stuart Matis:

"It's important to remember that Mormon hatred of gays is not just homophobia: it’s an increasingly crucial part of an all-encompassing theology, a theology that is, to its adherents, perfect and infallible. Yet that theology stands in direct conflict with human biology, an all-encompassing system of beliefs in its own right."

I think this observation raises two points.

First, it does a pretty good job of capturing the essence of why the Church has such a tremendously difficult time with the whole issue of homosexuality. Spun in slightly more orthodox LDS language, the point is that many (and I believe this includes many in the top leadership) see homosexuality as by definition a threat to the plan of salvation. It simply cannot be squared with LDS theology. Yet its biological existence and persistence can't be denied either. This is the fundamental contradiction facing the Church, one I believe will never be overcome by anything less than new revelation.

Two, if, as Robert Burns said, one of God's gifts most desirable is the ability to see ourselves as others see us, then this observation above should make all Mormons--especially those in California and Church HQ--stand up and take notice. To this reviewer, "Mormon hatred of gays" and "Mormon homophobia" are self-evident. It's hard to believe the talk when they don't walk the walk.

I think for years many of us believed our own PR that we were becoming completely American mainstream. Now, in light of Mitt Romney's campaign and the aftermath of Prop 8, it appears that the Mormons haven't moved quite as far in public perception as they would like to have thought. And it seems clear that many people aren't buying the line about acceptance of gays in the Church either.

To read the complete review of the play, click here.

No Strikes Back

It ain't over folks. One lawsuit has already been filed to challenge the Prop 8 results, and high-profile attorney Gloria Allred is about to file another one.

Meantime, just as I predicted, the Church had better get ready for increased hostility in California. I'm sure this will be no surprise to Salt Lake, and many California Mormons will say "bring it on, we welcome The Enmity of The World." But it's no longer theoretical, people. We're going to have to actually live with this now, not just talk about it. At a protest rally yesterday in Los Angeles "the crowd appeared angry and frustrated, with much of that anger directed at the Mormon church, which funded the bulk of the Yes on 8 campaign." Click here for the full story. Prop 8 may prove to be just a speedbump rather than the end of the road.

05 November 2008

The Next Round

Here we go again!

Product Announcement

With election season over and, one hopes, temperatures of all kinds dropping a bit, it's time to slow down, take a breath, and indulge some lighter topics for a little while. So I decided to do a little test marketing of a new product line targeting those Mormon guys with a “special affinity for their brethren.”

Warning to the humor-impaired: the following includes mockery of cultural stereotypes which some by-the-book types may find offensive. If you're the kind who refuses to expose your Primary children to harmful images like, say, those violent hyenas in Disney's Lion King, click here now for content more to your family standards.

OK, for those more broad-minded folks still here, it occurred to me that you all are wasting serious money at Yankee Candle stores to make your homes smell good but too generic. So for the LDS Slightly Right of Kinsey Zero crowd who want to have wafting through their mortal abode a special something that subtly says “this is what I'm all about”, check out the names in this new line of home fragrance candles (thanks to Mike for some excellent improvements and a couple of great titles):

Smith Field House Workout Shirt – clean but slightly musky, with a hint of basketball rubber and chalk

Provo City Bakery – The warm scent of fresh donuts, bread and cookies, homey and inviting

Fresh Linen Temple Robe – clean and slightly starchy

Richards Building Locker Room – Like Workout Shirt but muskier, with notes of Lysol, teak, mold, Old Spice, locker hinge grease and fraying towels

Temple Square Rose Garden – perfectly correlated scents of roses and Easter lilies

Shirtless Timp Forest Hike – pine woods, sweat and sunscreen, with a hint of Coca-cola

MTC Tea Tree of Life – fresh, camphor, woody, with a balancing finish of BYU fruit punch, bulletin board cork, and newly engraved plastic name tags

Uniform of the Priesthood – blends the clean softness of white cotton, the richness of navy blue wool, and the sharp artificial tang of a Mr. Mac polyester tie

Rugby Pitch - turf, dirt, sweat, rain, leather, and ripped up jerseys

EQP's Hair Gel – slightly astringent but sweet and spicy too. Says “You can look but don't touch!”

Priesthood Basketball – heavy on the musk, with a hint of blood and sweaty palms

HT Companion's New Ride – fresh leather. 'Nuff said.

RM Obsession – beyond description. Apologies to Calvin Klein.

So start saving your pocket change, folks, and watch this space for marketing launch details! Additional title suggestions welcomed. All submissions become the property of Liahomo Candles, Inc., without further compensation.

04 November 2008

Forecast : Wet and Difficult, Too D--- Bad

Light rain this morning. I haul myself to the gym hoping the trainer will cancel the outdoor workout. Yeah right. Might as well try to ban bags of goldfish and Cheerios in the back benches of Utah Valley sacrament meetings.

So we jog half a mile through the wet, me carrying that stupid 10 pound workout ball which, curiously, doesn't seem quite as heavy as it used to. Strange. Trainer sets up the orange cones on either end of the field. Rain slightly heavier now. The weather is going to make no difference in the routine. On with the cleats and I am sprinting through soaking wet grass trying to beat my best time without slipping and spraining something. On the last try, I cut nearly a second off best time to date. Reward is an extra minute of stretching and breathing it out before next round.

Toss relays up and back on the field. Crouch and cradle the catches, just like a rugby ball (which feels like a feather compared to this deadweight I'm tossing, but that's the point). The ball is smooth and wet. At least a rugby ball has a grain and some grip. Laterals, grounders. I scoop each one up and toss it back as we run through the rain, trainer moving further and further away with each pass. Why is something so simple so fun?

Back to sprint relays. Ball halfway between orange cones. Sprint to the ball, touch, back, sprint to the cone on the far side, halfway back, touch, sprint all the way home. Six times. If I don't beat him the last time I have to do another one. Glad I have cleats on. He doesn't, and slips on the last turnaround. I beat him. Maybe he let me win. Who cares, I'll take it.

By now the rain is discernible drops, not the light mist it was when we arrived. Too bad. More lateral tosses up and down the field, when we stop he is at least 15 yards away. Ever try to toss a slippery 10 pound bowling ball into the air at a target 15 yards away, when you're already running out of steam?

Last drill. I'm sitting on the soaking wet grass, rain in my face, knees up, feet flat. Trainer stands five feet away and tosses me that slippery, heavy ball. Onto my back with it over my head, touch it to the grass behind me, crunch and sit up, push/throw straight back at him. He moves further away each time. I do thirty of these. Not willingly. I am thinking of increasingly colorful strings of profanity to let loose when this is done. On the last throw, he is at least 10 feet away. I aim straight for his chest, and mean it. He catches it and laughs. He knows what I just did.

I change back to running shoes for the half-mile back to the gym. By now it is seriously raining. A guy from Melbourne Australia walks by in wetsuit, board under his arm. “Beautiful day!” he says. And I realize he's right. I just got pushed close to my limits, and had to stretch to get where I needed to be. I hated it at the time but now I'm glad. Working up a sweat in the rain feels good. Muscles growing stronger feels good. Breathing feels good. Being alive feels great. Who cares about the rain.

On the jog back to the gym, trainer says he knows I was hoping for a little slack this morning and he had no intention of giving it to me. I tell him thanks, I'm glad he did the right thing, since chances are that sometime I will play at least one match in weather just like this. But at least it won't be with a 10 bound bowling ball.

Life lesson reminder to self: there will be times when you get pushed to the limit and are barely hanging on, but you'll be glad afterward that you toughed it out. You'll be glad someone demanded that you rise to the occasion, and glad they were there to help you out. Try to be that person for somebody else once in a while. What goes around comes around.

01 November 2008

Sunday Hymn

Unable to resist a challenge, I recently posted here a couple of laughably pathetic re-writes of favorite Mormon hymn lyrics to be sung by a certain specialized segment of priesthood brethren. Very tongue in cheek. Bravone and Mike have implicitly dared me to try to keep going, I think. So why not see if I can reach new heights of low humor. Watch this space for further absurdity.

In the meantime, though, with Sunday approaching, I wanted to post a "family-specific" version of hymn lyrics that don't try to be funny but are sincerely heartfelt. This is to all of my brethren in the blogosphere with whom I've corresponded or swapped posts or comments, or who have lurked silently but (I hope) been helped by something I've written somewhere.

For the beauty of my bro's,
For the beauty in their eyes,
For the love that each one knows
Over and around us lies,
Lord of all, to thee I raise
This my hymn of grateful praise.

For the beauty of my friends,
For their hearts and helping hands,
Their support that never ends
Reaching out to many lands,
Lord of all, to thee I raise
This my hymn of grateful praise.

For the joy of brothers' love,
Giv'n by God to each and all,
Friends on earth and friends above,
With them, standing proud and tall,
Savior, Lord, to thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise.

30 October 2008

The Game They Play In Heaven

Well, it's finally started. Over two hours tonight of non-stop match play, drills, and training exercises. I can't believe how much I love this game or how little attention it gets from the rest of the country who think there is no life outside the NFL or NBA. Poor, unenlightened souls.

"These rugby players with their muddied, cracked bodies, are struggling to hold onto a sense of humanity that we in America have lost and are unlikely to regain. The game may only be to move a ball forward on a dirt field, but the task can be accomplished with an unshackled joy and its memories will be a permanent delight. The men who play on that rugby field are more alive than too many of us will ever be. The foolish emptiness we think we perceive in their existence is only our own." - Victor Cahn

He sure got that right.

29 October 2008

Call For Input - Conundrum Alert

Today I posted a comment at UtMoHo's blog in which I think I finally crystallized for the first time one of what seems to me a very difficult problem with the Church's current views on homosexuality. I thought it'd be worthwhile posting here as well, and inviting other perspectives. I'd love to know if anybody has a solid answer to this.

I have actually toyed with the idea of writing to Elder Oaks to ask the following.

If the Church now acknowledges that sexual orientation is a “core characteristic” that cannot change, how can you also suggest, as you did in the same interview with Elder Wickman, that it will exist only in mortality? On what Scriptural basis do you make that statement? What is a “core characteristic,” then? Will God simply make this and other challenging “core characteristics” of His children vanish when they pass through the mortal veil? That doesn't sound very “core” to me.

It seems to me that that Elder Oaks' statement is a crucial premise for the Church's current position, one which implies that while we don't have all the answers now, gay Church members must still remain celibate in this life because God will “fix” in the next life what the Church now acknowledges that its gay members can't change. But that suggests that God afflicts some people with “core characteristics” that they not only didn't choose, but which are at odds with the plan of salvation. That sounds like the Catholic doctrine that mankind is by his very nature corrupt and sinful, something I thought the restored gospel vigorously denies. I find such a conclusion repugnant to everything I have ever believed or read in the LDS Scriptures.

Can anybody suggest how this conundrum might be resolved so I don't have to bother Elder Oaks with it?

28 October 2008

Attitude Adjustment

Perspective and attitude adjustment time. Sometimes we get our heads down so far that we forget to lift our gaze. Mine was yanked upward today quite suddenly, and I wanted to share the insight.

Some time ago my mother passed away. She was the kindest, gentlest, most truly Christian person I have ever known. She had the gift of purest faith, and her love for life and for everyone around her shone from her eyes all the time. No, she wasn't perfect, of course, but she came about as close to it in this life as anyone could. We all miss her very much.

This afternoon I was working away on a business project of some significance. I needed to send an updated document draft to some colleagues, and opened my e-mail drafts folder to find the message I'd started earlier. I scrolled down through the list of drafts and suddenly stopped when I saw—of all things—an e-mail from my mother, from about three years ago. I had no idea it was even there.

I opened it up and began to read. Instantly her gentle voice filled my mind. I could hear her speak the words on the page. It was chatty and upbeat, just like she always was, talking about this and that, family events, challenges, and hopes for the future. She said she didn't know what that future would bring, but that she trusted in God our Father to make everything turn out for the best. At the end, she said I love you, son.

That's when I lost it. I dissolved into the rest of the tears that I had held back ever since she passed away. To make things even more intense, at the same moment I was listening to Lauridsen's Lux Aeterna, just this week recommended to me by a fellow blogger, and truly some of the most gloriously ethereal and heavenly music I've ever heard. It was like the perfect soundtrack for hearing the voice of an angel, the kind of music I imagine now surrounds her all the time.

One stack of Kleenexes later, when I could see well enough to write again, I realized I needed to record the experience. The waterworks continue as I write, but at least I can see the screen.

It really was like being surprised by an angel. An angel I knew, and that I knew loved me. She is not here now, but I heard her voice just the same. With a message of love and assurance. Things will be okay. Have faith. Hang on. Be patient, and be strong. You aren't alone. You are loved by more than you know. Life goes far beyond what you can see. The tapestry of eternity is gloriously colorful and infinite. Trust that its creator has His purposes for you and everyone. Reach out with your hands and your heart to others whose strength you need, and whom you can strengthen. Even when you are lonely and feel alone, you are loved.

We all have tough times, and I know some in “the family” are having some right now. Forester, October, Bror, Cadence, Josh, all of my other brethren who struggle sometimes, are you reading this? Listen to my mom. She always knew what she was talking about.

Thanks Mom. Someday I will will be able to thank you in person again. And I will introduce you to a lot of my friends that I love and who you helped too.

Your Son

The Cost of a Word

Time to set aside the jokes for a moment and reiterate something very serious.

While I've taken no public position on Proposition 8 pro or con, I have stated that intimidation, personal attacks, vandalism, threats, misrepresentation, myth-mongering, and lies are outrageous and unacceptable from either side.

I have also expressed my particular disappointment with members of the LDS Church who engage in these behaviors because they are supposed to hold themselves to a higher standard. Some outspoken Prop 8 opponents don't pretend to be anything but what they are, and they perform to expectations. But I have been dismayed to see how many Latter-day Saints haven't acted in this campaign according to the principles they allegedly espouse. To whom much [more] is given, much [more] is expected. This is no new phenomenon. But when thousands of families' futures are on the line, one would hope for a little more care and thought and selflessness from those who claim to hold themselves to higher standards.

Now Proposition 8 supporters are on record as engaging in outright extortion and blackmail against its opponents. Feel the love here. It is disgusting and I am ashamed to have any association with a group that would not speak out against such atrocious behavior.

This whole campaign is about nothing more than the definition of a single word. Same-sex couples in California already have all rights of “married” couples under state law (though not under federal law), and the Church is on record as not opposing any of those rights. In short, the Church is willing to take a huge PR hit from protesting efforts to call these relationships what they already are in everything but name. I have yet to figure out why this was the best hill to die on. It seems to me that if the Church cared about substance rather than semantics, it would have actively and consistently opposed domestic partnership laws and benefits wherever they “threatened marriage” all along. Apparently not. Who knows why.

Some Proposition 8 supporters blithely dismiss the tremendous damage already being done to the Church's public image as the inevitable result of “standing up for what's right.” While such persons may see themselves as valiantly enduring hoots and catcalls from the Great and Spacious Building, more reflective minds will also understand that there are far more of God's children out wandering in the mist than are holding onto the iron rod. Those wanderers will ultimately be attracted to and follow what they believe to be good and right and true and helpful for their and others' lives. The Church must attract as many of them as it can, and in doing so it must deal with the realities of the world in which it exists, and the way that world and these people view the Church. It can't survive in prideful isolation. It cannot simply dismiss what the world will think of it in the wake of Proposition 8, as apparently some individual members are willing to. But they are not the ones responsible for administering and expanding the Church.

I recently read a comment to a Salt Lake Tribune article about the divisions and difficulties the Church's pro-Prop 8 stance is causing in California wards. The commenter, a non-LDS Salt Lake resident, said he used to have a live and let live attitude toward the Church, but after seeing it pull out all the stops in California, he had become actively hostile to the Mormons and would from this point on do his best to oppose them in any way he could. Certainly he's not the only one to feel that way. As I said before, I would not want to be a missionary in California right now or in the foreseeable future, no matter which way Proposition 8 goes. Nor do I think I will ever figure out why the Church chose to pick such a huge fight over the meaning of a single word, when the whole substance of what that word means (in California at least) has essentially been accomplished already without Church opposition.

This barn door opened and the horse left a long time ago. Seems a little late to try to lock up, especially at such a cost.