Jun 19, 2014

Solidarity in Excommunication: In Solidarity With Kate Kelly

To Kate Kelly's priesthood leaders
Despite being an active, believing member for the first 30 years of my life, my faith in the LDS Church came at a very high cost in terms of how I functioned and thrived in my personal life as a woman.
From a very young age, I was aware that women who find themselves not desiring to bear and raise children were not in harmony with God. This caused me a great deal of personal anxiety that could have been softened by a more expansive view of what women are capable of.
Despite having lost my faith and being inactive for several years, the rise of the Ordain Women movement and the issues surrounding gender in the Church reawakened both interest and hope for progress in this area. It also reactivated the pain and frustration I experienced during my years in the Church, as I witnessed abusive comments directed at Kate Kelly and OW members from their fellow faithful members. This, in addition to the Church’s refusal to ever meet with these sisters face-to-face to hear their concerns, confirmed to me once again that for women who are unable to mold themselves into the limited role deemed as acceptable, life in the Church can become excruciating to the point that it becomes detrimental to their emotional well-being.
The LDS Church has a view of women that is so archaic that it would take generations to change even if it were to ordain women today. Ordaining women is not the last step to giving women an equal voice in the Church — it is the first. But deciding that it’s not even willing to have a conversation about it demonstrates that the Church desires to regress to a point that is bound to compound shame and embarrassment when the chasm between its view on gender equality and that of future generations becomes even more stark.
To those who I hope actually take the time to read this, know that either way, your decision regarding Kate Kelly will make history. I therefore urge you to seriously and honestly consider, in good conscience, what your name(s), participation and decision will mean to the future generations that look back at this pivotal moment in LDS history.
Claudia Reppen
Oslo, Norway stake

Sep 13, 2012

Thanks, Brett.

Due to an upturn in my spiritual life and the time that I've been devoting to the humanitarian work that I've become heavily involved in the past couple of years with refugees, I haven't done anything with this blog in ages.  I've sometimes thought of doing a post about my long journey to where I am now, but due to laziness or lack of inspiration, I've let it go and devoted my time to writing about other topics.

But this evening I received an e-mail from a disgruntled reader (certainly not the first one I've gotten) who challenged me to post his message.  Brett Baltazar is an accountant that works for the LDS Church and he wanted to get his two cents in about his feelings surrounding my articles about the LDS hunting preserves, which I have written about extensively here.  Brett's e-mail gave me the inspiration I guess I finally needed to bring this blog to an official end (I think).

I am sure you will not post this on your blog due to the incorrect understanding you have of the Deseret Land and other church-owned properties. Anyone can pick out pieces of any article and turn everything around. Just as I could pick speeches from any democratic party and use "their words" and turn it against them.

I applaud you for your skills in doing so and admire the time you wasted to turn something good into what appears to be bad (according to your blog). There are too many topics to discuss the errors in your blog, but I can honestly say that I will be hunting on Deseret Land this year and all that I paid for was the cost to buy a hunting tag and permit($35 for the tag and $35 for the permit= $70)!!! So, next time you might want to do a little more research before posting a blog that states the costs are thousands and thousands of dollars!!

good luck in your endeavors and may you research EVERYTHING before you claim something to be true or not. Oh, and I plan an killing a big deer this year!!
To make a very long story short, this post has been at least 8 years in the making.  Or maybe more like 30 years, if I really think about it.  I remember when I first started this blog, I was looking for a safe place to talk about the things that no one wanted to talk about.  I was so afraid of being "discovered" and getting excommunicated.  If I'm that much of a threat, well, be my guest.

As I've uncovered the truth of LDS past and contemporary history and found solace among others who have gone through the same "spiritual trauma" -- which I really don't think is much of an understatement -- and seen many of them get dumped by their spouse, snubbed by their family, ostracized by their neighbours, or generally viewed as some sort of pariah by fellow Mormons, I've seen a side to Mormons and Mormonism that really breaks my heart.  I will always know that there are so many wonderful, loving Mormons who really take The Golden Rule to heart.  That's the side that I will try to remember.

But truth be told, besides all the historical and epistemological problems within Mormonism, the words and actions of some Mormons -- and maybe not as few as we want to think -- have repulsed me to such a degree that I no longer wish to be associated with Mormonism or regarded as "Mormon."  Brett's words are a reminder of just how miserable and mean-spirited many of them can be.  The satisfaction that many seem to get from defending "The One True Church" by deriding and ridiculing others is almost palpable.  Not until I left the Church did I realize how little love there can be in it.  Not until I left was I able to understand why I was so unhappy in it.  And not until I left it was I capable of feeling pure, untainted love for another others that did not have to be coloured or marred by dogma.

It's been hard at times for me to accept that my family and friends are happy in the LDS Church.  Truthfully, it has sometimes been excruciating to carry the burden of knowledge about the true origins and current operations of the Church that most of them seem to "know exists," but don't dare investigate themselves.  But in the end, I think it is for the best that they have decided to spare themselves the pain of disillusionment and betrayal -- even though at the other end of it I've managed to find a peace and fulfillment that I couldn't have imagined before.  I want to be happy, and for me, being happy means being out of the Church.  But I also want my loved ones to be happy, and so, if the Church = happiness for them, I could never begrudge them that.  I hope and I believe that we genuinely care as much about each other's happiness and well-being as much as I think we do.  And that's what has kept us together.

I made many great friends through this blog, many of which I maintain to this day.  Thanks for all who have followed along with me and who have poured out their own religious sorrows and struggles and lended me support.

And to all those who are still in the early stages of your journey, I think it's wise to follow Brett's advice:

"May you research EVERYTHING before you claim something to be true or not."

So very true.

Thanks, Brett.

Sep 5, 2011

Re-post: Is The Mormon Church Sacrificing Principle for Profit With Hunting Preserves?

It's been almost two years since I first published a post about the LDS-owned hunting preserves. That post continues to generate a fair amount of traffic to my blog. Unfortunately, however, those who post about the hunting preserves elsewhere usually miss the link to my Mormon Matters post which contained some updated information which was not included in the original post. So for the sake of clarification, here's a re-post of my Mormon Matters article from 2009. To my knowledge, it is still the most up-to-date source of information regarding these hunting preserves that very few Mormons are aware of.

Is The LDS Church Sacrificing Principle for Profit With Hunting Preserves?

September 24, 2009

“To what degree should the principle of ‘respect for life” be extended to bird and animal creations? What do the scriptures, Joseph Smith, and other early Church leaders teach about the grand design and purposes of God’s non-human creations? Does having “dominion” over the kingdom of creatures mean we are their predators and exploiters or does it suggest a “stewardship” relationship in which we become their caretakers in order to help them “fulfill the full measure of their creation?” If the scriptures teach, “woe be unto man that sheddeth blood or wasteth flesh and have no need,” and “the blood of every beast will I require at your hands,” what rationale could be used to explain Church-owned, revenue-generating enterprises such as Deseret Land and Livestock and the Westlake Hunting Preserve? Do these operations constitute sacrificing principle for profit?”

- Sacrificing Principle for Profit: Church Wildlife Enterprises and Hunting Preserves, Sunstone Magazine

I recently learned about the two Church-owned and sanctioned hunting preserves mentioned above and was stunned by what amounts to be the killing of animals for profit by the LDS Church.

Perhaps unlike other Church business enterprises, however, is the fact that missionaries were sent to “serve God in a most unusual way,” according to this July, 2000 article on Deseret News about the LDS Church’s hunting preserves.

According to the information packet from Deseret Land and Livestock obtained by the Sunstone speaker on this podcast, a guided archery hunt to bag an elk can fetch $11,500 plus tax and license, as of the year 2001. (A more detailed price list can be accessed at around the 28 minute mark of the podcast.) When asked in a letter by concerned members of the Church how the hunting preserves could be ethically justified, the Presiding Bishopric (who oversees the hunting preserves) offered no response or explanation.

Now, many Mormons own a gun and many go hunting. Millions of Americans go hunting every year and it’s a big industry. So what’s the problem with the Church getting in on the profits? Well, when we consider LDS scripture and statements by General Authorities such as the following, it’s clear that we’re not “just another hunting enterprise:”

“And surely, blood shall not be shed, only for meat, to save your lives; and the blood of every beast will I require at your hands.” (Genesis 9:11, JST)

“I never could see why a man should be imbued with a blood-thirsty desire to kill and destroy animal life. I have known men—and they still exist among us—who enjoy what is, to them, the ‘sport’ of hunting birds and slaying them by the hundreds, and who will come in after a day’s sport boasting of how many harmless birds they have had the skill to slaughter … I do not believe any man should kill animals or birds unless he needs them for food, and then he should not kill innocent little birds that are not intended for food for man. I think it is wicked for men to thirst in their souls to kill almost everything which possesses animal life. It is wrong.” (President Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, Vol. 1, pp. 371-372)

“Now, I would like to add some of my feelings concerning the unnecessary shedding of blood and destruction of life … And not less with reference to the killing of innocent birds is the wildlife of our country that live upon the vermin that are indeed enemies to the farmer and to mankind. It is not only wicked to destroy them, it is a shame, in my opinion. I think that this principle should extend not only to the bird life but to the life of all animals … because God gave it to them, and they were to be used only, as I understand, for food and to supply the needs of men.” (President Spencer W. Kimball, “Fundamental Principles to Ponder and Live,” The Ensign, November 1978, p. 45)

“Killing for sport is wrong…One day, to while away the slowly passing hours, I took my gun with the intention of indulging in a little amusement in hunting turkeys… From boyhood I had been particularly, and I may say strangely, attached to a gun. Hunting in the forests of Ohio was a pastime that to me possessed the most fascinating attractions. It never occurred to my mind that it was wrong-that indulging in “what was sport to me was death to them;” that in shooting turkeys, squirrels, etc., I was taking life that I could not give; therefore I indulged in the murderous sport without the least compunction of conscience.” (Teachings of Lorenzo Snow, p.188-189)

Something happened between the days that those statements were made and the present day where sport hunting for profit within the Church was suddenly considered to be a good idea — so much so that missionaries were initially sent to tend to the grounds. How did we get from the days where the Church fostered such a high regard for animal life that Joseph Smith prevented the unnecessary killing of rattlesnakes; when the pioneers would lay their hands upon their oxen to bless them; when their animals were valued as they were the key to their survival, and hunting was done only because it was necessary to sustain their lives — to the days when they’re hunted down for recreation and profit? What does that say about our culture and our religion?

Did I miss a change in LDS teaching concerning reverence for the Lord’s animal creations? Or is the only change that we’ve put a price on their heads?

George Q. Cannon, counselor in the First Presidency under Brigham Young and editor of the Juvenile Instructor, probably wrote more concerning the humane treatment of animals than any member of the Church. In 1868 he began writing editorials advocating kindness to animals and in 1897 he founded a Sunday School-sponsored “Humane Day,” which became an annual event. Most members of the Church know nothing about it, but this program continued in the Church for the next twenty years.

It is perhaps a bit ironic that leaders of the Church — in the days of when members were more dependent on animals for their food and clothing — were so frequently vocal about the humane treatment of animals, emphasizing that we should never take their lives unless it is to save our own, whereas today — when we are much less dependent on animals for our survival, and are supposedly much more enlightened on the subject of animal intelligence, emotion, and sensitivity to pain – the leaders of the Church are mostly silent on the issue of animal welfare and see fit to send missionaries to tend to sport hunting grounds.

In the Deseret News article, referring to Elder Huff, who tended to Westlake, it says:

“Instead of knocking on doors, he spends his time bush- whacking in the thick brush along the southwest shores of Utah Lake, looking for the perfect place to nurture his birds by planting numerous stands of corn, rye and other grains….

Large holding tanks that are no longer used for farming now provide high-profile watering holes throughout the game preserve, attracting not only birds but rabbits, coyotes, deer and even antelope.”

Interestingly enough, President Joseph F. Smith made a very specific statement referring directly to hunting elk, deer and antelope, among others:

“I do not believe any man should kill animals or birds unless he needs them for food, and then he should not kill innocent little birds that are not intended for food for man. I think it is wicked for men to thirst in their souls to kill almost everything which possesses animal life. It is wrong. I have been surprised at prominent men whom I have seen whose very souls seemed to be athirst for the shedding of animal blood. They go off hunting deer, antelope, elk, anything they can find, and what for? “Just the fun of it!” Not that they are hungry and need the flesh of their prey, but just because they love to shoot and to destroy life. I am a firm believer, with reference to these things, in the simple words of one of the poets:

“Take not way the life you cannot give,
For all things have an equal right to live.”

Answers to Gospel Questions, Vol.4, p.48

President Smith seems to predict with amazing accuracy what is going on at places like Westlake, where ”prominent men,” (perhaps the “doctors, dentists and attorneys from Payson north to Ogden, including Park City,” that Elder Huff refers to in the Deseret News article) seem to be so “athirst for the shedding of animal blood” that they will literally spend tens of thousands of dollars to “go off hunting deer, antelope, elk, anything they can find, and what for? Just the fun of it!”

Indeed, a very elite, lucrative kind of “fun” that had (as of 2001) a six-year waiting list.

Information about these hunting preserves is very sparse, but according to Jim Catano, who contacted the Church’s public affairs department and was “told by the director that he would answer my questions, a second-tier media handler was assigned to inform me weeks later that they would not answer any of the questions I’d submitted in preparation for this article.” (The article he was referring to can be accessed here.) After deciding to drop into Westlake unannounced and being given a tour by manager Kevin Albrecht, he found out the following in 2001:

“Our efforts in bringing our opposition to the attention of the Church hierarchy have already had an impact. Not only do missionaries no longer staff the facility but “canned hunts” in which birds that have been raised in captivity are released just before the hunters go in are no longer sponsored. Kevin said he had had several meetings with upper management as a result of our activism, and canned hunts were one of the first things to be changed.

He told me that in a meeting he recently attended of commercial hunting facility managers, people from other parts of the country were surprised how low the daily bag limit is (2 per day as opposed to “as many as you can shoot for a price”) and that the facility no longer plants hatched birds but relies only on wild reproduction. He informed me how strict rule enforcement is and that members must report birds they think they’ve wounded but can’t find as part of their daily limit. He’s fairly confident that members do this although I have my doubts that all do.”

Since information about these preserves is limited, I decided to get in contact with Jim in order to ask him whether he had any new information since his update in 2001. He said that he had contacted Farm Management Corporation (wholly owned by the LDS Church to run its farm properties) sometime prior to 2003, but they “refused to talk to me and give me any more information on the subject at a certain point.”

So, while there have been positive changes as the result of protest about the initial practice of canned hunting, Jim says that it “didn’t change (his) mind about the merits of the existence of this facility.” The end result has remained unchanged: animals being hunted down for Church profit.

This isn’t about sustaining the lives of doctors and lawyers or meat going to waste. Who eats coyote? And $11,500 for a few elk steaks? This is about the number of animals being purposely multiplied by creating the perfect conditions and attracting them to the preseve for the purpose of being killed “just for fun” – not because they need the flesh to live on, as President Smith stated above.

Ironically, The Humane Society of the United States has a webpage dedicated to praising the LDS Church for its teachings about animal life. Do we deserve the praise? Or have we given nothing but lip service to our supposed respect for God’s creations and their right to life?

Despite past teachings and statements by General Authorities on the subject of hunting and the taking of animal life, many of you have no personal problem with sport hunting. Obviously, you have the legal right to hunt and I realize that I’m unlikely to change your personal views on the matter. I ask you, however, whether you would be troubled by any of the following purely hypothetical situations:

  • The Church preaches against alcohol consumption, but purchases a vineyard in California and profits from the sale of the grapes being harvested to produce wine.
  • The Church teaches that pornography is wrong, but has a stake in a popular fashion magazine featuring scantily-clothed women in sexual poses.
  • The Church opposes abortion but owns property in Florida that an abortion clinic rents.

Would you be prepared to defend these hypothetical scenarios in the same way that you defend the Church’s hunting preserves?

Of all the good ways to make a buck, is this the best we can do? Are we or are we not, as a Church, sacrificing principle for profit?

Gerald E. Jones stated the following in in an Ensign article from August, 1972 called “The Gospel And Animals:”

“The prophets have been consistent in reminding men of their duty to the animal world. As the Lord told Noah, “… the blood of every beast will I require at your hands.” (JST, Gen. 9:11.) It is our sacred stewardship to care for the earth and all the creatures on it.”

The prophets have been consistent. What about the Church?

I’ll leave you with a quote from Joseph F. Smith from an editorial published in the Juvenile Instructor in April, 1927:

“… The unnecessary destruction of life is a distinct spiritual loss to the human family. Men cannot worship the Creator and look with careless indifference upon his creations. The love of all life helps man to the enjoyment of a better life. It exalts the spiritual nature of those in need of divine favor.”

Apr 26, 2011

Mormongandhi's Easter Sunday Baptism

One of my best friends in this world, mormongandhi, was baptized this past Easter Sunday into The Community of Christ (aka Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). Unfortunately, I was unable to make the trip to Oslo to take part in his special day, but he wrote a beautiful testimony which he has shared on his blog, and which I know he won't mind that I share here. ;) It's an inspiration to me, a story of spiritual triumph.

As a married gay man with a love for the Book of Mormon and its non-violent message, and knowing what kind of person mormongandhi is and what kind of heart he has, I'm genuinely grateful for a place where he can feel at home. For him, that home is The Community of Christ and I know that its small community in Oslo, Norway is very happy to welcome him into their fold. Who wouldn't be?

Below is mormongandhi's baptismal talk, also posted on his blog, Latter-day Satyagraha.

I’ve been on a pilgrimage for the last 14 years, but I think that my
problem until recently has been that I have been looking back at what once was,
rather than looking forward to what might become. My motivation for being
baptized in the Community of Christ was the following: I wanted to symbolically
put an end to a long and painful change process and begin to look forward to a
new and better life as one of Jesus’ peaceable followers. I thought it was
rather symbolic that I had sung Mozart’s Requiem in the choir a few weeks ago,
as a requiem for the old creature I once was, a death mass for the life I once
lived and for the principles I once believed in.

I’ve been a Christian all my life. I have been willing to take upon me
the name of Christ as far as I can remember. This faith had its origin in the
church community that I grew up in (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day
Saints). But it was only as a sergeant in the military, 14 years ago, that I was
challenged to the core. A soldier asked me if I was a Christian, and when I
answered yes – he said, what on earth are you doing here? It was an important
realization – that the greatest injustice one can do to oneself is to do
injustice to others – and I am grateful that someone else was more lucid than me
at the time and got me started on this transformational process. But I’m not
going to dwell on the past so much today. The important thing for me right now
in this moment is to look forward to a new life as a member of the Community of

Jesus once said, “Without being born again, one can by no means enter
into the kingdom of God”. To me this passage of scripture means that when we are
baptized, we enter on a journey of discovering the kingdom of God within, so as
to contribute to establishing God’s kingdom in the world. Through my baptism
today I committed myself to seeing things from God’s perspective – and let the
Spirit of Christ and of His peace show me a gentler way to a better life so that
I can be a blessing to others. A peaceable disciple wants first and foremost to
serve his Master and this Master has always underlined the fact that we serve
him best by serving others.

In the Doctrine and Covenants 164:5 of the Community of Christ, it
says: “It is imperative to understand that when you are truly baptized into
Christ you become part of a new creation. By taking on the life and mind of
Christ, you increasingly view yourselves and others from a changed perspective.
Former ways of defining people by economic status, social class, sex, gender, or
ethnicity no longer are primary. Through the gospel of Christ a new community of
tolerance, reconciliation, unity in diversity, and love is being born as a
visible sign of the coming reign of God.”

It is this community that I want to be part of and as a member of the
Community of Christ, I can help bring it about: I can increasingly testify of
Jesus Christ and participate in my newfound church’s own mission of promoting
communities around the world that are built on hope, peace, love and joy.

Would I be here today unless Joseph and Emma Smith had dedicated their
lives to understanding God’s will for them? The Book of Mormon has been central
to my quest for peace in my own faith, and has convinced me like few other books
have, that war and violence are neither of God nor are they God’s will for His
children. War and violence is what we, together with God, must oppose. But still
there are many so-called Christians, to the extent I thought I was a Christian
when I was in the Armed Forces, that distort the teachings of Christ and adapt
them to serve their own purposes: this distortion has led to suffering, disaster
and death on an unimaginable scale.

How grateful am I for having found the Community of Christ that both
understands and interprets latter day scriptures in a responsible manner and
that have taken seriously the divine call to repent from the violence that has
previously defined (and still does) the Saints in the latter days. The first
Saints, who lived at the time of Jesus, must be looked upon as examples of
Christian living for the Latter-Day Saints, so that the last shall be (equal to)
the first. For the disciples in the time of Christ believed that they had indeed
beaten their swords into plowshares that they would no longer practice war – but
always seek peace. It is with them that I have chosen to lay down by the waters
of baptism (down by the riverside) my sword and my shield.

Does it mean that members of the Community of Christ do not feel
indignation at the injustice that characterizes the world we live in, that we do
not fret and grieve when nations go to war against each other or when
authoritarian regimes oppress people, or that we do not suffer when we see that
we are about to undermine and destroy the very Creation that sustains our puny
lives? On the contrary, like God, neither can we look upon sin in the slightest
and consent to it. We are called to promote good fellowship, through our
communion with the Holy Spirit that is the peace of Christ, to be a force in the
world that can transform unhealthy relationships, that we may promote God’s
peaceful reign and not the least, bring balance to and purity of

Peace I give unto you. Not as the world gives, give I unto you. Do not let
your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. I have always believed that
Joseph Smith’s vision of building Zion was one of the greatest innovations in
Christianity in the 19th Century. But the scripture I now am referring to, has
always been central to my understanding of how Zion will see the light of day.
We will achieve peace, but not through the methods of the world (not as the
world gives). Mahatma Gandhi said: There is no way to peace, peace is the way.
That is, there is no way to Zion, Zion is the way. I see the connection here
with what Christ said that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and that no
one comes to the Father but by him. We must dare to live as Christ suggested we
ought to in the Sermon on the Mount (is it any wonder we refer to Zion as Zion’s
Mount). Some have taken his admonition seriously and have followed Christ’s
long-suffering example in their quest for a better world.

Change does not come by itself, but it comes when we change ourselves –
and to help us along the way Jesus has given us rituals and symbols that can
help us keep to the uninterrupted and narrow path. Baptism is one of the
sacraments that can remind us of His death and resurrection, and also of his
victory over those who sought to get rid of him. He changed the course of
history in spite of opposition and persecution. Others have also tried to change
history through the same methods and all who refuse to lift up our swords
against our neighbors have become pilgrims in the pursuit of peace.

The symbolism of my baptism today, on an Easter Sunday (the day we
remember His resurrection) reminds me that I must follow in his footsteps
through all the days of my life on earth. The fact that I’m the same age as
Jesus was when he died on the cross and was reunited with his body, says a lot
about his ability to embrace His Divine calling in a relatively young age. 33 is
a good age in a modern world to take up the call I have received to testify of
Christ and the need to continue to admonish others of the importance of
nonviolence both as a believer in the Community of Christ, but also as a
committed member of the global world community.

Maybe that’s what I need to do as a newly baptized member, to see how
the principles taught in Doctrine and Covenants 164 can be implemented in other
contexts. Perhaps one day the world community will become a whole new creation,
a Community of Christ, a new society where we increasingly view ourselves and
others from a changed perspective, where former ways of defining people by
economic status, social class, sex, gender, or ethnicity no longer are primary.
Through the gospel of Christ a new community of tolerance, reconciliation, unity
in diversity, and love is being born as a visible sign of the coming reign of

Mar 25, 2011

Parallel Journeys

It's been a while since I've written here, but I'm working on a third anniversary post that I hope to release in the coming days. In the mean time, you can check out a guest post that I've done for Doves and Serpents, entitled "Parallel Journeys," about some of my experiences of the past year. You can read it here.

Nov 17, 2010

Are You An Islamophobe or An Anti-Semite?

I was reading the discussion going on at Mormon Heretic after his post about Benson, Eisenhower and Communism, as well as Glenn Beck's latest Jewish controversy, and was reminded of something that I've been wondering to myself lately.

What is "anti-semitic?" And what is "islamophobic?"

Those who have followed my most recent posts know that as I've gotten to know a lot of Muslim refugees the past year, I've been learning a bit about Islam. As well, I try to stay up-to-date as well as I can on what's going on close to home and in places like Afghanistan or Palestine. I try to combine first-hand information with everything that I read, realizing that the "real truth" can be really hard to get. I generally try to take everything with a grain of salt, but I must admit that I'm more inclined to favour first-hand accounts from people that I've developed a personal relationship with. Especially when they are both numerous and consistent.

When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, although I'd hardly call myself a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause, I think that I've learned enough about what's going on in Palestine to staunchly disagree with the way that Israel is handling things. (I wrote a bit about that in a previous post.) There is a reason why Norway is filled with Palestinian refugees -- not Israeli refugees -- and everything seems to indicate that Israel is abusing its power by doing their best to seal off the Palestinian people from the rest of the world.

But there are, of course, two sides to this dirty conflict and although it's a bit easier for me to take sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it's certainly not so in the larger, general Muslim-Jewish conflict. As a friend from Iraq admitted to me, it's easier for her to like Christians than Jews. And although I do know of some refugees from Palestine who had Jewish friends back home, I wonder how I would have been received by my Muslim friends on that first day if I had said, "Hi, I'm from Israel" instead of "Hi, I'm from Canada." We all have our personal prejudices. I think I'm generally a pretty culturally open-minded and accepting person, but even I have to admit that some people are "harder for me to like." Let's just say... *a-hem*.... that loving certain Americans of certain political or religious persuasions requires an extra big effort on my part. ;) But I think I'm able to recognize my personal prejudice, be mindful of it, and try my best to resist it.

As in the US, there is a lot of Islamophobia going on in Europe. Norway is no exception, but is in a sort of unique positition. Being one of the world's strongest supporters for a free Palestine and an outspoken critic of Israel's operations in Gaza, it's been accused as being the most anti-semitic nation in Europe. Fresh accusations of this have been brought up in the media after the recent release of the Norwegian-produced film Gazas Tårer (Gaza's Tears) which features real and very raw footage of civilian casualties during the siege in Gaza. Critics cite the repeated anti-Israeli/anti-Jew/calls for revenge and Israel's downfall as evidence of Norway's tolerance of anti-semitism. I haven't seen the film, but I personally don't consider showing the angry rants of devastated Palestinians to be part of an anti-semitic agenda. Who in their posistion wouldn't be angry? But it goes without saying that whether it's watching Gaza's Tears, reading Eyes in Gaza, or meeting refugees and hearing their personal stories, one doesn't really come away with warm and fuzzy feelings for Israel.

On the other hand, there's a part of me that has real empathy for the Israeli paranoia that has led to extreme and inhumane actions on its part. While I find myself somewhat frequently speaking up on behalf of peaceful, moderate Muslims who are being marginalized in North America and Western Europe these days -- even writing letters to several newspapers and signing my name -- I sometimes have fears about what I am defending. And I can't help but think that there is a personal Mormon connection.

Even among seemingly moderate Muslims, I strongly suspect that there are seeds of anti-semitism being planted within Islam, just as seeds of racism, homophobia, anti-liberalism, anti-intellectualism, and anti-feminism have been planted throughout history within Mormonism. It's just hard to believe sometimes, behind all the smiles, love and generosity that typify Muslims or Mormons, that phobia or marginalization are being cultivated behind the scenes -- perhaps most often subconsciously, unknowingly, and largely unintentionally.

My Mormon background, combined with my personal encounters with nice, normal, moderate Muslims, makes for an interesting learning experience -- not to mention a paradox. I find myself sympathizing with my Muslim friends, remembering how I once felt marginalized by certain people as a socially conservative Mormon, and knowing that they are going to be viewed with at least some skepticism and suspicion by most of those who don't know them personally. But at the same time, now that I'm more aware of Mormon history and seen evidence of how some Mormons so eagerly blur the separation between church and state -- whether it's black civil rights, the ERA or Prop 8 -- I can't help but fear that I may be indirectly defending just that by defending moderate Islam. While I have no doubt about my Muslim friends as people, I sometimes worry about where even moderate Islam can lead if Muslims someday comprise a more significant portion of the population. Will they respect secular, democratic values and civil law? After all, how many orthodox Mormons wouldn't want to turn their country into Zion if they had the power to do so? "Because the prophet says so" has proven to be a very effective tool in hindering civil rights in America. I sometimes feel very conflicted about what type of role I should take in defending my Muslim brothers and sisters. Is there a way to defend Muslims without necessarily defending Islam? I hope so, but it can be difficult to separate the two.

And so this brings me back to my initial question. Am I anti-semitic because I support a free Palestine and that I think that this film from Gaza -- complete with its real footage of Palestinians calling for revenge and death to Israel -- is a film that the world needs to see? Am I islamophobic because I'm somewhat skeptical of the ability of even moderate Muslims to not plant seeds of anti-semitism and not want to mix religion with civil law?

Are you an islamophobe or an anti-semite? Or maybe even a bit mormophobic?

Nov 4, 2010

More About The LDS-Owned Hunting Preserves

Some of you will recall an article I did a while back regarding the for-profit hunting preserves owned by the LDS Church. I still get a fair number of visits to my blog because of that article, but I think that some of you missed the update I did for Mormon Matters with more in-depth research on the subject. It's been over a year since I wrote that article, which you can read here, but as far as I know it's still status quo with the hunting preserves.

Though Rock Waterman's latest post about Mormon Corporatism, I learned of a newer post regarding the hunting preserves which you can read here. Although there isn't really any "news" per se, the author includes some quotes that I did not include, as well as examines the ethics of the Church using missionaries for private enterprises -- among other things. I recommend it to anyone interested in the subject.

Oct 11, 2010

The Danger Of Distance

My husband and I recently celebrated our eighth wedding anniversary. I've been in Norway for eight years now. Hard to believe. It's gone by quickly. It's been challenging at times, but I've learned so much and I think that I've grown considerably. I've also changed a lot, although I think that I'm basically the same person I always was. But where I've changed most, I think, is that the older I've gotten and more aware of the world around me, the more I want to get involved. The more I want to bridge the distance between myself and the people and ideas that I don't understand. I've always been curious and fairly open-minded. But I've usually been an anxious, timid person. Though I still sometimes feel hindered by my lack of self-confidence and inhibitions, I do sometimes now find myself more willing to just "jump in" and get involved in things that I previously would have left up to someone else. And by doing so, I've learned some valuable lessons about how distance can be a hindrance to understanding and, thereby, compassion.

The danger of distance hit home to me more these past couple weeks in three different, totally unrelated forms.

Farm animals

As my regular readers know, I'm an avid animal welfare advocate and do my best to maintain and (hopefully) inspire others to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle -- or at the very least to cut down on meat consumption. There are a ton of reasons why vegetarianism is beneficial for people and the environment, but I won't get into those here because they're all secondary to the heart of the issue, in my opinion.

I read a detailed account of the life of a Norwegian veal calf named Tussi. The author followed him from his birth in a barn to when he was grazing in pastures, and then just under six months after his birth was loaded onto a truck and driven three hours to a slaughterhouse. There he was led through a narrow hall to where a bullet was shot into his skull, he was hung upside down, throat slit, drained for blood, and then cut into steak.

Paul McCartney once said, "If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian." Personally, I think this is a stretch because I know that there are some people out there who have no problem with witnessing or personally participating in animal slaughter. In some places of the world, poverty has made some people dependent on their animals for survival. It's totally natural to some people and something that they probably don't give much thought to. However, I think that many people are the type who would become vegetarian if they had to witness -- or personally participate in -- the slaughter of every single animal they consume. The first person who comes to mind is my Dad. I think that my compassion for animals is something I got from him. Dad is the type who, if he finds them inside, puts spiders in plastic bags and carries them outside. I know he would never use anything but a humane mousetrap. He drew the line when grub worms were eating up his lawn and he bought some pesticides, but he wouldn't even let us step on ants as kids. But as nice as we were to ants, we all ate meat pretty much daily. I know that both of my parents would have been disturbed to hear about -- let alone witness -- how our dinner got onto our plates. And yet we managed to consume animals day after day without really worrying about it. And this could only be maintained through distancing ourselves from the realities of all the chickens, cows and pigs that we ate over the years. If Mom and Dad had had to personally butcher all of the cows, I have no doubt that we would have all grown up vegetarian. Now, my intention is not to criticize, because I managed to maintain that distance myself for 28 years. And sometimes I still do, when really kind people whom I don't want to offend serve me something containing meat. But the distance is not what it once was and it will never be again.


In a totally unrelated incident, I had to say goodbye to a good friend of mine a couple of weeks ago. One of the several Afghan refugees that I've gotten close to these past few months, Ali is an approximately 19 year-old young man (most Afghans don't know their exact day or even year of birth because in a country of chaos and high illiteracy, births are not really registered) who got his final rejection from the Norwegian immigration authorities. He was ordered to leave Norway by a certain date or be sent to a detention centre until the authorities could put him on a plane to Kabul, which is not his home. Ali doesn't know where his family is. They were separated about ten years ago and the Red Cross was unable to track them down. According to Norwegian authorities, Ali was over 18 when he arrived in Norway two years ago, although even they admit that they can't say for sure that he isn't under 18 even now. Whereas a few years ago his case would have likely given him grounds to stay, the political situation has changed considerably recently. There is a strong anti-immigrant sentiment throughout Europe these days and Norway is no exception. So, Norway -- often referred to as "the world's richest country -- has no room for Ali. We "can't afford" him. We have "nothing" to offer him. It's "safe" enough for him to go back to Afghanistan, despite all the latest UN and NGO reports of an increase in violence and attacks on civilians -- particularly on ethnic minorities such as Ali, who is Hazara. Funny how we say it's "safe."

The last time I saw Ali, I was struck by how young he suddenly seemed to me. I thought of my own 19 year-old brother in Canada and tried to imagine him alone somewhere in some foreign country with no family, no money, no passport, no rights, and no place to call home. Even as I sit and type this, I still feel deeply impacted by my last image of Ali -- this incredibly bright and fun-loving young man who was nothing to Norway but another immigration case -- walking out the door to an incredibly uncertain future. Where is he now? Where will he be next week? Next month? Next year? In ten years?

I'd like to believe that there are few Norwegians who would have had the heart to send Ali out along his journey to nowhere if they knew him personally. If it were they who had to make the final decision. If it were up to them whether he were given the opportunity to continue his education, work, and have a life of stability in Norway where he had learned the language and had friends that had become like family to him; or whether he be left with the alternatives of returning to nothing in Afghanistan or being shuffled from one European country to another without any rights or protection.

But even though most people would probably agree that there is something wrong with what happened to Ali, they have a safe distance between themselves and "cases" like him. Even though the immigration authorities -- the "bad guys" -- were the ones who rejected him, we tend to forget that in a democracy like Norway, we are the immigration authorities. We are the "bad guys" for electing them into power and allowing them to implement their policies with little or no protest. Norwegians are great complainers. It's probably why they've probably built the greatest country in the world to live in. But there's not a lot of complaining going on for Ali and the thousands in his position. Why? Because of the distance we've managed to create between "us" and "them" -- even though we may literally be neighbours with "them." Norwegians, however, are not the only ones who distance themselves from other human beings. It was such distance that led to the dangerous dehumanization and subsequent genocide of the Hazara people by the Taliban and other groups in Ali's homeland. This, in turn, caused him and millions of others to have their lives ruined, families torn apart and scattered around the globe. Norwegians had nothing to do with those attrocities committed in Afghanistan. But does that clear us of any responsibility towards Ali?

I just finished reading the book Eyes In Gaza by Norwegian doctors Mads Gilbert and Erik Fosse, who were the only westerners present for much of the 22-day siege of Gaza in 2008-2009. If you remember watching CNN or BBC coverage of that event, you may remember their shocking reports of what they were witnessing as Gaza was being sealed up and cut off from the rest of the world. Although I realize that the Israel-Palestine conflict is far from one-sided, few have witnessed the scale and severity of the Palestinian suffering as these two doctors. The original book is in Norwegian, but I see that an English translation is available on Amazon here. I highly recommend it for anyone who wishes to get a more nuanced view from the Palestinian side of the conflict.

In one of the book's chapters, Dr. Fosse writes:

"It suddenly occured to me how dangerous distance is, and how easy it is to distance oneself when the victims have a foreign religion or rhetoric. The labelling of Gaza's population as religious fanatics and terrorists made it so that people in the west didn't identify with them and their suffering. The terror label had created a distance between them and us. For ever day that the war continued, more children had their lives ruined. Either they lost their lives, arms and legs, or they lost their parents. They were all psychologically injured of the chaos they lived in. Every day with war did irreversible damage to everyone in Gaza. As children were killed and maimed, American and European politicians discussed details in the wording of a resolution. I felt nauseous."

How relevant is Fosse's view of the danger of distance in other areas of the societies in which we live? Is it applicable elsewhere?


The danger of distance came to mind again this past week as another gay Mormon took his own life and the media were buzzing over Boyd K. Packer's talk about homosexuality in General Conference. I don't wish to analyze and criticize his talk because that's been done many times before. But when I heard what he had to say, the subject of distance came to mind again. I could be wrong, but I'm guessing that Elder Packer doesn't really have any gay friends. Once again, I could be wrong but I'm going to assume that he hasn't spent a lot of time with homosexuals, hearing their stories or associating with them. I'm guessing that he generally views them and their supporters as enemies of the Church. Of course, none of us can know for sure what is in his heart, but his choice of rhetoric on several occasions seems to support my theory.

Just this morning I read about New York gubernatorial hopeful Carl P. Paladino's comments about how children should not be "brainwashed" into thinking homosexuality was acceptable. "That's not how God created us," he said. And then he added, "I just think my children and your children would be much better off and much more successful getting married and raising a family, and I don’t want them brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid and successful option — it isn’t.”

The other side could claim that religious groups are engaging in brainwashing themselves. But really, who needs to be brainwashed? People can decide for themselves and pass judgment once they've personally bridged the distance. And perhaps it says something that those haven't had that distance between themselves and gays are the ones that generally seem to exhibit the most compassion and understanding. In the Mormon community, Carol Lynn Pearson comes to mind. Is there anyone who gets it better?

A friend of mine sent me a message this past week in which he wrote:

"I was raised in a very conservative, Republican, Mormon household with all of the subtle (and not so subtle) prejudiced attitudes against women, poor people, races and cultures different from our own, and, yes, against homosexuals. After all, "they" are not like "us," and, further, "they" are choosing to be different from "us." So, growing up, and even on my mission in the late Eighties, my view were very much what Boyd K. has expressed over the years.

As I have pursued my working career, I have formed too many friendships with gay and lesbian men and women. You know, so long as I was separate from "them," I did not have to take anything new in. Needless to say, over many years, and many conversations, and pondering, my programming has been updated."

I thought that his sentence, "so long as I was separate from "them," I did not have to take anything new in" hit the nail on the head. And it was very timely as the subject of distance had been on my mind lately.

On a relevant note, Marlin Jensen caused some waves of his own over his Prop 8 apology at a Church meeting in California. The way I see it, Packer and Jensen adhere to the same doctrine. Neither of them see a place for homosexuals in the Church who are not celibate. But Jensen's approach somehow seemed so much more palatable in this Salt Lake Tribune article where it was reported:

Jensen was the visiting general authority and offered to meet with members on the issue. About 90 people attended the meeting by invitation, and 13 shared their stories of pain as gays or family members, Pearson reported on her website. After one particularly harrowing account, many in the room, including Jensen, began to cry.

The speaker said he felt the church owed him an apology.

Jensen arose and said through his tears, according to Pearson, he had heard very clearly the pain that had been expressed and that “to the full extent of my capacity I say that I am sorry.”

Marriage as only between a man and a woman was a “bedrock of our doctrine and would not change,” Jensen told the group that day, nor would the policy requiring gays to remain celibate.

“However, I want you to know that as a result of being with you this morning, my aversion to homophobia has grown,” Jensen said. “I know that many very good people have been deeply hurt.”

Jensen’s heartfelt empathy was such a healing balm that day, said Andy Sorenson, bishop of the Moraga Ward, home to about half the participants. There was widespread sobbing.

“He said that we have to do better going forward as a Christian people in expressing Christ’s love and fostering our common bonds together,” Sorenson said Monday. “It was one of the most powerful spiritual experiences of my life."

Maybe he is starting to recognize the danger of distance.

Sep 28, 2010

FD Recommends: "Pure Mormonism"

I don't do this nearly enough on here, but from time to time I've featured certain blogs or articles that I've found worth sharing. I've been following one blog in particular for a while that some of you may have seen, but in case you haven't, I recommend checking it out.

Pure Mormonism, by Alan Rock Waterman (pictured right) has become one of my favourite blogs. Here is a brief description in his own words:

"I've had a lifelong interest in what the early Latter-day Saints understood to be the "pure theology" of The Restoration, unfiltered by many of the common assumptions prevalent among a majority of modern Mormons today. In Joseph Smith's time, a teaching was accepted as valid only if obtained through divine revelation from God. Today, much of what passes for doctrine among my fellow Saints appears to contain "the philosophies of men mingled with scripture." I've been further intrigued by warnings of the falling away of the latter-day saints in our day as foretold in the Book of Mormon, and this blog was created as a forum for discussing some of the possible signs of that prophesied derailment."

It seems a bit unlikely, actually, that Rock's work would appeal to me. His views are very Mormon -- purely Mormon, you could say -- while mine have taken a much more universalistic shift. I don't share his theory on Joseph Smith's (non) practice of polygamy, neither do we have much in common politically. He's libertarian, has a great appreciation for the writings of Cleon Skousen, and well, I'm a "pinko" as he jokingly put it. :)

But don't let these things scare you off!

Rock was a vegan for a year and a half before admittedly falling off the wagon. How many libertarian vegans have you known?

Rock's take on war here and here are particularly worth reading. On an ironic note, I find myself a bit further on the conservative side -- as a reluctant supporter of the NATO presence in Afghanistan -- which has only come after getting to know Afghan refugee ethnic minorities who have become a part of my family, and learning more from them about the enormous complexities of the conflict there.

While the term "Pure Mormonism" may give you an impression of ultraconservative fundamentalist, Rock's approach to the Gospel is one that is as liberal, open-minded, and inquisitive as any of the free-thinking liberal Mormon bloggers out there. He also has a great sense of humour that really comes out in his writing, which is probably why I enjoy reading his work.

Rock's posts consistently call for a return to a Gospel that's more about love, acceptance and open discussion, rather than rigidness, conformity, and dogma. As he stated in his latest post, Living The Gospel, Or Walking In Zombie Land? (which is perhaps his best yet):

"Rather than simply emulating Christ and allowing His light to shine within them, some in the church seem to define “living the gospel” as a desperate race to obey all the rules of the institutional Church. This counterfeit gospel keeps the membership focused on their shortcomings; constantly worried about what they should or should not be doing, they're motivated by the fear that what they're doing is never enough, rather than allowing themselves to simply be who they really are: Sons and Daughters of the Light."

I think that's something that most of my readers -- pinkos and non-pinkos alike -- can appreciate. :)

Aug 17, 2010

Religiosity: A Hindrance To "The Good Life?"

I wish I had more time to research the subject and write a more in-depth post, but unfortunately I haven't got much time. So I'd like to just throw out this question to all my readers for discussion:

Why is it that -- generally speaking -- the countries of the world which have the best standard of living, peace and stability are also the least religious?

There's an interesting article here about worldwide religiosity and it's interesting to look at the world map of religiosity. Contrast that with the UN Human Development Index or this study on Newsweek. Of the top 10 countries listed there, I would say that Canada is probably the most religious, even though last time I checked, only around 17% of Canadians go to church on a regular basis. And then there is the question of happiness. According to this recent study, the "happiest" countries in the world are -- once again -- the most irreligious. Of course, there are other relevant factors that determine how "happy" a country is, such as democracy and political/economic stability. But does religion play a role in how those elements are (or aren't) implemented in a society?

So what do you think? Is there are a real link between religion and quality of life/standard of living? Does religiosity hinder peace, stability and progress -- even happiness? Are there other factors? Or is it all a matter of coincidence?

Aug 11, 2010

"I Put Away Childish Things"

The challenge of reconciling intellect with faith is what gave life to the Bloggernaccle. Virtually everything that is discussed in various Mormon blogs and forums is somehow connected to this subject.

In Mark 10:14, Jesus says:
"I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."
1 Corinthians 13:11 says:

"When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things."

So what does the scripture in Mark really mean? The standard Sunday School answer is that it means that we need to be humble, obedient and submissive -- like children. But is this what God really wants from us?

Children are innocent. They are smart. But they are also gullible. Their brains are not yet fully-developed and they therefore lack the judgment and wisdom of an adult. They are humble, obedient and submissive -- not because they necessarily want to be, but because they don't have much choice in the matter.

So, while Mark quotes Jesus as saying that readily accepting the Gospel (which for most Mormons is synoymous with the institutional Church) as a child is the only way to get into Heaven, 1 Corinthians seems to indicate that, for adults, thinking or acting like a child is a barrier to the entering the Kingdom of God.

I remember how I used to think as a primary child. It was easy to accept what I was taught because it was never challenged. Am I really supposed to go back to that? And if so, isn't the verse in Corinthians at odds with Jesus? Is the author of Corinthians imploring us to develop our childish minds into something more intellectually mature, or is he simply telling us to give up our childish behaviour and temper tantrums?

How do you apply these scriptures to real life? Are childlike traits like obedience, humility and submission more important than adult traits such as questioning, seeking knowledge, intellectual development, or personal integrity and authenticity?

I recently came across an interesting quote:

"If your theology doesn't match up with your reality, there's nothing wrong
with your reality."

Reality is reality. And sometimes we just can't match it up with our theology. So why the heck do we keep trying?

Jun 24, 2010

The Greatest Of All Blessings?

I cannot take the credit for this, but I thought it was worth sharing.

A Franciscan blessing

“May God bless you with a restless discomfort about easy answers,
half-truths and superficial relationships, so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.

May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.

May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed with those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you really CAN make a difference in this world, so that you are able, with God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.


Perhaps this is the greatest of all blessings?

Jun 11, 2010

Families Are Forever: Who Is Your Family?

I've been thinking lately about the concept of "family."

I'm lucky. I have a close, loving family and was recently fortunate enough to have some of my family members come to visit me in Norway for the first time. I love my family and I'm thankful for the relationship that we have with each other.

My family is not limited to biological relatives or in-laws, however. I have four biological brothers, but I also have a brother from Afghanistan (you can read my previous posts for the background story). We're neither biologically nor legally related, but we're family nonetheless.

So how does this type of family fit into Mormon theology?

In early Mormonism, there was a practice known as the Law of Adoption, in which men who were not related to each other were sealed to each other, like as fathers and sons. The practice was eventually discontinued and there is nothing comparable in modern Mormonism that I am aware of, but it's an interesting concept in terms of connecting people for eternity that wouldn't otherwise have a reason to be sealed to each other.

Aside from Islam, which teaches that Muslim couples are married for eternity, I'm not aware of any other religion outside of Mormonism that believes in eternal marriage or eternal families. From what I understand, most other Christian denominations would point to Matthew 22:30 as evidence for the marriage (or perhaps family) relationship being dissolved after death:

"At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they
will be like the angels in heaven."

I understand that to mean that in heaven, all people will be of equal standing and that there will be no husbands, wives, children, etc. Instead, perhaps we'll just be one big "happy family" as opposed to many individual family units.

For those of us who have had a happy family life, the prospect of an eternal family is, of course, something that gives us a lot of hope and comfort. But some people would rather spend eternity with their friends than their families. Some have strained family relationships, or have been abused and betrayed by their family members. Or others may have a good relationship with their families, but they may also have close friends that they love like their families.

I think that most people of faith believe that they will be reunited with their loved ones after death, but how many believe that they will still be a family? And what is the significance of that family bond in the Hereafter? Is it symbolic or literal? And will our eternal family only consist of those who were our "real" family in this life?

I've learned so much in recent months about family and what it means to me. I want to be with my family forever, but my family extends beyond the traditional Mormon definition.

Who is your family? Is it limited to those who are related to you biologically or legally? Do you have friends that you love as family? Do you believe you will spend eternity with them? And if so, how do you think your relationship will be?

May 2, 2010

An Open Discussion With FD and Hassan: Islam, Christianity, War in Afghanistan, Ethnic Discrimination, The Role Of God And Religion In Our Lives

After my previous post recounting my recent experience at Lutheran mass, my Afghan brother Hassan left a comment that I thought deserved a post of its own.

In recent days I've been thinking about how we, as Mormons, usually attribute all the suffering and misery in the world to human beings exercising their free agency and thereby inflicting pain on others by their own choice -- against God's will. A few days ago, an Afghan friend of ours -- and Hassan's best friend -- was suddenly deported and there was absolutely nothing we could do about it. I don't think it was "God's will" for him to be sent out of the country into an uncertain future on the streets, neither do I believe that the majority of people here (if they knew about it) would have wanted this to happen to him, but one ends up feeling rather helpless. Is the world really dominated by a majority of heartless people who want to perpetuate all the pain and suffering of poverty, war, violence, and discrimination? Or is the problem, in reality, that a minority of people with evil intentions has an upper-hand on the good majority? It's the main reason why I believe in a god that is more deist in nature, rather than one that is actively involved in every intricate detail of our lives.
One thing that I've learned from my discussions with Hassan is that the "explanations" for inequality that I was once so comfortable giving seem terribly inadequate when you're faced with them head-on. Some of the Mormon theories in regards to free agency, pre-existence and foreordination seem totally plausible until you have someone like a refugee sitting in front of you whose life is in political limbo and utter ruin. Another Afghan refugee sent me a link yesterday about children in war, which you can see here, and there was a line in the song that really struck me:
"Is this what my life is for? To be wasted in a world of war?"
I have never felt from Hassan that he is bitter, even though he has every reason in the world to be so. But I remember a conversation with him when he asked, "What crime did I commit to be given this destiny, except that I was born in Afghanistan?" I have no sensible answer for that question.

So, before we jump into Hassan's list of questions, here is some useful background information:
  • I'm still technically Mormon, but am more universalist at heart and personally believe that the spiritual and temporal welfare of individuals is more important than what religion is "true" or "correct." Religion is no longer "one-size-fits-all" in my world view.

  • Hassan is a non-practicing/non-believing Shia Muslim who had to flee wartorn Afghanistan because of his ethnicity and dissenting political and religious views. As a Hazara and Shia Muslim, he was both a religious and ethnic minority in Afghanistan. His application for political asylum is currently being processed, so he still has to live daily with a cloud of uncertainty hanging over his head. The current political situation is bad for refugees, particularly from Afghanistan, and the majority are having their asylum applications rejected.

  • I'm currently reading the Qu'ran (among other things) and Hassan is reading the Bible and selections of the Book of Mormon in Persian.

  • We share a very similar world view, and despite our non-literalist approach and problems with religion, we have a similar view on its valuable role in the lives of the human population.

  • We both believe that a secular state is necessary in order to protect religious freedom and civil rights.

  • We question the appropriateness of any religion to discriminate within its faith based on factors such as race or gender.
So, although most of us are Mormon here, let's open our hearts and minds to consider some varying perspectives and discuss Hassan's following questions and comments (I've made some minor spelling and grammatical edits for clarity):
  1. Who is God and what is our destiny?

  2. Is God "nice" and "just?"

  3. If he planned everything for human beings from the beginning, why does he treat people differently?
"I am looking for some answer that makes sense to believe in a
religion. I was born in Afghanistan into a Shia Muslim family, though
I never wanted this. I have been abused and insulted because of my race,
nationality and mostly religion. If I had been born in another place,
for sure I could have a different life and different destiny. I feel like a
victim of religion, and my belief has always created problems for me. I want a
religion to ease my life and help me with the best way of life based on peace
and freedom, but now I am mostly afraid of religion. If I practice my previous
religion, I have to endure abasement and insult my whole life, if I change
my belief, I will be killed, and if I don’t believe any religion still I will be
killed. These are all because of being born in Afghanistan, and according to
Islam, it is my destiny. God has planned it for me from the beginning
of my life. I don’t know, how do you believe, FD, MG, MH and other
friends? :)"

I'd like to invite all of you readers to an open dialogue here. Feel free to ask Hassan your questions about Afghanistan, life as a refugee, or any of the aforementioned topics, and I'm sure he'll be happy to answer if he can. Most of my readers are pretty good at being open-minded and respectful, but let's try to steer clear of any prejudice or religious dogma. So if we disagree, let's do it without being disagreeable. You can all let me have it, but be nice to Hassan. ;)

The floor is now open for your question and comments.

Apr 30, 2010

Receiving Tools From The Unlikeliest Of Places

I remember when I first came to Norway almost eight years ago, back when I was a strong TBM, I was so turned-off by the Norwegian Lutheran Church. As I was learning the language, I would read newspaper editorials and articles about religion in Norway, the approach of the state Church here, and my impression was that it was simply watered-down Christianity directed by politics that didn't require anything of its members and had totally veered away from the "right" path after ordaining female priests, being open to homosexuality, etc.

On Easter Sunday I went to Lutheran mass with my husband (who is still officially Lutheran, though never attended church regularly) and my Afghan refugee brother Hassan. I certainly haven't been looking to "jump ship" membership-wise, but as I've found it increasingly difficult to go to the LDS Church regularly, I decided why not check out something different.

Last Sunday was stake conference and since I wasn't about to go all the way to Oslo for church even at the height of my TBM days, I told my husband I was going to go to the Lutheran service just for the heck of it. He said he wanted to come with me, so we went. The church was packed (a rarity) because it was baby christening Sunday. At first I was disappointed because I just wanted to be there for a regular service. So we sat there and enjoyed the music and screaming babies, and then a man that neither of us knew got up and held a sermon that totally took our breath away.

He told a story about a friend of his, a doctor in a nearby city who was on his way to a Christmas party one evening last December and suddenly noticed a young man on the street who looked quite distressed. He felt that he should stop and ask him what the matter was, and so he did. The young man replied that he had missed the last bus to the refugee centre where he lived (which is quite a way outside of the city and certainly not within walking distance, especially not in the middle of winter). When he mentioned the word "refugee," my husband and I looked at each other, surprised, since the matter of refugees is extremely central in our lives at this time. And then he mentioned that the man said he was a refugee from Afghanistan, which really took our breath away. (The Afghans are the ones we've gotten really close to and they have such a special place in our hearts. I started to think of Hassan, imagining if it were him sitting out in the cold somewhere with no place to go, and suddenly I couldn't stop my eyes from overflowing with tears.) The doctor decided that Christmas parties will come and go each year, but this was an opportunity for service that he couldn't let go. So he drove the young man home and was invited in for tea. It was the first time he had entered a refugee centre (very few Norwegians ever do) and it was an eye-opener for him. The young Afghan man introduced him to some of his other Afghan friends and they struck up a close friendship, which led to the devlopment of a Norwegian-Afghan support network. In the process, he and some of his friends converted to Christianity and are active in the Norwegian church community in a nearby city.

The man closed his sermon with an inspiring talk about our attitudes towards refugees in Norway. (At worst, some are downright hostile, but most probably view them as a big burden to society that they wish would simply go away.) So he asked the congregation: should we lament about this "burden" of refugees, or should we thank God that they survived the dangerous journey to this country and view them as an asset? He finished with a prayer, specifically mentioning the refugees of our town. My husband and I we were both sort of floored, as this is not a topic one expects to hear at church -- and of all the Sundays that it should be mentioned, when we were actually there to hear it... my husband even felt moved enough to go up and take the sacrament at the end of the meeting, which I had never seen before.

It's funny to think that we should decide to go to Lutheran mass on exactly that day, but I'm sure glad we did. I got in contact via e-mail with the man who spoke and told him how he probably had no idea of the the unlikely impact he would make that day with his sermon. He was appreciative for the feedback and as he thought more and more about it, felt compelled to contact me again about working together in an interfaith/cultural network of people in the area who want to work towards building a better relationship with the refugee community in our town. And who is more prepared to do that than us?

A few years ago, I would have felt it was such a waste of time to get involved in a "wrong" church when I had the "true" one. Now that truth is in the backseat and the welfare of souls (not just in a spiritual sense, but especially in a temporal, humanitarian sense) is in the driver's seat, I'm just thankful for the opportunity to help and for the tools that seem to be finding their way to me, from the unlikeliest of places.

Apr 4, 2010

A Mormon And A Muslim Go To Mass

Although we have some similarities, there's a significant difference between the worshipping styles of Mormons and other Christian denominations. And this difference is perhaps most noticeable during the two biggest Christian celebrations: Christmas and Easter. Compared to their Catholic and Protestant counterparts, Mormons are, on average, probably much better at actually attending church on a regular basis. Though the Church is extremely small in Norway, my local branch probably draws an average of around 15-20 people on any given Sunday. The local Lutheran church draws about the same number on most Sundays, despite the fact that there are thousands of more Lutherans than Mormons.

But, while Mormons are generally better in the church attendace department than our Catholic and Protestant counterparts, I think that we could learn a thing or two from them when it comes to celebrating -- or even acknowledging -- the holy days of Christianity. Cases in point: Unless Christmas falls on a Sunday, Mormon churches are closed. If General Conference happens to fall on Easter Sunday like this year, then conference takes precedence. And as a life-long Mormon, I had never even heard of the Ascension of Christ or Pentecost celebrations -- both stat holidays in much of Europe -- until I moved here.

So this year, I just felt like doing something different and decided to experience Lutheran Easter Sunday mass in a church that dates back to about 1150. Along with my Lutheran-on-record husband, I had the pleasure of being accompanied by my Afghan brother, Hassan (see my previous post for the story of how I met him).

It was a special day for me, to be accompanied by two of the dearest people in my life, and to have a quiet day to reflect upon what the whole thing actually means to me. I used to think of Lutheranism as watered-down Christianity, changing with the times and without much emphasis on lifestyle or morality. I could sit here and argue how true or not that is, or which approach to Christianity is "better," but suffice it to say that on this day, it was what I needed.

The priest recited a story about how he was once officiating at a funeral and after throwing the three ceremonial spoonfuls of earth onto the casket, a five-year old boy remarked that it was not enough. This, he was reminded, was the central message of the story of Easter. On our own, we can never do "enough." This was a dilemma that had been much on my mind this past week as I attempted to comfort a very distraught refugee friend who is facing a looming deportation order.
Jesus said, "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you" (John 14: 18). God says he will not leave us comfortless, but it seems that more often than not, that is dependent on whether or not we are willing to extend that comfort to someone.
"Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn."
-Romans 12: 15
I got to do a little of both this past week.

At the core of the sermon was the message, "Gud er kjærlighet" -- God is love. I think that many of us want to believe that, but become witnesses to so many attrocities and injustices of varying degree in this world -- many committed in the name of God -- that it becomes extremely problematic to reconcile "God's love" with reality or religion. Hassan's life is a perfect example of that.

Many today, including myself, are moving away from a literal, orthodox approach to religion. Whatever our view on the Easter miracle, or religion in general -- whether literal or metaphorical -- love is a central theme. Instead of focusing on where we fall short and beating ourselves up over it, sometimes it's better to just focus on that love. Sometimes it's really all we can do.

Although my life is nothing to complain about, it's hard to feel God's love. I can say that my life is good and therefore I feel God's love, but all I have to do is look around me to see examples of why equating material wealth or stability with divine love is so problematic. Perhaps the closest I can come to feeling God's love is indirectly -- through the individuals that enrich and enlighten my life.

I'm not looking to switch religions, but as a lapsed Mormon, I enjoyed the simplicity of the Lutheran priest's poignant sermon. And as a lapsed Muslim, even though he doesn't yet understand much Norwegian, I hope that Hassan was uplifted by the special atmosphere of this holy day.

Thanks for an Easter Sunday that I will remember. It was a good day.

Happy Easter, everyone.