Category Archives: Opinion Pieces

We Never Walk Alone — Sacrament Meeting Talk

We Never Walk Alone

12 Jan 2014

Arlington Third Ward.

There is nothing in this world quite like a simple, clear, obvious, undeniably true statement with which no reasonable person can disagree. I have become convinced that there is absolutely nothing like it – there is no such thing. Through my life, I have come to see that there is much truth to be found in challenging what seems to be obviously true. One of the first times I remember noticing that phenomenon was the first time I read the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus taught that we should reward those who take from us by giving more, those who strike us by giving them a chance to strike us again, and that we should actually love our enemies. It seems obviously true that we should punish those who take from us, defend ourselves from those who hit is, and hate our enemies. Left to ourselves, we do such things, in point of fact. But the Savior challenges us to return good for evil. To do something that, at first blush, seems to contradict reason.

There is a term for a situation where two things seem to be mutually exclusive, but are both true, and that is a dialectic. Where simple logic seems to dictate black and white, either/or thinking, dialectic describes shades of gray and yes/and thinking. Rather than good people on one side and bad people on the other, dialectic shows us just people, children of God, our brothers and sisters who are and do both good and bad on all sides of a question – and there are usually more than two sides to any story. Where simple logic seems to dictate that good people receive good things that make them happy, and bad people receive bad things that make them unhappy, dialectic, life and the gospel show us that people can receive bad things in their lives despite making good choices, and can receive pleasant things in their lives despite making bad choices. I believe that dialectics exist due to reality being more complex than our language and minds can totally comprehend. Continue reading We Never Walk Alone — Sacrament Meeting Talk

Some More Thoughts on Gun Control and Mass Shootings

Another excerpt of comments from a conversation.

I’ve got no particular problem with the kinds of things Will was talking about (background checks, mental health requirements, and license requirements), but I return to my previous point, and will add another — they aren’t going to work until their enforcement is funded, and they’re not going to really stop horrible things from happening. There are enough guns in circulation that nothing is going to stop someone who really wants a gun from getting it. If we can’t keep weapons and drugs out of prisons, we’re not going to be able to keep them from people outside prisons.

But passing laws to attempt to change the behavior of people who won’t obey laws is ridiculous on its face. It’s like trying to stop people from speeding by reducing the speed limit.

To the notion of strengthening regulation, and reducing the number of guns:

Reduce the numbers how? There are about 300 million guns in the country. If you got rid of 90% of them, there’d still be 30 million — enough to have a reenactment of WWII. And there’s no way you’ll get more than 10% of that in real terms in an environment where you can’t pass a ban on assault-styled hunting rifles.

And how are you going to strengthen those regulations without *funding their enforcement?* That’s the Achilles’ Heel of nearly every gun control scheme floating around — no one has made any serious effort to fund the existing laws. Without that, regulations have no strength at all — they are virtually meaningless.

I think the best idea is to pay attention to the realities of the situation. School and other mass shootings scare the hell out of us and piss us off, but they’re exceptionally rare events, and reducing their frequency by any kind of government effort is extremely unlikely — they tend to happen in gun-free zones, for one thing. Accidental shootings are more dangerous and quite preventable with gun safety education. The NRA has Eddie Eagle curriculum for gun safety classes for pre-schoolers that they make available for free to anybody who wants to use it. That doesn’t take any change in law — just people willing to stand up and do it. Why every school in the country isn’t doing this is beyond me. Well, except the part about how folks hate the NRA, and assume the curriculum would be brainwashing kids about how cool guns are. Which it doesn’t: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wIEBrb_wRYc. That’s not sexy, but it could really be effective.

Pants Day is Coming!

I was not, originally, a fan of Pants Day last year.  I was thinking “Oh, those wacky Mormon feminists (that I love — let’s be clear) are just picking a fight they don’t need to pick, and this is a bad idea.”  But I love Mormon feminists, so I paid attention to what they were saying, and I found they weren’t being as wacky as I originally thought.  Things I learned by listening:

  • This wasn’t a protest.
  • This wasn’t violating policy — pants have been approved for women to wear to Church for decades.
  • The point was to help Mormon feminists (and fellow travelers, like me) to identify each other, and to provide a time when those who haven’t had as much contact with the Church of late could come and find people who might be able to help them find a place within the Church.
  • Wearing of pants wasn’t required to participate.  Wearing purple would do.

So, nobody was being disobedient or rebellious, and people were coming to Church who hadn’t in a long time.  Looked like all up-side to me.

And then I went to the Salt Lake Tribune’s website, and looked at the discussion on an article about the event, and was, frankly, disgusted.  Not by the rebellious, garment-burning feminists, but by the out-of-control reaction of their opponents.  Threats of violence and death — this is not an exaggeration.  Ugliness and verbal abuse all over the place by people who clearly prided themselves on being “good” Mormons, but who clearly had a shaky grip on the notion of how a Christian is supposed to behave.

That was when I decided I was going to participate and support this.  Not because I think women wearing pants to Church is very important — I don’t.  But because I wanted to do what I could to show that the hateful and disgusting rhetoric of those idiots on the discussion board do not represent all Mormons.

I wore a purple shirt and a tie with purple in it that day.  I didn’t see any women in my ward in pants, but I did see a sister wearing purple and her husband said to me “Oh, yeah.  We were supposed to wear purple today!”  He was wearing a white shirt, which he usually didn’t.  But the mission was accomplished — I had identified myself as a participant to those in the know, and had connected with folks who were open to things on the less-than-orthodox side of Mormonism, like me.

I’m going to do the same thing this year.  I’m no more feminist than I was last year (and no less, either).  I don’t think I’m going to be any more “out” because of it.  But I want to join with my feminist friends in making a space within the Church where those who feel like they don’t fit in can feel welcome.  The Church needs Mormons of all kinds, with all kinds of labels and perspectives and relationships with the institutional Church, until we all come in the unity of faith.  Not unity of opinion — unity of faith.  Those who are more drawn to notions of social justice, equality, and voting for Democrats are necessary to the Church reaching its potential, just as those drawn to notions of traditional values, hard work and voting for Republicans are.  Like 1 Cor 12 says, all kinds are needed — a body needs eyes, feet, hands, and a spleen. Even a butt-hole (try running a body without one for a while and see how that works for you), so there’s room for me.

I invite others to join me in this.  Be you eye, hand, or NOM or ex-Mo or non-Mo.  Put on some pants or trousers or purple and show up and you may find yourself in the presence of brothers and sisters you never knew you had.  I am surrounded by brothers and sisters that I see as such, who don’t see anything like that in me.  15 Dec.  LDS.org can help you find a meetinghouse close to you, or the congregation that you live within.

Letting Go Some More

God,
Grant me the Serenity to accept the things I can not change,
Courage to change the things I can, and
Wisdom to know the difference.

We all need all of those things every day, even on good days. When the days aren’t so good, we need them more. Letting go of our desires and wishes and wants and needs and letting God drive the bus is hard. I remember days when it felt like the sun would not rise if I forgot to get out there and push to make it happen. Realizing that making my knuckles white was accomplishing little to nothing, and might actually be working against what was best was very hard. The best thing about hitting yourself in the face with a hammer over and over is that it feels so good when you stop.

My contribution to the world is small — a very small drop in a very large ocean. It will not accomplish what I want it to accomplish. It will not earn the gratitude and attention I would like to receive from it in my neediness. But it is mine to contribute, and enough drops in the ocean can make things different. If I do what God wants with it, then it will be made best use of. If I can let go of those wants, desires, expectations and even needs (hardest to justify, but not the hardest to let go of), and allow God to direct me, my needs are taken care of, and things work out for the best.

I just wish it wasn’t so hard.

Divorce and Remarriage an Abomination for Mormons? Answering a Christian Friend.

This is a response to some questions from a friend who has been in a number of abusive relationships and marriages, and is a devout mainstream Christian. Her questions sprang from a vow she made as a small child to marry once and forever. Looking at that in the light of some of the statements found in the Bible regarding, divorce, women and remarriage, she wondered if she was now destined to be single forever because she had broken this vow and the rules shown in these statements. My response is closely tied to the questions you’re not seeing, but I tried to put enough context in that you could see basically what I was responding to.

Yeah. Many have made such vows to marry once and forever, and lots of clean and pretty young Mormons with a couple or three small children and a few years into the process look down their noses at those who were not able to make it work. Life has a way of teaching us that there is more to it than we understand. I can’t speak too much to the Catholic perspective. I respect it, but I don’t understand or share all of it that I do understand.

Yeah, I know some folks get hung up on that notion of “wife forever” in a coercive way. I am not a biblical inerrantist, so hanging on a few proof-texts really isn’t my style. My personal theology includes the notion that God is not a jerk. He’s not going to force someone to be miserable through eternity for things not their fault or for bad choices they have repented of. There is a Mormon notion that God doesn’t function through compulsory means, and that individual choice is eternally protected. By “notion” I mean “core doctrine,” in this case. So, there isn’t really much doctrinal support for the notion of wives-as-chattel, and strong (IMO) doctrinal opposition to it. Continue reading Divorce and Remarriage an Abomination for Mormons? Answering a Christian Friend.

s/(Priesthood Ban)/Temple and $1/gi

A podcast I was listening to yesterday pointed out that what I’ve been calling the Priesthood Ban was also a ban on black women entering the Temple.  This was not a product of them not having the priesthood, since non-black women don’t hold the priesthood either, but were not barred from the Temple.  So I think the proper label for that is the Temple and Priesthood Ban, and I wish every place you’ve ever seen me use the former term to be considered to be the latter.  Thus, the title of this post (which will probably make no sense to people not familiar with regular expressions — sorry).

 

Gridlock is a Feature, Not a Bug.

I am guardedly optimistic about the process we’re going through right now, wrt the Sequester <tm>.  The part of policy-making which is so annoying is the part where the process is working — the part where there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, because those darn other-siders won’t just get out of the way and let us have our way!  Nobody is supposed to get their own way all the way — that’s not what pluralism and democratic institutions are about.  We are supposed to hammer out workable compromises, making concessions in return for concessions on the other side that give us some of what we want.  And what we’re facing right now is a very abrupt change in the way we’ve done things, and that’s really what’s causing the frustration.

Previously, the way we greased the gears of compromise was to give people on each side something they wanted to get — an increase in spending here or there, or a tax break, etc.  And the way those played out tended to be things that increased the deficit.  Now, we’re in a situation where increasing the deficit isn’t available.  We can’t give people what they want that same way anymore.  We’re going to have to give up things we want — everybody is.  And this is hard, because every dollar spent, and every dollar  brought in through taxes (maybe even every dollar borrowed — thinking about that) has a constituency who don’t want to lose what they’ve got.  And the more dollars, the more powerful the constituency.  So, there are loud voices (money and power buy volume) proclaiming that the sky is falling — recall the doom-and-gloom about the Sequester two weeks ago, and how now the word is “We never said all of this was going to happen in a day or a week.” Continue reading Gridlock is a Feature, Not a Bug.

BSA policy on gay scouts and leaders, Mormon style

Okay, so I just spent a while in a thread about the proposed change in BSA policy regarding gay youth and leaders on Deseret News, and it was my daily dip in the part of Mormon Culture that drives me up the walls — the smug, self-righteous, never questioned confidence that “we” are right about everything, know everything, and those who disagree are sad, stupid, unrighteous people that we will deign to pray for God to enlighten. Makes me want to swear like the Rodeo Song (it’s gotta be 40 below somewhere).

In what way is a policy that denies men participation in this program who have not violated the Law of Chastity compatible with the teachings of the Gospel? There seems to be this idea that this policy change is being driven through by NAMBLA as a way of “recruiting” lots more gay youth they can have sex with. Because, presumably, there are tons of young men out there thinking “I just can’t decide if I want to have sex with boys or girls,” and, if they can only listen to a promotional video where someone extols the highlights of choosing the gay lifestyle (it’s just a non-stop orgy, donchaknow, until God kills you with the AIDS, because he hates fags), they’ll instantly be drawn into the clutches of these evil perverts.

Sorry, but that’s just pathetic nonsense. Continue reading BSA policy on gay scouts and leaders, Mormon style

The Ongoing Fiscal Crisis, and Democratic Processes

Everybody elected works for the people in about the same proportion.  They were all sent there representing a constituency, and all of those people deserve to have their voices involved in the process, even when they are wrong.  The purpose is not to come up with the optimal outcome — it’s to come up with an outcome that most people can accept.  Fighting and maneuvering and compromising is an important part of the process.  It’s annoying to watch, but it’s designed into the system, and it’s a feature, not a bug.

And it’s the only way we’re going to get this deficit problem solved.  We’ve tried all kinds of commissions, and passing laws to limit how much can be spent and how much can be taxed, and they have clearly and abjectly failed.  Now, we’re disturbingly near the point where we can’t maintain the illusion that we can ever pay back those we have borrowed from, so borrowing more is becoming less and less possible, and that’s the only reason we might be able to fix the problem.

We can’t do it all by cutting government spending, because every dollar spent has a constituency who have a narrative about why they should get at least triple more than they do, and why anybody who wants to cut it is stupid, evil, short-sighted and, probably, greedy.  We can’t do it all by increasing taxes because every dollar taxed has a constituency who have a narrative about why they should not be the ones paying as much as they do, and why somebody else should pay more (and someone is probably greedy there, too).  So the solution is to get all those constituencies together in one large dialogue where the rules are that, when it’s done, the deficit has to go down reliably and consistently in real terms (no more gimmicks like leaving all the unspecified spending cuts for 2 to 120 months down the road).  It has to go down this year, and next year, and drop to zero in less than a decade, and not go back up.

How we accomplish that will require serious negotiations in good faith, and the people in power have no real experience in doing that.  Word on the street is that the President is particularly bad at it, for example, but his Vice President is pretty good at it.  But they can only go as fast as the electorate are willing to go, and that’s where the growing-up I mentioned before needs to take place.  Less with the dismissive rhetoric, more with the listening respectfully, and more with the doing the homework it takes to understand the process.