Saturday, May 30, 2009

Yippee, I’m A Hippie!!!

What is a Hippie? Some say it’s the way people dress, and behave, a lifestyle. Others classify drug users and rock 'n' roll fans or those with certain radical political views as hippies. The dictionary defines a hippie as one who doesn’t conform to society’s standards and advocates a liberal attitude and lifestyle. With all these differing definitions and views, how can we define hippie or know if we are one?

Well it seems to me that these definitions miss the point. By focusing on the most visible behavioral traits these limited descriptions fail to reveal what lies in the hippie heart that motivates such behavior. To understand the true hippie, we must look at those circumstances that preceded the birth of the hippy movement, the important events that changed our lives, our resulting frustration with soc
iety, and the philosophy that developed from our spiritual maturation.

Hippy is an establishment label for a profound, invisible, underground,evolutionary process. For every visible hippy, barefoot, beflowered, beaded, there are a thousand invisible members of the turned-on underground. Persons whose lives are tuned in to their inner vision, who are dropping out of the TV comedy of American Life.

Timothy Leary (The Politics of Ecstasy) 1967

My view is that being a hippie is a matter of accepting a universal belief system that transcends the social, political, and moral norms of any established structure, be it a class, church, or government. Each of these powerful institutions has its own agenda for controlling, even enslaving people. Each has to defend itself when threatened by real or imagined enemies. So we see through history a parade of endless conflicts with country vs. country, religion vs. religion, class vs. class. After millennia of war and strife, in which uncounted millions have suffered, we have yet to rise above our petty differences.

I’ve been smiling lately, dreaming about the world as one.
And I believe it could be, someday it’s going to come.
Cat Stevens (Peace Train)

A hippie is adverse to all repressive hierarchical power structures since these go against the hippie goals of peace, love and freedom. This is why the “Establishment” feared and suppressed the hippie movement of the ’60s, as it was a revolution against the established order. It is also the reason why the hippies were unable to unite and overthrow the system since they refused to build their own power base. Hippies don’t impose their beliefs on others. Instead, hippies seek to change the world through reason and by living what they believe.

Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can, No need for greed or hunger, A brotherhood of man. Imagine all the people sharing all the world.
John Lennon (Imagine)

To be a hippie you must believe in peace as the way to resolve differences among peoples, ideologies and religions. The way to peace is through love and tolerance. Loving means accepting others as they are, giving them freedom to express themselves and not judging them based on appearances. This is the core of the hippie philosophy.

If you want to be free, be free, because there’s a million things to be.
Cat Stevens (If You Want to Sing Out)

The hippy movement erected signposts for all to see. Some warn us of impending danger, others direct us towards richer, more fulfilling lives, but most show us the road to freedom. Freedom is the paramount virtue in this system. Freedom to do as one pleases, go where the flow takes you, and to be open to new experiences. This embraces an attitude that allows for maximum personal growth.

I like ideas about the breaking away or overthrowing of established order. I am interested in anything about revolt, disorder, chaos, especially activity that seems to have no meaning. It seems to me to be the road towards freedom - external freedom is a way to bring about internal freedom.
Jim Morrison

Many beliefs have sprung from our core philosophy such as an earthy spirituality, the Green movement, and even shamanism and vegetarianism. These philosophical and political views reflect a respect for nature and the planet as a whole, something lacking in our capitalistic and materialistic societies. The world needs hippies to point out alternatives to the entrenched system and warn of the impending disasters that await us if we don’t change our lifestyles. The goal is not to make everyone a hippie (what would we have to protest?). Rather we can try to influence others by example, through tolerance and love and teaching the virtues of the hippie way.

You create your own reality.
Seth (Seth Speaks)

So being a hippie is not a matter of dress, behavior, economic status, or social grouping. It is a philosophical approach to life that emphasizes freedom, peace, love and a respect for others and the earth. The way of the hippie has never died. There have always been hippies from the first time society laid down rules, to Jesus, to Henry David Thoreau, to John Lennon, to you and me. I believe there’s a little hippy in all of us. It’s just been repressed by our socialization process. We need to find that hidden hippie and cultivate it from within.

I took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.
Robert Frost (The R
oad Not Taken)

Friday, May 29, 2009

A Sustainable Future

“Earth Democracy connects us through the perennial renewal and regeneration of life - from our daily life to the life of the universe. Earth Democracy is the universal story of our times, in our different places. It pulsates with the limitless potential of an unfolding universe even while it addresses the real threats to our very survival as a species. It is hope in a time of hopelessness, it brings forth peace in a time of wars without end, and it encourages us to love life fiercely and passionately at a time when leaders and the media breed hatred and fear.”

~Vandana Shiva, “Earth Democracy”

Dr. Vandana Shiva is a physicist, environmental activist, eco feminist and author of several articles and books. She is one of the world’s most dynamic and provocative thinkers and someone whom I have come to deeply admire and respect. Shiva has dedicated her life to fighting for changes in the practice and paradigm of agriculture and food, intellectual property rights, biodiversity, biotechnology, and bioethics. She has spearheaded grassroots organizations and green movements all across the globe in an effort to halt genetic engineering and water privatization. Time magazine has described her as 'an environmental hero' and in 2005 she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Shiva describes our current systems of democracy worldwide as a sham. Representative democracy has been hijacked by an ‘economic dictatorship.’ This has been led by a handful of multinational corporations. Our financial institutions and international trade treaties help ensure their dominance in key sectors such as water, food and energy. She calls for a deeper democracy which recognizes the value of all living systems upon which human welfare and survival wholly depends, she calls this new form of democracy “earth democracy”.

Shiva uses empirical concepts of entropy and the conservation of energy to argue that the environment is at the base of our global society and when we ignore the environment, all the things built on it – culture, society, livelihoods –will suffer and eventually cease to exist. She makes the argument that property rights are not universal, but that water, food and seeds are universal human rights. She says that joint ownership of the planet is essential in a very real sense in order to stop endemic starvation, malnutrition, thirst, poverty, terrorism, racism, and extremism.

Earth democracy movements are the resistance of the disadvantaged, and excluded who are working to protect their fundamental rights to the earth's resources. Market and free trade led globalization removes the responsibility and accountability from the corporations and in this system the poor have the function of bearing all the costs. History has shown us that societies that over-exploit their resources and life-support systems are bound to collapse. Living economies are an alternative to the unsustainable system. Living economies are based on co-ownership and co production, on sharing and participation. Living economies are an extension of the renewable systems or economies of nature, and the diverse and sustainable people's economies.

A living economy respects the renewable limits of natural resources and shares those resources to ensure everyone's needs are met. Biodiversity and water cannot be privatized in a living economy. A living economy relies on localization as an ecological imperative. Globalization leads to growth of the market, without creating jobs or providing security, living economies revolve around human beings and nature. Economics and ecology are not pitted against each other in living economies. The question of how we choose to view the world is based on our values. Living economies value life over profit and allow us to reclaim our common humanity.

“The earth provides enough resources for everyone’s need, but not for some people’s greed.”

Mahatma Gandhi

The 10 Principles of Earth Democracy

1. Ecological Democracy

We are all members of the Earth community. We all have the duty to protect the rights and welfare of all species and all people. No humans have the right to encroach on the ecological space of other species and other people, or treat them with cruelty and violence.

2. Intrinsic worth of all Species and Peoples

All species, humans and cultures have intrinsic worth. They are subjects, not objects of manipulation or ownership. No humans have the right to own other species, other people or the knowledge of other cultures through patents and other intellectual property rights.

3. Diversity in Nature and Culture

Defending biological and cultural diversity is a duty of all people. Diversity is an end in itself, a value, a source of richness both material and cultural.

4. Natural Rights to Sustenance

All members of the Earth Community including all humans have the right to sustenance -- to food and water, to safe and clean habitat, to security of ecological space. These rights are natural rights, they are birthrights given by the fact of existence on earth and are best protected through community rights and commons. They are not given by states or corporations, nor can they be extinguished by state or corporate action. No state or corporation has the right to erode or undermine these natural rights or enclose the commons that sustain all through privatization or monopoly control.

5. Earth Economy is based on Economic Democracy and Living Economy

Earth democracy is based on economic democracy. Economic systems in Earth Democracy protect ecosystems and their integrity; they protect people's livelihoods and provide basic needs to all. In the earth economy there are no disposable or dispensable species or people. The earth economy is a living economy. It is based on sustainable, diverse, pluralistic systems that protect nature and people, are chosen by people, for the benefit of the common good.

6. Living Economies are built on Local Economies

Conservation of the earth's resources and creation of sustainable and satisfying livelihoods is most caringly, creatively and efficiently and equitably achieved at the local level. Localization of economics is social and ecological imperative. Only goods and services that cannot be produced locally, using local resources, local knowledge should be produced non-locally and traded long distance. Earth democracy is based on vibrant, resilient local economies, which support national and global economies. The global economy does not crush and destroy local economies.

7. Living Democracy

Earth democracy is based on local living democracy with local communities, organized on principles of inclusion and diversity and ecological and social responsibility having the highest authority on decisions related to the environment and natural resources and to the sustenance and livelihoods of people. Authority is delegated to more distant levels of governance on the principle of subsidiary. Earth democracy is living democracy.

8. Living Knowledge

Earth democracy is based on earth centered and community centered knowledge systems. Living knowledge is knowledge that maintains and renews living processes and contributes to health of the planet and people. It is also living knowledge in that it is embedded in nature and society, is not abstract, reductionist and anti-life. Living knowledge is a commons, it belongs collectively to communities that create it and keep it alive. All humans have a duty to share knowledge. No person or corporation has a right to enclose, monopolize, patent or exclusively own as intellectual property living knowledge.

9. Balancing Rights with Responsibility

In earth democracy, rights are derived from and balanced with responsibility. Those who bear the consequences of decisions and actions are the decision makers.

10. Globalizing Peace, Care and Compassion

Earth democracy connects people in circles of care, cooperation and compassion instead of dividing them through competition and conflict. Earth democracy globalizes compassion, not greed, and peace, not war.

Steps In Overcoming Masturbation

Mark E. Petersen
Council of the 12 apostles
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

Be assured that you can be cured of your difficulty. Many have been, both male and female, and you can be also if you determine that it must be so.

This determination is the first step. That is where we begin. You must decide that you will end this practice, and when you make that decision, the problem will be greatly reduced at once.

But it must be more than a hope or a wish, more than knowing that it is good for you. It must be actually a decision. If you truly make up your mind that you will be cured, then you will have the strength to resist any tendencies which you may have and any temptations which may come to you. After you have made this decision, then observe the following specific guidelines.

A Guide to Self-Control

1. Never touch the intimate parts of your body except during normal toilet processes. Avoid being alone as much as possible. Find good company and stay in this good company.

2. If you are associated with other persons having this same problem, you must break off their friendship. Never associate with other people having the same weakness. Don't suppose that two of you will quit together, you never will. You must get away from people of that kind. Just to be in their presence will keep your problem foremost in your mind. The problem must be taken out of your mind for that is where it really exists. Your mind must be on other and more wholesome things.

3. When you bathe, do not admire yourself in a mirror. Never stay in the bath more than five or six minutes -- just long enough to bathe and dry and dress and then get out of the bathroom into a room where you will have some member of your family present.

4. When in bed, if that is where you have your problem for the most part, dress yourself for the night so securely that you cannot easily touch your vital parts, and so that it would be difficult and time consuming for you to remove those clothes. By the time you started to remove protective clothing you would have sufficiently controlled your thinking that the temptation would leave you.

5. If the temptation seems overpowering while you are in bed, get out of bed and go into the kitchen and fix yourself a snack, even if it is in the middle of the night, and even if you are not hungry, and despite your fears of gaining weight. The purpose behind this suggestion is that you get your mind on something else. You are the subject of your thoughts, so to speak.

6. Never read pornographic material. Never read about your problem. Keep it out of mind. Remember -- "First a thought, then an act." The thought pattern must be changed. You must not allow this problem to remain in your mind. When you accomplish that, you soon will be free of the act.

7. Put wholesome thoughts into your mind at all times. Read good books -- Church books -- Scriptures -- Sermons of the Brethren. Make a daily habit of reading at least one chapter of Scripture, preferably from one of the four Gospels in the New Testament, or the Book of Mormon. The four Gospels -- Matthew, Mark, Luke and John -- above anything else in the Bible can be helpful because of their uplifting qualities.

8. Pray. But when you pray, don't pray about this problem, for that will tend to keep it in your mind more than ever. Pray for faith, pray for understanding of the Scriptures, pray for the Missionaries, the General Authorities, your friends, your families, but keep the problem out of your mind by not mentioning it ever -- not in conversation with others, not in your prayers. keep it out of your mind!

The attitude of a person toward his problem has an effect on how easy it is to overcome. It is essential that a firm commitment be made to control the habit. As a person understands his reasons for the behavior, and is sensitive to the conditions or situations that may trigger a desire for the act, he develops the power to control it.

We are taught that our bodies are temples of God, and are to be clean so that the Holy Ghost may dwell within us. Masturbation is a sinful habit that robs one of the Spirit and creates guilt and emotional stress. It is not physically harmful unless practiced in the extreme. It is a habit that is totally self-centered, and secretive, and in no way expresses the proper use of the procreative power given to man to fulfill eternal purposes. It therefore separates a person from God and defeats the gospel plan.

This self-gratifying activity will cause one to lose his self-respect and feel guilty and depressed, which can in the extreme lead to further sinning. As a person feels spiritually unclean, he loses his interest in prayer, his testimony becomes weak, and missionary work and other Church callings become burdensome, offering no joy and limited success.

As one meets with his Priesthood Leader, a program for overcoming masturbation can be implemented using some of the suggestions which follow. Remember it is essential that a regular report program be agreed on, so progress can be recognized and failures understood and eliminated.

1. Pray daily, ask for the gifts of the Spirit, that which will strengthen you against temptation. Pray fervently and out lout when the temptations are the strongest.

2. Follow a program of vigorous daily exercise. The exercises reduce emotional tension and depression and are absolutely basic to the solution of this problem. Double your physical activity when you feel stress increasing.

3. When the temptation to masturbate is strong, yell STOP to those thoughts as loudly as you can in your mind and then recite a pre-chosen Scripture or sing an inspirational hymn. It is important to turn your thoughts away from the selfish need to indulge.

4. Set goals of abstinence, begin with a day, then a week, month, year and finally commit to never doing it again. Until you commit yourself to _never again_ you will always be open to temptation.

5. Change in behavior and attitude is most easily achieved through a changed self-image. Spend time every day imagining yourself strong and in control, easily overcoming tempting situations.

6. Begin to work daily on a self-improvement program. Relate this plan to improving your Church service, to improving your relationships with your family, God and others. Strive to enhance your strengths and talents.

7. Be outgoing and friendly. Force yourself to be with others and learn to enjoy working and talking to them. Use principles of developing friendships found in books such as How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.

8. Be aware of situations that depress you or that cause you to feel lonely, bored, frustrated or discouraged. These emotional states can trigger the desire to masturbate as a way of escape. Plan in advance to counter these low periods through various activities, such as reading a book, visiting a friend, doing something athletic, etc.

9. Make a pocket calendar for a month on a small card. Carry it with you, but show it to no one. If you have a lapse of self control, color the day black. Your goal will be to have no black days. The calendar becomes a strong visual reminder of self control and should be looked at when you are tempted to add another black day. Keep your calendar up until you have at least three clear months.

10. A careful study will indicate you have had the problem at certain times and under certain conditions. Try and recall, in detail, what your particular times and conditions were. Now that you understand how it happens, plan to break the pattern through counter activities.

11. In the field of psychotherapy there is a very effective technique called aversion therapy. When we associate or think of something very distasteful with something which has been pleasurable, but undesirable, the distasteful thought and feeling will begin to cancel out that which was pleasurable. If you associate something very distasteful with your loss of self-control it will help you to stop the act. For example, if you are tempted to masturbate, think of having to bathe in a tub of worms, and eating several of them as you do the act.

12. During your toileting and shower activities leave the bathroom door or shower curtain partly open, to discourage being alone in total privacy. Take cool brief showers.

13. Arise immediately in the mornings. Do not lie in bed awake, no matter what time of day it is. Get up and do something. Start each day with an enthusiastic activity.

14. Keep your bladder empty. Refrain from drinking large amounts of fluids before retiring.

15. Reduce the amount of spices and condiments in your food. Eat as lightly as possible at night.

16. Wear pajamas that are difficult to open, yet loose and not binding.

17. Avoid people, situations, pictures or reading materials that might create sexual excitement.
18. It is sometimes helpful to have a physical object to use in overcoming this problem. A Book of Mormon, firmly held in hand, even in bed at night has proven helpful in extreme cases.

19. In very severe cases it may be necessary to tie a hand to the bed frame with a tie in order that the habit of masturbating in a semi-sleep condition can be broken. This can also be accomplished by wearing several layers of clothing which would be difficult to remove while half asleep.

20. Set up a reward system for your successes. It does not have to be a big reward. A quarter in a receptacle each time you overcome or reach a goal. Spend it on something which delights you and will be a continuing reminder of your progress.

21. Do not let yourself return to any past habit or attitude patterns which were part of your problem. Satan never gives up. Be calmly and confidently on guard. Keep a positive mental attitude. You can win this fight! The joy and strength you will feel when you do will give your whole life a radiant and spiritual glow of satisfaction and fulfillment.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

5 Simple Steps for Justifying Torture

In recent weeks, new revelations about the harsh interrogation and torture of detainees during the Bush administration years have made headlines and stirred controversy. The position of prominent advocates and opponents on both sides have been made very clear. But what about the American public, how do they view the practice of torture?

The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press has been polling Americans on the issue of torture for five years now. Representatives have been asked, “Do you think the use of torture against suspected terrorists in order to gain important information can: often be justified, sometimes be justified, rarely be justified, or never be justified?” The numbers have had very small fluctuations over time. The current poll shows the following results:

Torture is often justified: 15%

Torture is sometimes justified: 34%

Torture is rarely justified: 22%

Torture is never justified: 25%

So as we can see from the results, 71% of Americans are still unwilling to completely rule out the practice of torture. I find it extremely troubling that the American people are willing to support such inhumane and degrading treatment. But public sentiment on torture has not arisen naturally; rather it reflects the carefully orchestrated marketing campaigns by powerful interest groups who are all too eager to shape opinion in support of a specific agenda. It is well known that the Bush administration loved to use the term “enhanced interrogation techniques”, a very fancy and misleading euphemism for torture. How did the US government and all these special interest groups get the citizens of America to support torture? Well, they used 5 simple steps…..

1. The first was to foster a “war on terror” environment, one where persuasive fear was used and the prospect of massive and catastrophic harm was repeated over and over again and placed on center stage. We were bombarded with ticking time bomb scenarios where every second mattered. Constantly hearing of these looming disasters, American’s adapted this “whatever it takes” mentality in which it became okay to use harsh interrogation methods and torture to extract crucial information.

2. The second step advanced the view that we didn’t need to be helpless against these horrific terrorists because through torture, and torture alone, we could learn of their evil plans and learn what we needed to foil the evildoers before they were able to hurt us. Using unsubstantiated evidence, we were told that these interrogation techniques, regardless of how they might repulse us, were the only way to protect ourselves.

3. The third was the frequent assurance that those detainees that we subject to torture were guilty of having participated in heinous and sadistic acts that caused the loss of many innocent lives. This diminished any concerns we might have had over the treatment of these individuals. Even in situations where there was an absence of legal proceedings we knew that these detainees were more than deserving of the physical and psychological pain that was being inflicted upon them, they were responsible for their own suffering.

4. The fourth was the repeated assertion that the US had a very precise moral compass and we were only engaging in torture with great regret and discomfort. We were doing this only as a last resort and only because it was for the greater good. There was a sharp contrast drawn between “them” and “us”, between the detainee’s innate evilness and out inherent goodness, between their vile aim and our righteous purpose. The interrogators became courageous heroes protecting us from the evils of the world.

5. The fifth was a determined effort to stifle all open debate. When questions arose about these “enhanced interrogation techniques” skeptics and critics such as human rights leaders and organizers were painted as untrustworthy, irresponsible, weak and above all, unpatriotic. In doing so, the public was encouraged to discount, ignore and condemn these voices of concern screaming out their words of warning, therefore they went unheeded.

Friday, May 22, 2009

On Racism and Revelations

You see some classes of the human family that are black, uncouth, uncomely, disagreeable and low in their habits, wild, and seemingly deprived of nearly all the blessings of the intelligence that is generally bestowed upon mankind. The first man that committed the odious crime of killing one of his brethren will be cursed the longest of any one of the children of Adam. Cain slew his brother. Cain might have been killed, and that would have put a termination to that line of human beings. This was not to be, and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin. Trace mankind down to after the flood, and then another curse is pronounced upon the same race--that they should be the 'servant of servants;' and they will be, until that curse is removed.
~Brigham Young: Prophet of the Mormon Church, 1844-1877

Many early Mormon Prophets and leaders taught that African Americans, or anyone with darker skin than whites, were born into condemnation due to their poor performance in the pre-existence. In this pre-existence, they “lent an influence to the devil” And displayed a “lack of integrity to righteousness. The origins of this racism lie in the very roots of the church as well as in its scriptures. The Book of Mormon tells us of the Lamanite race and how they received dark skins and a degenerative status as punishment for their sins. In the second book of Nephi the Lord tells us that those with dark skin will be a loathsome people, full of mischief and subtlety. It will only be through repentance that they will be able to overcome their evil ways and become as “white and delightsome” as the Nephites. The church teaches us that we will be punished for our own sins and not for Adams transgressions but interestingly enough black people are being punished for the sins of Cain first and foremost. It was because of these beliefs that black men were unable to hold the priesthood or enter the temple. Brigham Young, the second president of the church made it very clear that “No person having the least particle of Negro blood in them can hold the priesthood”. God’s punishment to anyone who dare intermarry was a separation from the presence of God, a spiritual death.

On June 8th, 1978 the first presidency of the church released a statement stating that through revelation it had been revealed to them that every worthy and faithful man in the church may receive the holy priesthood. A revelation, really? By 1978 the church had come under tremendous scrutiny not only by outside forces but by its own members as well. On January 11, 1963, the President of the Mormon Church surprised the world by announcing that the Church was going to send a mission to Nigeria. By this point the Mormon Church had mission all over the world except in the Negro nations of Africa. But the mission was unable to proceed due to the fact that the Nigerian government viewed the church as racist and refused to grant visas to any Mormon missionaries.

How about that pesky civil rights movement, how was the church going to overcome that one? The apostle Ezra Taft Benson had an answer for that , "The pending ‘civil rights' legislation is, I am convinced, about 10 per cent civil rights and 90 per cent a further extension of socialistic federal controls." Elder Benson said, "It is part of the pattern for the Communist take-over of America" (Deseret News, December 14, 1963). As the civil rights movement marched on though, the church was bombarded with demonstrations, boycotts, and threats. The church came under fire from the NAACP when a 12 year old boy scout was denied a leadership position because he was black. Shortly before Boy Scout officials were to appear before a federal judge on charges of discrimination, the church decided to issue a policy change. Next came the boycotts on the BYU sports teams. College teams from all across the US refused to play BYU until they lifted their racist policy of not letting blacks on any of their sports teams. BYU suffered through years of demonstrations as thousands marched upon the campus. In November of 1969 a minister in Denver, Colorado, called for a boycott of all Mormon goods and discouraged any travel to the state of Utah. In 1976 the church found itself repeatedly embarrassed by one of its own members, who upset over the priesthood ban, ordained a black man into the priesthood. Douglas Wallace was excommunicated for his actions and brought massive media attention to the church’s policies. As things heated up courageous members of the church started demonstrating outside church buildings and refusing to pay their tithing. The final bomb was dropped in the late 70’s when the IRS threatened to cancel the churches non-profit tax exempt status. As pressure mounted against the church and public outcry became to loud to ignore, first counselor Hugh B. Brown went on record as saying, “I doubt that we can maintain or sustain ourselves in the position that we have adopted which has no justification, I think that we are going to have to change out decision on that. I think that this is one of the most serious problems confronting us because it affects millions of colored people.”

The churches history is full of commandments handed down from God, to his modern day prophets, which have later been rescinded due to public outrage. They believe that God’s word is the same yesterday, today and forever, yet God seems almost as persuaded by public opinion as American Idol.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Daughters of Zion

We are told that we are special, that we are beloved daughters of our Heavenly Father. We are put on pedestals and told of our superior spirituality. We are kept protected from the outside world to protect us from the filth that threatens to tarnish our pure and innocent souls. Above everything we are Daughters of our Heavenly Father who loves us and we love him, and we will stand as witnesses of God at all times, in all things and in all places. We spend our childhoods preparing for our role as a wife and mother. We learn to cook, clean, sew and take care of children. We are taught subservience and modesty but most importantly we are warned of the evils of feminism and intellectualism and to never to question the will of Heavenly Father.

The will of Heavenly Father is an interesting thing. How is this will made known? Well it is made know through the mouth of the prophets, the apostles and the leaders of the church. It is made known through the Book of Mormon, a book translated by Joseph Smith. As a child it is made known through your father and after marriage it is made known through your husband who you swear to hearken unto (blindly follow). It is made known through your patriarchal blessing and priesthood blessings. In short it is manifest through the power of the priesthood.

What is the priesthood? We are told that it is the authority to use the power of God to act in God’s name. We are told that it has the power to move mountains, to heal the sick and the afflicted, to bring angels from heaven to administer to men, even to raise the dead. Who does one receive this marvelous power? It is passed down by those who are in authority to righteous members of the church, in this manner it has been passed down from the apostles of Jesus Christ, who received it by His own hands. Then who can receive the priesthood? Well, to be eligible for this honor a person must first be judged worthy to receive it. Well first of they must be keeping the commandments and receive the blessing of their bishop, but secondly and most importantly, they must be a man.

As a woman in the church you will spend your entire life seeking out the will of the Lord through men. You will turn to them for answers, for blessings, for guidance and most importantly you will turn to them when the time comes to have your worthiness judged. You will be dependent on them to baptize you, give you the gift of the Holy Ghost, pull you through the veil in the temple and even in death you must wait for them to take you from the grave. We, who are beloved of the lord, who are cherished and protected from the world, will spend our entire life communicating with our Father in Heaven circuitously. We will receive his word from the prophet; we will have his gospel explained to us by our priesthood leaders. We will be told that His will regarding our bodies supersedes our own. In essence our course in life will be set by the Father, through fallible men. Our opinions are ignored and invalidated. If our free will runs contrary to what we are told, by the brethren, is God’s design then our agency itself is to be questioned and ostracized – for we must have lost our faith if we do not see the world through the lenses that have been handed down to us. We receive our blessings in life dependent upon this faith and upon our worthiness, worthiness that is determined by the grace of our Prophet, apostles, bishop, councilors, fathers, husbands, brothers and sons.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

My Fall From Grace

This story is being written as my attempt to make public my decision to separate myself from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and to explain my thoughts and experiences that have led me down this path.

~My Childhood~
"At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven”? And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, And said, Verily I say unto you, except ye be converted, and become as little children ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child he same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven." ~ Mathew 18:1-4
My first experience with spirituality came at the age of 5 with the unexpected death of my baby brother Daniel. My brother was everything to me. From the day he was born we were inseparable. I remember hiding him when company came over because I didn’t want anyone to hold “my baby”. I remember the hours of peek-a-boo and funny faces; I would do anything just to make him smile. The best memories though were our mornings together. I would try so hard to let him sleep. I would sneak into his room telling myself that I would be very quiet and just watch him sleep and wait for him to wake on his own, but every morning I would find myself “accidently” coughing, sneezing, or clearing my throat and every morning Danny would wake up with that little mischievous smile of his lighting up his face. I loved Mr. Rogers Neighborhood and Capitan Kangaroo and I was convinced that Danny did also. He would sit in his car seat next to me smiling up at the screen while I snuck him bites of my breakfast and explained to him the inner workings and complicated story lines of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. My life was wonderful, I had all the love and security a child could ask for, and then came the morning of January 26th 1988. That was the morning that by brother didn’t wake up. All I remember of that morning are the sirens, the yelling, the tears and the confusion. I wanted to know why Danny wouldn’t wake up and watch cartoons with me, why Danny wasn’t smiling and why Danny was so cold. My mom crying on her bed handed me my brother for the last time and told me that I’d better say goodbye. I member kissing his cold little noise and yelling at the paramedics as they took him away.
Danny’s funeral was something out of a nightmare. It was pouring rain, the sky was black, the umbrellas were black and everywhere I looked people were cloaked in black. I will never forget the sound of my mother’s wailing as they lowered my brother into the ground, it will forever haunt me. I asked everyone where my brother had gone, when he would be coming home, and why those men had taken him away from me. The only answers I received were pity filled hugs followed by, “oh, your poor girl”. My question was finally answered by my grandmother as I sat next to her black cloaked figure as Danny’s casket was be lowered, “He’s in heaven sweetie, with Jesus”. Where’s heaven I asked? “Heaven is in the sky, past the clouds” my grandmother replied.
Over the next few years my parent’s marriage fell apart along with my mother’s sanity. I remember staying up at night listening to my parents yelling and breaking literally everything in our house. During those long and lonely nights I would write Danny letters and draw him pictures telling him how much I missed him and how badly I wanted him to come home. I didn’t know why Danny had chosen to visit heaven or how long he would be gone but I wanted him to know that I was down here waiting for his return. For the first few weeks I would save bits of my breakfast for him in my dresser drawer and draw pictures of what had happened on our shows that day so that he wouldn’t miss out on what was happening. I became obsessed with balloons. I would tie all my letters to Danny onto balloon strings and send them sailing towards heaven. I would pray to Jesus with all my heart begging him to please let Danny know that I loved and missed him and wanted him to come home now. The harsh reality came to me one night when I asked my drunk mother if Jesus was taking good care of Danny,” Jesus is cold hearted bastard who stole your brother from us, I never want to hear his name said in this house ever again”.
The rest of my childhood, if it can even be called that, seemed like one disaster after the next. The death of my brother seemed to have opened the gates of hell to be unleashed upon my family and myself. Throughout everything though I kept my brother with me, I carried him throughout all life’s up and downs and I never forgot who he was with. I received a copy of the bible from my grandmother and I read it every night, intrigued by the stories of whales and lions, floods and healings. And when I tucked the bible under by bed for the night I would pray….I prayed to Jesus, asking him to take good care of my brother and let him know that even though everyone else seemed to have forgotten him, I never would.

~My Baptism~
“And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs…” ~ Mosiah 24:14

I moved to Utah from California halfway through my 6th grade year. By this time in my childhood I had already been uprooted so many times that moving had become second nature and I knew to never make meaningful friendships because soon I would be moving on to the next place. Shortly after moving to Utah my mom took a job at a foster care agency. I loved hanging out and getting to know all the foster children. Looking back I think I took comfort in their horrific stories and lost childhoods, knowing for the first time that I wasn’t alone. The director of the foster care agency immediately became like family to us. All of us kids loved him so much; he was always taking us to movies, buying us presents, and letting us get away with things that out parents never would have. He was also my first experience with Mormonism. He was a returned missionary, a faithful temple goer and a revered primary teacher. I was so happy, I felt like I had a real family. Instantly I had tons of brothers and sisters and the dad I’d always wanted. However, it was not long before everything started falling apart. After only six months our family friend began molesting me. What started out as fun trips to the movies theater turned into a dark room where no one could see what he was doing to me. The presents that I used to cherish became items I resented with all my heart. I would cry whenever my mother would tell me that he was going to come and pick me up, silently pleading with her to not let me go. “I love you’s” turned into “If you tell anyone about this I’ll take you away and no one will ever find you” and “It’s either you or your sister, it’s your choice”. I became deeply depressed and self mutilation and pills were my only escape. I remember multiple times my mother telling me that I didn’t have to see him anymore but then the flowers would come and then the more extreme gifts, the jewelry, the vacations, and the new furniture. I knew in my heart that my mom knew what was going on, he would come into my room at night and stay for hours. When he would leave she would listen from the next room as I cried myself to sleep.
I stopped eating, I stopped talking, I literally stopped living. One day I couldn’t take it anymore and I told someone. A girl who I actually wasn’t very close friends with stopped me in the hall at school and told me that she was very worried about me. I started crying and eventually told her that I would tell her everything if she promised not to tell. I am forever indebted to that girl for going straight to the office and calling the police. My mother played the role of the shocked and mortified parent, holding me and crying, telling me that she was going to kill him. He kept trying to call me and see me so we had to move to a new house and I had to start yet another new school. It was there that I met the Mormon missionaries. It was horrific time in my life. I felt dirty, I hated myself and I didn’t want to live. I was dreading my court date, the day that I would have to testify and relive my abuse in front of the man that had perpetrated it. I had never been so scared in my life. The missionaries were wonderful to me. After the discussions they would stay for hours and let me cry on their shoulders. They would pray with me, ask Heavenly Father to be with me, heal me and protect me. I wasn’t alone anymore. I remember after the last lesson the missionaries asking me if I accepted the church, if I had prayed and knew it to be true. I had done everything they asked of me, I had prayed with all my heart, I wanted it to be true more than anything, but I had received no answer. The doctrine was hard for me to handle and the history was even harder. I didn’t like the idea of a man having more than one wife, why were all the leaders in the church men, didn’t Heavenly Father love all his children the same? One of my best friends was black, why was there a time that he couldn’t have the priesthood; I didn’t know that Heavenly Father even saw skin color. Why couldn’t I have the priesthood, didn’t Heavenly Father want me to have that protection too? I told the missionaries all my concerns; I told them that I didn’t have a testimony in Heavenly Father, only Jesus. I told them that I didn’t believe the bible or the Book of Mormon; I thought that they were just stores that taught us important lessons.
My court date was November 5th and they promised me that if I was baptized the Holy Spirit would be there to protect me and watch over me. They told me that if I was baptized I could be with my brother again and live with him forever. I was baptized on October 31st 2006, 5 days before I confronted my tormentor. The missionaries went with me to the court house and waited outside with me until it was my turn to testify. They prayed with me and held me as I cried. That day I learned that I was not the only girl who had been hurt by him. Not only was I testifying, but 3 girls from the foster care agency were also sharing their stories, stories that sounded identical to mine.

~My New Life~

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” ~ Jeremiah 29:11
Life seemed to have a lot of crap to throw at me but on occasion, when I was least expecting it, it threw a gem. I met the love of my life on September 3rd 1996. In a weird twist of fate we happened to have all 7 of our classes in school together, lived across the street from each other and most importantly, we both needed a friend. From the moment we met we were inseparable. We shared things with each other that we’d never had the courage to tell another living soul. We shared fears, Dawson believing that he caused his mother’s cancer, me believing that I had deserved to be abused. We shared our hopes and dreams for the future and as we became closer and closer those hopes and dreams merged and intertwined, becoming impossible to untangle.
I don’t know if Dawson or I would have made it through our teenage years without one another. Soon after meeting Dawson my step-father, perhaps figuring that I was already used goods, also started abusing me. My mother continued in her downward spiral, becoming addicted to prescription drugs, leaving me for days at a time in charge of my 4 younger siblings while she gambled away our life, and becoming more mentally ill by the day. Dawson was my saving grace. He would sneak into my room at night pushing back the demons that I knew waited outside my door. We talked of running away together, changing our names and starting a new life for ourselves. Dawson’s mom became my mom; she was everything I always wanted a mother to be. I remember ditching school to spend the day with her. We would tell stories, watch movies and eat the candy that she had stashed throughout the house. I loved her more than I’d ever loved anyone in my life. She knew my family and she was my soft place to fall, I had never had that before. As time went by Dawson’s mom grew sicker, her long lived battle with cancer finally coming to its end. I was losing my battle also. I wanted so badly to protect my sisters, to always be there for them. I wanted to protect my mother, not from the outside world but from herself, but the abuse was getting worse and I felt like I was carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders.
I knew from the moment I met Dawson that I wanted to be with him forever. We spent every moment we could together, skipping school, sneaking out in the middle of the night, even running away a few times and retuning home only to find police setup at my house to search for us. Dawson and I had a special tree, our secret meeting spot where we would plan our future getaways and meet in times of emergency. I still visit that tree from time to time; it will always hold a special place in my heart. It was under that tree that we came to the conclusion that the only way our parents would ever agree to let us get married would be if I became pregnant. We had been begging for years with no success but I couldn’t keep my secret for too much longer and I knew that when it came out I would have to leave home. Acting on our plans we decided to give in to the desires that drove our young bodies and hearts with such intense passion. It was in this inferno of love and devotion that our first child, Shem, was conceived. It goes without saying that when my pregnancy came to light both sets of parents were furious. My mother pushed for us to be married immediately, and Dawson’s mother grudgingly concurred. Not everyone was convinced of the prudence of such an action, however: Dawson’s father put his foot down and forbid his wife from giving her consent for us to be wed. I was devastated. What I did next though changed my life forever. I still don’t know what drove me to do it; maybe it was courage, maybe pregnancy hormones or maybe a bout of temporary insanity. I remember this part like it was yesterday though, my mother was outside smoking her morning cigarette, I walked right up to her and said, “Dad has been molesting me for years, I just thought that you should know that”. With that I turned and walked away to shouts of “You lying bitch, I always knew you were a little slut”. I packed my things as she threw them at me and finally escaped with 3 black garbage bags, a slap across the face, and the joy of knowing that this was her problem now. She was going to have to live with herself everyday for the rest of her miserable existence, but I didn’t, I was free to live my own life now.
As I sat on the side of the road 8 months pregnant and nowhere to go I began to cry. I cried because I was free, I cried because I had betrayed my sisters and left them with a monster, I cried for my baby and the life I couldn’t give him, and I cried because like so many times in my life, I was alone. I went the only place I felt safe. Dawson’s mother took me in like I was her own child. She made me tea, comforted me, fed me and held me over the next few days as what I had just done actually sank in. She became my greatest ally and signed the paper allowing Dawson and I to be married.
We were married on March 12th 1999, just two and a half weeks before our first child was born. I had never been happier. I was starting a new life for myself and my child. I was going to put everything behind me as if it had never happened; this was the first day of my new life. Dawson and I struggled in our little studio apartment, we were 16 years old with a newborn baby and an hourly wage of $6.50, but we were in love with each other and we were a family. A couple of months after our wedding I became pregnant with my second child and Dawson’s mother became very ill. During the last few months of her life I came to love her even more if that’s possible. Dawson was working what felt like 24/7 and Dawson’s mother and I spent every day together. I knew that we didn’t have long so I asked her everything I could think of. I wanted to know the story of her life and ask her a lifetimes worth of advice about marriage, raising children, and all the things I’d never been able to ask my mother.
My mother-in-law’s health failed more and more each day and it was decided that she should receive a priesthood blessing. The family met at her father’s house where Dawson’s dad, a member of the steak presidency, and grandfather, a temple sealer, anointed her head with oil and gave her a blessing. In this blessing she was promised a full recovery from her cancer and a long and happy life. This was not the case however. The chemo stopped working and her organs began to fail her. My daughter Emma was born on March 12th 2000, on my one year wedding anniversary. Dawson’s mother and I would lie in bed taking turns holding her and singing her lullabies. She told me that one of her greatest wishes was to see Dawson and I sealed in the temple before she passed away and so that became my greatest wish as well. We had originally wanted to be sealed on out two year wedding anniversary but we moved it up due to her worsening condition. We were scheduled to be sealed on September 1st 2000 but she passed away on August 5th 2000. I will never forget her last few days; I will cherish them in my heart forever. As she slowly slipped into a coma her tiny hand would hold ours as she shared her love for us and reassured us over and over that she wasn’t afraid, she was ready for death. When she left this world she was surrounded by her family just the way she would have wanted and although I was glad to finally see an end to her horrendous suffering I knew that I had just lost the only mother I had ever had.

~My Temple Marriage~
“Be ye therefore perfect, even as you’re Father which is in heaven is perfect.”~ Matthew 5:48
In early September Dawson and I were sealed with our children in the Mt. Timpanogos Temple. The escort that I had always dreamed of having at my side had died just less than a month previous and so it was with great sadness that I went it alone. As is the nature of the temple there was only so much of the proceedings that could be explained to me before hand, so it was with meager preparation that I was washed and anointed, took out my endowments and was sealed. This was a very overwhelming experience for me. I left the temple that day filled with confusion and questions gone unanswered. Why must I veil myself? Why am I given a new name for only my husband to know but then I am not allowed to know his? Why must I be married to make it to the Celestial Kingdom? Why did I promise to hearken unto my husband while he hearkens directly unto God? Why all these signs, handshakes, and secret sayings? Why does a temple worker representing God take the men through the veil but then I need my husband to cross through? Why is there this separation between God and myself? Why are we still practicing polygamy? After being sealed I only returned to the temple three times. On my last visit I went to the office of the temple president with my list of questions and a sense of mounting anxiety and dread. I remember leaving his office knowing that I would never return.
I felt like I was living a lie. I was like an outsider, an intruder, a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. I wanted so badly to fit in, to be like the other Mormon wives and mothers. I learned to cook, I stayed home with the kids, I cleaned the house, I delivered cookies to the neighbors, hell I even learned to can! But none of it seemed to work. I wanted to go back to school, I yearned for deep philosophical conversations, and I dreamed of evils such as coffee and personal opinions. This wasn’t me. I didn’t believe these things, I didn’t want to live this way, I hated this life. I became depressed and obsessed with “worthiness”. Was I worthy to take the sacrament? Was I worthy to attend the temple? Was I worthy of priesthood blessing? Some of us are worthy, we’re worthy to take the sacrament, attend the temple and receive the blessings of the priesthood, but others of us are not. I didn’t understand why it was the leaders of the church who judged my worthiness and not Heavenly Father. I was taught of God’s love yet I feared his disapproval and the withdrawal of his spirit. As I was fraught with my shame Dawson was struggling with demons of his own. He began to question his beliefs and struggled with his own feelings of unworthiness. Years of conformity and pressure had led to secret addictions, lies and depression. Trying to live up to unattainable levels of perfection can only lead to disappointment in oneself.
I was suffocating. The ankle length skirts and modest cloths, the sacrifices I made in the name of the Lord, my obedience to laws and commandments that didn’t make sense, the obsession with outward appearances, hair length, piercings, tattoos, our bodies as temples, the garments that clung to me, the covering of sexuality, the careful avoidance of even the appearance of evil, I was losing myself. When I looked in the mirror not only did I not recognize the women staring back at me but I also knew I despised her.

~My Fall~
“By their fruits ye shall know them” ~ Mathew 7:20
I was told over and over again, “It’s just the people; don’t judge the church by its members”, but of all the contradictions and confusions I’ve faced with the Mormon Church, none have been greater than the differences between Christ’s teachings and the LDS people who follow them. When we look back on the life of Jesus Christ, his teachings, his lessons, his sermons, and the example he left for us to follow they all come down to a few very basic principles. Renounce war and proclaim peace. Turn from evil; do good, seek peace; pursue it. Do not return evil for evil. Love your enemies; bless those who persecute you. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Don’t judge others. These are beautiful lessons that I believe in with all my heart. I asked myself then, “Why isn’t my church upholding these most basic of beliefs”? Why is my church spending billions of dollars fighting gay marriage, trying to take away women’s rights, building elaborate temples, malls and even condos while failing to take a stand against war, genocide, poverty, and oppression? Why is my church teaching me to obey the government and the laws of the land even when the government and the laws are corrupt? Why is my church determining “worthiness” when supposedly only the Lord knows what’s really in our hearts and he alone is our judge? Why did my church judge people by their skin color? Why am I asked to follow a fallible prophet? Why can’t I hold any real leadership roles in my own church just because of my gender?
In my search for answers I asked many of these very questions to numerous people but I always got the same kind of answers, “Heavenly Father has not seen fit to explain himself” and “It’s all part of Heavenly Fathers plan”. These answers seemed more like excuses; and as I pressed these issues in search of some guidance and clarification, when I decided not to follow blindly, members began to invalidate my questions by stating that I had lost my faith in Heavenly Father. As I had no one left to turn to for answers to my doubts and problems I decided to go back to square one and follow the advice of the apostle James when he said “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” I began to fast and to pray in earnest that God would comfort me and help me to know if the church was true. As was the case when I was 13 and taking the missionary discussions, pray as I might, I received no promptings from the spirit, so I began to examine my faith to uncover what it was that I did have a testimony in. I believe that we are our brother’s keeper, that it should be our steadfast goal to create a world free from poverty and discrimination, I believe that as human beings we are born equal and free with certain inalienable rights that can never be taken from us. I do not believe that God discriminates between men and women, giving women an inferior role to men simply based on the anatomy that he gave them, I do not believe that God cares one iota about race and I do not believe that he would withhold his blessings from any of his children based on the color of their skin.
I believe that Christians should seek to emulate Christ and embody his teachings. As most 8 year old's could tell us Christ’s teachings were based on the principles of love and forgiveness: he taught us to proclaim peace, to love our enemies and to turn the other cheek. For this reason it is my belief that Christians must, by their very nature, be pacifists and humanitarians. That LDS church has yet to speak out against the Iraq war; this is confusing and appalling to me. Why the church is not at the forefront of raising awareness and aid for the daily suffering of men, women and children across the globe is beyond my understanding. I could understand why the church would choose to keep themselves from making political stands, however as was made clear to the world with Proposition 8, the church seems to have no qualms about taking a very strong political stand on matters it deems important. I do not understand how God’s true church can care so much about the social recognition of gay marriage and not at all about the abundance of wars, poverty and genocide in every nation on earth. I say that I believe these things because I do not know them, no one can know for certain that their opinions are true. It has always bothered me that the language that LDS children are taught is to say that they “know this church is true”, that they “know Joseph Smith was a true prophet” etc. No person can know for sure that God exists or in what form he/she exists, no matter how many times people bear their testimony that they know these things it cannot change the fact that they do not know any of it without a doubt. These are beliefs, nothing more no matter how strongly we believe in them. Aristotle once said - "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." You can hold onto your beliefs, while at the same time listening to different beliefs and researching historical facts. People who do not believe strongly enough in their beliefs fear the unknown. They fear hearing something that may make themselves question the way they currently believe. They fear what is known as "cognitive dissonance", this is the filtering of information that conflicts with what one already believes, in an effort to ignore that information and reinforce what one already believes. As human beings we make this mistake in all aspects of our lives, from religion to politics to science to everyday life. In my opinion this prevents us from growing, from developing our self and from learning from the world around us.
It seems to me that there is no one true religion that the purpose of religion is to bring us closer to God, to make us strive to be better people. As human beings we long for spirituality, we need to feel that there’s a greater purpose to our lives, and most importantly we need to know what happens to us after death. Our greatest fear as human beings is that we’ll disappear, that after we leave this earth there will be nothing left of us, that it will be as if we were never here. We need to know that there’s something more, that we will continue on our journey, and that we will be with our loved ones again. Most of human kind needs these reassurances and so we create them. We need religion as a moral compass, the help us distinguish between right and wrong, and give direction to our lives. We humans go through the same biological functions as other animals yet we are considered different and more superior than all of them. We claim this because we have the unique faculty to understand that we humans have a mission or purpose in life other than to just exist, procreate and die as other living beings do. This mission is provided to us by religion. It gives meaning to the life of human beings. Religion tells what human beings are to achieve besides just completing the biological cycle as Homo Sapiens. I believe that in many instances religion has done more harm than good. When we come to believe we are God’s chosen people, that we are blessed above all others, that we are the only ones who have the truth, we separate ourselves from the rest of the world. In modern times we have mastered this art of separation and we use it to justify the most heinous of crimes against humanity. If people in other countries are starving, being murdered, raped and repressed it’s because they don’t have Christ’s gospel or maybe they are being punished for past transgressions. Religion also keeps us so focused on the eternities that we are more willing to tolerate the suffering of our fellow man, as this life is only a momentary state in the great scheme of things. Our penchant for separating ourselves from our problems is not simply a religious problem. I strongly believe that if people were forced to kill their own meat the vast majority of people would be vegetarians. Similarly I think that if people were faced with the grim realities of war instead of the clean PG version we see on television, war would become a thing of the past. If people were shown the impoverishment, suffering and economic destruction our capitalistic society has led to across the globe far fewer individuals would be so eager to embrace Wal-Mart and the high cost of low prices. Ultimately this willingness to turn a blind eye on the grave costs of our way of life could well lead to our societies downfall, on the other hand I believe that when mankind is able to stare reality full in the face – without the crutch of justifications and euphemisms – we will finally be able to create true, lasting, powerful change in the world.

~My Path~
"Be the change you want to see in the world" ~ Gandhi
I long for an open mind and new ideas. I yearn for an understanding of the nature of all living things. I pray for a connectedness with the natural world that I may become ever more filled with generosity of spirit and true compassion and love for all life. I strive to heal the hurts that I have inflicted on nature and control my greed for material things, knowing that my actions harm our natural world and the future of my children. I want nothing more than to value each and every human being for who they are, recognizing the unique spirit that’s within them and knowing the power of each individual to change the world. I long for social justice, for the alleviation of the crippling poverty that condemns millions of people around the world to lives of misery, hunger, sickness, and an utter loss of hope. I pray for the children who are starving, who are condemned to homelessness, slave labor, and prostitution. I pray for those who are forced to fight, kill, and torture their fellow human beings. I cry for the victims of violence and war, for those wounded in body and mind. I cry for the multitudes of refugees, forced from their homes to unkind and alien places due to war or because of the utter destruction of their environment. I detest the suffering of animals everywhere. I look forward to an end to the pain caused by scientific experimentation, factory farming, shooting, trapping, training for entertainment, abuse by pet owners, and all forms of exploitation. I look to the future, to an end to cruelty, whether to humans or other animals. For an end to bullying and torture in all it’s many forms. I pray that I may learn the peace that comes with forgiveness and the strength that one gains from loving. I wish to learn to never take anything for granted in this life, to learn to see and understand with my heart, and rejoice in my being. I pray for humility, hope, the ability to create, triumph of the human spirit and above all, peace.
I am a product of my life experiences. I have become the person that I am today because my environment shaped me, influenced me and molded me. I am not saying that the LDS church is not true; I am saying that it’s not for me. I spent the majority of my life living with secrets, being oppressed, and feeling like I had no way out. I longed for freedom and the right to make my own decisions. I don’t need a prophet to tell me what I should be doing. I don’t need secret temple ceremonies and knowing that I’m one of God’s chosen people to feel accepted and loved. I don’t need to know what happens after this life and I’m not afraid of death. I don’t need commandments to give my life structure and I have no desire to waste my life away worrying about such trivial things as covering my body, drinking caffeine, saying “bad” words, and attending meaningless ceremonies.
For all those who read this and are afraid for my eternal soul, don’t be. I know my soul and it’s finally at peace. As humans we are in a constant state of change and growth but I know who I am and I know where my true path lies. Some may say that I have fallen from grace, but it was through this fall that I gained something far greater than what I lost, myself.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Nonviolence In A Revolutionary Context

My friends, Albert Einstein once defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. We have had thousands of years of attempting to solve our problems through violence, but today war is still being waged across the globe, genocide – Hitler’s final solution – is being perpetrated this very minute, more people died in violent conflict during the 20th century than any other time in history. Violence does not work, violence creates more problems then it could ever hope to solve. If we allow ourselves to justify armed conflict in order to solve our problems we set a precedent for violence as an acceptable means to achieve our ends.

• In 44 B.C. the Roman Senate conspired to have Julius Caesar killed, he was attacked by the Liberators and stabbed over 20 times. By killing Caesar the Senate hoped to preserve the Republic, however less than a year later Antony had the Senate exiled and Octavianus Caesar declared the Liberators enemies of the state. Subsequently the Roman Empire was plunged into civil war as Senators Cassius and Brutus raised a pair of armies to over throw Octavianus Caesar.

• In 1789 the French people rose up in a violent revolt against Louis the 16th and the aristocracy. The people succeeded in overthrowing the monarchy; however in 1793 the French people faced The Reign of Terror – the mass execution of so called “enemies of the Revolution”. Some 50,000 people were put to death by the guillotine in one 10 month period as the new government attempted to violently crush resistance. 72% of the victims of The Reign of Terror were workers and peasants. The French Revolution led directly to the Napoleonic wars and two subsequent violent revolutions as modern France took shape.

• In October of 1917 the Bolshevik party led an armed revolt on Petrograd and took control of Russia away from the provisional government who had been attempting to setup a democracy and draft a constitution. In 1924, following the death of Lenin, Joseph Stalin manipulated his way from an administrative position to party leader and de facto ruler of the Soviet Union. Stalin’s rule would see a non-aggression treaty with Adolf Hitler and the death of 20 million Russian citizens by starvation, in Gulag labor camps and the Great Purge, also known as the Great Terror.

• In 1945 the Allied forces, with the help of the Soviet Union whom Hitler had betrayed, accepted the formal surrender of Nazi Germany. In recognition of their contribution and sacrifice on behalf of the war effort roughly 30% of Europe was ceded to Stalin – whose policy of terror on the German people led to the death of roughly 2,000,000 German citizens and another 1,000,000 German POWs. Stalin even went so far as to give arms to China and the North Koreans.

• Holding the Soviet Revolution as a model to be emulated Mao Zedong led an army of communists to overthrow the Chinese Nationalists in 1949. His “People’s Republic” emulated the Russians and likewise has starved and violently purged tens of millions of Chinese citizens.

After violent insurrection was credited with having succeeded in a few prominent cases it could be advertised as necessary to overthrow any offensive ruler. Once violence was seen as imperative, its destructive costs could be ignored. Once violence was widely accepted as a solution to injustice and tyranny, revolutionaries had no incentive to consider less damaging alternatives for taking power – however effective they have been in the past.

The idea that the majority of successful revolutions have been armed conflicts is a fallacy based on centuries of revolutionary propaganda. History is ultimately a harsh judge of those who insist on substituting violence by a few for participation by all. Violent revolutionaries are not the agent of change and their empowerment is not the result. It is not a myth that violence can alter events. It is a myth that it gives power to the people.

Non-violent resistance has created the power to overcome the most extreme of human rights violations, take down the most brutal of empires, topple the worst of the tyrants, and overthrow the most powerful of governments. Non-violent movements have shown us time and again that violence might be able to destroy power but it will never be capable of creating it. True power lies in the willingness of the people to take actions together in support of a common purpose. True power is 13 nations comprising 1,695,000,000 people who experienced nonviolent revolutions that succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest expectations. If we add all the countries touched by major nonviolent actions in our century (the Philippines, South Africa… the independence movement in India…) the figure reaches 3,337,400,000, a staggering 65% of humanity! All this in the teeth of the assertion, endlessly repeated that nonviolence doesn’t work in the ‘real’ world.

• In 1905 an Orthodox priest, persuaded 150,000 workers to walk the icy streets of Russia’s ancient capital in the century’s first public challenge to autocratic power. He ignited mass action nationwide that led to the country’s first popularly elected national parliament

• Men like Sir Isaac Newton, Francis Bacon, and John Locke championed the form of the revolution known as Silent Revolution and helped the people of Great Britain to achieve enormous progress in the society which was later termed as the enlightenment. The results of these men’s’ work, including others in continental Europe, shaped Europe and later the whole world forever. Today, these men are remembered by all educated people. When they died in their various countries, these men were given the most superb burials, because of what they helped their country and the world at large to accomplish.

• After the world war that opened the door to the Bolshevik takeover in Russia and imposed reparations on Germany, miners and railway workers in the Ruhr in 1923 confronted invading French and Belgian soldiers who were sent to extract German resources. They refused to cooperate and thwarted the invaders’ goals until the British and Americans pressed for the troops’ withdrawal.

• In 1930-31 Mohandas Gandhi led mass civil disobedience against the British in India. He convinced his followers to stop paying salt taxes and cease buying cloth and liquor monopolized by the raj, intensifying his nation’s long, successful drive to independence.

• Danish citizens during the German occupation in World War II refused to aid the Nazi war effort and brought their cities to a standstill in the summer of 1944, forcing the Germans to end curfews and blockades; other European peoples under Nazi domination resisted nonviolently as well.

• Salvadoran students, doctors, and merchants, fed up with the fear and brutality visited on their country by a longtime military dictator, organized a civic strike in 1944. Without picking up a single gun, they detached the general from his closest supporters, including members of the military, and forced him into exile.

• Less than ten years after the British left India, a Baptist preacher from Georgia, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., following Gandhi’s teachings, led his fellow African Americans on a 15 year campaign of marches and boycotts to overthrow racial segregation in the American South.

• A few years after Dr. King was assassinated, Polish dissidents defied communist rule by initiating new forms of social action rarely seen in the Soviet bloc. Later workers struck and won the right to organize, giving rise to Solidarity and eventually the end of communism.

• As change was brewing in Poland, a group of Argentine mothers, outraged by their government’s silence about the disappearance of their sons, started marching in the central plaza of Buenos Aires. They did not stop until the legitimacy of their country’s military junta was undermined, leading to it’s downfall after the debacle of the Falklands War.

• As the generals fell in Argentina, General Augusto Pinochet, across the Andes in Chile, faced a surging popularity movement that mounted a series of protests of his dictatorship. Ultimately they overturned him through a plebiscite he was not supposed to lose.

• Half a world away, after Ferdinand Marcos stole the election in the Philippines in 1986, the widow of an assassinated opposition leader led hundreds of thousands into the streets. Supporting a rebellion by reform minded military officers they deprived the dictator of any chance to hold power by force and he fled the country.

• Not long after Filipinos reclaimed their democracy, Palestinians challenged Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza by organizing protests and boycotts and by building their own network of social services. This wave of nonviolent resistance became the largest if least visible part of the intifada.

• While Solidarity continued its fight, boycott organizers, trade union, and religious leaders in South Africa joined to wage a nonviolent campaign against apartheid. Along with international sanctions they helped fore the freeing of Nelson Mandela and negotiations for a democratic future.

• Days after the Berlin Wall fell, thousands of Czech students sat down at the edge of Wenceslas Square in Prague chanting “We have no weapons… the world is watching.” In weeks the communist regime and others like it in East Germany, Hungary, Bulgaria and even Mongolia were gone.

• In the 1990s a Burmese mother, Aung San Suu Kyi led her countries democracy movement while under house arrest, as young Burmese were bolstered in their struggle by a new worldwide cohort of nonviolent activists and practitioners.

• In 1996 and 1997, tens of thousands of Serbian citizens marched through the streets of Belgrade to protest the refusal of President Slobodan Milosevic to honor the results of local elections, until he finally capitulated and in 1999 they returned to the streets to demand his removal.

The concept of non-violence is at the heart of every major religion across the globe. In the Sermon On The Mount Jesus Christ urged his followers to “love thy enemy”, the Daoist concept of wu-wei (a stoic approach to life that we should emulate the yielding nature of water), Muslim Suefism teaches love and devotion, the Buddhist principle of metta (a loving-kindness toward all beings), the Torah teaches Jews respect for life, freedom and brotherhood, as well ahimsa (do no harm) a value shared by Jainism and Hinduism.

Violent revolutionaries are just choosing one pile of dead bodies over another, choosing the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil. I reject the notion that a dead fascist is better than a dead non-fascist; that some lives are worthy to be traded for others, a dead human being is a dead human being regardless of who they are. I will grant you the fact that non-violence is a much harder route to take than violence. Non-violence is not for the timid or the weak, it takes great courage and strength to walk with dignity unarmed and unafraid into the conflict. Non-violence is the willingness to sacrifice all that one has, our time, out imagination. The time for us to evolve has come. Non-violence is the only way that we can ever hope to solve our political and moral conflicts. In the words of the pacifist Albert Einstein “We cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Humankind has used violence to solve its problems for over 2000 years, the time has come to advance our accepted wisdom out of the middle ages and into the 21st century.

The Rantings of a Frusterated Activist

Over the past few weeks, months and even years I have watched as my friends and I have been ridiculed, made fun of and personally attacked because of our beliefs, our activism and our determination to make the world a more peaceful and just place for us all to live in. After a few very brutal and completely uncalled for personal attacks that have come my way this week, I have decided to write up this response.

First off I am going to talk about Christianity and Mormonism. I think it's very convenient how people pick and choose when they are going to be religious, which commandments they are going to keep and in which aspects of their life's they are going to follow said commandments. The Lord told his saints to “renounce war and proclaim peace” (D&C 98:16). The Lord has given us much guidance when it comes to such matters as war and retaliation towards our enemies: "Blessed be the peacemakers,for they will be called sons of God" (Matthew 5:9), "Turn from evil; do good; seek peace; pursue it" (1 Peter 3:11)," Do not return evil for evil"l (1 Peter 3:8), "Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness" (James 3:18), "For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. "(2 Corinthians 10:3), "Love your enemies; bless those who persecute you" (Luke 6:27). I mean there are countless others scriptures that repeat these same teachings over and over again. But yet when we feel threatened, when we feel that our comfortable and over indulged American way of life is at risk in any way all these scriptures are thrown out the window. We conveniently forget that we're all brothers and sisters.We justify the killing, torturing and abuse of the Lords children because they are no longer our brothers and sisters, they are now our enemies. Christ knew that there were things worth dieing for. The very teachings of the cross are those of sacrifice, loving our enemies "Forgive them father for they know not what they do", and for responding to violence in a non-violent way. Most of us reading this agree that when we die and leave this world it will not be the end so why are we so why are we willing to sell our souls, dirty our spirits and give up everything we say we hold true just to protect what we have here in this temporal state?
Selfishness. "It's not my responsibility to take care of those people with my tax dollars". I have heard this more times than I can count. "Let's take care of our people first", really, who's our people? Universal health care, guaranteed jobs, food stamps, medicaid, foreign aid......"I have my own family to take care of, those people need to take care of themselves". This is another instance where you will see Christians conveniently abandon the teachings of Christ and Mormon's have no problem brushing off their church's doctrine. "Jesus answered, If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor,and you will have treasure in heaven.'" Matthew 19:21, "Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys." Luke 12:33,"When Jesus heard this, he said to him, You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.'" Luke18:22, and my personal favorite, "If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him,how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth." 1 John 3:17-18. According to Heavenly Father it is your responsibility. You have houses, cars, access to food, clean water and education and your not willing to pay some extra taxes to help others that have nothing? I don't know about you but that doesn't seem very Christ like to me. I think my friend William Van Wagenen said it best in his article "An Introduction to Mormon Anarchism",
"In one of the most significant sermons in the Book of Mormon, King Benjamin preaches about the atonement of Jesus Christ and what is necessary to receive forgiveness for sin. He describes us all as "beggars" who depend on God for all that we have, including the breath that sustains our life (Mosiah 4:19, 2:21). He describes the hypocrisy of begging Christ for forgiveness for sin, while at the same time refusing to give to the beggar who asks us for food, money or other assistance. To walk blameless before God, Benjamin explains, "I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants." If we seek to please God, we "will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to [us] in vain, and turn him out to perish (Mosiah 4:14 -29)." Benjamin is harshly critical of those who refuse to assist others, and who justify this by saying, "the man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just (Mosiah 4:17)." It is interesting to note here that assistance for the poor is to be given according to need, not according to merit. The question of whether someone deserves help is rendered irrelevant. Keeping or using resources that others need to simply survive is contrary to the most fundamental teachings of Mormonism, namely having love and charity for God's children, who in fact are our brothers and sisters."
When I hear Christians say things such as "illegal aliens" or "country first" I cringe inside. There are no "illegal aliens" and country's are a man made concoctions. We are all children of God and we are all equal regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender. It is our greatest responsibility as Christians to proclaim peace, care for the poor and destitute and love our fellow man, even when it's inconvenient! I welcome any comments or thoughts that you might have on these subjects :-)
Future Rantings: Believe it or not war is not the only option! Genocide can be stopped and it's not a waste of time. Working for peace and justice is not a joke and more.....