Saturday, November 21, 2009

What a Year

This is the first birthday I've ever had which I didn't really look forward to. For some reason, 25 is just scary. (I know, rationally speaking, that's a ridiculous thing to say, but nevertheless...) In any case, thank you to all who sent birthday greetings by media various and sundry! It was lovely to hear from you. A particular thank you goes to my Grandparents for their kind generosity, to my parents and siblings for the new (and needed) clothing (I'm glad you have good taste, Ashlie!), and to Seth and Adam for a delicious lunch at Tucanos, where we positively drowned ourselves in MEAT! My family and friends are far, far better than I deserve (but it would be unwise to let them know that!).

In any case, everything managed to stay pretty low-key, for which I am very grateful, as I continue to ponder my mortality. ;-)

For those of you who have heard and expressed concern, my shoulder is (finally!) feeling much improved. I'll still wear the sling, but I can now remove it for longer and longer durations during the day. (I don't wear it at night, because––being an active sleeper––I would almost certainly garrote myself. It doesn't matter how carefully I make my bed, in the morning the comforter is on the other side of the room, the sheets have been braided into a kind of Jackson Pollack macrame, and I am either wearing the pillow as a turban or I have managed to swallow it.) In any case, if you were devoting any of your knee-time to intercession on my behalf, I thank you, but would now ask you not to worry anymore about it and apply those minutes to Maddox's account.

* * *

Now, as is my habit, I will devote a few moments to religio-political ranting. (I know that this might not meet with universal approbation, but it is my weakness, and not one I have any inclination to give up. What can I say: some chase the dragon*, some pass l'heure verte** with la fée verte***, I blog.)

Today, I would like to address an issue one hears periodically when spending time with Mormons of a political bent. I want to make it clear that I do not take exception to those who may disagree with my beliefs, if only they admit that insofar as our beliefs differ, theirs are wrong. I am really a most accommodating man, willing to extend compromise even to the gates of hell––but no further!

The comment that aroused my ire is just one of myriad extant variations on a truly nauseating theme. This specific comment was posted today on a Deseret News comment thread. (I know. It's true. I should have never even read the thing. As you are all doubtless aware, the comments on DesNews threads tend to be almost––but not quite––as intelligent as the kind of YouTube comment threads attached to videos depicting extra-chromosomal teenage boys igniting their own flatulence, which are themselves only sad imitations of the level of erudition typically found scrawled on or carved into to the stall walls of public restrooms in cities endowed with literacy rates somewhat lower than is characteristic of Tijuana's more impoverished environs.) In any case, the comment in question was as follows:

You really believe the LDS Church has that much influence over the State of California? The constitutionality of prop 8 was decided in the California Supreme Court by non LDS judges. Explain that.

This particular statement is just one example of an increasingly common (but nevertheless queasiness-inducing) phylum of Mormon political sentiment. Whenever someone complains online about the LDS involvement in California's Proposition 8 campaign during the 2008 election, some Mormons' "persecution sensory glands" become activated and they descend, indiscriminately squirting this kind of comment into cyberspace, like a cat urinating on a piece of furniture or a small child.

When identifying such a statement, it is helpful to look for certain typical characteristics: "Mormons were only one small part of a large, diverse coalition"; "Mormons make up less than two percent of California's population"; "Lots of [insert minority ethnicity members here] voted for it. Why don't you attack them?"; "The Church only donated $180,000.00 to a campaign that raised millions"; et cetera. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Vomit.

Let us be quite clear: when evaluating these comments, it does not matter how you or I feel about Proposition 8, or the results of the 2008 election. Love it, loathe it, puree it and smear it all over your body: COMPLETELY IRRELEVANT!

What is relevant is the fact that these comments are dishonest.

The involvement of the LDS Church was the sine qua non of the passage of Prop 8. Yes, I know, "The Church donated only a tiny fraction of the total funds raised..." Give me a break. The majority of the Yes-on-8 money came from LDS members, who donated at the explicit instruction of the Prophet. His encouragement is theologically tantamount to commandment; Prop 8 practically became an article of faith. (There were a number of incidents reported in which members who said they were not comfortable donating/canvassing/putting a sign in their yard lost their temple recommends or were disfellowshipped. As far as I am aware, most of these incidents were later corrected... after the election was over.) Stakes and Wards were assigned dollar-amounts they were required to raise. Local leaders approached many members with specific figures they were asked to contribute (one particularly memorable account recorded that the amount their Stake President requested was exactly ten times what they had already decided to donate); these amounts were calculated by reviewing members' tithing records. Add to this the Church's built-in communication/networking structure, to say nothing of the vast body of free LDS labor used for door-to-door and telephone canvassing.

When the results of the election were reported, many Latter-day Saints celebrated, justly aware of the part they had played. Now, however, many of those same members try to deemphasize the Church's participation, as well as their own. When did the blood that burned red footprints across a continent cool, dilute, and breed cravens?

Saying that "Mormon involvement was just one little part of a multi-faceted coalition" is as disingenuous as saying that "oxygen is just one element among many in breathable air." Such a statement, while technically true, is calculatedly misleading. Though oxygen is not the most plentiful element in the air, it is absolutely indispensable; without it, we inevitably die–—just like Proposition 8 would have, without the LDS Church.

*A euphemism for using opium.
**Five o'clock, when, at the height of its popularity, many Parisians would gather as devotees of la fée verte.
***Absinthe, a potent, anise-flavored spirit (usually light green in color) with allegedly hallucinogenic properties, which led to its ban in the US by 1915. Its psychoactive characteristics (apart from those associated with its high alcohol content––45%-74% ABV) were greatly exaggerated, and its production within the US resumed in 2007.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Random Rambling Response

A question from a reader*:

Have you read Emma: The Mormon Enigma? I have two brothers and wives who read this book and it drove them to apostasy. They now believe the Book of Mormon is some Egyptian conspiracy.

The book was actually written by a BYU church history teacher, I am not sure if she still works there or not. I mean, to actually believe Joseph had sexual relations with his multiple wives was just too much for them to take. Also, some of those wives who were 14 and 15 were "raped." Its all very interesting but very difficult to watch your dear family members leave the iron rod and embrace the great and spacious building.

I haven't read that book in its entirety, though I did use it as a source for a paper about LDS marriage/family doctrine. Another book on a similar issue (and certainly the most complete and exhaustive study of Joseph's plural wives) is a book called "In Sacred Loneliness" by Todd Compton. It is quite solid from a scholarly standpoint, but it deals with some very difficult subject matter.

When dealing with things of that nature, I think that the Church is altering its approach somewhat. In the past, many things of that variety never made it onto the Mormon radar, because the only folks that wrote about them were anti-Mormons. Today, though, we find ourselves in a situation technologically that makes it more and more difficult not to deal with these kinds of historical issues. In the late 80s and early 90s, the Church got (understandably) defensive about some of its history; pressure was exerted by LDS hierarchy not to bring up some of this information. There were even some excommunications of BYU scholars, and––though the excommunications were not exclusively about scholarship––I suspect if they had published the same things today, there probably would not have been Church discipline (at least for some of them). Church leaders were leaning pretty heavily on professors to publish only "faithful history," which put them in a very difficult position: rigorous scholarship would bother some members and leaders, but "faithful" scholarship wouldn't be objective enough to get published.

In any case, today we can get our hands on loads of information with only the touch of a button. This, I feel, is helping to change the way we approach difficult historical issues. Take for instance the "Joseph Smith Papers Project" that (over the next decade or so) is going to publish critical, scholarly editions of practically everything Joseph ever wrote (or dictated). The 2 volumes currently in print (there will eventually be about 30) have been very well-received in the academic world (one review said that they "set a new standard" in the realm of scholarly publication), and will help to bolster growing interest in Mormon studies. Even now, Mormon studies departments are popping up like daisies in universities across the country. Another example is "The Mountain Meadows Massacre," published only a couple years ago by BYU scholars who were granted unprecedented access to the Church archives. The book was actually commissioned BY THE CHURCH(!) way back in about 2003.

I think our approach is becoming something similar to a vaccination. Nobody likes to get shots; they're undeniably uncomfortable and they can leave you sore for a few days. However, I'll take a needle-prick over a full-blown case of smallpox any day! Similarly, while we don't like some of these issues in our past and they make us uncomfortable, it's better to hear about painful/confusing history within a faithful venue––that way when you get exposed elsewhere, your "spiritual immune system" won't be overwhelmed.

Of course, none of this ameliorates the pain inherent in a family member's (or one's own) loss of faith. I once read an interesting article by someone who had left the Church, describing how he went through all the same stages of grief that are associated with a loved one's death. I had a somewhat similar experience when a missionary I knew (though we had never been companions) shot himself shortly after he returned home.

There are really only two thoughts that have been of any practical assistance to me in those kinds of painful situations:

1. When dealing with an ugly/confusing issue vis-à-vis Church history (or even current leadership): It's uncharitable to expect others to be any more perfect than I am. I have no reason to feel superior just because I have a different preference in the kinds of sins I like to commit!

2. When facing tragedy in the lives of those we care about, particularly due to someone's poor choices: I have to remember that the sealing power is a manifestation of the atonement; so it's far stronger than I usually recognize.

In the end, I think God will probably surprise us all... (with a cake, I hope––I do love a good cake).

As it happens, the paper I wrote (using "Mormon Enigma" as a source) is posted here on the blog. See here. It does deal with some fascinating (and occasionally troubling) history.

A later piece regarding specifically familial blessings tied to temple worship can be found here. This post is a bit more devotional in nature, and was actually written to be part of a talk; the paper linked above, on the other hand, probably would not be very helpful in an in-Church setting, unless you want to see the Bishop spontaneously combust.

*And just so you're aware, as a reader of this blog you are a member of a very elite, VERY exclusive bunch. (And I wouldn't have it any other way!)

PS––Oh, I almost forgot! Regarding the whole "rape" issue in the question above, I would suggest that our social values are frequently different than those of our predecessors. In that part of the 19th century, age differences between husband and wife were frequently wider than they are today, and it was not at all unusual for wives to be teenagers (even young teenagers) while their husbands were in their middle age. There is a chart (though I don't have time to track it down) that some writer put together that compared the age of Joseph Smith and his wives with the ages of other married couples in the community; 14 or 15 was not at all uncommon. In some matters we can be far more prudish than our ancestors! For instance, can you guess what the age of consent was in the state of Delaware at the time the Declaration of Independence was signed? Anyone? The answer will be in the comments below...

Friday, November 06, 2009

Medical Adventure

Cue boring cliché regarding not knowing what you have until you've lost it –– like a functioning rotator cuff. My left shoulder had been a bit sore after taking a fall while singing in the opera. (The fall wasn't accidental; it was part of the shtick in the aria I was singing –– my character was explaining what a good dancer he (THINKS!) he is. Then, during a cadenza, I go into the splits and my voice breaks –– never fails to get a laugh.) I had rehearsed the song in my costume shoes, which were quite slick-soled, probably a consequence of a lot of use in other productions. Before the opera opened, the costume department had put dancing soles on the bottom, giving them a lot more traction. However, the new soles did not quite reach to the back of the heel. When I went into the splits, my front leg's shoe was only in contact with the stage at the slippery heel. It slid quickly out from under me while my right leg was firmly planted on the ball of my foot. I came down hard on my right knee. (That night, my little yelp wasn't acting!) My knee was sore for a few days but soon recovered. My shoulder, on the other hand, got worse and worse as a result of trying to catch myself during that fall. I saw a doctor today and he thinks it's a torn rotator cuff.