Thursday, May 26, 2011

Why do I believe what I believe?

A friend from another church sincerely asked me about my faith. Many people say that there is no archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon while much does exist for the Bible. How have I reconciled with that? This is my response.

"Yes, if a Mormon feels that they are being challenged, many will often start "bearing testimony" of what they believe from their own personal experiences. I see pros and cons to this, but I won't get into that.

Why this doesn't bother me (the afore mentioned evidence issue), because obviously I've had to reconcile it. How do we know the Bible is true? It contains facts about battles, places, etc. Basically, history and culture back up a lot of facts. BUT, what backs up any of the miracles? What backs up anything that says God is in this book? While there are tons upon tons of apologetics resources that try to prove with science or logic or whatever that it was possible for the Red Sea to be parted or for Jesus to have risen in 3 days, there are tons upon tons of resources that try to prove other wise also using logic and science. Basically, you choose what to believe. It is a debate without end. BUT, does it really matter if someone can prove scientifically that the Red Sea was parted? That is wasn't? So, although I can believe that the Bible is historically and culturally accurate, what is there to make me believe that the fantastical things within the book are also true? Are there not religious stories, legends, and fairy tales from other cultures that also contain real places, people and events that can be backed up by history and culture? If one's argument that the fantastical stories in the Bible are true just because they can be backed up by history and culture, then why not believe that the religious stories of the Aztecs or the Incas or the Maya or any other civilization are also true? Do they not contain historical and cultural evidence of real societies? But hasn't science disproved them? Hasn't science disproved that snakes and donkey's can't talk, though? Should I not believe that these legends are true because there are no apologetics for them? The thing is, in these areas where Catholicism has invaded and dominated, there are few believers left, and nobody to actually defend them. If I am only to believe a book is true because of historical and cultural evidence, then sure, the Book of Mormon is hugely lacking (that being said, please to not quote me out of context on that last sentence, especially without relating what I am about to say).

BUT, the thing is, historical and cultural evidence alone is not enough. That stuff is easy to believe. I mean, I believe what I learned from my history and social studies text books. And the point of religious scripture, at least in Christianity, is to relate the story of God, strengthen belief in Him, and to learn to live in a way that is appeasing to Him. So, what is there that proves the existence of God? Science? Science has also claimed to disprove His existence. I can't trust another man to tell me that God is real. I can believe Joseph Smith is a prophet, but just because he or any other man tells me God is real, that doesn't make it so. I can't trust books. I can't trust science. I can't trust man. How am I supposed to know that God is real?

Mormonism addresses this issue by more than telling me to look at nature and think how it's impossible for it's intricacy can be an accident. Mormonism asks people to pray to know truth. Mormonism asks people to ask God to tell them what nobody else can: That He exists. That the scriptures are real. Yes, feelings can be misleading. Yes, not everybody literally feels something. Yes, people who believe in God but pray to know that the Book of Mormon is true may not get an answer. I cannot tell you why. I can tell you that I have. I can tell you that because I was trained to think very logically in the church of Christ it took me a very long time to iron out a lot of details. I rejected a lot of the cliché answers that Mormons gave me, and I still do. What I can tell you about the LDS Church that I love, is that it presents its case, then asks people to pray to know for themselves, because an answer from God, cannot be explained by science, just as Christ's ability to rise from the grave cannot be explained by science. It was spiritual. It was a miracle.

So, while there is a lack of cultural and historical evidence for the events of the Book of Mormon, I see no reason why I should believe in it any less than the Bible, or the Q'ran, or the Popol Vuh, or atheistic literature. The thing is, if there is a God, I will rely on Him and not on the explanations of man (also do not take that last phrase out of context without reading further). I am not saying that "evidence" from any party that tries to disprove my belief in the Bible or the Book of Mormon should be pushed aside just because I have received an answer from God otherwise. I think that is a fault in a lot of mainstream Mormon dogma. What I am saying, is that after having considered everything, if a belief has not been disproved, continue seeking secular and spiritual evidence (secular: from history, man, culture, science, spiritual: from God).

I have heard it said that the Book of Mormon is not true because the animals mentioned have not been found in the Americas. I have heard other such arguments, but I maintain that a lack of evidence does not prove that something didn't happen. If my only evidence that God reached down and took a rib from Adam and some dust and made a woman comes from the Bible, then what other evidence is there that supports this? I choose to believe the Book of Mormon 1. Because I have yet to read anything that makes me think that it is false and 2. Because I have asked God about it, and He has reassured me of its truth.

I hope this has been insightful. I hope it makes sense, and I'd love to hear your thoughts on it."

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Bin Laden's Death, Turning the Other Cheek, and Justice

Another terrorist bites the dust. Another man is dead. Another father is lost. Another family feels justified. Another flag is waved in celebration. Another Facebook status is updated.

I am an amateur religious philosopher. An amateur political idealist. An amateur adult. But I do know that although a man who has done almost unimaginable evil has been assassinated, I feel a pinch of unease as I see people cheering about his death specifically. No, I certainly have not been affected quite like the families of the 9/11 victims and the many more who have been victimized in the Middle East (whom we often forget) as a direct result of his actions. I hope to never have to feel that degree of grief and loss. But there is something about taking pleasure in the death of a man that reminds me of the victory that Al Qaida expressed when the World Trade Centers were hit. When the Westboro Baptist Church protests at a soldier's funeral. That I sense in the Facebook statuses of this fast-paced world.

Here are a few Facebook statuses that I have seen on Facebook in the past few hours:

1. "No better place to celebrate Bin Laden's death than AT THE WHITE HOUSE!!!!"
2. "not to be redundant or anything...but heck yes!! Osama is dead!! It took is ten years, but we finally did it :)"
3. "Osama is dead!!"
4. "that guy is in for a big surprise... sorry homie, no virgins. Just a bunch of other guys that you promised virgins waiting for you."
5. "we got that piece of s***, f*** yea!"
6. "Ding dong Bin Laden's dead!"
and the ever popular nationalistic saying:
7. "greatest country in the world, proud to be an American"

Now, I'd like to take a moment to reflect on some Bible verses that come to mind that I have seen on Facebook statuses in the past few hours. Thanks to all those Lipscomb students who have been putting them up:

Matthew 5:38-48
"You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

Now, I am by no means suggesting that turning the cheek should be interpreted as not seeking justice for those who attack innocent people or not trying to protect the innocent. BUT I do think these versus teach us that there is a respect for humanity that is to be understood for all people, and perhaps that means not rejoicing at the death OF ANYONE. While bin Laden did many terrible things that he will have to answer for, and while I am no judge as to whether or not his life needed to be ended (I have seen that many of you question the necessity of spending so much time and money on killing a man who likely has little influence anymore on Al Qaida's actions and whose assassination is more likely to cause harmful retaliations), let us not forget that God created him. That there are people hurting right now in his absence, and we are not going to improve our relationships with those who have been wounded by taking pride or pleasure in their loss. That is not the higher law.

I'm writing this, not just because I believe in it, but because I struggle with it. To all those who have read this, I ask you, how should we react to the news of a man who has been killed in ANY situation. How do we react to the news of the death of a man who has committed horrible atrocities towards other human beings? How do we as good Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and atheists avoid desiring our personal ideas of justice over compassion?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Fears of Expectations as an LDS Woman

I thought about changing the title of this blog. I thought maybe it would elicit I-told-you-so comments from people who have not been happy with the choices I have made in the past couple years. BUT, that is what this blog is about, AND regardless, I wouldn't have made my decisions any other way.

I have pondered the issue all day. Over the past couple months, I have had many conversations with different male friends that often led to a discussion on gender roles. No, I highly doubt they realized that that's what we were talking about, but it was. One person told me they would be ashamed to stay home and raise their kids while their wife had a full-time job or went to law school. Another told me it's ok if I don't know what I want to do for the rest of my life because once I have kids I'll be home with them all day long. And the majority of men and women tell me that the woman is to "nurture" and the man is to "provide" and "protect" for the family, as if those words meant the mom is the sole caregiver and the father is the sole bread-winner or that those roles could not possible be divided equally.

All these comments are meant with sincerity. They are not meant to make me feel that I am only as valuable as my child-rearing skills, but they make me feel that way. I have been told that I should get a college education so that I can pass that knowledge on to my children. Never have I been told that I should pass that knowledge along to my fellow man. I mean, let's be serious, I'm probably not going to sit around with my kids and explain to them phonetics and syntax, nor do I think that doing so will make them better human beings. So why am I even going to school? I want my sons AND my daughters to grow up and get as much education as they want. I want them BOTH to have huge aspirations. I want to hear my daughter tell me she wants to be an astronaut, and I want her to actually try just as much as I hope my son does the same.

I feel like I am judged harshly for wanting to have a career where I am helping immigrants assimilate into American culture or teaching literacy when I should want to be at home all the time with my children. But what about my husband? Is he looked down upon for having a full-time career and spending less time at home than I am? Would my children be any worse off with a father who took them to school in the mornings and was there for them when they got home each afternoon? I feel like that's a horrible expectation for men, as well.

I'm not saying that I don't want to raise children or that I expect to have a full-time career while my husband is a home maker. I discovered last summer that I love children. I loved playing with elementary school kids for hours a day in Mexico last summer. I loved helping them read Harry Potter in Spanish or being their soccer referee at recess, or playing zombie games after dinner. I think I spent more free time with children than any other age group, in fact. What bothers me, is that I feel like nobody asks me what I want. Everyone assumes that they know what I need to do and that I am acquiescing.

So, here's what I really want. I want a husband who loves me and who will decide with me how many children we want, can financially support, and can devote enough time to equally. I want to raise my children, hand-in-hand, with my husband. I want our children to see us as equally capable of having deep conversations, helping with homework, packing lunches, and playing games. I also want them to see that we both value education as much for girls as we do for boys. I want them to look at both of us as people who spend time not just raising them, but devoted to our communities and helping others. I want my children to see that it is important to help those outside their physical families, and that it is important for both men and women to reach out and work for the betterment of mankind. I want them to judge my husband and I based on our works and our character, and not on our gender and what roles we are "supposed" to fulfill.

I think understanding how I feel about my own society's expectations for me as a woman will help me with my project this summer. As I interview moms in rural Mexico about what they hope for the daughters they are raising, I hope to empathize with them by understanding my hopes more clearly. Do they hope their daughter gets enough education to snag a man? Do they hope their daughter gets the education she wants to do the job she desires? Do they hope their daughters provide them with many grandchildren? Do they just want them to be happy? I don't know, but thinking about these things and how they affect me, will hopefully give me insight into the lives the roles that they fulfill and how they are passing those beliefs onto the next generation.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Moms and Dads, Husbands and Wives, Feminazis and Womanizers

Something that Condoleezza Rice said in her Q&A session Thursday has been on my mente. A sociology posed the question as to whether the emergence of a female president is an immanent reality for the United States. She used some logical evidence to back up her view and announced that she thinks it is only a matter of time. She went on to say that even if people are not vocalizing the question "Can a woman be Commander in Chief just as well as a man?" that it is certainly something Americans are turning over in the back of their minds. "And the answer is, "Yes!" At this point, about 20 girls in the audience hollered in appreciation, myself included. It was a moment both comical and precious. I am sad to say that after this comment, I made the prediction that at the end of the question, men would not applaud with the same enthusiasm as they did with other questions. Realizing my narrow-minded attitude, I quickly took shame and tossed the thought aside. What disturbed me even more though was when I looked around the audience and noticed that my prediction was, sadly, correct. There was an obvious decline in clapping compared to other questions.

And why did this bother me? Yes, because I, myself, am a woman and feel that that means that people do not think I can do some things as well as a ma just because God gave me different body parts. BUT I also began thinking about men and what we as Americans, Mormons, human beings expect that men cannot do as well as women. I think the issue goes both ways. I think having a career is great along with the intellectual stimulation and sense of helping others that comes with it. I also think staying home and raising children is one of the most nobel and precious things a person can aspire to do. And, I think that unequally distributing these 2 duties between a husband and wife is not fair to either spouse. I'm not a mom. I don't know what it is like to have the love of a mother, but I do imagine that seeing my child for the first time is love at first sight. Likewise, I would assume that it is the same for a father. So, why should I get to stay home with the child and make my husband work all the time? Correct me if I'm wrong, men, but with all societal roles and expectations aside, wouldn't you like to stay at home and be a dad like the women get to do?

I have, thus, decided, that equal right between gender is much more than a women's issue: it is a children's issue. I want my husband to be a parent just as much as I am. Not just because I think that is a stressful load on either of us, but I want my children to have a father figure around as much as a mother one. I don't think that a working woman is necessarily any less nurturing or a stay-at-home dad is any less providing. I just want my children to see that there needs to be a balance between work and family not just between spouses, but for an individual, as well. I don't want them to feel limited in their dreams and desires just because of gender roles. I want them to see their father as more than someone who provides and protects. I want them to see him as a man who is deeply devoted to his children. I want to be a mom who does more than tirelessly love and care for her children, and as a woman who contributes to society and her fellow man with the degrees and job she worked hard for.

And at the end of the day, all I really want is for me and my family to be happy. Some women stay home full time while their spouses work full time, and that works wonderfully for them. I have a friend whose father was the stay-at-home parent and whose mom was the full time worker. Her father is one of the kindest men I know, and he is very happy to have spent so many happy years of his life raising his son and 4 daughters. And there are others who find a way to divide the time more equally between spouses and lead very fulfilling lives. I suppose what I am trying to say is that there is no right or wrong formula for society, only for individuals, and I hope that we can recognize that there is no concrete formula for how "gender" duties should be divided. I realize this is a deeply touchy and controversial subject, but I'd be interested in all thoughts and opinions on the subject.

Peace and Blessings!


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Motivation and Fear of the Desconocido

I feel like a particular theme has been haunting my life lately. I don't mean that in a creepy way, but I say that because I really do feel like it has been present in all of my most precious conversations with friends and family in the past week. It is what I have worried about regarding possible future careers and the topic that penetrated my memory the most when Condoleezza Rice came and spoke at school on Tuesday: La Motivación. So what do I do when my world is saturated by a single thought? I blog about it.

I would like to start by saying that my little brother is awesome. Really, and here is why:

Since my first semester of college, I knew I wanted to teach ESL. I really like learning languages, and I wanted to do something that both fulfilled my desire to pursue a language-based career and help people who genuinely needed help. Teaching English as a Second language! Of course! When I was little I went with my aunt to one of her ESL classes and was amazed how these people from different countries all went in speaking a dozen different languages and came out speaking English. Magic. I called up a local non-profit in Nashville that I had volunteered for and set up a schedule to volunteer helping teach ESL and citizenship classes on Tuesday nights the next semester. Unfortunately, I had to change schools the next semester and the opportunity was lost when I was in a much smaller town without a car, and for the next few semesters I did not do much to keep the dream alive.

And then, something horrible happened: I began to doubt myself. Yes, I used to want to help immigrants integrate into and function in society. I wanted to work with them and hear their stories and learn about their cultures and why they came to the United States. But, me? A teacher? Was I up for that? Did I want to carry such a huge responsibility to help people learn something well? What if they didn't want to learn? Was I up for motivating them? Ironically, this is one of the reasons that I was so eager about teaching ESL. Those who took my class would be taking it because they really wanted and needed it. I felt that it would be exciting to teach, because students would be eager to learn. They NEED to know English. However, as a difficult year unfolded, I doubted my ability to do what I wanted to do, because I just figured I was not a motivating person. BUT that nasty mentality all changed a couple weeks ago with this awesome brother who you should be jealous of.

Taking my regular Sunday nap, I was awakened by a text from my little brother who was dealing with some people with one of those horribly sad prejudices that are the result of ignorance, ethnocentricity, and fear of the unknown. Not sure if he should talk some sense into these individuals, make a scene, or just ignore it, he texted me, and I felt all warm and fuzzy inside, happy my brother thought to come to me with some issue/question/advice-seeking/sympathy. My response to the situation was to do what would most sustainably put the others to shame: educate himself (strike 1 for the monkey on my back trying to keep me from being a teacher). Read the news, ask those from other countries about their culture and political freedoms, investigate the workings of your own government, learn another language. I, a Linguistics major but most and foremost a sister, am proud to say that he has taken to learning Portuguese and reading NPR and has already heroically showed off his knowledge of Brazilian politics in his high school econ class as a result. HE even sent ME some really cool language learning website that he has been using. Rock on, Luke. Rock on.

And it is people like Luke that give me hope. If people can find the motivation within themselves to pursue real knowledge and do what they want, then maybe some day we will have peace and equality in this world. What I only recently realized, is that maybe I had something to do with him taking this path. Perhaps my diplomatic approach to his touchy situation was a contributing reason as to why he made a couple awesome decisions. I texted him, "Why not [learn about Brazil, learn Portuguese, educate yourself]! Just think of all the cool things that people do that you wish you did and actually go do them! Because you can! You just have to have faith in yourself and be determined." And his next texted warmed my heart: "You know what? I'm going to learn Portuguese. I really am." Maybe, I motivated him. Maybe I can be motivational. Maybe I can be a teacher.

As I began to ponder if this power was manifesting itself in a one-time-only instance or if I possessed some kind of ability to actually get people to do things that are good for them, I began to further ponder whether teaching was for me as I began a class on teaching literacy. And you know what I have discovered? I am afraid to do things that I haven't done before. You know what else I learned? The more I learn, the less afraid I am of the unknown. I read a chapter on teaching literacy methods and realized how complex and time-consuming it is to be a teacher and make lesson plans. To give each student the attention that they need personally. And something amazing happened: I wasn't discouraged the realization of the workload. I was inspired. You see, I though that teaching was just a talent. Period. Indeed, I think some are blessed with better teaching capabilities than others, but seeing that a good teacher is someone who works hard and not necessarily someone who just inherently knows how to teach made me think that maybe I could still teach English as a Second Language. Maybe getting to know and love my students would be all the motivation I would need to work hard to cater to their needs and make class fun and rewarding. Maybe the desire to see my students succeed would be enough to make me try harder to find books that they would like to read. To plan games that would facilitate learning. To vary my lesson plan. Maybe, I could be a hard and caring worker, and therefore be a good teacher. Strike 2, monkey.

Then, something great happened on Thursday: Condoleezza Rice spoke at school. I want to marry her. Ok, just kidding, not really, but I want to be her, for sure. Ok, also just kidding, I just want to be motivated to find my happiness in helping others and making myself happy like I believe she does. She spoke of the inequality gap in the United States that, despite our nation's relative prosperity, is quite high. I began thinking of Teach For America, and how I had been pondering if I wanted to join the corps when I graduated to teach in a high needs school for 2 years. It was that or join the Peace Corps or go to graduate school for Peace-Conflict Resolution. And then something amazing happened. I learned that I was clairvoyant. She began talking about our need for higher standards for our children and teachers. That every child needs an adult who will advocate for them, and that our k-12 education system is our nation's greatest thread to society. AND THEN she began talking about Teach For America. At this point, the monkey on my back fled as I began jumping up and down inside, shaking with excitement to make a difference in the world.

Yes, I am a hippie. In fact, I think my favorite quote from Dr. Rice that day was, "And now, it [peace] almost seems inevitable, doesn't it?" But, I see no reason why those providing social services and humanitarian work should not be ridiculously idealistic and optimistic. Why shouldn't we be bouncing up and down with excitement to teach, to help, to reach out, but a better question is can we afford not to?

I think we can all learn something by digging a little deeper and doing what is hard for us. What is scary for us. Because, by doing so, we destroy inhibitions, and by destroying inhibitions, we destroy the forces that impede us from reaching some higher purpose in life. And by not reaching those purposes, we are less equipped to use our power [knowledge] to help others do the same. I think I can be motivational. NAY! I know I can be motivational! I have done it before, and I can do it again. And now, I have a written blog to come back to when I am doubting myself. If you read this, don't forget to remind those who are fired up about something NOW that they can still accomplish great things TOMORROW. Sometimes, we forget, and sometimes we need to be reminded. And sometimes, you can be the reason that someone does not give up.