“Sometimes things just gotta play hard.”

Image may contain: 1 person, meme and beard, text that says 'HAVE YOU EVER NOTICED THE POLICE LEAVE YOU ALONE IF YOU AREN'T DOING ANYTHING ILLEGAL'

The above is a meme circulating among my facebook friends, and it warrants a larger response. Responding individually to these posts has proven fruitless.  This meme is super interesting, because the creator chose a roughneck (or dare I say redneck) -looking fella to get the point across.  This southern-looking dude likely didn’t say this, so they could have chosen ANY person to be the face of the meme, instead of a stereotypical-looking racist.  It would arguably be orders of magnitude more effective if any other character was chosen, instead of this dude.  Anyway…

Let’s assume for a second that this meme isn’t completely rooted in racist intent. It is easily disproven, with a quick google search for those willing to spend 10 seconds researching something before posting.  So, the meme really only represents those who haven’t yet, or are unwilling to seek an alternative story.

Here’s one example.

Willie Green.  Here is part of his story.  I met Willie once.   He was manning the front desk of a company office I was touring in CA sometime in 2008.  Willie was released March 2008, after being incarcerated 24 years for a murder crime he didn’t commit. Our company, which focuses on supporting those who want to break free from a previous life into a new one, hired him right away.  In that sense, Willie was a coworker of mine. However unknown, up to this point.  He was assigned to check people in at our front desk, who were interested in changing their lives for the better. Convicts.  Probationers, Parolees, Drug addicts.  Felons.  Fathers.   Mothers.  Some innocents.  A 57 year old Willie, recently released from spending more than 2 decades of his life in prison, was there to greet them.

He was a kind gentleman, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that his smile was ear to ear, and infectious. He was unassuming and friendly. Competent and meek. He looked free, to me.  Like whatever held me down and occupied all of my energy didn’t affect him.  24 years in self-reflection will probably do that to a person.  I only spent a week with him, but our meeting was memorable to me.  He was quiet, but the most confident person in the room.

Willie was convicted of a murder he didn’t commit. He spent 24 years in a rough CA prison, and after 24 years, he was released, and the judge said that a jury would have exonerated him had they had the full story.

The lone witness came forward 20 years later and said they were high on crack at the time of “witnessing” and that the detectives “helped him identify Green.”  So, Wille got screwed by “the system.”  I don’t know the motives of these detectives. Perhaps it was a desire for a higher clearance rate (cue The Wire). Maybe it was political pressure. Maybe it was just easier to lie and manipulate than work through the case.  Maybe just an honest mistake.  Who really knows? There is a beautiful scene in The Wire (spoiler alert), where detectives are trying to coerce an injured detective to identify her shooter in a police shooting and murder case. No prints and no murder weapons. Just a witness needed, and detective Greggs was at the scene. But, she was unwilling to falsify her testimony, and said, “Sometimes things just gotta play hard,” which is essentially saying that it’s better to let a guilty man go free, than lie about what you witnessed.  Or, step up your investigatory work if you want to convict this guy.

I may never stop plugging “The Wire” so best get on with it.

 

So, Willie doesn’t get any riots.  No signs or protests.  He did 24 years and then said this,

I never asked for mercy.  I only asked for justice. . . . They can’t hurt me no more. I’m free.

Willie represents only 1 case where an innocent man was told he was guilty.

It wouldn’t take long to seek out videos from the “other side” of the conversation, if only to become more educated about the discussion.  It’s extremely false to assume that all police will leave all people alone if we just all followed the law.  This isn’t a dig against law enforcement.  It’s just a reality, right now.  There’s too much evidence out there to the contrary.  I’m not suggesting I know any data or percentages here, but the percentage is certainly greater than 0%, which is the assumption behind this meme.  Innocent people are sometimes negatively affected by our criminal justice system.  Guilty people are too.  Forgery does not warrant a death sentence.

The cure to our ignorance is education.    There is a ton of information out there.  If we are going to have an opinion, I think we have a duty to make it an informed one.

The Wire: Why it Matters

10 Years Later, The Wire Remains This Generation's Great American ...

I’ve discovered that one of my life purposes is to attempt to convince people to watch the tv show, The Wire (streaming on HBO, currently).  It’s arguably the most important TV show ever made, because it’s our best chance, I think, to experience a culture that eludes most of us.  YouTube recommended a video to me tonight (thank you, O’ wise algorithm), and it’s the best case for watching The Wire that I’ve heard/read.  There are some spoilers in the 16 minute long video, so I pulled out a bit of the author’s summary of each of the 5 seasons to hopefully intrigue you enough to tackle this project.  It’s heart-breaking and gut-wrenching.  It’s violent, and nude at times.  Profanity is more the rule than the exception, but that helps allow you to leave the comfort of your own home and become immersed into the show. It’s raw, but it’s real life.  I am a better person for having seen this, and I think you will be too.

The Wire is very relevant to both sides of the national conversation occurring right now.  If I were an authoritarian dictator, I would pause the world and have everyone binge-watch The Wire over an extended weekend.  At a minimum, society’s comments on the subject would be slightly less ignorant moving forward.

Summary from author of the YouTube video below:

Each season of The Wire doesn’t just continue the story, but adds a new layer of context to the show’s examination of Baltimore’s institutions and characters.

Season 1 sets up a problem; the ineffectiveness of the war on drugs, and seasons 2-5 show why the problem isn’t being solved by economics, politics, education, and the media, and how each of these things contribute to keeping the systems in a cycle of failure.

Season 2 marks the shows first expansion, adding one of those additional layers of Baltimore to the scope of the show…[and] the first step in illustrating part of why people move into the illicit drug trade in the first place.  It illustrates how the failing economy incentivizes people to find alternative sources of income, and importantly, it shows that the institution and systemic failure isn’t just a race issue; it’s also a class issue.

Season 3 sees the introduction of politics.  We’ve seen how economic dysfunction creates and propagates crime institutions in season 2.  Now we’ll see why these aren’t easily solved political issues, and how the attempts to solve these problems can often backfire, creating new unintended consequences.  The opening scene of the season acts as an image of the government, caught in a cycle of creating solutions to problems it has helped create, and then tearing down those solutions as a solution to the unintended issues created by their original solution.  We also see the citizens cheering for the destruction of the old solution, and everyone being caught off guard by the side effects of the new solution.

Season 4, in my opinion, is one of the most important seasons of The Wire.  Seasons 1-3 examine the institutions on or above the street level that hold crime in place while season 4 examines an institution below the street level, so to speak.  The season opener subtly begins to probe the theme of education.  It’s not that they’re [speaking of the inner-city black kids in schools] unable or unwilling to learn.  In fact, they’re quite sharp and adaptive.  It’s that what they are learning in school has little relevance to the reality they live on the streets.  Without season 4, we never see how the characters shown in seasons 1-3 ended up where they are.  We might be left to assume that those characters are in the position they’re in just because of they’re own choices or fate.  Season 4, however, presents a more difficult and complex answer.  It’s not so simple as one individual’s choice to enter a life of crime or become a corrupt police officer.  Every influence around you acts as magnet, drawing you towards certain outcomes.  But it’s also not as simple as mere fate, and those magnetic influences come from institutions, which are made up of the sum of all the choices of all the individuals within that institution.  The way season 4 relates the school system and the police department, strengthens the argument that it’s not just the Baltimore police department or mayor’s office that has a problem.  It’s the way institutions themselves are run and structured that can create negative incentives.

The first episode of Season 5 tips us off to the broader theme of the season, deception, and how it’s used within institutions, and buy those individuals to gain institutions.  [Season 5 gets a bad rap as the worst season]  That said, season 5 is still a critical part of the narrative that The Wire is constructing.  It shows why media, when it looks at everything the previous seasons examined, also fails to create meaningful change.

The show illustrates how incredibly complex the problems it talks about are, and how difficult finding a solution for those problems is.  Every season of The Wire strengthens its argument and adds details and context to that argument.  The seasons aren’t just arbitrary chunks of the story to divide production time and distribution.  They’re parts in the book working together to do something no TV show had done before.

Good Friday

Jesus Cross Good Friday Background - Download Free Vectors ...

I’ve been reading up on Good Friday, lately. It’s part of my desire to connect more purposefully to the different faith traditions around the world that I am largely ignorant of.

I was raised Mormon (L-dS, Latter-day Saints, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and a number of other names it’s known by). “Holy Week” as it’s known by most of the Christian world, wasn’t ever an emphasis in the Latter-Day Saint (Mormon) tradition, but Easter Sunday was. So we celebrated Easter Sunday, but the rest of the week went largely ignored.

There is a TON of fantastic symbolism to be found in Passover, and Holy Week. I feel like a little kid learning about all this new stuff that previously eluded me. I got a bit of it from the Lutherans, when I lived in Finland as a naive young adult, but I’m largely ignorant of it. Wikipedia seemed like an okay place to start, but I need more.

One of the things I found was that most of the Christian community fasts on Good Friday. From the Wikipedia article,

“Members of many Christian denominations, including the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican, Methodist, Oriental Orthodox and Reformed traditions, observe Good Friday with fasting and church services.”

A good deal of my Facebook friend list includes Mormons, and I have noticed this week that they plan on joining the Christian world in commemorating Good Friday with fasting and prayer. I love to see the Latter-day Saints joining the Christians in observance of this holy day.  Today more than ever, it’s going to take unity and collaboration regardless of any differences that may exist.  Fasting and prayer are very personal observances, so don’t let anyone tell you there is a “right way” to do either. Just do what you feel you want to do. It might include skipping a meal and donating to a local food bank. It might mean spending some time meditating on the things you can do to make the world a better place. It may even mean *gasp* parting ways with a few rolls of TP. In any case, I think God values our effort.

For those that aren’t Christian or necessarily motivated by a belief in God, I understand that the instinct might be to roll your eyes at all the “thoughts and prayers” rolling through your Facebook feed. I get it. Seems worthless. But, there are those that don’t think it’s worthless, and I think it’s okay to let them have their moment. For me, prayer requires action. It’s not a 5 minute blurb to close out the day. It ought to elicit an action. So, praying for the less fortunate should, at the very least, include a personal commitment to the seek out the less fortunate and help where we can. Prayer is not an excuse to completely hand it over to God to intervene. Prayer is a commitment to do what is in our power to be the change we are praying for, and a hope that God will fill in the gaps that we are unable to fill. God will do what God will do. I can do what I can do.

Have a great Good Friday, everyone!

Spiral Dynamics and Disappearing Toilet Paper

My recent thoughts have been consumed with this Coronavirus mess, as I’m sure many others have.  We seem to be in a bit of a panic mode; tough to even fully understand the virus, and how it spreads and what the future looks like.  Information seems  scattered, incomplete, biased, and incorrect from media sources and government officials.  We’re also buying toilet paper as if we will never manufacture another roll from here on out.

Where we’re at and how we respond can be partially explained by understanding Spiral Dynamics.

There are many different discussions and interpretations to Spiral Dynamics.  Mine is just one.

Image result for spiral dynamics stages

Spiral Dynamics is a way to understand value development, both in individuals and in society.  Spiral Dynamics can help us understand why people, as part of a larger group, act the way they do.

There are 8 stages of Spiral Dynamics, and people move in and out of stages all the time.  If you are unfamiliar with Spiral Dynamics, here’s a great podcast to listen to.

https://theliturgists.com/podcast/2014/9/23/episode-5-spiral-dynamics

Here are the stages:

Beige – The Instinctive Self.  Basic survival and doing what you must do to stay alive

Purple – The Magical Self.  Concerned with safety and security.  Tribalistic and ritualistic

Red – The Impulsive Self.  The ego rules here.  Strength is power and Glory is the reward

Blue – The Rule/Role Self.  Rule oriented and trying to understand good versus evil.  Most religions are blue

Orange – The Achiever Self.  Competition, achievement, advancement.  Organizations that build and create and solve are Orange

Green – The Sensitive Self.  Community and finding inner peace.  My needs are not as important as the whole.

Yellow – The Integral Self.  A smart combination of the other colors.  Live fully and responsibly in your quest to become.  Maslow would call this self-actualization

Turquoise – The Holistic Self.  Compassion and Harmony.  Transcending the ego

It’s important to understand that these are stages of development and not necessarily levels to be completed.  No one is better than another because they are in a different color at that moment.  (Incidentally, disagreements with one another often occur because people are operating in different colors and can’t/won’t/don’t see the perspective from a color they aren’t familiar with).  We all float in and out of these colors through different challenges and points in our lives.   With all the hoopla of the Coronavirus, it seems as though many of us are comfortably settling in beige and purple/red, which is basic survival, but ignores the community aspects of orange and green and yellow.  If we are in beige or purple/red, we buy up all the toilet paper, because survival mode tells us to.  Think back to early civilizations before mass cultivation of food and resources.  A beige-colored day was focused on gathering sustenance and shelter for your OWN protection.  The needs of others are ignored in Beige.

While the survival instincts of beige are not necessarily bad and do contribute to how we successfully navigate in and through the other colors, we cannot forget our community.  Our society cannot survive if we ignore the individuals that make up our society.

The whole is greater than the sum of our parts.  While we are all hovering in a bit of survival mode right now, let’s not ignore our obligations to the whole.   This may give us some opportunities to sacrifice, but that’s kind of the point.

Politics and Religion

I was casually chatting with a friend and colleague today about politics.  *GASP!*  Yes, I do, in fact, enjoy having respectful, and even often animated discussions about the taboo topics of religion and politics.  I find my views on these topics frequently intersect.

My friend offered that, perhaps the worst US President in his lifetime is Barak Obama.  This was a tad confusing.  This friend is a loyal Libertarian and I would have assumed his top choice was W. Bush, given his rejection of the United States foreign policy during Bush’s tenure.  His explanation was that President Obama is the only president in his lifetime (~50 years) that is accused (informally)and readily admits to killing an American citizen in a drone strike overseas.  There was no trial.  There wasn’t an option for the accused to submit a proper defense.  This American citizen was killed.  Now for context, infamous serial killer, Ted Bundy was afforded a trial to defend his crimes.  It is, in fact, guaranteed by our Constitution.  When an average American kills another American consciously and deliberately, this is called murder.  Hence, my friend’s justification for labeling President Obama as the worst President in his 50 year lifetime.  To be honest, I had never really put much thought into it that way, but I think he’s right.  To my knowledge, President Obama is the only US president that has admitted to deliberately killing an American citizen without due process.  Interesting indeed.   Does this information really change my overall opinion of President Obama?  Who knows?  Anyway, bagging on former or current presidents (political or religious) isn’t really my purpose here.

It’s quite interesting that I rarely hear a fact-based argument, like I did from my friend.  Usually, when someone sets out to criticize their least favorite politician, they rattle off a few talking points they’ve read or heard through the media, social or otherwise.  Most can just be dismissed as a difference of opinion though.  “I don’t like Obamacare,” or “I don’t think we should have gone to war with Iraq” or “He put up a ‘Mission Accomplished’ sign on a big ship in the middle of a war (motive debunked, BTW), ” or “I don’t like his tweets and he isn’t articulate.”  These are all opinions, to which the opinionator has a right.  My friend’s argument is one of the rare moments of a fact-based argument that I have experienced, and I appreciated it.

My response to him, was not something I really thought through, but is probably true.  I said, “All people have at least 1 thing in common; we are all hypocrites somewhere on the continuum.”  I think this is true.

Our tribalism seems to be ruling the day.  Republicans are expected to be loyal to Republican opinion, so they tend toward forming their opinions around what their tribe believes; to fit in or to feel confident in their position.  Democrats want to also be united around a cause, so you’re expected, as a Democrat, to hold opinions similar to other Democrats.

The problem with this approach is that I don’t think we all have a desire to be that black and white with our views.  It causes hypocrisy.  A bit ago, I saw a political meme posted by a Facebook friend with their own added commentary.  The meme was mocking that those that want to give crap out to people, like health care and education, should just vote for Bernie Sanders, because he’s “never had a paycheck, or worked in healthcare, or taught a child.”  The added commentary questioned where Bernie got his money, and stated that he went into Congress average and came out a millionaire.  I resisted the strong urge to comment that several of the top leaders of the church we both belong to (LDS Church) have gone into full-time status as a church apostle as very average people and income earners, but have become very above average earners and property owners (the standard I’m using is property above $1 million).  So why is this (going from average to millionaire) bad when you are talking about the opposing side of a political aisle, but completely above table when we are talking about the beloved, followed, and adored church leaders?  Isn’t that the exact definition of hypocrisy?  I didn’t add a snarky comment to the Facebook post, and left it alone.  I’m a hypocrite, so best to focus on the beam in my own eye.

Why isn’t it generally acceptable to criticize the bad parts of your tribe?  No one is surprised when someone supports or promotes their tribe, but criticizing or speaking out against your tribe is often met with cries of disloyalty, at a bare minimum, and you can get shunned or even kicked out of certain tribes for even merely suggesting some room for improvement.

I had an experience visiting the LDS (Mormon) church here in Sandpoint, that illustrates this trend.  During a fairly bland Sunday School lesson on tithing (giving back a portion of your increase to God), I made a comment about a woman in Finland (where I served a 2 year church-mission) who wasn’t a member of this church, but decided through prayer, to give back to God by buying groceries for the local LDS missionaries, as a “tithe” to God.  My comment was that almost all of the residents of Earth are NOT Mormon, and that they can seek God’s counsel on where to spend their excess, like this wonderful woman in Finland.  Well, that didn’t go over well.  I offended at least one person by merely suggesting that any of the 7 billion people on this Earth connect with God and decide where to donate their excess money.  So, a nice woman in the back row made an opposing comment.  Big deal.

A few weeks later, I was approached by the bishop of the congregation, that a formal, and anonymous complaint was lobbied against me, and he was there to determine if I was a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”  The interrogation lasted about an hour, and it was determined I WAS ‘NOT’ THE WOLF IN SHEEP’S CLOTHING.  *Cue Maury Povich reveal.*  Relieved, (I guess) I went on my way, with the added understanding, that a seemingly harmless comment in Sunday School is not harmless.  I was officially labeled

We are in the season of hitching your wagon to a particular candidate.  Maybe the purpose of this post is to remind us that someone who votes for Donald Trump isn’t an idiot, or necessarily uninformed, or morally dead.  Likewise, someone that votes for Sanders, or another Democratic candidate is not an idiot, socialist who wants to steal money from hard-working Americans.

 

Life isn’t that black and white.

 

I reject the label of anti-cop if I stand up against bad cops. In reality, I’m for and support good police officers and I reject bad police officers. Bad police belong in jail.  Good police should be praised for their service to their communities.

I reject the label of anti-Mormon (or anti-The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as they like to be called) if I suggest there is room for improvement in that church. A strong case could be made that YOU’RE the anti for pretending the blemishes don’t exist and all is well, and sitting back while something I have loved so dearly is destroyed from within.  Nothing here is perfect.  Nothing here is without the need of improvement.  Nothing or no one here is without investigation or rebuke.  I can both support and reinforce the good parts of the LDS Church and reject the bad parts.

I reject both labels of anti-Trump and Trump supporter if I form an opinion of something he did. He’s done some good things and some bad things.  Listen folks, if you either think Trump can do no wrong or can do no right, you haven’t been paying attention and you’re wrong on both accounts.

Life isn’t black and white.  My tribe loyalty has limits, and those limits are governed by how hypocritical I am feeling that day.  My opinions are always changing, and I will probably both agree and disagree with all of you.  Isn’t that great?!?  Come on in.  The water is great!

 

p.s. You want to know my honest opinion on universal healthcare?  I would love to be convinced of it.  Seriously.  Such a good thing, but I struggle with certain aspects of it.  Maybe I’ll get there and maybe I won’t.

Faith and the Scientific Method

“The only point of the scientific method, is to make sure you are not fooled into thinking that something is true that is not, or thinking that something is not true that is.”
Neil DeGrasse Tyson

So I believe this is true.  Let’s assume that it is and look at several questions begged by this assumption.

  1. Does faith interact with the scientific method?
  2. Should it apply before or after the scientific method is applied.
  3. Should faith even be used in the same sentence as the scientific method?
  4. Can you have faith in something that doesn’t pass scientific scrutiny?
  5. Should faith ONLY be applied to something that CAN’T be evaluated by the scientific method?
  6. Can someone have faith in something while still holding true to the principles of the scientific method?
  7. Can faith and science be successfully discussed together, while still holding true to the principles of each?

Many more questions, but this is a start.

I love you, no matter what.

Man, this pricked my heart tonight. My view of the character of God is constantly further challenged, and I love it.

The title of this guy’s original song is, “Almost Heaven.” He’s wondering if there is room in heaven for someone like him; someone who is gay.

He says, “All of my religion has been stripped down to, ‘I love you, no matter what.’”

I will add that, when Jesus said, “forgive them for they know not what they do,” he is essentially stripping down HIS religion to, “I love you know matter what.”

Perhaps that’s the end result when you dig so deep to find meaning in your life that contradicts the traditional Christian narrative. Maybe the only “real” understanding comes in the 4th watch; at the peak of the storm. Matthew 14:25

Seems like this guy has figured out something about God that seems to elude most of us. Why is that? Is it confirmation bias? Elitism? Cognitive dissonance? Lack of empathy? Lack of life experience? Just a faulty human existence? I don’t know. Kind of just makes you want to shut the scriptures and just live and love.

Listen to his words and then ask God your questions.

My Unconventional Journey: An uncorrelated view of the new LDS policy on baptism. by guest writer Tracy Giles

This seems like a fitting day to repost this blogpost.    It was originally posted on 11/8/2015, just 3 days after the 5th of November LDS church (Mormon) policy change regarding LGBT members of our community.  I remember; We remember; the 5th of November.  We’re 3.5 years past that policy, and it was just reversed today by nearly the same LDS church leadership that instituted it.

You can read about it here.  https://kutv.com/news/local/lds-church-rules-change-reverses-2015-revelation

Was there damage done?  Yes.  Gaslighting?  Yes.  Shunning and judgement?  Yes.  Have people killed themselves because of this policy?  Yes.  Have people been kicked out of the LDS church on grounds of apostasy because of this policy?  Yes.   Can the damage be reversed?  No.  Can the LDS church forge a new path, one that is more loving and more inclusive?  Absolutely.

A good reminder that actions have consequences.  Some intended; maybe most, unintended.  Unintended or not, this doesn’t dissolve us of our responsibility to act out of love.

Perhaps we’ll get an update from Tracy regarding her current thoughts.  But for now, here are some of her 3.5 year old thoughts.

 

My Unconventional Journey: An uncorrelated view of the new LDS policy on baptism.

by guest writer Tracy Giles

I spent half of my childhood in a gay home and found the gospel as a teenager.  My story is very different from many. As a daughter, a mother, a Primary President, and a friend, I would like to tell my story of conversion and how having the gospel as a teenager was an incredible blessing. Included in my story is a different perspective to the new policy that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS church) has issued regarding children from same-sex marriages not being allowed to be baptized.  My heart is very heavy.

I was raised in a Bible loving, Christian home. I remember reading the Bible as a young girl late at night, next to a small night light in my room.  One particular night when I was about 8 years old, I got on my knees and prayed the most earnest prayer.  I asked the Lord sincerely why there were not prophets and apostles leading and guiding people in our time. I prayed for an answer to know why we were left alone in the world with only scripture stories of people from the past to guide us.  If God wanted to speak to His people on the earth today, I believed whole-heartedly he would. That prayer stayed with me for many years.

My mother and father loved my brother and me very much. I know they tried to make their marriage work, but ultimately it ended in divorce and my mom in a same-sex relationship.  It was an earth-shattering experience to go through.  My world didn’t make sense any longer.  I chose to stay with my mom, and my brother moved in with our dad.

At the age of 13, we moved to Laguna Beach. My mom owned a coffee shop with her new girlfriend and I started my freshman year of high school.  With my father absent and my mother and her partner spending every waking hour at their cafe, I spent many hours alone. I was alone and in a downward spiral. My family was gone.

This was a very dark time in my life.  I found myself in really troubling situations multiple times.  A girl from school, who was a member of the LDS church, befriended me and on one occasion when we were hanging out at her house, she explained to me that a prophet leads and guides her church. I told her that only God can call prophets and apostles.  She explained that Jesus Christ sat at the head of the church doing just that.  Upon hearing this news, tears swelled in my eyes. I had found it.  I knew I had found what my heart so desperately needed.  The Spirit overcame me and I knew that I needed more.

Naturally, my mom took notice that I was spending time with LDS friends, and wanted to know about their views on homosexuality. I was given the answer that you can be gay in the church, but you just can’t practice it. I spent time pondering this and ultimately decided that as long as I was welcome with open arms and had a place in the church, I could move forward. I felt like this was the path Jesus Christ wanted me to take.  Everyone at church knew me and knew that my mom was in a same-sex relationship. They were accepting of our family life, so I felt like I had found a home.  My complete conversion didn’t happen fast. My home life was still very confusing for many reasons.  However, every time I needed clarity and comfort, I found it in the LDS church. I found it in the scriptures. I found peace through the Savior, Jesus Christ.

My parents were not supportive of the doctrine of the church, so I met with the missionaries at church buildings or in members’ homes.  While my mom didn’t like the church, I was still allowed to go.  We were able to make it work.  It was those fundamental years in high school when things could have gone really bad for me, but didn’t because I had found something that brought me so much joy.  Having the church and knowing I had a place in it changed my life in high school. I still made mistakes, but It was such a good environment for me.

After high school I was on a spiritual high, so I moved to Provo, Utah to experience as much of the church as possible.  I was so saddened by what I found there.  I was never invited to church. Dates ended when guys found out I hadn’t been baptized or that I had a gay mom.  I would hear members of the church idolizing the general authorities (highest church officials). They treated them like celebrities.  They were put up on pedestals and made infallible.  With the exception of a few people, I felt the members to be judgmental, gossipy and competitive.  I was really disturbed by what I found in Utah. I left after 4 months, without any interest in joining the church.  Side Note: Obviously, this does not represent all members in Utah. This was just my own personal experience as someone investigating the church.  There are many wonderful people there.

Forgetting Mormonism, I ended up moving to Los Angeles and started working in the music industry for a famous music producer. Life was back on track, or so I thought. A year or so later, I was at the gym trying to get in a good workout and a girl on the treadmill next to me started up a conversation.  She was a member of the LDS church and discovered I had once lived in Utah but was not LDS.  Though she extended an invitation for me to come to church with her, it was several weeks before I felt a prompting to attend. I couldn’t find the girl’s information, but the name of the ward popped into my mind. Back then we had to use the yellow pages, so I looked it up and off I went. Sitting quietly in the back of the Relief Society meeting, I was asked to introduce myself. I stood up, gave a brief introduction and sat back down.  The girl in front of me turned around, smiled and said, “I’ve been waiting for you.” At the age of 20, I was baptized.

My family has some different beliefs than I do, and they truly didn’t want me to get baptized. Differences set aside, they were able to support it, and I’m thankful that the choice was always mine.  I’m thankful for a loving Heavenly Father who saw fit to give me the challenges I‘ve had in life because they’ve only made me stronger. As a teenager, I learned how important it is in life to respect the life choices of other people. Even though my mom and I don’t see eye to eye when it comes to spiritual matters, we can treat each other with fairness and kindness. I didn’t learn that lesson in a Sunday school class, I learned that lesson because I was living it. It was my life.

The church has come out with a new policy that doesn’t allow children of same-sex marriages under the age of 18 to be baptized. This new rule makes it so that even if a child living in a same-sex marriage household receives permission from their parents, they will not be able to receive the ordinances of the church.  The child and family are no longer allowed to exercise their agency in this matter.  Reasoning for this policy has been explained by Elder Christofferson, “We don’t want the child to have to deal with issues that might arise where the parents feel one way and the expectations of the church are very different.”

My story in the church began when I was 14 years old; a child.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has built its foundation on the vision of a 14 year old boy who prayed in the woods. He overcame great adversity both in the grove and defending his testimony until the day he died.  Children carry greater strength than most people give them credit for.  The goal of the new policy is to protect them so, “they’re not placed in a position where there will be difficulties, challenges, conflicts that can injure their development in very tender years.” I don’t know of any teenager in or out of the church that isn’t faced with incredible challenges in these latter days that could injure their development. It’s a dark world right now and children today are faced with hardships that are beyond what other generations ever had to deal with.  Why would a church exclude a group of kids that so desperately need a place of fellowship in these dark times?  If the LDS church is truly God’s kingdom on earth and the only place to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, why would they want to exclude children that so badly need the blessings the church claims only it can offer?  If their parents are ok with it, gay, straight, whatever, with a parent’s consent they should be allowed to be baptized. If the same-sex parents aren’t ok with it, then they don’t have to give consent.  Why the need to take away their agency to decide?

What I find very interesting about Elder Christofferson’s explanation of this policy is that he never quotes the Lord or talks about how this came as revelation. Referenced in his explanation was a sociology professor and a member of the board of directors of Affirmation, but not scripture or the Lord. The philosophies of men were used to justify it to the world. If the Lord is truly at the head of the church, then do we need to rely on the the opinions of experts? Again, if the Lord is at the head of the church and He leads a child to the gospel, He will provide a way for that child and their family through the difficult times.  There may be hard years, but the Lord will provide a way. As Elder Eyring said, “If you are on the right path, it will always be uphill.”

Some may say that the children of same-sex couples are more than welcome to still attend church activities and be apart of the LDS community. Isn’t the point of not allowing these children to be baptized to protect them and their family? If they are still welcome to attend church activities won’t that place them in an environment that will provide opportunities to learn things that will confuse them and cause conflict in their homes? The only way to truly protect them then is to have them not come at all.  The church’s new policy labels same-sex marriage partners as apostates and forbids the ordinance of baptism to their children.  What a sad thing that is.

If you have ever read the scriptures, then you must be familiar with the fact that prophets have been known to make mistakes. It’s written throughout history. Joseph Smith made mistakes, he admitted to them.  Old Testament prophets did things that needed to be corrected, which is also true of Book of Mormon prophets. There are examples in the New Testament of Jesus Christ correcting his apostles.  In today’s church, it has become all or nothing.  Either you believe the church is run by Jesus Christ and therefore every single thing that is said by one of our church leaders is of God, or you don’t. If you don’t, you become labeled as someone who doesn’t support your church leaders.  I believe that our church leaders can make mistakes. Big ones. Not giving blacks the priesthood was a huge mistake.  You can still be an active member of the church with an understanding that our church leaders are human beings. They are men. They are not perfect and they will make mistakes. Instead of blindly following them, we should be praying and pondering all things, then letting the Spirit testify to us if it is true. Follow Jesus Christ and let Him lead you.

To all the children who this directly affects, I’m so very sorry.  I’m brokenhearted for you.  I mourn with you and your families. Please know our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ would never reject you. They love you and they want you to experience the fullness of His love. I love my mom and all my friends and family who are or were in a same-sex relationship. They are some of the most amazing people I know. They are kind and loving. They are funny and brave.  They are charitable and selfless. They are incredible examples of unconditional love. I have seen them first-hand teach and live some of Christ’s most important lessons.  It’s been an honor to have them in my life.  You also can have both in your life: the gospel and the people you love who are gay. This journey you are on may seem hard at times, but Heavenly Father will never leave your side.

God the Father; CEO of Heaven and Earth

heaven and earth

Several months ago on a Friday, I prepared to board an early morning flight in San Jose heading home from a work trip. As luck would have it, I received notification for a free upgrade to first class. These occur on occasion, but not too frequently. I would imagine that first class is usually sold out or people with higher airline status than I receive an upgrade, but when it’s not, I get bumped up.

As I settled into my seat, I was greeted with a complimentary pre-flight water, as the rest of the plane is boarded. After all passengers boarded, some guy named, Brad, who had been chatting with the flight attendants, started shaking hands beginning with the first class passengers.  His greeting was warm, and was occasionally accompanied with a pleasant handshake and a “Thanks for flying with us today.” .  This continued past first class and into coach as Brad made his way to his seat.   Clearly, Brad was an Alaska Airlines employee, but low enough on the totem pole to warrant a coach class seat.  As he sat down, I realized that he ended up very close to where my seat used to be. Curiosity took over as I attempted to Google “Brad Alaska Airlines.”  My search produced a Brad Tilden, CEO of Alaska Airlines, with a nice picture of the Brad that boarded our flight. For a minute, I concluded that CEO Brad may have given up his first class seat in order to upgrade one of his customers. My opinion of Brad was quite high as I realized this possibility.  After speaking with a flight attendant, it turns out this wasn’t the case though, and Brad had always been assigned his coach class seat.  My opinion of CEO Brad was even higher now.

alaska airlines - water

A few things I learned from Brad:

  1. If anyone had a rightful claim to a first class seat, it was Brad. Not only did he not go for an upgrade, but he didn’t purchase a first class seat to begin with.
  2. Brad didn’t approach us with fancy titles or assumed authority. It wasn’t, “Hi, I’m CEO Mr. Brad Tilden, or the Honorable Mr. Tilden, or our Beloved Brad.  It was just Brad.
  3. He was genuinely kind and appreciative. I get that his job is to be that way to his staff and customers, but I felt Brad was genuine in his kindness. Fake or pompous CEO Brad would have shown through, I suspect.  With great power comes great responsibility.  I like the idea of humble leaders that serve.

I think our society might have a skewed view of effective leadership, which is quite evident in today’s world. Do people really want a leader lording over them, making rules and decisions for them, claiming titles and accolades and superior knowledge, sitting in the chief seats looking down upon their people for adoration?  I would suspect that deep down, people don’t want that. They want to be guided perhaps, or pointed in the right direction, but ultimately be left alone, and more importantly be allowed to make decisions for themselves.  It’s unfortunate maybe that people have become too reliant upon leadership.  I think this is one of the ways cults are formed.

God is probably the perfect leader, or one that we should look to for a more perfect study of leadership. I don’t believe that God is an interventionist.  I would describe God more as a suggestionist. It seems as though he generally lets us do our own thing. We learn from the garden of Eden story that agency was ultimately preserved.   He doesn’t sit around forcing us to do things that please him. I think he’s there as a guide, but ultimately allows us to make our own decisions and respects those decisions we make.  Agency seems to always be preserved, which makes God a good leader.  I suspect he’s less like CEO Mr. Brad Tilden, President of Alaska Airlines, and more like regular Brad than we think he is. From the scriptural and other accounts we have of God appearing to people, God forgives when he shows up. The accounts show that the people cower or are ashamed, so God forgives them. He tries to make you comfortable in his presence so you can have a conversation without focusing on the massive divide between God(s) and humans.  It seems difficult to have an authentic relationship with someone who is unapproachable or critical or who we think is constantly looking down at us for our shortcomings.  Even the angels have taken a page out of his playbook.  “Fear not,” is a common first utterance we read in the scripture available to us.

Side bar, but not so far off the topic.  Maybe it is the topic.  This guy’s idea of God floors me.  What’s up my dude?!?  I love it!

I’ve taken some liberties here, but nothing outside of my belief system.  The point is that God is trying to be like normal God and we approach him like CEO God, originator of death and destruction and famine and hardship.  We look at him as sitting in first class God with his headphones on, not acknowledging all the people walking back to coach class, with limited elbow and leg room and no complimentary pre-flight water bottle. We don’t expect God to go around shaking hands with the people, saying, “Hi, I’m God. It’s really nice to know you,” on his way back to his seat among the people. We set him up as unknowable and unapproachable. “He’s God of both heaven and earth.  Why would he bother with me?”

Lest I be accused of blasphemy by some who believe I should get back in the box of a correlated belief system, I do believe that God has earned all the name titles and accolades and is indeed the God of both heaven and earth, but I don’t think he wants that to stop us from being able to carry on a conversation with him while seated together in coach class. Sure, if anyone deserves the first class seat, it’s God, but God also descended to be with the people. He gives us life and is in us, which is to say He is right there beside us sharing a flight to wherever we want to go, and he’s giving us the armrest too. He will allow us to throw on our headphones and ignore him during the flight, but if we decide to take them off, I think he’s right there ready to have a conversation.

I’m not to the point where I fully understand “how” God communicates with me so it’s a little misleading to claim I’m having conversations with him.  However, his words are becoming more clear to me and I do hear him speak, and suggest, and persuade when I decide to stop talking and start listening.  The purpose of this post, I guess, is to put forth my idea of what I believe a significant part of God’s character is.  And without understanding God’s character, how can you have faith?

The Search for Truth Amid lies

Sitting here on a Friday night, and I realized that the kids (ages 2-12) have yet again chosen “The Truman Show” for their movie night.  This makes at least 3 times in the last 6 weeks or so.  A bit of a surprising request for a movie with such a theme.  It’s mature, but it’s an absolutely essential theme for them to learn.

There is a point near the end when his boat pierces the edge of the movie studio wall.  Though he was chasing his suspicions throughout the movie, this is the point where he realizes there have been massive lies framing his existence and his belief system.

The entire movie represents a search for truth amid lies.  A false world was fabricated to keep the truth from Truman.  This is not unlike what we experience in our world.  Everything seems to be trying to keep us from Truth.  It’s an ongoing fight to distinguish the truth from a world full of lies.

The storm at the end of the movie represents just how tumultuous it was to come to that point, where nothing is real and everything has to be questioned.  Very quickly, he went from surprise, to realization, to anger, to sadness and despair.  Truman is devastated, and this is the most poignant part of the movie.  But, there is a beautiful dialogue as he walks along the edge of his fake world and climbs the stairs to an exit door.  You can listen to that dialogue in the above clip.

The realization that something you once believed to be true is devastating.  But the joy from discovering truth or discovering that truth can be discovered is truly liberating.