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

Monday, May 29, 2017

Real Life

Apparently Instagram is the worst social media platform for your mental health. Who knows if that's true, but on a personal level, I do think social media exacerbates some of my worst impulses. Namely, the ability to present a picture-perfect version of my life. It also allows me to compare myself to others, who have the perfect boyfriend/husband, lovely children, cute pets, exciting jobs, etc. Underneath the surface of both my life and my friend's lives, however, the reality is less clear cut - health challenges, despair, and general messiness.

Friday night I "carpe-diem"-ed and drove several hours to my favorite theater to see the play "Goodnight Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet" by Ann-Marie MacDonald. It was a mashup of Othello and Romeo & Juliet, but thankfully with more comedy. A professor, Constance Ledbelly, gets sucked into the world of those plays and tries to prevent tragedy from occurring. One of the themes of the play is summed up in Constance's closing monologue.

Life, real life, is a big mess. And thank goodness!
Every answer spawns another question.
And every answer blossoms with a hundred different questions.
If you're lucky, you'll always feel somewhat confused.
Life is a harmony of polar opposites, with gorgeous mixed up places in between.
Where inspiration steams up from an odd Sargasso stew 
That's odd and flawed and full of gems and worn-out boots and sunken ships. 

I liked that soliloquy, because I feel like it expresses the messiness and gorgeousness of real life. Things aren't always tied up in a neat, pretty, and perfect bow. Unfortunately, it takes our willingness to be vulnerable to share that craziness with others. I don't know if social media is the right venue for that. Is there a way to do it that doesn't descend into self-pity and wallowing? Plus, there are all kinds of people that I'm friends with on social media who I don't really want to bear my soul to.

Ultimately, the play also teaches that our worst demons (along with the means of defeating them) are within us - I think that's true of social media too. If you don't already have a complex about comparison, social media probably won't create one. The mind is full of "alchemy" as the play's closing lines put it. It can turn the grey matter in our heads to gold, or to junk.

The alchemy of ancient hieroglyphs has permeated the unconscious mind of Constance L.
And manifested form where there was once subconscious dreamy thought. 
The best of friends and foes exist within, where archetypal shadows come to light.
And doff their monster masks when we say "Boo." 
Where mingling and unmingling opposites performs a wondrous feat of alchemy. 
And spins grey matter into precious gold.

So, as usual, no solutions to an insoluble problem, just my random thoughts. Politics is unbearable to blog about, so I'll try to do some posts on recent travels to NYC, Iceland, and Seattle.

(Note: All quotes based on a middle school version of the play on YouTube)


Sunday, January 29, 2017

WWJD? When Prioritizing Christians Isn't Christian

Note: I'm aware that this post falls into the category of conflating my personal views with the gospel, something I don't like when my Republican Mormon friends do it with other issues. As always, I speak for myself and my own personal interpretation of the scriptures. If you have a different view, I welcome a rational and reasoned debate about it.

So, unless you've been on a social media/news media blackout, you know that President Donald Trump (ugh, sorry. First time I've typed those words. Give me a minute...).

Ahem, as I was saying: President Trump recently signed an executive order temporarily banning people from 7 Muslim-majority countries (Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen) from entering the United States and prioritizing minority religious groups in future admissions to the U.S. President Trump has made clear that his reasons for doing this are to limit the number of Muslim immigrants to the country and increase the number of persecuted Christians who can enter the U.S.

Now, can helping Christians ever be un-Christian? In my view, yes, this currently policy is against the tenants of the Bible, Book of Mormon, and my personal religious views as Christian.

Let's start out by taking it as a given that there are many persecuted Christians whose plight is frightful. I don't in any way diminish the very real (and very horrible) suffering of my Christian brothers and sisters. They deserve our assistance and aid. However, I think in saying that they have suffered more and are more deserving than our Muslim brothers and sisters, we risk our American belief that "all men are created equal" and our Christian belief in the equality of all before God. Just because someone is Christian doesn't mean that they have suffered more than a Muslim refugee fleeing the terrors of ISIS in Syria or Al-queda in Iraq.

The Bible has numerous calls to care for the stranger among us. These calls don't excuse us from this responsibility if the stranger has a different religious view than us. In fact, Jesus explicitly taught that Jews and Samaritans, heirs to a bitter religious conflict, were neighbors and should help each other (see Luke 10:25-37).

I'd like to discuss some of the pro- and anti- immigration ban arguments and why I find them problematic, below.

Pro-immigration ban argument #1: This is temporary, and necessary for our safety while we put additional screening measures in place to ensure immigrants are not terrorists in disguise.
My Response: Refugees already undergo a rigorous screening process. In can take 2-3 years for someone to get to the U.S. as a refugee, and we can choose who we accept and reject. Further, I would argue that we can never remove all risk from the equation. Yes, we may inadvertently let in someone who may be dangerous, but this is not sufficient reason to turn away from many millions of innocent people who are suffering. A free multi-cultural society will always have risks, but the benefits of loving and helping others outweigh these risks. I would also argue that this ban is likely to play into terrorists' hands by giving them propaganda that the U.S. does hate Muslims - thus, this ban is likely to make America less safe.

Pro-immigration ban argument #2: We have already admitted too many immigrants/refugees, and we can't be a dumping ground for the world - even if I admit that we have a responsibility to help, there are limits and we can't help everyone.
My Response: Last year we admitted only 82,000 refugees (12,000 of them from Syria). This is in a population of over 300 million in the U.S., which works out to a very small percentage of our society. Germany has accepted over 1 million refugees out of a population of 80 million. Yes, there are limits to what we can do, but I would argue that we have not yet exhausted our resources of compassion and kindness by admitting only 80,000 refugees.

Anti-immigration ban argument #1: This ban does not target countries whose citizens have actually committed terror attacks against U.S. citizens (Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, etc.).
My Response: Even if it did target those countries instead of the countries Trump has banned, it would still be wrong. Unilaterally saying that all citizens of a certain nation are banned because of the actions of a few is morally repugnant. We cannot blame innocent people for the actions of people who kill them as often as they kill us (for that matter, "us vs. them" is not a good construct).

Anti-immigration ban argument #2: This ban is un-American and not consistent with our history.
My Response: Actually, this ban *is* consistent with our history - we limited Chinese immigration during the railroad expansion of the 19th century, interned Japanese during WWII, and turned away Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust. This argument doesn't acknowledge that, at various times in our past, we have not been true to the inscription on Lady Liberty to give us your poor, tired, hungry masses yearning to breathe free. We must acknowledge that our current call to open our doors to refugees *is* different than our history - we are hopefully progressing and becoming a more open and compassionate society.

Ultimately this ban will keep out translators who assisted U.S. forces in Iraq. It will keep out Syrians who fled Isis. It will keep out Yazidis who fled persecution and torture. This ban is immoral and wrong, and against what I believe this country should stand for. If Jesus were here, I can't believe he would turn away from the suffering refugees. He was one, who fled to Egypt to escape Harrod's slaughter of children.

I couldn't cover every argument, but here are some more well-written posts on this topic:
On Moral Issues and Trump and This is Not Us - By Common Consent Blog
Interfaith Letter to President Trump - Interfaith Immigration Coalition
Trump's Refugee Ban Clashes with Faith-Based Groups' Religious Mission - NPR

If you're wondering what you can do, here are my suggestions:
- Speak to your friends about this. Listen to them, and try to convince them that this ban is wrong.
- Write and call your congressman, Senators, and other representatives. Let your voice be heard in standing up to this policy. Hold them accountable if they don't act against it.
- Volunteer your time (and contribute your money if you can) to a local organization helping refugees in your community.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Thanks, Obama


At Obama's final rally before the election in 2008.
For the people reading this in the year 2050 (assuming America still exists), "Thanks, Obama" was a sarcastic meme that people used to blame Obama for everything wrong in the world. But I'd like to reclaim it and offer a sincere Thank You to the man who led us for 8 years.



I'd be the first to recognize that Obama failed on a lot of fronts. He did not succeed in uniting us, and left us in many senses divided. He was not able to get a lot of his policy ideas through Congress, due partly to Republican obstructionism but also I think partly to a lack of relationships and ability to work with others. He also presided over the loss of over 7,000 state/local level Democratic seats over the past 8 years, which means the Democratic Party has some rebuilding to do. Syria is one of the worst vacuums of foreign policy in recent years and is a humanitarian disaster of epic proportions. Obama may have excelled at the poetry and vision of campaigning, but he was not always great at the prose of governing.
Me, voting live for the first time, for Obama in 2008
Despite this, I honor his accomplishments and dignity. He never descended to personal insults with those who disagreed with him. He did work hard to make this country better, and was able to accomplish much. The Affordable Care Act expanded access healthcare to millions and likely saved lives. He worked with other countries to address the global challenges of climate change. The Obama administration was also able to reach a historic deal with Iran to dismantle their nuclear weapons program. We repealed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," allowing all to serve with honor in our military, regardless of sexual orientation. He appointed two able Supreme Court justices, both women. He worked to keep our country safe from terrorist attacks. Ultimately he spoke eloquently of the need for racial justice and gun control, despite not being able to accomplish much in the way of legislation to address these issues.
It's easy to forget how historic Obama's win in 2008 was!

Obama was far from perfect, but I think he was a good and decent man and a faithful public servant. So, for all this, Thanks Obama. Even though I know you were constitutionally prohibited from staying, I will miss you.