Wednesday, December 17, 2014

One Blank Page

One of the most influential professors in my life once challenged me (and the rest of the sociological discipline) to do a pretty interesting thought experiment: if you had one blank sheet of paper (or even 10 pages) to write down what you thought was the most important thing that people should either consider or know, what would you write? What should the world, your friends/family, and your posterity understand about the way the world works? He then wished that every researcher, student, professor, etc. would incorporate this into their studies and their work. (Why wouldn't you?) So, I decided that every year I would write my one blank page. And here is the first one. (PS - this is in no way going to be well thought out or well researched...just some thoughts on what is important in life according to me.) I'd be interested to see what others think about what I say as well as see others writing their "one blank page".

My first "One Blank Page":
            Over the course of my undergraduate studies, I was impressed by a particular course/professor studying the sociology of “suffering” and human relationality building off of the works of Weber, Nietzsche, Marion, Levinas, and Slife) . From this course and the many courses I took from Dr. Knapp, I’ve come to think about the human experience that I think the world has lost in modernity.  So, one thing out of ALL the things that I want to write about is our responsibility to others.
            On a personal level, I think it’s imperative that we consider how our actions affect others and at least acknowledge that decisions that may seem personal and individual are perhaps not.  While you get to choose (and no one can really make you choose otherwise), that does not constrict the range of affects to only you. You can choose where to go to college, yes. But what of friends/family you will leave behind and (on the other hand) end up meeting. You can choose who, when, where to marry: but what of the family and friends who like/dislike the boy/girl, have work when you get married, or can’t go to Niagara Falls to watch it happen? To have kids can be quite a personal decision that few can stop. However, you are intimately influencing the child that you will create, as well as all those who will be helping you in her/his care. All these choices are personal in that you get to choose them (or should get to choose them) without outside influence, but they are not personal in that they affect only you. You are not a completely autonomous being. You affect others. You should be aware of that and not let an ‘it’s-my-life-I-can-do-what-I-want’ distract you from the wide-reach of consequences that your actions create.
            On a societal/macro-level, I have some possibly na├»ve desires of how society should work. I feel that society has progressed to thinking about the human condition as autonomous and individualistic. (Critical theorists might say this is coupled with the move from innovative to consumerist capitalism in western societies.) Regardless of where this comes from, I think it is a false human condition. To be fair, this move can also be tied to some pretty important equality movements for races, genders, sexualities, etc. However, I fear that these movements, having a foundation on something that I think is flawed, might push us to a devastating end.
Instead of fighting for individual freedoms and equality under the name of autonomy, I think we should be insisting upon it in terms of responsibility. Levinas argued that the human being should be understood as a being-for-the-other: one that is ontologically (or inherently) concerned with the well being of those around us. I agree with this on various levels, especially drawing from my religious background. Instead of trying to distance ourselves from others by saying “I should be able to do what I want because it does not concern you,” I feel that we should be promoting a feeling of giving people their rights because it is what we should be doing as concerned humans wanting to the best for our neighbors.

            I know that many people would argue that the conception of humanity understood by western society has created many benefits and we might as well push along while we are ahead. However, I think it is a worthwhile endeavor to push for a better framework with which to structure society.  Think of a society in which we didn’t have to push for rights, but where (once we understood they were lacking) they were given. Governments wouldn’t have to say what people could do (vote, marry, etc.), but just delineate personal protections.  We would be less concerned with fighting one another on conflicting moralities or arguing over meaningless semantics, but would be focused on actual well being of one another. Obviously this then would require arguments on who defines what the well being of another would look like (because let’s be honest, isn’t that what held people rights back so often before the progressive era?). However, in my heart, I believe (and perhaps naively) there is a way to make this happen.

Also, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Holidays, etc. to everyone!

(After thought: I wrote a pretty similar, albeit longer, post relating this to some words of Mormon prophets and apostles. To see this coupled with some LDS theology and a slight debate on the feminist "Ordain Women" movement, see Deeper than men v women: for self or for others.)

Friday, June 13, 2014

Stop y'alls bickering...please

So, a stake president and a bishop are holding two members of the LDS church to a disciplinary council. Thankfully, because of the large preponderance of friends I have who are either LDS or ex-LDS or deeply involved in social movement issues, this is figuratively ALL that I have seen on my Facebook feed. Every other post is about Kate Kelly or John Dehlin.

However, there isn't a lot of love going on there.

There is a lot of hate. Lots and lots of despair. A plethora of antagonism.

What happened to love? It seems we forgot a little about what Jesus stood for.

And this is towards both sides. Both those that "support" the brethren (the leaders of the LDS church) and those who "support" Kate Kelly (leader of the Ordain Women movement that advocates more equality in the church for men and women in part by giving women the priesthood) or John Dehlin (founder of the Mormon Stories podcasts where members and ex-members can simply tell their story).

I personally don't care what either of these people did as a relation to how we treat them. I do know that I'm not the biggest fan of the Ordain Women movement for various reasons (which is not the purpose of this blog). I also know that Dehlin's podcasts have been quite helpful in my own LDS journey. I've met many men and women who feel inspired by Kate Kelly. I am friends with people who have left the church over
John Dehlin and others who feel he is a tyrant.

Someone posted on one of my FB pages that he was upset for a group for sending encouraging notes to John Dehlin. He claimed it was like they were thanking him for apostatizing. What if they just wanted to thank him for sharing stories that helped with my testimony. What if some people felt power and spirit from Kate Kelly? Who are we to say they should be ostracized from the church and from our hearts?

Can we remember that God loves them dearly. As much as he loves you and me. Can we remember for a second that they are children of God?

I had multiple friends post their disappointment and disdain for the church's decision to take action against Dehlin and Kelly. Here is the letter to John Dehlin informing him of his impending disciplinary council: Dehlin letter. I didn't find that terribly cold or evil. In fact, I thought it was great. Kate Kelly's wasn't as loving, but it is still quite reasonable: Kelly letter. (This is assuming those letters are genuine.) Dehlin even posted on Mormon Stories that "The decisions [he's] made have certainly led to this week's events" (see post here). Kelly's response was less accepting of the issue, but still an understandable reaction (see post here).

It seems the church is responding as it normally would. Dehlin made some pretty intense claims about his church beliefs and his desire to disassociate from the church. Kelly has been leading a social movement challenging the church's authority despite having been given multiple answers (I am sorry, but I will not accept the claim that she was "just raising awareness" or "just asking a question", because the issue was received and if the answer was not obvious before this last conference, Elder Oaks made it quite clear what the church's answer is.)

For those who respond with animosity towards Kelly and Dehlin. Please stop. I've had my own concerns and fears about the Gospel. So far, the one thing that has kept me in the church is when my mother told me that she loved me despite my fears and doubts and that she wanted me to stay near to her and the family. The love for my family is stronger than any concerns. When people pressured me to stay or leave the church, all it did was confuse and trouble me. My mother's love was what calmed the tide and let me think clearly. Likewise, I think this is how Christ feels. He loves us and wants us to be close to Him. Can we act in a similar manner akin to how Christ loves?

For those who are reacting negatively towards the Church. First, their reaction should not come as a surprise. It is unfortunate that Kelly and Dehlin hold a prominent place in Mormon society making this a public issue. (However, I don't know if this necessarily needed to be publicized?) Second, I think it is important to remember that disciplinary councils are meant to provide a choice to the person in their standing in the Church. Membership is not a right, but a responsibility. The Church has very obvious guidelines (granted, various congregations and leaders may hold a different standard), but on the whole, Kelly and Dehlin's words/actions crossed boundaries. I don't believe the Church is a hodgepodge of grumpy old men trying to hold on to a tithing stipend. Instead, I honestly believe that they are trying to work for the salvation of man. Even if I'm not 100% sure that what they teach is true, I do believe that are doing it in good heart. So, let's stop hating them. Let's sop claiming they are greedy bigots who hate homosexuals and women. I don't think many people could sit and talk with President Monson and then go away thinking evil things about that man.

And if they are astray, God help us. But, God loves them just as much as He loves Dehlin, Kelly, and you and I.

So, let's remember love. Can we go back to that? Can we remember that Dehlin has helped thousands get through rough patches. Can we remember that Kelly helped a lot of women feel important and viable to the church? Can we love them for that?

Can we remember that the Church helps millions of impoverished people and communities worldwide every year? Can we remember that they teach people about Christ and His love? Can we remember that they support the family, which is a very dear part to many of our lives?

Yes, both sides have done things that I don't (and obviously many of my friends don't) agree with. But they also do fantastic, wonderful things. Let's love them for that. Let's love them even just because they are human. They are children of God. Can we please?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Deeper than men vs. women: for self or for others

I fully recognize that I am setting myself up for an attack by all sorts of "progressive" and "liberal" ideologies by blogging about Elder Oaks. But I would hope that someone doesn't think that I am anti-women's rights because I liked his talk. I think if we looked into his talk deeper than the issue of women's rights in the church and the possibility of expanding the ordination of the priesthood we would find some fascinating stances taken by the church on what it means to be human.

So now that I've lost all the readers who don't want to hear some conservative BS and those who could care less about human ontology, I begin. Many of the conservative praise addressed towards Elder Oaks' talk on The Keys and Authority of the Priesthood revolved around his phrase: "Whoever exercises priesthood authority should forget about their rights and concentrate on their responsibilities." Rather than debate to the extent that this applies to men and women, I would like to create a dialogue on how we can understand our own human nature through the lens that, I feel, the LDS church generally adopts.

Last year I had the opportunity to do a contextual analysis (that is far from being scientific, but it was a class project) of a number of LDS General Conference talks and analyze how the leaders of the LDS church treated men vs. women. While studying, I was impressed by the leaders' avoidance of talking about natural ability or innate distinctions between men and women. (And yes, I do know that the Proclamation to the World on Family does mention that gender is an essential characteristic. However, it later emphasizes that gender is essential in relation to its responsibilities not its proclivities.)

My research focused mainly on men and women and how they were supposed to parent. The most common phrase that was used in both was "roles". In his talk Mothers and Daughters (2010), Elder Ballard declared that mothering and having children was a "[divine designation]" rather than a biological necessity. Elder Tanner in 1973 said that the mother had the role/obligation to "bring God's spirit children into the world" and use her talents to nurture and strengthen her children. I noticed that Elder Tanner did not say "nurturing talents", but that mothers could use a variety of talents for nurturing. The way these Elders talked about mothering wasn't as if women are inherently better or more equipped to take a nurturing role, but it seems to be more of a spiritual responsibility that they must fill.

The same language came in regards to Priesthood and Fathering roles that are given to men. According to President Benson, fathers have assignments and roles that are "eternal, and [their] importance transcends time". Elder Perry said, akin to how it was described by Elder Ballard towards women, that fathers preside by "divine design", not by an innate ability.

It seems that these leaders are less concerned with what we are biologically supposed to do or even what we have a right to do. Instead, God calls us to fulfill duties and responsibilities. (Yes, I will allow you to argue that these responsibilities have been wrongly designated to be divided by gender, but this is not the point I am trying to make.) This understanding of humanity, as a group of kin called upon by God to act in certain ways regardless of our natural tendencies is positing a moralistic ontology. We are moral beings oriented relationally in some way towards our God and one another. Our actions, regardless of notions of equality and rights, are instead directed to connecting with God or those surrounding us.

I argue that this theoretical stance is important in the discussion that people are having with science, human rights, and religion. Science bonded with the notions of human rights argue that since men and women have equal capabilities (to a large extent, because let's face it, my dad did not give birth to me), they should by default have right to the same responsibilities.

Religion, at least the LDS religion, is far less concerned with our orientation in regards to rights and privileges. For this group, it matters not where you are stationed in the Gospel. The ordinances and blessings that are given towards men and women are the same. Anyone who has been through the temple knows that there is differentiation between what a man receives and what a woman receives. A prophet will get the same reward as a deacon if they are faithful. Again, the focus is on being responsible rather than the right to a certain responsibility. It is concerned with our standing towards God rather than the amount of power and freedom we have from Him.

Elder Oaks stated, "There is no 'up or down' in the service of the Lord. There is only 'forward or backward' and that difference depends on how we accept and act upon our releases and our callings." As humans, what will bring us closer to the Lord is not the priesthood. It is the way in which we respond to the call of the
Lord. He then voiced his concern that this insistence on "rights" and "privileges" is far too pervasive in modern culture. We have become less concerned with how we are in relation to God and helping others and more focused on how we "measure up" and how we can keep up with the Jones' or with the men or with the heterosexuals or with the whites, etc.

I hope no one reads into this thinking that I am condoning discrimination and that those in powerless positions should just "deal with it". I am quite sympathetic to many causes of discrimination.

However, I do feel we aren't acting towards who we could be and who we are fundamentally when we insist for rights and forget our responsibilities. Levinas, a famous French philosopher, posited that we are naturally "called toward the other". Upon meeting and seeing another person, our very being is "called" or "sought out" to help the other in whatever way possible. Our human life is oriented towards serving those around us.

Let us accept this as the true nature of humans (which I like to think is close to the truth). Using this foundation, what does an insistence upon rights and respect and individuality do to the human spirit and our nature? What consequences could that have on our very being? If our focus turns from others to ourselves, what have we done to humanity? I think these may be some of the most important questions rather than what rights do I have compared to others.

If we did act according to our true nature and being responsible for others, would we even be in this predicament about affording women the "rights of the priesthood"? No. Because we A) wouldn't be focused on ourselves and B) if it were the case that women should have the priesthood, it would have already been given. (I know you could now argue that maybe the leaders of the church aren't acting with a focus on "the other", but I am not going to argue what the social orientation of the prophets are without talking to them. However, based on their talks, they seem to preach that we should be outward focused.)

This is far too long already. But I would urge people to consider that maybe the problems that are facing this country are less about who has all the rights (although I do agree this is an issue), but that we should be concerned more with if we are fulfilling our responsibilities designated by God. Are we the people who God wants us to be? Even those who are outside of believing in God can be better focused towards responding to the needs of those around us. For Levinas, transcendence in humanity resulted from taking on more responsibility towards those we come in contact with. It did not come from liberating oneself from social/political strains and advancing any cause of freedom. In fact, it was the opposite: answering the social pulls from all our friends, family, and contacts. Freedom came from being called upon to act for others not for oneself. (For an unfortunately dense, but interesting, look at Levinas check out Stanford's Encyclopedia of Philosophy.)

Ok, I really am done now. Please, let me know your thoughts, for or against. But remember, this is less a discussion of women's rights in the church and more an ethical argument towards human nature.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Hope and Action

You know those moments when things just hit you out of the blue? Those moments when life makes sense? Those moments when you get the excited feeling in your gut and you want to go out and change the world? (I'm reminded of Gru in Despicable Me: "Lightbulb!")

Just when all the things were getting difficult, I had two of those moments yesterday.

First, I was listening to the radio when Andy Grammer's "Keep Your Head Up" came on. I have no real like or dislike of the song and I usually don't listen to lyrics (I'm much more focused on the music), but for some reason I tuned into the words yesterday. I think it's the second verse that really clicked with what I was going through:

I've got my hands in my pockets,
Kicking these rocks.
It's kinda hard to watch this life go by.
I'm buying into skeptics, 
Skeptics mess with the confidence in my eyes.

I'm seeing all the angles, starts to get tangled
I start to compromise
My life and my purpose.
Is it all worth it?
Am I gonna turn out fine?
Oh, you'll turn out fine.
Fine, oh, you'll turn out fine.

Lately, I have been ruminating over all the difficulties and problems that come into life and, like the lyrics suggest, everything started getting jumbled. I got into a rut just ruminating over paradoxes and never being able to make a move. I was giving too much credence to other people's opinions and skeptics and not listening to myself. I stopped acting and moving because I was always afraid that any action would be turning me down a terrible path. How could I make a decision when I've doubted every action. I was looking for the perfect path to take in life, but I realized: it's not ever going to be perfect. Instead, life is about feeling out what paths are best for us: but that requires action...not deliberation. Talking about it helps and gives some direction, but if it goes too far nothing would ever happen. I don't think God would want to create a people too afraid to live life. 

And yes "you'll turn out fine". We all will, I think. But you have to DO something. Go start that business. Run the 10k instead of the 5k. Hike the tallest mountain. I just want to live rather than talk.

My second "moment" was while I was watching "Saving Mr. Banks". (Which I fully endorse and thought was an excellent movie). For those who don't know, Saving Mr. Banks is about Walt Disney trying to make the Mary Poppins movie with the author of the Mary Poppins books. Travers, the author, was growing frustrated that Disney wasn't making Poppins more realistic and accepting the difficulties and improbabilities in life. Walt answered with something that I thought was extremely important (I don't know if this is quoted exactly from Walt Disney, but either way, it's brilliant.)

That's what storytellers do. We restore order with imagination. We instill hope again and again."

Unfortunately I can't find the rest of the quote or background, but I guarantee you'll love that scene. He's trying to explain that his work is giving hope to people when the world is defeating. I've realized that while I've been thinking over things in my head, I've becoming so much of a realist I've been losing hope of ever being happy or of ever finding peace. However, isn't unrealistic hope is what drives us? 

My friend I was with made the point that our country was built on people who, regardless of where they lived, hoped for something greater and not "realistic" as their world was currently. They built something new and imaginary: freedom, the hope of choosing your own life and path. Sure, this may not be 100% the way America turned out, but that hope, in my opinion, gave us a great country. 

I don't want to be the realist that never dreams and works for anything great. I want to be a person that not only is inspired, but can inspire others. Hope is what drives us to create, invent, live--and do it well. Sure, maybe we shouldn't be living in a dream and we are destructively disappointed by reality. But, does that mean we should stop dreaming? Instead, I think we should all realize that dreams are really what drive innovation and greatness. I want that. I want to dream of a happy, fulfilling future -- and you know what, I think we can all achieve something like that.

So, hope and action. We've got to dream and then live our lives. Hope to grow and become great and working to reach that. 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Silencing the Critics

I'm sitting around, sick with something awful, and I cannot seem to function except blogging and watching Psyche. 

While doing nothing but laying in bed and showering today, I was reflecting over my past year--appropriately for the New Years. A lot happened this past year, especially in the last semester: it was literally my last semester as an undergrad (Hallelujah), took the GRE, started grad school apps, etc. I know most people believe that their current semester is "literally the worst", but this was (objectively) a horrid experience. In any case, I survived the semester walking out quite unscathed. In fact, the only thing that would be make it better is if I got accepted (please oh please) into a PhD program.

As I was thinking about this, my first reaction was: "TAKE THAT WORLD! I'm a BOSS!" I started to think of who it was that told me that I couldn't do it, that I should tone down, or maybe consider other options. However, I came up short: I couldn't think of anyone (except for one professor, but we cleared things up as to what he meant).  Then it hit me, it wasn't other people that were constantly belittling me or telling me that I wasn't going to make it...

It was me.

I was the one always doubting myself or telling myself that it would never make it. I wasn't fighting "the world" this whole semester, I was fighting myself. Trying to prove to myself that I was worth it. Worth it for what? I'm not sure, yet. However, it's time that I focus on this. How much more peaceful would life be if I stopped being my own worst critic? I'm not saying we shouldn't self-evaluate, but it definitely should be less incriminating. More to come on this later, but it's something to think about.