Today, in a sort of spiritual successor (no pun intended) to my post "God vs. Human Agency", which I recommend reading first partly as a useful foundation for this post but mostly because it will give me more blog hits, I decided to refute another thing I was told recently, that being "God doesn't tell you who to love" - with "love" there and hereafter meaning the romantic variety of love as opposed to the broader familial love that God has, in fact, told us to bestow on everyone, which I find quite impossible in practice but that's a topic for another occasion. Probably a more common statement with a similar sentiment would be "God doesn't tell you who to marry." It's not a big deal but I just like being argumentative, questioning everything and destroying assumptions that most people take for granted, so here I go doing exactly that. As with the previous one I tackled, why do we make this assumption even though it's not stated authoritatively anywhere?
Most Saints' first response would probably be something like "Because of agency." But God telling you to do something doesn't take away your agency. The whole point of agency is that God tells you to do stuff and you have a choice of whether or not to obey. This scenario would be no different. And I don't know who needs to hear this, but being asked or even required to take certain health precautions to protect everyone around you doesn't take away your agency either, so get over yourself.
But of course, there is also the true principle most famously espoused by President Spencer W. Kimball: "'Soul mates’ are fiction and an illusion; and while every young man and young woman will seek with all diligence and prayerfulness to find a mate with whom life can be most compatible and beautiful, yet it is certain that almost any good man and any good woman can have happiness and a successful marriage if both are willing to pay the price." So God could tell you who to love and/or marry without violating your agency, but it would still violate the principle that you have a world of options open to you and one is just as good as another, absolving you of the important responsibility and growth inherent in making the most important decision of eternity for yourself, yes?
Not necessarily. First of all, even President Kimball's quote hints at some grey area. I don't know how useful it is to dissect every word choice but I think he was careful to avoid making a total blanket statement. He said "almost any good man and any good woman" (emphasis added) can yadda yadda yadda. I came to realize several years ago that if I ended up getting married in mortality, I would ipso facto have to be one of the implied exceptions, because clearly I can't make it work with just anyone and not just anyone can make it work with me. Nobody's shown much interest in trying. I'm quite distinct from normal people in ways both good and not so good, and undoubtedly anyone willing to acquire my acquired taste would be as well, so that I'd have someone interesting to talk to and she wouldn't be the only one tolerating someone's issues. Yes, we're "all unique and special" and "all have baggage" but if we're being honest we all know that a few people are more unique and have more baggage than others. Michael Jackson said it best at the beginning of the "Thriller" video.
MJ: I'm not like other guys.
Woman: Of course not! That's why I love you!
MJ: No, I mean I'm different.
My mother, a big Michael Jackson fan, got annoyed at me when she showed us kids the video and I laughed at that part. Needless to say he was famous for different reasons when I was in school than when she was in school. But I digress.
For another thing, not to put too fine a point on it, but many Latter-day Saint women - and I'm not saying they're worse than men, but I'm not talking about men in this context - have taught me a lot about what I don't want in a marriage partner. I have criteria too and if nobody who meets them is willing to love me, I'd rather stay alone than sacrifice them. For example, I don't expect her political views to be identical to mine, especially as mine are still in flux, but if she's dogmatic and hypocritical and stupid about one side or the other like most Americans then it's a "Bye Felicia" from me. I also worry sometimes about the quantity of middle-aged Latter-day Saint women (and again, men, but again, irrelevant) on social media who seem to be a few fries short of a Happy Meal. Is that normal? When my hypothetical wife turns forty, is she going to lose her proficiency in English grammar and her ability to differentiate between emotionally manipulative urban legends and real life? If so, I don't think I can stay hypothetically married. Not long ago a woman old enough to be my mother told me "Your arrogance is not attractive" and I wanted to say "Neither is your stupidity" but I didn't because I'm a good Christian sometimes.
In 2013 I got a priesthood blessing for something I don't even remember now, probably insomnia, and the guy felt prompted to go off on a tangent that I hadn't asked about or even been thinking about. He said the Lord wanted me to know that I would find a girl after my mission. It was really weird and I dismissed it as an anomaly because, as I used to assume but recently spent a blog post debunking, God can't promise anything that involves another person's agency. Then it happened again with someone else, and then it happened again with someone else. Then I was preparing for my mission, and I had to meet with LDS Family Services and talk to this therapist who, apropos nothing, mused about how terrible it is to not know whether you'll be alone for the rest of your life. He didn't offer a solution, he just mused about how terrible it is. I told him God had actually promised me that I would find someone. He said I was very fortunate. But then I didn't go on a mission after all and figured even if the promise was legit, I had blown it. Oh well.
I knew those blessings couldn't all be dismissed so easily but that didn't stop me. Agency is a thing and I'm not attractive, so God is wrong, end of discussion, let's move on. There was also the small matter of my ambivalence toward marriage in the first place. I'm not like most people who feel a need for companionship and go out searching for someone to fill that need. Rather, I enjoy my solitary lifestyle and feel no desire to alter it except when I happen to stumble upon someone whose company I enjoy more than the freedom to do what I want when I want. And there are several people in this world who want to get married and deserve to get married but won't. So why, I wondered, didn't God make this promise to one of them instead? He or she would appreciate it a lot more. I don't need it. I can cope with being alone for the rest of my life better than most probably can.
In 2017 I fell really hard for a coworker who set the bar for all prospective spouses going forward. Before her, I had decided who I liked on a case-by-case basis; after her, I knew exactly what I wanted and couldn't be satisfied with anything less. But she had a boyfriend on a mission and was already planning on marrying him when he came home. I calculated that if I had gone on a mission myself and then started working there when I came home, I would have met her a year earlier, before she decided to wait for him, and maybe I would have married her instead. Maybe, I realized, she was meant to be the one for me, but I used my agency to screw it up. Last year, nearly six years after the first anomalous blessing, I got another one that actually was love-related this time, and the guy promised that my alleged wife and I will both know that it's right. Not necessarily in a "love at first sight" way, though, as he also said something about "whether you've already met her or not." I appreciate God's helpfulness in narrowing it down to those two options.
By this point of course it was obvious that God had someone specific in mind, and that none of the women I had considered over the years was her. One could, in an attempt to preserve agency, split hairs and insist that this obvious meaning isn't the actual meaning, that the future event of a marriage is set in stone but the other party involved is subject to change. But to my mind that's a logical impossibility. Either both aspects are set in stone or both are subject to change. It's not like God is saying, "You're such a nice guy, I'm sure you'll find someone or other, and I'm so confident in that probability that I'm willing to risk a universe-destroying paradox by potentially making a liar out of myself after I state it as a fact."
This past January, a fifth guy gave me a blessing because I was nervous about an emergency dental appointment with no insurance, and he went off for like ten minutes with all these completely unrelated glorious promises and encouragement, which I would have chalked up to him being insane if he hadn't told me to keep writing even though I'd said like two words to him before that night and "I'm a writer" wasn't one of them. He told me that soon (whatever "soon" means to Mr. "a thousand years is one day") I would hold hands in the temple with a daughter of God. He said she's broken like me but we'll be together we'll be a powerful force for awesomeness and stuff. And maybe a normal person would have gotten excited but honestly, this was a mere couple weeks after my already pathetic love life had exploded in spectacular fashion beyond my most paranoid imaginings, and my first thought was Are you -----ing me? I have to fall in love again? And then he said some words that seemed to be God's direct refutation of my worry that I'd already blown it, but were also quite jarring in light of the Church's teaching that predestination is not a thing. He said, "Nothing can stop it from happening."
Well, all right then. Agency shmagency. I acknowledged once and for all that God's promise was legit even though it made no sense.
For a week or so, starting with the receptionist and the hygienist at the dentist's office, I couldn't help looking at every potentially available woman and thinking, Is it her? It could be anyone. How on Earth will I know? It made me not like myself and I got tired of it quickly and stopped thinking like that. If nothing can stop it, then my lack of specific action can't stop it, so there's nothing to stress about. But - and not for the first time - I grew just a bit resentful toward God too. So He's just bouncing me around like a pinball from learning experience to learning experience, shunting me toward the predetermined destination that is the woman He already chose for me? Do I get any say in any of this at some point?
So I've tried to figure out how this makes any sense and I think I've found a much more satisfactory answer than I did to my last existential query. In response to the question "I know we don't believe in predestination but does Heavenly Father already have someone picked out for us to marry?" the website Ask Gramps expressed a viewpoint that makes perfect sense to me: "Were we foreordained to be someone’s child? Someone’s spouse? Someone’s parent? That is a question that can only be answered between you and God. I tend to think that it is a very real possibility for a lot of people (but maybe not all). That being said, we need to be careful that we do not take this possibility and twist it into a form of predestination. With all foreordinations, the people here and now have to make that choice to bring it to pass.... But please note that 'Soul Mate' is not the same as 'Foreordained Spouse' (assuming that is how it was set up and yes I just made that term up) even though there can be quite a bit of overlap. The first robs agency. The second is subject to agency."
This distinction is important in light of the fact that some people in and out of the Church have recognized "the one" immediately. Examples that I'm personally aware of:
Mr. Dubray, not a member of the Church, saw someone for the first time, said to himself "I'm going to marry that girl" and did. At the time I attended his wife's dance school they had probably been married at least thirty years.
Brother and Sister Myler from my childhood branch both knew on their first date that they were going to marry each other, which made it really awkward.
Wain Myers, author of From Baptist Preacher to Mormon Teacher, wrote the following on his now-defunct website: "I was about thirteen years old and one night I had a dream about this girl. Now I know what you’re thinking; what thirteen year old boy doesn’t dreams about girls. But this was a different dream, the feelings I had in this dream where so strong and so profound, that I woke up with one mission; to find this girl. I couldn’t see her face in the dream; I saw only the back of her as she walked in front of me to school. But the feeling I got from her was so gravitational, that I looked for her for years after that dream. Actually, I never stopped looking for her, but I only had the image of what she looked like from the back. It never dawned on me that instead of looking for her that I should be feeling, for her until that very moment.
"I was mesmerized and not only could I not take my eyes off her; I didn’t want to take my eyes off her. As I looked at her, I heard the voice of my Father say 'that’s your wife' in a sweet gentle voice. I said to my Father 'how is this?' He said 'the wife you chose is not who I chose for you, this is the woman I chose for you!' The feeling was the same as the feeling I had in my dream and I knew my Father was right. I said to my Father 'well, if she is my wife, I think you need to tell her because she does not look like she wants to hear it from me!'"
Rod, in the comments of the aforementioned Ask Gramps post: "In my experience we have promised partners. The gal I'm sealed to knew instantly I was who she came to earth to marry. The missionary who baptised me knew she was my Eternal companion as soon as he met her. I'm a little slow. It wasn't untill after she passed that I received a confirmation. Simply ask, would you come to earth to marry a stranger? I don't think so."
Elizabeth Gibson, also in the comments: "I never know what to say about any of this. I am a convert and was never raised to believe in soul-mates or that the Lord would put two people together. I'm not really sure what a soulmate means. However, I have had two great spiritual experiences in my life, the first one was how the Lord led me to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the second was how he led me to the husband after telling me very specific things about him in order to recognize him when I found him. At the time that all of this happened, I did not know that the apostles and some prophets had spoken out against the idea that the Lord had specific people for us to marry. I had never heard of pro or con about it. However, over the years since I have married my husband, I have had a bishop who was told that he had promised in the pre life to marry a certain woman. I've had a friend whose father was told prior to meeting his current wife that he was to look for someone specific to the Lord's Direction. I have known a handful of people who had similar experiences to mine. I don't know why the Brethren teach that you can marry any fine person and it doesn't really matter as long as they are faithful. If you Google it, you find all kinds of quotes that what happened to me cannot possibly happen. But it did happen and it's one of the biggest spiritual experiences I ever had. To deny that would be to deny my testimony or how I found the church."
Even no less an authority than the late President Thomas S. Monson said, "The first day I saw Frances, I knew I’d found the right one. The Lord brought us together later, and I asked her to go out with me."
Oh, and what about Adam and Eve? What are they if not definitive scriptural proof that the concept of foreordained spouses was true for at least two people? Even taking into account the obvious reality that they were not literally the first and only homo sapiens on the entire planet at that time as traditionally portrayed, it's pretty obvious that they were meant to be together. I sort of winked at the possibility in my irreverent little satire of creationism, but for real though, imagine the awkwardness if Adam had said, "Eh, thanks, God, but I don't think she's my type."
This sort of thing may be more the exception than the rule. Certainly if everyone had a foreordained spouse, it would only take one wrong marriage to set off a chain reaction that ruined the system for millions of people. But this phenomenon is clearly a real thing. And explaining it via the premortal existence preserves both agency and the importance of making the most important decisions for oneself. I am convinced that the reason God has someone specific in mind for me is that she and I already chose each other a long time ago, and He is simply honoring that decision. I am convinced that as long as He directs our lives to ensure that our paths cross at the appropriate time, He knows that we'll both know that it's right and will use our agency to be together, because somewhere beneath the veil of forgetfulness our hearts will both recognize that we already fell in love a long time ago. To me that's the only way this promise and this apparent divine usurpation of our decision-making authority makes any sense.
Please don't mistake any of this for the unfortunate incidents at weird places like BYU when someone, usually but not always male, tells the unfortunate object of their affections "God told me that I'm supposed to marry you" or "I dreamed that I'm supposed to marry you" or whatever and just expects them to accept that. In cases like the ones mentioned above, obviously both spouses still needed to make their own decision. In my case, with the way the Spirit speaks to me, I don't actually expect to ever have an abrupt revelation on the matter like one of those, and even if I do, I probably won't dare to believe it unless God opens a literal conduit of light above her head and plays "Unmistakeable" by the Backstreet Boys. If I find someone that I think is maybe probably my foreordained spouse, either we'll get married and prove me correct or we won't and prove me wrong and that's all there is to it. The right situation will fall into place without coercion and the wrong one can't be forced into place by any power on Earth or heaven.
Now I don't know if anyone is still reading but I'm not quite ready to shut up yet because the actual statement that sparked all this was not "God doesn't tell you who to marry" but "God doesn't tell you who to love." And in the short term those aren't necessarily the same thing. Most people have to fall in love a few times before it works out, which can be essential to developing important attributes like patience, humility, selflessness, and post-traumatic stress disorder. I don't know how many times I've been in love because really, what is love? Yeah. No, I don't know why you're not there. I give you my love but you don't care. So what is right and what is wrong? Give me a sign. What is love? And where's the line between like and love? For the purposes of discussion I'll pretend like it's always love because feelings are subjective anyway and you can't prove me wrong.
In May of last year some General Authority or other hosted a YSA devotional about the importance of dating and marriage. Nothing I hadn't heard and rolled my eyes at before. At that time I was not dating, trying to date or looking into the possibility of trying to date, but for whatever reason I decided to obey the counsel of my church leaders, take a leap of faith and make a little bit more than zero effort. All I could bring myself to do for a start was talk to a coworker I thought was hot. I talked to her during break, and she was nice and stuff but I immediately thought, "Wow, she's so young, we have nothing in common." It only cost me ten minutes that I could have been listening to music, so I didn't regret it, and for all I know I changed her life forever when I asked what she wanted to do and she said she didn't know and I asked what she was passionate about and she said she didn't know and I said she should find out and do it. Then that evening I talked to another woman from my ward. I should have paced myself.
By taking these steps of obedience, I think I opened myself up to divine guidance that I never asked for. A couple days later, I noticed another coworker who was in my stake and had been on a different shift during the school year. I didn't know why I noticed her when I thought she was utterly plain-looking. She came to my station to do quality control and here's one of those many times when I only recognize the Spirit's voice in hindsight. The Spirit said, Talk to her. And I thought that was myself thinking and I just thought back to myself in response, Meh, I don't really feel like it. The Spirit said a little more insistently, Talk to her. So I said something like "Hey, you're in my stake" and she said something like "Oh, cool" and the conversation would have fizzled out right then. The Spirit said, Ask her name. I didn't care what her name was, but I asked and she told me. I thought, What an unattractive name.
To make a long story short, she soon became a lot less plain-looking and I fell pretty hard. Almost from day one it stressed me out and cost me hours of sleep every night, and it turned out to be completely not worth it. She was not at all the kind of person I built her up in my mind to be. She was such a waste of my time and so unworthy of the emotion I invested in her that I couldn't even chalk this up to a learning experience, because, you know, every bad thing that happens to you is supposed to be a "learning experience". And I got about as angry at God as I've ever been because this was, of course, all His fault. He pushed me into this situation that I never asked for and then sat back to watch me struggle and fail no matter how hard I begged Him for help. If He had just left me alone, I would have avoided a lot of unnecessary and pointless suffering. So in a sense, God did tell me who to love.
I stand by my initial assessment that this was not a learning experience in any meaningful sense, and I think that phrase is kind of a bullcrap copout as often as not, but I think maybe I can kind of see the reason for it now.
At Summerfest I ran into this guy from her ward that I knew a little, and ended up hanging out with him and at least a dozen other people until like one in the morning. So most of them knew her and for whatever reason, the topic of conversation kept coming back to her and what did I like about her and when was I going to ask her out and so on. I bonded with these people over her, added them all on Facebook in large part to boost my credibility in case I ever got around to adding her on Facebook, and continued texting and hanging out with some of them throughout the summer. One of them was my friend Terrah. When I was forced to move for the third time that year and didn't have a new place lined up this time, and of course procrastinated until most places were full because apartment hunting is less fun than choking on a fork, I turned to Terrah for help. Despite being six years younger than me she was/is a far more functional adult and graciously agreed to call place after place after place on my behalf while I sat next to her being useless. For this act of service I felt as though I should fall to my knees and wet her feet with my tears of gratitude.
Then she called the company that owned the place where she was staying, and they said that a few guys in a few places were selling their contracts, and as I previously mentioned, when they listed the place where my friend Steve lived I was more than happy to take it. Also as previously mentioned, this exciting fresh start turned into a nightmare and I don't yet understand its purpose, but still it's obvious to me that this is another example of God weaving disparate threads together to direct my life whether I like it or not. If I hadn't wasted my time on that girl I wouldn't have gotten to know Terrah much if at all, and she wouldn't have gotten me here. I still think God in His infinite wisdom could have found an easier way but whatever.
This is God bouncing me around like a pinball. And maybe it doesn't matter in every instance who I bounce off of or in what order, so long as it hurts sufficiently. Maybe in some instances God doesn't care who I set my affections on and, if I bothered to ask for His input (which I typically haven't), would say "Grow up and make your own decisions." But with hindsight I'm positive He hand-picked the most significant ones for specific reasons whether I asked for them or not. Again, the paradox is that He seems to have directed virtually every moment of my life despite my ostensible freedom to make my own decisions, and I haven't developed a better explanation for it since that post, but what I'm getting at is that in any given scenario where I feel drawn to love someone, I won't likely have any clue going into it whether she is or isn't "the one" (and obviously the results have been 0/100% on that thus far), but I may discern with a high degree of confidence that God wants me to love her and that if I do, I'll be blessed by the experience even though I'll probably hate most of it.
Anyway, when His promise is kept, the entire world or at least everyone who's ever met me will have no choice but to fall to their knees and confess that there is a God.
A little over a week ago, the Utah Area Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sent out an email that relieved some people, put some people in their place, and upset some people.
"Dear Brothers and Sisters:
"We are in the midst of a global pandemic unlike any the world has experienced in more than a century. The effects of this escalating health crisis are being felt everywhere, with incidents of COVID-19 infection rising dramatically especially in the United States, including in Utah. Latter-day Saints are not immune. Just today, more than 800 new infections were reported in our state.
"A growing chorus of medical authorities has confirmed that the simple wearing of a face covering when in public and when social distancing is not possible will significantly reduce the spread of COVID-19. This is true both indoors and outdoors.
"We note with appreciation the care exhibited by our members in returning to sacrament meetings wearing face masks. Now we ask all Latter-day Saints in the Utah Area to be good citizens by wearing face coverings when in public. Doing so will help promote the health and general welfare of all.
"We are most grateful for all you do to minister to one another and to your neighbors. Please join with us now in common purpose for the blessing and benefit of all.
Elder Craig C. Christensen
Elder Randy D. Funk
Elder Walter F. González
Utah Area Presidency"
Utah was singled out for the obvious reason that it's been breaking its own record for new daily infections at least twice a week, in no small part owing to the great number of people in and out of the Church who continue to go about their lives as though the virus didn't exist. It's pretty embarrassing that this request had to be made. And I do recognize that it's "just" a request. And when I continue to see people at church without masks I'm going to continue to not give them dirty looks or call them apostates to their faces or try to shame them in any way. I follow this same conduct everywhere else, though I move away from them if they sit near me on the bus and I don't particularly care if that hurts their feelings or in some cases makes them think I'm racist. There is wisdom in the advice, "When you see someone not wearing a mask, assume they have a good reason and that it's none of your business." Of course, this assumption disintegrates pretty quickly when you try to apply it to >90% of the people in the grocery store at the same time.
Not harassing individuals about wearing masks in public doesn't mean, however, that I'm going to pretend conspiracy theories, pseudoscience, and individualist narcissism constitute a legitimate alternative perspective. It doesn't mean that I'm going to pretend selfish and stupid decisions that actively place countless people in danger are entitled to respect. And it doesn't mean that I'm not going to call people out when I see them on social media trying to explain why the letter is wrong and/or trivial. This is not about "believing differently", regardless of how empirically false said beliefs are. If you want to "believe differently" that the Earth is flat and aliens are coming to probe your dog, I don't care because that doesn't place me or anyone I love in harm's way. I'll leave you alone. This is very different.
So of course in the past few days people have in turn called me out for mask shaming, being the real problem, being a bully, being un-Christlike, and worst of all, being the j-word. They have correctly noticed that I'm not the nicest person in the world, but may have been less astute in observing that Christ criticized pretentious idiots all the time and frequently called people unflattering names (e.g. swine, dogs, hypocrites, whited sepulchres, generation of vipers, Satan). One even said, "It's judgmental people like you who make good people leave the Church." I have news for him: if this were my church, which it is not, I would excommunicate these "good people" myself to stop them from embarrassing me further, at least insofar as I could given that they would still embarrass me by being Americans. So nice try guilt-tripping me and better luck next time.
I wonder why some of them are members in the first place. I don't believe in blind obedience, I don't believe any church leader is infallible, and I don't look down on anyone for the mere fact of struggling to accept certain teachings or policies. I struggle to accept a few things myself. But this church claims to be led by revelation from God, and if you actually believe that, it's both arrogant and nonsensical to immediately reject every teaching or policy that contradicts the views you already hold. If you already know the true mind and will of God so perfectly, I don't know why you need to be here. By all means be that way if you want - it's a free country if you're white - but don't expect me to not find it annoying when you preach your bastardized version at everyone else. The same people rejecting the Utah Area Presidency's request have also criticized the Church for supporting LGBT rights legislation, saying we should treat immigrants and refugees like humans, prohibiting guns in its chapels, and partnering with the NAACP. They also call out the church-owned Deseret News whenever it publishes an article or opinion piece that doesn't cater to the right-wing bias they think should be the default worldview, which is often.
A common theme in the current anti-masker dismissals is that this request "only" came from the Utah Area Presidency and wasn't signed by the prophet. (The bishop in the ward I attended last weekend read the email out loud and said at least twice that it came from the First Presidency. I'm not sure if he was somehow mistaken or just fudging the facts to make people take it more seriously. That wouldn't exactly be ethical, but oh well.) Really, I'm not even sure what to say to anyone who's deluding themself that President slash Doctor Nelson isn't aware of this letter and in full agreement with its message. From the beginning he has treated this virus as a very serious matter and called on members of the Church to be good citizens and follow government mandates and the medical community's recommendations. Some people who claim to believe he's a prophet simultaneously believe this virus is no worse than the flu and/or an election year Democrat hoax that every country in the world is participating in for some reason. The mental gymnastics are astounding. And even if he did sign this, they might still say he's wrong like they did when he donated to rebuild mosques in New Zealand.
Even though the letter makes no mention of government or laws, which wouldn't make sense anyway since Utah's Republican government isn't requiring masks and that's part of the problem, some of the anti-maskers are still whining about their "agency" or "liberty" or "rights". Here we see the truth: that being asked to voluntarily take on some inconvenience and discomfort to protect the people around them, the neighbors that Christ commanded them to love, upsets them just as much as being coerced to do it. The truth is, living in a society with other people comes with responsibilities as well as rights. It's about time anti-maskers got over themselves and recognized that fact. I saw someone say in response to the letter, "I have no desire to be a 'good citizen', or at least not someone else's idea of a good citizen." I told him to go live in the woods by himself. This narcissism - I keep using that word because it's really the most appropriate word - is almost exclusively American and it's about as compatible with the gospel of Jesus Christ as motor oil is with ice cream.
But that doesn't stop anti-maskers from trying to justify it through the gospel. Agency, our inherent ability to make our own choices, is so important and sacred that God won't take it away from us despite the incalculable suffering we cause with it. So they start with the false premise that liberty is the same thing as agency and reach the false conclusion that it trumps all other virtues all the time. (For some reason they idolize Captain Moroni, a Book of Mormon character who imprisoned people without trial and put them to death if they refused to support his army, but that's neither here nor there.) Thousands of preventable deaths and the collapse of our healthcare system do not, in their view, negate their God-given right to not wear masks. Of course, they also frequently point out that most deaths don't count because people over sixty or with pre-existing conditions aren't really people. That's if they believe the virus is real or dangerous at all.
Also, this happened the other day, well after the Area Presidency's email, with so-called Latter-day Saints obviously constituting the overwhelming majority of anti-maskers involved. It made national news. If it doesn't disgust you, it should.
This particular incident really triggers me because some of the people I love most in the world, people I would do anything for, are teachers, and the thought of them being willfully and deliberately placed in avoidable danger by these mindless monsters who hold them in contempt makes my blood boil very much. I disagree with one point though - Utah is clearly not better than this.
Ahem. Where was I?
Yes, this is a request, and nobody will face any ecclesiastical consequences for disregarding it. And if one isn't a total jackass about not wearing a mask, one is technically not in apostasy. So here's where I risk getting into actual judgmental territory, as opposed to my previous territory that people think is judgmental but actually isn't. I'm not purporting to know anyone's standing before God but I think these are very important points to consider. Do you imagine God views it positively or negatively when someone splits hairs and looks for excuses not to follow His appointed leadership? And again, what sense does such a decision make just because they asked instead of demanding? If they're wrong about this when it's a request, they would still be wrong if it were a mandate. They would still be wrong if the prophet signed the email. And if that were the case, I suppose the Church could still be led by revelation in other things that don't contradict your politics, but it would seem kind of silly to follow them if they're so easily duped by something you think you can debunk with a few minutes on YouTube.
Good thing they're not wrong. Too bad so many are ignoring them anyway.
I feel bad because I don't know how long it was there and I only noticed it when I stepped on it with bare feet, but somebody left a yellow flower at my door a few days ago. Such a vague little gesture that I can't even guess at its meaning, and yet it must have one because its placement was clearly premeditated because my door is separated from the sidewalk by at least two meters and a fence. Nobody could have dropped the flower there by accident. They could have flung it, perhaps, if they were walking by with it and something startled them, but that seems contrived. Only like five people still in Logan are supposed to know where I live, and I can rule out three of them, leaving one or both of my next-door neighbors who hate me as the most plausible candidates. Maybe I have a stalker, but I couldn't begin to guess who that would be when there isn't currently a single woman at work or church that I've ever had a conversation with. If someone is stalking me based on my looks alone she's in for quite a disappointment.
Of course, I'm not assuming any romantic intent behind it since I don't know what intent was behind it but that would still be weird if a guy did it so I'm assuming a guy didn't do it. I looked up the symbolism of yellow flowers specifically: joy, sunshine, friendship, new beginnings. But was that level of thought put into the color scheme, or does all the intended symbolism rest in the plant genitals themselves regardless of detail? Anyway, I put the flower in a bottle of water and left it outside but it died quickly. I laid it to rest on the concrete lip around my doorway. It disappeared. Either an animal that eats dead yellow flowers but not grass wandered through, or whoever gave it to me took it back. I've kept a casual eye out for that type of flower growing anywhere around here with no success so far. It was either purchased somewhere or plucked a considerable distance away. Since I didn't have the foresight to get a picture of it, you'll have to take a leap of faith and trust me.
A few days later, someone left me cookies, and I reached a logical conclusion and got all excited that my stalker was stepping up her game. But then one of the five people still in Logan who are supposed to know where I live admitted to leaving them just as a random nice gesture. How was I supposed to know? Who does that? So the mystery of the flower remains. Dear flower giver, if you read this, I was just kidding when I called you a stalker. Don't be hurt by my lack of reaction or response, as there was really nothing I could do when I have no idea who you are or what the little yellow flower was supposed to mean. Please feel free to keep leaving stuff or doing whatever else you have in mind, unless you're a guy. It's fine if you just want to be friends but it would still be weird if you're a guy.
An even more surprising but more easily explained surprise came in the form of an email from Debbie, whom long-time readers of this blog will remember from a long time ago. I've been thinking about her periodically since she is in large measure responsible for the direction my life has taken and it just makes me wax philosophical about how events build on each other and how God brings things about and so on. During the summer of '16 she often texted me in the evenings to say I could come over, so I dropped everything and rushed over and we sat on the balcony outside her apartment and talked. Then her neighbor Steve usually came home from work while we were talking and she invited him to join us. I kept my feet propped up on the third chair hoping he would take a hint, but he wouldn't. As things turned out I remained friends with Steve long after Debbie and I parted ways, and he stayed in the same apartment complex, and last year when I found out someone was selling his contract here I jumped at the chance to be his neighbor, changing wards for the first time in seven years and embarking on a fresh start that so far has been an epic disaster. But I know God wanted me here for some reason.
Anyway, the email was full of feedback that I had long ago accepted I would never receive for the book manuscript I sent her fifty-six months ago, back when I used to send it out to people who said they would read it and then didn't. I hadn't actually asked for any feedback but she gave me some for the first chapter and it was so brilliant that I knew I needed her to critique the whole thing before I dared try to publish it. And then she just got busy and stopped. And then almost a year later when she broke my heart she tried to cheer me up by telling me she'd started reading it again, and that was the last I heard of it until just the other day. My first reaction to the email was "Holy crap" and my second reaction was embarrassment that she read such an old draft. I've learned a lot and done plenty of revising since then and compared to my current draft, the one she has in her possession is garbage. I'm not even sure how much of the feedback is still applicable. Do you see, Debbie? I moved on. I got stronger. I don't need you anymore. In all seriousness though, it was great to hear from her.
Fifty-six months. I had to check the math again because I couldn't believe it.
This is a nostalgic time of year already, even more so than usual for me, because today I've been in Utah for nine years. Nine years is almost ten years which is a sacred number to humans. Usually 7-Eleven celebrates the anniversary of my arrival by giving out free Slurpees but it's canceled this year because I've written one too many controversial things. As ridiculous as this will sound coming from one who just turned twenty-seven, the passage of almost a decade makes me feel very old. Because in human terms, not getting into the geological timescale where our existence as a species represents only a couple minutes, a decade is a freaking long time. For the overwhelming majority of us it's more than a tenth of the time we have on this planet. Often much more. In my case, I've felt for a long time like I'm going to die in my early forties, and that may just be wishful thinking on my part but I do know I haven't got a chance in hell of making it to ninety unless medical science advances sufficiently to replace every organ in my body. Which it probably will, but I won't be able to afford it because I live in a country that thinks healthcare is a privilege.
Barely out of high school, I embarked on the nightmare, I mean adventure that is adult life. I wasn't nearly as afraid as I ought to have been. As year after year has gone by I've experienced more pain than I could have imagined, much of it caused by my own mistakes that I still get to suffer from long after I've learned from them. I've grown into a different person and all that jazz. If I could go back and speak to that naive little boy, I would offer the following advice:
- Don't procrastinate.
- Don't stay up until two in the morning just because you can.
- Don't seek unhealthy coping mechanisms when you feel isolated.
- Don't isolate yourself by withdrawing from the people who actually care about you.
- Pay attention to your bank balance and email inbox.
- Don't be so dogmatic and inflexible about politics.
- Don't fall in love.
- Always pay rent on time.
- Talk to your academic advisor regularly.
- Avail yourself of the counseling services on campus that you already paid for.
- Don't be afraid to talk to the registrar's office, professors etc. when you screw up and need help. That's their job. They're not going to yell at you.
- Don't be afraid to stand up for what you believe in.
- Don't be so dogmatic and inflexible about religion.
- Seriously, don't fall in love.
- Participate in as many clubs and activities as you can before, I don't know, a global pandemic cancels all of them. Hypothetically.
- Communicate with people who are pissing you off instead of harboring silent resentment.
- Don't work at a call center in a misguided attempt to boost your confidence.
- Don't eat too much candy.
- White privilege is real, and racism in the United States is much worse than you think it is.
- Be patient with yourself even when it seems like nobody else is.
- I'm not kidding. No matter how hard it is, don't fall in love.
Wow. I can't believe I just wrote something like that without being sarcastic. But the real treasure was the friends I made along the way. And lost. I've lost a lot of them, too. Most of the Facebook friends I met in the dorms my freshman year have unfriended me by now. But the random girl who politely declined to be kissed by me at True Aggie Night has stuck with me for all these years, and that counts for something. The girl I actually did kiss unfriended me after a few years though.
Nine years from today, I hope to be typing away at my latest upcoming bestseller, watching my dogs play in the surf beneath the glorious sunset over Bora Bora, Tahiti, a smile on my face as I think of all the money in my bank account. My wife Felicity Jones is half a world away making another Star Wars anthology spinoff prequel Disney+ exclusive series, but that's okay because one of the few things I love more than her is Star Wars. Though admittedly it's been a little less interesting ever since we made contact with actual aliens and learned the secrets of interstellar travel. At first they tried to annihilate us, but it was just a relief to finally face enemies we could actually see instead of another global pandemic, and then they apologized and we let it go because we were screwed if we kept fighting anyway. Felicity's and my adopted alien children have all grown up (they have a short life cycle) and dispersed to three far-flung solar systems which we rotate between for Easter, Christmas and St. Zarquon's Day. Most of Earth's tourism is now siphoned off to the improbable single-biome tropical planets, which is how I got this prime piece of real estate in Tahiti for so cheap, even though I could have paid a lot more because I'm loaded.
If people kneeling on a piece of fabric to protest against police officers murdering people with virtual impunity pisses you off to your core, but police officers murdering people with virtual impunity doesn't - which we all know is a pretty safe assumption to make about the kind of people sharing this kind of meme - you need to take a really, really long, hard look at your priorities. Because they're wrong.
Look, I personally would never disrespect an American flag like this, but it is a symbol, and a symbol is not more important than human lives, and enough is enough. Again, my apologies to the world for taking longer to get pissed off to my core about systemic racism and police brutality, but I'm young and naive and millions of others have no such excuse. This should have been addressed long before now a lot more than it has been. People have been protesting for a very long time and people like the kind of people who shared this meme have been ignoring them for about as long, except to sometimes complain about how they're protesting the wrong way, and why can't they be nice and gentle like Rosa Parks, even though she actually broke the law and thus according to your arguments elsewhere the police would have been justified in killing her on the spot. If pissing you off to your core is the only way to get you to acknowledge them, I'm not going to pretend I have a major problem with it.
I never wanted to become one of those evil liberals who hates America. But on this Independence Day, I can't help but think we don't deserve to celebrate and it's just as well the you-know-what has ruined the larger events. It's not that I don't recognize how blessed I am to live in this country. I do. It's just that I don't feel I have a right to just sit here and be grateful for that fact while millions of others in the same country are not so blessed. The United States has always been great for some people... and terrible for many others. And we recognize that. We acknowledge how various demographics who aren't straight white rich neurotypical Protestant males have been treated through the years and we say "That was wrong, but we fixed it, and we're not perfect but this is still a great country." But all those people for whom it wasn't and isn't a great country are more than caveats or footnotes of history. They were and are living, breathing human beings with hopes, dreams and fears as real as mine.
Was the United States of America a great country when it was built on stolen land by the horrific oppression and abuse of black people? For some people, yes. Was the United States of America a great country when black people were segregated, discriminated against at every turn, and regularly lynched? For some people, yes. Is the United States of America a great country now when black people daily experience the systemic racism embedded in its very fabric, and are disproportionately incarcerated for non-violent crimes and murdered by police officers? For some people, yes. And those people have the luxury of pretending these problems aren't relevant to anything anymore, and getting annoyed when others complain about them. I have that luxury but I'm choosing not to use it. (Make no mistake, things are hardly perfect for me either, but I think my white male privilege usually outweighs my asexual autistic non-privilege. Un-privilege? Anti-privilege?)
And for another thing, the astonishing level of narcissism from those who purport to love this country the most has absolutely floored me in the last few months. I mean, if you know me at all you know I don't have very high expectations for humanity to begin with, but I've just been shocked. And this is almost exclusively an American problem. I refer of course to the people throwing temper tantrums about having to wear masks in public spaces because they think they have a God-given constitutional right to not give a damn about anyone but themselves. They make me sick. Voluntary natural selection is one thing but when your self-worship is an active danger to this entire country and especially its most vulnerable, I have a problem with you. Look, I'd rather just catch the thrice-damned virus and get it over with too, but I'd like to avoid giving it to anyone else if I can help it because, all appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, I'm not a sociopath. I also have this radical belief that people over sixty and people with compromised immune systems matter. Kind of like you would if you actually meant it when you say "All Lives Matter", instead of just saying it to dismiss and invalidate the grievances of black people.
And for another thing, this country's fundamentally broken healthcare system is an international embarrassment and a crime against humanity. I don't doubt there are spots reserved in hell for many of the people running it who place their love of money above human lives. People who make insulin impossible for diabetics to afford (just as one example) are every bit as much murderers as the cops who killed George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Atatiana Jefferson, Botham Jean, Stephon Clark, Ronnell Foster, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and many others. American healthcare is not a minor shortcoming, it's an abysmal, inexcusable failure that ruins and cuts short thousands of lives. I hear sometimes from Americans that the universal healthcare systems in other developed nations are worse, but mostly what I hear from the actual people in those nations is how grateful they are not to live in a country where an ambulance ride costs thousands of dollars and GoFundMe is an insurance provider.
And for another thing, this country has a chronic mass shooting problem that other countries don't share. Now because I acknowledged that fact, some will jump to the conclusion that I want to ban all guns everywhere even though I said nothing of the sort. I merely pointed out that this country has a chronic mass shooting problem that other countries don't share. Many Americans insist on pretending that this is just a price we have to pay for freedom, that the children and other civilians murdered or scarred for life are acceptable collateral damage of the Second Amendment, that there's just no way to prevent this problem that other countries aren't having. So in the wake of every mass shooting they fall over themselves to blame mental illness, violent video games, atheism, and other factors that also exist in other countries where mass shootings are almost nonexistent, and doing whatever they can to ensure that nothing changes and mass shootings continue to happen. Granted, closing elementary schools and prohibiting large public gatherings seems to have drastically reduced the problem in recent months. This conveniently allows us to focus more on police murdering black people instead.
And for another thing, the laughable political system and voters of this country chose a vulgar, narcissistic, misogynistic, rabidly xenophobic, pathologically dishonest, senile toddler as its public face and dictator, I mean president. I don't share the belief of some that his being given an office for which he is in no way deserving or qualified suddenly makes him entitled to respect he's done nothing to earn and has never shown anyone else. On the contrary, his being given an office for which he is in no way deserving or qualified makes the office itself as much of a sick joke as he is. It's an entirely artificial, manmade office. It was never sacred and now it's not even admirable. Of course, the polarization and rhetoric of American politics, the deep-rooted fears and prejudices that he exploited to obtain that office, and the decades-long erosion of constitutional checks and balances that leave him with almost unlimited power are much broader problems of which Mr. Trump is only a symptom. The kind of symptom that makes one think, "I should really, really see a doctor about this but I can't afford to because I live in the United States and my insurance won't cover it."
Of course I realize virtually all parts of the world have historically sucked and many are still worse than this one. People just suck. The Founding Fathers had a pretty low bar to step over. The cognitive dissonance I'm experiencing now is a taste of what I've long imagined Germans must feel, living as they do in one of the best countries in the world that, within the lifetimes of some still living, did some of the worst things imaginable. (Of course, eugenics was invented in the United States, not Germany, and remained alive and well here long after Hitler blew his brains out, but never mind that.) Last year Rammstein released a song titled "Deutschland" that grapples with this cognitive dissonance beautifully, and though its simple lyrics mention no specifics one can probably guess what they're referring to even without the video that I decided against embedding in this post because of its graphic but probably justified artistic choices. One recurring perfect line summarizes everything: "Will ich lieben und verdammen" - "I want to love [you] and damn [you]." Couldn't have said it better myself.
I guess the love I have for this country is like the love you have for a family member that you know perfectly well doesn't deserve your love but you have to give it anyway because DNA. I was born and raised here and I'll be here for the foreseeable future and that's that. But if I really love this country I must want it to be the best it can be. It may have spectacularly failed to live up to its founding ideals of equality and justice for two hundred forty-four years - okay, there's no "may have", it has, period, but those of us who live here should never give up on trying to make the reality match those ideals. That - not deifying a piece of fabric - is true patriotism in my book. It means using our God-given constitutional rights to vote, speak out, and yes, protest. If it also means kneeling on a flag now and then, I'm not going to condone that as such but I'm not going to pretend it pisses me off to my core either. Besides:
Now, to lighten the mood and give this country some credit for at least trying, I'd like to share for at least the third time another Rammstein song, this one far less ambivalent in its approach to issues of national concern. "Amerika", as the name suggests, is a love song from Germany to the United States, a heartfelt tribute to the global proliferation of the rich tapestry of American culture and beneficence that is in no way snarky or satirical at all. You all know that snark and satire piss me off to my core.
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"I don't know how well you know Christopher Randall Nicholson, but... he's trolling. You should read his blog. It's delightful."
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, so you can't, unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.