Thursday, March 29

I want my money?

I’ve been reading Approaching Zion, by Hugh Nibley, a Mormon scholar. It condemns wealth-seeking, unbridled capitalism, and destruction of the environment. And it has been invading my thoughts. I'm questioning my career goals in life. Do I want to be rich? In Mormon doctrine, the only good reason for seeking riches is to help others. From The Book of Mormon: “But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God. And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.”

It’s not just Mormon doctrine. Here are a few other teachings:
The King James Bible: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth…But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven…For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” “…a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.”

Chögyam Trungpa, Tibetan Buddhist teacher:
“Our highly organized and technological society reflects our preoccupation with manipulating physical surroundings so as to shield ourselves from the irritations of the raw, rugged, unpredictable aspects of life. Push-button elevators, pre-packaged meat, air conditioning, flush toilets …weather satellites, bulldozers, fluorescent lighting, nine-to-five jobs, television - all are attempts to create a manageable, safe, predictable, pleasurable world… It is ego's ambition to secure and entertain itself, trying to avoid all irritation. So we cling to our pleasures and possessions…”

So, where do we draw the line? Should I buy a Corvette for $60,000 when I could buy a less expensive one for a third of that price or less, and give the rest of the money away? When we take more than we actually need, aren’t we really being selfish? How can any wealthy person drop 30 grand on a vacation to Bora Bora when there are still people starving in the world? And I’m not just condemning the rich here. I’m guilty too. I love DVDs, vacations, “air conditioning,” etc. The irony of it is we try to amass all of these “riches” that comfort or amuse us, yet the end result is we’ve wasted our time, increased the strength of our addictions to ‘things’, and used up resources that ostensibly could have been used for a better purpose. So when can one relax and enjoy a movie?

Tuesday, March 27

Our arrogance is our weakness

“The future of a movement is conditioned by the fanaticism, yes, the intolerance, with which its adherents uphold it as the sole correct movement…”

“The greatness of every mighty organization embodying an idea in this world lies in the religious fanaticism and intolerance with which, fanatically convinced of its own right, it intolerably imposes its will against all others.”

“I will give a propagandistic cause for starting the war, never mind whether it is plausible or not. The victor shall not be asked, later on, whether we told the truth or not. In starting and waging a war, not the right is what matters but victory.”

“German forces quickly overran the Polish army. In less than three weeks they changed the map of Europe and killed 70,000 Polish soldiers, wounded another 133,000, and took 694,000 prisoner. Underneath the military statistics, the Polish people’s lives were shattered with suffering that numbers can never quantify. The Nazis justified their actions in the worldwide court of public opinion as preemptive self-defense.”

Do any of our current ideas sound similar to these? Do we see the cause of America and democracy as the “sole correct movement?” Are we “fanatically convinced” of our own right? Are we honest in our motives for war and what is actually going on? Have more been killed post-Saddam than pre? Are we willing to think about that? Do we practice preemptive self-defense?

Before I start waxing too political, what about our personal lives? I believe they are often governed by the same ominous principles. Is our opinion right and everyone else’s wrong or at least misguided? Are we intolerant of different views, even in our personal relationships? Do the ends ever justify the means? Surely it is good to have opinions and values, etc. But when do they cross the line? I think the difference is in our level of arrogance. We can be sturdy yet humble (and I don’t mean the Limbaugh style humility, “I may be wrong, but I’m right”) in our views, and don’t need to bend over with every new strand of opinion, but we can also avoid becoming a source of aggression in our interactions. We must always be willing to humbly admit that we may be mistaken, or at least willing to learn more and consider alternate ideas. I think it is dangerous to become so arrogant that we think we know better than everyone else. When we are a source of aggression to those around us, we are contributing, in however a small way, to the conflicts of nations.

The first three quotes are from Adolf Hitler. The last one from is Alex Nibley, from the book Sergeant Nibley PhD. Thanks to wp for the book!

Monday, March 19

William Wilberforce. And movie ratings.

I just saw the movie, “Amazing Grace,” which is about the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire. I highly recommend it, and for those sensitive people out there (like me), remember to bring your hanky. The movie is based on real people and events, but the main character, William Wilberforce, is so caring and compassionate that he seems more like a Dickens character (like Nicholas Nickleby—haven’t read it but the movie is good), rather than a real person. But it’s still refreshing to see movies about positive historical role models. Despite his being British, I think Wilberforce should replace Jackson on the $20 bill (Trail of Tears, anyone?). His life is certainly a better model for ending racial discrimination that Jackson’s was.

Incidentally, the song “Amazing Grace” was written by John Newton, a slave ship owner turned monk who counseled Wilberforce on his journey to overturn the slave trade.

As for movie ratings (for those who are interested in such things), there is a site called kids-in-mind, which rates movies for content. It’s not perfect, but it’s a good alternative to the MPAA, which is unreliable and inconsistent at best. Kids-in-mind gives a number rating from 0 to 10 for three categories: Sex, Violence, and Profanity. They also explain in detail (if you really want to know) why the movie rates high or low in a category. The MPAA rating is included if you want to compare. Click here to go to the site.

A few samples of their ratings: The Return of the King: 1.7.1 (sex 1,violence 7, profanity 1), Casino Royale: 5.7.4, Titanic: 5.6.6, Schindler’s List: 6.10.5, and Amazing Grace: 2.4.2. Maybe this will help to curb the silly “R is bad PG-13 is good” dichotomy, and allow people to make better entertainment decisions for their kids and for themselves.

Thursday, March 15

Defining principles (Coffee bad, Coke not so bad, Red Bull...?)

Caffeine debates always get a little sticky for Mormons. I don’t like trying to answer questions about my standards in this area, and I usually end up with something like “We don’t drink tea, but some tea is ok, we don’t drink coffee, but decaf is ok. Coke and Pepsi are ok, even though they have some caffeine, and, uh, …” I’m usually just grateful they didn’t ask about Red Bull or Rock Star or those other tastes-like-a-diaper drinks (according to a friend: ). I suppose they're not “hot drinks,” but some have as much caffeine as coffee.

This problem in clarity is probably why the three most prominent Mormons in the media (President Hinckley, Mitt Romney, and Napoleon Dynamite) have all said simply that we don’t drink caffeine.

Robert Kirby, a Salt Lake Tribune columnist and a Mormon who admits that he sometimes “sneaks home for a ham sandwich during priesthood meeting,” recently commented on the controversy:
“It's been a while since the last big (and pointless) caffeine-and-Mormons debate. During one such debate several years ago, I received a letter from a group of Baptist seminary students demanding biblical proof for the LDS stand on caffeine. I sent them Deuteronomy 25:13 and said, "I don't know how the Lord could possibly make it any clearer.” They wrote back that I was “an unserious man” and to “enjoy myself in Hell.” …Still, the "official" Mormon obedience factor regarding caffeinated soft drinks depends on the Mormon. Liberal Mormons tend to think it's their own business. Conservative Mormons might drink a Coke in a pinch and repent later. Orthodox Mormons put Pepsi in a subcategory of beer and won't allow it in their home. Nazi Mormons believe the Lord will give you a boil for simply watching a Dr Pepper commercial.”
My question is, do people need exact definitions of their principles in order to live them? Is that less hypocritical? Or is finding exactness in all areas of life an impossible task? I think that life is too gray sometimes to have completely precise stances on everything. What do you think?

Monday, March 12

Respect your Wendy’s drive-through worker

Ok, I'm posting a little more frequently than I thought I would, but I guess I have had a lot to write about since last week.

A missionary companion of mine won $20,000 in a national non-fiction contest last year for writers in their 20’s, for his essay “Working at Wendy’s.” Not only is he a talented writer, but he has had a profound impact on my life through his example of hard work and humility.

I had plenty of spiritually trying times as a missionary, but the hardest time physically was the time I spent with Elder Joey Franklin in Akashi, Japan. It didn’t help that it was “hotter than Georgia in the summer” (according to my Dad who came to visit), but Franklin taught me a lot through his seemingly endless amounts of energy despite the heat. Working with him, I never slept better in my life. I also got a great farmer’s tan.

In most places I lived in Japan, we would pick out an area or neighborhood to go door-to-door, and then talk to everyone on the way there. (In smaller towns, often the only people to talk to on the way were nice old ladies pushing grocery carts. They were usually not interested in hearing the Word but sometimes gave us bananas and told us we had handsome faces). Well, with Elder Franklin, we would plan to go to a certain neighborhood, but usually didn’t make it past the corner 7-11 about 50 yards from our apartment. I don’t think any unsuspecting (or sometimes, suspecting) Japanese person got past him without at least a five minute conversation about the purpose of life.

What influenced me the most, however, was that Franklin wasn’t a robot with a name tag, (as I tended to become after getting rejected 50 times in a row or knocking on doors for four hours). He was enthusiastic about the work, and you could tell that he loved the people he talked to. In comparison, I often spent time staring at my watch, wondering when the next break was, and worrying that it would be spaghetti again for dinner. Elder Franklin, through his example, taught me to ignore the clock and immerse myself in the work. Preparing for my mission I heard the quote, “Don’t serve time, serve the Savior. Prisoners serve time, and they are miserable.” After a few days in Akashi, I ditched my watch, and tried to keep up with my fireball of a companion. Although I was only in Akashi for three weeks, Franklin’s example affected the way I worked and gave me a sense of enthusiasm that I had the rest of my time in Japan.

That’s the memory I have of him. The URL for his essay is at the end of this post. The judges of the contest said of Franklin that his essay "took us by the arm, looked us squarely in the eye, and kissed us hard on the mouth. That's right, we've fallen in love with 'Working at Wendy's' by Joey Franklin, and we don't care who knows.“ At one point in the essay he writes about how he was criticized at Wendy’s for not mopping well enough; I have to wonder if his superior was on something because Franklin is the kind of person that makes you tired just watching him. When asked about what he’ll do with the money, he said it would be for the baby, for school, "and $3,000 will be spent for an engine replacement for our 1999 Ford Escort wagon, a true lemon on wheels. Then if it dies, I'll push it into Utah Lake."

Click here to read it...

Saturday, March 10

Warlocks are enemies of God!

I’m currently watching Jesus Camp and wondering why I feel disturbed. I suppose everyone has a different way of expressing spirituality or religiosity, but watching the kids in this movie writhe around and yell out nonsense syllables makes me uncomfortable. Although, I’m certainly not ignorant of the fact that Mormons probably seem weird or even heretical to them. According to a boy in the movie, non-“Christians” (like me, I suppose) make his spirit feel “yucky.”

Some thoughts: what do they have against acknowledging global warming? If anything global warming should be a religious “sign” to the Evangelicals that the second coming is near. Also, Evangelicals and Mormons seem to frequently debate about whether or not Mormons are Christian (brought to the table again due to Romney's presidential run), but our culture and hermeneutics are so different that the debate seems pointless to me. We are different. We worship an ostensibly different God. We may both read the Bible and share some values, but pretty much everything else seems to be different. And I think that is ok. I don’t think we need to say we’re the same.

My point is not to rag on these people or anyone else. I’m just trying to acknowledge how different cultures can make us uncomfortable. If some people believe that Harry Potter is evil/a hero, that democrats are going to destroy/save the country, that a fetus is/is not a life, or the silverware should always face down/up in the dishwasher, it may make me uncomfortable, but I’m learning to be ok feeling uncomfortable. I don’t envy leaders who have to try to (or at least we expect them to) balance all of the needs or opinions of the country…and I think it’s amazing that we get along as well as we do considering we’re all walking around making each other feel yucky.

Wednesday, March 7

plural identities

An editorial in the U. newspaper yesterday was written about a speech by Amartya Sen. He talked about the importance of embracing all of our identities. Exclusion and hostility result when we see ourselves (and others) only as red or blue, gay or straight, member or non-member, etc. Obviously we all have differences, even among close relationships. We don't need to eliminate our identities, but we do need to recognize that we and others are more than a single label, and if we thought about it for a few minutes, we'd probably find significant things in common with almost everybody. I guess I'll try this out next time someone cuts me off on the freeway by thinking, "hey, maybe we both like pizza." That sounds sarcastic I guess but my point is that we can all do better to relate in positive ways to each other. With so many identity/aggression fueled problems in the world, we have a responsibility to practice peace on an individual level.