11 September 2014

The Flag

Our school had a flag changing ceremony outside today in honor of 9/11.  While I watched, several postcards of images came to mind.


One was me in my Algebra class, hearing rumors.  "A plane hit the World Trade Center."  "The World Trade Center was bombed."  "A plane accidentally hit the World Trade Center!"

The what?  I hadn't ever been to New York.  Hadn't ever paid enough attention to business or architecture to really understand what that meant.  Not wanting to appear ignorant, I talked about it along with everyone else in hushed tones.

After we said The Pledge, our teacher turned on the news.  I think he had it on mute.  I remember watching moments after he turned on the TV as a second plane flew into the second tower.

The rest of the day was a blur of watching the planes hit the towers on a repeated reel over and over and over again.  The school was buzzing with conversation.  Looking back, I remember feeling sick over the whole thing but not really understanding why.  Maybe it was my American confidence stepping in and assuring me that, in the end, none of this would matter because we would "win".  Whatever that meant.


After a few months in England, my friend Liz and I were exploring Paris.  While the rest of her family was at Disneyland Paris, we were determined to continue our cultural exploration no matter our youth or inexperience or the language barrier.  Liz with her virtually nonexistent French and me with my long ago two years of meagerly attempted high school French roamed streets without a map in search of art museums and churches.  We came across the US Embassy.  Perhaps it was the lack of hearing much English that day (which always makes me feel terribly claustrophobic and crippled), but I've never been so happy to see a piece of fabric in my life.


For several years I spent my summer playing make believe.  Dressed in period clothing, I would go sit in the school house of a local museum designed to teach about country life during the late 1800s.  Some were assigned to houses or stores and had people to socialize with.  I was the schoolmarm, left to my own devices until the replacement volunteer came along.  I didn't mind.  Armed with knowledge gleaned from years of obsession over Anne of Green Gables and Little House on the Prairie, I knew my duties.  The schoolhouse was set outside of the main part of town and, as a result, often forgotten by tourists.  As a result, I would regularly be left for hours without any connection to humans, but I would still carefully go about my responsibilities.  I would open each window in the hopes of a nice breeze.  I would sweep the floor and brush away cobwebs.  I would make sure that the slates were neatly stacked and the books organized by grade and the slate pencils put away.  Often I would write my name on the board.  (Often I would write "Ann" just so I could add the "e".)

The task I remember most was that of raising and lowering the flag outside the school at the beginning and end of each shift.  There was something peaceful about this task.

This is what I thought about most this morning.  I watched a group of scouts professionally and carefully raise the flag and felt a bit jealous.  Every year this task is carried out by boys.  My feminist heart protested, and remembered the way I would carry the flag outside each day and raise it alone, taking great care to make sure that it didn't touch the ground.  Later, I would lower it and fold it as well as I could by myself.  It wasn't as professional or formal as the ceremony today, but the reverence of doing this by myself felt important.

12 August 2014

You Are the Pan

One of the most entertaining and awkward experiences of my life is when I've talked with audiences after performances I've given.  I'm always slightly entertained and creeped out by the well meaning and enthusiastic people who have wanted to set me up on dates, for example, and I've had to smile and think "You know that really wasn't me. . .  I mean, it was - but those words and actions weren't mine.  You know that. . . right?"

In some ways it's a compliment to me.  That people who watch me are convinced enough that the person I was portraying had real emotions and motivations.  That's basically the goal of any actor.  But on the other hand, it's a bit awkward and can lead to some confusion when the line between my out of theater reality and in theater performance is misunderstood.


It's a strange thing to mourn the death of a celebrity - especially one that seemed to become everyone's favorite uncle, imaginary father, and most beloved teacher.  Like many others have said about the death of Robin Williams - it's like a part of my childhood, a very happy part of my childhood, was just snuffed out, and no amount of clapping can bring it back.

And what makes it so hard is that this time it was snuffed out by Mr. Williams himself.  It's no wonder people are reacting so passionately.  How could someone known for his humor and incredible way of diving all in to everything he did be so desperately depressed and everyone not know it?  What is wrong with this world?!

Suicide is a topic rather close to my heart.  Not all that long ago, I wrote about how there is always a better answer, a better way.  And I still believe that.  I still believe, and always will, that suicide of a loved one is one of the hardest things a person can live through.  I honestly can't think of anything worse than being close to someone who ends their own life.  The grief is unbelievable.

But after reading Matt Walsh's assessment of the situation, I feel the need to elaborate and add to what I originally said.

Do I believe that suicide is a bad solution?  Yes.

Do I believe that suicide is a selfish solution?  Yes - at least from the perspective of those left behind.

But I will never ever feel anything but incredible sorrow for a person who makes that "selfish" decision.

So if you are close to someone (or feel close to someone) who has chosen to take their life, be angry.  Be as angry and as sad and as hurt as you need to feel because that grief is real and justified.  But please don't dismiss or condemn the pain of the person who actually died.  I know there are people out there who have killed themselves for cowardly reasons or as a cry for attention gone wrong, but I also know that there are people out there who are suffering from depression and pain so keen that it absolutely changes perception of reality, and it is not my job to assess the motivations of others.  My heart just aches for people who reach a point of such despair and anguish that the only option that offers any possibility of relief is to just be done.  The mere thought of what it would be to feel that kind of darkness is suffocatingly sad.

Is their choice still selfish?  Perhaps.  But I pray that these poor souls find relief and freedom that they, I'm sure, spent years fighting to find.  I have no doubt in my mind whatsoever that there is peace available and healing given to those who have suffered so keenly.

And Mr. Williams?

I didn't know you.  But I knew Mork.  And I knew Mr. Keating.  And I knew Peter Banning and Mrs. Doubtfire and a pretty lovable Genie and so many others - and I am so incredibly grateful for the influence they had (and will continue to have) on me.  It may seem trite to feel so tenderly toward this fictional stock of characters, but I am so touched and impressed and moved by your genius.  I didn't know you, but I know your work, and that work is beautiful.  I am so honored to have been one of millions who have been blessed to witness your incredible talent and I pray that you are aware of the great influence you had, and that you are finding the peace you so deserve, because no one, no one asks for depression - perhaps most especially those that love to laugh as much as you did.  And to me - you will always be the Pan.

Edited to add: I've struggled over the use of the word "selfishness" to describe suicide for a while.  I continue to use it because the word denotes caring for yourself above the caring of others, which is true of suicide, but I would suggest that selfishness as an attitude in this case (and in other cases of extreme depression) should perhaps not be given such a perpetually negative connotation.  I'm struggling with this because I don't want to glorify or justify or promote suicide in any way as a good solution, but I'm not sure what other word is appropriate.  What I'd like to do is to help people take their focus (or their dismissal) off of however much selfishness is or isn't in any given case of suicide, and instead help people to acknowledge and pity those who feel such despair, so that we can learn to help them better long before they even reach that place.  I simply don't understand what good comes from blaming and condemning any soul so deep in despair that they can see no light.

06 August 2014

Why I (still) teach.

I always knew I wanted to be a teacher.  Maybe it was my love of school.  Maybe it was my love of performance.  Maybe it was the fact that so many of the people in my family worked in schools, so it just seemed like what adults did.  Whatever the reason, it was always a part of my game plan.  So I paid attention.  I watched what teachers did that I liked and what teachers did that I didn't.  I saved assignments and projects that mattered to me.  I kept in touch with a handful of the best teachers I had in junior high and high school well after I left home.  I wanted to be prepared.

I think every new teacher goes into the job a bit starry eyed.  Some people fixate on their favorite Hollywood version of a teacher or an idealized view of their own past teachers, or, in my case, a combination of the above with the addition of some literary examples I admired.  I knew that I never wanted to be the kind of teacher that was just there for the job.  I didn't want my students to just leave with better factual knowledge of English.  I wanted to make them better.

As I started working with other teachers and prospective teachers, I learned that I was not alone in that desire.  Nearly everyone I talked to spoke with frankness about how they knew that they would deal with large classes, with frustrating hoops to jump through, with long hours and the endless thumping of music from school dances and assemblies; but none of it mattered.  We shared a common dream: we wanted to be the kind of teacher that would change brains but would also change lives.  No one goes into teaching for the money or for the so-called summers off, or for the "easy" hours or "easy" job description.  No.  Teachers enter the field with gusto and with the desire to work.  Some are more or less prepared for exactly how much work it is, but no one goes in with the idea that they're in for something cushy.

I understood in theory (and now understand in practice) that teaching is far from a glamorous profession.  It is a job where the cards are increasingly stacked against you.  From No Child Left Behind to state testing and the implementation of Common Core, to endless meetings and stacks of papers to grade with as much equal attention and fairness as you can possibly muster no matter how many times you have to read about the symbolism of The Great Gatsby; it is a job only for someone who has an absolute love of what they do that overshadows the fact that the government (and many of the people you serve) no longer care about your opinion at all.

The very thing that makes teaching wonderful (that heart) is also a threat.  Teaching is a complete labor of love.  So much of what you do is because you care to.  The job description requires you to be in the building and in your classes for certain hours.  Requires you to get your students through their state testing intelligently.  Requires you to update grades on a regular basis and to take attendance.  Requires your adult body to tell students where they can and can't eat their lunch or when they can be in the halls.  But the art of teaching?  The decorating of your room or the creativity of your assignments or the way you communicate with students and their parents - that is where teaching really becomes something special, and it's also where you get the most grief.  For not communicating the same way as another teacher.  For not giving assignments the same way as their teacher last year.  For any number of things that are more or less legitimate to whine about.

I know many people who have left the job.  Capable, brilliant teachers who have not so much as burned out but stormed out.  The hours are long.  The job too thankless.  The art of teaching and the craft of it is too misunderstood and not so much under appreciated as not acknowledged at all to be worth staying in for many.  After all - everyone went to school, right?  So everyone knows exactly what good teachers do.  No amount of education about education can immunize a teacher from a person who is certain they know better.

In my time as a teacher, I have started to understand why people leave.  I have had parents harass me for every reason under the sun.  I've been praised for the same skills I've been bashed over - in one night of conferences I'll have parents thank me for entering grades regularly and parents state that I don't update grades quickly enough.  I've had parents accuse me of purposefully losing student work, and others praise my organizational skills.  I've had angry emails at all hours of the day and night, parents blaming me for their kid plagiarizing assignments, blaming me for being too hard on their children, for being elitist, for thinking I'm better than everyone else, for being unavailable.  I've had parents coming into my room without appointments to chew me out for extended periods of time (once even in the middle of class) and demonstrated behavior that, if I had worked in a normal office, would have probably led to security removing them from the room until they were ready to resolve conflict appropriately.

And that's just the parents.  I also lived through an abusive boss whose behavior still has me trying to find my feet.  Still trying to get that courage and feeling of safety and not of paranoia.  Nearly two years later and the depression of those months is still finding its way out the door.  And what about the government and politics of teaching?  The government (and parents) expect me to be the right teacher, the perfect teacher, for every kid in my room.  But I am imperfect, and my students are imperfect, and our personalities and habits will not always mesh.  What's a person to do?  Sometimes teaching feels like a no-win situation.  No matter what you do, you will do it wrong for someone.

Sitting in my classroom after a summer of preparation and goals for innovation today, I started thinking.  Why am I still here?  Why, when so many have left and with perfectly good reason, have I kept my job?  I am not without other ambitions or opportunities.  I would love to go back to school myself.  Wouldn't mind a job that leaves work at work.  I am a practical person - I do need the money - but heaven knows that if there is one thing everyone understands about teaching it is how underfunded my job is.  I could make more money elsewhere, probably doing a lot less and with a lot less bother.  So why do I stay?

I started to make a list.

I stay because although I used to work under an abusive boss, that is no longer the case.  I now work with an administrative team who supports me and lets me be myself.

I stay for the kid who came into my class after leaving a school where he was bullied.  For months he could hardly get up the nerve to say anything.  Every assignment was terrifying.  By the time he left me, he was able to give a presentation in class in front of everyone and make it through in one piece.

I stay because of the kid who came into my room as a socially awkward rather gangly teen who was not a natural academic but learned to be a natural workhorse.  I've never seen anyone work so hard for such great reward.

I stay for the kid who came in knowing that my class was too big for him, but also not knowing where else to go.  He stayed, we worked to find ways to make him comfortable, and he thrived.  The gratitude in his face when we found the right solution to a challenge for him was beautiful.

I stay for the kids who cared about me enough to go hunt down an adult in the school to substitute my class so that I can join them on a field trip.

I stay for my fellow teachers.  I am so fortunate to work with the staff I do.  They are vibrant, interesting, engaging, opinionated people who are so willing to work and develop and grow.  I love that when I give tours of the school, I can talk about the unique things that go on in each room.  I love that my school is not an androgynous mush of rooms differentiated only by subject - we have teachers that try to be their best selves.  It's marvelous.

I stay for the parents who kindly let me know what a difference they see in their child.  This is particularly amazing when I don't know the extent of the struggles in a child's life to see how far they've come.

I stay for the emails I get from students who have moved on thanking me for this lesson or that book that has changed them, or made their lives better.

I stay for the students who see me as a retreat from their problems.  Who will come and sit in my office let me know what they are thinking or feeling because they aren't sure how to safely share themselves with others yet.  I honor those connections and pray that the advice I give isn't damaging but uplifting and encouraging.

I stay for the days in class when discussion is awesome.  When people groan after the bell rings.  When people stay behind to chat because they're not done yet.  When students are passionate enough about what we are reading (either because they love it that much or hate it that much) that they can't even express themselves with words any more.  When students email me asking for book recommendations.

I stay because I too love to learn.  Because I love the opportunity I get a thousand times a day to try something new.

I stay for the office supplies.  It's true.  It's petty, but it's true.  I love new pens and post it notes and gradebooks organized into neat little rows like vegetables in a garden.

I stay because I love laughing with my students.  I love when they say or do things that are so interesting and unique and awesome that I can't even contain myself.

I stay because my students challenge me to see life in new ways and from new perspectives.

I stay because, for me, at least, it's the right thing to do.  I will not always be what people want me to be or need me to be.  How I run my classroom, how I grade papers, the papers I assign in the first place, the books I recommend - I will never please everyone.  I will never reach everyone.  There will be days ahead of me where I, again, listen to parents express how furious they are with me for not doing x or y to their satisfaction.  Who will refuse to believe, no matter the evidence, anything other than what they want to believe about me - that I am a truly awful person put on this earth to be the trial that must be overcome.  That I would do what I do for the sole purpose of hating their child and destroying their life.  Parents who will hear their children admit that they did x or didn't do y and look at reasonable evidence of sufficient effort on my part and still blame me for whatever they're upset about rather than try to come up with a good solution.  But I intend to keep working hard and to do the job I believe is right for me to do.

I stay because the world needs great teachers.  And while I will never claim the "great" for myself, I will proudly continue to claim the title of teacher, and continue each year to try and strive toward greatness, no matter the obstacles in my way.

02 July 2014

For Andy

When I was young, one of my favorite shows to watch when we got our free cable promotionals was Road to Avonlea.  It's based on some of the other books written by Anne of Green Gables author Lucy Maud Montgomery and, being the costume drama obsessor that I was (and certified Anne fanatic, even as a wee thing) I loved this show.

(Now, Andy, I know you're probably already cringing because "Anne" is your "Humperdink" but bear with me.)

The episode I remember the most from watching it as a kid was an episode where the parents of the main family leave for a few nights to celebrate their 15th wedding anniversary, trusting that the kids and house will be fine in the care of their oldest daughter Felicity (who isn't quite yet fourteen  Times have changed!)  One thing leads to another and eventually Felicity is in charge not only of her younger siblings Felix and Cecily, but also her cousins Andrew and Sara.  It's a disaster.  Felicity is horribly bossy, strutting around the house with cleaning schedules and keys to the kitchen cabinet and dietary restrictions that are particularly irksome to Sara and Felix, the most headstrong.  Sara fights back.  Felix mostly just laughs (which makes Felicity more angry.)  The whole thing ends with pies in faces, and accidental haircuts, and a visit from a woman they all think is deaf but really isn't - it's a great situational comedy.

The funny thing is - when I was a kid and watched this episode, I didn't quite catch the comedy.  I felt so terrible for Felicity.  Why wouldn't they just listen to her?!  She was clearly in charge and clearly the most responsible and I loved her name and her hair.  And the worst culprit of all was definitely Felix, the obvious villain of the show because he laughed instead of got upset when Felicity was trying to punish him!

It wasn't until a few years later that I saw the episode again and realized that what I was seeing in that episode were projections of myself and my younger brother Andy.  We share a lot in common with those two fictional characters (though he'd never know it because he'll NEVER watch it.)  I was Felicity - the one who never wanted to be a child.  I knew what I wanted: I wanted adults to think I was capable and responsible and smart and had little interest in things I perceived as childish.  Nothing was worse than feeling as though I wasn't being taken seriously.

Andy, on the other hand, seemed to me to be everything I wasn't.  Where I was always too afraid to get in trouble and thus tried to avoid it, Andy pushed limits and laughed when people got upset - laughed so adorably that he'd not get in trouble at all half the time.  He was just too dang charming.  We have this great family video of him in his high chair with the remainder of his dinner, ramen noodles (I think), on his plate.  He's leaning over and holding the plate over the edge of the tray but not quite dropping it.  You can hear mom telling him not to, and you can see a sparkle in his eye and a dimple on his cheek.  He couldn't have been more than two - but he knew.  He knew he wasn't supposed to.  You can also see that he knows he can (and will) get away with it.  You can see it.  And then, giggling, he lets it fall to the floor.

The result of these two stubborn personalities?  Many many years of near constant bickering.  Over anything.  Time on TV or the computer.  Who got last bowls of cereal or bites of cake.  Where we sat in the car.  Time in the bathroom.

Like my relationship with my father and my sister, moving out changed my relationship with Andy.  Or maybe it wasn't really influenced so much by my moving out as by our growing up.  Either way, I remember coming home for Christmas one year and realizing that even though my brother still got away with more than I did because he was still more charming, and even though he was still a bit spazzy and messy, and goofy - he was awesome.  I had fun with him.  We liked enough of the same things that we could do things together and enjoy it.  We actually wanted to spend time together.  It was wonderful.  Suddenly I didn't feel so much like his big sister as his friend.  I stopped caring so much about telling him what to do and started to listen more and just enjoy him as he was.

(You see?  That charming, happy personality of his eventually wore me down too.)

What I didn't ever anticipate was how much I'd grow to admire and look up to him as well.  Andy's life and mine have, in some ways, exchanged places from what people might have expected.  I started by living the life everyone wanted of me and Andy started by testing his limits.  Now he's married, weeks away from becoming a father, and I am living a life that no one really expected and have discovered that I, too, am brave enough to push a little bit on the limits I perceived for myself.  I have a huge amount of respect for the man he has become.  I treasure the opportunities we have to talk and appreciate his unwavering support and encouragement.  We have a bit of an unspoken pact, the two of us: We are going to get along.  Come hell or high water, we will support each other and we will support our younger two siblings, because it is so, so much better when we do.  We are determined that our family will always be one of love and care.

So Andy, on your birthday, I want you to know how very much I love you - and how glad I am that we have both grown out of the extremely childish states of our early years to be the great friends we are now.  You are an incredible example to me of the power that Christ has in our lives and I am so, so excited for the adventures this new year is going to bring for you.



24 June 2014

For Alli

I'm not really good at remembering things relating to the nitty gritty details of my life.

I'm great with useless trivia.  Ask me what floor in Hogwarts Harry's (x) class is in and I'll tell you without the aid of Google, but when it comes to my life I forget lots of things.  I listen to my grandparents recount stories of their childhood and think: "Yup.  I'll never be able to do that."

But I will be able to tell them one story with utter clarity:

I'm eleven.  I'm sitting at the kitchen table on a chair facing the living room and right next to the doors leading to the patio, holding a hand-made card I found at the end of a scavenger hunt mom arranged for us letting us know that the last, surprise baby in our family would give me a long awaited sister.  I burst into tears.  (Jared, across from me, does the same, but for completely different reasons.)  A girl!  My sister!

I have lots of memories leading up to when she was born.  I remember sitting in the basement and voting on what name we would give her (only stipulation: It needs to start with "A", as the pattern of naming Newman children to that point had coincidentally ended on a J-A-J pattern thus far, and that would be cool.)

I remember picking out fabric to make her baby blanket (which I insisted on making) and, consequently, also remember feeling utterly annoyed at every other blanket gift she was given.  She could have all the clothes and toys and diapers she wanted but she had to like my blanket best.  She just did.

I remember driving to the hospital to go get her with my grandparents, both of whom got increasingly frustrated as they tried to navigate down town (which isn't that big but made more complicated by one way streets).  We could see the hospital, we just couldn't GET THERE.  I was in the back clutching her blanket on my lap.

I have memories after she was born too.  Like the timer we had to set at home to take turns holding her because everyone wanted to.  Like one of the first times I was left to babysit her and how much I loved the time I had to just sit and be with her.  Like watching her in her first dance recital.  Like that time mom accidentally shaved a patch in her head (oops.)  Like endless rounds of "In the Mood" and "Shipoopi".  Like Blue's Clues and the curious little "uhhhA?!" and "All gone!"

Things get a little foggy after that - because I moved away.  And a thousand miles is a long distance to travel for a weekend visit.  My long awaited sister and friend was here, and I left her.

I remember the first time I came home, seeing her down at the end of the hall in the airport.  She immediately burst into tears and ran towards me.  We're going to be fine, I thought.

And we were, for a while.  It was easy, at least for me, when Alli was little.  It wasn't until a few years ago when I realized she wasn't so little any more that I felt the pain of lost time.  I missed it, I thought.  She grew up and I missed it. 

The last few years have meant trying harder to get to know the young woman that Alli has become.  We're a little different - she's far more emotionally open than I am.  I have a hard time lying about what I'm thinking, but I bottle it up.  Christmas morning is a series of polite thank you's from me, even if it's a gift I'm particularly excited about.  It means that sometimes people see me as cold or aloof when I'm really not.  Alli leaves no one in doubt of her emotions.  She feels deeply and openly - squealing with delight and crying over the pain of someone else.  She's as soft hearted and kind as they come in how she loves and reaches out to others.   She's more giddy-girly than I ever was.

What's been so rewarding to see as Alli has grown up, though, is utter relief that we may not be quite so different after all - home for Christmas this last year, I saw her roll her eyes at jokes from Dad she didn't like the exact way that I used to.  She loves music and performing.  She has a deeply ingrained desire to do what's right and good.

So, Alli - on your birthday (especially since I can't be there), I want you to know and never forget that it kills me that I'm missing so much time with you.  It's cruel, really - that I waited so long and only got six precious years with you before I left home - years you probably can't even remember.  Cruel that now we're old enough to really enjoy and get to know one another, you still live so far away.  But your being older does come with perks - I'm so glad that we're both getting better at calling and talking and texting each other.  I love that time.  I'm excited that we get so much face to face time this summer.  I'm proud of you and how hard you've worked to overcome the challenges you've faced.  You are a great example to me, Alli - and best of all - you are mine!  Happy Birthday, sweet sister.  I sure love you.

05 June 2014

For Dad

I remember the first time I heard my dad swear when he was angry.  (As opposed to the times when he fake swore, like with the "What did the fish say when it ran into the wall" joke we all thought was so funny.)

I don't remember what he was angry about or who the shouting was directed to (it wasn't at me, I know), but I remember standing at the top of the staircase leading to the basement room my brothers shared at the time and being surprised.  I was old enough to know that my dad got mad, but he never yelled like that, and he never swore like that either.

I don't remember what I did next, exactly.  I know I ended up in my room.  I have vague memories of my brother being there with me - maybe both of them.  Sometimes in this scene, I am crying from shock and fear, other times I am calmly trying to keep my brothers out of the way so that things could calm down.  The one thing I do remember is not very long after the noise of the basement, my father, who has always seemed to be the tallest person in the world (although I know that at 6'1" he is hardly considered overly tall), hunched into my room a broken man.  With tears rolling freely down his face he apologized profusely to me and to my brothers (if they were there) for his anger and for saying what he did.  I think we hugged him.  I remember him leaving the room slowly, still downcast.

I remember feeling an overwhelming surge of love for my father as he left.  It was clearly not his proudest moment, but the speed and honesty of his apology left me without doubt that my dad loved me.  That he was not so proud or grown up that he couldn't apologize to those some would consider beneath him.  I ached that he hurt so much and wished that he could know how much it meant to me that he would be so very open and raw with what he felt.  It wasn't a stiff or brief apology, it was sincere and intensely honest.

I have a very special relationship with my father.  Unlike my mom, with whom I have always gotten along with easily, dad and I had to work to get along.  We share a similar personality gene, he and I - a gene that is often dominated by stubbornness and a strain of perfectionism that means that we expect the best in others and better of ourselves.  It means intense conversation and the tendency to say more than we really need to to make a point.  It also means a rough exterior that is easily misunderstood because on the outside we can appear mean or judgmental or oblivious.  It meant a childhood of regular bickering between the two of us (with poor mom stuck in the middle playing referee.  She hated that.)

But I can tell you - my dad has the softest heart of anyone I know, even if it isn't obvious by casual observation.  I know this because he is quick, so quick, to rectify a wrong when he recognizes it.  Because of the time he took when I was young to take his little girl to the theater, even when she was too little to really appreciate the experience.  Because when they did go to the theater, he dressed up for her.  Because he sat through any number of lengthy recitals and ridiculous children's plays.  Because when I didn't get cast in my first school play, he let me cry on his shoulder and promised me in the way that only my dad could that it would get better.  Because of how intensely and earnestly he loves and honors my mother.  Because he is careful to take time to help me feel special and important and loved.  Because of Starbucks gift cards on my birthday.  Because of trips to the bookstore. Because my dad is the model to me of hope in trying again.  Changing yourself, improving yourself - it's hard.  It's so discouraging.  But my dad has shown me a model of how powerful humility is.  How valuable a virtue it is to cultivate in your life.

So today, daddy, on your birthday - I hope this gives you a tiny bit of a sliver of understanding for the special place you have in my heart.  It's yours forever, and I am so glad that it is.


03 June 2014

The Thing About Modesty

I remember where I was the first time I saw the phrase "Modest is Hottest!"  It was on a hand-made t-shirt a girl at a church camp was wearing.  "Awesome!" I thought.  After growing up in an area where my religious beliefs were by far the minority, it was novel to have someone proclaim what I believed was true too.  Bodies are meant to be appropriately covered!  You tell them, stranger!

When I went to college I worked for the IT Department helping people fix their internet and other computer problems over the phone.  We could work on homework after a while if call volume was low, but for the first half hour we were supposed to review documentation we needed to know and also to familiarize ourself with current campus events by reading the school paper (which was still a paper.  Funny how fast things change.)

My favorite section to read was the Opinion section because there was guaranteed to be some crazy in there at least once a week demanding something totally ridiculous, like the bookstore needing to take down their Halloween decorations because Halloween is evil or that the cheerleaders were crazy immodest and needed to cover up or whatever.

The funny thing is, the longer I read the paper and the longer I attended BYU, the more often I heard comments about the cheerleading uniforms being inappropriate.  It always seemed centered there, and occasionally on the gymnasts.  It was never on the track and field uniforms or the swimming uniforms.  Something kind of tweaked in my head - what is it about modesty that is so completely and thoroughly centered around women alone?  I thought that maybe people just saw cheerleading as superfluous and unnecessary and therefore a waste of "compromising standards".  Fortunately as I talked with the people I was around, most of them agreed that those people who were annoyed with the uniforms were ridiculous and that people need to wear clothing appropriate for the activity they are doing.

The more culturally aware I've become, however, I've started having some serious problems with the way modesty is discussed.  Here are some of the things I have observed that I have issue with:

1. Discussions of modesty are culturally centered around how it makes you more physically beautiful.
(As if the only way to con girls into covering their shoulders and knees is to train them from birth to believe that their shoulders and knees are ugly or evil or bad because they are enticing in the wrong way, so you need to cover them and then you are enticing in the right way, because, by the way, that's the most important thing you can do.)

2. Discussions of modesty are centered almost completely around women and women's clothing choices.
(As if it was impossible for men to be immodest.  And I'm not just talking about wearing your pants around your knees or having long hair.  I'm talking about how tired I am of teaching our girls and boys to focus on the "errors" in fashion choices instead of, you know, actually getting to know the person they are with.)

3. Discussions of modesty often focus on the relationship between clothing trends and the statement that God's standards never change.
(The simple response to this is that garment lengths and styles have changed significantly since the 1850s, so if you believe that God's standards never change, and I do, then you have to believe that modesty isn't a principle that revolves entirely around clothing and that there is a greater truth we are missing out on.)

I would like to submit that that melding the discussion of modesty only to fashion is a red herring to what modesty really is.

Modesty is not a principle that excludes clothing choices, but it is not a principle dominated by them either.  If it was, then the church would be calling for women to wear burqas.  Current discussions (like this one here) or the recent issue with the school editing what girls' pictures looked like for the yearbook can only lead in the "girls must cover everything because their bodies are dangerous" train of thought.  I could go on and on here about how much I hate that girls are led to believe that they control the thoughts of men with their hemline, hate that men are claimed as being incapable of controlling their own thoughts, hate that the intense focus on a woman's clothing choices encourages rape culture; but that discussion has happened elsewhere and better than I can do it here (it's tech week for my show.  My brain.  My brain!)

What I want to say instead is this:

Modesty is a principle of respect for yourself and respect for others.  This can manifest itself in many ways.  It includes dressing appropriately for the activities you are doing.  It involves being kind and encouraging to the self image of others, and to your views of yourself.  It means accepting no for an answer when a person denies you the chance to kiss them, hug them, hold hands with them, touch them in any way that they do not want.  It means speaking honestly about what you see and hear and giving a fair evaluation.

Modesty is historically associated with the principle of moderation.  Unfortunately, it is also historically associated with the clothing of women and very closely linked with the word "shame" in Old English.  So it isn't as though the rhetoric we are using is new - blaming women for the actions of men and focusing on women as objects to be carefully covered until the appropriate time comes to uncover them goes back centuries.  Isn't that sad?  It does make it somewhat easier to sympathize with how hard it is to change the trends of discussion.  But those discussions need to happen, and change needs to come or we are totally selling ourselves short.  So instead of focussing on a negative value, let us instead focus our discussions on the true positive aspects of being modest.  Let's focus on presenting ourselves well in our clothing choices, yes, but also in how we respect and honor others.  Let us remember that the Lord doesn't look on the outward appearance, He looks on the heart - and it is our job to be strong enough and smart enough to see past the exterior foibles of people and to see them.  Really see them.

27 May 2014

The Suicide Survivor's Club

Teaching teenagers is a funny thing.  The longer I teach the more I realize that my perspectives and views when I was a teenager were not the norm.  For example, while many of my friends were in the throes of obsession over Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet, I was in the throes of thinking that it was perhaps the weirdest and dumbest movie I'd ever seen.  (I still think it's moronic to introduce teens to Shakespeare via. the two "greatest lovers" in his canon.  I didn't/don't understand the draw to obsession over two characters who make stupid and reckless and extreme decisions.)

Now I think that obsession over dramatic death may be something of a hormone related rite of passage for many of my older teens.  Every generation seems to have its romantic death story.  They're all pushed through Romeo and Juliet, and they couple it with cancer stories galore (my generation had A Walk to Remember.  Now we have The Fault in Our Stars.)

I don't fault them for this fascination with death.  Most of them have experienced it at some level by the time they are in junior high and high school, but may not have been old enough to be included in many adult conversations about what happened, why, how. . .etc.  There is an allure of mystery about the entire process for many of them, and that mystery often has its blanks filled in with fiction.  I'm not entirely opposed to this either.  Our imagination is a powerful tool to help us understand what we have not personally seen or experienced.

What concerns me is, like all great romances that end with the engagement, most of these stories of death end with the death.  From a writing standpoint, it makes sense.  Writing about grief is tedious and reading about it perhaps worse, because, from a plot standpoint, it's a disaster.  It's not linear, grief.  It's all over the place.  It's the Picasso of emotion.  And because of this omission, the romance of death remains in most of these stories.  The stories, perhaps rightly, focus on the tragedy of an early death and use the remaining space to pay tribute to a life so short lived.

I bring this up because of a Facebook thread a teacher friend of mine commented on that got posted on my feed as a result a few times over the weekend.  The thread was started by a student asking how anyone can tell another person that they can handle every trial they are given when things such as suicide exist.  The comments in response to the post, on the whole, made me feel rather sick.  They ranged from quick responses of trivial to more heartfelt encouragement, but included several responses from fellow teens agreeing that suicide was "not an easy out" and, in fact, a complicated and - although not overtly said, certainly implied - a brave thing to do.

So as a card carrying member of the Suicide Survivor's Club, I have a few words of my own on the subject:

First - I don't know and will never judge the mental state that someone is in when they turn to suicide as an answer.  In the months and years after my uncle killed himself, I sat through dozens of lessons in school and church and heard conversations from friends where jokes were made about killing yourself, or comments made about how people who kill themselves will go to hell - dozens of things that just hurt.  My uncle was not a perfect person.  He made a lot of bad choices, and the older I get the more aware of them I am.  But he was my uncle.  He was my father's brother.  And he loved me.  And he was sick.  Mentally he was really, really sick.  It isn't my job to judge what made him do what he did as right or wrong.  It's my job to love him.

Furthermore, I have never been in a position where I felt that suicide was an answer to my problems.  I struggle with depression - there have been many times where I felt like it was better for everyone if I disappeared for a while - but seeing the impact of my uncle's death on my family has ruled out suicide for me forever.  So while I can't speak from personal experience on the side of wanting to kill myself, I can speak from three times over experience in people I know killing themselves, and in feeling and watching that grief that suicide is literally the worst.  It is not romantic.  It is not beautiful.  It is not the "only way out of this hell hole" as one commenter put it.  There are thousands of other and better ways out of hell than with a gun.

I can't speak for the so-called bravery or courage of ending your own life, but I can tell you that there is no romance when it is over.  You may cease existing but the rest of the world continues because that's the job of the world, and what is left is an incredible, immense, indescribable pain that never, ever leaves.  It's earth shattering, that grief.  It wrecks an entire body, and yanks the fabric of friendships and families hard.  What's left behind is a different world and that world requires a very patient form of detoxing that is different than other sudden forms of death.  Horrible accidents, for example - are horrible, but they are accidents.  With suicide you have an endless string of guilt and blame over what you could have or should have or might have done differently.  Wondering if it would have made any difference.

I don't want to start some kind of pain or "my grief is stronger than your grief" war over this.  Grief is grief and pain is pain and no matter the source, those emotions deserve to be treated with care and understanding and kindness.  Grief and pain, whatever they are, are not a competition.  We all have moments, or weeks, or months, or years, where we feel alone or misunderstood or abandoned - and those times suck.

What I can tell you is that suicide, however justified or helpful or perhaps even needed for the individual involved is still a very selfish thing to do.  That there is always always a better option than ending your life.

What I can tell you is that being a member of the Suicide Survivor's Club is not something I would wish on anyone.  It's a horrible club.  It's a club you are forced into before you've even really understood what it means.  No membership dues to ignore that will get you kicked out.  No playful initiation.  It's all out hazing - not by fellow members, but by your own guilt, and by those who tell you that you could have changed your membership by doing X or Y. (X and Y are both lies, by the way.  No matter what anyone tells you - X or Y would not have changed anything.)  It's not a club you're ever happy to be a part of, but it is a club that, after a while, you can learn to wear as a badge because speaking out is better than staying silent.  My way of speaking out is to hopefully call maybe a bit of attention back to the fact that approximately two million teens will attempt suicide each year in the US alone.  According to the last census, if that information is correct, then it means approximately one in every ten teenagers attempt suicide yearly - and many of those can be prevented with more open, more frank, and more honest discussion, and more earnest attention to understanding each other.

07 April 2014

Alone in the Abbey

I'm picking up on some writing again - building my portfolio back up in preparation for the possibility of a Masters in Creative Non-Fiction.  This is the beginnings of a piece that, so far at least, I feel has the most potential - still rough potential, but potential nonetheless. 

You don’t even notice she’s there if you aren’t looking.  Walking through the gallery, I only slowed because I recognized the painted spires as Westminster.  Then I stopped, out of duty to my love of all things England.  I admired the height of the spires, the detail in the saints.  I remembered how crowded it felt there - surrounded by the living and the dead.  Rubbing shoulders with the literal and the spiritual.  Accidentally rubbing lips to the stamen of a lily I'd bent over to smell, the powder of which stuck to my lipgloss and turned my lips an alarming shade of golden yellow for an undefined period of time that still makes me cringe to think about.  (How many people saw?!)

"In the Choir of Westminster Abbey" by Max Emanuel Ainmiller,
Neue Pinakothek, Munich
In the middle of my memory bursts this image of the woman.  There in the bottom corner of the painting, alone, sits a veiled woman dressed in black.  Her face is uncovered but she is so small that her face is indistinguishable as she sits near one tomb and stares at what the plaque seems to indicate as the tomb of Edward III.  She is not close to him.  Her grief is polite and distant, but more clearly directed toward the fallen king than to the occupant of the tomb she is closest too.  The light in the painting is all around her but shadowed nearest her - illuminating the feet of the tomb and most prominently the stone carvings of the saints to her right, but not her.  It’s as though Ainmiller intended to hide her from the common viewer of the painting - out of respect, perhaps.  To allow her the privacy to mourn.  Or maybe he is proving a point - how easily forgotten and pushed aside are those who truly and quietly feel.  

At first I envy her the luxury of mourning alone.  The thought of walking through and being in Westminster alone must, even then, have been a supreme privilege.  What must it have sounded like?  Did she hold back tears for the simple dread of having them echo back to her at horrendously magnified volumes?  Did she sit in as much silence as possible, avoiding even the rustle of a dress?  Or was the sound of resonating sobs comforting - as though highlighting the strength of grief that had to be politely restrained elsewhere somehow justified and relieved the pain?

Or perhaps, as I once did in finding myself alone in Milton Abbey, she sang.  I was on Study Abroad in England - a unique trip where we hiked from one place to another.  One day - a particularly long day - ended at a small Abbey.  The Abbey is on the property of a school, now - a boarding/day school that is in the middle of nowhere.  Our group toured the Abbey alone.  John, our director, told us to take as long as we wanted in the Abbey.  I pulled out my journal and wrote, and wrote - I realized that people were leaving but didn’t feel so inclined yet.  I wanted to be the last one there.  So I stayed.  And then, long after I knew I should have left and joined the others, found myself blessedly and spookily alone in the chapel.  Not a worker, tour guide or student in sight - just me.  I waited in absolute silence for a bit, then, knowing I may not ever get the chance again - sang.  I picked two songs - “For the Beauty of the Earth” and “Lead Kindly Light” - hymns seemed appropriate for such a setting.  It felt wonderful and sinful all at once, hearing my voice echo hesitantly through the chapel.  I wanted to hear what it sounded like and was scared to all at once - what if someone heard in an office connected somewhere and came looking to see who had intruded?  I knew I should have joined the others - knew that there was a possibility of causing stress from my selfishness, but for a moment it was me and the gods. 

I don’t think she sang, though.  She is clearly grieving.  Perhaps not even finding herself worthy to approach the tomb of what I’m guessing is her son. Instead she sits surrounded, stared at by stone and wood and glass representations of saints who, unlike her human counterparts, are not capable of turning away and allowing her some privacy.  It’s eerie.  It’s both sacred and scary, this painting, this moment in time.  This glimpse into the life of someone clearly prominent in their day if allowed to gain such personal and private access to Westminster - and yet still painted as so very, very small.  So insignificant and significant all at once.  Perhaps this is a bit of what Moses felt when he realized that man is both everything because he is God’s and nothing because of essentially the same reason.  Privileged in solitude, minuscule in it. Swallowed in stone and saints - magnified with the invisible, unpainted breath of the living.

02 April 2014

Single and Settled

In my corner of the religious world, being married is quite often seen as the design and existence for the first part of your life.  From a very young age (at least as a girl), you are asked to start considering what you're seeking for in a spouse.  You make lists of things that you want.  If you're like me you had your "responsible" section of the list and the secret unwritten dream list.  The responsible list has things like good education and goes to church and not destitute.  The secret unwritten dream list included things like taller than me and lean and brunette and likes to read and travel and knows how to dance and maybe looks a bit like Gilbert Blythe.

Growing up, I was pretty sure I had my life figured out.  Always a practical planning individual, I knew that I wanted to graduate from college, go to approximately 3 years of college, get married in my senior year, teach for about 3 years, and then have babies.  I knew that I wasn't the world's most attractive girl, but I'm not hideous or stupid or weird (ha!) so I figured that the dating slump I was in from high school could be blamed on the small population of eligible religious counterparts and that going to BYU would fix all my dating woes and find me "eternally tied".  After all, I was the good girl.  The one who went to early morning church classes before high school every day.  The one who actually participated in class.  The one who had direction and faith and never really experienced teenaged rebellion.  It was just karmic justice, right?  The perfect guy would fall into my lap like an angel from heaven sent to rescue me from the hell of single life.

Only it didn't happen (obviously).  And the funny thing was, the older I got, the more I looked around and saw so many people (both men and women) who are perfectly attractive and righteous sorts of people who were still single and I realized: wait a second.  Beauty and brains and obedience are no guarantee of wedded bliss.

And then I realized something else: people don't know what to do with me in the church.  Do they accept my singleness, or does that suggest they think I'm hopeless?  Do they ask me about my dating life or not?  It's easy to start feeling like a bit of a cultural leper.

Outside of Mormon culture, the average age of marriage is 27.  I turn 27 next month, which means that by all national trends, I've still got a hope of being within the range of average for about two more years.  My non-Mormon friends don't understand what all the fuss is about.  But inside the church, adults and married couples my age aren't sure what to say to me.  So here are some of my thoughts on the inherent challenges of being an older single Mormon and some suggestions:

The biggest challenge I feel is the expectation of being consistently unsettled.  I am counseled to continue in my education, to develop my talents, to serve in my church, to get to know people, and, essentially, to do everything that every human should be doing in or out of a marriage (minus things related to sex.)  But I'm also told that I have to be ready to drop everything for that perfect guy.  Love your job - but not too much!  What if you love it so much you aren't willing to leave it for marriage?!  Love your hobbies - but not too much!  If you love them too much you won't have time for dating!  Get to know people - but get to know the right people!  Get to know single people or people who set you up!  It's hard not to feel like the "object and design" of your single existence must, like the earth around the sun, constantly rotate around a singular purpose, and if your eye isn't constantly fixed on that purpose, then you are clearly losing your focus.  So that in mind -

1. Recognize that for an older single - particularly those out of educational settings - dating is an entirely different ballgame.  Dating in college is a bit easier.  Life is still a bit flexible.  Dating outside of college means that both parties will have to, of necessity, be a little more creative in how they connect.  This doesn't have to be a bad thing - in many ways it is a realistic set up for marriage as you have a couple having to decide where their priorities are.  It can work.  But if you married young, you probably just don't get it.  It's not as easy as it sounds to find someone after you graduate - and you can't stay in school forever.

2. Recognize and honor the ways that singles can contribute uniquely to communities, workplaces, and the church.

3. Recognize that it's not a crime or a sin to take advantage of the perks of being single.  At least for Mormons who believe that marriage is forever, being single is a very brief period of time in the grand scheme of things.  There are some advantages to this that, frankly, you're kind of ungrateful not to take advantage of.  If I had married at 21 like I'd planned, I would have gained a loving (I hope!) spouse, the responsibilities of a home, and eventually the responsibilities of children.  From what I hear, those are pretty amazing things.  I want them.  But since I don't have them, I get the opportunity to travel without my budget impacting the chance for my kids to participate in sports.  I get to teach.  I make decisions and don't have to stress too much about how those decisions will impact others.  I get to read uninterrupted.  I get to pee and shower without anyone interrupting me whenever they want.  Heck, I get a lot of time alone -something a quick trip to Facebook confirms to me - is a great luxury later.  While I've got it - I'm going to enjoy it, and I'm going to proclaim that this isn't selfish.  This is gratitude.  It's just the way single life works.  It is acknowledging the good that I have in my life instead of mourning what I don't have (and don't have lots of control over.)

4. Please don't set up single people with other single people just because they're both single.  Those dates are always the worst disasters.

5. Please don't be afraid to ask if you can set someone up, especially when you know them well.  At least for me, I'm not bugged.  I never turn down the opportunity to meet someone new.  It may not go great, but, to quote Carrie Underwood "It's not like I'm not trying, 'cause I'll give anyone a shot once."

6. Share your life with us.  I'm old enough and mature enough not to freak out when you get married or pregnant or whatever.  Really.  There was a time when I was younger (about 21-22) when every marriage/pregnancy from a friend or former roommate felt like a slap in the face but I'm totally over that.  I'm actually super happy for you because, from what I understand, marriage and babies are awesome and everyone should totally do them! (Have them?)  In return, ask me about my life.  Not just my dating life.  Ask me about my job.  Ask me about what I do for fun.  Ask me about books or movies or other things.  As an added bonus, this will make it easier for you to help out with #5 should you have the desire to help me find that perfect-for-me-man-specimen.

7. Don't be afraid to invite us places.  I recognize that sometimes there are couples events and date nights and you need those.  I support those.  Heck, I'll babysit for you if you want.  No big deal.  But every so often, being invited to hang out with people my age is awesome.  I don't care if you're married or not.  We can still hang.  You'll talk about potty training and I'll talk about smelly junior high classrooms.  It'll be a party.

8. Don't be afraid if we're happy where we are.  You know those newly engaged couples who see nothing but sunshine and hearts and sugar and want nothing more in the world than to spread that love to the rest of the population?  They're cute and a little annoying but they mean well, right?  I love when people are happy in their relationships.  I've seen enough stress in marriages of my friends and family by now to know that marriage is hard, so it's great to see when couples work and are happy.  It gives me hope.  It gives me something to work for and want - which is great, 'cause sometimes (lots of times) dating is discouraging (you're rejected more than you're not, after all.)  But in that same token, don't assume that because I don't have your brand of happiness that I am wrong to enjoy mine.  It's important for me to be happy with my life where it is.  I can be happy with new states of life too.  This is part of everyone's life, really.  What if you knew, for example, that at some point in your future you were going to be transferred across the country to a new job and a new neighborhood but didn't know when?  Wouldn't it be really sad if you missed out on the chance to enjoy your current job and current neighborhood just because you were going to move sometime?  What a wasted opportunity.

9. Trust us to do what is best for us.  Those of us religious single adults have learned to rely pretty heavily on faith and trust in the timing of the Lord.  We cultivate close relationships with Him and work to do His will.  Please trust our ability to receive revelation for what is best for us and understand that we may not want to justify why we do what we do, why we live where we live, how we spend our time, etc. to you - because that's really between us and God.  Please don't treat us like we still need to be babied through responsibility and the gospel.

10. Don't be afraid if we've accepted the possibility that marriage may never happen.  For most people this isn't resignation, it's determination.  It's the acceptance of God's hand in all things and acknowledging that if marriage and family aren't in the cards, then we still have to be OK.  We have to be MORE than OK.  We can't crumble into a pit of despair.  We can't live in lukewarm - we have to do something awesome with our lives!

Ultimately what most older single adults I know want, including myself, is to be treated like adults.  Like professionals.  Like competent religious participants in congregations.  We don't want to be defined solely by things that are largely out of control.  We want to be included, respected, and loved.  We want to be content with life - just like everyone else.

17 March 2014

Others! Others!

Disclaimer: I am a Mormon.  This is a post about current Mormon cultural issues and so may or may not make sense to those of you outside that circle.  I have other less culture specific posts in the works, never you fear.

I love Lost

I love the mess of characters.  I love the symbolism and the drama.  I love the way I never knew what was going to come next.  When someone like me who is notoriously good at predicting stories (almost to the point of annoyance) finds something that takes me by surprise, I'm always tickled.  I love how much I loved the characters - all of them (except maybe Michael, that dork).  I love how all the mysteries and mythology of the island really didn't matter in the end because the people mattered more.

On the off chance that you haven't seen the show, one of the primary story lines in the early part of the series revolves around the "Others".  After our initial group of castaways lands on the island when their plane mysteriously splits in two, they set up camp and try to do what they can to survive while they wait for rescue.  As they explore their new surroundings, they learn of a group on the island known as the "Others" who are highly dangerous.

As the two groups converge, our initial information about this group of "Others" seems to be pretty accurate.  They kidnap a pregnant girl and a child, for example.  Not exactly a happy "welcome to the island" pot luck.  Clearly, the "Others" are the bad guys in the story.

But then the show gradually lets you in on the real story of who these "Others" are - primarily a group of families and scientists who have been living on the island for quite some time.  They have book clubs.  They have a school.  They may have some rather icky issues with their current leadership, but on the whole, you find that the plane-crash group and the "Other" group have quite a bit in common.  They have similar fears (black smoke monster).  They eat the same food (thank you, Darma Initiative.)  They have similar goals (to protect themselves, to protect the island, to get off the island.)  As the story progresses, the lines between who is part of which group blur: if they're going to make any progress in either safety or escape - they have to work together.

It's no accident that this group is initially called "Others".  The world of Lost was designed to represent a kind of American mythology - and we Americans are no stranger to fear of Other-ness.  We start with the Native Americans, we move on to slavery and various groups of immigrants.  We go to the Japanese, back to the black population, move towards Islam. . . it's easy to put up a wall between our experience and the experience of them.

I bring this up because of the increasing dialogue in my corner of the world, particularly on issues relating to gay rights and the rights of women.  Today, for example, the LDS Church released a statement stating that they would again deny women entrance to an all male meeting that will be held in a few weeks.  Although I do have some concerns and questions about the role that women play in the LDS Church, I don't agree with the movement discussed in this article.  But whether or not I agree with it does little to excuse the vicious commenting that often happens on articles like these.  Take for instance, the following comment from "Fitness Freak" on the above linked article (all errors sic.):

Religion doesn't work the same as politics. Not everybody gets a say. In the case of the L.D.S. church, just ONE person does that. Its' NOT a democracy! (which is a GOOD thing, BTW) Maybe the women who (apparentally)don't like those rules should form their own church. Thats' whats great about our country - ANYONE can form their own church. Frankly, I have to wonder if they just do it for attention?? 

Or this one from Kelly WSmith: 

I think it is interesting that they don't want to be limited to the Free Speech zones, where the "apostates" protest against the church, as they claim, "We are members, not apostates". 

Hello? You are speaking against the church, that qualifies you as an apostate. These people need to wake up as to what they are really doing here.

This really isn't the time or place for me to go into all the nitty gritty details of what I think about the Ordain Women movement (which I do have some concerns about).  What I really want to say here is this: 

Like the two groups on Lost, it is easy - so easy - to set up walls between us and them.  Those reprobates.  Those Democrats!.  (Those Republicans!)  Those apostates who aren't happy with _____.  Those rebels who support _________.  How dare they!  They should just leave.  They are not one of us.  Disagreement is apostasy!

But when we step back from what we don't agree with, what we don't understand, what we don't personally struggle with, we recognize that aside from some differences in experience, those others are more like us than we think.  They are parts of families.  They are homemakers, businessmen, educators, artists, craftsmen.  They are sinners trying to do a little better every day.  They are students in the great school of life, just like everyone else around them.  Perhaps they struggle in areas that you do not, perhaps they question where you don't - but that does not make them wrong or sinful.  Just different.  Their path is different.  That's not wrong.  That's everywhere.

We have got to stop dismissing what we don't personally feel or see or want as evil.  I believe very strongly in the power of personal revelation.  I believe that it is totally possible for God to tell one person to vote Democrat and another Republican.  I believe that it is totally possible for God to tell one family not to watch a movie and another family to watch that same movie.  I believe that it is just as possible that God has led these women for one reason or another to protest or agitate or whatever other word you want to use to describe what they are doing on April 5th.  These women are not the Other.  They are ours.  They are our neighbors and our friends, our grandmothers, our daughters, our nieces, our aunts.  They are our husbands and fathers and sons too, by the way.  And they don't just come in the form of the group gathering on the 5th.  They come in the form of anyone who has doubts or fears or questions about their faith and are unsure of where to even begin to get the help they need (probably because the normal channels have, for whatever reason, been less than helpful for them.)  It is not our calling to judge others, but to love them.  It is unkind to dismiss trials and doubts with flippancy.  ("Well, I've never felt that way" or "I don't need more responsibility!" or "Why don't we get cushioned seats, then?!")

If Zion is ever to become one heart and one mind, I'm telling you right now that it will not look like a group of people who all receive the exact same answers all the time.  It will not be a group of people with identical paths and identical worries and identical questions.  It gives me physical pain to see so many comments on so many discussion boards demanding that these women leave the church if they hate it so much.  Declaring that clearly their revelation has been false.  How dared anyone make that judgment on another?  Note that even Satan was not cast out of heaven for presenting his plan.  It was only when he rebelled against the plan that God had accepted that he was asked to leave.   Maybe some of those supporting gay rights issues and women's rights issues are in an outward rebellion against the church.  But for those that aren't , for those who will ask for entry to a meeting and then calmly leave when they are denied entry - who are we to tell them that they are not allowed to play in the sandbox?  Is it not true that Christ suffered for their pain and therefore legitimized it, even if you don't personally understand or experience it?

God does not banish the Other, because there are no Others in the Kingdom of God.  And when God has a child that struggles, He says, as he does to all of us, "Come, learn of me" because he is the master teacher.  And maybe, just maybe, we all have some learning to do.

30 January 2014

If You Take a Joni to A Bookstore: A Guide/Warning

If you take a Joni to a bookstore. . .

She'll probably go straight for the table with the pretty books.
She'll buy herself one.
You'll remark that she already owns five copies.
She'll gasp, and go find another copy of the same book (this one is probably also pretty and has a ribbon in it), because five copies is not enough.
You'll suggest finding a new book.
She'll go over to the bestsellers.
Bumping into Stephanie Meyer, Nicholas Sparks, and anything with Fifty Shades in the title, she'll bemoan the ease with which trash gets published and the falling state of the American intellect.
You'll steer her (probably by the shoulders) to the fiction section. . .
. . . where she'll notice that a book is out of place.
She'll pick up the book and go put it back where it belongs, where she'll notice another book that's out of place that she'll pick up to put it back where it belongs.
This cycle will continue for about twenty minutes, until she notices that there are books that are faced out (covers out so people can see them) that she doesn't like.
She will then switch around the books she doesn't like for the books she does like.
You will remind her that she doesn't get paid for this.
She will remind you that it was your suggestion to go to the bookstore.
You'll suggest that now would be a good time to actually find a book.
She'll start judging books by their cover and wind up with about twenty that she will ask you to carry around.  Because she's read lots of classics and has a thing for hardbacks, this will be very heavy.
You will suggest e-books.
She will contemplate the benefits of hitting you.
Eventually, after much deliberation, she will determine to buy three books, and to write down the titles of the rest.
You will drive home to the sound of her turning pages and laughing and debating out loud which book to read first.
When you get home she will go inside and put her pretty new books on a special shelf on her bookshelf (that she probably doesn't share with you).  The shelf is for books she intends to read.  It doesn't have room for more.
So you will have to go to the furniture store to buy another bookshelf because fewer books is not the solution to this problem.
And while you put this bookshelf together, she will read.