Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Sleepytime Summer

I'm so tired today; I just can't face the student papers I have to read so I've been blogging around. Since starting my Weber class (a TR at 7am!), I've been in constant tired mode. I leave for SLCC every MW by 6 or so in order to beat traffic. I don't teach till 9:45 but until yesterday I'd always made it to campus by 7am in order to prep and miss any traffic issues. Not sure I can keep up the early MWs with my 7am class--the last few MWs I've been zombie, nodding off while reading at 7:30 in the morning. Nodding off at this hour does not inspire confidence in oneself nor in one's ability to make it through to my last class which ends at 4.

Wonderful sleep entices yet hrs, weeks, months, a whole lifetime till we meet.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

The MS 150 saga

I’d promised myself that during the ride I would try to keep in mind those with MS, their struggles and devastating physical impairments. Unfortunately this proved more difficult than expected. To my credit I did think of the MS cause twice during the almost 5 hr ride—once near the beginning when I was part of a huge peloton (close to 100 riders) realizing only a cause like MS could pull together such a diverse group of riders at such an early hour for such a punishing experience. My awe of the peloton was quickly shattered when some of the peloton turned left and some went straight leading to a slow down from 25 mph to 0 in a few seconds. I had to slam on my brakes and a rider from behind me clipped me tossing me into the barrow pit. Seems I faired better than another rider who had road rash all down one side of his body. I escaped with a sprained thumb. While I would not fall again, I’d have two more mishaps by mile 50 and I wouldn’t remember the MS cause until after mile 50.

Mishap #2: bee sting ¼ inch from belly button while going close to 30 mph.

Mishap #3: flat tire at mile 52. Luckily I detected it by an aid station and was able to fix the flat in comfort.

Best moment: about 15 miles (30-45) with 9 cyclists working together at the front to catch solo breakaways (no this isn’t an official race but…). We were averaging 23-25 mph—it was efficient, even though this pace was impossible for all of us to keep for another 60 miles except one rider who is normally a cat 2 racer. This was also when I again thought of MS; actually it was after the exuberance of the fast 15 miles as I fixed my flat. The absolute irony of riding 100 miles in order to raise money for those with MS hit me. I wondered if anyone with MS had ever participated. Probably, but if so they would have known their days of riding were numbered.

All in all a great ride. I’d thought about doing 75 miles each day but decided instead to do 100 on Saturday and call it good. Thanks to those who supported the cause and my ride.

The Mormon Contact Zone: From single fathers to gay marriage

**This is the text of a talk I gave in church today--it's quite long. And, no, if you are wondering, I did not use the above title in church**

As I thought about the idea of sacrifice, I was immediately flooded by the myriad ways one might make sacrifice within the gospel community in ways that might not be perceived as sacrifice.

The kind of sacrifice I speak of is often misheard, misunderstood, mistranslated. It is the sacrifice, generally put, of those committed members who do not quite fit in to the mainstream. As Christ says in Matthew, “I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it NOT to one of the least of these, ye did it NOT to me.” It is the sacrifices offered at the margins, in the fringes of our institution. In order to create a frame to discuss this type of sacrifice, I want to take a brief detour through the Spanish conquest of the Americas

Recently I taught an essay by Mary Louise Pratt to a class at Weber State. In her influential essay, “Arts of the Contact Zone,” she contends that all communities are caught up in what she refers to in her title as a contact zone, a place where community members grapple with meaning and being understood, but more importantly where the less “normal” community members struggle to even be heard at all. She gives a poignant example in Guaman Poma, a mestizo of Quechuan and Spanish ancestory. In 1908 a 1200 page letter was found. It was written by Poma in a “mixture of Quechua and ungrammatical, expressive Spanish” and multiple drawings which used the Spanish written language and Andean (indigenous) spatial symbolism.

The letter was dated 1613 and was written to King Phillip III of Spain. It’s not known for sure but it seems clear that the letter was never read by the King—Poma’s critiques of the Spanish (the killing, the Christian conversions by force, the brutality, the misunderstandings of his people, and the parodies of the gold thirsting Spaniards) instead sat collecting dust in a Copenhagen Royal Archive for almost 400 years. Surely the letter—written in a mixture of seemingly broken languages and drawings—was seen as a text written by an illiterate savage, an outsider, and ultimately a potential trouble-maker. I can’t imagine the sacrifice it would have taken for Poma in 1613 to produce this 1200 page multimodal text.

Returning to the theme of sacrifice within our own community, we often hear about the many members who have given their time and even lives defending the gospel from the center. I respect and love these saints, but I also wonder about the sacrifices and contributions of saints on the fringes. I offer what I see as examples of this sacrifice, as possibly modern day Guaman Pomas.

A man who has been a student ward bishop and who could easily qualify for “high” office, decides his best work in the gospel is to nurture his wife who has multiple health problems. Still, on the sideline he and his wife home teach nine widows. He did not go on to be a high councilman or serve in stake callings; he sacrifices on the fringes

A sister in her 40s who has never had the opportunity to marry comes to church each week, sometimes sensing that she is not part of the norm, certainly not representative of the ideal: the family group of husband/wife/son/daughter. Still she comes, even on Mother’s day. Not only does she come but she invests in other people’s children. She’s bothered, maybe even annoyed, by some of the talks and lessons that seem to erase her existence; still she is a true latter day saint.

A young man who finally admits to himself, after years of self-torture and doubt, that he has strong homosexual feelings that will always be part of who he is. He decides to keep working at his marriage and, after coming close to divorce, they manage to come to an agreement and stay married. He and his wife sacrifice “normal” married life together in order to raise their children and serve within the community.

A single parent and father. As many divorced single parents he knows he doesn’t represent the ideal, the intact family sitting on the pew with his arm around his wife. Even though he aches for a complete family it may not happen for years and even when it does it will still not be the ideal family with one set of parents living in the home. Still, he comes to church each week, sometimes with his children, sometimes without. He wonders what could be done to foster support for parents like him who find themselves, at times, utterly alone.

INTERLUDE: then I will finish with two more examples
Most of us probably do not have much difficulty accepting these examples sacrifice—they might be problematic but they pose no real threat. My last two examples are more problematic; nevertheless, I believe they equally stem from the gospel and its focus on agency, an agency which asks us to follow the spirit even if it may put in peril our standing in the community, our job, or cause us to be derided by family or friends. This last group may be the hardest to listen to—they may seem merely rebellious or selfish or at worst uncommitted. But remember I speak of those who are committed to the LDS community but who also take seriously their conscious, the individual workings of the spirit.

Recently I listened to President Spencer Kimball’s son, Edward Kimball, speak of a book he wrote about his father: Lengthen your stride: the Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball. Edward discussed at length the tension-filled times when his father worked for a number of years to prepare the Church for the proclamation which extended the priesthood to all worthy males. What an amazing sacrifice by Pres. Kimball to contradict earlier doctrine and encrusted societal views in order to reinstate the priesthood to all members. In addition, what an amazing sacrifice by his son Edward to now speak openly and honestly about this time period. On NPR’s RadioWest Edward said that he personally believes BY got it wrong—that JS had given the priesthood to black members but BY fell to the racist views of the time. But did this personal conviction lessen his testimony of Brigham Young or the church? No.

While a less conventional notion of sacrifice, I believe some can make an important sacrifice to the community when they openly share their beliefs in an act of faith and trust, even when these ideas may be unpopular or unsettling. It was clearly not easy for Edward Kimball to question BY, a man he respects and sees as a prophet of God, but it was necessary and important for him to be honest. It is a type of sacrifice which moves our community closer to truth and closer to God.

Next I focus on an example more caught up in present issues of the church. I know this last example will not fit as easily into our preconceived notions of sustaining and supporting, of sacrificing for God, country, and the church.

Recently a member in good standing, a gospel doctrine teacher, Jeffrey Nielsen spoke out against the political charge the church made to members to support the constitutional amendment concerning gay marriage. No matter what one feels about this particular issue, I hope each of us can see the courage and sacrifice it took for him to speak out. Mr. Nielsen immediately lost his job at BYU and reaped unwanted negative attention for his family. There are some who speak out in order to call attention to themselves or merely to criticize the church, but I believe this is not the case with Mr. Nielsen. In a recent interview he made clear his continuing doubts about his decision to speak out, his love for BYU and even the colleagues who fired him, and his insistence that he would never speak out about doctrinal issues but only political ones where his own views and the church’s are incongruent. Mr. Nielsen demonstrates how one can “sustain” the brethren and yet disagree on a political issue; he gives hope to many saints who have similar feelings but also want to maintain full membership.

My contention is that the gospel tent is wide and far reaching, inviting all to come to unto Christ. In this wideness there will always be numerous ways for us to make sacrifice for our community, for Christ and for our country. Just as I do not see contradiction in a man “sacrificing” for his country by fighting in Iraq while another man makes an equally important sacrifice by protesting and refusing to fight in what he sees as an unjust war, neither do I see contradiction in sacrifice for the gospel community which constructively and humbly questions current belief. As Jeffrey Nielsen stated in his controversial Op-ed piece, “Freedom of conscience is a divine blessing, and our privilege to express it is a moral imperative.”

Each of us is a unique child of our Heavenly father, each of us have different talents, intelligences, and sacrifices to offer up to the Lord. We are each prepared through our premortal experience, our genetic gifts, and life experiences to contribute to the gospel community in a variety of ways. It’s my prayer that we will recognize these strengths, recognize that there is no cookie cutter shaping and dispensing perfectly formed molly Mormons or white-shirt clad, short haired elders but a myriad of shapes and sizes of saints.

To some of us is given the gift of near perfect obedience and loyalty. I respect and love these members, I marvel at their undying faith, their consistency, their sacrifice;

To others is given the gift of perseverance in the gospel when all seems to have gone terribly wrong, when the reality of their life story does not fit the ideal image of the church. I’m in admiration of these saints who work against all odds to maintain activity and worthiness.

To others is given the gift to question, to see inconsistency, to wallow in ambiguity, and yet be faithful. I too respect and love these individuals; I respect their willingness to hold on to faith and intellectual endeavors even when contradiction and crises arise.

There may not be a 1200 page letter awaiting us like Guaman Poma’s, but there are people right here in our midst who feel they are functioning from the margins, who feel they are misunderstood and even perceived as tearing down the community, making things messy, complicating what others feel is simple. But just imagine what good could have come if Poma’s letter had been read and taken seriously by King Phillip III. Certainly he would never have agreed with everything, but just maybe there could have been more understanding of where Poma was coming from, less judgment, more love and more charity. As Christ reminds us, “the second” great commandment is to “love they neighbor as thyself.” I hear in this statement the admonition to appreciate and recognize the sacrifices of all.