Thursday, April 25, 2013

Evidences That I'm a Terrible Father

Monday was Bug's birthday.  She turned five.  I wanted to write something for/about her.  In fact, I've tried a few times.  Everything I've tried stinks.

I tried a couple of times to write about her coming to the Clinic to have lunch with me.  It sounded like a book report.  It had no voice.  This isn't a mommy blog1 -- I can't publish something without voice.  And so Bug is getting ignored on her birthday post, and instead I'm, once again, talking about my favorite subject: me.

And so I present my evidences of just how terrible a father I really am.

Evidence 1: It's always about me
Happy birthday, Bug.  Anytime I try to write about you, I think the writing is bad, so I'm writing about me instead.

Why is it that I can evoke so well the feelings and anxiety around my last stay in the hospital (read back to this), but I can't evoke my feelings about you?  What does it say about me that I can write effectively about doubt and fear, but not about love?  Your daddy is broken.  You should request a replacement.

Evidence 2: You're not ready for school
You're not.  We'd be crazy to send you into kindergarten in your current state of preparedness.  And you should pitch a fit if I don't get you the one thing you truly need to be ready for kindergarten: a proper lunch box.  Hopefully, I'll get my act together before the Fall.  There are probably a million other things I should be worrying about--but this is the only one that concerns me.

Evidence 3: You haven't learned to throw a baseball
What is wrong with me?  What am I waiting for?

Evidence 4: I hate putting you to bed
I like it so much more when you fall asleep on the couch.  Especially when you're leaning against my arm, or have put my arms around you.  And it's even better when we've just finished a bowl of popcorn.  Bedtime sucks.

I could come up with more, but I won't.  I just hope that you understand that all week, the image that has played in my head over and over is the image of a half person running up and down crowded hospital hallways on her first ever visit to her Daddy's work.  I keep seeing braids bouncing as you jumped over every single joint in the tile floor.  I keep seeing doctors and nurses and patients slow their pace so they can watch this bouncing and giggling ball of excitement just a little bit longer.

I wish time would slow it's pace a little more (or a lot more) so that I could watch just a little bit longer.

Happy birthday, Bug.

1 I'm not trying to offend mommy bloggers, but let's face it; my interest in what your kids have done in the past week, month, year, or however long it takes you to feel guilty that you haven't been blogging is only a passing interest.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Coming out...

A conversation tonight brought up the idea that there is a parallel between freely telling a stranger that one is gay, and telling a stranger that one is a Mormon.....the fear of the reaction. What would the Uncommon Dissenter say on this subject?
A friend and reader sent this to me and I was intrigued.  Is declaring oneself gay at all similar to declaring oneself Mormon?

I'm not convinced.  At least not from my personal experience.  It's a lot easier for me to say, "I'm Mormon" than it is for me to say, "I'm gay."  Even in the turbulent years of middle and high school--where acceptance is so crucial to one's happiness--I found it easy to state that I was Mormon.  I never would have dared to state that I was gay.

I've been intrigued by the reactions of some adults when they learn that I am Mormon.  I was at a Boy Scout camp a few years ago and while discussing a religious topic, I offered the Mormon interpretation of something (I don't recall what the topic was).  The committee chair looked at me and was stunned.  "You're Mormon?" she asked.  I answered in the affirmative.  "Really?"  Again, I answered.  "You just completely changed my entire perspective of Mormons."  As it turns out, she had only known a couple of Mormons in her life, and severely disliked both of them.

In a more recent discussion, one of my fellow scout leaders and I were discussing some political topics.  He explained why he chose not to vote for Romney.  When he was done, he added that he didn't think he could vote for a Mormon anyway, because their core beliefs were so far removed from common sense.  I gave him a strange look.  "I don't think that's true."  He challenged me, and asked me how much I knew about Mormon doctrine. When I told him I am Mormon, he was surprised.  I seemed too normal to be like the other Mormons he had known.

The common theme between the experience of both of these individuals is that the Mormons they knew were personalities almost entirely defined by their Mormonism1.  But when they met me, they first got to know Benjamin, and later learned that Benjamin was also a Mormon.

But none of these experiences really address the question, because in none of these cases was I stating my religion to a stranger.  And maybe that's the point.  Why would we announce either of these personality traits to a stranger, unless we feel that they accurately define who we are?

My religion doesn't define me.  My sexuality doesn't define me.  If I were trying to use a single word to describe myself to a stranger, I don't know what word I would use. But I do know that I wouldn't use "straight," or "gay," or "Mormon." I would rather they build their impressions of me on my work, my attitude, and my integrity.

I can also see situations where I'd be hesitant to admit these traits to people I know.  I wouldn't admit my religion or my sexuality to a person or group of people that I felt were prone to letting that one trait define me in their minds.  I'm not sure that I would ever admit being gay to people within my religion due to a fear that I would instantly become tainted.  That I would become the sinner that they can't allow their children to know; they can't allow to teach; or hold positions of leadership.  I fear that if I were to openly admit I was gay, all the good things I've done in the Church would be forgotten.

So is admitting one's religion the same as admitting one's sexuality?  In some ways, yes.  But I don't see why you'd admit either of them to a stranger.  If you're admitting it to someone you know well, it could be the same or it could be different, and that depends on the person you are admitting to.  If you're afraid of their reaction, they probably aren't the kind of person worth admitting anything to.

1This probably isn't entirely fair to the Mormons they knew. But to the people I was talking to, it appeared that they were probably more vocal about their Mormonism than they were about any other aspect of their character.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Stories I Probably Shouldn't Tell My Scouts: Vol. 1

It all started simply enough. Jeanne and I wanted to go see Heather. Heather was from California, so it wasn't like we'd get the opportunity to see her often. We had met her in Germany when our paths from various exchange programs happened to cross. Some of her friends were coming from Germany for a week long visit and she was going to meet them for a weekend. Since she was coming all that way, we figured we could make the drive from Maine to see her.  We packed up and left around noon on Friday and began the seven hour drive to the City.

Or so we thought.

The first lesson I learned from this experience is that I really need to review the planned travel route before I get in the car.  I was relying on Jeanne to navigate the route while I drove, and somewhere along the way we took a wrong exit and were heading west on I-84 (I think).  I-84 goes no where near New York City.  We figured this out about the time that we should have been coming into the city, but were out in the middle of nowhere.  We reoriented ourselves, got headed in the right direction, and then stopped for dinner.  It was pushing 7:00 PM, and we were worried that if we didn't get to our hostel by 8:00, they might give our rooms away (we were good Christian teenagers and were trying to find separate accomodations that we could afford).  Jeanne got on the phone and called the hostel to let them know we were running behind but that we were on our way.

Second lesson: hostels don't operate like hotels.  "Oh, I gave those rooms away hours ago."

"That's just fantastic.  Now what do we do?"

Are you surprised that he really didn't care?  In retrospect, neither am I.  But I was pretty upset about it at the time.

We discussed our options.  We could drive six hours back to Maine, or we could press on two more hours to New York and find other accommodations when we got there.  Feeling the wear of a long drive already, I figured it would be easier for me to go to two hours than to go six, so onward we pressed.

Four hours later, I wasn't really talking to Jeanne.  And I was promising myself that I would never, ever put a map in her hands again (I probably don't give her enough credit for the fact that navigating New York City with a state level map isn't very efficient).  We crossed the Tapanzee bridge once...maybe even twice.  Everything was starting to blur together at that point.

Somehow we managed to find ourselves in New Jersey at about 1:00 AM.  I had been driving for almost 13 hours at this point and pulled off at the first place I saw that looked like it had rooms available.  We pulled into the parking lot, walked into the lobby, and I zoned out while Jeanne approached the glass to pay for our room.

Yes, you read that correctly. She approached the glass.  I had zoned out enough that this didn't register as abnormal to me.  However, when I started reading the posted rates, there was one word that jumped out at me and told me that I had strayed far beyond my life's experience.

That word was: "Hourly"

I began to wonder what kind of place I had brought us to.  I looked down the street to the right.  Discount liquor store.  I looked the building to the left.  Strip club.

While the realization of what all these elements added up to formed in my brain, Jeanne finished paying and got our room key.  I decided I had better be too tired to care.  Off to our room we went.  We happened to be enter our room at the same time as another couple and I received a knowing wink from the gentleman as he disappeared through his door.

So much for avoiding the appearance of evil.

I entered our room and collapsed on the bed.  It felt good to close my eyes and I wanted to stop thinking for a minute.  My reprieve was brief, but helpful.  Until I opened my eyes and found I was looking at myself.  In the mirror.  On the ceiling.

It was too much for me, and I slept on the floor that night.

As soon as we woke up, we headed out of the city in search for a true hotel.  The rest of the weekend proceeded as planned and without any real adventure (unless you count the dash light going out on the drive home--I drove back to Maine checking my speedometer with the help of a cigarette lighter).

I remember I called home at one point because, being 17 years old, I had no idea what I was doing and I desperately wanted guidance from my dad.  I told him about the drive down, the motel, and described everything right up to the mirrored ceiling.  Uproarious laughter and "Looks like you've got it under control."  Thanks dad.

In case you're wondering--No, I've never been to New York City since then.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Eleven Year Old Boys, Boy Scouts, and Absolutely Nothing To Do WithYoung Men

The age of 11 in the Church is a period of growth and transition toward ordination to the Aaronic Priesthood. This is a time when boys take their first steps out of the children's classes and into the adolescent programs. The forum for this transition is, in the United States, the scouting program.  Strangely, these 11 year old boys who are transitioning toward the Aaronic Priesthood will have virtually no interaction with the boys who will soon become their peers.

As outlined in Section 6.2 of the Scouting Handbook, LDS boys are to join their troops when they turn 11. In most programs, a den of cub scouts will join a troop after their annual Blue and Gold banquet.  This allows the entire den to make the transition together and allows the continued friends and support from their peers.  However, moving a boy into the scout troop on his 11th birthday isn't a terrible thing--just different.

After this, however, the LDS scouting program takes a sharp turn away from different and into inexplicably bizarre.  According to the Church's Scouting Handbook

Scouting prepares eleven-year-old boys to receive the Aaronic Priesthood and transition into the deacons quorum and Young Men program. Scouting can help them increase in confidence, testimony, brotherhood, and understanding of Aaronic Priesthood duties. The eleven-year-old boy will need to establish good relationships with his peers, the deacons quorum presidency, and his leaders.
Right.  That seems reasonable enough.  Until you read on:

Eleven-year-old boys meet separately from the Aaronic Priesthood–age Scouts because they are not yet part of a quorum.
That's right!  Eleven-year-old-boys are to develop good relationships with the deacons quorum presidency without ever actually interacting with them.

The focus of scouting for the eleven-year-olds is to complete the rank of First Class before they turn twelve. It's pretty normal in scouting to encourage boys to get First Class during their first year.  This is typically accomplished with the assistance of some of the older scouts teaching the new scouts the basic skills.  This gives the older scouts leadership opportunity while also helping them build relationships with the younger scouts.  It is completely absent in the LDS program.

And then it gets even stranger.  The determination to force scouting to fit the LDS bureaucracy is impressive.
Eleven-year-old Scouts may participate in three one-night camps a year, which meets the camping requirements for advancement to First Class rank. As desired, these overnight camp experiences may be held with the ward’s Boy Scout troop. The eleven-year-old Scout leader plans the overnight camps in consultation with the ward Primary presidency, the bishopric adviser to the Primary, and the ward Scouting committee. No other Scout-sponsored overnight camping should be planned for eleven-year-old Scouts
So let's sort this all out.  Boys join the troop when they turn eleven years old, but they don't participate with the troop. They work toward the goals of scouting, but under the supervision of the primary presidency-not the scoutmaster.  They may go on no more than three overnights a year--which may or may not be with the troop--as long as they are planned by the eleven year old scout leader and the primary presidency--not the troop.  And the sole reason for all of this is that eleven year olds are not yet part of a quorum.

I know it's terrible to say, but all I can think right now is "Be in the troop, but not of the troop."

None of this makes any practical sense at all.  For decades, eleven-year-olds have been participating in non-LDS scouting programs with the rest of the troop (including all the campouts) without any deleterious effects on their emotional or spiritual development.  Separating the eleven year olds from the rest of the troop also inhibits their ability to build relationships with the deacons quorum they are supposed to be preparing to join.  They would be much better served by full participation in the troop than they are by this mangled adaptation.

What really concerns me about this structure is it implies an organizational belief that eleven-year-olds are inherently different than twelve-year-olds.  I don't believe many individual people actually believe this, but organizationally, that belief is enshrined in how we treat them.  But the only difference between the eleven- and twelve-year-olds is that we have chosen to ordain boys at twelve-years-old.

So here's what it really boils down to: if you want to develop character, spirituality, and leadership in the young men, then you would do well to treat them as individuals with varying levels of maturity and emotional needs instead of categorizing their needs based on age.  There's no need to restructure scouting to fit the bureaucratic form of the LDS Church.

Friday, April 5, 2013

It Isn't Just Priesthood

Ordination of women seems to be a hot topic right now in some of the articles I read.  Equality in general is definitely a big topic.  But the more recent launch of the Ordain Women organization has reignited the debate.

No offense to my feminist friends, but I just don't get worked up about the ordination of women to the priesthood.  I really don't care right now, and I don't know if I ever will care.  It's not like I'm against it.  If the Church decided to ordain women, I'd embrace that change with open arms.  But it doesn't ignite in me the kind of passion that I care to do anything about it.  I hope you'll forgive me for that.

But please don't take my indifference on ordination to be indifference toward equality in general.  I think we have a lot we can accomplish in that regard.  I've already written about the lack of quality training for young women and their leaders.  There are other places in the Church that I see glaring inequalities as well, and they bother me.

There's just a couple I will point out today.

I was an ordinance worker in the Boston temple for a few years.  Every now and again, I would assist with sealings1.  One of the first things that really jumped out to me was that, in the description of the covenant, the woman is asked if she will giver herself to her husband and receive him as her husband.  The man is asked, however, only if he will receive her as his wife. I've never been comfortable with the language.  The woman has to give herself to her husband, but the man isn't giving himself to his wife?  It didn't take long before I had decided that I was going to expect of myself that I would give myself to my wife if I eventually got married.  Personally, I think the text of the ordinance should be changed so that both spouses are giving themselves to each other.

After discovering this incongruity, I began to notice another incongruity in another one of the temple ordinances.  During the endowment, we are instructed about the purpose of life and the role of the Atonement in helping us live a life worthy of eternal reward.  The forum for this instruction is the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  The endowment presents a dramatization (commonly a video recording) of the events in the Garden and we are asked to consider Adam and Eve as figures representing ourselves.

In this dramatization, after Adam and Eve have eaten from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, God is explaining the consequences of their choice.  He gives them their first religious covenants which are to help them begin repentance and guide them back to God's presence.  In these covenants, he asks Eve to promise to listen to the advice of her husband as he listens to the advice of the Lord.  But when he turns to Adam, he asks him to promise to hear the counsel of the Lord.

If you ask me2, this is the very heart of the inequality of men and women in the Church.  Whether it is intended or not, the implication exists--women are subject to the rule of their husbands, and their access to God is through him.  And it's just plain wrong.  If we want equality in the Church, we need to change that language.  I wouldn't change the charge that is given to Eve.  Instead, I would change the charge that is given to Adam. He should be asked to "hearken to the counsel of your wife and she hearkens to the counsel of the Father."

As long as our most sacred ordinances reflect unequal roles of men and women, not even ordaining women to the priesthood will create equality.  Changing organizational practice will have very little effect if we don't brand onto our hearts the idea that we are equal partners in interpreting God's will for ourselves and our families.  I think we'd have a much greater impact on equality by starting with the wording in temple ordinances than we will by ordaining women to the priesthood.

1 For the not-so-Mormon readers, the Sealing ordinance is an analog to marriage, but it doesn't really have civil terms. It is the religious portion and covenant of what Mormons consider marriage. In the US, this is recognized by the government as sufficient for civil marriage. Whereas we have this idea that all ordinances have to be done by valid priesthood authority (and that said priesthood authority exists only in the modern LDS Church at this time), we have taken it upon ourselves to scour the genealogical records and are systematically trying to perform a sealing for every civil marriage ever performed in the history of mankind. Yes, we are an ambitious group. Anyway, by performing these sealings using living people as stand-ins for those who have passed, we believe that each of those individuals will have the option of accepting or rejecting the ordinance done on their behalf. As an ordinance worker, I was doing a lot of these kinds of ordinances.

2 And you're welcome to disagree. Disagreement, after all, makes the world a beautiful place.