29 May 2011

Purging vs. Purification

One of the things about Utah Valley that I struggle with more than almost anything else is how easy it is for people to be sheltered. This became all too clear to me (again) this last weekend while driving students home from the symphony. Several students in the back of the car started talking about how before taking my class they didn't know that there was such a thing as other religions.

A friend of mine told me about a conversation he had with students who believed quite literally that there are people in the world who are not good enough to be with them. (Seriously).

I grew up in an environment that was much more openly diverse. We had to learn quickly that if we were going to have friends, we would need to see beyond the difference and to the parts of that person that made them good.

I was reminded again of this lesson today in Sunday School when studying the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19. Zacchaeus was the Chief Publican - a supervising tax collector, if you will, who was very likely excommunicated from the church by the rest of the Jews because of his profession. In the story, Zacchaeus, who must have been rather short, hears that Jesus is coming and climbs a tree to catch sight of him. Jesus sees him, tells him to come down, and says that he would like to stay in Zacchaeus' house while he is in the city. The Jews that are with the Savior are confused by this - why would Jesus want to stay in the home of a sinner? Well, for one simple reason: Jesus is a purifier, not a purger.

Zacchaeus, though a Publican, is not wicked. In verse eight Zacchaeus tells Jesus that he gives away half of his belongings to the poor and if he makes any mistakes in his tax collection he returns the money plus four times extra for the inconvenience. He is a man with a strange choice of career in the community, perhaps, but Jesus isn't interested in what he has done wrong, he is interested in what he can become.

The teacher pointed out that there is a difference between purging and purifying. Although both words come from similar roots and are often used synonymously, there is a big difference. To purge something is to focus on getting rid of the bad. For example, when you have the flu, the entirety of your body seems to focus more on getting rid of what is bad than on supporting that which is good. When you purify something, your focus is on seeking out the good so that you can enhance it. The best example probably comes in refining gold, which is heated to a very high temperature. The layers of dross are pulled away until the metal is free of impurities. The focus is on the result, not the cause.

Essentially, purging and purifying accomplish the same thing. But the focus is the important part. When we deal with people (or books, or movies, or new experiences, or food, or. . .) so focussed on getting rid of the bad that we don't have time to focus on the good, or are we so focused on enhancing the good that we find that the impurities have separated out of their own accord because they no longer belong?

It's all about perspective.

24 May 2011

It's (Almost) the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Do you remember that commercial that used to (maybe still is?) be on TV this time of year where there were images of kids running out of school, tossing papers into the air while the Christmas favorite "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" played? I thought about that commercial when I got up this morning, thinking to myself, "That is so true! I LOVE being a teacher!!"

And I do. Not just in June, July and August, but during my official working months as well.

Most of the time.

The last week of school belongs to a very special circle of hell for a teacher who actually intends to do anything related to school work. I suppose I was foolish enough to count myself in that group this year. But what choice did I have? Between state tests and field trips and assemblies, there were only about four available days for me to have projects due. Today was one of those days. It was supposed to be a field day for the younger students (my school covers K-12), but the field day was cancelled for weather, and wasn't supposed to impact my students until the last hour of the day anyway.

But then, somehow, magically - everyone started disappearing. Teachers started putting on movies in their rooms and playing games and it turned into a school-optional day. I had to corral students back into my room and coerce our very kind secretary to announce over the intercom to my next class that if they wanted a grade they had to show up. I had to not so very kindly inform my writing students that their portfolio, which we had been talking about EVERY day for the last month and a half, was still due today, and not the last day of school. I was met with very blank 'are you serious?!!' stares and panicked pleas to call home and requests to turn in assignments on the last day of school and suddenly the end of the school year (which is a mere two days away) could. not. come. soon. enough.

I've learned more than a little bit this year about the different cultures of education in our country. When I was in high school, I lived in a very comfortable 'you either go to a private school or a public school' mentality, and thought that if you had a good public school you were lucky and if you went to a bad one it was unfortunate but you couldn't do anything about it. Now I teach with schools that have many more options for students and families who want flexibility in how they educate their children. On the whole, I don't think this is a terrible thing. I think it is good for families to be involved in who and where their kids are taught.

But I do start having issues when the culture of school, then, carries out that mentality of 'optional'. When going to class or completing assignments or showing up on time is only done in the spirit of convenience and not out of duty or honor. What you decide to do, you commit to, and you do it well.

Ugh. I don't like using this as an opportunity to vent. I'd rather spout of random philosophical theories and talking points and write something actually worth reading. But you know what? Sometimes life is just frustrating and obnoxious and people are stupid (and they can't help it, especially when they're 13. . . ) and two days from now. . . it won't be my problem any more.

Summer? Thank you for (almost) being here today!

20 May 2011

Stamp in my Passport

If you've been following my blog over the last few months, you'll have picked up on a bit of summery angst from my corner. For at least the last ten years my summers have involved world travel or theater or both, and this year it involves neither. The farthest distance I am likely to travel this summer is roughly three hours by car. Not terribly exciting compared to the last few years. Big bummer.

But I'm determined not to be battered down by this. The next few months of my life have a few significant changes in store for me that will provide me with the ability to, if I wish, take a fantastic trip wherever I wish to go next year. With any luck, it will look something like this:

I'll get together with my closest friends. We'll buy a ticket to, say, Dublin on June 1st and a ticket from, say, Berlin on June 30th. Or maybe later than that. I'll arrange for a place to stay in Dublin and . . . no where else. We'll just go wherever the wind takes us that sounds like fun. Typically my stress levels would be way too high to travel that way, but I'm feeling ambitious and impulsive and I have the mad desire to go to approximately EVERYWHERE. (With special emphasis, as always, on my beloved UK. . .)

Stourhead Gardens, Tuscany, Tyrol
Tintagel, Sherwood

Salzburg, Schiltach (Black Forest)

Kensington Gardens

Amsterdam, Loch Lomond, Oxford
Grasmere, Edinburgh, Cork County

10 May 2011

The Social Network vs. The King's Speech

I'm starting to look at summer projects to keep me busy. The last ten years of my life (at least) I've either traveled or been involved with theater during the summer and this year I won't be involved in either. (Don't worry. Next year I intend to make up for lost time by finding a way to split my body in half and spend half my time on stage and half my time exploring Europe.) So I've been looking into things to do that are not just for work. I need something for me. I need something fun. Something snarky.

Lo and behold: the friend's ex-boyfriend of dogmatacism. Said individual enjoys finding ways to spread his firm faith all over the interwebs in one way or another, typically in a way that is not to promote conversation but to promote supreme righteousness. (It's all said with a smiley-face, though, so it's ok.) (Sarcasm sign.) And the idea comes: I should DO something about this.

After talking with another friend of mine, the plan was formed and a super cool project is in the works to examine the EFFECT of media instead of just focusing strictly on the content of media alone. It's a topic I feel strongly about, one I know more than a little bit about, and one that I'm more than a little excited to talk about.

One such facet of this project will involve movie reviews.

See, here's the thing. It should be no secret to anyone by this point that I don't necessarily worship the ground the MPAA walks on. I don't think they're evil or unnecessary or in any way detrimental to society. But they're not a moral organization. Not that the people involved aren't moral, but that isn't their purpose. The MPAA is like the standardized test center of the film industry. They have to be objective. They have to have a checklist of qualifications to back up their ratings because they serve a population with a huge range of moral standards. So they can't look at something morally. They have to look at it based on content alone - not the effect of the content or the purpose of the content.

But this doesn't mean that we as a people shouldn't judge the effect of media. Not just movies - books and music and television and theater should all be judged not just for their entertainment value, but for the moral values they promote or encourage, whether because the media itself involves the actions of moral people, or because the media involves immoral actions that in turn promote discussion and debate from those that view/read/listen with that intent.

Now sure, there are plenty of people out there who watch/read/listen just to be entertained, but I'm not one of those people. And I'm certain that there are other people out there like me. So I think it's time the moral implications of media were addressed more openly - particularly in this corner of the world.

Take, for instance, The Social Network vs. The King's Speech. Both movies were hugely popular in the 2010 awards season and deservedly so. They were well filmed and written. The Social Network was relevant and punchy - filled with great acting and a quick, ruthless plot. The King's Speech was more typical of the Oscar winning set - a classic (British) story with big name actors and somewhat controversial content. Social Network was PG-13, King's Speech was R (though they've released a PG-13 version now.)

Many members of the LDS community would refuse to see King's Speech simply because of the rating. They would hear good things about the film, but the language (and the rating) of the film would scare them away. Those same people would probably have no qualms about seeing The Social Network. With it's wonderfully safe (and ambiguous) PG-13 rating, it would be a much more kosher film to see.

But look for a moment at some reasons why the films were given the ratings they were:

As far as I can tell (via. IMBD), the MPAA ranks films based on five different categories. Films are given scores out of ten for each category to help determine the rating. Total ratings of films are not necessarily based on the total "score", however, as there are certain areas of content that will push a film over the edge regardless. Keep in mind that PG-13 and R movies can have all the same things, they just can't have too much in any one category. (So a PG-13 can have more total content in each category combined than an R movie, but not so much in any individual category to push it over the edge.) You can read more about why movies get ratings they do here, though if you look for specific movies, the MPAA will refer you to the parents guide on IMDB.

The following information, then, is taken from imdb.com:

The Social Network
Sex and Nudity (6/10)
There are scenes involving strip poker, women in their underwear, implied sex and brief implications of nudity, there's a scene with oral sex, several scenes involving sexual innuendo and a scene where two women make out.

Violence and Gore (3/10)
One character seeks revenge on another by starting a fire, police draw guns on a large party, riotous party scenes where objects are smashed and thrown, one character destroys the laptop of another character, and a character is seen vomiting.

Profanity (6/10)
Two uses of the "F" word, and many uses of other forms of profanity used throughout the film.

Alcohol/Drugs/Smoking (6/10)
A character sniffs cocaine off of another character's torso, nearly half the movie involves characters drinking, several characters smoke and many characters get arrested for excessive (illegal, if I remember right) drug use.

Fighting/Intense Scenes (3/10)
Two characters fight near the end of the film.

Total Score: 24/50

The King's Speech (R version)

Sex and Nudity (3/10)
Two characters have an affair, but nothing is shown (only discussed). A married couple hugs and kisses (all brief and chaste), but nothing happens.

Violence & Gore (3/10)
A character works to control his temper but struggles, there is a theme of war but nothing is shown, a man mentions abuse from a former nanny.

Profanity (6/10)
Several (approximately 17) uses of the "F" word used all at once (in the context of therapy, and primarily in one scene), several uses of the "S" word (mainly in the same scene), 1 use of the word "b-----d" and 3 of the word "d--n". (Note: in the PG-13 version of the film, the only language that is changed is the "F" word, which is only used once. I have not seen this version of the film, so I don't know which scene it is in.)

Alcohol/Drugs/Smoking (No score)
Some smoking shown, but is openly frowned upon (and discussed) for causing cancer. Alcohol is consumed in some scenes but not to excess.

Frightening/Intense Scenes (No score)
The opening scene of the movie involves the main character giving a public address which highlights his speech impediment and is very embarrassing. The same character addresses his difficult childhood in another scene.

Total Score: 12/50

One movie got half the score of the other. One movie is about the greedy, backbiting, selfish lack of communication in the business world and one is about triumph over personal weakness and the importance and power of good communication. But the MPAA can't show that in one to four characters of rating systems. That's for viewers to determine.

And this viewer is far more offended by movies that encourage people not to think at all (mindless entertainment), movies that glamorize and promote immoral living, and movies that are just bad. I don't think the MPAA is without its place in our society - but I do think that our society would do well to start approaching life with the attitude of "what can I learn from this" instead of "what am I going to have to run away from".

. . . but this post is far too long now - and that's a post for another time.

03 May 2011

The life I imagine, the life I lead

I realized recently that the life I imagined for myself as a child and the life I've led are not the same. I'm sure everyone has this experience, but I had it again this weekend. When I was younger, I imagined that - of course, being the beautiful and amazingly smart and engaging individual that I am - I would have to beat suiters away in droves and that I would have my pick of the best of the best. Instead I've found that my confidence and intelligence are sometimes intimidating and that while I am far from ugly, I'm not showy enough to get that much attention. I've also found that I wouldn't have wanted it anyway, because hoverers make me nervous. I used to think that I would marry while I was in college and live a poor early married life in a run down but pleasantly sunny apartment and that after graduation we would traipse off wherever the wind took us (outside of Utah) and we would be gloriously happy. Instead, I'm living right in the heart of crazy conservative Utah Valley in a new house with two nice (female) roommates.

I've also found (much to the dismay of some people, I'm afraid), that the life I'm living right now is making me gloriously happy. Most of the time.

My wonderful cousin got married last weekend in Southern California and I got the chance to go down with the rest of my family to celebrate the event. I'd be lying if I said I was looking forward to it. Not that I'm not happy for her, but that selfish side of me that gets lonely sometimes saw it as nothing but a chance to be reminded of my perpetual singleness and lack of permission to enter the temple for myself yet. I saw myself sitting outside with people seven plus years younger than me and felt more than a little trapped by circumstance. It put a frustrating sort of magnifying glass up against where I am and created a huge source of inner turmoil in the months and weeks leading up to the weekend.

See, being a single person (particularly a single woman) in the church is a precarious sort of place to be. Finding balance is difficult. For example, I am told (often in the same lesson) to be satisfied with my life and work hard, but to be looking for a husband. I am told to expect to be treated well by the man I will marry, but also reminded that many men in this modern day don't know how to treat women and need a little help. I'm told that I am worth a great deal single or married, but told that the life I am leading now is not the best way to be living compared to taking on housewifely duties and a family of my own. I'm told to be strong and independent and educated, but to make sure that I'm not TOO much of those things or I'll risk being scary to the boys. The clashes of advice are often quite overwhelming and even more exhausting.

You see - I am very happy with the life I lead. I love my job. I love my students and my coworkers and the sheep I drive by every morning. I've enjoyed the friendships I've made in the ward I attend. In many ways, I am perfectly content with my life. I take great satisfaction at providing for myself and love the freedom I have to set my own schedule. If this ended up being my life for the next ten or twenty years, I would be content and know that I'd done some good in the world and lived a good life.

But then I attend weddings like the one last weekend and those feelings of guilt start creeping back in. Wondering if I've grown so attached to the excitement and joy of my job that I'd ever be satisfied doing anything that involved watching small children all day and cleaning bathrooms. Wondering if I should be doing more to find that companion or if I should trust that doing what I'm doing will be enough. Trying to figure out what my role as a single woman in the church is really worth. Battling against pressure and teasing from family and friends. Recognizing that I feel peace in what I do and feel as though I'm where God wants me to be, but knowing that other people may see it as wrong or strange or temporary or of less worth or importance in my eternal progression than other things I could be doing. Recognizing that some people just don't understand, and trying to be ok with that.

I guess I'm not looking for answers or advice or anything at all except a brain dump into the void. And perhaps a greater sense of validation and comfort with liminal space.