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.