The trouble with being less argumentative

I’ve found I’m not very good at arguing concepts and ideas with others. I love reading a good argument, and it’s not uncommon for such arguments to make some change on how I think about something, but I don’t seem to be very good at making arguments for positions I have or things I believe. I’m not so bad at just stating something I believe. Blog posts and interactions with people tend to be taken as pretty concrete. I don’t understand what about me seems to be authoritative when talking to someone in person, but I’ve learned to be careful what I say.

Yesterday I got into a bit of a conversation with another member of my church about politics. Mormons in my area tend to be more conservative than I, and this particular person even more so. I disagreed with a number of his points, most notably with his assertion that the US is on a “slow march to Socialism”, but even being a supporter of Sanders (a self proclaimed Democratic Socialist) for President, I didn’t want to start arguing the merits of some socialist programs (Medicare, Social Security, State healthcare) with someone with such strong views. It just wouldn’t have been very productive, and would likely have caused some dissention between us.

The internet, the world of Blogs and Groups, seems to be nothing but people with strong opinions. It seems to encourage people to take extreme, absolute views and spew them out to the ether.

I think talking about issues is a good thing. We need to have more discourse about what we believe in and why we believe it. I just wish I knew of better ways to actually talk about things without bringing in antagonism toward the person arguing. The most difficult times for me in presenting an argument are when it feels like the person just isn’t seeing my point as even worth considering. That can get frustrating very quickly.

People should be allowed to have different opinions on things and be able to express them to others who will listen. But if you’re not controversial or argumentative, how do you get anyone to listen?

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On the giving of Tithes

Every year, toward the end of the year, the Bishop of each ward meets with each family in that ward to make an accounting of the donations given to the Church. No in depth questions, just asking if you’re a full tithe payer. (I tend to use it as an opportunity to make sure my records match what the Church has recorded.) As a challenge, our Bishop asked us to write something on social media about Tithing.

I recall that rather early on my parents let me see some of what they did each month when my dad got paid, and they used that opportunity to talk about how they paid Tithing and what it was for. Tithing was always the first thing paid, no matter how tight the month was going to be. There were also many times my family was in need, when dad was out of work or some other emergency happened. I got to see (and make use of) the use of the Bishop’s Storehouse, where the Bishop had available food to help families in need. Tithing was just something you did.

As I started making money for myself, tithing suddenly became a burden. I felt like I hardly had enough as it was, so how could I just give some of it away. I’ll freely admit that I’d not yet had an appreciation of what I’d earned, only seeing that I had some money and a lot of things I wanted to spend it on. It took ’til I did some growing up and having to be responsible for my own living expenses that it came back into being “just something you did”.

To me, Tithing is a lesser form of Consecration. Basically, Consecration is the idea that all we have belongs to God, no matter how much or in what manner we currently have it. Everything we have ultimately belongs to God, so giving a Tithe now is not a burden. I think something that helped change how I see Tithing is when I stopped worrying about how much I was earning for a specific amount of time working. I remember a time when I was so miserable at my job that I spent time working out how much time had passed and how much money that meant I earned. I’d hoped that it would cheer me up or give me some sense of accomplishment to work out the math, but instead I was just more miserable. I prefer now to just ask the simple question, “is what I earn enough for our needs”, and make adjustments if it’s not.

Some people spend a lot of time arguing which is the “proper” way to Tithe. The most popular options are “net”, “gross”, and “surplus”. “Net” is Tithing on your pay after taxes and other deductions, “gross” is Tithing on your pay before taxes, and “surplus” is Tithing on whatever you have left after all your expenses. Much of the arguments revolve around “you’re doing it wrong” (if the argument is not just against Tithing at all). I personally pay on gross, as it’s what I’ve felt is the best option for me and my family and have gotten confirmation through prayer that it is the best option for us. I will not ever say what is the best option for someone else, as the decision on what they Tithe is between them and God.

I may not be able to point to specific blessings that have come from Tithing, but I do know that it is a true principle.

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Trust, God, and following the Prophets

From time to time there arise some issue or another where some people dislike or disapprove of something said by someone in Church leadership. It doesn’t seem to matter what the issue is, who said it, or what side they are arguing, the arguments tend to be the same:

– Bringing out scripture and/or previous statements
– Declaring the other side as apostate/not Christlike/tares
– Bringing out personal (or worse, someone else’s) anecdotes
– Declaring the other side is “trusting in man, not God”
– Declaring your “personal revelation” concerning the matter
– Being incredulous at what the other side “really means”
– Scoffing at how anyone could believe such a thing in the first place

platitudeThere are many, many variations, and I’m sure I’ve missed some. They get very tiring, very quickly, but are easy enough to throw out when you don’t have the time, energy, or desire to have an actual discussion about something. It’s much like the use of platitudes; you use them and show how wise you are, dismissing or affirming something with just a few words.

Now I have to seriously caveat this. I am not saying that a couple of the above items should never be done, just that they should not be used as arguments. For example, sharing scriptures, personal revelation or anecdotes that have helped form what you believe can be done, just not in the manner of “this is why you’re wrong”.

The best any of us can do is “this is why I believe what I believe”. This can be used to help convince someone to think about something differently, to reexamine or adjust what they believe, but ultimately what we believe is only as strong as the foundation we build it on. The only absolutely sure foundation is God. Anything else, anyone else you build upon has the potential to fail, even people, scriptures, or prophets. But what sort of building can you have if you wait to use only perfect materials? This is where trust comes in.

In Primary (the Church instruction for children under 12), we sing a Folk song from the South-Eastern US that gives a simplistic understanding of this (skipping repeated lines):

The wise man built his house upon the rock,
And the rains came tumbling down.
The rains came down, and the floods came up,
And the house on the rock stood still.

The foolish man built his house upon the sand,
And the rains came tumbling down.
The rains came down, and the floods came up,
And the house on the sand washed away.

The “rock”, put simply, is God, our only sure foundation. Anything else is “sand” that will wash away when disaster comes. This beautiful, simplistic teaching can prompt us to deeper examination. While the wise man survived the floods with his house still solidly on the rock, no mention is made of the condition of the house. We’d hope that the house, with all the materials that were put into it, emerged completely unscathed, but it is very plausible that there is at least some damage. Some part of the house failed. Will it be replaced with something similar? Will it be remade into something completely different? What if that fails too? What if something bigger, that effects larger portions of the building, fails?

This is where we can have trust. This is where we have faith, knowing that our Rock, God, will not fail, even if every other part of our building falls. From here, we decide what we can build with, where we will place our trust. This is why Christ is also called the “Chief Cornerstone”. He is the first, most important, most solid stone which is firmly upon the foundation of God. We may choose other cornerstones, scriptures, prophets, our own revelations, the words of others, in building. None of these things are perfect, any more than every brick in a wall is perfect. Some flaws may be unseen. Some flaws will make no difference to your use of them. Will those flaws come to cause the whole building to collapse? Though not impossible, it may be very improbable. That determination is yours to make. God will help you find and use what materials you need.

For others you may recommend or warn in their building, but you cannot assume, get angry, or gloat if you are not heeded. You are not the architect and may have little idea what successes or failures they have had in the past. The best option is to show how you have developed your own structure, how you have repaired damage, how you have demolished some parts and replaced them with others. Help others recover when the rains and floods have caused more damage to them than to you. Encourage their honest efforts.

For me, I know where I have placed my trust. I have faith in the Scriptures and in Prophets, fully knowing that they are flawed and can be used in damaging ways. Ultimately, I am firmly anchored to the Rock. I know Jesus is a solid corner stone I can build on. I believe the Church is true. I know it has the Authority given from God. It has been a dependable material for me in the past (even when I have neglected using it), through many storms that continue to shape, mold, and grow it toward whatever end God has for it. I have faith in it being an imperfect but solid and dependable material for me to work with. I have had many of my own experiences and personal revelations that I use to continue building, as well as supports and materials given by others. Could it all be washed away with the next storm? Possible, but not likely. Even if it does, I know I can stay anchored to the Rock and build again.

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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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