Today is, appropriately, the anniversary of my most popular blog post last year. The bar for that is pretty low, but it still made me happy. So here it is again: Newly Discovered Ancient Document Sheds Light on the Origin of Our Species
I hadn't been to Institute for two semesters because although the organization was taking appropriate health precautions, I knew for a fact that most of my potential fellow students were out having large social gatherings with no masks on a regular basis. Now I'm vaccinated so it's fine. I even had prolonged exposure to a Covid-positive neighbor a week before my vaccination reached full efficacy and nothing happened, so after all this time I can finally relax and stop thinking about the potential life-ruining long-term side effects that an infection might have on my brain. I missed the first couple weeks of "Jesus Christ and the Everlasting Gospel" due to my visiting family. I've taken this class twice, as I've taken every class that interests me at all, but I still have great need to increase my relationship with and faith in Jesus Christ. It was a powerful experience the first two times but it wore off after a while.
I'd never even seen Rand Curtis before and didn't know what to expect. When I came in and saw on the screen "Lesson 4: The Creation", I got a bit queasy as I flashed back to past experiences with this topic in Institute classes. Listening to teachers who know nothing about evolution mock evolution while I sit there with the expertise to know it's real as surely as I know the sun shines has never been a pleasant experience. The last time was a few years ago, and the Institute faculty may have caught up with the last century of scientific discovery by now, but I just didn't know what to expect and it was kind of tense.
So he kind of started off with a painting of a primordial-looking Earth with Jesus flying above it looking pretty epic with his hands and feet angled toward it as if to say, "KAZAM!" He made us talk to our classmates and discuss what we think the creation of the Earth may have looked like. I told my partner that I accept the scientific account of the creation of the Earth, so I think it took a really long time and if you floated there and watched you wouldn't notice anything happening. (Granted, if you timed your observation just right you might see the hypothesized planet Theia crash into it and knock off the big chunk of debris that later became our moon, which would be almost but not quite as epic as Jesus saying "KAZAM!") I phrased my opinion as inoffensively as possible, as if accepting science were only one of many possible options. My partner kind of nodded and accepted that.
Brother Curtis then had a slide that showed a diagram of the Earth with its layers, and a timeline of its scientifically established history starting at the north pole and going around its circumference. I wondered, did he put that up there just to dispute it? But he reassured me very quickly. "Was the Earth created in six days?" he asked the class. I kind of went "Eh" as if to say "I don't believe so, but you can believe what you want." But he answered his own question like, "No! But a thousand years are as one day to God, so was the Earth created in six thousand years?" And I kind of went "Eh" again. But he answered his own question like, "No!" And he had a spiel about the ultimate compatibility of scientific and religious truth, and he spoke against checking your brain at the door of a religious classroom and suppressing secular knowledge or the questions it raises. Stuff I've read and written ad nauseam, but a welcome surprise anyway. He basically straight-up said that the Earth is 4.6 billion years old. That was more than I could have hoped for. I get so tired of people pretending that if the Church doesn't have a position on something, any view on the subject is equally valid regardless of basic facts and common sense.
Granted, I had another teacher, Kurt Reese, who said that the Earth isn't 6,000 years old and then said "If anyone here believes the Earth is 6,000 years old, I'm sorry... that you're bad at science." I guess that counts. But he wasn't teaching about the Creation per se - it was a church history class and we were talking about Joseph Fielding Smith's ridiculously fundamentalist readings of scripture, and he liked to joke around and tease like that in general. He would tease you for being from Colorado or being a Democrat even though one of the points he tried to hammer home is that you can, in fact, be a Democrat and still be worthy. He went so far as to imply that it's okay if you observe rampant poverty on your mission and come home feeling "pretty disgusted with capitalism". And he's a Republican himself, but not the evil kind. Where was I going with this? Anyway, his discussion of the age of the Earth was cool and all but not quite as impactful in that context. Maybe I was just desensitized to his heretical teachings by that point in the course.
Brother Curtis pointed out that on this little Earth history timeline, dinosaurs don't seem so ancient anymore, and human history was too brief to even show up. And then he said three incredible words - "Fifty million years." Not phrased as a question. Oh boy. The Earth itself is one thing, but this strikes at the very heart of some people's spiritual identity. Of course, it's the sort of perceived chronological discrepancy that some Latter-day Saints think they can just handwave away with suggestions like "wE dOn'T kNoW hOw LoNg AdAm AnD eVe WeRe In ThE gArDeN." Yeah, whatever. They're the only two people in the world, they can't have sex, literally nothing has been invented yet, and I'm supposed to seriously consider for one moment the possibility that they just chill in the Garden for, say, the entire time that dinosaurs are roaming around elsewhere? Nuh-uh. I give them three months before they eat the forbidden fruit as an attempt at suicide.
His next slide showed a bunch of skulls of our ancient evolutionary cousins and ancestors - either that, or just skulls of people who think Derek Chauvin should have been acquitted. He asked if we have room for these people in our view of the gospel. I discussed with my partner. Yes, we both did. Cool. But Brother Curtis overheard someone say "It doesn't matter how we got here, just that we're here" and called him out on it because that kind of intellectual apathy "won't make us like our heavenly parents." Brother Curtis was very big on intellect. Most religious teachers are in theory, but it's another thing to actually be so in practice and not the type of person who starts sentences with "I love science, but..." He did say he wasn't going to get into all the details of how he worked out science and religion together, which is fair, but I wish he hadn't just said "I find no physical evidence for a flood covering the entire planet a few thousand years ago. None" and left that for us to grapple with. I think the story of Noah is much easier to reconcile than most people give it credit for. I don't know why so many are locked into this false dichotomy that either the flood covered the entire planet or it never happened.
Speaking of heavenly parents, that was a big thing with him. He always said "heavenly parents" where most Saints would just say "Heavenly Father". I don't think he said "Heavenly Father" one time. In fact, in one of his slides he had written "Heavenly Father" and read it as "heavenly parents", which suggested to me that perhaps he, too, just recently had a feminist awakening. These small and simple vocabulary replacements are a huge step toward promoting true gender equality in the Church, showing women that they, too, have a significant eternal destiny and role model, and really leveraging one of the greatest doctrines that separates us from the mainstream Christian world and by all rights should be shouted from the rooftops, not treated as an open secret.
Since this was a ninety-minute night class, we then had another lesson, which was about commandments and stuff and not nearly as interesting because science, but still good. Yes, commandments can change; no, Jesus did not drink grape juice. Brother Curtis remained an engaging and effective teacher but tried a little too hard to relate. He shared that he still hasn't mastered the don't-looketh-upon-a-woman-to-lust-after-her thing. He said, "I'm old, but I'm not that old." TMI, my dude. But I'll let that slide. His whole perspective on things was such a breath of fresh air as I've grown so disillusioned with the rampant stupidity and willful ignorance that sometimes make me very embarrassed to be a believer. It's above and beyond what I've come to expect from an Institute class. He even expressed his gratitude for the LGBTQ community. The experience had me looking at him like
I hope my classmates don't complain and get him fired.
A couple of videos he shared which I'd seen before but were worth rewatching because space:
I was glad to teach at the college level because I thought I could never teach kids. Now I realize I basically did teach kids. So young, so naïve, so many dumb mistakes that made me think "What part of this is complicated? Oh wait, I've done worse." I must try to keep my patience and compassion with me as I grow older and more jaded and they stay the same age.
On my second day of teaching I felt like I needed to fake my own death so I could quit. Two semesters later, has it gotten better? Yeah. It's been all right. I don't know what else to say. Not amazing, not terrible, probably the best job I've ever had. I didn't discover a secret passion for this line of work that I never would have considered if God hadn't told me to, but I turned out to be better at it than one would expect. I had virtually no experience (though at least, unlike some of my colleagues, I had a bachelor's degree in the subject I would teach). Then they gave me a week of training and a frightening amount of autonomy, assured me that they knew it would be really hard, and set me loose. Of course I had a practicum the first semester and plenty of more experienced people to help out. One of them said at one point, "If a week of training doesn't feel like enough, that's because it's not. Ideally you would've had a full semester."
To most of the students, though, I was just another professor even though I wasn't a professor. My position framed me as an "adult" and an authority figure even though I'm less than a decade older than most of them. I think it made my nervousness and incompetence less obvious. Such blind faith they placed in me! At the same time, some of them were chummier with me because of the age gap. One in particular liked to talk to me about Star Wars as if I were just one of his buddies. I had no problem with that. I tried to relate to them, too, by bringing up my own school experience past and present. I warned them against my mistakes. I said I couldn't tell them not to procrastinate because I'd be a hypocrite, but be careful about it. While making them write research papers, I told them about my own research paper on Legos and gender for Folk Art and Material Culture. I know some of them with Republican parents rolled their eyes at me behind their deactivated cameras, but this is academia and they'd better get used to it. I felt really bad for them getting screwed out of their freshman year, so I tried to give them opportunities to talk to each other, and I told them someday they can tell their kids they lived through this.
Filling fifty minutes could be a challenge sometimes. I had sometimes just a sentence or two telling me what to teach, and I could teach it in five minutes and then what? I had to think of discussion questions and videos and activities and whatever to fill the time. Typically I went in with a paragraph or so of notes and tried to generate a lot of discussion and go along organically with whatever my students said or asked. It was interesting this semester to compare and contrast my first and second classes. Typically the second one went smoother because I'd already had a practice run. I learned this principle in large part from taking Scott Irwin's Institute of Religion course on marriage three times. I saw how he kind of followed a script but could still improvise and always feel spontaneous. All three times, he went off on a tangent telling stories about his grandfather until the class was roaring with laughter, and then he waited for them to calm down, got a confused look on his face, and said "Was there a point to all this?" That set everyone off again. You had to be there.
But I didn't want useless filler or busywork. Maybe now that I've gained in confidence I'll start introducing additional material altogether. One of my colleagues straight-up ditched the ethos pathos logos stuff, considering it a waste of time. I'm not brave enough to do that. I tried to emphasize skills and principles that will benefit them no matter what they do in the future. I don't think I've had a single English major in my classes yet. I tried to teach them to think, to overcome their own biases and blind spots and respectfully engage with other points of view. If I succeeded, I made them smarter than most Americans and they may save our civilization someday. Though I kept my personal views to myself for the most part, I frequently used American politics as an example of how not to do constructive discourse.
Next semester I will replace the Zoom broadcasts with in-person meetings but keep the online content, because I like it. Teaching in person frightens me but I think it will make discussions easier and smoother, and it will be nice to know what all of my students look like. I'll miss the chat and screen sharing features, though. Also, it will be on Tuesdays and Thursdays now, so ninety minutes instead of fifty, and still two classes back-to-back. For now I'm on vacation and trying not to think about the scary future too much even though it will be here before I know it. Granted, it might not even happen because I might get fired. A couple weeks ago I said something rude to a racist maggot on Facebook and he claimed to have screenshotted it and sent it to "your boss." I'm sure he wouldn't lie about something like that and I'm sure my boss just hasn't gotten around to doing anything about it yet. I'm not sure who my boss even is, though. There are like five people in various positions who could be considered my boss, but none of them tell me what to do very much. I'm not sure the best person to reach out to if you want to get me fired in a hurry. I'm impressed that the maggot figured it out so fast.
I also got this cool certificate earlier this week - it doesn't confer any rights or privileges on me, but it gives me a warm feeling.
So speaking of arguments, you know where I wish it was more acceptable to express disagreement? Church settings like Sunday School, institute classes, and Come Follow Me groups. Of course, there's no rule as such within my faith tradition against vocal disagreement, but there is a general attitude of let's all get along and not cause any "contention" that could drive away the Spirit. Sometimes this means that one person says something that everyone else in the room knows is insane bullcrap, but they all just kind of smile and nod and try to move on as quickly as possible. I was in an Elders' Quorum class once where a guy asserted that homosexuality used to be good because it prevented overpopulation, but now we don't have to worry about overpopulation because we can go to other planets, so now homosexuality is bad. The teacher just kind of smiled and nodded and tried to move on as quickly as possible. You have to pick your battles. I didn't like that guy until he gave me a candy bar and then I felt guilty for not liking him.
I experienced this myself when I filled in to teach a Sunday School lesson and a lady who was there for some reason despite being too old for a YSA ward made some comment, I don't remember precisely what, about the need to turn to God instead of the internet for knowledge. I personally get a little exasperated at people belittling "the internet" as if the source medium itself somehow invalidates the accumulated knowledge of humankind found therein. Yeah, it also enables the proliferation of lots of stupid made-up crap, but if you have a few brain cells and some common sense, you can usually tell what's what and find the internet a mind-blowingly useful tool for gathering information. So trying to constructively build off this lady's comment, I agreed and noted that the Holy Ghost can help us find sources and discern which are reliable. No, she insisted, we need to rely only on God, not manmade sources. The slightly manic look in her eyes advised me that pushing the issue would be futile. For the record, though, I think what she said was idiotic. I see little or no reason why God should tell you anything via direct personal revelation that you could find out yourself with a Google search.
Before the you-know-what canceled everything, I participated in and sometimes led a Come Follow Me group in the stake that I'm not even a part of anymore. And I enjoyed it but there are a few times I wish I could have critiqued what was being said. I could have, I suppose, but it would have ruined the illusory atmosphere of everyone agreeing with everything anyone in the group said because we're all part of the same church and that means we believe the same things. So I'm going to go on record with my disagreements here instead.
1. We were talking once about how death is just a step in the Plan of Salvation and not something to be sad about because we'll all be resurrected someday. The people in our group over sixty talked about how they weren't sad at all when their parents died at ripe old ages after living full lives. Everyone seemed to regard those examples as representative and sufficient proof of the point at hand. My parents (and grandparents for that matter) are still alive, so instead I thought of, but didn't mention, a friend of mine whose twenty-something brother was crushed to death in a workplace accident a couple years ago, leaving behind two very young children who probably won't even remember him. Everyone in this friend's ward tried to tell her it was okay because she'll be with him again someday. She found this so insensitive that she stopped going to church.
It's okay for death to be sad. Some deaths, in fact probably an overwhelming majority when the circumstances of most of the world's population is considered, are untimely, unpleasant and unfair. And knowing that you'll be with someone again at some unspecified future date doesn't mean you can't or shouldn't miss them here and now. Remember when Lazarus died in the Bible and, quote, "Jesus wept", close quote? Even though Jesus knew full well that Lazarus was going to be resurrected someday? And even though in this instance Jesus brought him back to life maybe five minutes later at most? He validated Lazarus' sister's mourning by mourning with her. He acknowledged that no matter who you are or what you know, death is meant to be sad.
2. The guy leading the discussion mentioned an incident here in Utah a few years ago where a teenage girl was shot in the head and left in a ditch by two teenage boys. She survived and made a remarkable recovery from her severe injuries. Most people regard this as an inspiring story. But this guy said that in court, when the boys asked for forgiveness, both the girl and her father were like "I hate you and I hope you're never happy again." How awful, the guy said, that now these boys have to live with that for the rest of their lives. What I said was nothing. What I wanted to say was "Are you -----ing me?"
Yes, we're supposed to forgive everyone, but that doesn't mean everyone deserves to be forgiven. If she had forgiven them, it would have made an inspiring and faith-promoting story precisely because they were scum and didn't deserve it. But because she didn't, I'm supposed to feel sorry for them? I'm supposed to feel bad that they have to live with the guilt of being attempted murderers? Maybe they could have avoided that by, I don't know, not shooting someone in the head? In fairness, I don't think they should have to live with that for long either because I think they should have been fed to wolves. But that's beside the point. Anyway, I know he didn't relate this story to be judgmental, but still I think it's out of line to bring up someone else's failure or refusal to forgive something that any normal person would find really really hard to forgive. It's not my concern or my problem. God will deal with everyone involved as He sees fit.
3. Any time someone says something like "I love science, but..." I brace for them to follow up with something stupid that makes a liar out of them. In this case, though, I was pleasantly surprised at first. The girl talking made a legitimate point about the built-in limits of scientific knowledge and the dangers of scientism (though she didn't use that term). And she made a legitimate point about the uncertainty principle limiting how much we can know about the universe whether in principle or practice. But then she went full-on god of the gaps. She said her faith is strengthened by how much we don't know, and scientists still can't explain dark matter so that proves God exists. She lamented that scientists refuse to let God be part of science or taught in schools even though they can't prove He doesn't exist. I'm paraphrasing from memory but that was basically it. I mentally decided that I would never try to date her.
One of the senior missionaries chimed in, "So we didn't evolve from pond scum?"
Everyone else: *chuckle at those silly scientists who are so dumb they think we evolved from pond scum*
Okay, first of all, we know a lot more than we used to and we're going to know a lot more in the future than we do now, exponentially more in fact, so basing her testimony even in part on what we don't know at this current moment in time is stupid. Maybe scientists will figure out dark matter and maybe they won't, but how awkward will she feel if they do? Does she assume dark matter is by its very nature inexplicable in terms of the physical world? Does she think it's just magic?
Henry Drummond explained why this way of thinking is stupid more eloquently than I could, so I'll just let him take it from here: "There are reverent minds who ceaselessly scan the fields of Nature and the books of Science in search of gaps - gaps which they will fill up with God. As if God lived in the gaps? What view of Nature or of Truth is theirs whose interest in Science is not in what it can explain but in what it cannot, whose quest is ignorance not knowledge, whose daily dread is that the cloud may lift, and who, as darkness melts from this field or from that, begin to tremble for the place of His abode? What needs altering in such finely jealous souls is at once their view of Nature and of God. Nature is God's writing, and can only tell the truth; God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all."
On top of that, she contradicted her own legitimate points. As she pointed out, science has limits and can't explain purely spiritual things or the meaning of life. Why, then, does she think it should incorporate God directly into its theories? To plug the gaps, right, but you can't have it both ways. As she pointed out, they can't prove He doesn't exist, and that's precisely why they avoid the question altogether. Science deals with things that can be falsified. It tests them over and over again until they're proven wrong. If the theory of evolution by natural selection is not true, that can be demonstrated (though of course, no matter how much creationists try to pretend, it has not been). If God's existence is not true, that cannot be demonstrated. If scientists searched every molecule of the observable universe (which they can't) and failed to find Him, they still couldn't be sure He wasn't hiding in another galaxy too distant to reach, or another plane of existence untouchable by our human senses and instruments altogether. Keeping God out of the laboratories and schools isn't an attack on religion, it's just the way legitimate science has to be done. If He didn't want that to be the case He wouldn't have gone the whole "faith" route.
Of course, my overall experience in this Come Follow Me group has been quite positive and I hope for it to resume in the near future, but that's not nearly as interesting to blog about.
Look at me, persevering to bring to the world this post that nobody asked for even though my laptop battery is well and truly dead. I actually am impressed that my Asus Vivobook has lasted three and a quarter years, which is about two years longer than any of my previous laptops from three different brands, and that's even considering I spilled Tang on the keyboard in January 2018. And also, the motherboard or hard drive isn't even fried like in my last three laptops, so I should just be able to get a new battery and be good to go.
The first thing I did for Halloween was the annual North Logan Pumpkin Walk. It was a walk with a bunch of pumpkins.
Then I went to a meeting of USU's Asian Student Association where they talked about scary stories and urban legends from Asia. I saw it on Facebook and went for the scary stories and urban legends, not realizing it was a standard weekly meeting, but now I have to keep going back because they were all super nice and stuff. Okay, so the scary stories and urban legends are unsettling just to think about, which is obviously the point, but they're not real. But then we transitioned from just talking to watching YouTube videos, and then this adorable Vietnamese-American metalhead wanted to watch something about "the Hello Kitty murder", and she kind of neglected to explain that this was not an urban legend but a real life event. If you don't know what it was, I highly recommend not looking it up. It's the sort of thing that I was happier not knowing had ever happened to anyone anywhere at any time. But this girl kept a calm, pleasant smile on her face throughout the video. Sicko.
I didn't dare say this, and maybe it's a stupid thing to say now either, but I noticed right away that she looked virtually identical to the victim, at least as far as I could see from the little black and white photograph, and she's about the right age to maybe possibly have been conceived around the time the victim died, and as I said her interest in the story was a little unsettling... so I'm going to pretend I believe in reincarnation because that's cool.
Another real-life YouTube video we watched had to do with the haunting of the U.S.S. Forrestal after a horrific fire that killed 134 people. Personally, I have no problem accepting the many accounts at face value and believing that this haunting is legit. Ghosts and hauntings will probably never be scientifically verifiable but I don't think all the stories and eyewitness accounts throughout the world over the years can just be dismissed with a skeptical wave of the hand, and in this case, there are many such accounts. What makes it unsettling for me is not the persistence of life beyond the grave as such, which I accept as a basic tenet of my religion, but the way these spirits met their demise and how traumatized they must have been if they were still stuck haunting that ship for decades afterward. Burning alive or choking to death are horrible ways to die. Nowhere near as horrible as the Hello Kitty murder, which I highly recommend not looking up, but still not a joyride. And many of those sailors were probably draftees who didn't even want to be there.
Prior to the Logan Institute of Religion's "Scream Fling 2019", they solicited suggestions to update their stale music selections. The guidelines of acceptable suggestions specified no profanity, even though "Cha-Cha Slide", which has played at every LDS dance I've been to since 2007, has a swear word in it, at least according to American English and nowhere else (see a recent post on that topic). They also specified no references to immoral behavior, even though "Macarena", which has played at nearly every LDS dance I've been to since 2007, is almost entirely about immoral behavior. I suggested some songs, and then I had to go to the dance to see if they implemented any of my suggestions, which spoiler alert, they did not. They played a few of their old songs, a few fresh and catchy new songs, and a lot of forgettable crap.
For those who weren't around the last time I did so, allow me to once again list my favorite dance moves.
The "George McFly"
The "Salacious Crumb"
The "Clone Troopers"
The "Obscure Peanuts"
The "Aman Mathur"
The "Emo Phillips"
The "Wayne's World"
The "The Cheat"
The "Italian Schoolgirl"
The "Russian Riverdancer"
The "What is Love?"
Because most of the music was forgettable crap, though, and because yelling small talk at a stranger for three minutes isn't my idea of a good time, I ended up laying on a couch looking at my phone. There my friend Terrah and her sister and one of their guy friends found me and made me take a picture with them. Then we left and walked home, with Terrah's sister making judgmental comments about the slutty costumes of the girls going to the university Halloween party, and the guy friend making pervy comments about same. I hit on some guy in a bra as he passed by, and he invited me to his apartment later. But we went to Terrah's apartment and played "Truth or Dare", and then around 10:30 we decided to get food, spent about twenty minutes deciding where to eat, settled on Wendy's, and returned to Terrah's apartment, and about this time I was yawning and thinking how nice it would be to go to bed, but the consensus of everyone who wasn't me was that we should watch a horror movie, and I felt like I should stay up for that because social life. Yes, I regret it today but I'll be dead someday regardless.
I'm not really into horror movies. The only ones I've seen are "Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds", "Little Shop of Horrors", "Poltergeist", "Sleepy Hollow", "The Chipmunks Meet Frankenstein", "The Chipmunks Meet the Wolfman", and "The Star Wars Holiday Special". Perhaps it's because, as the Hello Kitty murder demonstrated, many horror movies are too realistic for comfort and not the sort of escapism I have in mind when I look for escapism. The movie we picked, "When a Stranger Calls", (2006 version), is a story that technically could have happened in real life even though it didn't. Serial killers exist, cell phones exist, and incompetent parents and law enforcement exist. Too realistic for comfort.
Yet I was pleasantly surprised to find it more unsettling than scary as such. I found myself viewing it through an objective, analytical lens as if I had seen a thousand of these movies. (Spoilers alert) Okay, so there's going to be a bunch of jump-scares that are actually false alarms, and Jill probably isn't going to die because then this movie would just be depressing and nobody would like it, and the killer is no longer scary when he reveals himself and gets angry because then you know he's no longer in control of the situation, and why are they acting like Rosa's body in the fish pond is a surprise when we all saw that coming forty-five minutes ago? Also, Hulu made us watch five to seven commercials every five to seven minutes, increasing the movie's runtime by at least fifty percent and effectively preventing the suspense from getting too suspenseful. Next time I will happily chip in three bucks to skip those.
Admittedly, it was a nice touch that the killer was literally just some random white male with no motive, backstory or name given. You only see his face briefly but you can tell he's pure evil because he has a scar. The most unsettling part by far is the very end when, despite an ostensibly happy ending, Jill is in a hospital bed with her parents and the doctors trying to calm her as she screams and thrashes around and hallucinates that he's after her again. Yay for our protagonist getting possibly lifelong PTSD. It's pretty unfair that teenage girls are always the victims in these movies. I mean, not that an adult would deserve it either, but at least with her fully developed brain she would have a better chance of processing the trauma. To say nothing of the kids, though at least they survived, unlike the original movie. But what Jill should have done is keep stabbing the guy with the fire poker once she had him down, until he was well and truly dead. Then she never would have made eye contact with him and she would probably have fewer hallucinations.
I know I keep saying "unsettled" or "unsettling". I'm not trying to be all macho by claiming that these things don't actually scare me as such. They don't, but plenty of other things do. I experience soul-crushing terror on at least a weekly basis. It's just usually instilled by more mundane things like seeing my crush at church or laying awake in bed at night and suddenly thinking in vivid detail about what it would feel like to fall out of an airplane. These other things unsettle me because they remind me how permanently uncomfortable I am living in this crapsack world of pain and injustice, but what can you do?
I want to give a completely unrelated shout-out to an old friend of mine and some guy I don't know, who recently started a podcast dedicated to Star Wars in general and Knights of the Old Republic in particular. Check out their first episode here:
It's always interesting when a discussion on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' former ban on priesthood and temple blessings for people of African descent partially morphs into a discussion on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' severely deficient dating culture, as happened recently in the comments section of a blog post about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' current circumstances and future prospects in Brunei. At least I say it's interesting because then I can copy that discussion and save myself a lot of effort. Selected comments follow.
First, some guy named Tony complained about President Nelson not apologizing for the ban when he spoke recently at the NAACP convention. Many people think the Church should apologize, but for whatever reasons, it hasn't and at this point is probably never going to.
[C]hanging your mind later doesn't make up for the tears, heartache and pain. I lived in London before the ban was lifted and there were quite a few black members. We had black women married to white men. He could go to the temple do his endowment. She couldn't and couldn't be sealed to him or their children! Can you understand that heartache and pain? While we went to priesthood meeting the black male members had to sit outside! While we went to the temple and served missions they couldn't! While we had many different callings they were restricted to Sunday school president or teacher! Can you comprehend how that made people feel. I sat with people who broke their heart because they were good members but because of their skin colour they couldn't be full members!No retro fitting of history changes that trauma but an apology would help!
Then this guy Johnathan chimed in and I was very impressed by what he had to say.
With all due respect, I can to a degree understand that pain. I am not a black person, but I am a single man in his late thirties. Because of my single status, I've been denied visiting my nieces and nephews in primary and made to wait outside due to the teachers thinking I'm a "weirdo" or a "pervert" due to my single male status. I was released from my calling in the young men leadership as soon as a new bishop was called, because that bishop was prejudiced against me due to my single status. Before the release, he would sit in our classes, micro-manage and interrupt each time I would try to speak, despite the fact I was trying to bear testimony or share uplifting experiences from my mission. This same bishop refused to allow me to go on a temple trip to Manti with my own teenage nieces and nephews, not because of any worthiness issues on my part, but because in his own words, having me as a single adult man in his thirties on the trip would be "innapropriate."
He's not the only bishop or congregation to treat me this way, either. When I was 33, I went to the closest YSA ward I could find to my house (I had just moved) and was rudely told I didn't belong there due to my age.
The Stake President's wife in my current stake asked me if I needed to have a worthiness interview with her husband because I had made the offhand comment that I, "wasn't in a huge hurry to get married."
As a YSA and an older single adult, I've been handed pamphlets from prophets and apostles condemning me for being single - accusing me of not having my priorities straight, not being eternally minded, being lazy, shiftless, or a "menace to society." I've sat through lectures from Institute teachers, Bishops, Stake Presidents, and Apostles and Prophets during the Priesthood Session of General Conference accusing me of being unworthy, sinful, not honoring my priesthood, etc., simply because of my social status, and not based on the actual thoughts and intents of my heart.
For years, these experiences taken together filled me with bitterness and anger towards the church, and severely tried my faith. However, through a long difficult period of personal reflection, prayer, and scripture study I've come to realize a few things:
One is that you can't sit around waiting for other people to apologize to you (no matter how justified you are in your position). As a follower of Christ, your first responsibility is to love your enemy, bless them that curse you, do good unto them that despitefully use you. Jesus didn't say, "Refrain from doing good until you've managed to cast the mote out of someone else's eye." We know what he did say, and it involves changing the mind and the heart of the one person you have control over - yourself.
On my mission, when Elder Eca from Nigeria was handed a copy of the Church News pertaining to the 25 year anniversary of the 1978 revelation on the priesthood, he bore his testimony about it. He served in the inner city in Louisville Kentucky, and he was constantly asked about the priesthood ban.
"I don't care. We didn't have it then, but we have it now, and that's what matters."
The 1978 revelation is retroactive, as is the Atonement of Jesus Christ. All who didn't receive the blessings who are still living can now go to the temple and be baptized and be sealed. We have African and African Americans who hold the priesthood now and are serving as general authorities of the church. And all who died before receiving these blessings will receive them by proxy through temple work. This is stronger than a verbal apology. This is action to right the wrongs of the past. Besides, Christ himself already made the ultimate apology, he apologized to the Father for all our mistakes, including the mistakes made by our leaders. All of these injustices are swallowed up in His infinite Atonement.
Then Dane, the resident tough guy, offered a word of caution.
Johnathan: While I admire your turn the other cheek attitude, I also hope you haven't become a doormat in putting up with these types of behaviors. There is nothing inherently wrong in standing up for yourself and sometimes in life, it is essential to do so lest you begin to lose your mind. Too often in life, and particularly in the Church, things get swept under the rug.
Johnathan took the advice in stride.
Very true, and I appreciate your concern, too.
While I do believe there are times to turn the other cheek, I recognize there are times to defend oneself, also.
However, one of the main things I'm wary about in myself (or in others who have been wronged) is developing a victim mentality because of the injustices performed against us.
A few years ago, I had a bishop who I felt was being unfair with me. He'd cut me off when I'd speak to him, wouldn't let me elaborate or explain my situation, and only gave me questions in interviews that I could answer with, "Yes, sir!" I got tired of that behavior after a while and made clear to him that he was being manipulative. He apologized, and respected me after that.
Recently, regarding the bishop I mentioned in my previous comment who wouldn't allow me to go on the youth temple trip to Manti, I confronted him about his treatment of me (and others in my ward who had special needs), as well. Unfortunately, he is a military person who acts constantly like, "It's my way or the highway." I was so upset with him for a while that I actually was worried that I might get in a physical fight with him. I can be a fiery tempered person, and so I have to watch myself and my temper.
After a lot of consideration, prayer, and talking with family and friends about what to do about the situation (I was prepared to take my concerns to the stake president or higher), the words of a scripture I'd memorized years earlier kept coming back to me:
"The Lord shall fight for you and ye shall hold your peace." (Exodus 14:14)
I felt that I needed to step back, forgive the man (let go of all the anger I had towards him - despite the fact that he wasn't changing his behavior as fast as I would have hoped), and see how the Lord would handle it.
Fortunately, that story has a happy ending (at least for now).
About six months ago our Stake boundaries were rearranged and I was placed in a different ward from him. That solved my problem, but I was still worried about other members of his ward (some who were friends of mine) who had also had problems with him. Luckily, he was released (two-years early) from the bishopric about two months ago. I had also found out through the grapevine that some members of the ward were possibly taking their case against him to the church's legal department, which may have lead to the release.
Yes, sometimes we need to fight, and other times it's better to follow the example of Zion's Camp, where we initially think we have to fight, but really the Lord is testing our patience and wants us to "Stand still, and know that I am God."
For every bishop and ward member who has been a jerk to me, I can name other bishops or ward members who've been kind or friendly or considerate. And I've even seen some of those jerks come around and let go of their old prejudices through time and patience.
I'm not saying that what happened with that last bishop of mine will happen in every case of a leader we disagree with, but I do advocate for taking each scenario one at a time and turning to the Lord for specific answers.
Perhaps feeling a tad guilty for splitting the discussion in half, Johnathan brought it back around in his next comment.
One thing I forgot to mention was how the Priesthood Revelation has affected me personally.
Because of it, I'm now sealed to two members of my extended family with black heritage: a cousin-in-law from Nigeria, and a sister-in-law from Brazil (who has probable African roots, as well as probable native-indian Brazilian roots).
Additionally, I've dated African and African American women in the past (both named Keisha, coincidentally), and wouldn't be against someday marrying a black woman if I happen to meet one I'm compatible with.
We could have all left it at that, but I I wanted to express some empathy and camaraderie to Johnathan. Dating is utter garbage. Dating in the Church of Jesus Christ is, if possible, doubly so. (Every YSA acknowledges this. It's just that most of them think it's worth it for the chance to get married, but I don't.) And I could have spent a couple hours writing a tirade against it, but I exercised restraint and tact instead. I'm occasionally capable of that.
There is a horrific double standard in our culture. When a man in single, it's his fault and he should be condemned. When a woman is single, it's a man's fault and she should be pitied. What if we all minded our own business?
That set him off again, and it was glorious. Not because I reveled in his discomfort, but because he gave our culture a piece of his mind that it so, so richly deserved. And yet he was so calm and articulate.
Very true. And I'm well aware of the disparity between how male and female singles have been talked to and treated for years in the church.
I've heard all women praised from the pulpit for being beautiful, lovely, of good report and praiseworthy, or being sweet spirits, whereas the same speaker has cast doubt as to there being any single man living his priesthood to be worthy enough for them.
I've had a bishop who would excitedly welcome ever single woman in the YSA ward with a big hug (as if they were his granddaughters), but when I walked up to talk to him and introduce myself, he kept his distance and stared at me like I was a drunken hobo who'd wandered in from the street. And that's not just the first time I met him, that happened on several occasions while I was in his ward.
I had a Stake President sit us all down as an Elder's Quorum and give us a lecture about how it was our duty to "date every girl in the ward." Not taking into account the individual worthiness of these women, or the strength of their testimonies, or whether or not they had any social skills, or dressed or acted in a way to attract the opposite sex, or were good conversationalists, or whether or not any of us had chemistry with them at all. To clarify, this was not a ward where dating wasn't happening. This was a typical Idaho Falls YSA where dating and marriage were happening all the time, and I was a prolific dater in the ward. When I didn't have a steady girlfriend in that ward, I was still asking someone out at least once a month. But we still got the blanket sweep of, "You need to be dating all these sweet spirits, you lazy slobs!"
And it wasn't just from the leadership, either. I and some other men in the ward had a conversation with three of the ladies where they told us their perspective was, "Every woman deserves to be chased." (Not "chaste," but "chased.") As in, pursued by suitors. Yet, these women were themselves picky. I later asked all three of them on dates at separate times: one stood me up; another went with me to a movie, then never spoke to me again; and another went with me on a date, then didn't speak to me again for months (luckily, she and I became friends a lot later, but she did end up marrying someone else). And they were picky with other men, too.
To be fair, though, it hasn't always been condemning the men. I've heard talks (particularly from institute teachers) where they've said, "If none of you single people (men and women) make it to the Celestial Kingdom, it'll be your own fault!" And another where a man got up and chastised his daughter (who wasn't present), for dumping the boyfriends he thought were perfect for her, so in his mind that meant she now had to "settle."
This benevolent/not-so-benevolent sexism isn't nearly as pronounced in my ward, but it's present, just as it always has been as I've grown up in the Church. We did stop saying "Ladies first" at linger-longers, a commandment that I started ignoring anyway, so that's progress.
I bring these things up, not to condemn these leaders or teachers, but to point out an interesting phenomena I've noticed in the church. I call it the "parents' goggles" or the "grandparents' goggles." Many single people out there will know what I'm talking about. Your parent or your grandparent or your bishop has been happily married for decades, so all they remember now is the good times they had courting their sweetheart, and the happiness they've enjoyed since that union. They've completely forgotten all the heartache they went through from being rejected, stood up, having their love unrequited, or all the searching and struggling they had to do before they found someone compatible for them (and who the Lord also approved of). Additionally, many of them were young in a time period where dating had a more universally accepted social-infrastructure. The rules were clearly set out. The man courted the woman by doing such and such, and the woman either accepted or rejected by doing such and such. I'm not saying it was a better system - just that the gender roles were more generally accepted by the parties involved, so you didn't have as many question marks as to how you were supposed to approach courtship. A lot of the older generation still think dating is just as simple as it used to be, so they're frustrated and blame us singles, assuming that we're just lazy because the process itself should be so simple and straightforward.
One last problem is getting talks from people who married young or who married their "high school sweetheart." These can be the worst in my opinion. A lot of these guys/gals were the prom king or the captain of the football team, and the girls were a cheerleader or the homecoming queen (insert other popular teenage social positions at your discretion). Yeah! Dating was so easy! I was attractive and popular, so members of the opposite sex just kept lining up to go out with me, so I had to beat them off with a stick! These people generally have no concept of what it was like to struggle with dating as a teenager, let alone struggle through all of your twenties alone, let alone struggle through most of your thirties (and beyond) alone. Dating is completely different for me now in my late thirties than it was when I was fresh off my mission at 22. And people who got married in their early twenties straight off their missions can't grasp that.
Understand, I'm not trying to be negative. Talks condemning all singles for being unworthy, or ones that talk about how easy the dating process should be, used to really upset me. As a person who has actively dated and tried to get married throughout my entire adult life, anymore I just kind of turn a deaf ear to the talks that don't apply to me, and look for the ones that are more sympathetic to singles in general, or the ones from speakers who I can see actually have been through the trenches with dating and do understand what we go through. And I try to understand that many of these speakers are just seeing us through the distorted lens of "grandparents' goggles," and forgive them for it.
I agree with virtually all of what Johnathan said. Of course, his remarks and my approval of them are not anti-woman, but anti-putting-women-on-a-pedestal. And the people who put women on a pedestal are usually men. Funny how we perpetuate this cycle of abuse against our own kind. It reminds me of how I read in an Anthropology class years ago that women, not men, are by and large the ones who perpetuate the tradition of female genital mutilation on their own daughters and granddaughters, falsely believing that they're being helpful. And I think most women hate being put on a pedestal too. I don't think they want to be worshiped. I don't think they want to be held to impossible standards. Of course, I'm not a woman and I could be completely wrong.
I think I relate to Johnathan because I anticipate being him in a decade or so. Of course, my efforts to date are half-hearted and rare and undoubtedly by my late thirties will have ceased altogether, and I also anticipate being very rich by then and I don't care what anyone says, I don't have a single problem in my life that money wouldn't completely and immediately solve, so the situations aren't entirely analogous. But I've been in love and I've wanted to marry specific people at specific times so I imagine a normal person's generalized desire to get married is like that, but constant, and my heart goes out to Johnathan and everyone else in that same boat. I hope someday our culture will grow up. Until then, whenever I hear an insensitive comment at church or in institute about how I need to ask girls out, I just mentally flip the guy off and let it go. It's not worth getting too upset over.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender male and a Latter-day Saint, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic, 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.