A Bit 'o Random Musings on Politics, Religion, and Anything Else That Passes Through My Crazy Head

Saturday, June 20, 2020

What Colonel Jessup Taught Me About Empathy and Race Relations

Experience #1: Growing up Mormon, many of my friends were (and still are) political conservatives. One friend in particular, let's call him Jay, is very conservative. In high school, I liked to push Jay's buttons by imagining hypothetical scenarios that would test Jay's theories of politics. I don't remember what we were discussing (it could have been any number of issues), but one day I went too far. I *do* remember that the hypothetical scenario I concocted was completely beyond Jay's experience, and he replied "there are no *actual* people like that" (to be fair, I was given to dramatics so he may have been right, given that I don't remember the particulars). However, at the time, I remember thinking that this was a failure of empathy on his part - he literally could not imagine someone in the circumstances I described.

Experience #2: Recently, I was discussing President Trump's decision to hold a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma on Juneteenth in the wake of mass protests on racial justice topics with a friend. We'll call this friend Steve. I was explaining that this was a very insensitive date and place to hold a rally given current events and the history of Tulsa (see here and here or listen to this podcast if you don't know what I'm talking about). Steve, an intelligent and well-read conservative who was aware of the history, responded with something like "I understand why African Americans are upset, I would be too!" I was momentarily blindsided - he could see their feelings as rational, without feeling the least need to identify with them in their quest to get the rally cancelled (I should note that the President has since moved the rally to the day after Juneteenth).

What ties these experiences together?
A couple of my friends have posted things about supporting police in the wake of large scale protests against police violence following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. I have seen this op-ed "America, We Are Leaving," by a police officer, floating around social media and I wanted to address it head on, because I feel it represents the same failure of empathy as my stories about my friends Jay and Steve. It also represents those who often respond to "Black Lives Matter" with a discussion that "Blue Lives Matter." Reading through the op-ed, I would describe it as having strong "Colonel Jessup" energy (stay with me here!).

Colonel Jessup, of course, is a fictional character in the Aaron Sorkin drama "A Few Good Men." In the movie version, (which features peak Tom Cruise) Jack Nicholson plays Jessup, a commander at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Jessup is arrogant and high handed. An enlisted man under Jessup's command, Private William Santiago, has died in mysterious circumstances, and two marines are charged with his murder. Tom Cruise is the marines' defense attorney, Kaffee, and sets out to convince the jury that Colonel Jessup ordered a "Code Red" to torture Santiago for being a snitch, thus absolving the marines of murder because they were just following orders.

In a classic legal courtroom confrontation scene, Kaffee confronts Jessup and draws him out. Jessup eventually admits that he ordered the Code Red, but not before he provides a totally morally abhorrent rationale for strongmen with guns keeping us safe. At one point Jessup says "You don't want the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall. You need me on that wall....I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it!" Jessup is incensed that Kaffee (or anyone) would dare to question the manner in which Jessup operates - he claims that we need strongmen without morals to protect us from worse threats.

The police officer op-ed linked above has that same attitude as Colonel Jessup - "how dare someone question the police, we are providing your freedom and you should thank us and go on your way." While this op-ed may be extreme, this op-ed brings forth some dangerous ideas, for several reasons:
1) The police are employed by the people. They should be answerable and accountable for their actions. The fact that this officer is mad that citizens are calling bad police officers to account means that he is prioritizing his comfort and view of himself and fellow officers as "good people" over the very real suffering of the citizens he is sworn to protect.
2) His attitude towards those he arrests seems to be "they deserve this, they brought this on themselves because they are criminals." He remarks that those he arrests have a bad attitude about being arrested (yeah, I would too!). In America, you are innocent until proven guilty, even after you are arrested. One of the things that makes America truly exceptional is that everyone deserves respect and due process of law (it's one of the things our country was literally founded on!). He may not like this, but this officer is required to treat everyone fairly - our constitution and bill of rights gives everyone the benefit of the doubt and rights to fair trial and fair treatment by law enforcement authorities rather than presuming they are guilty because they were arrested.
3) He complains that police "used to be believed" and now have to produce video evidence to support their assertions. Well, there are several cases that might have led to reduced police credibility, including, but not limited to: (a) the case of Walter Scott, who was shot by a police officer who claimed he felt "threatened" by Scott even though video evidence surfaced that showed Scott was fleeing the scene and the officer shot Scott in the back; (b) the case of George Floyd, where one police officer sat on a citizen's neck for nine minutes, and three other police officers watched and did nothing to stop it (and the Minneapolis police department initially claimed Floyd was resisting arrest); (c) numerous videos during the current protests which show police officers initiating violence against peaceful protesters. All of these incidents (and more) have reduced credibility of police and made it harder for us to trust them when they tell us their version of events. Trust has to be earned.
4) The author claims that he has never seen anyone treated differently by cops because of their race. Well, unfortunately, study after study after study after study has confirmed that just isn't true. Black people are more likely to be arrested, more likely to receive longer sentences for the same crime as a white person, and yes, more likely to be shot by cops (even when unarmed). There is systemic racism present in our justice system, and if this officer is unwilling to acknowledge that, then he isn't listening to the Black friends he claims to have.
5) One line of the op-ed claims we live in the "...most violent society we've ever seen." However, violent crime has actually declined since the 1990s crime wave. In fact, from 1993 to 2018, violent crime decreased by either 51% or 71% (depending on which database we're using). This perception that we are living a violent society all too often leads us to endorse heavy-handed police tactics against a society that is actually becoming less violent overall. This is endorsed when we emphasize killings of police and point out how dangerous their job is, as if that somehow justifies cops murdering unarmed people. In fact, statistics show that it's safer to be a cop now than at any point over the last 50 years. Cops don't even make the Top 10 list of most dangerous occupations in the U.S.

I could go on (this article gets me pretty worked up and I've been thinking about it way too much this week), but I'm going to stop here. We (and I'm speaking about "we" the white people here) need to be able to empathize with Black people - until we identify with Black people as much as we identify with cops, and see Black people as full human beings, we are not going to be able to make the difficult changes that need to be made in our society. We need to be just as mad about racism as Black people, even if it doesn't personally affect us. We need to be able to imagine and understand what it is like to be a Black person in America. I'll close with this TedTalk about "How to Be Black" in America. We white people need to feel this experience, and understand it.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

On "Not Wanting to Be Bishop"

One of the book clubs I'm in recently read the book "The Priesthood Power of Women: In The Temple, Church, and Family" by Barbara Gardner, a BYU professor. During our (Zoom) book club meeting, we discussed whether we think women would ever hold the priesthood. One of the women made the comment "I don't want to be Bishop." It's a comment I've heard many times from female members of the Church.

Well, ANY member of the church, male or female, who *wants* to be a Bishop probably shouldn't be. Wanting power is pretty antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ, in my opinion - leadership is about service, not seeking for a particular office or calling.

As someone who personally believes that women will someday hold the priesthood, I really want to engage with this "I don't want to be Bishop" sentiment. Wanting women to have the priesthood isn't about "taking away" something from men. It's not about a power grab where I want women to have control over others' lives. It's about wanting women to have ability to grow spiritually and exercise all their spiritual gifts.

It's not about ME wanting to be Bishop (I've had administrative callings enough to know I'd be a terrible Bishop) - it's about looking at women who are phenomenal Relief Society presidents and YW Presidents and Sunday School teachers, and saying THEY should be bishops. Wards would be blessed by women serving in priesthood roles.

Saying "I don't want to be Bishop" I think fails to engage in the fundamental questions: if God loves men and women equally (and I hope/pray that most Church members agree that He does), why do we have a leadership structure that relies heavily on male members of the church? Aren't we missing the wisdom and experiences of many of our members by having a gender-specific priesthood? If the goal is for men and women to achieve exaltation and become like God, aren't women going to exercise the power of God (i.e. the priesthood)?

That actually leads back to my main beef with Gardner's book. While it had some good insights, I think fundamentally the book an exercise in the mental gymnastics required to reconcile an unequal power structure with equality amongst the sexes. Essentially it felt to me like we are trying to come up with a justification for a system rather than engaging with the fact that the system is unequal and asking God if that's really what he wants. Does God really not want women to be Bishops? If so, why?

Anyway, it's been on my mind and thought I'd get this down while I was thinking about it.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Alone But Not Lonely

Well, it's day 3,867 of our quarantine due to Coronavirus (or it only feels like it!). I don't know if I'm going to be publishing this post, but being alone with my thoughts means that I need to write down what I am thinking about, at least.

There was a moment in the most recent Little Women adaptation that hit me right in the feels. Jo March refuses to marry Laurie, her best friend of many years. After traveling to New York from her Massachusetts home, and then returning and losing her sister Beth (it's not a spoiler alert if the book has been out for 150+ years, right?), Jo is reconsidering. Should she marry Laurie? He's a good man and a good friend. In a scene with her mother, Jo talks about knowing that she doesn't "need" a man, but she's still just so lonely.

I do not know if I am more or less selfish than the average person, but I do know that I think about myself and my own concerns a fair amount. As I've previously blogged, I do know what it's like to feel lonely and want to be loved, which is why I identified with this scene so much. I'm also someone who spends a fair bit of time wallowing, rather than doing anything about it. I do want to be loved, and sometimes I ache for it. In the immortal words of SmashMouth, sometimes I really wish that someone "loved me for me," and not because they were "required to" by already being related to me. That sentiment betrays my privilege - I am super lucky and blessed to have a very loving set of parents, siblings, and in-laws who care about me.

Of course, the way I deal with these feelings is to ignore them and not talk to anyone about it (super healthy, yes, I know). Post-traditional singles ward, I spent some time in a "mid-singles" ward for singles older than 31, but right now I am in a "family" ward full of people who are mostly in different life circumstances than I am. This doesn't always bother me, but sometimes I feel my "outlier" status.

It was a sucker punch to the gut last week when I received an email message from my Stake President that they were advising that no one take the sacrament to people outside their home for the next few weeks. I know it wasn't meant this way, but it felt like a flashing red sign that I don't "belong" in the church. It made me feel like I wasn't important or necessary to the church's functions, and it didn't matter if I couldn't have the sacrament. Obviously the majority of people in our stake live with someone who can bless the sacrament for them, and I'm glad that's the case. I also understand the reasoning behind the request - I don't want to endanger anyone and give them Coronavirus. Ironically, I had decided that I would not ask my ministering brothers to come that week, because they had come last week, but I was still upset about the mandate.

When I'm at my most bitter, moments like that make me question whether I'll show up to Heaven only to find a "Married People Only" sign (of course, there are plenty of other reasons I wouldn't make it to heaven, ha ha). Our church is devoted to marriage and kids, and it makes me feel less than others sometimes. Even though I believe it isn't deliberate or intentional, I can't help feeling so alone because of this.

As a single person who lives by herself, I do spend a lot of time alone normally, but Coronavirus obviously means that is multiplied by a factor of 1,000. Now that I'm working from home full time, I can go days without talking face to face with another person (other than brief hellos from fellow dog walking neighbors). Because of that, I've been thinking about this Mary Chapin Carpenter song, Alone But Not Lonely. I don't know how to be alone but not lonely - it's not something that comes easy to me.

One of our Mormon hymns ends with a prayer that resonates with me - I hope I can have the faith to walk the "lonely road" even if it is hard. And sometimes it is very hard.

O, Give me thy sweet Spirit still,
The peace that comes alone from thee,
The faith to walk the lonely road
That leads to thine eternity.
(My Redeemer Lives, Hymn #135 in current Hymbook)

Monday, December 30, 2019

19 Neat Things From 2019

It's time for me to dust off the blog for my "Year in Review" post where I recap my year. As usual, the items aren't in any particular order until the top five. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Wouldn't it be loverly...to see a great show in NYC?
19) 2019 started off right, with a trip to NYC with my parents to see one of the best musicals ever, My Fair Lady, at Lincoln Center. We also managed to fit in some museum time, chocolate cake french toast, and my favorite scallion pancakes.
Smiling because I only paid $100 to see this show the second time, and it was fantastic!
 18) Teaching training in Chicago in January is not my favorite, but I did find a cheap ticket to Hamilton and so I got to enjoy that show again.
Atlanta Temple

Halifax, Nova Scotia Temple

Philadelphia Temple - hate the traffic, love the temple itself!
17) Sadly for me, the DC temple remained closed during all of 2019. But I did get a chance to visit several temples while traveling - including Halifax, NYC, Philadelphia, Memphis, Atlanta, and Chicago. Excited that the Church announced the DC temple open house will be in fall 2020, hopefully the DC temple reopens by the end of the 2020 year.
16) The Nats won the World Series! I may have to stop complaining about how bad DC sports teams are (we'll always have our football team...). Baby Shark, Do Doo Do Doo...
West Wing Weekly Taping with my partner in crime, April, who loves West Wing almost as much as me
15) Went to my last taping of "The West Wing Weekly," my favorite podcast, which is about my favorite TV show, "The West Wing." The podcast is wrapping up in 2020, saddest of days! The TV series is also leaving Netflix in 2020, which makes me glad I have my full DVD set.
14) Attended "Diner En Blanc" for the third year, this time with my friend Hannah.
Our Diner En Blanc place setting this year
13) Taught the 11 year-olds at church (for 8 months of the year). We had about 10 of them, and there was A LOT of personality in that room. I always enjoy hearing the perspective of kids on the gospel, because they will tell you what they are thinking.
12) Plenty of baking/cooking adventures - I still like trying new recipes and enjoyed a few meetings of "Cookbook Club" this year. For 2020, my goal is to expand my repertoire of bread baking skills - I know how to make my mom's/grandma's rolls super well, but I want to expand my knowledge of bread in 2020.
Cambodian Pineapple Soup for Cookbook Club

Holiday Roll Baking for friends and neighbors

Peach Strawberry Gallette for a roommate reunion feast
11) Lots of doggie snuggles. Reviewing the pictures I took during 2019: 80% dog pictures, 10% food pictures, and 10% everything else. I hate taking pictures of myself, so maybe I can work on that in 2020? Probably not, Daisy is much cuter than me.
She's so fluffy I want to die!
10) Traveled internationally for work. I didn't really get to see much of India, but my Indian co-workers were unbelievably kind and gracious, and it was great to meet them and teach training in Bangalore and Kochi. It was NOT great to spend over 12 hours in the Kochi airport due to flight delays on our way home.
View from the Hotel Rooftop Pool in Kochi, India
9) Last December training in Orlando! My work has had a work training event every year in December for many years, but this year was the last hurrah - my team will be switching to training in Orlando in May for 2020 and future years. Unfortunately that means I won't get to see one of my favorite co-workers, who transferred to Atlanta and is in a different group. Luckily we were able to do one last hurrah at Downtown Disney together this year.
8) Because I neglected to paint or carve my pumpkins for Halloween, I ended up using them to write things I was grateful for during the month of November. It was a fun idea and I may do it again next year, because it really helped me maintain a spirit of gratitude during the month.
Gratitude Pumpkins
7) A new Church calling: teaching Sunday lessons and planning weekday activities for the 12-13 year old girls at Church. It is a time-intensive calling but the girls are sweet and it is good to get to know them.
6) Attended the 50th Anniversary of the Moon Landing presentation on DC's National Mall. I have been to some cool things in DC, but this was one of the best - they used the Washington Monument as a projector screen to show some of the footage. It was truly EPIC, as the kids (used to?) say.
Moon Landing presentation on Washington Monument in DC

5) Helped to plan "Activity Days Camp" - a three day camp for the 8-11 year old girls at Church. I blogged about it earlier in the year, but it was very fun, and a good excuse to use my party planning traits inherited from my mom.
4) Surprised my family on Christmas Eve by picking up my brother Kevin and sister-in-law Saba at the airport and having them join us for a few days. My parents had no idea, and it was so fun to surprise them!
Me, Kevin, and Saba in DC
3) As the Church transitioned to a 2-hour block of meetings (instead of 3 hours of Sunday meetings!), they also implemented the "Come Follow Me" home study program, encouraging families to study together. Rather than mope about how I don't live with my family and couldn't participate in the home study curriculum, I organized some friends for a monthly discussion group and it has been wonderful to discuss the gospel with friends, something I don't often do.
2) Organized Mormon-themed suffrage tours of Washington, D.C. (to co-opt a popular 2019 song, I am 100% THAT history nerd). It was fun to study up on the subject and concoct a tour of suffrage history that intersects with my Church. There were some tough, smart, and civically-minded women in the Mormon church and we should all know more about them. Someone who is a better writer than me should write a book/articles about it.
Cookies, part of my suffrage tour
1) Visited Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, basically fulfilling a life-long dream to travel to the Land of Anne of Green Gables. My book club celebrated its 10-year anniversary in 2019 and several members decided to travel to PEI to celebrate. It was a magically delightful and beautiful place. After PEI, I journeyed on alone to Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, and it was just amazing as well. The world really is so beautiful and, as Anne says "Dear old world, you are very lovely, and I am glad to be alive in you."
The Beautiful Lupine Flowers of Prince Edward Island
Here's to more memories and fun (and a new President? Please?) in 2020!

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Christmas Quotes

This year I am serving in the Church's Young Women organization, working as a class adviser to the young women ages 11-13. They are a fun bunch, and it has been a good (if at times exhausting) calling. For Christmas this year, I convinced the Young Women's Presidency and other advisers to do a craft I have done before (albeit I've never made 25 of them!). We made Christmas advent calendars for each young woman, and included a quote and a piece of chocolate for each day of December before Christmas.
Finished Advent Calendar
In the past I have made these for a friend or two, inspired by a similar thing that someone once did for me (maybe it was a YW leader? Honestly can't remember). Recently I've really felt it was important for the young women to see their women leaders as LEADERS and to recognize that women can be spiritual examples. So, I wanted to make sure that half of the quotes were from women. It was unfortunately really hard to find quotes by LDS women about Christmas (if you know of any sources I missed, please let me know!). Towards the end, I was Googling "Christmas +" the names of all LDS Relief Society presents and General Young Womens Presidents. So, I'm posting below the quotes we used, along with links to most of the sources.

This year, hopefully we add another few great talks via the First Presidency's Christmas Devotional, scheduled for a week from today. Merry Christmas, everyone!

"Each year at Christmas we add our witness to that of the shepherds that Jesus Christ, the literal Son of the living God, came to a corner of the earth in what we call the Holy Land. The shepherds reverently approached the stable to worship the King of kings. How will we worship Him this season? Endlessly shopping? Hustling about and adorning our homes? Will that be our tribute to our Savior? Or will we bring peace to troubled hearts, good will to those in need of higher purpose, glory to God in our willingness to do His bidding? Jesus put it simply: ‘Come, [and] follow me.’” (Ronald A. Rasband, “Glory to God,” 2013 Christmas Devotional)

“The wonder and awe of Christmas is just a beginning. Christmas reminds us that the babe born in Bethlehem has given us purpose for living, and what happens next to us largely depends on how we embrace our Savior, Jesus Christ, and follow Him. Every day we invite His Spirit into our lives….We look for reasons to gather, to include, to serve, and to lift, while we learn what it really means to know our Savior, Jesus Christ….Through Christlike and childlike faith we seek Him and we feel His influence.” (Rosemary M. Wixom, “What Happened Next?,” 2013 Christmas Devotional)

"As the Christmas season envelops us with all its glory, may we, as did the Wise Men, seek a bright, particular star to guide us in our celebration of the Savior’s birth. May we all make the journey to Bethlehem in spirit, taking with us a tender, caring heart as our gift to the Savior.” (Thomas S. Monson, “The Real Joy of Christmas,” 2013 Christmas Devotional)

"How happy I am for this Christmas season to sing songs that have a special message from the Savior of the world for those with aching hearts. I promise you…if you think about the words you sing this season, you will find a divine message tailored especially for you that will lift and comfort you.” (Sharon Eubank,“Silent Night, Loves Pure Light,” 2018 Christmas Devotional)

"The Christmas season seems like an ideal time for us to thoughtfully evaluate the status of our own heart. For example, you might ask yourself, “Is my heart prepared to receive the Savior?” At Christmastime we often sing, “Let every heart prepare him room.” How can you prepare room in your heart for Christ, especially during this busy yet wonderful season?... This requires more than just pleasant Christmas greetings that fall from our lips….During this Christmas and throughout the year, our kind deeds and good works are the best indication of our love for the Savior, written in our hearts.” (Gary E.Stevenson, “Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room,” 2018 Christmas Devotional)

“I believe that each of us can re-create that familiar scenario in Bethlehem in our own lives. We can have a star to follow just as the Wise Men did… The scriptures can light our way, and our testimonies can be a light from within. The voices of angels can be the voices of our beloved prophet and His servants. We can kneel at the feet of our Savior just as literally as the shepherds and the Wise Men, but we do it in prayer. The gifts we bring are our talents. We can shout “Hosanna” like that angelic choir and spread the good news by bearing our testimonies.” (Betty Jo Jepsen, “By Way of Invitation,” October 1992 General Conference)

“Success in giving joy at Christmas usually involves help from others. It is rarely found in solitary effort. Joining with others spreads the joy and makes it more lasting. And perhaps most important, invoking faith in the Savior, the Creator and source of all lasting happiness, invites the pure love of God, which is the greatest of all gifts and the sure source of enduring joy.” (Henry B. Eyring, “The Perfect Gift,” 2012 Christmas Devotional)

“…[W]ithout the risk of new experiences and challenging calls to serve, we fail to grow, and are not as useful in the work of building the Lord’s kingdom as we need to be. Just as the shepherds left familiar terrain in dark of night for a new experience, we are called to leave secure and comfortable settings to serve and to gain experience.” (Betty Jo Jepsen, “By Way of Invitation,” October 1992 General Conference)

“...[T]he gift that we celebrate at Christmas is a gift of love—God’s gift of His Son….Our mortal concept of love is a speck of sand on a vast seashore compared to the love God feels for us. His love is infinite and inexhaustible compassion. Divine love fills eternity. It overflows with eternal grace. It reaches out and lifts up. It forgives. It blesses. It redeems. Divine love transcends differences in personality, culture, or creed. It refuses to allow bias and prejudice to stand in the way of imparting comfort, compassion, and understanding. It is completely devoid of bullying, discrimination, or arrogance. Divine love inspires us to do as the Savior did: ‘succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees.’” (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Scatter Your Crumbs,” 2017 Christmas Devotional)

Christmas is the season to give forgiveness. Forgiving others brings peace and joy to our lives….In order to receive forgiveness for our sins, we need to forgive others. Forgiving others allows us to overcome feelings of anger, bitterness, or revenge. And who wants to feel those feelings at Christmas? Forgiveness can also heal spiritual wounds and bring the peace and love that only God can give. Our Father in Heaven wants us to repent and forgive everyone—including ourselves.” (Christina B. Franco, “Christmas-A Season to Love, Serve, and Forgive One Another,” 2017 Christmas Devotional)

“Focusing on the Lord and everlasting life can help us not only at Christmas, but through all the challenges of mortality….My message tonight pertains to the only source of true and lasting peace, Jesus the Christ—our Prince of Peace….Jesus taught us how to live, to love, and to learn. He taught us how to pray, to forgive, and endure to the end. He taught us how to care about others more than we care about ourselves. He taught us about mercy and kindness—making real changes in our lives through His power. He taught us how to find peace of heart and mind.” (Russell M. Nelson, “Jesus the Christ—Our Prince of Peace,” 2013 Christmas Devotional)

“As we contemplate and celebrate this [Christmas] season, perhaps we can keep several things in mind. One is a little Primary song that many of us memorized and sang as a child. The words are simple but applicable to each of us…. They begin like this: ‘Jesus was once a little child, A little child like me; And He was pure and meek and mild as a little child should be. So little children, Let’s you and I, Try to be like Him, Try, try, try.’” (Elaine S. Dalton, “Christmas Presence,” Church News, December 15, 2011)

“…I invite each one of us to find, during this Christmas season, a moment in the quiet of our souls to acknowledge and offer heartfelt gratitude to “the Generous One.” Let us consider the compassionate, beloved, and boundless mercy of our Father in Heaven. As we shop for gifts—as we give and receive them—may we also take time to quietly contemplate the bountiful gifts God has showered upon us, His children.” (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “The Generous One,” 2015 Christmas Devotional)

“As we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ this season, let us also celebrate all that His birth symbolizes, especially the love. When we see shepherds, may we remember to be humble. When we see wise men, may we remember to be generous. When we see the star, may we remember the Light of Christ, which gives life and light to all things. When we see a tiny baby, may we remember to love unconditionally, with tenderness and compassion. May we open the doors of our hearts and reach out to those around us who are lonely, forgotten, or poor in spirit.” (Bonnie L. Oscarson, “Christmas is Christlike Love,” 2014 Christmas Devotional)

“At Christmastime we talk a lot about giving, and we all know that “it is more blessed to give than to receive,” but I wonder if sometimes we disregard or even disparage the importance of being a good receiver…. Every gift that is offered to us—especially a gift that comes from the heart—is an opportunity to build or strengthen a bond of love. When we are good and grateful receivers, we open a door to deepen our relationship with the giver of the gift…. I hope that this Christmas and every day of the year we will consider, in particular, the many gifts we have been given by our loving Heavenly Father. I hope we will receive these gifts with the wonder, thankfulness, and excitement of a child.” (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “The Good and Grateful Receiver,” 2012 Christmas Devotional)

“…I absolutely love sacred Christmas music. If we were to make a list of our favorites, near the top would surely be “Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful.” Its “joyful” and “triumphant” lyrics beckon us to “come,” “behold,” and “adore” our Savior, Jesus Christ—the “King of angels.” I feel certain that, as premortal spirits learning of the plan of salvation, we not only beheld and adored but also shouted for joy when He voluntarily and humbly offered Himself as the Savior of the world.” (Linda K. Burton, “Oh Come Let Us Adore Him—And the Plan!,” 2015 Christmas Devotional)

Finding the real joy of Christmas comes not in the hurrying and the scurrying to get more done, nor is it found in the purchasing of gifts. We find real joy when we make the Savior the focus of the season. We can keep Him in our thoughts and in our lives as we go about the work He would have us perform here on earth. At this time, particularly, let us follow His example as we love and serve our fellowman.” (Thomas S. Monson, “Christmas is Love,” 2012 Christmas Devotional)

“Come unto Christ. Was there ever a more glorious call to action? At this Christmas season, come adore Him, come worship Him, and come follow Him. Receive the blessings of His love. As faithful Saints of the Lord Jesus Christ, we may come unto Christ and feel His peace and know His perfecting power.” (Carol F. McConkie, “Come Unto Christ This Christmas Season,” Church News, December 27, 2013)

“True happiness comes only by making others happy—the practical application of the Savior’s doctrine of losing one’s life to gain it. In short, the Christmas spirit is the Christ spirit, that makes our hearts glow in brotherly love and friendship and prompts us to kind deeds of service.” (David O. McKay)

“When we serve together, we are all blessed. Dear brothers and sisters, don’t focus on making your service ornate—simply reach out as the Savior would to lift the strangers in your midst. As you serve, you will feel of His love for you. May you be inspired by our Savior’s example as you seek to serve this Christmas season.” (Linda K. Burton, “Reach Out in ‘Small and Simple’ Ways This Christmas Season,” Church News, December 8, 2016)

“In every season of our lives, in all of the circumstances we may encounter, and in each challenge we may face, Jesus Christ is the light that dispels fear, provides assurance and direction, and engenders enduring peace and joy. Many of our memorable and enduring Christmas traditions include different kinds of lights—lights on trees, lights in and on our homes, candles on our tables. May the beautiful lights of every holiday season remind us of Him who is the source of all light.” (David A. Bednar, “The Light and Life of the World,” 2015 Christmas Devotional

“The spirit of Christmas is Christlike love. The way to increase the Christmas spirit is to reach out generously to those around us and give of ourselves. The best gifts are not material things but gifts of listening, of showing kindness, of remembering, of visiting, of forgiving, of giving time.” (Bonnie L. Oscarson, “Christmas is Christlike Love,” 2014 Christmas Devotional)

“The peace of Christmas is “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding.”… At this blessed season of the year, we—more than ever—seek peace through the Giver of all gifts. I desire tonight to share just a few of the many ways we can increase the peace we experience this season, throughout the year to come, and throughout our lives. First, like the angels who sang on the night of His birth, we can feel peace as we celebrate our Savior, Jesus Christ….Second, like the shepherds who saw the Christ child and “made known abroad” the glad tidings of His birth, we can teach peace to our families and others whom we love. We do so best when we open the scriptures to their minds and hearts….Third, like the Wise Men, we can give gifts of love and peace as disciples of the risen Lord.” (Henry B. Eyring, “Gifts of Peace,” 2016 Christmas Devotional)

“The blessed Christmas season turns our hearts in wonder and joy to the steadfast love of the Savior for each one of us. We are also reminded of the love of our Heavenly Parents, who seek our eternal progression and who hold back nothing from the goal of increasing our opportunities to grow spiritually—no, nothing was withheld, not even the life of their cherished and beloved son, Jesus Christ.” (Chieko Okazaki, “Stars: Reflections on Christmas,” Page 1)

“Let us make Christmas real. It isn’t just tinsel and ribbon, unless we have made it so in our lives. Christmas is the spirit of giving without a thought of getting. It is happiness because we see joy in people. It is forgetting self and finding time for others. It is discarding the meaningless and stressing the true values. It is peace because we have found peace in the Savior’s teachings. It is the time we realize most deeply that the more love is expended, the more there is of it for others.” (Thomas S. Monson, “Christmas is Love,” 2012 Christmas Devotional)

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Raise The Stakes

Here's the scripture I was thinking about in Church today, even though it had nothing to do with the topics being discussed:

Isaiah 54:2: Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes;

Perhaps you have always considered that scripture to be about the geographic reach of the Church. That is certainly how I interpreted it as a missionary in a far-flung area with few church members. To me it has signified that the "tent" of the church increases in size as more physical areas have missionaries/churches/temples. In my mission area there are still cities without missionaries - this is one way that the church "tent" has the potential to increase in size.

But as I thought about it today, the scripture can have another meaning that hadn't occurred to me before today. It was partially inspired by reading this blog post on the Exponent blog. As the author of the post mentions, many members (including me) find it sad when someone leaves the Church. I feel a lot of sympathy with the author - I don't know all her specific reasons for leaving the church, but I am sure it was a wrenching choice, as she describes. 

Yet as I pondered on this author's words, I realized that one reason I was sad was that I feel like the Church will miss the richness of her experience. It's a selfish sadness, but one that I feel whenever I learn someone has left the Church. Even if I'm not in their ward or stake, the Church as a whole will miss out on their insights, wisdom, and experience. 

I wonder if part of "enlarging our church tent" is making room for many different kinds of belief and non-belief. For example, is there a place in the church for those who don't believe the events in the Book of Mormon literally took place on the American continent? How about those who struggle with an all-male church leadership? Or our LGBTQ brothers and sisters who feel like they have to choose between two parts of themselves? I do hope that the tent of gospel love can encompass them all.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Mission: Possible?

I wanted to post about Activity Days Camp, because it was a good time. For those uninitiated, "Activity Days" is the name of my church's activities for girls ages 8-11. For the past year or so, I've been helping to plan these activities. Before we take a break for the summer, we have a day camp for three days, and this year we had an awesome camp!

The theme this year was from Luke 1:37: "For with God, nothing shall be impossible." As we are near DC (and I have Pinterest) this translated to "Mission: Possible" with a "Secret Agent" theme.

Our first day was at the church building all day. For the first activity as the girls were arriving, they got "passports" and got to pick a Secret Agent name from a jar of adjectives/nouns.
Passports, made out of construction paper and "modge podge"

Set up outside the room when the girls arrived

For the record, my code name was the "Gentle Panda" which was pretty hilarious to me for some reason - maybe it's because panda describes my body physique pretty well. I used this blog post for the badges inside the passports, which also had some good ideas for adjectives/nouns for code names. Throughout the day, we had stamps that the girls got in their passports for each of the activities.

Our opening spiritual thought was on faith and we adapted this lesson from MormonActivityDays.com, which has some good lesson and activity ideas. I liked the idea about the apple seeds.

We then split the girls into two groups and switched between two activities - a cooking class and craft class. The cooking class made pumpkin chocolate chip muffins. While the muffins were baking they also did a "secret agent" activity where they had to guess what a fruit was by smelling it (the bowls were covered with tinfoil so they couldn't see what was inside). The craft class got to do two crafts - homemade bath bombs (inside Easter eggs!) and decorating sunglasses with beads/sunflowers/puff balls and hot glue guns. Both activities were lots of fun, and not pictured because I try not to post pictures of other people's children on the internet.

I don't know why, but Primary leadership had asked us to somehow incorporate Family History into the camp, and so I came up with a fun activity (basically a Frankenstein monster of parts of this blog post and this blog post). The girls did a "Scavenger Hunt" with clues all over the church building. At each clue, the girls got another piece of their "puzzle" which was one of these blank puzzles that I had traced a blank family tree on to - each girl had her own puzzle with her name written on the back of all her pieces.

We divided the girls into two teams so they could race and gave each team a "clue box" with helpful resources to solve clues along the way. The clue box included Articles of Faith Cards for each team member, magnifying glasses, invisible ink pens, normal pens, notebooks, small copies of the Children's Songbook, and various decoders mentioned. The girls also got an envelope to collect their puzzle pieces.

Given that we have some very competitive girls, we laid down the following rules BEFORE handing out the clue boxes:
1) The entire team has to stay together (I didn't want the older girls to leave the younger girls behind).
2) Don't go in the Chapel - there are no clues in there (as I knew the girls would be running and yelling, didn't want them to be irreverent in the chapel).
3) Don't disturb the other teams clues (We had a "purple" and "pink" team - they had to leave the other teams clues where they found them...again, our girls are SUPER competitive).
4) Do the clues in order - don't open clues that you may see along the way to your assigned clue.

Here are the stops on the puzzle route:

Clue #1 - Mason Cipher
Both teams received this clue at the beginning as we met in the Relief Society Room. They got a Mason Cipher and a coded message to send them to their next clue (I split the route up so the girls did the clues in different order).
Mason Cipher and Substitution Cipher

Clue #2 - Mirror Image Clue
The team doing the clues in order found their next clue at the High Council Room. This clue was printed in mirror image so they had to go the bathroom to read it, and it sent them to the Bishop's office (idea from this One Creative Mommy blog post, but I didn't use her printout but created my own)

Clue #3
This stretchy word clue (courtesy of this One Creative Mommy blog post) sent them to the fridge in the Kitchen.

Clue #4 - Articles of Faith Fingerprints
This one was entirely my idea (and I'm pretty proud of it) - I made up some "fingerprints" that had the the Articles of Faith in very small type in between the lines of fingerprints. They had to arrange the fingerprints in order and then flip them over to reveal the message sending them to their next location. The message was "It is time to ACT" - this sent them to the stage for their next clue.
Fingerprints Clue!

Clue #5 -  Scytale Cipher
At the stage was a long strip of paper with their next clue - this one was hard for them to figure out, but both teams eventually realized that in their clue box was a paper towel tube, and if they wrapped the strip of paper around it, it sent them to their next destination: the Young Women's room. This was another clue idea from the One Creative Mommy post linked above.

Clue #6 - Article of Faith Recitation
In this room they had to figure out which two Articles of Faith have the same number of words, and then recite them in unison to the Leader we had stationed in this room - she verbally told them where to go next. For the record, Article of Faith #1 and #12 both have 18 words, and Article of Faith #9 and #11 both have 32 words, so there were two possible answers. This clue was a good place to split the teams, but the team doing the clues in order went on to the Primary room next.

Clue #7 - Substitution Clue
In the Primary room the girls were given a sheet with values like "B1" - which corresponded to grids in their substitution cipher (pictured above and part of their clue box). Once decoded, this clue sent them to the foyer (we had to specify which one because there are two in our building).

Clue #8 - Song clue ("Book Cipher")
For this clue, the girls had to use their Children's Songbooks - they were given a series of three numbers (for example, 18-27-4) which referred to the page number (18), word number (27), and letter of the word (4). That series of numbers spelled out their next clue, which took them to the Nursery.

Clue #9 - Circular Cipher
This was a "wheel within a wheel" cipher, where the clue told the girls to align "A" with a certain Article of Faith so they could decode the clue. Once decoded, the clue led to the Gym.

Clue #10 - Books of the Bible Footprints
Construction paper footprints had books of the Bible on them - they had to arrange them in order, then flip them to spell out the next clue. We were kind and gave them a hint to use song # 114 in the Children's Songbook, which has the books of the bible in order. This clue sent them to one of the Primary classrooms.

Clue #11 - Invisible Ink
This clue was a "blank" sheet of paper that had their clue written in invisible ink. In the clue box they had invisible ink pens I got from this spy set on Amazon (our girls loved having their own pens and notebooks). The pens had a light that revealed what was written in invisible ink, which was a message sending them to the next clue. (Again, this was a good place to split the teams - one team which started with clue #7 was sent back to clue #2).

Clue #12
At this point, the girls had 11 pieces of their 12 piece puzzle as they arrived back to the RS room, where we started. I told them to each start assembling their puzzle and pretty soon they all realized there was a piece missing. They were loudly wondering where the final piece could be, as I was whispering "Look at the Hymnbooks." They had to be quiet in order to listen to what I was saying to discover the final puzzle pieces hidden behind the hymbooks. I really liked using this idea to talk about the role of the Holy Ghost in Family History work and how we need to listen to the still small voice, who can show us where to find the missing pieces. It was an idea I stole from this LDS Activity Days blog post.

This scavenger hunt took A LOT of time - the girls probably spent an hour and 15 minutes on the various clues (especially since I planned the clues to go from one side of the building to the other, so they would use up some energy). Unfortunately we didn't have time for the girls to decorate their individual puzzles with their own family tree, but we let them take them home to decorate. It was also A LOT of work to plan and put the puzzles together - major props to my Dad, who came over the night before camp and helped me organize everything, which meant that I only stayed up til midnight instead of 3 a.m.!

After the scavenger hunt we had lunch - the girls brought their own but we had snacks and drinks for them as well. While they were
having lunch, some leaders went over to a hallway and set up this:

SO COOL, AM I RIGHT?!?! This was just red crepe paper (purchased at the dollar store) taped up along one of our hallways. At the end of the "laser maze" was an envelope for each girl which had in stencil: "TOP SECRET MISSION FOR: ______" and then we put each girl's code name (picked at the beginning of the day, you'll recall from above) on the envelope. Inside each envelope was a pack of gum with a label saying "Your Mission is Possible if you CHEWS to accept it" (I am so corny) and a copy of this secret service activity posted at the Fickle Pickle blog. We played secret agent music (this blog post has a good music list, but our girls' favorite was definitely just the Mission Impossible theme) while the girls navigated the laser maze to retrieve their envelopes and filled them out. We even let them do it again once they had completed their worksheet - they liked being timed to see how fast they could do it. This was probably their favorite activity of the day - we let them do it again while waiting for parents to arrive.

We switched between the laser maze and another service activity tying blankets and making cards for sick kids in the hospital.

The day went by so fast we didn't even have time for water games, but we did play one at the end where I had the two teams fill a water pitcher with a sponge (water relay). Their "reward" for winning was that they got to try to dump the water pitcher on me - I wasn't fast enough to outrun them and did get wet, but it was so hot that I didn't mind!
T-Shirts (Purple is my favorite color, can you tell?)

At the end of the day, we distributed their T-shirts and custom drawstring bags with their name of them. For the T-shirts, I used customink.com, it was easy even for graphically-design-challenged-me to design a shirt. For the bags, I used iron-on paper to transfer this message to the bags (be sure to flip the message so that it comes out right ways once ironed on - I did the first one wrong!).  I was surprised how excited they were to get bags with their name on them - this was definitely a big hit, and they used them for the other days of camp, which made it easy to identify everyone's belongings.

Drawstring Bags (I'm covering up the name...again, don't want to share personal info on the internet)

Day 1 was the most labor intensive - our other days were as follows, in case you're interested:
- Day 2: Indoor ropes course/trampoline park. While this was pricey, it was a lot of fun (we did it last year and the girls all wanted to go again). After a picnic at a local park, we did "paint your own pottery" at a local store, which the girls also enjoyed.
- Day 3: Butterfly Pavilion at the Natural History Museum in DC (the girls LOVED the Metro ride - we had a train to ourselves on the way back and they had A BALL). Then we finished the day with a pizza/pool party at a ward member's house.

Can I just say, it was fun, even if exhausting? I certainly didn't plan this alone (we have 5 AD leaders, and they all helped, along with parents). I'm glad that Activity Days Camp is only three days (unlike Scout Camp, which is 5 days). I'm sad that, effective tomorrow, I'll have a new calling and won't get to work on Activity Days anymore!!!