Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Good and the Bad Part I

I'm reading The Book of Mormon and it is slow going. I'm only on page 25 and a lot of times I have to go back and reread passages because I find my brain wandering to lists of things I need to get done. I am trying to be open-minded and I am determined to not just read this book, but to get from a variety of sources impressions of what certain passages mean. The truth is though, if you're not or have never been Mormon, you probably haven't read this book - so my sources will most likely be active Mormons or people who were raised Mormon, but have left the religion and I think it is safe to say that the latter category has a lot of anger about the teachings of the religion. I have also had a lot of anger based on experiences I had:

  • After living in Utah for 3 months in 1991 my landlord told me I was "unpure" (I think he meant impure) and I was so baffled, I did not even know how to respond. My friend stepped in and explained that I wasn't Mormon, at which point the landlord profusely apologized. What I got from that is it is ok to bully your fellow Mormons.
  • I was told at a job interview that I would not be hired for a position because I was not LDS (Mormon). I was probably 23 or so at the time and I was livid - and I felt horrible. I felt like there was something dirty about me and I hated that someone else could make me feel that way. Nevermind that his remark was illegal, in my opinion it was mean.
  • One of my best friends was marrying a woman - someone I had set him up with - in the LDS Temple and I was not allowed to go to the wedding (if you don't know about the Temple, you can look it up). I was really hurt - I was worthy enough to pick out his future wife, but not to attend his wedding. (Sidenote: this couple later divorced, so I now forgive him :) )
So in 1999, when Steve and I drove out of Logan I remember declaring, "We will never live in that place again!" and I spread my tales of Mormon atrocities in our new homes: Ann Arbor and San Antonio.

While in San Antonio, both Steve and I secretly longed to return to Logan - and these yearnings of mine were accompanied with the thought, "What the bleep!?" (Yes, it was "bleep.") We kept our longings to ourselves for awhile and then Steve found an opportunity to teach in Logan and the rollercoaster started. I wanted to return to Logan, but I also hated one minute I felt relief at going back to a familiar place and the next minute I was in tears thinking we were nuts to take our impressionable child to a place that had allowed the above things to happen to me...and Utah has the highest rate of many bad things! We were going to scar our child for life!!

The first few months in Logan were like living in the Twilight Zone - I'd been in these exact places before, yet I was different. I think it's like that for anyone who attempts to return home - you are not the same and it's an odd feeling to be back in a place in which you once resided.

(Ah, I think I will leave this as be continued....)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Summary of the Buddhist Book

I finished The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching, by Thich Nhat Hanh, this morning. The book described the techniques used in Buddhism to attain the Noble Eightfold Path (Right View, Right Thinking, Right Mindfulness, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Diligence, Right Livelihood), which will lead to peace in one's life, not through the end of suffering, but through transforming suffering into understanding.

I was going to list all the passages I marked, but it really comes down to this one:

You don't have to die to enter nirvana or the Kingdom of God. You only have to dwell deeply in the present moment, right now.

If we live in the present moment, in every thing we do, we will be more peaceful. When we live in the present moment we make choices that bring about an end to our own suffering. The end.

Ok, so not quite the end, because I really liked this:

In Buddhism, our faith is concrete, not blind, not a leap. It is formed by our own insight and experience.

I love that, because one of the areas that has caused me to struggle in other religions is this idea of faith, which I perceive to be: give up all the rational rules by which you think the world follows and believe in something that goes against rational thought and is only true in the case governed by a certain religion. Why do we have to believe Jesus was born of a virgin to think he was a good teacher? Why the ridiculous when we can just believe and have faith in the reality?

And this: I go back and rely on the Buddha in myself.

I see this as making each person accountable, rather than relying on something beyond oneself - a god. I really think each person knows the right way to live, we don't need religion to teach us that it's wrong to steal, to have addictions which bind us, to not cheat on our spouses. We can say we follow rules because our religion teaches us that it is what we are suppose to do, but what does that mean? Does that mean without your religion you will commit atrocities? God, I hope not! Does it mean that we can read inspiring texts and be reminded to live more fully, with greater understanding, with more compassion for fellow beings? Sure, and gathering with others can help us in this journey, so a church or sangha has its purpose, but we don't have to credit these ideas to a higher power - we all know these things, because we all live in this world. Cheat on your spouse and go to hell? Who cares...cheat on your spouse and cause a lot of pain...reason enough not to do it, right?

Finally, Buddha was not a philosopher trying to explain the universe. He was a spiritual guide who wanted to help us put an end to our suffering.

Sounds good to me. I don't need someone to tell me elaborate stories that go beyond my realm of understanding - this doesn't make them more creditable in my eyes. It is nice to have someone acknowledge that there is suffering, to admit that we cannot live without suffering and yet, we can choose how to live with suffering.

There was much in the book about specific practices and honestly, some of it had my head spinning. To really understand it all I'd need to study this book more, but in my one reading of it I have been inspired to live more presently in each moment. Amen. :)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Keith's Beard Project

Keith Pecor and his wife, Stephanie, are very dear friends of ours. I try to support Keith in all his endeavors - after all, he was my husband's office mate during their years at the University of Michigan and that meant Keith often fielded phone calls from me regarding my husband's schedule. It's been nearly 6 years since they both finished their doctorates and I finally have a chance to give Keith the thank you he deserves...

Keith is growing a beard of biblical proportions and I am paying the ASPCA $1 for every week Keith doesn't shave (his face).

Yep, when Keith posted of his beard project I offered up the encouragement of giving $1 a week to the charity of his choice. Keith was game (another reason I like him, he's up for these kinds of things). Keith chose the ASPCA, a favorite of mine:

The date of Keith's last shave was December 13, 2010 - so I already owe the ASPCA $10. I am hoping to send a donation for $52 by December 13, 2011....or more beyond!

I highly encourage others to get on board - grow a beard or donate money, whichever will cause you less damage in life. My hope is that Keith will offer up some insights into the world of being bearded - do people treat him differently? Does it make the summer months unbearable? Will he braid the beard? Stay tuned....

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Guest Writer

I was recently on the phone with the person who wrote this post and when she told me her reasoning for letting her 10-year old see The King's Speech, an R rated film, I had one of those, "Yes!" moments - and quickly determined I would take my own 11-year old child to see it.

My husband and I recently took our 10-year-old son to the movie, The King’s Speech. We knew that it had been given an R rating because of two scenes with several expletives, but I had seen the movie a few weeks earlier and knew that my son had to see it!

My son is extremely bright, but has dysgraphia (looks like bad handwriting but is not quite so simple) and some visual-spatial issues. He has had to work hard to develop strategies to deal with these deficits. He often complains that it is unfair that he has these problems and that he has to work so hard. In his mind, every other kid is lounging around at home playing video games, watching TV, and generally having a good time. He contends that no one else has such a burden -- he feels alone.

When I saw The King’s Speech for the first time, I realized that it had a powerful message to anyone who has ever had to struggle. Here was a man who had a very obvious problem -- stuttering -- and he could not hide it or from it. The advent of radio and his position as a member of the royal family demanded public speeches on his part. His ascent to the throne as war clouds gathered over Europe was totally unexpected and unwanted, but he had been brought up to do his duty. Bertie, the prince/king, saw several therapists and worked extremely hard all of his life to be able to speak clearly and smoothly. His ability to do so was vital in a speech that would convince his countrymen to enter the war against Germany rather than on the side of their longtime ally. Stuttering with the accompanying long pauses would have been devastating to the cause.

The successful treatment of Bertie’s stutter was unorthodox for the time. Indeed, the relationship between the two men was groundbreaking given the rigid class system of interwar England. Lionel Logue, his therapist, noted that Bertie (and most stutterers) did not stutter when singing or when extremely angry. Thus, two scenes involve intense anger and words that one does not use in polite company! There was really no way to accurately portray the deepening trust between patient and therapist or the growing desperation of Bertie’s situation without using a few four-letter words.

In taking my son to this movie, I had to prepare him for those two scenes (as we do not generally use such language around him). I explained that he would hear words that some people would call bad. I further explained that I did not think words, in and of themselves, were bad, but that there were inappropriate contexts to use these words. I noted that in the movie, he would see that these words were only used when the King was with his therapist and never in public or even other private settings. In my opinion, in most situations, people should use a larger vocabulary to express themselves and need not be vulgar, but when one is extremely angry, these vulgar terms sometimes capture the emotions that one is feeling in the moment.

For example, the term sh*t makes me think of the feeling that you have when you step in dog poop on the sidewalk. The excrement is all over your shoe, and you usually have nothing with you to even begin cleaning it. Moreover, you are probably on your way to an important meeting. The anger, frustration, desperation, vengefulness, sick-in-the-pit-of-your-stomach feeling, shame, embarrassment, and loneliness in that moment cannot be summed up by “Oh, poop!” or “Darn!” Expletives bring us to our basest place and allow us to vent those same feelings. Just as we don’t generally express those emotions in public, we should not use those words in public, but there are times and places when those words are the best at capturing our feelings.

I explained all of this to my son. He asked what the various words meant, and we explained them matter-of-factly. He laughed a bit, and was curious about the fact that they were largely scatalogical or sexual. He also agreed that these words didn’t really have a place in everyday life -- “don’t people have better ways to say what they mean?” was his question. He talked about a few classmates who bandy those words around on the playground and how he thought those students were not really fun to be around.

Most importantly, my son walked out of the movie inspired by a true story about someone who had a problem despite his status and worked to overcome it and did. This week, my son has railed against his therapies far less than usual and has agreed to some intensive keyboarding and other work during the summer. I think he realizes that we value him as a brilliant scientist and lovely little boy and that we will do anything to make his dreams come true. He understands, for the first time, that hard work may not pay off immediately, but that it will eventually. I am so glad that I did not let a few four-letter words stand in the way of that powerful message.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Great Religious Challenge Part I

A friend of mine, who is Mormon, challenged me to read The Book of Mormon and upon some negotiation, we decided she will read The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh. I am not a Buddhist, but I find the teachings of Buddhism to make the most sense to me out of all the religions/philosophies I've studied, which admittedly are few. I have read some material by Thich Nhat Hanh, but not this entire book.

I am now on page 41 of The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching and admit to being a bit confused about the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path - I just can't keep them straight, but there has been much already that has me rereading words in an attempt to absorb them into my daily practices:

"Allow the rain of the Dharma to come in and penetrate the seeds that are buried deep in your consciousness. A teacher cannot give you the truth. The truth is already in you." This passage resonates with me, because I have felt that prayer and meditation were just this - allowing yourself to sit with the truth that is already there. Truth is not given by some divine source, it is within each of us, we just need to sit down, shut up and listen to it.

Suffering seems to be the key to Buddhism - recognizing, accepting, embracing, looking deeply at and having insight into our suffering. We are to sit with our suffering, try to identify its source and become more mindful so we may make choices that will least likely bring more suffering. So far there are guidelines: eat good foods, live a simple life without dependence on objects and yes, watch films that enrich our lives rather than "water the negative seeds of craving, fear, anger and violence in them."* We are instructed to meditate, to be mindful, to rest so that we may heal. Nothing earth-shattering here.

The very first words of the book are, "Buddha was not a god. He was a human being, like you and me, and he suffered just as we do." We are instructed to take our suffering to the Buddha, but so far I have not been lead to believe we are to worship the Buddha. This was a huge catalyst for me in leaving Christianity. I can wrap my head around learning from Jesus Christ, but I cannot understand worshipping anyone or anything.

I am enjoying this book and as I read it, I see bits and pieces of Christianity popping through - probably not a coincidence. It reaffirms for me that religion is about commonsense, but also a need to believe in something beyond our own wisdom so we may attain favor in this world.

When I finish this book I'll begin The Book of Mormon and I admit, I'm already skeptical, but that is just all the more reason to read it, right?

*This challenge began because of a discussion regarding rated R movies, specifically The King's Speech, and the Mormon Church's stance on viewing rater R movies. I would say that viewing The King's Speech enriched my life, and the few swear words spoken did not water any negative seeds.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Thoughts Near the Big V-Day

Valentine's Day is tomorrow and I admit, I love Valentine's Day. I'm a sucker for the red hearts, the chocolates, the flowers and the cheesy sentiments delivered by greeting cards. Love it.

I've been thinking about something, sort of related to Valentine's Day - and no, not a personal experience:

If your spouse/significant other confessed to an infidelity 5 years ago, how do you think you would react? I'm trying to mull this over in my own brain and of course, nobody really knows what they would do until the situation arises, but it seems there is a difference between a confession of infidelity in recent time versus one that took place at a different point in your relationship.

I was of the camp that always said I could never be married to someone who was unfaithful, until I had a child. I then felt like maybe it wasn't a black and white issue. I have not dealt with this, so I do not know and for those who have dealt with this, I apologize if this post seems at all flippant, it is not intended to be.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

It Really Does Seem Like Bigotry

I wrote a really long post about the previous post and Proposition 8 and how fired up I am that there is such bigotry in our world, and yes, that this bigotry is supported by religious institutions and then I found this:

One should no more deplore homosexuality than left-handedness. ~Towards a Quaker View of Sex, 1964

I also found this:

Straight Americans need... an education of the heart and soul. They must understand - to begin with - how it can feel to spend years denying your own deepest truths, to sit silently through classes, meals, and church services while people you love toss off remarks that brutalize your soul. ~Bruce Bawer, The Advocate, 28 April 1998

and this:

An engineering professor is treating her husband, a loan officer, to dinner for finally giving in to her pleas to shave off the scraggly beard he grew on vacation. His favorite restaurant is a casual place where they both feel comfortable in slacks and cotton/polyester-blend golf shirts. But, as always, she wears the gold and pearl pendant he gave her the day her divorce decree was final. They're laughing over their menus because they know he always ends up diving into a giant plate of ribs but she won't be talked into anything more fattening than shrimp.
Quiz: How many biblical prohibitions are they violating? Well, wives are supposed to be 'submissive' to their husbands (I Peter 3:1). And all women are forbidden to teach men (I Timothy 2:12), wear gold or pearls (I Timothy 2:9) or dress in clothing that 'pertains to a man' (Deuteronomy 22:5). Shellfish and pork are definitely out (Leviticus 11:7, 10) as are usury (Deuteronomy 23:19), shaving (Leviticus 19:27) and clothes of more than one fabric (Leviticus 19:19). And since the Bible rarely recognizes divorce, they're committing adultery, which carries the rather harsh penalty of death by stoning (Deuteronomy 22:22).
So why are they having such a good time? Probably because they wouldn't think of worrying about rules that seem absurd, anachronistic or - at best - unrealistic. Yet this same modern-day couple could easily be among the millions of Americans who never hesitate to lean on the Bible to justify their own anti-gay attitudes. ~Deb Price, And Say Hi To Joyce

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Guest Writer

This was written to the Logan, Utah newspaper, and was printed, but not put online. The person who wrote it is someone I hold in high regard - we had great conversations about religion, politics and life in Utah, which can be quite unique at times.

I can no longer sit idly by and watch as the HJ Opinion page is turned into a fast and testimony meeting/anti-Mormon forum. I think it’s time for everybody to take a deep breath and recommit themselves to the realities of an ever changing world. Too many have unwittingly committed themselves to living lives of division. Neighborhood’s are divided into ‘members’ vs. ‘non-members’. Even within the LDS church members are constantly being divided into groups to be judged one against the other; ‘active’ vs. ‘inactive’, ‘temple worthy’ vs. ‘not temple worthy’. We even peak over our shoulder to see who is taking the sacrament so we can feel justified in our gossip during our ladies nights while we have Diet Coke chugging contests. The judgment being passed down only leads to resentment from those not outwardly behaving like the social majority expects.
When the early LDS converts were driven out of Missouri, Illinois and all parts of the east and midwest for being different than mainstream society and for practicing peculiar marriages, I wonder if they ever envisioned their great grandchildren establishing themselves only to turn around and become the persecutor of the peculiar minority? Joseph Smith’s early teachings were designed to be a voice of reason in a persecuting mob. When he issued the Articles of Faith, particularly the 11th, I think that was his way of saying ‘allow us to live our lives as we see fit’ or better yet ‘live and let live’. From what I can tell that is what the majority of homosexuals be left alone. Their in your face attitude is in response to years of the same in your face treatment from religious majorities. Should the saints disengage from this battle outside of the church walls, by adopting a ‘live and let live’ attitude, I believe we would all be able to live separate but equal dignified as we make them for ourselves.
Religion and government ought to operate as a two way street of respect. At one point in the LDS Church, in 1835 the leaders in Kirtland unanimously voted on, favored and believed it to be appropriate to live religious lifestyles “unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others” (D&C 134:4). I wonder if a similar vote were taken today by current church leaders if the vote would again be unanimous...only this time unanimously opposed to what the early church leaders believed!
The more I think about it the more I can’t think of any reason why a homosexual would make me feel threatened. I’m comfortable in my sexuality. My marriage is strong. Plenty of other ‘evils’ of the world pose legitimate threats to the sanctity of marriage. We can focus individually on those as real temptations come along. The strength or weakness of any marriage is solely determined by the 2 engaged in such a partnership. I do not feel as though any homosexual could force me to change my lifestyle/values/beliefs whether or not they live together or are recognized by the government as a legal couple in California or even down the block.
If the LDS Church truly believes in preserving the sanctity of marriage through legislation like Prop 8, they would also push for propositions on ballots to prohibit alcohol, strip clubs, pornography, and other vices that have led to the termination of more marriages than any homosexual has. The church can and should speak up against what it feels to be evil but the level of commitment, on a secular and political scale, with regards to fighting secular homosexual marriages has led me to believe that the church’s mission on this topic is misguided at best and bigoted at worst.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Big House = Little Interaction?

Please peruse the above site to see comparisons of house sizes in various countries...look at the U.S. - agh!

I was reading a friend's blog and she wrote of people's questioning her ability to fit 3 children into their small home (seems kind of rude to me to ask that of others, but whatever...). When we brought Sophie home from the hospital our home was a 600 square foot apartment. Oh the gasps of people, the, "How can you live in such a small place?" Well, please ask our neighbors from China who have Mom, Dad, 2 children and Grandma and Grandpa in their unit. Then watch their expression, because it probably means, "Stupid people."

When I did voice to a friend of mine from Japan that I felt our place was small she quickly and rightly put me in my place by telling me that in Japan, her home (ok, she was in a larger unit...more like 1300 square feet) would be considered a palace.

I now live in a 2000 + square foot house and though I like the house overall, it really is quite ridiculous to have 3 people in a home this size. I often feel like we should be housing a few other families who've maybe fallen on hard times. I miss the cozyness of our house in Utah, which was 1800 square feet, but considered small by many. I drive around Jackson and see the houses nearer downtown and wish maybe we'd purchased one of those. Sigh.

The other thing, when we did move from our 600 square foot apartment to our more spacious unit in the same student housing complex, we noticed that less people hung out outside. It's no surprise that when the houses get bigger, there is less neighborhood interaction. Here is an excerpt from an article in Newsweek years ago, by a pizza delivery person: The first few days of each month, one of us drivers would take our turn covering the public-housing developments. These customers did not always tip well, but I always liked seeing the children and adults sitting outside and enjoying the evenings when the weather was nice. The higher-income neighborhoods were much quieter, and I rarely saw neighbors talking to each other.

Of course there are people who buy their larger home because they do want privacy - that's a good thing for them. I just feel like I should've known better - that I like the constant noise of a neighborhood in which people feel so suffocated by the walls in their home they need to the outside!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Antithesis of the OTHER Blog

I have another blog: dedicated to finding something for which to be happy about every single day. It's a nice little blog and was started because I found myself wallowing in self-pity and needing an attitude adjustment. A professor's words from 20 years ago came to mind, "If you're not happy, fake it and soon you will be." The blog was born and it has given me pause each day to embrace happiness. Yay!

The truth is though, right now I am about as miserable as I've been in a really long time. I want to throw the mother temper tantrums of all time, a temper tantrum that causes a two-year old to pause and give me an approving nod, a temper tantrum that is so inappropriate it will garner me a spot in time-out until the *bleeping* sun comes out! I'll go there with my trashy magazines, memoirs written by film stars, movies starring Steve Carell and a pot of coffee. I'll mutter about the horrors of living in Michigan in winter, the soggy socks, the biting cold and the lack of varied topography (actually, the last one is Steve's gripe, but I'm stealing it). I'll stew and pout and make faces at anyone who even remotely appears to be happy - because how can anyone be happy in this climate?!

Whew, ok, that just made me feel a LOT better. There was no stomping, no voice raising, I didn't even use the bad words that were yelling in my head, I just simply expressed my dissatisfaction. Now the trick is for all of you reading this to take it for what it is - dissatisfaction with Michigan in this moment. I do not hate Michigan, I do not even hate winter as a season - I just hate it right now. In five minutes I might love it - probably not, because it will still be winter, but who knows.

I am now going to watch High School Musical 2 with my most favorite 11-year old and lose myself in the perfectly choreographed moves that can only take place in a cafeteria to make any sense whatsoever! Ha to you, Michigan winter, you cannot defeat me!!