To mourn with those who mourn

I’ve had a few experiences with people mourning lately, as well as a discussion on how someone believes that part of mourning is coming to agree with their views. This can be a very delicate topic, as mourning involves already being in some sort of inner pain. This is not anything about how to mourn or how to come out of mourning. This is also not for those who are in deep depression, who may need professional help to come back out into the world they inhabited before. This is about the scriptural instruction to “mourn with those that mourn” (Mosiah 18:9)

You see, we seem to have some odd ideas as to what it means to mourn with someone. Some try platitudes. A platitude is anything that is given as a truism designed to “make it all better”, putting forth very little effort in hopes that the person will just stop mourning.

“It wasn’t meant to be.”
“They’re in a better place now”
“At least it was quick”
“It’ll be over soon”
“At least you won’t have to deal with any more (or in the foreseeable future)”

With the LDS view of the afterlife (having families be together forever and marriage eternal), we’ve added our own uniquely painful and ineffective versions to the list.

“You’ll have a chance in the next life”
“They’ve just gone ahead to prepare for you”
“Now they can run and play”
“You’ll get them back in the next life”
“Just keep praying”

Do NOT, under any circumstances, no matter how well intentioned, let these phrases or anything like unto it pass your lips to someone who is mourning. Work to have these never even come to mind. They are not helpful to someone who is mourning and can even make it deeper, driving them away from you instead of drawing you closer together.

It makes no difference on your believing it is true or if they believe it is true, these are still just empty platitudes. A father who has lost his child may know of a surety that his child is whole and alive with God, but that does not negate his need for mourning. A woman may feel she is passed the age where she would have a chance to have a husband and children, know that the Plan of God includes her marrying and having children, but still mourn for her loss. A person who has been living with sin can know the love and forgiveness of Christ and still mourn what they had lost from that sin. A platitude may help you feel better around someone else’s mourning, but they are empty, stinging words to that person’s soul.

Actions to try and bring someone out of their mourning can be just as problematic, but in a different way. (I’ll note again that deep depression should be handled professionally). While those who “mourn . . . shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4), this does not mean that you need to “just cheer them up” or “get them out” or “put a smile on their face”. While these may help once mourning is abated for a time, no scripture says “cheer up those who mourn”.

We mourn not when we’re in a brief down or when we’re feeling just a bit low; we mourn when we are feeling pain deep down to our souls. These are deep wounds, the kind that if they were physical would be cuts through and into the bone. These kind of wounds do not need little bandages or mild pain killers, but need stitching or holding together until time can make it closer to whole. There is no “just walk it off” for mourning, no “it’s not that bad” for wounds so deep, no “just look up” for damage so deep. There will be scars, pain, and no immediate fix.

Mourning takes time to heal, and will never heal completely. The best, The Best help to someone who is mourning is to mourn with them. Simply be with them. Be there when they reach out to you, but more importantly be there before they feel they need to. Quiet which may or may not be broken by expressions of that pain are not the enemy; they are part of the healing process. Let yourself feel some of the pain they are feeling, even if it triggers your own mourning. Let them take comfort in your presence. Nothing more is needed. You may get something out of the experience, like appreciation for a pain you may never have experienced, but you may get nothing at all. You are not there to “fix” or to “cheer”. You are there to mourn with those who mourn.

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Political ideals – Immigration

We have been told to make Zion wherever we are, but Zion cannot be found where people, where families, do not feel safe.

My ancestors, almost as far as 400 years ago, came to this continent as illegal immigrants. No, there weren’t codified laws as such, but the land wasn’t just theirs for the taking. Why should I deny this land to anyone else?

I want to address some of the objections I’ve seen.
– “They’re leaving families behind”
In doing family history work, I’ve seen many, many families that were separated for a time, some for their entire life) because of the need to go where the work is, to find a way to help the family survive. Some took jobs on the railroad, being gone for weeks or months at a time. Some widowers placed their children in orphanages to establish themselves in a job so they could afford being able to take care of them. Some went ahead in new territory to establish themselves and make a place their families could live with less hardship. These were the choices these people made for the circumstances in their own lives.
I sometimes wonder how others are judging my own choices in how I try to build my family and home, and try to remember that they’re not in a position to judge, just as I cannot adequately judge how they are managing their homes. Despite times when I have seen people actively working to try and abuse the generosity of institutions and people around them, I still have to believe that people in general are doing their best with what they have. I hope others can show me the same charity of judgment.
In addition to this, our Government (the United States) isn’t doing a good job of keeping families together when they to immigrate together. The system separates by age and gender, effectively making everyone, even those with families, into single, childless, orphans. If we need a system to work people through the process of sending them out of the Country, then it needs to treat families as whole groups no matter what their size or makeup. Treat them as people, not widgets.

– “They should stay where they are and find work there”
We keep forgetting that we’re not just one Country; we’re a collection of States. When I graduated college, I wanted to move from Utah to Washington, where the jobs in my field would be. Should I have stayed where I was? Possibly, but the work that I was trained to do, the work that I wanted to do, wasn’t really there. How would it feel if you moved to another place and the reaction was “we don’t want your kind here”? Would you want them to welcome you to their community, to enjoy the unique contributions you bring, or would you prefer they keep you in isolation so you don’t “contaminate” their culture? If your response is “we’re all Americans, American culture is the same everywhere”, then you need to do more travelling and really look at the differences region to region.
If you think that illegal immigrants are taking your jobs, then you need to look harder at what jobs you’re willing to do. I’m a fan of Mike Rowe (of Dirty Jobs) on this; there is lots of work out there if you change your ideas of what you “deserve”. Yes, this is coming from someone who isn’t physically able to go out and dig ditches all day, but that’s why it was important for me to get an education; so I wouldn’t have to. If you are willing to use what you have (and to build up what you want) there are plenty of opportunities around.

– “Those people are just lazy and wanting to milk the system”
This is a cross between plain racism and classism. If you ever classify “those people” or any specific group as being all the same, you need to take a good look at the groups you are a part of but may never have seem it being unfairly labeled. “Mormons are polygamists” – “Women are too emotional” – “I’m glad for the charter school, cause it doesn’t have so many Mexicans” – “Gun owners are dangerous hicks” Some of these generalizations sting more than others. Some hurt deeply, even if they weren’t meant to do so. They are not all the same in effect, but they should all be removed from use, in deed, word, and thought. This is not censorship, this is warning you of the poison that it is to your own soul. If you make these kinds of judgments, expect pushback. I may not even be nice about it, because this kind of thinking is dangerous and hurtful not only to others, but to you. If I push back, it’s because I want you to be better.
As I mentioned, I do know those who “milk the system”. For one reason or another they believe they deserve what they can get. For them, no one “deserves” anything. It doesn’t matter what it is, a relationship, living expenses, whatever, it needs work or it isn’t going to happen. I’ve been glad for the help I’ve been given, and I know that at any time that help cold not be available to me, so I will keep working to find ways to make life work without help. Hopefully, I’ll then be more able to help others in need. Now, while there are some who take advantage, it is a very, very small percentage of those who actually need the help. We should not punish everyone for the crimes of the few; we should punish the few for their own transgressions.

– “We just don’t have the room/resources”
We’re a rich country. We lead rich lives full of luxuries of which many in other countries could not even dream. But no matter how much we have, we never think we’re rich. Do you have a home, food, clothing? You’re doing a lot better than a lot of the world, especially those who tend to be immigrants. We are so wasteful with our resources, food, water, “luxuries”, that it would only take a little improvement to make room for someone else.
Ok, let’s say you’re -not- rich. Does that mean you’re exempt from giving help? To put it Biblically, “God Forbid.” Christ didn’t give caveats to the boon of helping the poor. No matter how little you have, there are those with less. And, if your only “more” is being a citizen, why refuse that gift to someone else?

I could go on, but that’s enough for now. There are people in need, and our response should not be putting up a wall so we don’t have to see them, nor should it be shoving them into a machine as if they were not human beings.

Those of us who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) should be better than that. Far better.

Official Church Statement

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The reason we should not have “White Pride”

Occasionally I do see posts from friends (and I do consider them friends) with something glib about not having a “White Pride” parade or meme, just as there seems to be for every other group. This is usually a point made by those in the United States, by those who emphatically do not believe in ranking one race above another. Those who use it in the same vein as white supremacists, if they are my friends at all, should completely reexamine their ideas on what race is and how their “purity” does not make them better than anyone else.

I wanted to talk briefly about how we got to where we are in defining who is “white” and who is not. This differentiation has only ever been used to describe those who are “better than” some other group, the delineation rarely being that of skin color. For example, in the early United States, Irish and Italians were considered “non-white”. Groups without a shared country of origin, like Mormons and frontiersmen, were considered “non-white”. It made it easier to discount these groups as “God ordained inferior”, so the same rights would not apply. Over the generations it became harder to discern who was “white” and who was not. Losing the accents of previous generations native countries meant the only things left to use as an indicator was the lightness of their skin. Even then it wasn’t reliable, as someone with light or pale skin could have at least one dark-skinned parent. These people could “pass” for white, but had dire (sometimes lethal) consequences if they were found out.

Today, “white pride” is almost completely used by white supremacists. They don’t just want to have pride in their heritage, but in the “purity” of it. All others are “unclean” and should be eliminated or used as the “pure” see fit.

If you’re feeling the need to have “pride”, start by getting to know your own history. Where did your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents come from? Learn about those cultures and embrace them as part of who you are. Turns out you’re 11/16 British, 1/4 Scottish, and 1/16 Moroccan? Great! You can rock a kilt, bow tie, and fez all at once. Enjoy the different cultures that came together to make you.

If you’re only going to go as far as “American” because your tenth-great-grandfather came here from some other country, then allow that your tenth-great-grandfather was just as American as the immigrants who are currently here, striving to be part of the culture you most hold dear, to also have “pride” in being American. And don’t limit anyone on what rates as “American” aside from wanting to be a part of this country. American customs and attitudes very widely within each State, not to mention between States and geographic areas.

You want a parade and fireworks for American Pride? Turns out we have one, a big one, every year on the fourth day of the seventh month.

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Trying to find the right cause through a haze of chronic pain

This morning I had (and am having) one of those thankfully rare days where pretty much existing hurts. On the 1-10 scale used by medical professionals right now, life tends to hang around a 3-4. This morning I was stuck pretty firmly in 9. I hesitate to ever put it at a 10, cause some part of me is pessimistically sure it could always be worse. 9 is bad enough. You don’t want to move. You’ve thoughts of curling in a ball, but adding pain by moving throws that idea out. Dying would probably be preferable, but only if you didn’t have to move to do it.

So through this, when the pain barely leaves you the ability to think, I spent my time trying to work out what influences combined to get me this way. Not that it helped deal with the pain, but was more something to be able to say, “Aha! So that’s what did it.” With the anxiety I was feeling as part of the package of swimming in so much pain, I settled on a very bad decision I’d made in my band concert last night and our continuing budgeting issues at home.

As pain meds have started their work, I’m down to about a 7, but still not back to fully functioning yet. As such, my perspectives have changed. I’d been able to recall the bowel problems I’d been ignoring the last few days and my being able to drink a quart of water before bed that didn’t cause me to need to get up in the middle of the night to let it continue it’s way through. I’d been dehydrated. Being dehydrated is a sure way to increase pain levels. Drinking more this morning has also helped get the pain levels settled down.

Sometimes when we’re mired deep in stress (of whatever kind, physical, mental, or spiritual), it can be easy to pick out things that may just be tiny compared to the less obvious and more likely thing that is causing this stress. The only way we’re going to be able to make better inferences on what is causing our stress is to work on treating it. Then, with additional clarity, we can try and get ourselves to the root cause of the problem.

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My beliefs on marriage and gender essentialism

This has got to be one of the most difficult topics to talk about, as I have a number of people I know and love who would not only disagree with me but see it as an attack on the fundamental beliefs they have on who they are. I’ve skirted around it in the past (“Who will we be when we wake?“,”Feminism and Same Sex Marriage are not compatible“,”Defining the uniqueness of men and women“), but I’ve thus far avoided trying to put down my rationales in full.

One of the poorest arguments I’ve seen against same sex marriage (SSM) is that SSM could not be legitimate because it does not have the possibility of producing children. This makes procreation the measure for legitimacy, leaving out many instances where procreation doesn’t happen or is impossible.

The better course of argument for two-gender marriage, even when no progeny is produced, is in that it provides an example of the advantages of joining together two disparate genders, male and female. Marriage is the bringing together of the greatest difference one person can have with another, creating something more than the sum of its parts. That this doesn’t always happen is immaterial. The intent in marriage is always to be a part of something greater than you can be with your own view of the world limited as it is by your gender.

Two gender marriage is better for children to grow up in as it affords them the opportunity to learn how to interact with those of each gender. Are there many ways this can be messed up, even by well meaning people? Absolutely! There are abusive marriages, families without an adult of one gender or the other, families where one or the other parent is gone for long periods of time, etc., etc., etc.. All of these, however, would be better off in a -good- marriage than in the state they are currently in. There are many kinds of families, from families of one person to families of many. All of these families, whatever their experiences and circumstances, should be celebrated and aided the best we can, even (and especially) our own family. All of these families are on a path of improvement, even those who seem to “have it all” and be perfectly happy.

Some would argue that gender should be immaterial. The problem is that there is something inherent in our gender, something nearly impossible to quantify. Our gender is the second strongest marker of our identity, the first being humanity. So much of our life is of experiences that only happen and relate to the gender we are. Changing completely from one to the other is simply not possible, as we cannot create the cache of gender based experiences we’ve not been part of, no matter how much we desire them. Those who are forced to or themselves attempt to become the other are at an extreme disadvantage, as their lived experiences will not be enough to know what it means to be that gender.

I’ll close this with a simple request. Respect the beliefs and decisions of others. You do not have to agree with their decisions, but you should respect the work, tears, prayers, and pains that they went through to arrive at their current situation. Your own experiences, progression, and faults can not make you better than them, only different in your journey.

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The fig tree and cleansing the Temple

This is going to be one of my more speculative thoughts. I am by no means a scriptorian, nor am I even conversant in Old Testament sacrificial practices. This is just something that connected in my mind.

In Mark chapter 11, verses 12-26 (and Matthew 21), Jesus and his disciples walk by a fig tree, which He condemns for producing no fruit and curses it. When they return by it, the tree has withered.

12 And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry:

13 And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet.

14 And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it.
. . .
21 And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto him, Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away.

22 And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God.

. . . then goes on to talk about the power that can do seemingly impossible things.

In the middle of this, verses 15-19, Jesus clears the moneychangers and those who sell animals to be sacrificed out of the Temple grounds:

15 ¶And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves;

16 And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple.

17 And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves.

It seems to me that the miracle of the fig tree and the cleansing of the temple must be related, one surrounding the other, so it got me to thinking. What do fig trees have to do with the commanded practice of animal sacrifice?

One of the most remarkable uses of fig leaves in the Scriptures is in the Garden of Eden. In trying to cover their mistakes, Eve and Adam fashion aprons out of fig leaves (Genesis 3:7). They did not yet know that there would be a Savior who would cover us all, that they didn’t need to try to cover themselves but only needed to repent of what they had done.

What does this have to do with animal sacrifice? The details of what animals should be sacrificed for what sins is well detailed in Leviticus 1-7. It’s been law for many hundreds of years. This, I believe, results in two problems by the time of Christ.

The business of selling animals for sacrifice and changing money to money that is acceptable for use in the Temple has become a lucrative trade. This oppressive trade was at least tolerated by the Priests whose job it was to perform the sacrifices and keep the Temple grounds free of commercial traffic.

More importantly, the commandments for animal sacrifice (well beyond the sacrifice of an unblemished lamb foreshadowing the sacrifice of The Lamb of God exampled by Adam and Abel) were an attempt by the Israelites to cover their own sins. Like Adam and Eve, this was an attempt to cover their own sins rather than look forward to Christ. Animal sacrifice had become the Israelites’ fig leaves.

But weren’t these details given by God? Why would He give them something wrong? I believe this is another instance where the Israelites didn’t want to live the higher laws and asked for something more specific. A single sacrifice for everything doesn’t seem like enough? Fine, here’s something more complicated to help you feel better.

To me, this is the importance of the withering of the fig tree. No more trying to cover yourselves with your fig leaves of animal sacrifice. Get back to the basic, higher laws. Look to Christ and live.

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The Apostle Peter having a really bad day

While recently reading in Luke, chapter 22, I was particularly struck by verse 40, where Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane with his disciples, about to begin the process of taking upon Himself the sins of the world:

And when he was at the place, he said unto them, Pray that ye enter not into temptation.

Temptation? They are in a garden at night; what temptation do they need to work so hard to fight?

Then I remembered what was happening. Jesus was about to embark on the hardest journey anyone can go on, the one absolutely necessary to allow us to return home to our Heavenly Parents. What happened the last time Jesus told his disciples what was going to happen (Mark 8:31-33)?

31 And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

32 And he spake that saying openly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him.

33 But when he had turned about and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter, saying, Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men.

Peter was there to witness the thing he feared most, the thing he most wanted to deny could ever happen. Peter had to witness his Savior, his God, take on the sins of the world, suffer, and die.

The temptation was to try and stop it from happening.

This certainly would be the greatest temptation Peter and those with him would face. This wasn’t a simple, “help us with some vague temptation”, this was a “He’s right over there, suffering, soon to go to his death, and I need to let it happen.” What an impossible task!

I’ve had prayers in the pit of despair, praying with such energy that you are physically drained. I can’t imagine how much effort it would have taken to stay there and pray that you will not interfere in this case. I find it no wonder that they fell asleep, not from boredom, but from exhaustion.

Even then, Peter couldn’t completely escape from the temptation. Remember, Jesus had already told them what would happen, even dropping the bombshell earlier in the evening that one of their own they had trusted, worked with, and loved would be the betrayer. Yet when the mob comes for Jesus, Peter lashes out and cuts off an ear (John 18:10). Jesus calms the situation, but Peter knows he succumbed to temptation.

Unfortunately, Peter’s bad day only gets worse. While he is witnessing the trials and accusations, he is accused, three times, of being His disciple. Instead of being able to boldly give his own life, as he said he would, Peter denies he knew Jesus each time, at the end being reminded of the prophecy he’d just passed off as impossible earlier in the evening.

I’ve often heard people wonder how could Peter do such things, when he’d been the strongest of the Twelve. How could “The Rock” the Church would be built upon when Jesus was gone be so weak? I don’t know of anyone who could have done as well as Peter did. He didn’t just have a witness of Jesus as we may have, he knew Him personally, worked, prayed, cried, laughed with Him. I don’t know how many hours of weeping it took for Peter to be able to get back on his feet and try to continue with life, but there is no doubt; Peter had a bad day.

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