Tuesday, October 5, 2010

How Can We Bring About Positive Change from the LDS Conference Rhetoric?

I'm so alarmed by the recent rash of suicides among the LGBT youth in America, and after this weekend, living in Salt Lake and being fully exposed to the information disseminated at this weekends General Conference, I'm very sad that the leaders of the LDS church, the default religious leaders of my community, are still encouraging division among brothers & sisters. It's just so wrong! And so I, like so many others, am once again driven to speak out about my own feelings.

The widespread dissatisfaction with the LDS church leadership I am currently witnessing is not a new phenomena. It's been this way since the very inception of the LDS church - the public at large didn't like what Joseph Smith was doing with his new religion & congregation. This disapproval (though it was mostly disapproval at what Joseph Smiths did with others' wives and various con jobs he was wrapping up on the side) is what led to the mobs that drove the Mormons from every city they settled in until they ultimately turned to the inhospitable Salt Lake valley. Surely there have been spikes in the negative public image at various points in history. Things were pretty bad back in 1978 just before blacks were gifted with the priesthood through a new revelation. Certainly things have been heated since Proposition 8 came along, thrusting the involvement of individual members (at the encouragement of church officials from the pulpit) into the limelight. So this recent rash of youth suicides I mentioned...  It has brought this newest chapter in the long civil rights path of our young country to a head once again.
Justin Aaberg, 15, Anoka, Minn., July 9, 2010
Billy Lucas, 15, Greensburg, Ind., Sept. 9, 2010
Seth Walsh, 13, Tehachapi, Calif., Sept. 19, 2010
Tyler Clementi, 18, Ridgewood, N.J., Sept. 22, 2010
Asher Brown, 13, Cypress, Texas, Sept. 23, 2010
Raymond Chase, 19, Monticello, N.Y., Sept. 29, 2010
Children are killing themselves because they are alienated from their peers in every way.  And their peers alienate them because their own parents and leaders have taught them to fear and scorn anyone that is different from them.  And this back-to-school trend is absolutely not the beginning of youth suicides.  I got a mailing from the Human Rights Campaign that talked about the suicide of Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, an 11 year old Massachusetts boy in 2009, due to bullying because he "acted like a girl". There are so many. It's truly tragic and alarming. My own 11 year old son is the victim of bullying and ridicule at school this year, simply because he has long hair. Kids call him a girl and tease him mercilessly, just because of their perceptions about sexuality!

This weekend was the LDS church's fall session of their General Conference. This is an opportunity for the membership to hear messages from the top leadership of the church. And as is typical at this time each year, things are heating up. I've read a few news articles yesterday and today, excerpting Boyd K Packer's talk, but after several LDS members claimed his message is being taken out of context, I decided to listen to the entire talk on the church's own website lds.org.
Packer begins by proclaiming the fear and confusion facing the young people of the church today. He refers to the churches revelation "The Family: A Proclamation to the World", issued 15 years ago. He quotes it in part by reading the following:
We, the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator's plan for the eternal destiny of His children.
He then further quotes LDS scripture to define union between a man and woman as a commandment from God. He goes on to discuss the concept of free agency, so prevalent in this religion. He talks about how sacred is our ability to create life. He talks about obedience and prayer. He promises that an obedient, willing & prayerful husband and wife will be gifted with children, happiness & a personal relationship with God. These blessings, including children, may come now or in the hereafter. He also stipulates that "pure love presupposes that only after a pledge of eternal fidelity, a legal & lawful ceremony and ideally after a sealing ordinance in the temple, are those life giving powers released to the full expression of love. It is to be shared only and solely between a man & woman, husband and wife with that one who is our companion forever." He warns that Satan is miserable and impotent, and that he can not stand any happiness and seeks to tempt us to sin and therefore, into misery. He likens pornography to a plague, "relentlessly trying to invade every home mostly through the husband and father". He talks about the spiritual fatality caused by this plague. He then promises that the priesthood can protect us from this plague, or any other bad habits and addictions. He warns parents to protect their families from these plagues. He warns not to succumb to these counterfeits for marriage. His next quote lays out exactly how he feels about homosexual tendencies, and the italicized portion is the quote which has sparked so much upset and so many claims of being taken out of context.
Any persuasion to enter into any relationship that is not in harmony with the principles of the gospel must be wrong. In the Book of Mormon we learn that wickedness never was happiness. Some suppose that they were preset and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and the unnatural . Not so. Why would our heavenly father do that to anyone? Remember, he is our father."
He quotes more scripture and goes back to talk of breaking addictions through the power of the priesthood. Then he goes on to tell a story of a child who brought a kitten to class with him. the children asked if the kitten was a boy or a girl and the teacher quickly asserted that it didn't matter. But the children persisted and finally one boy said he knew how to tell - they could vote on it!
You may laugh at the story. But if we're not alert, there are those today who not only tolerate but advocate voting to change laws that would legalize immorality, as if a vote would somehow alter the designs of Gods laws & nature. A law against nature would be impossible to enforce. For instance what good would a vote against the law of gravity do? There are both moral & physical laws, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundation of the world that cannot be changed."
He warns that if the membership does not protect the LDS idea of family, the very foundation of civilization will be threatened. He begins to wrap up his address with a message of repentance for your unworthy habits and addictions. He promises peace & happiness for families who are obedient to these laws.

Now, after going over the entire address, I can safely say nothing is taken out of context. With that in mind, here's what I think of his words. I've noticed that President Packer tends toward this theme. He harps on homosexuality, intellectuals, feminists, morality, pornography, etc. I wonder what sins he sees in himself that make him so fearful of these things. In a facebook note linked below the comments suggest Packer is gay and another commenter, a church member, is insulted at the "disgusting things" implied about President Packer. I was far more offended by the statement that being gay is disgusting, than I ever would be, were it implied that my religious leader was gay! Her paradigm demands that she see that as disgusting. I see it not as an inflammatory remark to imply such, but simply an obvious possibility based on human behavioral psychology.

Anyhow, skipping further speculation on Packer's sexual tendencies, I see Packers early comments about the family and free agency as a way to ensure that his congregation perceives homosexuality as a choice. His provision that a husband and wife may be gifted with children only in the hereafter is typical of the LDS church's advice of delaying blessings & happiness till the next life, in exchange for suffering in this one. Just as they counsel their homosexual members to live celibate lives now in order to possibly be free of these desires someday, maybe not till the next life.

When he quotes the scripture "wickedness never was happiness", he implies gays are miserable. He mixes together references to homosexuality as this "fake unnatural love" with the feelings of shame & guilt associated with pornography in order to confuse his congregation and make them fearful of homosexual relationships. Packer's switch from addictions to homosexuality & back again works to suggest to the congregation that homosexuality is somehow a bad habit or an addiction to be overcome.

When he talks about voting on natural laws, my blood really starts pumping. Gravity is indeed an irrevocable law that can not be changed, even if we were to put it to a vote. The ridiculousness of this statement is unmatched in his talk, since gravity is a proven scientific fact, demonstrable in every aspect of our daily lives. Morality however, is a fluid social agreement, based on the times we live in. For instance, it used to be moral for a Mormon man to have several wives. Currently I believe several wives is considered immoral among the Mormon leadership. Until someone can prove to me a constant, unchangeable law of morality, I won't have this conversation.

It just makes me want to cry for these manipulated children when he ends with an admonishment to repent. The entire message of fear is couched in language of parental love and concern. Well I'm not buying it!

As a personal side note, that from-the-pulpit fear mongering couched in fake love, and dripping with old-man creepiness I might add, is a large reason for my departure from regular church attendance, and a contributing factor in my decision to "resign" from their membership officially.

This sort of fear mongering and hate rhetoric fan the flames of homophobia. My 11 year old son, the same boy who gets teased for his long hair, has 3 friends. Today he came home and informed me that his parents told him he can no longer have sleep overs. His parents told him yesterday evening that sleeping over with friends led to temptations they need to protect him from. Wow.

So now we see stuff like this facebook note that very closely reflects my own feelings on Packers address, as well as fantastic official statements like this one from The Human Rights Campaign. Joe Solmonese, president of HRC says:
Words have consequences, particularly when they come from a faith leader. This is exactly the kind of statement that can lead some kids to bully and others to commit suicide. When a faith leader tells gay people that they are a mistake because God would never have made them that way and they don’t deserve love, it sends a very powerful message that violence and/or discrimination against LGBT people is acceptable. It also emotionally devastates those who are LGBT or may be struggling with their sexual orientation or gender identify. His words were not only inaccurate, they were also dangerous.
Educated LDS friends talk about how they don't agree with Packer's statements about homosexuality not being preset. I don't understand how someone can pick and choose which tenets of their gospel they can agree with. If my religious leader is preaching something that rings false to me, this is a red flag for the entire belief system in my opinion. One very telling comment touched me.
When I hear the words of President Packer, my heart hurts and I feel uncomfortable. I interpret this as a departure of the spirit. When my own leaders counsel causes this departure of the spirit, what am I to make of it?
As Duane Jennings, co-director of the Salt Lake chapter of Affirmation says... this weekends conference comments about gays are "evidence that the church hasn’t really changed, and that its positive moves [like supporting Salt Lake City’s anti-discrimination statutes] have been just an attempt to improve its image in the wake of Proposition 8.” I'm afraid of what may come from this latest log on the firey civil rights debate. I don't think we've seen the last of our losses unfortunately. And like Isaac Higham, I feel that "the blood of the innocents drips from the hands of those who strangle the life and the hope out of them through their bully pulpit." But as renown author John Krakauer extensively demonstrates in his book "Under The Banner of Heaven", the LDS church has a rich tradition of violence and separatism. Their leadership believes in the blood atonement and it could be that none of this even bothers these men.

All I can do is hope more people will feel the truth and see how false this message is. I believe that someday we will move past hate, and even past tolerance, and past acceptance, into a real and complete love of each other, for all our similarities and our differences! And I think this message of fear from President Packer is just the sort of vehicle to bring about some of that change! I have faith that at least some people will instinctively want to move away from this message of division and fear, and find something that feels closer to God, without the strings of fear and brainwashing attached. And what a wonderful thing it is, when we start our quest for a higher truth! Some beautiful journeys have just begun!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Current Projects

I know I haven't posted on here in a while. Either that means "my crazy life" just isn't quite crazy enough to be post-worthy, or it's too crazy to get around to posting. I'm not sure which. But I AM writing regularly these days and if you'd like to follow me there, you can check it out here. Right now I'm covering the current season of Dancing With The Stars and having a great time. I've got bigger plans so I'll keep you posted as things develop!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Is God part of The Grand Design?

In "The Grand Design," by eminent British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking and U.S. physicist Leonard Mlodinow, Hawking asserts that a new series of theories makes a creator of the universe redundant, according to the Times newspaper which published extracts on Thursday.

"Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist," Hawking writes.

"It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going."

He refers to the 1992 discovery of a planet orbiting a star other than our sun when discussing the possibility of a creator. "That makes the coincidences of our planetary conditions -- the single Sun, the lucky combination of Earth-Sun distance and solar mass, far less remarkable, and far less compelling evidence that the Earth was carefully designed just to please us human beings,"

These simple elegant statements are opening my mind up wide. I'm getting more and more Atheist by the minute! Hahaha Okay not exactly. But I am more and more comfortable letting go of the idea of a father/God figure, so similar to the Mormon God I was raised with. And stated so simply, it is all so clear to me that there was no need for a God in the creation of the universe. I never bought the "created in 7 days/6000 year old universe" theory, and I never bought the premise that God zapped Adam & Eve into being like magic. I was always much more comfortable with the idea that God worked with the laws of science & nature to facilitate the creation of our world over time. But this was an unexamined premise that only lived vaguely in my mind. And when I do examine it more closely, things don't fit together quite right. If God existed before anything, out in the ether of space, floating in the darkness, and God created all the universe... well then we aren't on the same evolutionary path and we'll never progress to where God is now. And that just doesn't feel true to me. I don't know, but I feel the rightness of the idea that we continually evolve and progress. There may or may not be a god in some form or another. I definitely don't think there is an old man, clothed in white robes, watching over us all, keeping a tally of our good and bad choices every second of every day. And while it feels like my beliefs have been unconsciously drifting this way for some time, bringing these thoughts into the light now, I definitely agree more and more that is is unlikely a supreme being set the creation of the universe in motion. What do you think?

Friday, April 9, 2010

TV Mania

Inspired by Sus I thought I'd throw a little blog out there - something simple. A list of the TV shows I'm currently hooked on.

Dancing With The Stars
Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution
Nurse Jackie
Secret Diary of a Call Girl
The Tudors
United States of Tara
Who Do You Think You Are

Friday, January 1, 2010

2010: The Year of Miracles

This week my husband and I are starting a 10 week seminar to continue the work we started in our Landmark Forum. Landmark was pretty amazing for me, simply because it helped me open my eyes about all the non personal things I was taking personally (Okay that's a super-simplification, but all the same, it was great for me.)

The seminar leader told me last fall that he is calling 2010 the year of miracles. I could use some miracles this year! I see amazing things coming our way this year, really. But I definitely have some work to do. So in the spirit of the new year, I've decided to reevaluate the tasks I refuse to compromise on, as well as set a couple new goals to work on.

The last time I reevaluated my tasks, I came up with these three: Listen to my Seed Capital CDs (a set of instructional discs I really needed to listen to), workout on my lunch break and update the wiki my ex-husband and I use to communicate regarding our sons homeschool progress. I had set a standard for myself that I would be bigger than any of my reasons or excuses and do each of those things every single work-day. And my goals served me very well. Until I left eBay in November, I was very good about keeping my commitments. But now that I've finished the CDs (several times) and am no longer at eBay, I think they need a little retooling.

So what am I going to be unreasonable about now? What will I do each day no matter what kind of small reason (read: excuses excuses) comes to mind? Well, my larger goals tend to influence my daily tasks since I like to look at the overall things I want to accomplish, then break them down by what I need to do each day in order to reach my goals.

So what are my big-picture goals? Hm... that's a good question.
I'm in the middle of my clutter-purging project, so it would be great to get the main floor of my house done in the near future. It would also be nice to have all the walls painted. Right now, we have a room here or there done, but completion would be awesome.

I still have my book half done. And of course it's not going to finish itself!

We started a new school curriculum late this year so we will likely finish in mid-July unless I can really steam through all this material with Dante. That includes not missing any available school days, not having any "light" days with fewer lessons, and skipping anything optional or redundant. Dante's language arts skills are a bit below where they could be so he tested into LA4 instead of LA5 (he's in 5th grade this year). But that means, while a lot of it is new to him, several of the lessons are on things he already knows. So we should be able to complete the rest of it in time for his summer break if I can keep us on task all year.

To clean up our house, we broke it down into small sections and assigned one section to be cleaned and organized each day. A shelf, a table, a dresser drawer etc. So Anthony and I are going to do the same for the main floor - split it into manageable portions and do them one day at a time. Sometimes it's hard to just keep up with the regular dishes, laundry, toys etc that need picking up each day, but I'm going to give up all my reasons and excuses and make sure the one assigned extra thing gets done each day. Before March, my house will be ready for painting.

I'm going to write 20 minutes every day, no excuses.

I'm going to be uncompromising on our school lessons each day. If the lesson is scheduled, it will be completed. By mid-June we'll have well over 80% completed and can easily move on to the next levels in the fall He's starting 6th grade math this month already so that's one I don't need to worry about, and Science and History are on track - I just wish there was a way to catch him up in his LA courses... I'll continue to think on that but at least we can ensure that despite our late start last fall, he will be ready for summer break on time!

I also want to join my husband in one of his goals. He exercises with Dante a lot of days but we also do yoga pretty regularly and I think any night he does yoga, I'll join him in that. It's good for me and I love it.

Also, there are a couple of social events my BFF and I have begun to organize pretty regularly and I'd really like to continue with those. So I want to commit to continuing the monthly dinner-party we've been hosting over here, as well as organizing the next of our Mutual Facebook Friends Girls Brunch. It seemed kind of a trivial goal to me at first, but I am naturally a homebody and pushing myself to spend time with my larger social circle is really good for me emotionally.

It really is going to take a small miracle to get my closet cleaned out, but I'm ready for the challenge!

So here's my list:
1. Complete 1 task beyond the usual house-cleaning chores each day.
2. Write 20 minutes on my manuscript each day.
3. Complete each days scheduled lessons in History, Science and Language Arts.
4. Join Anthony for Yoga.
5. Continue to organize a dinner party each month and plan our brunches for January April, July and October.

There are some things that may seem to be missing from my list. For instance: we wanted to move out of this house a while ago but things seem to be moving more slowly than we would like and at this point it feels more reasonable to work at being ready to move (all this house cleaning and painting is really a step in that direction) and just take it when it comes.

It's going to be a good year!!!