Friday, April 27, 2012

Thank you, USGA at BYU

Occasionally, I come across people who are arguing for gay rights by trying to discredit Christian claims against homosexuality. One common thing is to dredge up obscure practices from the Old Testament and say, "Well this is in the Bible, and Christians certainly don't believe/do this..." Some of the implications are that Christians cherry-pick doctrine out of the Bible, that the Bible/Christianity is flawed, and that the Bible/Christianity is not applicable to our day and time.

These arguments frustrate me, not because people are arguing for gay rights--that's not the issue at all. The issue is a fundamental ignorance of the Bible's organization. If people believe the entirety of the Bible is false, that is one thing. They have every right to make that argument. But the cherry-picking accusation comes from misunderstanding.

The Bible is divided into the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament is dominated by the Law of Moses. Many parts of the Old Testament are about the people and culture of that time. But there are also many parts of the Old Testament that transcend the boundaries of historical time and place. Christians believe that when Christ came, he fulfilled the law, meaning the Law of Moses. This means that  the practices of the Law of Moses, such as animal sacrifice, were no longer required or commanded as part of a faithful life. However, that does not mean that every single teaching from the prophets of the Old Testament was thrown out the window. During his ministry, Christ gave clarity and commandments about what was expected for a righteous life. Sometimes, Christ's commandments align perfectly with teachings of Old Testament prophets. But the standards laid down by Jesus Christ were often higher than the law of Moses. You shouldn't just avoid killing--you should avoid anger and contention. Adultery's not the only sin--lust is bad, too. Not an eye for an eye, but turn the other cheek. The Four Gospels, which contain the actual accounts of Christ's life as recorded by his apostles, include many of Christ's teachings. But Christ's teachings are also found throughout the rest of the New Testament. Other than writing down accounts of Christ's life, the apostles spent a great deal of time and energy recording and spreading Christ's gospel.

So, while Christ taught that animal sacrifice was no longer required, according to the records of his apostles in the New Testament, he did indeed teach that homosexual behavior was not in accordance with the gospel. There is continuity between the Old and New Testaments on that point. Deuteronomy, Leviticus, Isaiah, 1 Corinthians, 1 Timothy, Romans, and Jude all address this. Yes, there are practices in the Bible that are not required of us now. Expectations and commandments were clarified by Christ and his apostles.

Up to this point, I believe everything I've said would be agreed with by pretty much all Christians (correct me if I'm wrong). However, as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I believe there is more.

I don't believe that the Bible contains everything that God has ever said to mankind. I don't believe all of Christ's teachings and expectations were only given during his ministry in the Holy Land. As I've talked about before on this blog, Mormons believe that God has called prophets all over the world throughout history. We believe after his resurrection, Christ ministered in more places than just Jerusalem--possibly all over the world. And we do not believe that God stopped speaking or calling prophets and apostles to witness of our Savior, Jesus Christ. We believe there are still prophets and apostles on the earth today.

In some ways, the belief in current prophets and continuing revelation from God to humanity is the most important part. Because while the Bible is wonderful and Mormons obviously consider it scripture,  God has more guidance for our day. And, frankly, Mormons do believe that through time, parts of the Bible were passed on or translated incorrectly. Joseph Smith was given revelation about numerous specific verses in the Old and New Testament. So, Mormons use the King James Version of the Bible as it is, but there are footnotes sprinkled throughout referring to small corrections revealed to Joseph Smith.  Modern-day prophets offer clarity about the scriptures, and when they speak, they provide new scripture.

While both Testaments in the Bible denote that homosexual behavior is a sin, that's not all there is to know. Homosexual identity and emotions are a reality for many people on this earth. There are questions like, in what ways can homosexuals participate in the Lord's church? What covenants can homosexuals make? Can homosexuals go to the temple? How can disciples of Christ reach out to gay people in their families and communities? Does God love gay people? Does the Atonement apply to gay people? Even if someone identifies as homosexual their entire life, can they still be a disciple of Jesus Christ? Without modern prophets, the answers to all of these questions are just human opinions.

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we do believe there are modern prophets. I say with all of the love I can that in accordance with both ancient and modern prophets, homosexual behavior is a sin, but homosexual identity is not. That may seem a contradiction, and to many it may seem a bit rich to say gay people should not act on their feelings. All I can say is that if you don't believe in God and you don't believe in modern prophets, then anything I say about religion will be invalid to you anyway. There are many gay Mormons in the world. They have testimonies of Jesus Christ, and they believe Joseph Smith restored the gospel of Jesus Christ. They believe in modern prophets. When they act and live in faith, there is no blessing or covenant that is withheld from individuals of homosexual identity. They pray and receive personal revelation. They have a relationship with God, and feel the comfort of the Atonement. In so many ways, they are braver, stronger, and more stalwart than me. And they can speak for themselves.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Thank you, Danielle Tumminio

As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I was married in the temple. Before my marriage, I had been there many times, starting at age 12. To enter the temple, I was interviewed by my bishop (leader of my local congregation), and he gave me a temple recommend--his personal approval that I was spiritually prepared and worthy to enter the temple. When you're an adult, temple recommends are good for two years, at the end of which time you are interviewed again. In between temple recommend interviews, you are responsible for your own worthiness to enter the temple. For example, if you were to commit some serious sin, you wouldn't just keep using your temple recommend since it wasn't "expired" yet. As I've mentioned before, repentance is a very important concept in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Because I know my religion is true and I know my bishop and other leaders are acting on the Lord's behalf, it is natural to me to be interviewed by them. (In fact, there are many reasons a bishop might interview a member of the church, not just for a temple recommend). Because I know the temple is the most sacred place on this earth, I don't find it strange or cruelly exclusive to allow only members of the church who are spiritually prepared and morally worthy to enter the temple.

But there are many people in the world who are not members of the LDS church who don't like the limitations on entry to a temple. It is not at all surprising to a Mormon to read an angry online comment about "secrets" in the temple, or to make small talk with a stranger who feels insulted about not being able to go inside the temple. I'll be honest, it kind of amuses me that people get so upset about it. There are so many  secular places you can't go inside without a membership. Gyms. Pools. First-class lounges in the airport. Special areas in sports arenas, amusement parks, or museums. Costco. People can accept buying a membership card with money. But having to have faith in Jesus Christ and a willingness to make covenants with God to enter a temple? People seem to have a problem with the idea of spiritual currency.

So, I really appreciate it when someone not of my faith is able to respect the sacred nature of the temple. Before temples are dedicated to God, they are special, but not yet sacred. Thus, for every temple, there is an open house that anyone, Mormon or not, can attend. It's free of charge, and you can tour the entire temple. Danielle Tumminio, an Episcopal priest, recently attended a temple open house and wrote about her experience. She wrote about the temple with clarity and reverence, and I am very grateful for that. If you would like to know more, there are great details on the LDS church website.

For those of you on the East Coast, there will actually be a temple open house in the next couple years. There is a temple being built in Philadelphia, PA, and likely sometime in 2013 there will be an open house. When that time comes, I'll post more information about it. Then if you'd like, you can visit a temple and see what it's all about for yourself.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Please, butchers of Seuss

Dr. Seuss is pretty much my idol when it comes to writing picture books. No other author even compares to him. He absolutely transformed children's literature. I don't aspire to write rhyming books, but if I could ever manage to capture even one child's heart and mind the way Seuss stories captured mine, I would be content as an author.

So, it makes me feel like packing up and moving to Solla Sollew when people try to capitalize on Dr. Seuss in ways that seem contrary to the spirit of his work. There's the loud, obnoxious, potty-humor filled Dr. Seuss movies (I hold out a small hope for The Lorax, but I haven't seen it so I can't comment). There's cheesy wall decals that turn phrases from his works into sappy, pseudo-inspirational one-liners.

There's shoddy abridgment of his stories for the sake of making board books. For instance, before having Luke, it'd been quite a while since I'd read Dr. Seuss's ABC. We were given the board book version. I didn't even know that it had been abridged. For months and months, I read this book to Luke and I really didn't like it. I felt troubled that I so disliked a Dr. Seuss book. How could that be possible?! But I couldn't pretend that the grating, repetitive, "Big A, Little a, what begins with a? Blah blah blah blah, A A A. Big B, Little b, what begins with b? Blah blah blah blah, B B B," and so on for 26 letters was enjoyable to read. I couldn't hide my disappointment that for the letter K there was only the horrifically hackneyed  Kangeroo and Kite, nor that you're supposed to chant "K K K!" to your child. (That in particular seemed wrong to me. I kept thinking, "How could anyone who lived through the 60s, much less the author of The Sneetches, blithely include the phrase K K K in the text of their book?") And I thought it was lame every time I came to the letter X and saw nothing but X-ray and Xylophone.

But on a whim we got the full-sized and un-abridged version of Dr. Seuss's ABC. The rhythm changes with each letter and completely rolls off the tongue. The letter K page reads: "Big K, little k. Kitten. Kangeroo. Kick a kettle, kite, and a king's kerchoo!" The letter X page reads: "X is very useful if your name is Nixie Knox. It also comes in handy spelling axe and extra fox!" Plus, the whole book is just brilliant because he uses each letter in a variety of ways--at the beginning, middle, or end of verbs, adverbs, nouns, and adjectives. It's not just a stale, trite listing of animals or objects that start with each letter. Needless to say, the board book version of Dr. Seuss's ABC is banished from our household.

As much as these other things bug me, this week I finally saw the worst, most offensive, most un-Seussian appropriation of Seuss that I have ever seen in my life. There is a series of books (written and illustrated by two separate people who are not Dr. Seuss) called The Cat in the Hat Knows a lot about That! This is a non-fiction series on a variety of subjects, like bugs, or dinosaurs. The text rhymes, and the illustrations are of course imitation Seuss. It features The Cat in the Hat leading around Dick and Sally (the kids from the original books) and spouting off facts to them.


Everything, absolutely everything about this series is just WRONG! Dr. Seuss is not about NON-FICTION. He is all about whimsy! He is all about education through cleverness and subtlety, not bludgeoning children with rhyming factoids! When he wanted to teach children about the Cold War, he didn't write a sugar-coated, dumbed down literal account of the Cold War--he wrote The Butter Battle. When he wanted to teach children about racism, he didn't write an overwrought, rhythmic treatise with a black kid and a white kid--he wrote The Sneetches. I won't go into details, but Dr. Seuss's approach to real life, sensitive subjects is absolutely my inspiration for how I write books about touchy things like predator culling or water use in arid areas.

And The Cat in the Hat as a jolly educational guide? NO! The Cat in the Hat is all about mischief and insanity! He's about children breaking free of all the stiffness and strictness that surrounds them. He would never, NEVER lead children around and prattle off informational tidbits. Doesn't everyone know that The Cat in the Hat books specifically mock the Dick and Jane franchise, the most uptight kid lit of all time? The Cat in the Hat is not about education for children, he's about revolution for children.

As surely as Dr. Seuss would not have penned K K K, there is no way he would ever have created this mind-numbing non-fiction. Why couldn't the authors have made up their own character franchise instead of appropriating a completely inappropriate mascot from the king of kooky? Because it's so much easier to buy the rights to someone else's creative genius than sit and think of something on your own.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Please, short skirt buyers

Last month, I read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See for a book club. This book takes place in 1800s China, and it's in first person from the perspective of a woman. So you know what it includes? Foot binding. The story begins when the main character Lily is 5 years old, and her cousin Beautiful Moon is the same age. In their region, foot binding typically begins at 6 years old. This passage has coursed through my mind many times since I read it.

"Isn't it time for Beautiful Moon and Lily to go outside?" Aunt asked. "They could help Elder Brother with his chores."
"He doesn't need their help."
"I know," Aunt admitted, "but it's a nice day--"
"No," Mama said sternly. "I don't like the girls wandering around the village when they should be working at their house learning."
But about this one thing my aunt was stubborn. She wanted us to know our alleys, to see what lay down them, to walk to the edge of our village and look out, knowing that soon enough all we would see was what we could glimpse from the lattice window of the women's chamber.
"They have only these few months," she reasoned. She left unsaid that soon our feet would be bound, our bones broken, our skin rotting. "Let them run while they can."...
"All right." Mama sighed in resignation. "They can go." 
I grasped Beautiful Moon's hand and we jumped up and down. Aunt quickly shooed us to the door before my mother could change her mind...My cousin and I ran downstairs and outside. Late afternoon was my favorite part of the day, when the air was warm and fragrant and the cicadas hummed...
We left the village proper and rambled along a raised narrow path paved with small stones. It was wide enough for people and palanquins but too small for oxen or pony pulled carts. We followed the path down to the Xiao River and stopped just before the swaying bridge that crossed it. Beyond the bridge, the world opened before us with vast stretches of cultivated land. The sky spread above us as blue as the color of kingfisher feathers. In the far distance, we saw other villages--places I never thought I would go in my lifetime. Then we climbed down to the riverbank where the wind rustled through the reeds. I sat on  a rock, took off my shoes, and waded into the shallows. Seventy-five years have gone by, and I still remember the feel of the mud between my toes, the rush of water over my feet, the cold against my skin. Beautiful Moon and I were free in a way that we would never be again."

I prize childhood. I believe that because I was homeschooled (with a pretty loose organizational structure) and not locked up in a classroom all day, I got to have a particularly vivid childhood. Having the leisure and safety to run free outdoors are absolutely essential for children, as the amazing book Last Child in the Woods asserts.

Knowing that I'm having a girl, I've been much more observant of mothers and young daughters. With the weather getting warmer, my heightened awareness has made me notice several little girls--between 2 and 5--wearing short, tight skirts at the park. Sure, they look awfully cute. In fact, one tiny jean skirt even closely matched the mom's.

These little girls look adorable. And that's probably what their moms were thinking about when purchasing the skirts for their daughters. But seeing their constricted strides makes me cringe. I keep thinking, This is just like foot binding. Because of their identity as female, these girls have avenues of exploration closed to them. They're inhibited when they (try to) run, when they climb, when they squat to examine something. They can't maneuver on the monkey bars, or step wide enough to scramble up a slide. They can barely manage to get up onto the rocking animals on the big springs.

Little boys don't have any barriers like this.

Putting a short skirt on a girl is not permanent or gruesome in the way foot binding was. But in the same way bound feet damaged and restricted young girls for the sake of their future sex appeal, short skirts  mimic the sexy clothing of older women to the detriment of daughters. Wearing a short skirt gives a girl a kinesthetic education in being limited to a sexual identity. This is what it means to be female. You can't run around like boys do. You can't clamber or flip upside down on the playground. But you can look really cute.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Please, right-wing and left-wing mom attackers

I hopped on Facebook just now and saw an interesting little juxtaposition in my newsfeed--an article criticizing Michelle Obama for working, and a video dealing with criticism of Ann Romney for not working. Whew. Ugly stuff all around.

The article about the Obamas upsets me because it takes one piece of information about a family's finances and tries to pretend that's the whole puzzle. Then, with that distorted picture, they basically say Michelle shouldn't have been working, since obviously the Obamas were making sooo much money that they could have afforded for her to stay home. The article doesn't talk about things like student debt, the expense of living in the Chicago area, or the cost of a political campaign. The money you have to function with is the difference between your incoming and your outgoing. We don't know what the Obamas' outgoing costs were. It's pretty insulting to assume that their outgoing costs must have been on frivolities, when most likely that was far from the truth. But the article comes from a website that seems to want to insult the Obamas about anything, whether it's realistic, objective, true, or not.

The video about Ann Romney upsets me because of Hilary Rosen's remarks, obviously. I admired how graciously Ann spoke and acted in the interview. You know why she was able to react so calmly? Because it is a 100% guaranteed fact that this is not the first time someone has denigrated her as a stay-at-home mom. Ann probably got over insults of that nature a long time ago. I think slowly respect for stay-at-home parents is growing, and that the stigma is starting to go away in our generation. But in Hilary Rosen's generation, with its ardent "being in the house is a waste of your life" mindset, the stigma is clearly still alive and well.

The thing that bothered me most were not Hilary's idiotic remarks about a SAHM not knowing about economic issues (and the way those comments clearly derive from a picture of all SAHMs being some kind of ignorant Stepford Wives "oh honey can I use the credit card?" robots disconnected from responsibility and the world at large). What got to me was the way Hilary went on to say "Romney seems so old-fashioned when it comes to women...I just don't think he sees us as equal." Oh no no no, Hilary. You don't think stay-at-home-moms are equal. You look down on them. You just called them economically worthless and disconnected. And since Romney's wife falls into the SAHM category, you assume that he must look down on her the way you do. And then you assume he must feel that way about all women if he feels that way about his wife. Please don't try to pretend the sneer on your face is really on someone else's.

The attacks on Michelle Obama and Ann Romney stick out to me because of who my mother and mother-in-law are. My mom chose to do daycare in our home to help with finances--so she was essentially a SAHM, and she homeschooled all seven of us until 5th grade. Nick's mom is a lawyer. She went to a top ten law school. She has five children, the youngest turning twelve this year. So, two of the women closest to me parallel the current and potential First Lady as a lawyer and a SAHM. What do I know about these women? They both love their children. They've both had to balance their family life with their involvement in the outside world. They both work super hard. They are both brilliant and generous. Nick and I both really love our mothers and mother-in-laws.

Whether the Obamas or Romneys could have afforded to make different choices is irrelevant. The fact is, some women want to have a career in addition to being a mom. Some women want to focus only on being a mom. Some women start down the mom+career path and then end up feeling stuck in their career; they genuinely wish they could afford to quit and only be with their children. Some women start down the only mom path and end up feeling stuck. They realize that while they love their children and love being a mom, they would also like to spend a significant amount of time in a career. Who's to say Michelle Obama wouldn't have loved to drop everything and spend every minute of her day raising her girls? But perhaps she couldn't, because of the intense debt and financial obligations of their high-profile family. Who's to say Ann Romney never thought, "Geez, I'd love to have something else to do other than laundry for five crazy boys!" and longed to earn money for her hard work?

Neither being a SAHM nor a working mom is easy, and neither is something that any given woman is guaranteed to be happy about. Sadly, radically changing the financial set-up and day-to-day organization of your family is not as simple as changing your major in college. Ending a career could have been just as impossible for Michelle Obama as starting one might have been for Ann Romney--assuming either of them ever wanted to make such a change. But the real point is, neither of them was obligated to make any choice other than the one she did. They are both intelligent, hard-working women who have the right  to do whatever the heck they want with their lives, and neither deserve poison barbs from the enemy political tribe.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Thank you, Mix Junks 1

Mix Junks 1 and Mix Junks 2 were the first mix CDs Nick ever made for me, when we were fifteen-years-old. I still have these precious CDs, and on occasion I still listen to them. There's some pretty great stuff on those mixes. The June Spirit, Reliant K, Everclear, Fenix TX, Dashboard Confessional, and oh so much more. On Monday, I had my 28-week appointment with my midwives. They're about a half hour away, and I popped in Mix Junks 1 to pass the time. Even though I've heard this song a gazillion times, I found myself crying--really, really crying--to Everclear's "Father of Mine."

It's a sad song, to be sure. And you could say I'm just an emotional pregnant woman. But while I was listening to it, all I could think about was Nick and Luke's powerfully sweet relationship. It took all my willpower to compose myself before going in to the midwives.

Luke loves his daddy so much. Dada was his first word. Very soon after he learned the word home, Luke coined his first phrase: "Dada home! Dada! Home!" The first time he said it, Nick was gone at school. This little light came on in his eyes, like "I have the best idea ever! Dada should come home!" Luke passionately advocates for this course of action on a regular basis. Every time my phone rings, Luke immediately says "Dada!" And he gets very upset if he can't hold the phone and listen to his dad.

Nick loves Luke so much. When he calls, he never fails to ask about Luke first thing. When he comes home, the first word out of his mouth is usually "SCOOTY!" Luke runs to him, "Dada! Dada!" And Nick scoops up our little guy and hugs him tight. Nick has so much compassion for all the little toddler travails Luke goes through. Recently, I started to tell Nick about Luke's struggle to catch up with his Star Wars ball as it rolled away down our slanted parking lot. Luke has to pause and squat to pick anything up, and every time he reached the ball and squatted it had already rolled away from him. He kept saying "Ball, ball," in the most plaintive voice. Nick was heartbroken by this story. He couldn't stand to even hear the whole thing, he just felt so sad for little Scooty.

I know that maybe this seems like some sort of a Father's Day entry with premature timing. But with Nick about to willingly go through another grueling two-week law school finals period just so he can provide for our family, I can't help but feel grateful to the point of weeping for this man. I never could have known, when we were teenagers, that he would be so profoundly good. Every single day, he works so hard for our family. He is lonely for Luke and I all day long. He stays immaculately organized so that he has the maximum amount of time with us in the mornings, evenings, and weekends. He is always willing to help me, and to do what I ask of him. We had a large contingent of family over on Easter, and I gave him about a thousand tasks to do. He did everything so cheerfully, and got the whole party going while I took a short rest and got Luke down for a nap. Dependable, capable, diligent, compassionate. I look at this man at the end of the day and I feel stunned.

Knowing that over half the women my age do not have a husband when they become mothers, I am very conscious of everything that Nick does for Luke and I. As his wife, I do everything I can to be supportive and help him succeed in law school. But when I have a chance to really reflect, like I did during my drive on Monday, I know that he bears the heavier burden in our marriage. I can't thank him enough for his strength, and I can't thank him enough that our son will never have cause to write a song like "Father of Mine."

(I bawled the entire time I was typing up this entry).

Thank you, Willow Tufano and Mom

I hope I'm not the only one who thinks Willow Tufano is amazingly rad. Basically, she's a 14-year-old that bought a house. How did this happen? The NPR story goes into all the details about Willow's mom being a real estate agent, etc. etc. But the real how of Willow's story comes down to two things: her own enterprising spirit, and her mom's go-for-it attitude.

1. Willow's enterprising spirit: When Willow heard that a ton of stuff from a foreclosed home was just going to be thrown out, she saw opportunity. We live in such a culture of possessions that I think sometimes it's hard to see the value in things. We waste a lot. But Willow didn't want things to be wasted. She wanted them to be useful--and if they wouldn't be useful to anyone else, they'd be useful to her. I really admire that she has gone through so much work just to recycle abandoned belongings. Instead of things ending up in the dump, Willow makes sure they're re-used. And she rightly makes a profit from all her efforts. She is clearly a very clever girl.

2. Her mom's go-for-it attitude: Willow would not have been able to buy a house if her mom, Shannon Moore, hadn't been so accommodating and encouraging. I can imagine so many parents not wanting to bother with their kid's ambitions--how many lemonade stands have been foiled by a parent saying it's not worth it? Willow's mom easily could have said selling the stuff would be a hassle, that Willow needed to just focus on homework, that their family didn't have time to deal with it. But every step of the way, Shannon Moore has let her daughter learn amazing lessons about selling, bartering, customer service, market value, and business simply by saying "Sure. Go for it." There is no hint in the article that Willow had to argue with her mom about her various ideas. Willow is truly lucky to have such a mom.

I also wanted to note that Willow's chance to buy a house came about because the mom integrates her work and home life. It seems she regularly takes Willow with her when she's working. It is such a huge fantasy of mine for kids to spend more time with their parents in the workplace and less time in school. If kids are going to grow up and have jobs, shouldn't they be around working adults and see what having a job entails? Willow is miles beyond her peers in terms of her finances. Heck, she's miles behind a lot of 20-somethings!  Why? She's gotten to closely observe her mother exploiting financial opportunities, working with customers, and making a profit. Clearly, Willow's learned a thing or two from watching her mom, and that has started a fabulous financial future for her.

Knowing that I'm going to have my own daughter soon, the story of Willow and her mom really spoke to me. I aspire to have that kind of go-for-it attitude with all my kids, but especially with my daughter(s). While women have made a lot of progress, girls still need strong examples and encouragement to make their way in the world. Maybe by the time my little girl is 14, she'll own...a spaceship or something. Whatever she's willing to work at, I'll help her achieve.