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

Monday, December 29, 2014

If Torture is Right, Then I Want to Be Wrong

I feel a need to expand on my short post of a couple years ago regarding torture, in light of the recent release of the Senate torture report. When the report was released a few weeks ago, I happened to be traveling for work and and that meant I could watch the news while getting ready in my hotel room in the mornings. While outraged at some of the rhetoric defending the behaviors described in the report, I was also saddened by a common theme I heard from those who were against the tactics described in the report. One of the main reasons for not using the techniques was that they didn't provide valuable intelligence. In other words, we shouldn't use these tactics because they didn't work.

Wrong. We shouldn't use these tactics because they are morally wrong. Full Stop. Even if these tactics did produce good intelligence information, it is still wrong to waterboard someone or use any of the other various methods of torture described in the report. If we argue otherwise, we fail to live up to the American values we say we hold so dear.

Our 8th Amendment prohibits the use of cruel and unusual punishment - the prohibition against torture is literally part of our American constitutional values. I recognize that many of these practices came out of the fear we all experienced after 9/11. I know that fear was real, and many well-intentioned people sought to protect me, and protect my family and friends. But founding that protection on the torture of other human beings is simply wrong. I don't know how to say it any better than Senator John McCain did on the Senate floor:

But in the end, torture’s failure to serve its intended purpose isn’t the main reason to oppose its use. I have often said, and will always maintain, that this question isn’t about our enemies; it’s about us. It’s about who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be. It’s about how we represent ourselves to the world.

We have made our way in this often dangerous and cruel world, not by just strictly pursuing our geopolitical interests, but by exemplifying our political values, and influencing other nations to embrace them. When we fight to defend our security we fight also for an idea, not for a tribe or a twisted interpretation of an ancient religion or for a king, but for an idea that all men are endowed by the Creator with inalienable rights. How much safer the world would be if all nations believed the same. How much more dangerous it can become when we forget it ourselves even momentarily.

Torturing people is wrong, and we become less than we are when we engage in it. Here's the full video of Senator McCain's remarks on December 9, and you can read the transcript here.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

It (Shouldn't) Matter If You're Black or White

Sometimes when we give thanks, I feel like we become smug. It reminds me of an observation by my New Testament professor. My professor told us about a prayer said by Jewish men of Paul's time: "blessed be the Lord our God, the King of the world, that he hath made me an Israelite; blessed be the Lord, &c. who hath not made me a Gentile; blessed be the Lord, &c. who hath not made me a "servant"; blessed be the Lord, &c. who hath not made me a "woman";" (Note 1).

In other words, the prayer is saying thanks for making me so much better off than these other classes of people who have fewer rights, privileges, and blessings than I do. In a way, it's a prayer of smug self-satisfaction that pits me versus a "lesser" class (Note 2).  Contrast this with the teachings of the Paul, found in Galatians 3:28, which reads: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus." Paul is perhaps deliberately contrasting the Jewish prayer with the gospel truth that we are all the same in God's eyes. In scripture, this concept is referred to as "God is no respecter of persons."

As humans we often don't think this way.  Perhaps we consciously or unconsciously place ourselves above or apart from other human beings. We tend to overestimate our own contribution to our success while underestimating the class, race, or other barriers standing in the way of others. Probably classic liberal guilt, but I have been thinking a lot about how privileged my life is because I am white. If you're reading this and think that white privilege is a myth, then I suggest you read the series of articles by Nick Kristof "When Whites Just Don't Get It" - the five part series can be found here, here, herehere and here. Also, I liked this recent article in the Washington Post about the difference between responsibility and culpability.

The truth is, I have enormous privileges because of my background. I was given a very big gift that I in no way deserved, while other people were not given the same advantages. Could I have succeeded if I wasn't white? If I wasn't born into a middle class family who could afford to live in a really good public school district? I like to think so, but the truth is that I might have succumbed to the whirlpool that drags so many people down - the unluckily accident of birth that places them in a situation with huge disadvantages relative to me.

I think this quote from Nick Kristof's fourth article sums it up:

We all stand on the shoulders of our ancestors. We’re in a relay race, relying on the financial and human capital of our parents and grandparents. Blacks were shackled for the early part of that relay race, and although many of the fetters have come off, whites have developed a huge lead. Do we ignore this long head start — a facet of white privilege — and pretend that the competition is now fair? Of course not. If we whites are ahead in the relay race of life, shouldn’t we acknowledge that we got this lead in part by generations of oppression? Aren’t we big enough to make amends by trying to spread opportunity, by providing disadvantaged black kids an education as good as the one afforded privileged white kids?

If you think racism in America is over, it's not. I'm sure the Jewish men who uttered the prayer I quoted above were nice people, trying to live their religion as best they could.  They probably really were grateful for the blessings and privileges they had in their life. But the problem is that they didn't look around and see that other people were oppressed. They were comfortable with their station in life, and they didn't notice that it was near impossible for others - slaves, women, outsiders, to attain the status they had. In America, it shouldn't matter if you're black or white. But it does. If you're black, you're more likely to go to a bad school, get arrested, be poor, die early, or any of a host of other bad outcomes. We need to change that.

Note 1: I think it was this prayer, I can't be certain, but the internet has provided this one in one of the commentaries on BibleHub, so let's assume it was this one. Found on the commentary for Galatians 3:28, from "Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible."

Note 2: See also Alma 31:8-18 in the Book of Mormon - another crazy group of people thanking God that they were better than others.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Of Fish and Bicycles

Many years ago, I attended a temple session with my mom and some ladies from her ward as a newly returned missionary. I don't remember the circumstances, but at some point we encountered a woman who was weeping. This wasn't crying, this was weeping - soul wrenching, heart rending, true sorrow. I can't remember if she was part of our group or not, but I remember learning somehow that the reason she was weeping was because she was older and single, and felt that she wasn't likely to be married. As a 22 year old, I was a bit befuddled. Sure, most people want to get married, but I was sure that being unmarried for life was not a cause for this level of unhappiness.

After all, I had imbibed the feminist mantra that "a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle." I was strong, independent, and headed for a career. I didn't feel like any of this was incompatible with marriage and family if it happened to come along, but I also didn't think marital/familial relationships were an indispensable part of my future. Surely I could be just as happy swimming along without a bicycle.

With a few more years under my belt, I can now have a bit more empathy for this unknown woman. I recently spent my last day in a typical "singles ward" - a church congregation of people who are unmarried, ages 18-31. The past few months have been much harder than my 22 year old self anticipated. While my logical mind knows that I don't strictly "need" a spouse and children, I feel like a failure when so many of my friends are married with kids.

If I'm being truthful with myself, I WANT to be married, I want kids, and it's painful to realize that those relationships are not anywhere close to becoming reality for me. There is a possibility that this is mere cultural training from years of Disney movies, romantic comedies, Jane Austen books, and church talks about temple marriage; and I realize not every LDS woman in her 30's feels the same way. I know marriage and kids can be a source of sorrow and pain too - I've seen friends go through divorces and face children's illnesses. Marriage and family is no guarantee of bliss. The thing is, I know all those things intellectually.

And yet. And yet. I want to be a wife and a mom so badly sometimes that it hurts. I know intellectually that I can have a happy and fulfilling life without being a wife and mother, but emotionally singleness really sucks sometimes. I wouldn't be the best wife and mother in the history of the world, but I surely wouldn't be the worst either. You may rightly note that part of this is my fault. Of course, there are certainly things I could and should be doing to "put myself out there" and make more of an effort. But the fact that my pain is somewhat self-imposed doesn't make it any less painful.

One of my friends from my college years would always insist when things bothered her that they didn't really bother her. It was really frustrating because things obviously bugged her (A LOT) but she wouldn't admit it or discuss it openly. Admitting I care this deeply is hard for me, especially when I weigh it in the balance of everyone else's trials - it seems like a small thing when people are starving or dealing with bigger problems. I don't want to talk about it with married friends because I don't want them to feel guilty for being married - I truly am happy for them. I don't want to discuss it with my single friends who may or may not be feeling the same way. And I don't have a solution or happy ending or any sage advice to end this post. It's just that sometimes, I want to weep, and simply be understood. And sometimes, I want to be the death-defying fish who rides a bicycle.

"Everybody Hurts," R.E.M.

Note: This blog is the closest thing I have to a journal, and I think I sometimes come across as a Pollyanna who always looks on the bright side. This post will show you that (a) that's not true and (b) I'm enormously self-centered sometimes. I had to write this post, for me, so please excuse the wallowing. I really am generally happy with my life so please don't blow this out of proportion.

Monday, September 15, 2014

State of Mind

One of my nerdy habits is to make random music playlists with a theme. I have my "Manuary" list with ballads sung by and about men, "Happy Happy Joy Joy" with songs about happy things, and "Time Flies on Wings of Lightening" with tunes about the seconds, hours and minutes that fill our lives. In that spirit, I thought I would create a "Tax Return" playlist, because after all, I'm a tax accountant. I've spent a lot of time over the past few months looking at federal, state, and local income tax returns.

So, without further ado, here is a Federal and 50-state playlist for you, along with some explanations of why I choose certain songs. Admittedly, some of the connections are a little tenuous, but this is hard. If any of you have better suggestions, I'm all ears.

The Feds - "Taxman," The Beatles; "Born in the USA," Bruce Springsteen; "I am a Patriot," The Burns Sisters; and of course this gem:

"50 State Song," Animaniacs

Alabama - "Sweet Home Alabama," Lynyrd Skynyrd (If you haven't seen it, there is a most excellent documentary that will explain the lines about Muscle Shoals and Swampers!)
Alaska - "Frozen" movie soundtrack (because this is true of Alaska very often)
Arizona - "It's Too Darn Hot," from the Kiss Me Kate soundtrack (because this is true of Arizona very often!)
Arkansas - "I'm a Bad, Bad Man," from Annie Get Your Gun ("There's a girl in Arkansas/The Sheriff is her brother in law" - we're talking quality rhymes here)
California - Beach Boys (all their songs sound the same, so there's a bunch of options)
Colorado - "High Flying, Adored," Evita (because they have high mountains. And legal weed)
Connecticut - "Rain in Spain," My Fair Lady ("In Hartford, Hereford, and Hampshire"...Hartford is in CT!)
Delaware - "Long Way," Antje Duvekot (this one mentions several states but Delaware is slim pickings!)
District of Columbia - Okay, this one I don't own, but it makes me laugh: "Washington, D.C.," The Magnetic Fields. Also, AC/DC.
Florida - Disney, Disney, and more Disney
Georgia - "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," The Charlie Daniels Band (honorable mention: "Georgia on my Mind," Ray Charles)
Hawaii - Jack Johnson (he was raised in Hawaii and a lot of his songs are about surfing)
Idaho - "Hello, Little Girl," Into the Woods (Idaho has wolves, this song is sung by a wolf)
Illinois - "Chicago" soundtrack (If I track down the CD, which I have somewhere, could also use "Illinoise" by Sufjan Stevens)
Indiana - "Gary, Indiana" from The Music Man
Iowa - "Iowa Stuborn" also from The Music Man
Kansas - "Over the Rainbow" - of the many versions of this Wizard of Oz classic, I love Eva Cassidy's (even if you're not in Kansas anymore, this is a great song)
Kentucky - "Fugue for the Tinhorns," Guys and Dolls ("I got the horse right here" - Kentucky derby, anyone?)
Louisiana - The Princess and the Frog soundtrack (honorable mention: "Down at the Twist and Shout," Mary Chapin Carpenter)
Maine - "Carrying the Banner," Newsies Soundtrack ("Remember the Maine!" was the battle cry of Hearst, one of the newspaper publishers mentioned in Newsies)
Maryland - "Good Morning, Baltimore" from Hairspray
Massachusetts - "Sweet Caroline," Glee version because it's better than Neil Diamond (this is sort of a theme song for the one and only Boston Red Sox)
Michigan - Dreamgirls soundtrack, or anything Mo-town
Minnesota - When I think of Minnesota, I always think of the radio show A Prairie Home Companion.  If you don't listen to it, you should. One of my current favorite groups from the show is the Wailin Jennys, and while they're technically from Canada, I associate them with Minnesota.
Mississippi - O, Brother, Where Art Thou (honorable mention: "Mississippi," Sheryl Crow - because doesn't everyone stay in Mississippi a day too long?)
Missouri - "Kansas City," Oklahoma
Montana - "Sweet Baby James," James Taylor (somehow, this song evokes cowboys and open space, which is my stereotype of Montana)
Nebraska - "Fields of Gold," Eva Cassidy (there's a lot of corn, fields, and cornfields)
Nevada - "Luck be a Lady," Guys and Dolls soundtrack
New Hampshire - "My Girl," The Temptations (did you know that NH is the only state to have an all female congressional delegation AND a woman governor? Guess it's easier if you have only two representatives in Congress)
New Jersey - Bruce Springsteen, obviously. "Born to Run" or "Atlantic City" seem appropriate.
New Mexico - "Santa Fe," Rent soundtrack (or the Santa Fe song from Newsies)
New York - this state overflows with options - you got your "Empire State of Mind," "NYC" from Annie,  the entire soundtrack of Guys and Dolls and 42nd Street, so much more.  Unfortunately I don't have a recording of it, but Hugh Jackman sings a dreamy version of "I Happen to Like New York."
North Carolina - "Carolina On My Mind," James Taylor (the wording could be North or South, but since Mr. Taylor was raised in North Carolina, I went with North)
North Dakota - "Rocky Racoon," The Beatles (Rocky lived in the black hills of Dakota!)
Ohio - Annie Get Your Gun (did you know Annie Oakley was from Ohio?)
Oklahoma - "Oklahoma," Oklahoma (duh! this song actually inspired this whole playlist idea, because I like to sing this song to myself when I review Oklahoma tax returns)
Oregon - "Citywide Rodeo," The Weepies (For whatever reason, I had a lot of friends and roommates in college from eastern Oregon. Pendleton, OR has a big rodeo so I weirdly associate rodeos with Oregon)
Pennsylvania - 1776 soundtrack
Rhode Island - Dan in Real Life soundtrack (it takes place partially in Rhode Island)
South Carolina - "Time," Hootie and the Blowfish (a little research turned up the fact that this band was organized at the University of South Carolina!)
South Dakota - "Train Going South," Peter Breinholt (because if you're in North Dakota, why would you not want to go south? Also, speaking of the Dakotas, there's a great clip about the Dakotas from The West Wing (yes, it always comes back to that show) - watch the episode "We Killed Yamamoto" because I can't find it on Youtube)
Tennessee - "Walking in Memphis," Marc Cohen
Texas - "Wide Open Spaces," The Dixie Chicks
Utah - Mormon Tabernacle Choir and/or BYU singing groups
Vermont - Sound of Music soundtrack (Did you know the Von Trapp family settled in Vermont and established a lodge?)
Virginia - "The Lees of Old Virginia," 1776 (and of course, "Meet Virginia" by Train is a solid choice as well)
Washington - "I Love the Rain the Most," Joe Purdy (It rains in Washington, a lot apparently)
West Virginia - "Coal," Kathy Mattea
Wisconsin - "Tire Swing," Kimya Dawson (there's a fleeting reference to Madison, WI)
Wyoming - "Why Do I?" by Joe Purdy is a song about loneliness (because WY is the least populated state per square mile in the lower 48, seems legit), and I always want to say "WHY?-oming"

So there you have it, the jams to listen to while you review tax returns late at night in a windowless office. Can you tell I listen to a lot of Broadway? Happy End of Busy Season to me, and to all the tax accountants who are still sober enough to read this!

Monday, September 1, 2014

In the Abstract

Today is Labor Day, where we celebrate the working men and women who have made America great!  It is somewhat ironic that many of my politically conservative friends love the movie Newsies, which celebrates unionization. For some reason, it's kind of a Mormon movie - probably has something to do with the upbeat singing and family friendly feel. Yet the movie has an undeniable progressive bent - the whole movie is about a working class union formed to fight evil capitalists. The fact that many of my friends like this movie gives me hope that we could someday discuss politics amicably. I think sometimes we have discussions about things like SNAP or Medicaid or Social Security in the abstract, and when that happens, it's very easy to distance ourselves from the problems of others. But when a movie (or book, or newspaper article) humanizes the real people who face these problems, I think it's easier to have a real conversation about them without demonizing (or overly lionizing) the people who face really tough situations. Maybe, deep down, my conservative friends can sympathize with and understand why unions might be a good idea for our society. Doesn't mean we won't still disagree, but I hope we can see each other's point of view. Go, unions!

BYU Vocal Point, Newsies Medley

Thursday, July 31, 2014

(Em) Pathetic

My heart has been touched by the recent tragic stories of mothers with children and unaccompanied minors who are fleeing Central American violence and coming illegally to the United States. Their situations, in many cases, are desperate and they feel their only hope for a better life is here in the country I grew up in. I can only imagine the difficulty and improbability of that journey of thousands of miles. I feel a lot of sympathy for them, to say the least.

Lately I've been wondering if feeling sympathy for these huddled masses automatically equates to letting them stay. In other words, is it possible to feel genuinely bad for these people without favoring policies allowing them to remain in the U.S.? Generally it seems that Republicans have been riding the line between blaming Obama for the current situation and simultaneously trying to express compassion for these women and children. Obviously we cannot know their hearts, but some seem to suggest that their kind expressions are false concern because they favor sending these people back to their home countries. If that's the case, that's pretty pathetic.

However, I believe I am called to exercise empathy for those who are suffering. If we truly step into the shoes of these people, we would realize that in their situation we would likely do the EXACT SAME THING. In other words, we start to see these migrants as people rather than as lawbreakers. We realize the unimaginable horrors of their daily lives when their children are forced into drug trafficking and other violent enterprises. Why do we not take the time to feel that empathy? Today I read an article which reminded me of this quote from Dr. Martin Luther King about the parable of the good Samaritan, and why some did not stop to help:

Now, you know, we use our imagination a great deal to try to determine why the priest and the Levite didn’t stop. At times we say they were busy going to a church meeting, an ecclesiastical gathering, and they had to get on down to Jerusalem so they wouldn’t be late for their meeting. At other times we would speculate that there was a religious law that one who was engaged in religious ceremonials was not to touch a human body twenty-four hours before the ceremony. And every now and then we begin to wonder whether maybe they were not going down to Jerusalem, or down to Jericho, rather, to organize a Jericho Road Improvement Association. That’s a possibility. Maybe they felt it was better to deal with the problem from the causal root, rather than to get bogged down with an individual effect.

But I’m going to tell you what my imagination tells me. It’s possible that those men were afraid. You see, the Jericho Road is a dangerous road. I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road I said to my wife, ‘I can see why Jesus used this as the setting for his parable.’ It’s a winding, meandering road. It’s really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about twelve hundred miles, or rather, twelve hundred feet above sea level. And by the time you get down to Jericho fifteen or twenty minutes later, you’re about twenty-two feet below sea level. That’s a dangerous road. In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the ‘Bloody Pass.’ And you know, it’s possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it’s possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking , and he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the priest asked, the first question that the Levite asked was, ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’

But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’

Instead of thinking about how immigrants will affect us (i.e. they will steal our jobs! our welfare! flood our streets with crime!), why don't we start thinking about how deportation affects them? What will happen to these people if they are deported? I don't honestly know if it would change the minds of those opposed to letting these people stay, but it might at least tone down some of the rhetoric of those protesting against the immigrants' presence, which could only be a good thing.

Stephen Colbert, "Questionable Compassion for Child Immigrants"

Monday, June 16, 2014

Please Stay! (Subtitle: I Give It As My Opinion)

Most of the people who read this blog are Mormon, and thus probably aware of current events. If not, please read the NY Times Article and Deseret News article before reading the below, so you know what I'm talking about. Also, this post is mostly about Mormons, by a Mormon, therefore, I apologize for a lot of Mormon-y lingo that I probably won't take the time to explain. I also apologize for the length of this post - it is long, rambling, and incoherent. And, last of the trio of apologies, I am sorry if I offend you, as I am sure to in some way, given the very sensitive and divisive nature of this topic. My intent is to urge all to remain in the wonderful tent of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which I believe is found in its fullness in the Mormon church.

There's an interesting little phrase in the Book of Mormon, when the prophet Alma is speaking to his son Corianton. Alma starts the chapter with insight into his son's struggles: "...I perceive that thy mind is worried concerning the resurrection of the dead" (Alma 40:1). In other words, he recognizes his son is troubled about an aspect of church doctrine that he doesn't fully understand. Alma doesn't accuse the son of lack of faith just for being troubled about an issue, instead, he acknowledges this worry, and talks to Corianton about it, addressing his concerns. 

Alma then goes on to explain, in great detail, the doctrine, while acknowledging that there is much that he doesn't fully understand. He states in verse 5 of the chapter that he doesn't know whether there is one time for the resurrection or many and he acknowledges in verses 19 and 21 that he cannot say the timing of certain aspects of the resurrection. But the phrase that I really want to talk about is in verse 20: "...behold, I give it as my opinion..." In other words, this is Alma, the prophet for the entire church, voicing his OPINION on an aspect of church doctrine. He acknowledges he could be wrong (although later events would prove him right). I am grateful for that example of humility by a prophet. I think it shows that Alma is willing to accept whatever the will of the Lord is.

I give it as my opinion that, someday, women will hold the priesthood. The history of the priesthood holders of God has been one of gradual expansion (in Abraham's time, it was limited to a select few, in Israelite times, only the tribe of Levi exercised the priesthood, and for part of the 1800's and first 3/4ths of the 1900's, only white males exercised the priesthood, but those restrictions fell away and now all worthy males hold the priesthood). We are a church that believes that "...God will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God." The extension of the priesthood is only based on my understanding, and I may be wrong. The thing is, even if I'm wrong, I'm staying in the church, because I believe the church and gospel is true. Also, I'm not the prophet, and I don't get to receive revelation for the church. I have faith that if and when that day comes, those who lead the church will be open to receiving that revelation and making it known (Note: I DO NOT mean that those who disagree with me on these points are unfaithful or wrong, again, I merely give these points as my opinion). 

Chieko Okazaki has a quote that I think applies to both Kate Kelly and those participating in her disciplinary council: "In principles, great clarity; in practices, great charity." The principle is that God loves all his children, male and female.  In practice, that means we should exercise the maximum possible charity for our sister, Kate Kelly.  She's a beloved daughter of God who's doing what she thinks is right. She is devastated and hurt by the possibility of excommunication. We should also have the maximum amount of charity for her Bishop, her Stake President, and all those involved in the disciplinary process, instead of ascribing terrible motives to them for their actions. 

I've been a member of the church for my whole life, and I've had many Bishops. As I've thought about this process, I've thought about my former seminary teacher who also served as our Bishop at one point, and who thought (and probably still thinks) I was a crazy liberal loon. I think I would trust even him to hear me out and listen to my side. Church leaders, in my experience, try to do the right thing and really do seek to know the will of the Lord. However, I acknowledge that this is not everyone's experience, and Church leaders are only human, and make mistakes. 

If you're reading this, and considering leaving the church, I am trying to feel your pain - I acknowledge that this has been hurtful to you in ways that I probably don't understand. Additionally, come next week, it's possible that Kate Kelly's Church Disciplinary Council will make a decision that is not right (whatever the "right" decision is), but please, please, please don't leave the church over it. The church and the gospel still need you.

Please stay. Stay in the church, because we need your doubts and your fears. We need you to raise hard questions without easy answers. We need to you point out inequalities that bother you, even if they don't bother others. We need your perspective and your testimony. Forgive us our shortcomings and lack of understanding. Likewise, you need the church. You need us to help you and strengthen you and serve you. You need us to learn from our perspective and testimony. We all need each other. Please don't leave us.

That last paragraph came out as an us vs. them, but it's not. We are a worldwide brotherhood and sisterhood who should love each other. We need more love, in my opinion. 

Some other random thoughts I've had while thinking about and writing this post:

- I don't get to judge Kate Kelly. I am called to love her and seek to understand her, and all my other brothers and sisters who struggle with issues related to women and the priesthood (or any other church doctrine, for that matter). However, bishops are called as "Judges in Israel." They are given keys and discernment to try to do what is best for the individual. There is nothing more serious than a church court, and I hope people take it as seriously as it deserves.  
- Where Sister Kelly may have gone astray, in my mind, is in stating that the only way to fix the problems she perceives in the church is through women's ordination. Again, I don't get to judge her because I don't know all the facts and it's not my responsibility. I believe there is nothing wrong with expressing our doubts, and sharing them. It's a fine and porous line between expressing genuine doubts while being true to yourself and taking upon yourself the responsibility to receive revelation for the whole church on what "must" happen. Again, I'm not judging which side of the line Sister Kelly is on, merely expressing my belief that there is such a line. As stated above, I believe maximum charity and compassion should be extended by those whose responsibility it is to be a judge in Israel.
- Some of the language and tactics of the Ordain Women movement trouble me personally, and I don't personally feel comfortable with these terms and tactics. I think some of the language that is used is divisive and unnecessarily recriminatory. Calling people who disagree with you names can only make them defensive and less likely to listen to you, even if you have valid points to make. I think there are many church cultural practices that, when pointed out to people and explained why these are hurtful, will seem unfair, and we can do things at the local level in our wards and stakes to address these points. Cultural change requires all of us to see others kindly and with love.
- I am troubled by posts like this, which seek to make OW supporters the "other" who are hypocrites crying crocodile tears.  See my previous post about seeing things from their perspective here.
- So far the best posts I have seen on this topic are here and here. These posts are part of the reason I stay in the church. It causes me much sorrow to read about the pain of others who are struggling - I love you, and I pray for you to feel the peace that passeth all understanding. Pray for me, that I might know how to love you and help you, because I truly want to.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Cooperation is the Dirtiest Word

As the title of my blog probably makes clear, I'm no supporter of Eric Cantor. He and I disagree about many, many things. Still, when I contemplate the fact that Representative Cantor lost his primary race to a little known Tea Party challenger, I'm reminded of a scene from "Remember the Titans:"

"Boy, You Must Be Outside Your Mind" - Denzel Washington

Republican primary voters, you must be outside your minds! Reading and listening to the news coverage this morning, it appears that Cantor didn't work hard enough to win hearts and minds in his district. However, it is MIND BOGGLING to me that one of the reasons he lost is that he contemplated a bi-partisan immigration solution. CONTEMPLATED, mind you. Note that he didn't even actually achieve anything, but the mere fact that he considered cooperating with Democrats to craft a national solution to immigration problems was a factor in his defeat.

Cantor supported a Republican version of the DREAM act, which allows children brought to the U.S. by their parents illegally to go to college and become citizens. This bill was never even brought for a vote, but Cantor's support for it seems to have contributed to his undoing.

Why does cooperation have to be a dirty word? We all have principles, but we live in a divided and pluralistic country, and we can't always get what we want. To think otherwise is to have the obstinate mindset of a 5 year old child who must always get what they want. Compromise and cooperation have served this country well for over 200, and I shudder to think what the future holds if we continue to paint the other side as demons with whom no compromise or cooperation can even be contemplated.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Play Nice

Recently I re-read a bunch of old posts (noted: I am not a good writer and I use too many parentheses). One of the themes that came through to me was that, as Democratic a partisan as I am, I root more for political niceties. Many of my posts plead with people from different sides to listen to one another and not insult one another just because they disagree.
Funny Somewhat Topical Ecard: When it comes to our political views, let's blindly follow the lead of idiot celebrities and pop culture rather than think for ourselves.
"When it comes to our political views, let's blindly follow the lead of idiot celebrities and pop culture rather than think for ourselves."
As I am wont to do, I recently acquired a new Facebook friend. She* posts a lot of very one sided political things which drive me a little crazy. For purposes of this post it's not really important which side. But it reminded me that we are all view the world through our own partisan lens. When we read the news or learn about current events, we process it through the filter of our own experiences and expectations. I am very tempted to hide this friend's posts. But I have so far stopped myself, because I think it is a good reminder to me that I need to step outside myself and try to see things from others' perspectives.

It also got me thinking about the last time I really changed my mind about a political issue. For all that I claim to be so open minded, I couldn't remember the last time I really heard a good argument about a political issue. As a fallible human being, I know intellectually that not all my opinions are correct. Yet I cling to them - why?

Part of this is the lack of decent, thought provoking debate on the internet. Much of it descends into name calling, trolling, and ALL CAPS screaming matches. Whenever I do brave the political waters on the Facebook, it inevitably turns ugly - fast. Also, I am really bad at choosing a side in good debates because I think whoever is talking has some good points and I'm with them until the other side refutes it (indecisiveness!). But part of my lack of mind-changing-ness is undoubtedly the stubbornness factor. It is easier to stick with opinions on "my" side because it's safer. I have to use less brain power to reason out my arguments if my opponents are crazy people who kow-tow to the Koch Brothers or Nancy Pelosi or Communists (pick your favorite boogeyman, insert here).

So, yet again, this post comes down to the over-arching theme of being nice. Listen. I've found I learn a lot more when I shut my mouth. I'm going to try to re-examine some of my own opinions, and change them if I find them to be wrong. How do you find out you're wrong? What can we do to play nice and encourage genuine political debate in such forums as Facebook?

"The enemy is not Muslims or Christians or Judaism...The Real enemy is Extremism."

*Could be "he" or "she" - for purposes of this post I'm just using the female pronoun (I flipped a coin), and I didn't want to give away the friend's gender on the very remote chance that he/she reads this post.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Happy Tax Day!

Someday I will write an entire musical about tax accounting. It will be epic. For now, here is the opening song of my future glory, sung to the tune of "Tradition" from Fiddler on the Roof. I've even added some of the dialogue which is in italics.  First you should listen to the real thing:

A tax code that has 3.8 million words. Sounds crazy, no? But in our little country of America, everyone of us must file a tax return, (hopefully) without getting an IRS audit. You may ask, how do we keep our sanity, if it's so complicated?  That I can tell you in one word - EXTENSION!

Extension! Extension! Extension!
Extension! Extension! Extension!

Because of our extensions, we've kept our sanity
For many many tax busy seasons.
Here in the U.S., we have extensions for everything
Partnerships, Corporations, Individuals.
For instance, we always extend, if the GAAP audit isn't finished,
Or simply if we are too lazy to find our receipts.
This shows our constant devotion to patriotism.
You may ask, how did these extensions get started?
I'll tell you. I don't know.
And because of our extensions, everyone of us knows how long we have, 
But has no clue what the IRS expects us to do.

Who day and night must scramble for the info,
Forget other responsiblities, have the daily calls?
And who has the right as the payer of the bills
To have the final say on the return?
The client! The client! Extension!
The client! The client! Extension!

Who must know the way to complete the return?
A correct return, a complete return?
Who must complete the workpapers and fill the forms?
So the client's free to not read the IRC?*
CPA Firm! CPA Firm! Extension!
CPA Firm! CPA Firm! Extension!

At 8 (a.m.), I started reading cases, at 10 (p.m.) I learned the regs,
I hear they've picked a client for me, I hope it's easy!
The manager! The manager! Extension!
The manager! The manager! Extension!

And who does manager teach? To enter, add, and calculate?
Preparing me to understand even the tax rate?
The staff! The staff! Extension!
The staff! The staff! Extension!

The client! CPA Firm! Manager! Staff! Extension!

And in the circle of our little country, we've always had our special types. For instance, confused and desperate taxpayers, IRS Tax Auditors, and most importantly, our beloved taxpayer service hotline.

Taxpayer: IRS, may I ask you a question?
IRS Customer Service Representative: Certainly, my citizen.
Taxpayer: Is there a proper way to evade taxes?
IRS Customer Service Representative: A proper way to evade taxes?  Of course! Be unemployed, have no salary, and thus no taxable income!

Then there are the others in our country. They have a much bigger influence. His honor, the tax court judge. Her honor, the taxwriting committee congresswoman. Her honor, the K Street lobbyist. His honor, the 1% who contribute to vast sums to elections. His honor, many many others... We don't bother them, and so far, they don't notice us. And among ourselves, we always understand tax code perfectly well. Of course, there was that one time, we argued about who had to file the return last year, but it's all settled now, and now we don't argue about it any more.

Wife: I mailed it in, on April 14th!
Husband: I e-filed it, on April 15th!
Wife: MAIL!
Husband: E-FILE!

Extensions! Extensions! Extensions!
Extensions! Extensions! Extensions!

Extensions, Extensions - without our extensions, our lives would be as crazy confusing, as a 3.8 million word tax code!

So, who's willing to bankroll my Broadway career as the next Rogers & Hammerstein?

*Internal Revenue Code

Monday, March 17, 2014

Extraordinary Occasions - 170 Years Young

I really should post a Happy Birthday Relief Society post!  But, it's already been done better here (prosaically) and here (poetically).

Relief Society inspires me to look higher, to be better, to acquire charity. I don't live up to its theme, but I (sometimes) try. This simple video just reminded me of the simple goodness that Relief Society brings. The greatest testimony of Relief Society for me comes from associating with women who try to live it. They're imperfect and fall short, like me, but I can see the kindness and goodness that comes from living the truths of the gospel. Yep, I'm a nerd for Relief Society. Shocker.

Happy 170th, Relief Society!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Crimes in Crimea

In college, I took an international politics class, and ended up studying Iraq with a nationally recognized expert on that country. It was a fascinating time to be studying that region, as the U.S. was gearing up for war and eventually invaded Iraq a few months after I finished the class. I remember writing a short paper on why invading Iraq was a bad idea (to be fair to my powers of prophecy, I stole the idea from a Foreign Affairs article I was summarizing). I still think invading Iraq was a bad idea, even if Saddam Hussein was a bad guy. But this post isn't about America's iniquities in Iraq, or atrocities in Afghanistan, or even our long-ago capers in Cuba. Rather, it's about Russian President Putin's power grab in Crimea. Yet often, America gets accused of hypocrisy when we condemn aggression by other nations.

Living in Russia for a year and a half, I got a whole earful of ordinary Russians' world views. I learned who really won World War II (spoiler alert: not the Americans), and why things were better and more stable under Soviet rule. It opened my eyes when one girl told of growing up in the post-Soviet era 90's, awakening one day to find that prices in the stores had doubled overnight while her family's wages stayed the same. It helped me understand why people viewed the (relative) stability that Putin brought as a good thing. True, their lives weren't great, but ordinary was better than chaos.

Returning from my mission, I took a Russian culture class (which should be required BEFORE going on missions, but that's another story). In learning more about Russian culture and history, I learned about the leaders who had managed to unite the diverse and huge geography that makes up Russia. It is not easy to rule such a country, and Russians have typically favored strong leaders. They don't have much positive experience with democracy.

Yet, even knowing the background of some of Russia's world view, and allowing for my own hypocrisy in supporting American intervention in other conflicts like Afghanistan, I still feel justified in condemning this aggression by Russia. Ukraine, and Ukrainians, threw out a leader in a popular uprising. The country is working towards new elections. You should not invade a sovereign nation just because they overthrew the government that was friendly to you. Critiquing American hypocrisy is deflecting attention from the fact that Russia condemned such actions but is now endorsing them to further its own goals. Let the Ukrainian people (including the ethnic Russians!) decide their own fate.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Genial in a Bottle

One of my friends posted a thing to Facebook today about which U.S. President would win in a knife fight (Teddy Roosevelt was the article's answer). I've recently been reading "Bully Pulpit" about Teddy and Bill Taft.  I have to say I do love Teddy, but I'm surprised how much I really like Taft.  I can't say I remember much about him from history class, but he seems like a fundamentally decent guy, who was well liked by everybody. So I think Taft would talk everyone down from the knife fight, and build bridges of understanding through his genial temperament.  I wish we could bottle that and give it to today's politicians!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Today's the Day

Recently, my favorite satirical newspaper, The Onion, had an article titled "Today The Day They Find Out You're a Fraud." Around the same time, my friend made a comment that struck me - she said I appeared very confident. The comment struck me particularly because that day I had felt particularly UN-confident and incapable of doing anything right. In fact, I had felt that at any moment people would discover what a fraud and sham I was.

This correlates with a passage in Sheryl Sandberg's "Lean In," where she describes a talk she heard while in college. The speaker stated that "...many people, but especially women, feel fraudulent when they are praised for their accomplishments. Instead of feeling worthy of recognition, they feel undeserving and guilty, as if a mistake has been made. Despite being high achievers, even experts in their fields, women can't seem to shake the sense that it is only a matter of time until they are found out for they really are - impostors with limited skills or abilities."

Sandberg describes her feelings: "every time I was called on in class, I was sure that I was about to embarrass myself. Every time I took a test, I was sure that it had gone badly. And every time I didn't embarrass myself-or even excelled-I believed that I had fooled everyone yet again. One day the jig would be up."

I lack confidence, and totally identify with Sandberg's experience. But it also reminds me of what "confidence" is, which I learned by reading "This is How" by Augusten Burroughs. He states that "if you want to be more confident, you do not need to add anything to your personality or skill level. In fact, you already have too much of something. Because confidence is not the presence of anything at all. Confidence is a reduction of your own interest in whether others are thinking about you and if so, what they're thinking...Confidence is not something you feel or possess; it's something others use to describe what they see when the look at you" (This is How, pages 63-64).

That description was a revelation to me - confidence is about not worrying what people think. I have a really hard time doing that, because I want to be the person that everyone thinks well of. Sometimes I think I want to be thought of as X (generous, kind, loving, cheerful, etc.) more than I actually want to BE X. The problem with that is that I waste so much time and energy worrying about what other people think instead of actually developing X qualities. I need to STOP IT.

A scene from a Julia Roberts movie illustrates this. She's an indecisive bride who likes her eggs the way that the other people around her like them. It's emblematic of her lack of knowledge of what she wants.

From "Runaway Bride," With Richard Gere and Julia Roberts

So, get out there and decide what kind of eggs you want! Don't worry about people thinking you're a fraud, because that's just a waste of worry.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Expounding and Exhorting

Note: January has apparently been the month for me to take a break from any New Year's resolutions or re-commitment to blogging...I'm going to try to start blogging every Monday again.

At my last work training event, part of the first day was devoted to a large group meeting of everyone in my practice group in my firm - hundreds of people. The first part of this meeting was the leader of my group talking about financial metrics. He then turned in over to one of his colleagues in the leadership group to lead a discussion of some tax technical issues. She brought two other tax partners up on stage and they had a discussion about these issues and the services our firm provides related to the issues.

Not really a remarkable discussion, except for the fact that all three participants in the conversation were women. On the flight to training, I had started reading "Lean In" by Sheryl Sandberg, and so I noticed this particular moment and marked it in my mind. These women were articulate, poised, and confident. I don't know all of them, but the woman leading the discussion has a few happy, well-adjusted children, whom I've met, as she works in an office near mine. Later on, this same woman would field some very demanding questions knowledgeably, and she held her ground under some tough demands by men in the audience who perhaps had more years in the firm (she was right, by the way).

I don't share this because I was surprised that women could be articulate, rather I was reminded of some of the things I learned while reading Sandberg's "Lean In." Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this meeting was that it wasn't remarkable to the people in the room. Afterwards, no one was saying, "gosh, why did they let three women lead a meeting?" No one else seemed to notice (or care) that three women in leadership were teaching a group of men and women. It wasn't unusual or abnormal to listen to women in positions of authority. One of my favorite Sandberg quotes was: "In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders."

As a lifelong church member, I've attended many meetings in church, and it's very, very rare to see a similar meeting where women are "in charge" of a group of both men and women. Women lead Relief Society and Primary meetings, but those organizations are made up primarily of women and children (some male Primary teachers, I grant you). There have been recent attempts by the church to integrate women into the decision making structure of the church (training on effective use of councils including women voices, sister missionary leaders), but for the most part, women do not play a large part in leadership in the church. This is evident by the graph below, which was put together based on the Church's 2013 General Conference (put together by the good folks at By Common Consent, a Mormon blog).

I had never thought about it, but there is a higher percentage of male speakers at the women's meeting of General Conference than there is of female participation in the General sessions of conference. Something that some men have talked about in recent General Conference talks is how wonderful women are (see here and here for recent examples). This idea holds that women are unique, with individual gifts of the spirit and a different role than men. This is troubling to me for two contradictory reasons.

First, if it is true, then why would we not want to have more women in leadership/speaking/teaching positions in the church? If we women, as a group, truly do have unique insights or talents, why would you use only 50% of the talent given to the church? If women ARE all that you say we are, wouldn't it be helpful to hear from them more often? Wouldn't men benefit from being taught by this group of people?

Two, what if it isn't true? What if women and men don't really have demonstrable differences in our characters? In my opinion it leads to the same conclusion as the first point - why would we limit ourselves to only men teachers/leaders? It seems an unfair burden to the men and a lack of opportunity for women.

Dear reader(s), don't interpret this as a jab at men. I have known many wonderful male leaders in the church, who have inspired me by word and example. However, I have likewise known many capable and wonderful women who have the ability to inspire and teach, but have done so in smaller venues. I simply feel that women and men would be blessed by hearing these inspiring women.

I'll close with a scripture that flies in the face of Paul's advice to "let your women keep silence in the churches..." (1 Corinthians 14:34). Emma Smith was told: "And thou shalt be ordained under [Joseph's] hand to expound scriptures, and to exhort the church, according as it shall be given thee by my Spirit." (D&C 25:7). Lest you think this a role only for a prophet's wife, the Lord reminds us "and verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my voice unto all..." (D&C 25:16). Expounding scriptures and exhorting the entire church sounds like a role for women I can get behind.

Let's hear it for the girls ladies sisters! I hope to share some more insights from "Lean In" in the coming months - I really enjoyed that book.