Posts Tagged personal

Politics shaped by religion – Immigration

I’m breaking my rule by posting about something that’s come up in the recent news. I’ve written about immigration before, but with recent events, I feel that I need to write more. A couple of times I’ve tried writing about our foreign policy, but they never seemed to come together enough to post. Anyway, the need feels just too strong.

The US immigration policy is a terrible morass, and for some reason the people seem to think it isn’t strong enough. Xenophobia, being afraid of people who we don’t see as “us”, is settled in deeply, and the policies we’ve had toward immigrants reflect that. I wish the most recent moves were surprising. Unfortunately, it’s just another step in the direction we’ve been heading for some time. It’s not just the fear that “those people are taking our jobs” but also the fear that we may have terrorist attacks against us.

This ties in to our horrible foreign policy, making ourselves into the “policeman of the world”, destabilizing, threatening, and invading countries we believe have either slighted us or interfere with “our business interests”. This is a whole other post unto itself, but the point is that we feel we can do whatever we’d like in the world but are afraid that we’ll get hurt. When we do get hurt, our retaliation is far, far more disproportionate. If we get hurt by the thousand (which is incredibly rare), we retaliate by bombing and displacing by the million. This isn’t being a peacemaker, but a schoolyard bully.

Despite being a nation of immigrants, we’ve never really liked having immigrants. The longer we (or our ancestors) have been in this country, the more we feel like the first laborers in the vineyard who started work at the beginning of the day (from the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, Matt 20:1-15). We get jealous of the people who seem to have just come in and are getting the same pay.

The US currently admits a million immigrants, legally, each year. It seems like a lot, but compared to the number of citizens (319 million), it barely a drip of a faucet, not a fire hose on full blast. While the numbers are higher than any other nation, as a percentage of the population, we’re only 11th in admitting immigrants.

For illegal immigrants, we have about 11 million. About half of these are border crossings from Mexico, at a rate of about half a million a year. For all of the Presidents’ talk of a wall, we’ve been working on walls and mass deportations for the entirety of the 21st century. The increases in border security and in deportations haven’t made of much a dent in this. Border security has high costs compared to other methods, and is rather easily circumvented.

A better option would be to begin more prosecution of employers who hire illegal immigrants, but there we hit a bit of a snag – we use them for a lot of jobs that we don’t want to pay a good wage. Just like the sweatshops we deride overseas, paying people pennies for repetitive, difficult, or even dangerous work, we’d rather keep these people faceless and nameless, only caring that we get our food, clothes, etc easily and cheaply.

These two forces, xenophobia and use of the faceless, are what drives our attitude toward immigrants. These attitudes transcend political leanings and parties, ages and income levels.

As a people, we need to do better. We should be doing more in helping the refugees we helped create. We should create protections for the people we use. We should be using our riches, our strength, our determination to succeed to help those around us, not squeeze tighter, afraid we’ll lose what we have. We should be sharing what has made this Nation great (and it has always been great, even when we don’t agree, have missteps, or are wandering in the wrong direction). Most of all, we should share our gratitude for the many blessings we have received, even those things we (mistakenly) think God had no hand in, that we achieved by our own “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality, and work to make life better for everyone, not just “us”.

These are our brothers and sisters. We can do better than this. We can -be- better than this.

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Politics shaped by religion – Gun Control

A few months ago I had the opportunity to try and put into words some of my political beliefs and how those beliefs had been shaped by my religion. I’ve never registered for any political party, though I do occasionally wonder if I could try getting into politics to try and help make the world a better place. I usually come to the conclusion that I’m not articulate enough in being able to either express or defend my views, nor am I strongly enough in the camp of any political party that I would have any hope of succeeding in elections, so politics is not likely to happen for me. But I do feel occasionally that I need to get my opinions on these things out somewhere, even to my limited audience, to help me better clarify these things in my own mind.

My beliefs may or may not align with yours, my Country, or my Church, but they are mine and mine alone. I speak for no one but myself and am not an example of “the standard” of any group. I’m glad for discussions on these things, but know that they are not likely to shift my beliefs by much in any direction.

Gun Control

The 2nd Amendment of the US Constitution reads simply, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” The interpretation of this has been a matter of quite a bit of debate over the centuries since it was written. I don’t believe there is any strong position of the Church on this. Not many people discuss “militias”, as the connotation is crazy people grouping together to wait for society to fall apart or the government to come and force them to do something they don’t want. I’m actually just fine with people having a hobby of training to be soldiers and preparing for the worst. People have all sorts of strange hobbies. The only problem I’d have is when they start to use their training to impose their ideals on others or use those guns to actually break the law. If they are built on hate or prejudice against a particular people, then their own weight will bring them down.

For guns themselves I don’t believe we need much regulation at all. The only place I’d put regulations are in banning automatic weapons, autonomous weapons, and explosives. For all the various shootings, the attempts at any other regulations seem to be poor attempts at being seen to do something to stop such things happening. The rhetoric on both sides of the issue, unrestricted freedom to carry any kind of gun anywhere and removing all guns from everyone, seem to be rooted in trying to make sure “they” don’t hurt “us”. We may not be able to articulate who “they” are, but we are going to use guns to stop “them”. This is building nothing but fear and division, and will accomplish nothing but making our problems worse.

They problem is that “they” are part of “us”. The shooters, the victims, the hobbyists, the bystanders, the gun makers, the gun sellers, are all part of “us”. Every time something happens we quickly try to place people into a group that is part of “them”, but they are always “us”, our neighbors, our friends, our family. This is probably the core of all my political and religious views – what can we do to help “us” be better? Not looking at what we can do to make “them” be better, like taking away all guns or proudly carrying loaded guns to discourage “them” from wanting to shoot someone, but helping people to learn and grow and not want to shoot others (or themselves).

I’m not a hunter and am quite glad I don’t need to be to feed my family. I see guns as a potentially dangerous tool that should be used and cared for properly just like any other tool I might have in my home. I believe anyone who handles a gun should be trained on how to care for and use it properly, but I do not believe we should force anyone to take such care. I believe we can keep ourselves mindful of the dangers without needing laws to enforce compliance to good usage and care. Additional attention to and making available help for mental health issues would be of much greater effect in reducing death and pain from shooting than any gun control or open carry demonstration could ever have.

But that would be looking at “us”.

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Different ways to mourn — remembering my dad

My dad passed away three weeks ago. It was relatively fast, being about two weeks after learning he had stage four cancer, but dying can be one of those things that takes both too long and not long enough at the same time. The times he got to play with my kids on the floor certainly weren’t long enough, and the times watching him be in so much pain felt like they would go on forever.

My dad was born in 1931, into a family that was pretty much broken already. When he later got a stepfather, they got on so poorly that dad ended up in an orphanage, which evidently people did at the time. He wandered most of his life, tallying up two failed marriages and five kids in his travels back and forth across the country. He met a girl who introduced him to the Church, but it he wasn’t really interested in religion. The young missionaries didn’t impress him, and he was used to his life doing whatever he felt like doing. Eventually he was befriended by an older couple, who taught and fellowshipped him. He quit smoking and drinking cold turkey, got baptized, and wholeheartedly turned his life to God.

He eventually met and married my mother, 20 years his junior, and they’d been married for 45 years. He could never seem to figure out how to do the whole “parenthood” thing, but one of the biggest lessons I got from him was how to be a Dad. Nothing tangible or easily explained, it just is. Though I don’t recall ever hearing how he personally felt about his faith (aside from various testimony meetings), he did every calling ever requested of him as completely as possible, no matter what the challenge. He was scrupulous in his Home Teaching and often looked for other ways he could serve people around him. His last assignment was managing to get through speaking in Sacrament Meeting the day before he died. He could barely move and had a hard time concentrating on the talk he wrote, but he did it. I have no doubts he knew (and knows) the Church is true, and is now enjoying the time with his parents and deceased children, looking for what work he can be doing.

Mourning has been a bit different in our family. It was sad when he died, but it was also a bit of a relief because of the pain he was in. I think I did most of my mourning when we found out about the cancer in the first place. When my older brother died from cancer 25 or so years ago, all of us in the family kind of mourned on our own, breaking away from each other as if it would be better to not have that connection so we couldn’t hurt so much ever again. This time, it’s been much different.

My living brother and sister were able to be here before he died, and mom and dad lived right across the street from us, so we got to band together in those hard days. Afterward, we were sad, certainly, but we spent a lot more time falling into our old habits of being together as a family. We made really bad jokes. We played cards. Even jokes about death and dying were interspersed through brief times of introspection. I had to go through the mass of genealogical work he’d collected over the years. It was more a wake than weeping and wailing, though without the drinking. We knew he was gone but part of our family forever, and we got to come together like we’d not since before my brother died.

That’s one of the great things about the LDS Church. We can be sealed together forever. Marriage does not end with death. Children can be sealed to their parents in part of a chain back to the beginnings of the world. We can return home to our Heavenly Parents, together, as a family. Death isn’t the end. It’s just a temporary and unexpected journey. The time apart may be hard, but we know it won’t last.

My dad got to live two lives. Most people will never get such a second chance, but he certainly made the most of his. Our family has a long history of fathers who had a hard time staying with their families. I hope that I can take what I’ve learned from my dad and do even more to break that history and make something new.

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On dreams and the interpretations thereof

Many years ago, in the time between the end of my first marriage and meeting my second wife, I had a dream. I was feeling particularly down and had asked in my prayers for a dream of the future. I wanted to know there was hope when I’d not been able to see it. The dream I had I have rarely shared, but what bothered me most is in being unable to interpret what the dream might mean.

You see, in the LDS Church, we believe in many “gifts of the Spirit”. These are mentioned in the New Testament(1 Corinthians 12) and Book of Mormon (Moroni 10:8-18), and are more specifically listed in the Doctrine and Covenants (Section 46). They include many different types of miracles, including healing, the gift of tongues, interpretation of tongues, wisdom, discerning of spirits, knowledge, and prophecy. These had been much more evident in the early Church than appear now, likely because we tend not to talk about such sacred things. How does one gain such things? The scriptures say it is by the Spirit of God. We’re also told in scripture that we should seek after these good gifts and to use them for the benefit of the children of God in the name of Christ.

We don’t seem to pursue them much anymore, perhaps from unbelief. We have a hard time believing that such miracles could be for us, even when we see or hear of them in the lives of others. But still, we are told to pursue them to help build the kingdom of God. I’ve always wanted “interpretation of tongues” myself, though I have a hard time learning languages. Others would be amazing to have, but how do you prepare or practice such things?

In any case, back to my dream. In my dream, I was returning home after attempting to catch someone at the bus station who was returning to us. I opened the door and to my left were my parents, easily recognizable but obviously much older. On a couch to the left was a young looking woman (perhaps a teen) excitedly jumping and two young boys. The excitement of everyone was electric. Then the woman who I’d gone to pick up entered.

At the time, I’d believed this would take place in the millennial era, when Christ would reign and the dead would be resurrected. The people there could be fit to those I knew of at the time; my parents, my younger sister and her then two sons, my older sister who had died before I was even born. As time has gone on (being 16 years ago now), I realized the roles could be different; my parents, my younger daughter and two sons, my wife.

It could also be that it was all “just a dream”, and I’ve been projecting my hopes on it. My father, who is in his mid eighties and has now been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, may soon die. I know of no one who has the gift of interpreting dreams like those of the Old Testament, Joseph and Daniel. If it was the future, could I not even know the people in the dream in present time?

Prophecy is a tricky thing. We could be shown things we have no words adequate to describe, like John in the book of Revelations, we can have no idea of the time frames involved, yet still for some reason they are given. There must be something about them that is needed at the time they are given, possibly even for times afterward. For me, my dream has given me hope, even when I’ve not been able to see a way for it to happen. It confirms my knowledge that our family will be together forever someday, no matter what separates us.

And that day will be gloriously happy for us all.

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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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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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