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.


Refugees


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?


Homosexuals

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.

AMEN.”

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.

Mar 24, 2010

The Faithful Dissident's 2nd Anniversary: A Year In Review

Hard to believe that another year has come and gone. I've been very busy lately and have had lots to think about, but thought that my readers might like to hear what I've been up to and what's been going through my mind lately. So here is a summary!

We had some great discussions here over the course of the year. Some of the highlights included:

The lowest point of the year was probably when I discovered the LDS Church hunting preserves, which sent me a little over the edge. I did some more research into the matter and did a report on it for Mormon Matters, which from what I gather, seems to be the most detailed and up-to-date information about the current situation of these hunting preserves run by the Church.

The matter of the hunting preserves propelled me into a very cynical period and so I decided to pull a Martin Luther of sorts and nail my own "95 theses" on the door of the Church, so to speak. The result was a long blog post in which I outlined about 7 main criticisms, but managed to say plenty nice about the Church as well. :) I decided that I should take a sabbatical from blogging, which was short-lived, but was a turning point in the direction that I wanted to take The Faithful Dissident. From there, I decided to just write when I really felt inspired to do so, and to focus on using the blog as a forum for some of the many great Mormon bloggers out there.

In other news, The Faithful Dissident was nominated for "Best Solo Blog" in the Niblet Awards and got second place. This was a pleasant surprise to me and I thank all those who voted for me!

I know that many of my readers are on a similar journey to mine, and so some of you are probably wondering about where I am at this point in my religious journey. I guess the easiest way to sum it up is that I'm not really anywhere. Not that there was ever much going on in my small branch to begin with, but going to church at all remains a real battle for the most part. I've found that if I force myself to go when I don't really feel like it, it only makes it harder to go back the next time. But on the other hand, sometimes I really want to go to sacrament and so I go. Sometimes I feel spiritually-charged, but other times it really sucks, to be brutally honest.

If you were to ask me what I believe, the only honest way for me to answer that question is to say that I have no idea. I wouldn't say that I don't believe any aspect of Mormonism anymore, because my idea of God is still very Mormon and it's my religious culture and heritage. As well, it's the basis of reference when I'm exploring other faiths because it's still "mine." But my religious convictions are on a leave of absence and I don't know if or when they're coming back.

This past year, I've had the privilege of meeting and talking to some interesting people, but there are two very special individuals who have made a huge impact in my life and have become very relevant in my personal spiritual journey.

The first person is mormongandhi, whose blog I featured here a few months ago. It's not every day that I meet gay feminist non-violent vegetarian Mormon bloggers in Norway, so it's hard to believe that it's mere coincidence that mormongandhi and The Faithful Dissident should meet. I'm so happy to have met him and to have gotten a glimpse of his world, his views, ideas, and faith. It's rare that I've clicked so well with someone instantly, but if there's any truth to the doctrine of pre-existence, I'd like to think that mormongandhi and I planned to cross paths long before we found each other in the Bloggernaccle. I've learned a lot from him about the peace movement, which has inspired and motivated me to care more about these issues and examine them from a new angle. (You rock, mormongandhi! :)

And these issues of war and peace lead up to the next special individual that has crossed my path in life...

In my town here in Norway, there is a refugee centre that was re-opened a little over a year ago which houses about 125 people from around 18 different nations who are seeking political asylum in Norway. Under the current system, the process can easily take years and depending on what status is assigned to their case, some of these refugees are not entitled to much more than a place to sleep, basic health care, and barely enough money to buy food and essentials. Some are entitled to go to school to learn Norwegian, but many are not. So, for most of these refugees, the days are long and lonely, and the waiting and uncertainty of their future can be as harrowing as the journey many of them had to make to get here. The language barrier, cultural and religious differences, the current political climate where immigration is concerned, general apathy, and skepticism tend to make it very difficult to bridge the gap between refugees and the local Norwegian population. The result is that people generally keep to themselves. I read in the local newspaper recently that although the locals are good at donating material goods to these refugees, what they need most is "folkevenner" (friends of the people) to actually spend time with them. So I decided to get in touch with the centre. And I have to say that getting involved and reaching out to these refugees has absolutely been one of the best decisions that I have ever made. Not only was I later offered a paid temp job as a result of my volunteer work (which was a nice change from my usual job with dementia patients), but what this experience has meant to me personally is perhaps most significant.

On my first day of visiting the centre, I met several wonderful people who overwhelmed me with their warmth and friendliness. But one of these people really stood out and made a big impression on me and my husband. I will call him Hassan: a young Hazara man from Afghanistan (if you've read or seen The Kite Runner, you will perhaps remember the Hazara servant boy also named Hassan, pictured left).

Hassan is an incredibly bright, intelligent, well-read and informed young man who has seen and experienced more in his 24 years than most of us ever will in an entire lifetime. On top of speaking excellent English, he seems to have natural leadership skills and I know that many of the other refugees look up to him and respect him. He's also been a big help to me in my job, stepping in as a contact person and translator when needed.

You all know how much I like to discuss social and political issues, so it's been interesting to hear about Hassan's life in Afghanistan and how it has impacted his views on things like feminist issues, social equality, civil rights, secular government, and religion. I know he's really appreciated getting to know me and my husband, and the appreciation is completely mutual.

Since I started working with these refugees, I've been happier and feel like my life has more of a purpose. In the past, I've often felt frustrated by my desire to do more to help people in need without knowing what I could really do from my cushy, first-world Norwegian existence. With this experience, I feel like I can be proactive -- which is very important to me.

Although I'm just as frustrated with religion as I ever was and most of my issues remain unresolved, I find myself fretting about it a lot less. I can just relax and put religion on the shelf while I serve others and, assuming he exists, serve God through serving his children. And in the process, I've acquired a new family of sorts. Hassan and I are both far away from our families (in my case, the circumstances are much more favourable, of course), and so I think that we both feel like we've found a surrogate family in each other. He's my brother and I'm his sister.

As a foreiger in Norway myself -- but one who feels pretty well-integrated into Norwegian society -- I think that my perspective is valuable to both sides. I have a decent idea of the challenges and obstacles that immigrants face (I'm learning more about it every day), and yet I understand the Norwegian perspective as well. I still don't know exactly what I can do or how I can do it, but if we can even just help to bridge the gap between people and motivate them to actually care about the plight of these refugees enough to generate a political force for good -- one person at a time -- maybe we can make a difference. I told Hassan about The Starfish Story, which has inspired me in my animal welfare activities, but my hope is that we can do more for people in his situation. We have a dream for peace. A dream that the Norwegian government will see fit to give Hassan the opportunity to fulfill his endless potential as a human being and to use his unique experience and perspective to effect positive change in this world.

Insh'allah.

A young Somalian refugee in the English class that I teach has lent me a book in English about the Quran, which I'm now reading. Some of the parallels to Mormonism are fascinating and I'm grateful to get a more nuanced view of Islam from these people, as opposed to what we see in the news on a daily basis.

So, I want to send out a big thanks to all of my readers who have been following me throughout this journey the past couple of years and I hope that I'll be able to continue sharing my insights with you into my third year as The Faithful Dissident. I have no idea where I'll be religiously and spriritually a year from now, and I know this may sound arrogant to some of you, but I'm not really concerned about it for a couple of reasons:

1.) "When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the
service of your God."

-Mosiah 2:17

2.) "The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service
of others."

-Mahatma Gandhi

Feb 26, 2010

When The Spirit "Speaks," What Does It "Say," And What "Language" Does It Speak?

Mormons are big on feelings. We're supposed to study, fast, and pray in order to get confirmation of the Church being true. Investigators are encouraged to read the Book of Mormon and attend church. People do this and then they may sometimes have a profound spiritual experience, but most often it's based on a feeling. They feel that it's good, that it makes sense, and often that's enough for them to conclude that the Church is true and that it's the only true church.

I certainly don't need to discount or dismiss the "warm and fuzzy" feelings or spiritual experiences that I've heard others describe. I've had them myself. Sometimes I still do. They're just as real as they ever were. But now they just mean something different to me.

As we discussed in a previous thread, the more I studied and observed the different faiths of others, I realized that there was a lot that I couldn't reconcile with the "one true church." I know of some very Mormon-specific spiritual experiences that have occurred in my circle of family and friends, but I also know of some other very faith and denomination-specific spiritual experiences outside of Mormonism. And I can no longer believe that mine are more "true" than theirs.

Recently the missionaries challenged me to read the Book of Mormon. Again. I think they hope that I'll get those feelings and that it will restore my faith in the "one true church." But I tend to take those feelings at face value now. If someone reads the Book of Mormon and gets a good feeling about it, then it means it's a good book with a good message -- divine, even. But if the book is good and even divinely-inspired, does it have to mean that the LDS Church is the only true church on the face of the earth? Does it have to mean that Lehi and Nephi really existed? Does it have to mean that an angel really threatened Joseph Smith with a sword if he didn't marry all those women? Does it have to mean that God really ordered genocide in the Bible? I know that some would see it as a cop-out to say no to all of these things, but maybe it's just unreasonable to say yes.

I think that many fellow Mormons would be hurt or offended by my rejection of some of the things they deem to be literal truths. But maybe we want to invest way too much into our spiritual experiences and feelings -- so much so that they overreach their ability to stand firm in the face of reality and we end up obsessing over their literalness at the expense of focusing on what we're actually supposed to learn from them (i.e. stressing the Book of Mormon as literal and historical, while discussions about its nonviolent message in a very violent world are relatively few).

Maybe our expectations are simply unreasonable.

In a recent Mormon Stories podcast with a woman named Jacque, she talked about Mormonism being her "spiritual language," just like English is her spoken language. As someone who has learned four different languages, this was an analogy that I could really relate to. I've learned through my studies that languages are different. Although one is not really superior to the others, some languages have their strengths. French can be beautiful and poetic, German is very literal and ordered. There are things I can say and express in Norwegian that I simply can't in English. And vice versa. We are missing certain words and expressions in English that are incredibly useful in Norwegian, which I use on a daily basis, that cannot be translated literally into English in a way that will make sense. And vice versa. Isn't religion the same way? We are getting certain things in Mormonism that we simply can't get in other religions. And vice versa. It doesn't make any one religion superior to another, but we cannot practice them all -- just like we can't learn every language. We need to find the one that works for us, use it, but realize that it can be helpful to learn additional "languages" because we may be missing out on certain elements.

So when you hear the spirit, what is it actually saying to you? And what language does it speak?

Feb 19, 2010

Who's The Prophet?

Recently my husband and I watched the movie "Gandhi." Of course, we all know he was a fascinating character and an exemplary man but the more I thought about him, his message, his motivations, and how the "gospel" that he preached could change the world for the better if human beings would actually take it to heart, I wonder why we (as Mormons or Christians in general) don't consider him -- or anyone outside of the Judeo-Christian scriptures or the modern-day LDS Church -- to be a "prophet."

Even within the Judeo-Christian scriptures, questions arise for a Mormon. As a friend of mine recently said:

"On the one hand, we declare that the President of the Church is the prophet for the whole world. On the other hand, all of our ancient scriptures have examples of prophets, and prophetesses, who are not necessarily the "line of authority" church leaders."

Gandhi was a Hindu. He wasn't a Christian and he wasn't a Mormon. And yet what he preached seems to have more similarities to what Christ himself preached than most of the modern-day "Christians" that I know in terms of creating peace of earth and turning the other cheek. Gandhi was not a man of lip service. He was, of course, a man -- a fallible man -- just like all those in the Mormon faith that we consider to be prophets, but don't always want to believe really were fallible. But I do wonder why we consider some to be "prophets" and guys like Gandhi to be merely "good men."

There were several times throughout the movie when a passage in Matthew kept coming to mind:

"Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly
they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather
grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth
good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot
bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the
fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them."
(Matt. 7: 15-20)

I couldn't help but contrast Gandhi's words with, for instance, Brigham Young's fiery rhetoric -- the kind of stuff that preceded Mountain Meadows, for instance. And I'm not trying to diss Brigham here. I realize that he did great and important things in his lifetime and that we must allow for mistakes. The same can be said of Gandhi, no doubt, who certainly made mistakes.

But who's the prophet? "By their fruits ye shall know them...."

How does one examine the "fruits" of people like Gandhi, or Martin Luther King, or Mother Teresa, or any of the other peacemakers that have risen throughout time and inspired the world to do better and given their lives to their noble cause, and conclude that they "just didn't have" what Brigham had or what Thomas S. Monson has? Why is studying Mormon prophets over and over again, year after year, so important that the others will never even make it into the lesson manuals?

Feb 1, 2010

Precious.

This past weekend I went to the cinema with some friends and saw the film, Precious. Here is a short synopsis from Hollywood.com:


"Set in Harlem in 1987, it is the story of Claireece Precious Jones, a sixteen-year-old African-American girl born into a life no one would want. She's pregnant for the second time by her absent father; at home, she must wait hand and foot on her mother, a poisonously angry woman who abuses her emotionally and physically. School is a place of chaos, and Precious has reached the ninth grade with good marks and an awful secret: she can neither read nor write. Precious may sometimes be down, but she is never out. Beneath her impassive expression is a watchful, curious young woman with an inchoate but unshakeable sense that other possibilities exist for her. Threatened with expulsion, Precious is
offered the chance to transfer to an alternative school, Each One/Teach One. Precious doesnt know the meaning of alternative, but her instincts tell her this is the chance she has been waiting for. In the literacy workshop taught by the patient yet firm Ms. Rain, Precious begins a journey that will lead her from darkness, pain and powerlessness to light, love and self-determination."

This movie is certainly not a "feel-good" movie. "Viewer discretion" is certainly advised. It's raw. It's brutal. It's depressing, really. But I'm glad I saw it because it stirred something within me and I hope that it would do the same for anyone else who sees it. The young actress who plays Precious was born to play this role, in my opinion. Movies these days are full of pointless profanity and violence, but occasionally one comes along that actually gives meaning to it all. And since most of us aren't going to move to Harlem and live this young girl's life, seeing a film like this is probably as close as any of us are going to get to understanding what it must be like to be born into and live under such circumstances. And once you're aware of it, you want to do something about it.

The day after seeing the movie, I went with my friend to a Community of Christ meeting (formerly known as the RLDS church). The meeting was simple and I enjoyed it. Since there were only 5 or 6 of us and we were in a private home, there was no organ or hymn singing, but they played some spiritually uplifting music on CD. One of the songs they chose was by one of my favourite groups, Secret Garden, the Norwegian-Irish duo who composed the original version of "You Raise Me Up" (the song made famous by Josh Groban). The song they chose to play is called "Sometimes A Prayer Will Do" and the vocalist is the same African American gospel artist who sang in the original version of "You Raise Me Up." My friend and I both reflected upon the movie of the previous night as we heard the song and I think we both felt pretty moved.

The movie's tagline is:


"Life is hard. Life is short. Life is painful. Life is
rich. Life is precious."


Indeed. But sadly, I think that many get stuck in the "painful" parts, never to attain the "rich," and are robbed of the "precious."

So I've been thinking about the huge gap between my life and that of a person like Precious. How do we bridge that gap? How do we truly "bear one another's burdens?" I can sit and cry about her circumstances, and my heart can be filled with all the compassion in the world. But how does that help her?

I'd like to believe that "sometimes a prayer will do," but sometimes it just seems so horribly inadequate.










Jan 28, 2010

Niblet Awards Bloggernaccle Best Of: Don't Forget To Vote!

Just want to remind all of you to cast your votes for the "Niblets Bloggernaccle Awards" over at Mormon Matters. Vote for your favourite blog or blogger in all of the different categories. I've been nominated for Best Solo Blog, have held a steady 2nd place, and feel honoured. :)

Lots of great stuff, so check it out! The polls close at midnight on January 31st.

Jan 21, 2010

The Revival Of Mormon Stories And More About That Ever Elusive Stage 5

In case you've missed it, John Dehlin has revived the popular podcasts, Mormon Stories. For more information about that, see John's latest post on Mormon Matters.

But while John is busy putting together more podcasts, make sure to check out the latest Mormon Expression podcast, where John Dehlin guest panels, about that ever elusive Fowler's Stage 5 of faith and what it means to Mormonism. It's a great podcast -- one of the best I've ever heard, in fact.


So check it out!

Jan 13, 2010

Haiti's Deal With The Devil

Pat Robertson has an interesting explanation for the tragedy that is unfolding in Haiti:

"Something happened a long time ago in Haiti and people might not want to talk about. They were under the heel of the French, you know Napoleon the third and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said 'We will serve you if you will get us free from the prince.' True story. And so the devil said, 'Ok it’s a deal.' And they kicked the French out. The Haitians revolted and got something themselves free. But ever since they have been cursed by one thing after another."

Makes one wonder what he would have to say if an earthquake were to strike Virginia tomorrow, where I understand he is based.

But instead of dwelling on Pat Robertson's B.S, or how badly God wanted Sarah Palin's to be VP, I have been left to ask myself what reason there is to believe in anything but a Deist God. When one sees apparently God-forsaken peoples and countries, believing that God intervenes to help us find our keys, help us have a good day at work, or even save our lives, suddenly doesn't feel so comforting -- or at the very least, certainly not without a whole lot of guilt.

How I would trade up divine intervention to find my lost keys if it meant that someone in Haiti could have been spared from having their head smashed in by a crumbling wall, or being left with severed legs to die on the street.

I have to ask myself what's worse: the fact that God doesn't intervene or that he does? Because if he does, I think he's playing favourites.

Atheism must get a lot of new members on days like today.

Jan 7, 2010

"I know the Church is true and therefore I know the others aren't."

One of the challenges that comes to a Mormon who encounters different people, cultures, and faiths, can be that the LDS Church's exclusivity claims can become very problematic for the individual. This is not true for everyone, though, as I know of Mormons who are well-travelled and well-versed in religion outside of Mormonism and yet remain staunch in their faith that the LDS Church is what it claims: the only true Church of God on the face of the earth. Others experience a total shift after examining the history of Mormonism or gaining life experience, and they start to look at Mormonism as being as flawed as any other religion out there.

Have you ever read the story of Mohammed? It certainly has some similarities to the Joseph Smith story (i.e. visitations, revelation of scripture, etc.). Assuming that people have prayed to God and felt they got an answer that Islam (or any other religion) is "true" -- in much the same way that you have perhaps experienced yourself in Mormonism -- how do you "know" that your "truth" overrides theirs? Why is yours or mine "better?"

Do you believe that Mohammed and the Koran were inspired by God? Why or why not?

Do you believe that God talks to the Pope in the same way that he does to Thomas S. Monson? Why or why not?

Do you believe that the Blessed Virgin appeared to the children of Fatima, Portugal? Why or why not?

Do you believe that God would intentionally direct someone to Hinduism or Judaism instead of Christianity? Why or why not?

I know that most Mormons will say that all religions have some "good" and "truth" to them. But if you haven't studied the other religions of the world and walked in the shoes of someone who practices another faith, how can you "know" that yours is the "only" true religion -- either intellectually or spiritually? What if someone of another faith told you that he had been told by God that his faith was the only true one? On what grounds do we reject the faith claims of others?

I'm curious as to why we all believe the things that we do, why we reject the things that we do, and I'd like to hear your perspectives.