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I'm a single Mormon Democrat, an NPR & BBC news junkie, a dog lover, opera buff, bookavore, migraineur, knows just enough about technology to be a danger to myself, fan of James Bond and Godzilla. 

Micah 6:8; D&C 11:20 

"do justly, walk humbly, judge righteously."

Monday, December 23, 2013

A VERY GOOD SUNDAY

I had a very good Sunday yesterday. It was my first Sunday back to church after 3 weeks off due to a bad patch of bronchitis. I wasn't sure I wanted to go back. I always look forward to and dread going to church in equal measures. That may be because I live in a very red county and my fellow ward members are even redder than most. It is very rare that I go to church and don't hear a political comment in Sunday School or Relief Society. 

It may also be because I was afraid it was one particular sister's turn to give the lesson in Relief Society. I love her dearly, but she is quite puritanical in her beliefs. The last time she taught she was only 5 minutes into her lesson when I just walked out on her. 

So, I was unsure about this Sunday. However, I prayed for comfort, acceptance, and tolerance both for me and my fellow church goers and decided to go. Many people don't understand why I continue to go. Well, quite simply, it's because I love the gospel. I love learning more about the gospel. I also love feeling the love that I do get at Church. Just because some people can be intolerant and judgemental does not mean they speak for God. It does not mean they are not capable of love and being loved. And, love, after all, is the center of this church. It is the center of Christ's message. We may forget that sometimes when we are faced with people that say they are followers of Christ. 

Two good things in particular happened at Church - well, three, if you count the Christmas music and Christmas lessons in Sacrament - but two that I want to focus on here. Firstly, I saw the puritanical sister that I reference earlier - I will call her M. I wished her Merry Christmas and she reciprocated. But, then she mentioned how glad I was back at church and how she was worried after I left her lesson the last time I saw her. This is what I like about M. We both know about how we each feel about certain political matters. However, we are still close friends and love each other dearly. It really cheered me to see that was still the same.

The second thing is even bigger. One of the things I always worry about is how opinionated I can be in Church. Sometimes I ignore some of the political statements that are made. Sometimes I groan. But today I made a statement. It was a little long. I don't really know how clear it was, but afterwards I was proud I made it. What had happened is that we were focusing on The Family: A Proclamation to the World. I cringed when I noticed this was our topic in the bulletin. You would think that family values are a nice easy topic. But not in this Church. Also many people look at it as a prophetic commandment. I look at it as guidance. After all, polygamy and racism were started and stopped by a prophetic statement. 

Well, full props to the instructor. He gave a very non-political lesson. I had been worried. I even asked him before the lesson. I had actually considered just skipping Sunday School. I lasted until halfway through the lesson when someone actually brought up the Church's recent guidance about homosexuality and gay marriage. They commented that some people outside the church think it means we were changing our attitudes. This is when  I spoke up. I really wish that I had recorded what I said. I will try to at least summarize what I said here. 

I raised my hand and told the class that whether or not we changed our attitudes was not the point. The point was what our actions are doing to people. I reminded them that there may actually be gays in our congregation. I asked them to think how they feel every time their brothers and sisters in Christ talk about how they feel and what they do is not only a sin but evil? I then pointed out that the next paragraph in the Proclamation teaches how vital marriage is to our exaltation. I said that this had always been a sore spot with me as a long time single woman. That I did not accept that God was going to ask for my wedding ring as a condition of salvation. I reminded them that there is a reason that the highest anti-depressant use is in the State of Utah. That what we do and say is hurtful to not only our fellow church members but the rest of humanity. 

Additionally, I told them that I believed that Christ's message came down to love. That there is a reason that we are not all different on this earth. We are different sexes, different races, different sexualities. We are born this way for a reason. I believe it is to teach us how to love one another. That if we were all the same it would be easy. 

I then took a deep breath. I had finally done it. 


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Wisdom of Prophet Muhammad and Why More Muslims (and Christians) Should Follow Him

Those of you who follow me on Twitter and/or Google+ know that one of the things that upsets me most is the hypocrisy and blindness of so-called religious people. People that claim to be living the lives of higher moral conduct and thought, yet reject and do not follow the teachings of their own faith. 

I mainly pick on those of my own faith - Christianity - and my own particular church - the Mormons. This week, however, I started listening to a series of radio essays on BBC Radio 3 called The Islamic Golden Age. The third essay was by Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the first Muslim member to sit on the British cabinet, on the subject of the Persian scholar Imam Bukhari. She believes Islam is at its best when it encourages scholarly pursuits and education. (I feel the same with the LDS Church.) During this essay she brought up a few quotes by the Prophet Muhammad that were highlighted by Bukhari and a couple teachings by Bukhari himself that I would like to highlight. These teachings and/or quotes seem to me to be universal in value and I wish that so-called "values voters" would follow them. 

Prophet Muhammad:
The one who engages with people and society and faces difficulty as a result of this is better than the person who isolates himself from society and does not endure any hardship.
Isn't that wonderful? So many times I get so fed up with evangelicals and others who insist that their children be home schooled. It seems like their objections are too much whining and too little trust in their own children's ability to judge right and wrong for themselves. It's almost as if they believe that Satan has more influence than Christ and the Holy Spirit. What kind of faith is that?

Fundamentalists of any stripe are guilty of this at most times. They believe their values are the only right ones and everyone should have to abide by them or else. 

The second quote from the Prophet in the program really leapt out at me. It was about the sanctity of humanity and how it exceeds the rules that your faith throws at you:
Shall I tell you of a status better than fasting and praying and charity? It is improving the state of friendship between people.
Incredible, right? How many so-called "values voters" do you know that are all about condemning and persecuting and attacking instead of reaching out in friendship? Pope Francis is a great example of a Christian leader reaching out instead of continually attacking. Look at people like Rush Limbaugh. Instead of showing us why he objects to a certain item, policy, or statement, he goes right out and calls a woman a slut. Pope Francis, on the other hand, when asked about gays - just opened his heart and his hands and said "Who am I to judge?" He praised them for searching for the Lord and didn't attack them for who they love. 

The next two quotes I got from the program were from Imam Bukhari. 
A man is not a believer who fills his stomach while his neighbor is hungry.
Anyone who does not have respect for our elders and compassion for our children is not one of us. 
He additionally taught "let not your enmity destroy anyone". Look at these quotes. They should make all so-called "moral" voters who vote Republican or who support the Tea Party or Libertarians blush with shame. Deep shame.

Look at all the so-called values voters who vote Republican because of abortion and gay marriage. Those who claim to "choose life". Yet, they support people who put forth policies that take food and shelter away from children and the elderly. Policies that encourage war and enmity between nations and take money away from the diplomats. 

I don't call myself a "values voter", but I do vote my values. I think I would really have loved to meet Imam Bukhari and think he was a true man of God, a lot more than many "Christian" men of God. I think Baroness Warsi for introducing me to him and hope I can find more about him. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Ethics of Minimum Wage

Conservatives like to talk about how dangerous raising the minimum wage would be. But they also complain about the social safety net. I believe that increasing the minimum wage would help reduce the money spent in social safety programs. Now, I am no economist, I don't know if there is any truth to all the scaremongering. However, I do believe there is an ethical answer to this. 

The federal poverty level for 1 person is $11,490/year. The lowest state minimum wage is $5.15/hour ($10,712/year at 40 hours/week) and the highest is $9.19/hour ($19,115/year at 40 hours/week). It is my belief that if you do not make over the federal poverty level and you work 30-40 hours per week then there is something significantly wrong with the American dream. 

Now, you can say that the minimum wage is not the right way to go. Well, what other answer is there? Perhaps you should increase social services for employed people. In many places, welfare and other social services penalize you for being employed. 

If a person works 30-40 hours per week (full time), they should not have a problem meeting their basic expenses: housing, health care, food and sanitation, phone and heating. In fact, I believe that any employer that pays less than poverty levels is not only behaving unethically, but criminally. 

Or we could go the way of price controls. Certain things that are needed for health and safety must be provided at poverty levels. 

I am not talking about redistribution. I am talking about being ethical. The conservatives like to think of themselves as the values voters. What kind of values supports not only not paying a living wage, but cutting the social safety net needed to provide basic subsistence? Forcing women to not have contraception and to carry babies full term in a world where you cannot even afford to feed and house yourselves is not a value I care to emulate.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Senators McConnell & McCain, I'm Outraged at Your Outrage

All this outrage over Senator Harry Reid going "nuclear" on the filibuster is just pissing me off! McConnell talking about a bad precedent, that how they will regret this. I hear people saying that it can be used against the Democrats when the Republicans take charge, about how things will get worse. It's just disgusting.

Why am I so upset?? Well, let me count some reasons.

1. The Republicans in the House, and, to a lesser degree, the Senate decided as soon as Obama was elected President they were going to obstruct him at every opportunity. Which they did. 

2. Constant obstruction of legislation and presidential nominations. How many nominations were automatically put on hold as soon as they were announced?? How many nominations are still on hold? 

3. Obstruction of nominations were done with no reason given other than it was made by President Obama. 

4. All this objection to a rule change. What about the rule change in the House which restricted the Rules so that Boehner was able to put a bottleneck on all legislation. 

5. Objection to the DC Appeals Court is that the Democrats "are going to pack the court." Well, since the Republicans have "packed" the Supreme Court when their guy was in the big house, I don't see the problem with letting the Democrats nominate some judges once in a while. 

Regardless whether or not I think Obama is doing a good job, what really makes me angry is the obstructionism. It has gone beyond just checks and balances. Obama can't really be judged. He hasn't really had a chance to govern. 

It's alright for the parties to disagree. That makes our system healthy. But, the real problem is this obstructionism. The Founding Fathers provided a system that worked. 

I don't blame Harry Reid for this action. I applaud him for it. It's not that the Democrats are making a power grab. What the problem is having a minority party that is trying to nullify this President. They demonize him, they condemn him, and they disrespect him. Is it just a coincidence this happens with the first black President?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Iran, Turkey, and Strategic and Social Values

Yesterday, while walking my dogs:
Sierra& Misty

I was listening to a podcast I found on my computer. It was an interview from the How We Got Here podcast from PRI's The World. Dated February 25, 2010, Marco Werman interviewed Stephen Kinzer about his book Reset:  Iran, Turkey, and America's Future. There were many intriguing facts and opinions that I'd like to share. Unfortunately, the podcast is no longer available on the internet but I will try to share helpful links. 

As I said, the podcast from PRI is no longer available, but I did find this interview on YouTube at the Harvard Book Store


Stephen Kinzer argues that America needs to work harder on strategic vision that emphasizes good strong relations with two key countries: Turkey and Iran. He believes that there is a potential power triangle in Middle East with a partnership between Turkey, Iran, and the United States. One would think that Iran wouldn't work and that Turkey is too independent to be counted on, but he gives very good arguments. 

He states that a good partner for any country has to fulfill two qualifications:
  1. Long-term strategic goals are the same as your own or roughly comparable
  2. The partner needs to be a  place where the society shares the fundamental values of your own country.
For instance, Saudi Arabia would not measure up because Saudi society has absolutely nothing in common with the United States. 

Turkey and Iran have societies that are democratically oriented and therefore very much in line with our own. This makes them very interesting potential partners with the U.S. in the coming century. Kinzer goes on to say that partners have to treat each other a certain way:
  • it is important to treat a partner on a equal basis
  • a real partner is one you listen to
  • a real partner is one whose advice you follow
The U.S. doesn't always do this. For instance, Kinzer pointed out that in the Cold War, we liked partners who were more subservient and did what we said. 

However, he says that the great obstacle to this construction is that American policymakers have an aversion to original thinking. There are certain paradigms in our policy towards the Middle East and we are frozen in those paradigms. We don't see anybody thinking strategically in the long run about where we want to be in some decades from now in the Middle East. He believes that we have to conceptualize a big picture. 

Getting to the big picture, he shows why Turkey and Iran are such good partners for us. He talks about the history and the society and politics of these countries. 

Turkey


What has contributed to Turkey's success in its 80-year history is that it has managed to evolve with the times. The modern Republic of Turkey was created by the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923. 


It was founded by the Father of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk


In the beginning, the government was a dictatorship as the countries around it were. Later democracies were becoming popular in the area and so it moved to democracy. When globalization became widespread, Turkey deregulated much of its society and entered the global society. In the modern era, when Islamic fundamentalism and religious society involvement in the government started heating up, now we have a government that is more religious than secular. This is the strength of Turkey. It is able to evolve, able to withstand tensions and confrontations. 

The modern government has one foreign policy: to have zero problems with its neighbors. And they did that. (Please remember that the podcast is dated 2010 before the Syria Crisis.)

One of their strengths and assets is the fact that they are able to talk to groups of people, countries, factions, etc., across a remarkably broad range, broader than the groups the U.S. can talk to: Israel and Hamas, Iran and the U.S., Russian and Georgia. When the Turkish Foreign Minister lands in Pakistan, all factions are eager to talk to him. Turkey can play a role that makes it a valuable partner for the U.S.

Iran (Persia)


When it comes to Iran, we may have to wait for the current regime to change or evolve to work with them; however, it does not change the fact that there would be great value with a partnership with them. The strategic goals of Iran do not change as governments change. 

Iran is eager to see a stable Iraq and Afghanistan. They want to see a stable and nuclear-free Middle East. They do not want to see Russian influence in the Middle East. Additionally, Iran's oil industry needs massive investment and the U.S. is well placed to provide that.

These congruences don't change as the governments change. In the long term, we ought to see a partnership with Iran as a place we want to get to. We have more in common with Iran in terms of strategic values and social values than we do with many of our traditional allies in the Middle East.

Iran is not a natural enemy of Israel. In the past, Iranians have had remarkably good relations with Israel. If you look further back in history, relations between the Persians (Iranians) and the Jews (Israel) have been quite strong for thousands of years. 

It is even described in the Bible. The great King Cyrus of Persia liberated the Jews from their Babylonian overlords, he freed them and sent them back to Israel and Jerusalem, and he even helped them build the Temple. 


Iranians - let's not forget - are not Arabs. They are not necessarily on the same wavelength as Arabs when it comes to dealing with Israel and Kinzer doesn't see any reason for a built-in hostility. 

Democracy in the Middle East

Only one other Muslim country in the Middle East can claim a democrat heart that beats passionately as in Turkey, and that is Iran. Only one other country that might emerge to rival or even surpass Turkey's level of political freedom and that is Iran. In the last hundred years, only two countries in the Muslim Middle East have spent that period working towards democracy and that is Turkey and Iran. 

All past experience shows that democracy only thrives and grows after a long period of acclimation. You cannot impose it as we are trying to do in Afghanistan and Iraq. In Turkey and Iran, it has been developing for over a hundred years. It is seen very much as a domestic product. The people there have decided on their own that it is something they want. 

The Green Revolution in Iran shows just how passionately they feel about democracy.


The Gezi Park protests in Turkey of earlier this year show how the Turks feel.


 People in these communities believe strongly that their governments need to be accountable and responsive to their people. 

Nobody in Egypt (pre-Arab Spring) goes out in the streets to protest a fraudulent election. It's just assumed that elections will be fraudulent. In Saudi Arabia, one of our allies, we don't even expect elections at all. 

Mr. Kinzer states that this shows just how much Iranians are thirsting for democracy. They know what democracy is, they want it, and it's seen as something that's coming from within, not something being supplanted artificially from the outside. He believes that the consciousness of what democracy is and what democracy means is infinitely higher in Iran, than in countries like Afghanistan and Iraq. Iran, after all, has had a constitution for a hundred years -- and all during that period they have been having elections. 

Now, these elections haven't always been fair, the institutions haven't always been followed. Nevertheless, over a period of generations, Iranians have deeply assimilated it. What is a political party, what is a parliament, these are things Iranians understand and expect. Democracy is not just elections, democracy is a whole way of dealing with life, the world. Iranians have understood this over a period of a hundred years. 

Conclusion

I really enjoyed this podcast. It got me thinking. We do have a lot in common with these countries. In these countries, the frameworks, the structures of democracy are very similar to ours. Our societies are very similar. We all have similar education structures. Higher education is very important in all three of our societies. All three of our societies encourage women to educate themselves. 

The Turks and the Iranians are not tribal societies like other Muslim countries in the Middle East. They are used to thinking of themselves as countries. Many countries in the Middle East - like Iraq - are hodgepodges, created in the chaos following World War One. After all Britain and France, separated up the spoils after the War. 

It is too bad that we have such bad relations with Iran. We can only blame ourselves for this. If we had not interfered with a democratically elected government in 1953, maybe the Islamic Revolution might never have happened. Maybe Iran would be more like Turkey. Who knows? Those are two big words: what if? 

I also think we need to treat Iran and Turkey as our equals. So many Americans somehow think they are inferior societies. These are societies that have existed for thousands of years. The Turks descend from the Ottoman empire which was founded in the 13th Century; the Iranians come from the Persians who are even older, they were founded in the 5th Century B.C.! We are pikers compared to them.

I hope that one day we can deal with the Muslim world in a more honest and open way. I realize that terrorism makes this hard, but we really have more in common with the Muslims than we could think. We all - Jews, Christians, Muslims - venerate Abraham. We all believe that Moses was a prophet and honor the 12 Commandments. We have only recently come apart. Our problems from lack of respect and knowledge of our neighbors. Better education can only help both of our peoples. 


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Responsible Gun Ownership

A responsible gun owner! Well, it's about time. Time after time, you seen news items about people abusing their "right" to "stand their ground". These owners are not responsible. They take out their gun at the smallest of circumstances. They do not warn their victim, they just shoot. Many don't even have to confront their victim. 

Zimmerman did not have to leave his car. In fact, he had been told not even to follow his victim. 

The recent case of Renisha McBride near Detroit was even sadder. She was trying to get help for her broken car. She was just knocking on doors. Maybe she was getting a little desperate but there was no reason for Mr. Wafer to leave his house. He could've stayed inside and dialed 911. When he finally did police were there in less than two minutes. Even if he did open the door to confront her, he should not have just fired -- in the face!! 

Every day I dread to see how many people have been shot carelessly since I last logged on to the internet. Now, I'll say right up front -- I don't like guns. Never have. However, I do accept that people should have guns. What I am more disturbed about is how people seem to act with those guns. Otherwise, law abiding, rational citizens don't seem to have any value of human life. Innocent people are shot by innocent people all because one of them has a gun. 

Today, however, I was pleased to hear about the case of Crystal McKinney of Milwaukie, Oregon. Now, I don't know if Oregon has a Stand Your Ground law. But, yes or no, Ms. McKinney exemplifies a great example of what you should do when put in a situation. Ms. McKinney discovered an intruder in her apartment. She confronted him verbally at first, asking him to leave. When he advanced, she retreated to her bedroom where she had a gun. 

Now, Mr. Zimmerman or Mr. Wafer might have just shot the man with no warning. Ms. McKinney aimed the gun and told him to leave again or she would fire, which he did. 

There are two things about this case that impress me. One, it's a case of defending yourself in your home. All this business about being able to Stand Your Ground recklessly wherever you are is dangerous. And, two, she warned him. I don't know what would've happened had she had to shoot. But I'd like to think she wouldn't be shooting to kill.

I know many people bring up race when talking about Stand Your Ground. I realize it is a factor. Blacks are far too often the victims in these cases. However, I think there is a bigger lesson to be learned. In these cases, it is often the surviving person that gets to control the narrative. The victim is always further victimized by being characterized as threatening. It becomes "might is right". This is very disturbing. It must be stopped. 

We cannot keep on going down this path just because gun owners (and the gun industry) seem to think they have an unalienable right to terrorize the rest of us. I don't think that's too strong a word. To terrorize (according to Merriam-Webster) is to create and maintain a state of extreme fear and distress (in someone). Well, that happens to every mother of an African-American child when he leaves to go to the store. That happens to me every time I see someone openly carrying a weapon in a restaurant or store. 

Owning a gun should not be a right, it should be a privilege. When we see someone carrying a gun, we should have the security to know that they had to undergo a serious background check and investigation to acquire that gun. We should want to know that not just anyone can get a gun. 

We should also be secure in knowing that not just anyone can buy just any gun. There should be limits. There should be some system of deciding if someone has an actual need for that gun. Does a grocery store manager from Cleveland who never leaves the city need an AR-15? Does anyone?

Finally, gun registry should be reviewed on a regular basis. It should be monitored federally, not state by state. People should be allowed to report gun owners for certain behaviors that are risky and gun ownership should be reviewed regularly. 

I admit I'm no expert. But we have to take the emotion out of this. Now many may say I'm the emotional one. Maybe. I'll admit they frighten me. But gun owners need to realize that they're emotional too. Many have an unhealthy attachment to these things.

Thank God Ms. McKinney was thinking. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Oh, Pope Francis, How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count The Ways or, A Love Letter to Pope Francis From A Mormon

If someone had to ask you who you most admired today in a religious and/or spiritual sense, who would you name? 

Well, without doubt, I would name Pope Francis! He exemplifies what I think about when I think of true Christian principles. He is humble, and has spent all the time since his election trying to focus the Church (and Christians, for that matter) to think more about the true message of our Savior, Jesus Christ. 

Some also-rans:


As a Mormon, you may ask why isn't Thomas Monson, President and Prophet of the Church, up there? Well, I do admire him greatly. I know he is a Godly man, an inspired man, and a man to live up to. But he is not in my top 5. 

The problem is this: I believe in the Mormon gospel. But sometimes I don't quite accept teachings from individual present-day Mormons. I believe I can do this and still be a good Mormon. 

To me, Pope Francis and Frank Schaeffer have been preaching more along the lines of the teachings of Jesus Christ of late. 

Today, in fact, Jonathan Freedland published an op-ed in the Comment is Free section of The Guardian entitled: "Why Even Atheists Should Be Praying For Pope Francis." This reminded me why I not only admire the new Pope but love him more and more. I cannot think of one statement, one news item, anything that lessened my admiration of him, it just seems to increase it. In fact, more and more, I wish that not only atheists pay attention to him, but all Christians, Jews, and Muslims. Heck, EVERYONE needs to pay attention to him. The world would only be a better place if you followed his advice!

Number One Reason I love Pope Francis: his humility. 

He doesn't live in the well-appointed (nigh, ostentatious) apartments normally reserved for the pope. No, he has been staying in the Casa Santa Marta, a Vatican residence which accommodates visiting clergy and lay people. 
Pope Francis' bedroom at the Casa Santa Marta

He doesn't wear fancy red shoes. No, he asked his Buenos Aires cobbler to repair his old ones. He doesn't travel around in a limousine; no, he has a older Ford Focus to visit the Italian President in:

As the article states, you could condemn these as stunts, as gestures. But he is remarkably consistent. He is trying to send a message not just to his congregation, but also to the clergy of the Church and the wider world, this is part of Christ's message. Pay attention. To quote Mr. Freedland: 
He is in the business of scraping away the trappings, the edifice of Vatican wealth accreted over centuries, and returning the church to its core purpose, one Jesus himself might have recognised. He says he wants to preside over "a poor church, for the poor". It's not the institution that counts, it's the mission.
This is an important message. One of the things I always liked about the LDS church is that the clergy are lay-people. They are not paid. They have their own jobs and income and their time working for the church is service to not just God, but their fellow brothers and sisters on this earth. 

Additionally, it is a strong message to his clergy. In fact, when a scandal erupted in Germany regarding the "Bishop of Bling," Pope Francis did not try to excuse him or even ignore it. No, he made a strong statement by recalling him to Rome. In fact, as of November 1st, Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst is now living in a Benedictine monastery in Metten. There have even been calls for his $4.2 million residence to be turned into a soup kitchen for the homeless! 

A wonderful message to the clergy: get with the message! Get with Christ's message!

Number Two Reason I Love Pope Francis: His Love and Tolerance

Early in his papacy, the Pope was quoted as saying "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?" That stopped me in my tracks. There are a few individual churches that have been opening up to gays and lesbians, but who knew the Catholics would be one of them? Now, true, he hasn't changed the doctrine but he is changing the focus of the church. 

If you listened to the recent General Conference put on by the Church last October, many of the talks focused on the dangers of gay marriage, of religious freedom, of liberalism. Things like this just make me cringe inside and want to scream out loud "Wait a Minute!" They are focusing too much on items like this. If they do mention income inequality, it is to condemn the dole. Groan. 

But this Pope is focusing on the poor and the evils of income inequality. In fact, he has made a frontal attack against what he calls "unbridled capitalism" and the "throwaway attitude" of today's society. 

In September, he said that church had become too "obsessed" with the topics of gay marriage, abortion, and contraception. They had focused on these while forgetting the central message of Christ. He criticized the church for "putting dogma before love" and "prioritizing moral doctrines over serving the poor and marginalized." What a wonderful message!

Look at how Christians in this country work so hard trying not to support anyone that disagrees with them on abortion, gay marriage, or contraception. They focus on these items so much that they support a party and a political ideology whose central goal is to help the wealthy and to cut social services that protect the poorest and most marginalized in society.

There have been quite a few instances where the Pope has made personal contact with these people. He has written e-mails and telephoned people, reaching out. He has even gotten the nickname "The Cold Call Pope." A pregnant woman, who is bearing a child out of wedlock, feared her baby would not be baptized due to its illegitimacy. The Pope wrote and offered to baptize the child himself. He called a young gay man that his "homosexuality doesn't matter...we are all children of God." 

Are you paying attention evangelicals? Fellow Mormons? This is how you should do Christianity! No judging! No condemnation! Straight love and service. 

My Third Reason to Love This Pope: Social Justice

Have you seen who dislikes the Pope? Sarah Palin! Well, if that wasn't an endorsement! The free-market Institute of Economic Affairs laments that he lacks the "sophisticated" approach of his predecessors. He has denounced the conditions that fashion workers in Bangladesh work in. He has said that God wants men and women to be at the heart of the world, yet we live in a world that worships "an idol called money." What a breath of fresh air!

Why don't I hear such topics spoken by my Church leadership? Instead, we have talks where about the supposed threat against marriage. The threat of a liberal ideology and a secular world. Even Brigham Young spoke out against income inequality: 
The people of communities and nations among whom wealth is the most equally distributed, enjoy the largest degree of liberty, are the least exposed to tyranny and oppression and suffer the least from luxurious habits which beget vice… One of the great evils with which our own nation is menaced at the present time is the wonderful growth of wealth in the hands of a comparatively few individuals. The very liberties for which our fathers contended so steadfastly and courageously… are endangered by the monstrous power which this accumulation of wealth gives to a few individuals and a few powerful corporations… 
If this evil should not be checked, and measures not taken to prevent the continued enormous growth of riches among the class already rich, and the painful increase of destitution and want among the poor, the nation is likely to be overtaken by disaster; for, according to history, such a tendency among nations once powerful was the sure precursor of ruin.
 Another Hope from the Pope: Eco-Theology

We are asked to be stewards of this earth. So, I have always been disgusted at other Christians who support the climate skeptics and continue to support policies that harm our planet, our home. 

Recently the Pope was actually photographed with anti-fracking activists. Wow!! Now, that's a statement:
@Pontifex says no to fracking

It has even been revealed, according to Mr Freedland, that the Pope has been in contact with Leonardo Boff, an eco-theologian who was shunned by Rome and sentenced to "obsequious silence." It is even said that an encyclical on care for the planet is on the way. 

Now, this is not to say that I think the Catholic church has cured itself of all its ills. It needs to work harder on curing the cancer that is the sexual abuse scandal. But the Pope is a wonderful sign of hopeful signs to come. He is also a great role model for other religious leaders out there. Christian or not. He is showing us the way not just back to Christ, but how Christ would have us act. I hope we pay attention.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Please, let's keep politics out of church!

Really, I get so irritated at church sometimes. I'm a liberal who lives in a conservative county and attends a conservative church. Most would ask why? I even ask that from time to time. 

To answer: because the gospel isn't conservative. It's liberal. But unfortunately God has to work with people. As imperfect as they are. And many are conservative. 

I am a Mormon and I hear quite frequently how we are a non-political church. That's a lovely statement. But not always put in practice. 

Like today, the lesson in my Relief Society class veered into a lecture against choosing wrong between God and the devil. She spoke about liberty and choosing the right and then veered right into gay marriage. 

I hoped it was a temporary tangent. But unfortunately it seemed to be a central theme. Now, I know this woman's feelings. I don't agree with them. And I think it goes beyond the pale to teach them to a captive audience. 

Now, part of me wanted to speak up. To complain. But I couldn't. As it says in 3 Nephi 11:29, "contention is of the devil". So I took the better part: I left and read my Scriptures until my ride was ready. 

I find myself thinking of religion often. The people that seem to represent Christian values are the atheists. They are the ones that support actions and policies that most go in tandem with the words of Christ. 

If we were made in the image of God... if we were sent down here to learn... to grow... than why are we all different? Male and female... dark and white... tall and short... gay and straight. We were all born differently, with different talents and gifts. But why?

Maybe, just maybe, our Heavenly Father sent us down to see how we would learn to work together... whether we could see past appearances to the person underneath. 

In the 22nd Chapter of the Book of Matthew in the New Testament, Christ tells us what the two great commandments are:

 36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
 37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt alove the Lord thy God with all thy bheart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy cmind.
 38 This is the first and great acommandment.
 39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt alove thy neighbour as thyself.
 40 On these two commandments hang all the alaw and the prophets.
Let's look at that. "on these... hang all the law and the prophets". What does that mean? I think it means that if you interpret anything else in the teachings that runs counter to those two commandments, then it is not of God.
Any doctrine... any teaching... any "commandment" that causes harm --- emotional, physical, spiritual --- must be ignored or fought against.
Discrimination... denying people the same rights you have... telling people that they are wrong... that they are sinners just because they are different. That is the sin. 
I've got news for my fellow churchgoers. Homosexuality, contraception, women working instead of bearing children, the internet, working on Sundays... these are not the issues that we, as servants of Christ, must be concerned with. 
We must be more concerned with the things that the new Pope of the Catholic Church has been focusing on: poverty, illness, income inequality, etc. These are the issues that are really hurting people... hurting families.
I have been criticized for expressing opinions counter to some that have been put out by our church leaders. But who is the head of this Church? Whose name is in the actual name of our Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints! That's right. Christ. 
I respect our Church leaders, even love and admire them. But if they give me advice and guidance that runs counter to those two first great commandments, then I have to conclude that those are their personal feelings, and not God's guidance. 
I pray that my Church... that all churches... would get back to Christ's teachings... about the things that mattered to Christ. We are taught to emulate Christ. That means leaving our intolerances and prejudices behind. 
And, please, leave the politics when you go into your church.  

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Could you live on $337 a month???

Listening to The Diane Rehm Show this morning, I learned some horrifying details on Medicaid. In some states, just owning a car - no matter its worth - will make you ineligible for Medicaid. But then they told other details. In some states, if you don't have a children, you are ineligible - no matter how little you earn.

As for income, in Texas, a family of three the income cutoff is $4044 per year! That's $337 a month! That's just over $10 a day! $3 a meal! (Let's not mention rent!)

Now, how many could survive on that? I'm sure the Republicans are saying, "well, get a better job!" Oh, yeah, right.  This completely belies the argument about people becoming dependent on social services. Who can afford to eat, much less anything else, and be dependent on Medicaid?

What if you work at McDonald's or Wal-Mart? Or what if you do have a full time job - but at minimum wage? Let's use Texas as an example again. In Texas, the minimum wage is $7.25/hour. (Dear God, the last time I had a minimum wage job was in 1990 and I think I earned more than that!) That means, even with full time, you'd make $15,000 a year. The Federal Government lists the poverty level for a family of 3 as $19,530 a year. Yet, you would still not be eligible for Medicaid. Basically, the State of Texas thinks poverty is a job that pays less than a dollar a week!

Please, how do they come up with these figures? And Texas isn't the only guilty party. Thankfully those states not run by certain Republican governors can help their poor. The expansion will give Medicaid to anyone earning up to 1.38 times the Federal Poverty Level. That's nearly $30,000 a year! I would've been eligible when I was a secretary! (Of course, that job had good benefits already. I wouldn't have needed it.)

Here are some ways this is good for the country, not just the person:

1) Less uninsured people showing up at hospital emergency rooms. Did you know your state may have to cover part of those costs? It's not just written off by the hospital by higher prices for paying customers.

2) More productive employees.

3) Less people that maintain a jobless status to keep basic medical coverage rather than looking for work.

4) More people with actual disposable income. That's trickle down stuff, folks! The economy works better when people buy stuff - other than groceries.

5) Maybe people in the inner cities won't resort to self-medicating or selling drugs.

6) Obamacare requires mental health care coverage. Maybe less crazy people will buy guns and we won't have to argue with the gun rights people about background checks.

I'm sure there are more. Let's stop characterizing this as dependence or for weak people. What about those dependent industries like aviation, oil, coal, gas, automotive? Aren't they dependent on subsidies? Let's remember this country is "for the people".

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Church Fathers, Secularism Isn't The Greatest Danger In The World

Lately, I've been arguing with a lot of fellow Mormons on line and other Christians about this so-called threat to religious liberty. And, now. we have had a special stake conference and the representative from the church leadership decided to emphasize the threat of secularism. About how church members are criticized for speaking out about their faith or even threatened. About how religion is being forced out of the public sphere.

Well, I'm afraid I could not suppress a vocal groan. Hopefully, everybody thought my back had gone out. (Not very comfortable sitting still that long.) 

He called out such countries as Norway and Sweden as examples of what could happen if we didn't stop it. I nearly laughed out loud. It's not like we'd turn into China or  Russia, no. He picked Scandinavian countries. Some of the happiest and healthiest countries in the world!

One of my biggest problems with this demonization of secularism is the idea that it is somehow attacks religion. A secular country is not by definition or in practice an atheist country. In fact, according to Wikipedia, the definition of a secular state is:

A secular state is a concept of secularism, whereby a state or country purports to be officially neutral in matters of religion, supporting neither religion nor irreligion. A secular state also claims to treat all its citizens equally regardless of religion, and claims to avoid preferential treatment from a particular religion/nonreligion over other religions/nonreligions.  Secular states do not have a state religion or equivalent, although the absence of  a state religion does not necessarily mean that the state is fully secular.

I am a Mormon. I like to think I'm a good Mormon. A faithful Mormon. I have a testimony of this church and I know it is true. I know that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God. I know that Jesus Christ died for me.

That being said, I also know the harm that religion can do if it gets too involved in government. Why did our forefathers move here? It wasn't for the weather. They moved because they were hounded and persecuted out of Europe. Even the Netherlands didn't want them anymore. (Even back then they were pretty progressive.) 

In my own Church (which was pretty badly persecuted in its early days), they like to teach that God prepared this country for the restoration of the gospel. Well, if that's true, they shouldn't attack the separation of church and state. They were persecuted badly enough. They were hounded from state to state. The founder of the Church was foully murdered. Would this happen today? With more progressive and liberal laws, I think not. 

And, in my own family, some of my earliest ancestors on the American continent were persecuted for not practicing their faith to the standards of others in their community. (And they were Quakers.)

Because of all this, I am a strong defender of the separation of church and state. 

Now let's look at the value of secularism. Secularism that protects the free practice of their faith. Now the speaker today discussed how bad the Scandinavian and many European countries are becoming because of rising secularism. I say NONSENSE! (I could say worse, I suppose, but it's a Sunday.)

Here are just a few statistics I looked up. 

Happiest (most content citizens) countries:
1) Denmark
2) Norway
3) Switzerland
4) The Netherlands
5) Sweden

Most prosperous:
1) Norway 
2) Denmark
3) Sweden
4) Australia
5) New Zealand

Safest to live or visit:
1) Iceland
2) Norway
3) Denmark 
4) Finland
5) Austria

Healthiest countries:
1) Singapore
2) Italy
3) Australia
4) Switzerland
5) Japan

Best Educated:
1) Finland
2) South Korea
3) Hong Kong
4) Japan
5) Singapore

Countries with least income inequality:
1) Denmark
2) Sweden
3) Norway
4) Czech Republic
5) Slovakia

Best countries to be a woman:
1) Iceland
2) Norway
3) Finland
4) Sweden
5) Ireland

Best countries to be a kid:
1) Japan
2) Spain 
3) Germany
4) Italy
5) France

Countries with the best human rights record:
1) Norway
2) San Marino
3) Canada 
4) Belgium
5) Luxembourg

Now, now, now, they don't look that bad. Look at all those European, and Scandinavian names. Now, certainly, they aren't all secular governments. But 44% are Scandinavian and 75% are European. And our poor country didn't even hit the top 5 on any of these.

I love my Father in Heaven. I love being a Mormon. However, I can still see the damage religion can do. Why is secularism and atheism rising? Now, I know that many will say that religion is irrational. Well, besides that, how many people won't go because they consider religion to be harmful and intolerant. How many young Catholics have left the church (or even committed suicide) because of the Church's teachings? 

We, as sons and daughters of our Father in Heaven, need to keep in mind his teachings. Most importantly his two great commandments, especially the second great commandment -- "to love our fellow man as we love our God". 

Secondly, we need to remember that our right to practice our religion should not compromise others. Let's not be hypocritical. How many times have our legislatures tried to pass laws that discriminate on those who practice Islam or Wicca or those who choose not to practice at all? Yet, they also want to pass laws that favor their religion? When do those laws get even more restrictive and only protect those of the Protestant or Evangelical persuasion? Where does it stop?

A person I used to communicate with on line - one I thought of as a friend at one time - once said I was attacking free speech. I guess she missed the point. I understand free speech. That's why I object to people going on and on about how evil the liberal philosophy (or ideology) is. To supporting a party and philosophy that seemed to be the complete opposite of Christ's teachings. I also object to a Church that constantly extols the values of free agency (free will) telling me that I'm wrong. 

Now, to be fair, I also object to people of my political persuasion telling me I'm irrational and deluded for believing in a Higher Being.