Sunday, December 29, 2013

Advice regarding emotions and relationships

Every once in a while it happens- someone asks me for advice about a situation defined by its emotions or about relationships.  Sometimes it happens in more formal ways- like when our married student ward asked my wife and I to teach the marriage and family relationships class.  Sometimes it is more informal like a friend at work asking if I could think of anything better that they might have done in a frustrating situation with their girlfriend.  I appreciate the trust people extend to me when this happens.  But it honestly feels just a little odd.  Because, I honestly struggle with emotions and relationships.  I feel like a blind man being asked how to see.

When Bonnie Jean and I were engaged, I was off trying to sell alarm systems with about as much skill as a plumber that had never owned a wrench.  Life was getting pretty frustrating and I was talking with Bonnie Jean on the phone about how I was feeling.  There were all these components to how I was feeling and I couldn't figure it out why I should be feeling that particular set of emotional and physical sensations or what they meant.  Bonnie Jean finally said "it sounds like your depressed."  Then everything clicked, depression was what I was feeling, how amazingly good it was to finally be able to put a word to how I was feeling.  I had been feeling depressed for several weeks before finally figuring out exactly what was going on.  This is not the only time in my life when there has been a substantial time lag between the onset of depression and realizing that it happened.  Its just the sort of thing that happens to me from time to time.

And as far as relationships go... well, lets just say that I can sit next to someone at work for hours without talking to them or even realizing if they stay put or get up and leave.  There's a strong chance that I won't ever talk to them at all.  Engaging with random strangers in a social manner takes a certain amount of courage, mental effort, and sometimes a measure of desperation.  Basic skills of managing the image I portray of myself to other people are difficult for me to manage, and avoiding giving offense and overcoming hostility that can come from small offenses can be an exhausting effort for me.  Making and keeping friends can be hard.  I still think its a small miracle that Bonnie Jean and I met and got married in the first place.  There are so many things that other people can do by feel that I do by thinking about them.

But maybe that explains a little bit of why people ask for advice sometimes.  Maybe the way I spend time thinking through these things gives me a fresh perspective that is unique to others when they hear it.  So instead of the blind man describing the elephant I'm the blind man with x ray vision trying to describe an elephant.  Or maybe just occasionally I earn up enough good will and trust that people value what I think and feel regardless of whether they think I really have any answers.  I don't know.  I do enjoy feeling trusted though.  It makes it seem as if I've established a real connection with another human being.  And with how isolating the world can be, knowing those connections are there matters a great deal.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Civics and the Ninth Amendment

Once I was going through some museum in Washington D,C, and there was a little computer kiosk where people could answer quiz questions on the structure of the US government.  It was a little painful to watch as tourists playing with the machine sincerely were confused by basic issues like that Congress not the President, makes the laws in the US government.  I've been reminded of that painful embarrassment by recent events where people seem to think that free speech means the right to embarrass your employers with crazy talk without the employer having the right to let you go.  I remember being in an orientation at work where they specifically stated that if I got into trouble in any way that brought notoriety to the company I would be let go no matter what my guilt or innocence was.  It's that simple, I don't have the right to create a scandal and drag my employer into it as if they are stuck with me.

I've been reminded again of societies need for a better understanding of civics by recent arguments about the power of the judicial branch.  I've heard people seem to argue that courts don't have the right to overturn the will of the majority or that they don't have the right to recognize rights that aren't granted by the majority already.  Growing up, I heard a lot of these arguments.  They typically went something like this.  The courts recognize a right to sexual privacy, but privacy isn't mentioned in the Constitution.  So therefore the judges were just making it up as they went along as evil activists instead of being bound by the text of the Constitution.  Some arguments would even go as far as to suggest that the right to privacy was some kind of legal fiction created from the concept of the 4th amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure.  The basic concept here is that judges shouldn't be allowed to protect any human rights unless the legislature or the Constitution has already defined these rights somehow.

Somehow people just don't understand the Ninth amendment. 

"The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."

 So basically the supreme law of the land states that there are undenied undefined human rights.  To enforce this section of the Constitution, judges have to be able to figure out how to apply a philosophical sense of right and wrong to define when people's rights are being infringed even if the right that is being wronged has never been defined before.  That's a high calling and a difficult one.  There have been very few cases where the ninth amendment was invoked as a result.  But the basic concept is worth pondering.  Not all human rights are defined.

Sometimes the rights protected by judges are partially defined, but get redefined from how they are written in law to make them conform to constitutional concepts like equal protection and due process.  That can be uncomfortable and frightening because yes at those moments the judges will be changing the law in a way that isn't based on the will of the majority.  But we don't live in a country where only the will of the majority matters.  People don't only have rights because someone else said so.  We live in a system where human rights are recognized, and some concepts of just law are supreme over the will of the majority.  While judges can surprise us with novel interpretations of right and wrong or constitutional vs unconstitutional, in general these changes have been for the betterment of society.  The decriminalization of birth control, integrated schools, and multiracial marriage only happened when they did because of judges willing to define rights and redefine the law in ways that hadn't been done before took a chance.  And that isn't something to be scared of.  We become more just when we give ourselves the chance to recognize human rights that are still undefined..

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Poverty and Abundence

One thing that is kind of hard to forget sometimes is that I'm poor as things go.  Apparently, according to a website I found, only about 12% of the married households in the United States make less than we do.  With Mom and Dad and two kids, money doesn't always seem to want to stretch as far as we want it to.  Ignoring tuition reimbursement at my work, I'll probably only make $27,500 or so this year.  While all our basic needs are met, we'd still like to be able to afford life insurance, disability insurance, a better apartment or maybe a house, a real piano for my wife, and new clothes.  While we've worked hard to build up our savings, if anything happened to either of us our hard earned savings would evaporate pretty quickly.  But, last we checked, life insurance would probably be another 50$ a month expense or more depending how the insurer rated our health.  Disability insurance is available through my work- but again that's more money down the drain.  Our apartment is nice enough, but L sleeps in the laundry/storage room.  It used to be the laundry/storage/office room, but that got too impractical and the office part got shoved into our bedroom.  We had to arrange the room just right so that if an earthquake knocked the cans of food off our storage shelves they wouldn't rain down on L inside his crib.  The temperature only stays reasonable through the apartment if the doors stay wide open, which means at night when we close the door to keep it quiet so L doesn't wake up, his room can get really cold really easily.  Our electronic piano is wonderful and a big step up from the old one we had, but its still not a real one and doesn't play quite like a real one.  As for clothes, a lot of mine have holes in them.  Every once in a while we make another trip to the thrift store or something to update my outfits with things that fit pretty close to right even if they are a little too big etc.  But when I'm looking for clothing without holes in my closet, I have to pay attention-just randomly picking out stuff would get clothes with holes a lot of the time.  My wife's body has had the common changes with pregnancy, birth, and nursing.  Unfortunately, money has been tight enough that its hard to keep buying new clothing each time something changes and there are some types of clothing that she doesn't even have any that fit properly, she just makes them fit anyways.  Even after a couple of raises at work, it still feels like there just is never enough to make everything fall into place the way we'd like to.

At the same time, I sometimes just get possessed with an awareness of how much we have and how lucky we are.  We've worked hard to save money for emergencies and long term expenses.  And as a result we have about $18,000 in normal bank accounts.  We don't live paycheck to paycheck.  Our retirement accounts are worth about $29,500- nothing to brag about in the long run but the point is I'm still fairly young and that money is growing.  Both our kids have 529 education trust funds set up for them.  Granted there isn't much in either of those trust funds, but each kid gets $5 a month added to them and when times are better for us we'll start adding more.  At the moment I do have a considerable amount of student debt, but there's actually less student debt than I have money in the bank and we have no other forms of debt.  So our retirement savings is close to our actual net worth.  That means that we're in the 76% percentile for net worth of people aged 29-30, according to  We've worked extremely hard to be able to build up our savings and I tend to be really proud of what we've accomplished on paper.

But there are every day reminders of this sense of affluence as well.  If something goes on sale at the grocery store, we don't have to sit around wishing we had money to take advantage of the lower price.  We have spare money to buy in bulk when sales come around.  If the item in question is perishable, we can still save money on it because we have a chest freezer that we were able to purchase with our savings.  When the option to use cloth diapers came around to save money we didn't hesitate because the initial purchase of modern cloth diapers can be over a hundred dollars in just set up costs.  We had the money to do it without really hesitating.  When WIC doesn't give us enough bread to eat we don't buy it, we make it from scratch with a host of kitchen gadgets at our disposal including a kitchen aid, a wheat grinder, and bread maker.  Recently we've been struggling to make our food budget work.  One area in which we spend a lot of money seems to always be our pasta, which we eat pretty much every day.  We decided we'd see if we could make our own pasta, and had the money to shell out $60 using Christmas money on a nice pasta machine.  Though we haven't run the numbers yet, I expect that making our own pasta will probably be cheaper than buying it at the store.  Regardless, the home made pasta we've tried so far has been superb tasting.  When we make bread or pasta, I feel like some how I am changing from a position of poverty eating cheap pasta and bread from the store to a position of privilege- eating excellent quality home made foods that are cheaper than anything I could buy and often better quality than anything I'd care to afford.  Granted, we do these things because the money is tight, but I don't feel impoverished by my cooking experiments.  I feel enriched.

When my wife and I were first married and we started developing our own family cooking traditions, I remember being in awe of the number of pasta's we had in the cupboard.  There was the elbow macaroni, lasagna noodles, large and small shells, angel hair, spaghetti, rotini, and acini de pepi.  I didn't grow up eating a large number of different types of pasta or even really much pasta in general.  I hadn't even know most of these types existed.  So when I looked in that cupboard I felt like I was crazy wealthy.  I couldn't believe how blessed I seemed to be staring at a cupboard full of pasta that promised so many different flavors in their different recipes.

Depending on if you focus on my income (12% percentile of married couples) or my net worth compared to my age (76% percentile), you could argue am I either  wealthy or poor.  On the one hand, very few make so little money as I do.  On the other hand, not as many people have as many cash resources as I do and their net worth can be close to nothing.  In the end I'm both affluent and very poor.  If we spent money as if we were affluent we'd have none left over and the savings would promptly disappear.  As we spend money as if we didn't have cash to spare and can only afford to occasionally invest in some cost savings measure or other, then the savings continue to pile up.  I'm really both poor and affluent at the same time.  It's just one of life's little paradoxes.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Why I'm an Environmentalist

I'm an environmentalist.  That might be a surprise to people who knew me growing up.  But a lot of things would probably surprise people who knew me from growing up.  I guess I'm just very capable of changing my opinions.  For a class this last semester I was doing a little bit of writing on a reading assignment about the different political schools of thought that influenced environmental policy.  And I really felt like it deserved becoming a blog post.

The article I was reading described two ways of thinking about the world, one it called Cornucopian.  I used to fall into this group.  I thought that the free market and individual action was the only possible moral way of dealing with the social and environmental problems brought about by unlimited growth.  I had so much faith in these concepts that I didn't even really believe environmental problems that would largely affect people other than the ones benefiting from an action existed except as freakish exceptions to the rules that could be dealt with on a case by case basis in the court system.  But then I learned about tragedy of the commons, where unrestricted access to public goods almost always leads to the near destruction of the value of that public good.  I learned about the early history of labor unions in the US, where free and individual action was suppressed on the assumption that it was anarchistic, communistic, or both.  I learned about the history of pollution regulations in the United States and Britain.  If everyone could have their external costs brought back on their own heads sure yes maybe unlimited freedom of individual action could solve the problems in the world.  But that's not the case.  For example, when I bike on roads that are so clogged with cars that the air is choked with exhaust and I start to have asthma attacks at bike speeds a little above a walking pace.  No one would accept that their car exhaust fumes should be piped back into their own cars so that they would have to breathe their own exhaust.  People idling their engines would all promptly die and cars would become worthless.  But if people had to take that kind of responsibility they would start demanding cars that you could drive without dying and they would never idle their engines at a stop.  Meanwhile, I might die trying to breath their exhaust if I have a bad asthma attack on a day when I forgot my inhaler, and nationally many people die of pollution related causes every day.

It would certainly be more just if people had to breathe their own exhaust instead of me the biker.  I don't benefit from the cars being on the road, why should I breathe their exhaust?  But even a milder suggestion that exhaust fumes should be piped into compressed air tanks in the backs of the vehicles would be seen as absurd.  Regarding car exhaust, there is already an assumption in society that the air is a common resource that no one should be particularly responsible for unless the car pollutes more than a certain maximum standard.  The damage is seen as borne by all when in reality it is disproportionately created and disproportionately felt based on all sorts of factors.  Smog in Britain and the United States was increased by the factories until people started to die and the government decided that for the public good individual liberty had to be curtailed and pollution controls introduced.  Without a history of such pollution controls, an asthmatic like me could probably only hope to bicycle out in rural areas, that is if there were any left and if I had the money and time to travel to them.  Pollution laws help preserve my freedom to live anywhere and exercise out of doors as I please without as much fear of death by asthma.  Preserving freedom requires laws and restrictions on freedom because there is no practical way to make all people responsible for all of their own externally caused costs.

            Another movement of people described in the text were "Deep Ecologists."  A quick way of summarizing deep ecology would be to say that morally, all life or at least all species have an almost equal right to exist, so morally society has an extreme obligation to not obliterate other forms of life unnecessarily.  Honestly I feel some sympathy for this view.  If God created all life and called it good then we blaspheme when we destroy the beauty and goodness created by God.  If all life is just an evolutionary accident then I'd argue that the whole sale destruction of the beauty of the world represents an animalistic lack of sophistication.  For if its all just evolution then we don't have any more right to be here than anything else, we just happened to be better at exploiting the world than other species.  If we have indeed evolved an enhanced moral sense that makes us superior in the natural order of things we should have the sense to avoid a juvenile destruction of beauty and uniqueness.  Avoiding wholesale destruction requires careful planning, taking into account the needs and dreams of everyone involved.  That means environmental regulations.  If we have no higher evolved moral sense but only the nifty tricks and tools that allow us to exploit the world better than any other organism than I think any talk of liberty and individual rights is hypocritical, since there would be no reason to protect the poor and powerless selectively except that it appeals to the emotionality created by evolution whereby altruism to ones kin group is perpetuated as a useful trait.

            I choose to believe that our sense of altruism towards the powerless, whatever its source, suggests a sense of moral obligation to the world around us.  We can become a people of more integrity if loving our neighbor includes the non human ones to the extent that we can manage it.  I reject the notion that having "dominion" over the earth somehow means that we have free license or duty to destroy anything on the earth we please as long as we benefit from it.  Would we accept government having dominion over its citizens to mean that the government should always take its own priority and preferences over the rights of its citizens, even slaughtering its citizens as a matter of convenience?  Around the globe that often happens because of the power imbalance between the government and individuals, but we fight against it its so obviously wrong.  Of course, around the world the power imbalance between nature and man is intense.  How could it be otherwise, since mice can't vote?  As a result of that power imbalance, without even taking thought we act unjustly toward all of creation that we can reach.  The human worldview is by default, centered on humanity.  But there is no reason to always assume such a preference is right or useful.

            There is no easy way to fix this.  Squirrels can't sit in as members of Congress.  Other than the occasional civilizational collapse caused by ecological exhaustion, there is no real feedback mechanism for nature to respond to humanity.  And, even though protecting nature may be grand sounding we often don't even know how.  When we don't know how to protect nature and we know how to protect ourselves, by default we can only really fully respond to our own needs.  And, in reality, there is no grand harmony of reality where the lions sit down with the lamb and all the critters naturally get along.  The very basis of human society is based on the exploitation of nature to achieve human comforts, and at its roots there is nothing wrong with this if it is done wisely.  But surely we can do better than we have done so that we can preserve much of what we will lose otherwise.  Whether we're trying to prevent the loss of unique genetic lineages or prevent the destruction of God's good handiwork, it comes down to close to the same thing.  In the United States and much of the rest of the developed world, we're smart enough and rich enough to afford halting much of the wholesale destruction of the earth's unique species and ecosystems.  If we cared.  I choose to care.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013


Growing up I remember being told from time to time that the United States was like Rome and that we could learn from Rome to help the United States learn how to avoid the mistakes of history.  When I first heard these things I thought they were exciting and grand sounding.  I knew Rome was big and powerful and supposedly had rules of government that somehow were supposed to have inspired our own somewhat.  So the take away for me was that I was part of the grand march of history, repeating the stories of the great and powerful in the past.

However, the application of this idea was always kind of vague.  Sometimes there was some suggestion of how the early Romans were free supposedly and we are free and the Roman's lost their freedom and we're about to lose ours or something along those lines.  About the only concrete idea I ever seemed to take away from it was that supposedly Rome fell because God doesn't like it when people have too much unapproved sex and that therefore we needed to prevent our culture from being involved in too much unapproved of sex to prevent our falling like Rome.  Then there was the distant future where after Rome lost their freedoms they persecuted lots of Christians, so supposedly I needed to keep my freedom or else somehow the government was going to go crazy and persecute me.

When I actually studied a little bit of Roman history, the whole concept blew apart for me.  I couldn't find any evidence anywhere that societies rose and fell based on how much approved vs disapproved sex they were having or whom they were having it with.  Rome was never particularly free, a aristocracy ruled pretty freely.  The governance concepts, well, there are some vague parallels but not many of them and most of them fall apart on closer inspection.  Sure, there were representatives elected to some councils, but those councils were made to be powerless and became more powerless as time passed.  As for the Roman Empire being big and the US being big, well, I stopped feeling particularly proud of that parallel.  The Roman empire produced a profound peace in its interior during the pax romana by conquering large amounts of territory.  In the meantime anyone outside the Roman civilization were treated with military brutality to get them in the Roman world.  The United States also has had a period of dramatic cruelty and barbarous behavior towards the people who held the land it wanted.  Not something to be proud of.  In fact, its so embarrassing that we seem to as a culture wish to forget the whole thing.  I remember an email forward that was sent around some years ago where the writer gushed on about how America had never conquered land in order to occupy it or hold it as territory for its own benefit.  Well, that might be true if you ignore Texas, Hawaii, the Philippines, the original boundaries of many Indian tribal lands, etc...  You can surely argue that we have created a vibrant and powerful culture on the ashes of what we destroyed in many cases, and so did Rome.  But I can't look on the past with unmixed pride.

As far as being persecuted, well, I no longer view not having my religious opinions and practices supported by the government as being persecuted.  I no longer assume that government religious favoritism is a zero sum game where some religion is going to win government dominance so it might as well be mine so that more souls can be saved.  And when I don't feel persecuted anymore, the comparison with Rome disappears.

I really stopped feeling like Rome had anything to do with the USA, or at least not in ways that I'd like to think about.

I picked up a book recently discussing the history of the early Christian time period in Roman history.  And reading it, suddenly comparing Rome to the USA popped right back in my head.  In the early Christian era, the author describes that both the pagans and Christians viewed that achieving doctrinal consistency was essential to securing the favor of God or the God's to their empire.  When the Roman empire was wavering back and forth between glory and apparent imminent collapse it would have felt as if the forces of good and evil were battling and that a bit more effort towards piousness might turn the balance towards the temporal salvation of Rome. As the empire wavered, faith in the God's wavered and Christianity was ready to come in with the explanation that if the pagans converted to Christianity that God would favor them with glory and military might again.  When Rome succeeded, the Pagans cheered that the God's had shown favor, discrediting the growing movement of Christians whose very presence tainted the chances of success.  After Constantine, Christians still felt a need to purify land for God's grace by ensuring that heresy was stamped out.  If heretics were allowed to run loose God's favor might withdraw, so it became a social duty to aggressively convert/harrass/kill heretics.

So when I think of all the appeals I have heard claiming that we are a Christian nation or that the government was only meant to protect religious freedom for Christians or that we need laws governed by a particular brand of Christianity in order to be favored by God in otherwise uncertain times, I hear the echos of Rome.  Echos of screaming heretics burning alive, among other things.

I sometimes ponder the statement by Paul that God causes it to rain on the just and unjust.  Paul concluded that God was only indulging the ignorance of the pagans, but that in order to obtain temporal blessings like rain the hearers would need to convert.  But, time has passed and rain still falls on both the Godly and unGodly.  But when you think about it, if God is really our Father, wouldn't we expect that being starved to death by a famine would be His way of dealing with children.  Or, at least, I'd never imagine letting my children starve to death because of an obedience issue.  I might be frustrated and use punishments to help teach principles like "don't run into the street"  But I'd work to preserve life and minimize suffering.  In the end, I think God sends rain on both the righteous and unrighteoud all the time- just like I feed my kids even when they are annoying.

Monday, November 18, 2013


I was homeschooled from about 6th grade on.  The reasons why are kind of complicated, but lets say there was a big project involving being required to study astrology in math class, being given word puzzles as English homework on a regular basis, and getting an A on an assignment because it involved a % mark.  It's been a long time since I left that world, and I think I can look back on it now with a lot better perspective than I had at the time.  I wanted to give a quick review of what I felt about the experience in terms of the quality of academics, my emotional well being, and my social well being.

Quality of Academics

Homeschooling did help some parts of my academic progress.  For instance, grammar was something that always eluded me until I studied it at home.  Instead of writing assignments being something that were inflexible and arbitrary, I could adapt writing assignments to my own ideas and style and developed in writing much more than I would have otherwise.  I also don't think I would have ever studied poetry if I hadn't been home schooled, and an ability to enjoy poetry has enriched my life even if the poetry I write is only mediocre.

In some ways homeschooling actually hurt my academic progress.  During the time that the whole curriculum plan was built for us by Calvert School it went pretty well, but afterwards when we tried to build our own it went downhill.  My parents didn't feel up to teaching me chemistry or biology or having me self study.  So we signed me up for a BYU independent study biology course.  I don't know if they've improved, but the BYU high school independent study course for biology was pretty horrible at the time.  And I had no lab experience.  Its not that you can't experience biology labs in home school, its just that you have to buy them, and we didn't.  In chemistry we signed me up for a chemistry class from the local community college.  That by itself was actually a very good move.  It got me a little college credit, I learned much better than I would have at home, and it broke down some of the fear of college level courses for me.  But, we never thought to sign me up for the lab section of the chemistry class, which for whatever reason was optional at Montgomery College.  So I missed the labs again.  Yes we could have purchased those too, but my feeling is that unless your parents are already professional chemists, that is probably a bad idea.  At school you actually have a full set of safety equipment.  The things we used for civics studies didn't allow for any serious alternate world view presentation, and didn't encourage critical thought or introspection.  Even though I learned to break past writers block, grammar, and any fear of writing, my parents were unable to provide serious contributions to the maturity of my writing.  Most of what I wrote during that time except for humor pieces is so embarrassing to me today that I can hardly read it.

Emotional Well Being

Public school during 5th and 6th grades was living hell for me.  One of the things I liked the most about leaving the public school system is that breaking out of the environments where so many bad things happened to me allowed me to let go of a lot of the hatred and anger that had been building up in my personality.  Trying to navigate childhood with Asperger Syndrome is hard, and its harder when your undiagnosed and hardly anybody really gets you.  Despite not being diagnosed, the school councilors and psychologists could tell there was something wrong and had me spend some time in the special ed program.  They knew all about how I had trouble socializing, had problems empathizing, and learned things in an unusual pattern.  All the dots were there, but the paradigm to connect them hadn't been accepted in the DSM yet, so I was stuck with vague labels and assignments to write and read things that encouraged looking at stories from more than one perspective.  Didn't do me much good, and other than offering to let me spend more time playing with other special ed kids they didn't do anything that I am aware of to try to help me make friends.  And who really wants the stigma of spending lots of time with the special ed kids?

So I got to heal from a lot of the pain of public school just by leaving it.  But homeschooling does something funny to your emotional well being.  Its puts a lot of your eggs into one basket.  An overwhelming portion of your time is spent in one social group, and if family relationships go sour then you have very few options to escape it.  To imagine how badly that can end, think of how many people like or dislike subjects in school based on whether they liked or disliked the teacher for that class and for no other reason.  So say your mom is your teacher in ALL of your subjects and the relationship goes sour.  You either have the choice to hate academics, or make the mature decision to base your like or dislike of a subject on something other than who is helping you learn it.  Fortunately I didn't like or dislike subjects based on teachers.  And, when my mom would start to threaten to withdraw all support from me to force me to obey her idea of perfect study methods or habits, I just call her threat and learn to self study.  This was how I lived with my mother in general- find ways to reduce any need for physical, academic, or emotional support from her to as little as possible.  It taught me good study habits, even if my life at home was pretty much living hell a lot of the time just like public school had been.  It is normal for teenagers to need to learn some independence from their parents and authority figures.  Public school decentralizes those authority figures and allows you to take breaks from people you have trouble getting along with.  Home schooling centralizes many of your authority figures into one and gives very few opportunities to take breaks from people you don't get along with.  The only times I routinely wasn't with my family was during early morning seminary, mutual night at church, and church itself.  Other than that I spent almost all of my time with my family.

In the end I'm unsure whether the living hell of public school would have been better to continue if it would have meant not having to deal with living hell at home.  Its possible that I would simply have had bad experiences in both places at once if I had stayed in public school.

Social Well Being

Because I didn't have any effective way to deal with the problems inherent in having Asperger Syndrome, my social well being was pretty much broken and would have been broken no matter which path I took in life.  Public school wasn't working.  Homeschooling only allowed me to socialize at church or church events or with people from church on a regular basis.  Luckily, my group of friends at church was really great and our little group did tons of things together.

We did try to break out of not having socializing opportunities in different ways.  There was a group of homeschooling families in the neighborhood that gathered at a public park to play together on a regular basis.  They were good and intelligent people.  Unfortunately the brand of Christianity they belonged to made them somewhat apprehensive of mormons and I think there was almost a standing ban on us playing together in non public settings.  It got awkward quickly, which is too bad because I got along with some of them pretty well.  Since hanging out with the local Christian homeschooling groups didn't work out so well, we tried forming our own mormon homeschooling groups instead.  This had its own problems.  Most of the homeschooled kids were pretty young, and when I was a somewhat older teenage boy most of the other kids involved were pre adolescent girls.  Not so much my thing.  There were occasionally boys my age in these groups, but there was a problem with trying to be friends with them.

The thing is, one of the major reasons teenagers get taken out of public school and home schooled when the parents aren't concerned about the academics of the school district is to rescue them from some kind of bad behavior or a bad situation where the school isn't protecting them.  They don't tend to home school for very long, just long enough for their parents to feel like they have gotten past some life crisis of immoral or illegal behavior or simply a dangerous situation.  So they don't tend to be part of the homeschooling community for very long and they tend not always to be the kinds of people you want to spend time with when they are.  I remember a play event where my mom brought me a boy to play with and pre warned me that this boy was into some bad things and that if he proposed to do anything illegal or immoral that I should feel free to reject his ideas of a fun time.  During one of these visits he told me about how he wanted to grow up to be a hacker or a drug dealer because that was how to make a lot of money.  Even if the kids were well behaved and not spending their time with you making crude gestures and crude jokes and planning their future criminal life, I'm an Aspie, which means that I won't necessarily be able to become friends easily with anybody just because you throw them at me.  I had some play visits where I just sat there and watched the other kids play video games that I had never played before and couldn't easily learn because I had never played anything more complicated than a sega genesis.  If I hadn't been so well integrated into the social life at church, homeschooling would have been an utter failure for me at allowing me to have a social life.

So was I glad that I was home schooled?  Yes and no.  I was traumatized by 5th and 6th grade enough when 6th grade was in the elementary school, that I think I would have been severely damaged by middle school.  Maybe by high school that would have all calmed down.  Before I left the public school system I would have my mom call people to ask to play based on which kids weren't making fun of me, and then those kids would start making fun of me just to get the message across that my friendship wasn't wanted.  So I think socially and emotionally it gave me a valuable break that allowed me to recuperate in preparation for the epic control battles with my mother that ended with me pushing her out of my life in many ways.  I managed to do this in a way that left her proud of me and left a path forwards for the relationship to continue to develop in a positive way.  But I don't know how I would have managed dealing with middle school and early high school and the battles with my mother at the same time.

If I had to do home school over again and I could change something about what I did academically, it would be that instead of just doing the one class at Montgomery College as a 15 something year old I would have dropped almost all the classes I was self studying and tried to get an associates from Montgomery College before I turned 18.  That would have been a much better investment in myself than the self study courses I was doing and would have prepared me for life much better than the distance studies courses I started taking from George Wythe College.  For whatever reason having me take more college classes from the community college just never occurred to us.  Which is really too bad.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Chaos in Stillness, and Stillness in Chaos

Today I stood in the bathroom, looking at my wife and kids.  The three year old, or T as we have been abbreviating him online, is sitting on top of the toilet kiddy seat, completely naked, telling me about how he is sitting on the potty like mommy and daddy.  I’m glad he’s so happy about this.  Most of the day he’s been vomiting and unable to eat, or sleeping.  The 1 year old L is sitting in the sink, playing with the breakable travel alarm clock we keep on the counter and my breakable electric razor before I take it away again.  My wife is about to try to read to me out of the bible as I try to get both the kids into the bath.  Most nights I’m not home for this, and the last several times I’ve come home from work after the kids have had baths there was water splashed half way across the bathroom floor.

But at least during that moment of chaos, I’m holding still.  At least on the outside.

A few weeks ago we invited someone over to dinner.  With two kids our meals can be something more like a zoo feeding time than a ‘proper’ dinner.  But we try to laugh and have fun with it anyways.  Trying to hold intelligent conversation, eat, fend off the two little bandits trying to steal my attention and my cup of water, and figure out all of the social communication signals involved with having someone new in my environment is hard.  Probably about a week later I’m still internally freaking out because I don’t know if how we use cloth napkins might have communicated a confusing contradiction because cloth napkins normally are used at more formal events and in reality our chaotic dinner habits are born of trying to feed two small children in a hurry.  Our guest was very politely following a formality of etiquette that I am aware of but unfamiliar with, leaving me unsure how to interpret what it means when they used it in a complete mismatch to the chaos of the situation.  But if you took a photograph of our meal, any given moment might have looked calm enough.

At work the other day my manager praised me for having won the most fake money on our team for use at the year end company auction.  Apparently I had 11 customers who gave me 100% scores on good customer service after our phone calls (apparently not many other people got so many) and I practically never miss work or even come in late.  On the surface it looks good.  Underneath, I’m going crazy from the stress of strained relationships from having too little time away from work and school, strained relationships with myself from having too little time to invest in myself, financial goals that seem just out of reach of our income unless we fight for each dollar, chronically almost incomplete or almost late school work, and just trying to make myself slow down the pace of my inner life.  Some days my stress is so high that my acid reflux never really calms down between meals and I spend my time at work massaging my stomach to help relieve the tension building up inside of it.  I sometimes stop being able to digest my food fully- I’m not joking that happens to me when I’m on the danger zone of being stressed out.  I feel so mentally exhausted that even asking my customers names seems like too much to ask.  I frequently forget and have to ask at the end of the call, but honestly I just feel too exhausted to care.  As for making multiple sales pitches per call, forget it, I feel great if I can make myself offer them just one sales pitch.  I’ve still never figured out how to make even one sales pitch to a 3rd party monitoring tech support company that calls me because their connection to the customers modem went down- they aren’t the decision makes and probably never even talk to the decision makers other than when their monitoring contract was drawn up.  And how do you even start to think about selling our own IT support to an on site IT specialist?  “Hey just so you know Mr. Local IT, we have this great product that will make your boss lay you off, want to pass the word along to see if your boss wants it?"  But if I forget to make those two sales pitches my quality stats will suffer.  If I don’t make the calls shorter eventually someone is going to freak out on me and threaten to fire me again.  So I still stress about it all, even though I still feel too exhausted to even care some of the time.  I need to reinvest in me, but where do I start when there isn’t very much of me left to go around any more?

I like to say that trying to take care of my own emotional well being is like driving a car with a broken gas tank indicator.  I don’t tend to know I’m low on emotional energy until I run out.  Sometimes I hit bottom, and won’t even be able to tell what’s happening to me until I’ve had to stop and think about it.  By then I can be pretty messed up.  So I try to reboot my self care, start trying to read books for fun between calls instead of doing low quality homework because I can’t concentrate very well at work anyways, try to force away some of the urgent things in life so that I can just relax a while with my wife.  Try to force away some of the stupid things in life that suck the energy away from me but give me little back.  Take a few moments I’m getting dressed for the day to read something uplifting  Try to spend more time romping with my kids.  Life never stops, even if I wish I could take a vacation from it every once in a while.  But for those few moments that I spend relaxing with my wife, reading something uplifting, or tickling my kids, I try to approach stillness that is on both my inside and my outside, even if its just for a few moments.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Walking away from Omelas

Recently I read a short story by Le Guin entitled walking away from Omelas.  In this story there is a community where everything is perfect, where people are happy and have learned how to reject things destructive, to accept the things that are different but not destructive, and to celebrate joy.  There's only one problem.  For some cultural reason, the whole community is certain that its well being, happiness, and prosperity all come from allowing one child to be neglected and abused.  They all know this child exists and all feel bad about it.  But since allowing that one child to suffer is what keeps the society working properly they feel that there is a terrible justice about it and will refuse to speak even a kind word to this child and find ways to rationalize that nothing could be done about it anyways because the child has become almost inhuman as the result of long mistreatment.  In general people accept it as an unfortunate but necessary reality.  But there are some in the community who reject this devil's bargain of prosperity at the price of anyone's pain.  They simply leave.

Probably one of my weaknesses in life is a tendency to self indulge in certainty.  This is of course a rather human trait.  Most people would probably prefer certainty to pleasure or goodness in most areas of life.  Fighting someone can feel more certain and more empowered than asking for forgiveness.  Ending relationships can be more certain and empowered than holding out to see if they can be repaired.  A war can be simpler than negotiations.  There is nothing unique about being addicted to certainty.

But over the last few years I've noticed that my certainties put me at odd with any kind of sense of right and wrong that I could understand.  I found that I had been, without allowing myself to notice it, justifying other people's pain in favor of my own certainties.  I had allowed myself to believe that other people must have moral defects in their character if they didn't agree with me, had allowed myself to believe only one side of the story in conflicts where human passions and weaknesses leave no one unscathed, or was convinced that my own sense of contentment with my own internal convictions about the world was more important than other people.  Innocent real people were getting hurt, I knew it, but I thought that their getting hurt was somehow the expression of some bigger divine truth where if I didn't accept their hurt as necessary and unimportant it would disrupt my own certainties and perceived harmonies with the world around me.

So I decided to defend people rather than a sense of certainty.  It's not that I want to question "right and wrong" or overturn all values or anything like that.  It's that now I believe in right and wrong, but disbelieve that somehow the stars are aligned in some magic way so that my own cultural attitudes and presumptions invariably declare for right and cast down wrong.  Culture is about the history of good and bad intentioned decisions and attitudes that were made for reasons that were compelling at the time, but it lacks the stamp of eternity.

So where does that leave me now?  When I hear of a dispute between historical figures in the past of my cultural baggage, I stop assuming that the winners writing history means they were right.  Might doesn't equal right in wars, politics, or ethics.  I feel a need to seek out both sides of an issue.  I'm somewhat compulsive about it now.  Instead of cultivating certainty I want to cultivate Christlike love.  Instead of telling people that I understand them and then telling them that their pain is their fault because I imagine them to be someone other than who they are, I want to listen.

Just because someone is hurting doesn't make them "right" anymore than being powerful makes you right.  But listening with compassion keeps me from assuming either one to be completely true.

So where does this leave my certainty about life?  Well, one might say that in part I am walking away from Omelas.  To the extent that my certainty gave me an excuse to be unchristlike, its time to change that.  Losing certainty hurts, but losing my humanity should hurt me more.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Under which do the poor give more?

I had a thought experiment that occurred to me recently, showing how silly our insistance on rules can be.  Before I get to the thought experiment- lets cover a little bit of definition grounds.  In the LDS church there have been two systems of financially giving to the church.  There is tithing where you give 10% of, well, nobody really wants to define it.  The word is increase, but whether that means of gross or net, gross receipts or net revenue, or simply cash flow is at times left to the individual sometimes to the over anxious leader.  All those definitions of increase are ones I have heard people use and which definition is in vouge sometimes just depends on which general authorities are around.  But the one thing everyone agrees on is you give 10% and that you give it before you feed yourself or your children and before you keep a shelter over your head.  If paying it makes your children go without necessary nutrition its praised in meetings as if you did something really awesome.  We are taught that this really is a lower law.

The higher law and second form of financial giving to the church is the law of consecration.  It has been suggested that we still live this by creating so much work for ourselves through callings etc that we are essentially giving all of our time to the church.  I've even heard a quote from an Apostle suggesting that members who really want to live this law should donate all their excess cash to the fast offering fund.  Sometimes it is taught that we simply don't live this law in practice right now, but will again later.  But the basic point of this law is that everyone only keeps private ownership of what is directly within their immediate use and that all other excess financial resources should go to a general fund to evenly provide for the need of all members less fortunate.  If I recall later in church history this was expanded into a drive for total community efficiency with communal ownership and production of as much as was possible.  Perhaps it could be argued that this didn't have as much to do with "consecration" per se, but was simply a form of economic/cultural isolationism and independence.  But whatever it was at different times, it is supposed to be higher than tithing.

The though experiment is this, under which system would an impoverished member of the LDS church in Africa give more to the church?  Tithing, or consecration?

Under tithing, whatever that family earns, however they calculate it, is given to the church and under current teachings if that means that their children are perpetually going to bed without food that is a noble sacrifice for the Lord which we should all look up to as an example of exemplary righteousness.  I'm not joking about that there was a conference talk within the last few years that praised just such an example.

But say things switched up to being the law of consecration.  This poor family that can hardly afford food even without paying tithing is now part of a big "take care of your neighbor" process by which their personal finances and way of life are supposed to be equalized with the way of life of the wealthiest church members.  So instead of giving anything, a huge amount of foreign aid comes into her land from church members who might make a lot of money but are spending their money at a rate which makes them look impoverished by local standards in Europe or North America.  We can't just give individual church members clean water and food without fixing entire communities, so suddenly entire communities are given clean water and money starts flowing to be able to buy more expensive food in the community.  The African saints are blessed by an enormous influx in their standard of living as circumstances permit.  Chances are they don't give anything to the church at all, but maybe later in life when they've put their kids through college and they have jobs, maybe they will.  Under the lower law of tithing they make sacrifices far in excess of what should happen under the higher law.

But what about the general authorities of the church some might ask?  Obviously they live the law of consecration yet don't live in hovels while they donate their excess money to poor starving Africans. Ok, so maybe the church will give up on the idea of economic inequality meaning that the whole world is groaning in sin.  We can disregard that part of the D&C.  Maybe the law of consecration only should apply within national boundaries and not across them.  This doesn't really change the terms of the thought experiment, it just shifts it to a different places within each country.

So imagine back here in the US say you have a poor member who is having trouble affording their mortgate on their tiny home because they just lost one of their two jobs and things are about to fall apart for them?  How much do they give vs receive under tithing vs the law of consecration?  Under tithing they keep paying their tithing till their house is repossessed by the bank and they go into a homeless shelter.  Maybe their bishop helps them out, maybe not.  If things are really this bad for them there is a strong chance they work Sunday's and the bishop is under some kind of injunction not to give them financial assistance because they don't attend church.  Its possible that isn't really the way it works, but I've heard lots of people who are pretty sure that is how it works because they are full of stories about the unworthy poor who attend church the minimum necessary to get their church welfare money from the bishop.  In any case, they might or might not get church welfare based on the the rules that administer that program.  Even if they are eligible it might not be enough to save their house.  So under tithing they stand a very strong chance of losing their house.

Take that same family living in that tiny house where dad just lost his second job.  Under consecration adjusted to only withing national boundaries, Dad probably only works one job and is probably getting church financial assistance not only to help make ends meet but also financial assistance completing his degree so that he can get a better job and be more independent and give back to the community.  Or maybe if he's permanently disabled the church might give him money to make sure he doesn't live with any less conveniences than any other member of his nation in his church.

No matter how you define tithing or consecration, the basic point is that under the lower law the poor are requested to make much larger sacrifices than they are under consecration.  Under consecration the poor receive an abundance of help and there is no thought that they will need to contribute under after they've gotten back on their feet.  If they never do get back on their feet they may never have to financially contribute to the church again.  They might still donate their time and talents, but no money.  Under tithing the poor are expected to pay tithing even if it means not feeding their family or keeping their house or paying other honest and legal obligations.

This focus on a legalistic interpretation of 10% that intensifies the pain of poverty instead of alleviates it brings to mind Matthew 23:23-

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.

Also Matthew 23:17

 Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold?

 Note that Christ didn't say that tithing shouldn't be done, but said that if focusing on tithing eclipsed things like mercy then it becomes just hypocrisy.  The glory of God isn't made up of the money we give to the church.  Our love of God isn't made up of the money we give.  Our love of God and each other is what makes us disciples.  As lovers of God it makes sense to give as we can to build up our community of worship by tithing.  But the money we give isn't really the point, its the sacred spaces created by our mutual support that allow for greater and more joyful worship.  If we build up temples by demanding sacrifices whereby the poorest are denied food and shelter, I propose that this is guilt money.  Even the Pharisee's understood that the money paid to Judas to allow Jesus to be killed was unworthy of the temple.  Similarly, food taken out of the mouth of a malnourished child in Africa is not fit to be given to God.  I think this is one place where LDS church leaders have made a well intentioned mistake.  We should take instruction from the Book of Mormon in Mosiah 4:26-27 where we are commanded to give to the poor, but not faster than we have strength.  In Mosiah 2:17 we are taught that "... that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God."  Since serving our fellowman is serving God, then the same principles should apply to each, and to neither should we sacrifice so much that we "run faster than we have strength."  If we are truly striving to live closer to the highest laws of heaven, then our understanding of tithing needs to be subject to the weightier matters of the Law.  The widows mite may have been more than all the donations of the rich, but our merciful God would not have demanded the woman to neglect feeding her children to give it.

Monday, August 26, 2013

How far away is Heaven?

As my work schedule has changed my luck has run out and now I work Sunday's on a regular basis for the first time in my life.  To still have the day mean something a bit more to me I've been taking books on religious subjects with me to read between calls.  Today I read a passage in which the author asserted that God's presence is always within us and that our belief that God wasn't present was a major block to being able to tell He was there.  The author argued that to really commune with God on a regular basis is more like always being ready to open the door to Jesus who is standing at the door knocking.  And that there is nothing really hard about opening a door.

One thing that struck me was how simple the idea was.  I grew up understanding that my ability to have God's spirit with me was based on performing rituals and living righteously.  Once these were accomplished, the Holy Ghost's presence would be so typical in my every moment that I probably would never notice it was there unless I was excommunicated and lost that access completely.  Since this presence was so hard to detect, I was to learn to communicate with it by watching for impulses that weren't evil in nature and experiment with not controlling them until I learned how to identify a specific reverent feeling that was supposed to go with the correct impulses to follow.  Figuring out which feeling was supposed to indicate God's will and which were just random could be kind of chancy at first.  I've done some kind of random things as a result.

The other thing that struck me was that the author didn't suggest that any predetermined level of righteousness was required, only an attitude of humble reverent listening.  I've always been told that just like how I feel uncomfortable being around people who aren't doing the right things, God doesn't like spending time with people who were preoccupied with sin and would therefore refuse to spend any more time than necessary with them unless they were meeting some general requirements first.  Some sins were supposed to be so bad that I was taught that it would be impossible for me to enjoy the Holy Ghost unless those sins were gone first.  I heard repeatedly from missionaries that I associated with that they could always tell which investigators were committing sexual transgressions because those were the people who couldn't feel the spirit at all and who wouldn't feel the spirit unless they repented first.

In other words, the God who spent his time ministering to the spiritually sick, who was criticized for spending time with drunks and prostitutes, and who let a woman-so deep in sin that the Pharisee thought it would be wrong to be touched by her-wash his feet with her tears and hair thinks that the Holy Ghost is so skittish about being around sinners that the Holy Ghost only ministers to the spiritually clean who don't need a spiritual physician very badly?

I think I'm going to have to say this is a concept that makes no sense to me.  If Christ ministered to the most vile of sinners and sought to inspire them to repentance but kind of ignored the already righteous and attacked the self righteous, then I should expect the Holy Ghost to also spend its time ministering to any vile sinner who will listen humbly, ignore the already righteous, and attack the confidence of the self righteous.  In my own life I've felt the Holy Ghost in response to when I've been penitent and humble and listening, no matter what stage of righteousness I was in at the time.  At times when I've felt condemned by my sins I've felt the most gracious senses of forgiveness and love even if I hadn't completely mastered the rejection of the sins yet.

A prolonged attitude of penitence and humble listening that create intimacy with God should also help to produce righteousness.  But I think it is a mistake to assume that the Holy Ghost only spends time with the already righteous who only need mild repentence.  Those who are well don't need a physician.  The belief that the spirit of God shuns us if we sin will indeed create a mental roadblock.  If you don't have faith that God wishes to spend time with you why would you reach out to open the door to Christ's spirit knocking on the doors of your heart?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

If ye have love...

In my ward growing up there was a fast and testimony meeting where many of the members expressed their love for each other.  An investigator got up and proclaimed his desire to be baptized because he felt we had demonstrated what Jesus taught when he said that his disciples would be known for having love one for another.  Ironicaly, he couldn't be baptized because he traveled around a bit and his primary residence was in another state.  Even though his recent travels had brought him to our congregation on a regular basis, the church would only allow him to be formally taught the discussions in a way that counted towards baptism and join the church from his primary place of residence.  But our ward was where he had felt that spirit of love and he expressed some confusion why the rules were so technical that even though he was converted here he could only be baptized there.

Hopefully he eventually found his way to his home ward and he could join in communion with God through us and feel that same spirit of Love.  We'd always like to assume that every ward is equally loving and amazing.  Of course, that isn't always the case.  I was talking to people recently about some experiences they had in a ward where the members had been cold hearted towards them, apparently more interested in belonging to upper class cliques than in love- leading to a real sense of exclusion.  And I could relate to feeling excluded from a ward family.  I've been in a ward where mostly no one seemed to think it was their responsibility to love me or my family because I wasn't planning on living within the ward boundaries for the rest of my life.  I didn't really count to them.  I've been in an Elder's quorum where the teacher clearly only wanted participation of returned missionaries.  It just didn't occur to him that I counted as a member of his Quorum even if I didn't go on a mission for medical reasons.  And my own experiences are more minor compared to some.  One of my friends growing up once was disruptive in our youth Sunday school, probably because his older brother had just died earlier that very week.  The instructor came right out and told him that it didn't matter if he was having a hard week because he just had a family member die, but that if he was going to behave that way he wasn't welcome and should just leave.  So he left... and to my memory never came back to that class.  After being treated that way I think I can understand why, he was rejected when he was needing acceptance.

Because we are fallen human beings, there are often some reasons that we give ourselves excuses not to love other people.  If you've ever read C.S. Lewis's "The Great Divorce" you can easily think of some examples, like the woman in the story who loves her son so much that she hates everyone else.  Or people who love their country so much that they hate foreigners, love a sports team so much as to hate rivals, love a church so much as to hate anyone their perceive questioning it or fear non members, love their views on chastity/marriage so much that they hate or are afraid of gays, or love anything you can imagine so much that they hate what they think the opposite is.

Christ's apostles serve as great examples of how this lofty concept of universal love is so hard to attain, even when taught every day at the feet of the Master.  There are accounts of the apostles bickering with each other over who was the greatest or would receive particular honors in the kingdom of heaven.  Their love for each other and love for God could be eclipsed by a striving for importance and stature in the Kingdom of God.  Just because Jesus commanded them to love each other didn't mean they automatically just got the concept.

Similarly, just because Love is supposed to be written into the programs of the church doesn't mean that any particular group of church members have actually adopted commandment to love one another fully into their lives.  It can become like a character says in "The Brothers Karamazov," the more love one has for universal mankind the less one has for anyone in particular, with organizational or ideological love replacing love for individuals.  Just being stamped with membership in any church has no relevance on whether you have mastered loving others.  No matter what memberships we have, it is the love that indicates discipleship.  Without love for others we won't deserve to be known as disciples of Jesus. We will be just one more of that group of people that say to him that we have performed many mighty works in his name, just to be rejected with the condemnation that He never knew us.  And how could we know him without a fullness of love, when God is Love?

In the end, we fulfill the commandment to love as individuals and hopefully form communities of faithful that together exercise this love.  If we do not love, no membership in Mormonism or any other Christian religion will make all men or God know that we are disciples of Christ.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Sexting and Consent

Some time ago there was a national controversy about a young man who raped his drunk date during a party after the prom.  A lot of useless talk happened about how the young man's life was ruined because of his conviction, not so much recognition that he had done some pretty long lasting damage to his date.  The more interesting side story was that during this same wild party there was another pair of teenagers where the boy was legally prosecuted for child molestation because the laws in their state assumed that was what all oral sex between teenagers was, even though consent was given and the participants were close enough in age no crime would have been committed if they had just risked pregnancy instead of throat cancer.  It seems to me the guiding principles for the law should be protecting consent, recognizing the mental maturity issues involved in consent, and preventing exploitation.  Charging a teen boy for child molestation because he broke a cultural taboo even though no exploitation or consent violation occurred just seems wrong.

 Recently, I saw a blog post which suggested we should worry about teen sexting because those engaged in it could be considered guilty of production, possession, and distribution of child pornography and that supposedly many jurisdictions were aggressively prosecuting such cases, even pushing to have teens tried as adults.  The blog post referred to a policeman who routinely searched young men's cell phones on the assumption that naked pictures of girlfriends could always be found to charge the young men with child pornography crimes.  This seems to beg the same kinds of questions as the case of the young man charged with child molestation.  If no exploitation occurred, if consent was obtained, and the participants were of legally permissible ages to have had sex with each other, should it be illegal for them to share erotic photos of themselves with each other?  It might be stupid, but I don't think it should be illegal.

Obviously a host of other issues come up.  If a photo was taken without consent or shared with the purpose to humiliate that should be illegal.  If the photo is sent as an unwanted advance that should constitute sexual harassment and be illegal.  If a couple exchanges such photos with consent but then shares them with the purpose to humiliate after they break up that should be illegal.  If such a photo is shared between people who are far enough apart in age that sexual acts would be considered statutory rape then it should be considered illegal and a child pornography crime.  These different sorts of crimes should have punishments appropriate to the type of exploitation occurring.  For instance, a young man who harasses young women by sending unsolicited pictures of his crotch deserves a different punishment than a child pornographer.

Its possible all of this is meaningless because the blog article I read might be over playing how such behaviors are actually prosecuted.  But, its possible the legal grey area is more important for its vagueness rather than for a history of overzealous convictions.  But it sounds to me as if it might possibly be time the child pornography laws were updated so that protecting consent and preventing exploitation are the principles that matter, not whether cell phones existed when the laws were written.

Sunday, May 12, 2013


Today my Elder's quorum president complained that in talking about motherhood in church meetings he had attended earlier, the atonement of Christ failed to be connected to the discussion in any way, making the meeting not centered on worshiping Christ.  He invited us to bring up ways in which we could connect these subjects.  These were some of the thoughts I had in response to his question.

I've heard a lot of talk about how motherhood is inherently Christlike because of the service given as it is performed in daily tasks.  I think this praise is essentially good, but lacking nuance.  Today while in church I started pondering what the doctrines Christ taught about love had to say about whether mothering was essentially Christlike.  One in particular came to mind. 

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?

Getting up with a sleepless child over and over again is an act of service, and can be a very selfless one.  But the full essence of the kind of love Jesus is teaching us to have here isn't just serving people, its serving people who actually pretty much hate your guts and are intentionally mean to you.  While serving children can often by physically and emotionally demanding, you can easily argue that there are many times when performing the service is no particular virtue because the children you are serving love you in return.  On the other hand, loving and serving a child with a disobedient streak who seems to love to make your life hard or serving a teenager who is rebelling as hard as they can against you instead of just becoming angry and self serving, well now, that is something unusual and an excellent example of something Christ would hold up as an example of particular virtue.

This isn't to say that sometimes the love that a newborn gives you just doesn't really pay you back for being up every 2 hours in the night with them when they just won't seem to gain weight and you have to push feed them.  And honestly, the love and service a 2 year old gives back to you often doesn't seem to add up to all the work you put in to them.  Its an inherently unbalanced relationship where you give much more than you receive because it isn't possible for it to be any other way.  Children simply cannot contribute as much to the relationship as you can.  Christ also said

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
When there is access to reasonable medical care etc, it is not common for a woman to have to give up her life for her children, but she often gives up a lot of sleep, time to spend with friends, personal development opportunities, and countless other things.  So it can't be said there is nothing Christlike about the sacrifices mothers make.  But when a child looks up at you with those pleading eyes and ask if you can read them another book, serving them by reading often might just mean you are an average decent human being.  How you love them if they grow up into teenagers who tell you that they hate you just might tell you a lot more about how Christlike you are.

I'm not trying to say motherhood isn't Christlike.  But I'd rather that instead of talking about mothers being inherently wonderful that we talked about what it is about parenting that can be Christlike and what Christ actually said about love that matters regarding motherhood.  For example,

Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

This scripture suggests that if we parade our parental sacrifices about to show off our love, that our efforts don't help to sanctify us.  Not that women don't need to be able to talk about their daily frustrations and work or that they don't occasionally need praise for the often thankless work they put in.  But if the discussion shifts into showing off and one upping other people or talking about how real righteous women would change their parenting or housekeeping methods, something is wrong.

I appreciate that we celebrate the service of women and mothers, but it feels to me as if church should be a place for the celebration of the sanctification of still imperfect sinners, and a place of reflection on what we might lack in our seeking of additional purification.  So if we described how many mothers were an excellent example of the teachings of Jesus instead of just saying that motherhood itself is Christlike, that would help answer the question of how to have a Christ centered mothers day at church.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

What I wish I could say...

I work customer service and tech support by phone.  And I'm on the autistic spectrum.  Those are things that don't normally go together.  Honestly, its so weird that I keep it a secret from almost all of my coworkers and managers.  Only a very few ever find out, and then partially because anything that affects that much of you that you try to hide that much just needs to come out somewhere.

Occasionally I have a call where the customer just stops and praises me for having very good empathy skills, how I just calmed them down immediately with my amazing emotional tone and really helped them.  Once, apparently the prolonged length of my calls attracted attention from a big whig who decided to use my calls as an example to discuss things with his team of managers.  One of the managers came to me afterwards and told me how the big whig had said that they could tell I really cared about my customers.  When I receive praise like that from a customer or a manager I often just want to press pause on the official interaction, transport them to my living room, and explain what its like to be an autistic customer service agent.

I'd tell them that my earliest customer service by phone roles were almost entirely scripted, where I was barely allowed to paraphrase.  And tell them that this was a good way for me to start out because talking on the phone tends to make me freeze up unless I have some kind of script to guide what I say.

I'd tell them about how I, along with my past coworkers, had been through countless trainings on how to be empathetic in a company approved manner following the company approved formula.  And how none of it really made any sense to me.

I'd tell them how on any customer service or tech support job there's always these problem spots where the basic facts of the situation are almost guaranteed to make someone mad unless its presented well.  And then I'd tell them how I tend to take months or maybe even longer perfecting just the right phrasing to get past those danger zones because to me figuring out how to emotionally present things effectively is like tinkering with an old beat up car, you just keep analyzing and listening until you figure our which parts need replacing until you get it working.  It doesn't happen automatically.

I'd tell them about how I was once responsible to fake that I was a supervisor to take calls from angry people who didn't want to talk to base level agents anymore.  I often did pretty well.  My emotional response range is so calm to most things that its hard for most customers to get under my skin, and remaining calm is probably 3/4rs of the battle in taking care of angry people.

But when I was asked to intensively multi task while doing those calls I started to have a pattern of people asking to speak to my manager because they felt I wasn't empathetic enough.  I just couldn't concentrate on sounding nice at the same time as doing too many other things.

I'd tell them that probably the biggest reason I sound good emotionally is because I've been perfecting my phone voice for the last 7 years.

I'd tell them about how even though I can mask my innate emotional lack of intuitive empathy by lots of practice, I still have the detail oriented mind result in calls so long I tend to be on the verge of getting fired over it.  And that my poor ability to emotionally connect with people still makes my sales offers sound like more like something smelly, warm, and soft going splat rather than the money making music the company wants to hear.

I'd tell them about how I once had manager a couple levels up from me try to have me officially written up for submitting credit requests that were too wordy.  And how my direct manager who knew about my being autistic shielded me from them because she felt that the other person could use having to get used to someone like me.

I'd tell them about how once someone did manage to get me reprimanded because I included, at the customers request, personal medical details that related to a credit request and how I started to melt down get upset because I couldn't understand what the problem was.  And how this same manager who knew my diagnosis respected me when I told her that it wasn't worth it and that I needed to disengage.

I'd tell them how for me empathy is more a choice I make and a point of view I explore rather than a feeling that spills out of my guts without me choosing when it happens.

I'd tell them I am an empathy practitioner.  Meaning that I have to practice it because the way I naturally express it probably wouldn't come across in a way they would understand.  But that its still there as part of who I am.  I just have to translate it.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

A Tribute to my Mexican Irish Roomate's Search for Christ

When I first came to school in Cedar City, the apartment I rented was really just a house with all the rooms rented out.  It wasn't in the nicest area of town, rent was dirt cheap, and the roommates you ended up with could be almost anyone.  I once shared the house with a man who was half Mexican and half Irish.  I honestly don't know if I ever knew what the real name was, but for this blog post I'll call him Bob.  He told me he was wanted by the police down in Las Vegas and so had been living under a pseudonym.  It turns out that he had been a member of a gang down in sin city and a Mormon friend of his helped him move out to try to start a new life away from the gang where he had been getting in trouble.  At first he had stayed with this friend of his and then eventually moved in with the group of students that shared the house I was in.  He was ready for a change in his life, and was spiritually hungry.  Being in Utah, when he looked around for a place to spiritually feast, what he found was Mormonism.

Bob had no particular illusions that Mormons were somehow more righteous than other people.  He flat out told me that his Mormon friend who helped him move to Utah was a car thief and a spouse abuser.  Bob described watching his friend act almost as if on the verge of attacking the woman.  Bob told me he decided if the man started to hit his wife, Bob was going to punch him out.  Looking at his biceps, I wouldn't want to be on the receiving end of Bob's righteous indignation.  But knowing one bad person wasn't stopping his interest in Mormonism.  Bob had tried for some time to investigate the church, but with little luck.

I don't know if maybe the missionaries were scared of Bob.  He says several sets of them stood him up for appointments and never showed up again.  He had tried even just showing up directly at our meetings.  But Bob wasn't a Mormon or even an ex-Mormon.  He didn't know anything about the confusing array of family, single non student, single student, or married student wards with their overlapping boundaries and age limitations.  All he knew was he tried showing up several times and someone would keep telling him that he wasn't allowed to attend in that church, that he really belonged somewhere else.  I'm sure no one meant any harm, it just didn't occur to them to just let him come and worship and investigate as he chose.  They were really concerned that he his attendance match his life circumstances.  My roommates and I told him to just come with us, who cared if he was technically too old for our student singles ward.  And for a while I think he liked coming with us.  He told me that the young teachers in our ward taught more and he learned faster from our congregation than from others. 

Sometimes he would ask me questions about religion or morality.  I'd like to say I had all the answers he needed.  I didn't.  I remember once he asked me what was so wrong about pornography.  Maybe this came up because some of the roommates I think were ignoring the law and throwing out junk mail ads for subscriptions to pornographic magazines that were addressed to him.  I knew what the answer was that the church tells its members about Satan attacking the family and how we are sons and daughters of God, but this was a man who didn't really believe yet in all the talk about how family was central to God's plan and what does being God's child have to do with whether its immoral to get turned on by a pretty naked girl?  Growing up I was taught that using it would make me into Ted Bundy and I would end up on the electric chair.  Not a good answer for someone who is using it and obviously hadn't turned into a mass murderer.  All I could remember was a talk by Boyd K. Packer in which he said that our sexual moral code in the church could only be understood in the context of understanding our divine worth as God's children and that once we understood that, the sexual moral code would inherently make sense.  President Packer spent a lot of time discussing the divine worth part of the question, but never got back around to mentioning how that connected back to sexual morality and pornography.  I didn't want to tell him that when it came down to it I had no idea why pornography was wrong, so I told him that pornography being wrong was something that only made sense once you believed other doctrines.  That's about what President Packer had taught me.  I think I could answer him now, but only because I've looked beyond the simple answers to understand things like human trafficking and how abusive depictions are often used.

There were other things I knew the answers to much better.  Bob had a Jehovah's Witness friend who wanted to come debate with me.  I was hesitant, knowing that a Bible bash did no one any good.  But Bob insisted.  The funny thing was I don't think the Jehovah's Witness preacher knew much about Mormonism.  He spent a large amount of time trying to prove shared beliefs out of the Bible, as if I didn't know what they were about.  I kept saying for about the first half of the meeting "thanks for pointing out that scripture, that is a belief we share."  Then he started getting into some weirder stuff pulling the scriptures out of context and using pseudepigraphal sources.  That I could respectfully disagree with him on, tell him I admired his fervor in studying his scriptures, and to have a nice day.  Bob told me he thought it was wonderful watching us because he realized nothing could be proven by just arguing from the scriptures.

He never gained a testimony of the Book of Mormon or of Joseph Smith.  As far as I could tell, he never read the Book of Mormon, despite the missionaries hammering him on it.  My other roommates and I were suspicious that he might not have been able to read well enough to understand the book because he never gave any indication that he had tried, despite desperately wanting to grow spiritually from what Mormonism had to offer.  Eventually, the Bishop in our ward assigned someone to give a talk on the evils of improper dress and appearance.  Unfortunately, Bob didn't have any dress clothes and wore jeans and a T-Shirt to our meetings, and the T-shirt didn't cover the extensive tattooing on his arms.  Bob felt ashamed and felt as if the other members were laughing at him, and stopped being so interested in attending.  My roommates and I discussed pitching in together to pick him up some church clothes he might feel more comfortable in, but the idea fell through for some reason.

I hope Bob found his way to Christ somehow.  I'm a firm believer that no matter what road you take to find love in your heart for God and your fellow man, it’s the right road as long as you get there.  But, I'm afraid that Mormonism at that time wasn't going to lead him to Christ.  At most, it told him that what building he showed up in was more important than whether he worshiped, and what he looked like was more important than whether he was searching for repentance and sanctification.  And since our conversion process centers around reading a book, I think we unintentionally told him that he had to know how to read to be saved.  During the time he stayed with us I watched him lose many of his rough edges and become a more gentle and loving person.  And I can always respect the memory of the man flexing his biceps explaining how he was going to take care of any man who beat a wife.  I just wish I could have led him closer to Christ without all our cultural baggage getting in the way.