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

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Trip the Light Fantastic

Over the past two years, Christmas is generally a time when I dust off the keyboard and get a-bloggin' (see the archives for 2009 and 2010 December posts).  This year will be no different - since I'm at the war chapters in Alma, I've decided to take a break from my re-reading of the Book of Mormon cover to cover.*  I'm also inspired by several friends who have been participating in Nablopomo, a challenge to post every day in November.

This year's Christmas posts will be a study in "light" - how the word appears in the scriptures, hymns, politics, and science, along with any additional random thoughts on anything tangentially related to light.  Light is such an interesting concept to me.  One of the only Sunday School lessons from high school to stick with me is the analogy of coming to Christ being like coming towards a really bright light bulb - as you come closer to Christ you are able to see your own imperfections clearer and clearer.  It's been a reminder that whenever I feel discouraged about my own weaknesses that Christ is the light, and as I move closer towards him *of course* I come to know how imperfect I am, and how much I need his light.

One of my favorite "light songs" is "This Little Light of Mine."  Someday I would love to see a rocking Mormon gospel choir sing it in church.  Until that day I'll have to be content with surfing YouTube versions of it.  This one's pretty good:

So, join me as I trip the light fantastic for this Christmas - hopefully without actually tripping over anything.  Hopefully I will light up your life, help you to lighten up, inspire you to let your light shine before men (and women), assist you to see the light, or at least shed light on why I am obsessed with light.

*Don't judge me.  Sometimes I skip 'em.  I think these are some of the only passages in scripture that I have actually enjoyed less as I've gotten older.  Any suggestions on making the war chapters less of a chore would be most welcome.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


It's my 100th blog post!  Cue the confetti!  I know, two blog posts in one day, no less!  For this special post I thought I'd share with you some random memories about elections, as this week was election day in Virginia.

Also, I wanted to share a random quirk I have: I hate it when people, Republican or Democrat, run unopposed.  It's antithetical to the democratic process when people don't have an opponent.  So, if someone is running unopposed, I write someone in.  Just so they don't get 100%.  This year, I wrote in my dad for county district attorney, my roommate for delegate, and my other roommate for school board.  I think healthy opposition is important!

The first memory I ever have related to elections is 1992, when my dad was surprised to learn that my mom had voted for George H.W. Bush.  Both my parents are Democrats, so it was surprising that she would vote for Bush.  He obviously voted for Clinton.  I don't remember my dad being angry, as he doesn't really get angry.  I just remember that it was somewhat of a bone of contention between them.

In 1997, I remember that my mom took me to the inaugural parade for Clinton's second term.  Sadly, I don't remember *anything* about it, other than getting on and off the bus at the bus stop near my house.  I guess I also do remember getting some sweet campaign buttons, which I think I still have lying around somewhere.

In 2000, I was in high school government class and so I remember paying attention to the debates and election with a seriousness I had never had before.  While watching the debates, I remember thinking that George W. Bush was such a lightweight, there was no way he'd be elected.  I stayed up late on election night as the results poured in.  I remember the aftermath - battles over hanging chads and voting machine malfunctions.  My favorite memory related to this was camping out in DC at the Supreme Court for a chance to hear the arguments in Bush v. Gore - it was crazy fun and I was glad I had a spontaneous mom who was up for it!  Unfortunately we didn't get to go in for the whole time, but my brother did.  We did get to go in and observe for 10-15 minutes, it was pretty awesome to see the Supreme Court in session.  I've always meant to go back, it would be neat to see a whole case presented there.  I've often wondered since then if the Supreme Court had it to do over again, would they make the same decision?  Of course, there was some great election related humor that year - the SNL debates with Bush and Gore are classic.

In 2004, I missed much of the campaign hoopla because I was in the MTC.  I did vote absentee (my first presidential vote!).  The day I flew out of Utah to my mission was election day, and I can't say I was very successful at tuning out CNN in the airport - I was hungry for the news I had been missing.  Looking back, it may have been a tender mercy that I got to learn a little bit about current events.  It was a sad day when we were sitting down to breakfast with my mission president and he informed all of us (gleefully) that President Bush had been reelected.

2008 was a much better year - I attended a day-before-election-day rally with then-candidate Obama, which was an amazing and inspiring experience.  I got to vote on election day for the first time, it was so cool to be in a "swing state" where my vote actually could turn the tide of the election.  My mom had a "soup kitchen" party to watch the election results roll in, and it was FANTASTIC to see President Obama win it all - looking back, we were so full of hope and excitement, it seems almost naive.  Then I got to attend the inauguration, and hear the President Obama expound on his vision for our future.  It's been hard to watch the slow progress and process that has followed, but I still think that President Obama is the best choice for 2012.

And, I just wanted to say I'm grateful for this blog.  It's part journal, part political therapy, and part bloviation, and mostly randomness, but I do like doing it!  Here's to the first 100 posts, and more to come!

3 Things I Didn't Share in My Relief Society Lesson

In case you didn't already know this about me, I'm a history nerd.  I love reading and learning about different time periods in history!  Which is one of several reasons why I loved teaching a Relief Society Lesson about Relief Society history, specifically about Daughters in My Kingdom, a new book put out by the church about the history and purposes of Relief Society.  For those of you who don't know, Relief Society is the woman's organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Every woman in the church, 18 and older, automatically becomes a member of Relief Society, which seeks to teach the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  It was organized in 1842 and has since been involved in many great endeavors of service (and a few endeavors of politics, like women's suffrage).

On balance, I like the book, even though it is "history lite" in that it's not a rigorous examination of Relief Society history, it is more of a broad overview.  There are a lot of great and inspiring quotes in the book that built my testimony about this great organization.  I also started reading Women of Covenant, a more thorough book covering the history of Relief Society in a lot more detail.  However, I didn't get to share EVERYTHING I learned, as the lesson was short.  So I decided to talk about three things that I didn't talk about in my lesson, for various reasons.

The Gift of Healing
Although not included in Daughters in My Kingdom, sisters in the church have a history of exercising spiritual gifts such as the gift of healing.  At times this was done by the laying on of hands, such as the case of Persis Young, who laid her hands on Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, suffering an infection after childbirth in Winter Quarters, after the Mormons' difficult trek from Nauvoo, Illinois.  Sister Whitney said of Sister Young: "She had been impressed by the Spirit to come and administer to me, and I would be healed...she laid her hands upon my head with my mother.  She rebuked my weakness, and every disease that had been, or was then, afflicting me, and commanded me to be made whole, pronouncing health and many other blessings upon me. ...From that morning I went about to work as though nothing had been the matter.  Thus did the Lord remember one of his unworthy handmaidens and fulfill the promise that had been given by the gift of the Holy Ghost."  (Women of Covenant, pages 67-68)

And in 1914, the First Presidency wrote a letter stating that “Any good sister, full of faith in God and in the efficacy of prayer” could administer to the sick.  Sisters “have the same right to administer to sick children as adults, and may anoint and lay hands upon them in faith."  And, as late as the 1920s and 1930s, reports circulated of women anointing and blessing other women in preparation for childbirth (See Women of Covenant, pages 220-221).

To me these stories are very empowering, but I think we don't talk about them because we are afraid that these blessings will be confused with the Priesthood, which also administers to the sick by the laying on of hands.  But I think we are smart enough to realize the difference while still celebrating the power of a prayer of faith by faith-filled women of the Church.  I wonder if any of this still goes on in the church, but just isn't talked about in public?

I didn't talk about this subject because I didn't want to.  To say the least, I am very ambivalent in my attitude about polygamy.  It's an uncomfortable subject for a lot of reasons, and I didn't want to get into it.  In fact, I was surprised that Sister Tanner, who wrote Daughters in My Kingdom, put in a few paragraphs about this period in church history.  I have polygamous ancestors (so I guess it's thanks to them that I'm even writing these words), but I still think this is a very difficult period in history and I have so many unanswered questions about it that I didn't even have the courage to bring it up.

Yep, bet you weren't expecting this subject.  I liked this quirky little story from Women of Covenant, from a time when Relief Society was trying to standardize its accounting books.  One Relief Society received a contribution of two ducks from a poor member in the early 1900's.  This was in a time when the Relief Society received contributions in goods from its members and every member was expected to contribute something.  The ducks ended up running away or getting killed, and the local Relief Society president felt terrible about it.  The stake president wrote: "Now she feels that this woman and the books should have credit but she doesn't feel that she could dig up with $3 or whatever it is to pay for the ducks.  Hard to fix this on the books, both for the credit of the ducks and then the money received in the disposal of them" (Women of Covenant, pg. 196).

It seems silly but I liked this story - so often in the drive for standardization we lose sight of individuals.  Sometimes I feel like all I have to offer is a metaphorical "pair of ducks" - I am poor in spirit and don't have the offerings others have the ability to give.  But what's important is that we recognize the value of each individual's contributions.  It's part of why I love Relief Society: women coming together to worship God, each woman bringing her fears, faith, and personality - in short, bringing herself.  As we come together in a worldwide sisterhood, we learn from each other and grow together in love.  We struggle, but we have each other to lean on.  We learn of our enormous potential as Daughters of God.  I'll close with my favorite quote from Daughters in My Kingdom expressing that potential.  It's from Joseph Fielding Smith, 10th President of the church:

“It is within the privilege of the sisters of this Church to receive exaltation in the kingdom of God and receive authority and power as queens and priestesses.” (Daughters in My Kingdom, pg. 133)

Derr, Jill Mulvay., Janath Russell Cannon, and Maureen Ursenbach Beecher. Women of Covenant: the Story of Relief Society. Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1992. 

Tanner, Susan W.  Daughters in My Kingdom: The History and Work of Relief Society.  Salt Lake City, UT: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2011.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

I Don't Think You're Evil, I Just Think You're Wrong

I agree with the Occupy Wall Street Movement's goals.  I do think that wealth and influence in our country are becoming concentrated in the hands of a few at the expense of the many.  Democracy depends on a diffusion of power, and everyone should have an equal say.  An increase in inequality also suffering and poverty, which reduces opportunities for our fellow Americans.  However, I realize that different people have different views.  I don't necessarily think that someone automatically becomes "the devil" because they don't have a problem with income inequality (this seems to be the default mode of any protest: demonize your opponents).

Similarly, I don't think that anyone who proposes flat taxes, national sales taxes, or reduction/elimination of corporate taxes is intentionally TRYING to increase income inequality or has an intentional agenda to screw the poor.  Maybe I tend to over-simplify people's motives, but I like to assume, as a starting point for rational debate, that the other side is NOT evil.  They simply have a different view of the world.  However, in the case of the ideas mentioned above, I do believe they are the wrong policy choices, and will end up increasing poverty among the 99%.  

I also want to point out that conservatives often rail high tax rates.  They seem to get riled up about the top corporate tax rate, which currently stands at 35%.  This is a red herring, because while 35% may be the "statutory rate," or the rate on the books, let me be the first to tell you, if you don't already know, that very few companies actually pay tax at that rate.  This graph shows that in terms of "effective rate" or the rate at which corporate taxes are paid compared to income, the U.S. actually has an incredibly LOW tax rate.  And let's face it, corporations should pay taxes - these companies use the roads, courts, and educated citizenry paid for with our public money.  They inure incredible benefits as a result of our government's actions, and they should be a part of paying for those benefits.   The same deal goes for the richest Americans, whose income is taxed at a statutory rate of 35% but whose effective rate is a much lower 25.8% (see here).  Again, I think that because the rich disproportionately benefit from our capitalist society, they should bear a disproportionate share of the costs.  They'll still be plenty rich, trust me.

So, I don't think the rich are evil.  I bet most of us (for varying reasons) would like to be rich some day - some of us would like to buy the biggest yacht while some of us would like to be able to give it all away to worthy causes.  Let's not demonize those who disagree with us, let's just listen to each other.  I believe progressive taxation is the right way to make sure the disadvantaged and poor don't live a life of grinding poverty simply because they're unlucky.  If you don't agree, then I think you're wrong, but you're not Hitler.