Monday, September 29

Gay Marriage & Some Real Threats to The Family

A colleague and I led a discussion on lesbian and gay families in class last week. Here are some of the talking points from the text:
  1. “Lesbians and gays are simultaneously depicted as chic and pioneering, and as a major sign of social deterioration and the source of the destruction of the family as we know it.”
  2. “There is no uniform or normative definition for the “gay family” any more than there is for the “American family.”
  3. “Governments, through social and family policies, determine the rights, rules, and benefits for families… in the process encouraging some family forms and discouraging others.”
  4. “This fiery and continuing national debate has nothing to do with the success, mental or social health, or social responsibility of lesbian or gay couples and their children. It has everything to do with cultural struggles over the meaning of “family,” and protecting and preserving heterosexual marriage..."
  5. “It is clear that gay and lesbian expressions of family and kinship are having profound effects on the larger society’s construction of these categories.”
What think Ye of these points? What would it be like to be simultaneously considered "pioneering" and a "sign of deterioration" (#1)? Legalizing gay marriage will have an effect on society. The important point is, what kind of effect? Should we widen the "legal" definition of a "married couple" or is it a threat to the heterosexual definition of The Family? Why?

I think the real threats to the "The Family" are poor parenting, disorganized attachment, lack of adequate health care, the idea that love = romance, and extremely poor emotional regulation and relationship skills, to name just a few. These problems exist in families across the board, despite sexual orientation, race, gender, religion, or ice-cream flavor preference. 

Rather then spending so much time and money in California and elsewhere, imagine if we all put the same money and effort into providing effective mental health care, parent and couples education, and programs like Circle of Security? What if we went door to door and put up signs and made phone calls and read letters over the pulpit encouraging community action to work on these insidious problems that have been plaguing The Family for generations?

Friday, September 26

Conservatives turning on Palin? O Mitt, where art thou?

From conservative website National Review Online:

"Some of the passionately feminist critics of Palin who attacked her personally deserved some of the backlash they received. But circumstances have changed since Palin was introduced as just a hockey mom with lipstick — what a difference a financial crisis makes — and a more complicated picture has emerged. As we’ve seen and heard more from John McCain’s running mate, it is increasingly clear that Palin is a problem. Quick study or not, she doesn’t know enough about economics and foreign policy to make Americans comfortable with a President Palin should conditions warrant her promotion...

Palin’s recent interviews with Charles Gibson, Sean Hannity, and now Katie Couric have all revealed an attractive, earnest, confident candidate. Who Is Clearly Out Of Her League. No one hates saying that more than I do. Like so many women, I’ve been pulling for Palin, wishing her the best, hoping she will perform brilliantly. I’ve also noticed that I watch her interviews with the held breath of an anxious parent, my finger poised over the mute button in case it gets too painful. Unfortunately, it often does. My cringe reflex is exhausted.

Palin filibusters. She repeats words, filling space with deadwood. Cut the verbiage and there’s not much content there. Here’s but one example of many from her interview with Hannity: “Well, there is a danger in allowing some obsessive partisanship to get into the issue that we’re talking about today. And that’s something that John McCain, too, his track record, proving that he can work both sides of the aisle, he can surpass the partisanship that must be surpassed to deal with an issue like this." ...

What to do?

McCain can’t repudiate his choice for running mate. He not only risks the wrath of the GOP’s unforgiving base, but he invites others to second-guess his executive decision-making ability. Barack Obama faces the same problem with Biden. Only Palin can save McCain, her party, and the country she loves. She can bow out for personal reasons, perhaps because she wants to spend more time with her newborn. No one would criticize a mother who puts her family first.

Do it for your country."

Monday, September 22

We are all addicts

“There is dissatisfaction and frustration. Often nothing seems to go right. There really is a wound. But it is not necessary to scratch it. Working with addictions is about not just impulsively grabbing for something to stop the itching, not just grabbing for something to fill up the space, not giving in to this impulse to feel okay and just to get comfortable as soon as possible.

When we scratch the wound and give into our addictions we do not allow the wound to heal. But when we instead experience the raw quality of the itch or pain of the wound and do not scratch it, we actually allow the wound to heal. So not giving in to our addictions is about healing at a very basic level.”
~Pema Chödrön
We are all addicts, if not to drugs, gambling, pornography, or video games, then to the way we interact with each other. We often respond in predictable ways to getting cut off on the freeway, being defensive when we are criticized, or escalating conflict. It is an addiction, a habit that we can let go of. We can only know the extent of our habits if we have tried to stop. 

If you don't think you have any addictions, I challenge you to observe the times when you habitually respond in a negative way to something or someone. You may have to ask a loved one for a few examples. I'm sure they'd be willing! Once you know what it is, go ahead and try to stop it next time you feel the urge. It is NOT an easy thing to do, because our brains have been wired over the course of our lives to respond in certain ways. 

Also note that the term "addiction" is not in the DSM. "Addiction" is not necessarily the same thing as dependence, tolerance, or withdrawal as related to substances.

We can change, but it will require us to "allow ourselves to heal" and to not "scratch the itch" so to speak. It's not easy to rewire our brains--it may take years of practice. 

For the record, some of my addictions include air conditioning, taking things personally, and needing my clients to like me. I also get defensive when N complains that I haven't cleaned the bathroom since we've been married. Granted those are not huge problems (well, you better ask her first) but thinking about this is a little disturbing to me. I don't want to be ruled by my habits or impulses, especially in my relationships. It's also something I like about being a counselor--helping others train themselves to let go of their habits and interact in positive ways.

Thankfully most of us are more in control than the couple in this video, but sometimes I feel like I have very little say in how I respond. This is something I am working on.

What are some of your habitual responses in relationships? What has your spouse been complaining about for years? Okay, so you might not respond to a complaint with "You're a liar!" but we all have room for improvement.

Friday, September 19

Just the Facts and some SNL Therapy

"The ads are fast, furious, and factually flimsy."

Who's the bigger liar? I welcome proof otherwise, but McCain seems to be in the lead. Apparently reading my mind, SNL tries to make me feel better by putting a positive spin on McCain's ever-growing body of lies:

Wednesday, September 17

Joseph Smith and Losing Faith Over History

This is a paper presented by historian Richard Bushman (author of "Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling") at the seminar "Joseph Smith and His Critics." It explains "the experience of Latter-day Saints who are or have been troubled by historical aspects of Joseph Smith and the restoration of the gospel." 

Credit to BHodges for the text, and Deseret News and for the photos.

Increasingly teachers and church leaders at all levels are approached by Latter-day Saints who have lost confidence in Joseph Smith and the basic miraculous events of church history. They doubt the First Vision, the Book of Mormon, many of Joseph’s revelations, and much besides. They fall into doubt after going on the Internet and finding shocking information about Joseph Smith based on documents and facts they had never heard before. A surprising number had not known about Joseph Smith’s plural wives. They are set back by differences in the various accounts of the First Vision. They find that Egyptologists do not translate the Abraham manuscripts the way Joseph Smith did, making it appear that the Book of Abraham was a fabrication. When they come across this information in a critical book or read it on one of the innumerable critical Internet sites, they feel as if they had been introduced to a Joseph Smith and a Church history they had never known before. They undergo an experience like viewing the famous picture of a beautiful woman who in a blink of an eye turns into an old hag. Everything changes. What are they to believe?

Often church leaders, parents, and friends, do not understand the force of this alternate view. Not knowing how to respond, they react defensively. They are inclined to dismiss all the evidence as anti-Mormon or of the devil. Stop reading these things if they upset you so much, the inquirer is told. Or go back to the familiar formula: scriptures, prayer, church attendance.

The troubled person may have been doing all of these things sincerely, perhaps even desperately. He or she feels the world is falling apart. Everything these inquirers put their trust in starts to crumble. They want guidance more than ever in their lives, but they don’t seem to get it. The facts that have been presented to them challenge almost everything they believe. People affected in this way may indeed stop praying; they don’t trust the old methods because they feel betrayed by the old system. Frequently they are furious. On their missions they fervently taught people about Joseph Smith without knowing any of these negative facts. Were they taken advantage of? Was the Church trying to fool them for its own purposes?

These are deeply disturbing questions. They shake up everything. Should I stay in the Church? Should I tell my family? Should I just shut up and try to get along? Who can help me?

At this point, these questioners go off in various directions. Some give up on the Church entirely. They find another religion or, more likely these days, abandon religion altogether. Without their familiar Mormon God, they are not sure there is any God at all. They become atheist or agnostic. Some feel the restrictions they grew up with no longer apply. The strength has been drained out of tithing, the Word of Wisdom, and chastity. They partly welcome the new freedom of their agnostic condition. Now they can do anything they please without fear of breaking the old Mormon rules. The results may not be happy for them or their families.

Others piece together a morality and a spiritual attitude that stops them from declining morally, but they are not in an easy place. When they go to church, they are not comfortable. Sunday School classes and Sacrament meeting talks about Joseph Smith and the early church no longer ring true. How can these people believe these “fairy tales,” the inquirers ask. Those who have absorbed doses of negative material live in two minds: their old church mind which now seems naive and credulous, and their new enlightened mind with its forbidden knowledge learned on the internet and from critical books.

A friend who is in this position described the mindset of the disillusioned member this way:
“Due to the process of learning, which they have gone through, these [two-minded] LDS often no longer accept the church as the only true one (with the only true priesthood authority and the only valid sacred ordinances), but they see it as a Christian church, in which good, inspired programs are found as well as failure and error. They no longer consider inspiration, spiritual and physical healing, personal and global revelation limited to the LDS church. In this context, these saints may attend other churches, too, where they might have spiritual experiences as well. They interpret their old spiritual experiences differently, understanding them as testimonies from God for them personally, as a result of their search and efforts, but these testimonies don’t necessarily have to be seen as a confirmation that the LDS church is the only true one.

“Since the social relationships between them and other ward (or stake) members suffer (avoidance, silence, even mobbing) because of their status as heretics, which is usually known via gossip, and since the extent of active involvement and range of possible callings are reduced because of their nonconformity in various areas, there is a risk that they end up leaving the church after all, because they are simply ignored by the majority of the other members.”
He then offers a recommendation:
“It is necessary that the church not only shows more support and openness to these ‘apostates’ but also teaches and advises all members, bishops, stake presidents etc., who usually don’t know how to deal with such a situation in terms of organizational and ecclesiastical questions and – out of insecurity – fail to treat the critical member with the necessary love and respect that even a normal stranger would receive.”
Those are the words of someone who has lost belief in many of the fundamentals and is working out a new relationship to the Church. Other shaken individuals recover their belief in the basic principles and events but are never quite the same as before. Their knowledge, although no longer toxic, gives them a new perspective. They tend to be more philosophic and less dogmatic about all the stories they once enjoyed. Here are some of the characteristics of people who have passed through this ordeal but managed to revive most of their old beliefs.

1. They often say they learned the Prophet was human. They don’t expect him to be a model of perfect deportment as they once thought. He may have taken a glass of wine from time to time, or scolded his associates, or even have made business errors. They see his virtues and believe in his revelations but don’t expect perfection.

2. They also don’t believe he was led by revelation in every detail. They see him as learning gradually to be a prophet and having to feel his way at times like most Church members. In between the revelations, he was left to himself to work out the methods of complying with the Lord’s commandments. Sometimes he had to experiment until he found the right way.

3. These newly revived Latter-day Saints also develop a more philosophical attitude toward history. They come to see (like professional historians) that facts can have many interpretations. Negative facts are not necessarily as damning as they appear at first sight. Put in another context along side other facts, they do not necessarily destroy Joseph Smith’s reputation.

4. Revived Latter-day Saints focus on the good things they derive from their faith–the community of believers, the comforts of the Holy Spirit, the orientation toward the large questions of life, contact with God, moral discipline, and many others. They don’t want to abandon these good things. Starting from that point of desired belief, they are willing to give Joseph Smith and the doctrine a favorable hearing. They may not be absolutely certain about every item, but they are inclined to see the good and the true in the Church.

At the heart of this turmoil is the question of trust. Disillusioned Latter-day Saints feel their trust has been betrayed. They don’t know whom to trust. They don’t dare trust the old feelings that once were so powerful, nor do they trust church leaders. They can only trust the new knowledge they have acquired. Those who come back to the Church are inclined to trust their old feelings. Their confidence in the good things they knew before is at least partially restored. But they sort out the goodness that seems still vital from the parts that now seem no longer tenable. Knowledge not only has given them a choice, it has compelled them to choose. They have to decide what they really believe. In the end, many are more stable and convinced than before. They feel better prepared to confront criticism openly, confident they can withstand it.


What way of speaking is most likely to win their trust and convince them we have their best interests at heart?

We began by agreeing that criticisms of Joseph Smith should not be dismissed as foolish or purely evil. The negative attacks that disturb first-time readers are usually based on facts, not merely prejudiced fabrications. To play down the force of the criticism, we believe, only convinces the seekers that we do not understand. We appear to be sweeping trouble under the rug. They may have been devastated by a criticism; we must show that we understand why. Consequently, the seminar took as its first principle to state the negative argument as fully and accurately as we can. We try not to minimize the difficulty or prejudice the case against the critic. In no other way can we persuade the doubters that we understand the problem.

Secondly, we try to avoid dogmatic answers. Rather than replace the dogmatic negative attacks of the critics with our own dogmatic answers, we attempt to show that a more positive interpretation is possible. Critics often claim that Joseph’s sins were so egregious as to utterly disqualify him as a prophet. We can understand their viewpoint, but we think there is another side to the story. Rather than destroy the critics, we want to loosen their grip. In the long run, we believe this approach will persuade questioners more effectively than claims to certainty where none is possible. We believe in stating our own strong convictions about the church as a whole, but we do not to pretend to perfect knowledge about complex historical questions.

We know that airing criticisms troubles many Latter-day Saints. Like most Church teachers, the members of the seminar do not want to draw attention to questions that will only unsettle faithful members. But we also feel that silence is not the answer. The absence of instruction troubles questioners more than anything. They feel they have been betrayed because they came through their Church classes ignorant of the devastating information now a few clicks away on the internet. The gaps in their education leave them disillusioned and angry.


We are encouraged by the scriptural recognition that not all have faith, and by the appealing remedy, “teach one another.” For many questioners, loneliness is the heart of the problems. No one seems to understand. We are enjoined by this scripture to find these seekers and bring them into a fellowship of inquiry. We hope that our papers will help Church teachers create safe havens where questions may be asked and answers explored--where we can teach one another."

If you've made it this far, first congratulations. Secondly, what do you think? Should doubt be embraced, explored, or should we avoid it at all costs? Have you or anyone close to you been disturbed by some of the skeletons in the history closet?

Monday, September 15

Mindful Living

In one of the practices of mindfulness, as I understand it, one strives to be aware of and experience everything, from the fragrance of one's breakfast cereal to the sound of the locking the car door. It sounds kind of funny, but I actually enjoy noticing these things.

On a bigger scale, a professor of mine, when asked how he is doing often replies, "Just grateful to be alive." He does it in such an amiable and genuine way that it often causes me to ponder about my own life. Almost every day for the past week, I have thought that mantra to myself, sometimes even spoken aloud to someone else. I'm just grateful to be alive today. Every day is another day we get to learn and grow and share with others. May we all find happiness and be free from suffering.

Thursday, September 11

O'Reilly Sounding Rational

Bill O'Reilly sounding quite rational on the Lipstick fiasco:

Monday, September 8

Success & Meaning

How I define my success:
  1. How well am I interacting with those I am close to.
  2. Working to ameliorate the suffering of others, and helping them grow.
  3. How big my DVD collection is.
Okay, so number three creeps in there once in a while.

Nothing is more important to me in terms of personal success than learning to be a better partner or father or friend, through working on being less defensive, more considerate, and softer in my interactions. 

Secondly, working to help others grow is also important to me. As I discussed last week, that all truth is a part of the gospel, I consider anything that helps someone to grow to be the same as "missionary work." Meeting someone in their sphere of life and promoting their growth within it, whether through a friendship or therapy is meaningful to me.

As for number three, I'm going to write this above my DVD cabinet:
"Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth."

How do you define success? What in your life gives you meaning?

Thursday, September 4

Obama and Your Taxes

What is the difference between misleading and lying?

According to Sarah Palin last night, if you vote for Obama your taxes will go up.
"The Democratic nominee for president supports plans to raise income taxes ... raise payroll taxes ... raise investment income taxes ... raise the death tax ... raise business taxes ... and increase the tax burden on the American people by hundreds of billions of dollars. My sister Heather and her husband have just built a service station that's now opened for business - like millions of others who run small businesses. How are they going to be any better off if taxes go up?"
The truth is, if you make over $250,000 your taxes will go up. I guess if you're making over 250k per year, by all means don't vote for Obama. If you make less than that (most of America), you will see a tax cuts up to 5% by 2012... Well, we'll see if that one comes true. Also, if anyone knows, isn't that personal income Obama would be taxing? How would that affect a business?

In fact, under Obama the middle class will pay less than under McCain, (5% vs. 3%). So lets leave the "Obama is going to raise my taxes" complaint to the rich. Well, 250k is rich for me. So is 100, or 200. Should this number be higher or lower?

There will be more half-truths to come, from both sides I'm sure.

Monday, September 1


[This post will start a sometimes weekly sharing of my beliefs, and a dissemination of wisdom (be careful of confusing those two). I encourage amiable discussion, opposing views, and scurvy rejoinders.]

Photo by jayacg17
“We should gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them up, or we shall not come out true Mormons.” ~ Joseph Smith
“One of the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism is to receive truth. Let it come from where it may.” ~ Joseph Smith
“The fundamental principle that has guided my religious life is that I need believe only what is true. The gospel is the truth as learned or discovered by whatever means and tools I can lay my hand or mind on.” ~ Henry Eyring
I believe that science and religion are compatible; as a believer and a scientist, I am convinced they must be, ultimately.  There is much we don’t know yet in science, and there is much we don’t know in religion. Bringing science into religion can provide a sifting process to discard the error and the myth. Religion has much to add in turn. Eyring said,
"It is the great mission and opportunity of religion to teach men "the way, the truth, the life," that they might utilize the discoveries of the laboratory to their blessing and not to their destruction. There is need for added spirituality, of the kind that leads to brotherhood, to go hand in hand with the scientific progress of our time."
May we all have the courage to seek truth from whatever the source, and to use that truth to the blessing of our fellow human beings.

*Prajna is a Sanskrit word for clear seeing, wisdom, or understanding.