Saturday, December 25, 2010

To Know that Jesus is the Christ

I'm not exactly sure when I first knew that the stories were true, that Jesus was real. My parents taught me to turn to the scriptures when I needed answers, to listen to the promptings of the Spirit for comfort and guidance. My first clear memory of a personal experience with scripture helping me happened when I was six or seven years old.

According to witnesses (mostly my mother), I was a very gregarious child. One of her favorite stories is of me jumping into the arms of a complete stranger at the grocery store. But in growing up, somehow that changed. I developed a very strong sense of caution when dealing with other people. I learned not to trust smiles, that kindly old gentlemen might be predators and friendly children might only be looking for an opening to attack.

When I was in college, I began going through a very painful internal struggle with myself. I realized that I had closed myself off from human connections because of my fear. I remember one night when neither of my roommates were home, I was wracked with silent tears as I visualized peeling away layer after layer of emotional armor which I had built over the years. Literally shaking, I remember the distinct impression of arms being wrapped around me. I remember not wanting to move for fear that the sensation would leave.

Similar experiences have happened to me since then, and I have been impressed with strong mental and emotional inclinations at various times, which I believe are from the Spirit. There have been times when those impressions have quite literally saved my life.

I have been going through a hard time over the past two years. In the aftermath of escaping an abusive marriage to the one person I allowed to get deeper into my heart than anyone before my children were born, I have found myself fighting against layering myself once again with emotional armor and closing myself off to the possibility of being hurt that deeply again.

But I know it is important to remain open and vulnerable to pain because that is what my Savior did. The angel asked Nephi once, "Knowest thou the condescension of God?" Like Nephi, I can reply that I know that God loves His children, but that I don't know the meaning of everything that has happened on this earth. More than two thousand years ago, a man who was God came to this earth, opening Himself up to all that mortality means; the pain, fear, discomfort, betrayal and sorrow.

Like me, He knows what it is like to be betrayed and rejected of those He loved most, those He called His "jewels". He knows what it is like to long for a place that feels like home. He knows what it is like to face His duty to the Father only to be afraid and wish that His life were something other than it was. And yet, He came. He came and He finished what He was sent to do.

I know that He is real as I know my own heart is real, for I have felt Him. I know that He is present in this great Mortality Play, and that He knows me. And for a God like that, I proclaim, "Hallelujah!" For a man like that, I will gladly fall to my knees and worship. For my Savior, I will continue to fight to remain open and vulnerable as my offering to an Almighty God, in the hopes of serving Him by serving His children.

I know He is, and He lives. Glory to God, Hallelujah!

Tochter Zion, freue dich!
Jauchze, laut, Jerusalem!
Sieh, dein König kommt zu dir!
Ja er kommt, der Friedenfürst.
Tochter Zion, freue dich!
Jauchze, laut, Jerusalem!

Zion's daughter, O rejoice!
Shout aloud, Jerusalem!
Lo, thy King doth come to thee,
Yea, He comes, the Prince of Peace!
Zion's daughter, O rejoice!
Shout aloud, Jerusalem!

Hosianna, Davids Sohn,
Sei gesegnet deinem Volk!
Gründe nun dein ewig' Reich,
Hosianna in der Höh'!
Hosianna, Davids Sohn,
Sei gesegnet deinem Volk!

Hail, hosanna, David's Son,
Be Thou to Thy people blest!
Thine eternal kingdom come!
Praise be sung to Thee on high!
Hail, hosanna, David's Son,
Be Thou to Thy people blest!

Hosianna, Davids Sohn,
Sei gegrüßet, König mild!
Ewig steht dein Friedensthron,
Du, des ew'gen Vaters Kind.
Hosianna, Davids Sohn,
Sei gegrüßet, König mild!

Hail, hosanna, David's Son,
Be Thou welcome, gentle King!
Firmly stands Thy throne of peace,
Thou, the Father's only Son!
Hail, hosanna, David's Son,
Be Thou to Thy people blest!

Tochter Zion, Freue Dich!
Heinrich Ranke (1798-1876)
Translation by H. Brueckner

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Of Course There Is Nothing Wrong With Porn

I have seen several arguments lately that pornography is a natural, and even beneficial behavior. I've noticed a few things about these comments.

First, they're almost entirely made by men.

Second, they make an age-old series of claims used by men the world over and from time immemorial to excuse their abuse of women. 1) That their sex drive is much stronger than a woman's, biologically, and that therefore a) a man can't help himself and b) a woman can't understand what it's like. 2) That because their drive is so strong, they must find an outlet for it (through porn or by guilting one's spouse into more frequent sex or uncomfortable sexual practices) or commit some other, "worse" sin. (In my personal experience, it was a threat of violence.) 3) That it doesn't hurt anyone. 4) That it's the guilt and shame that hurts, not the viewing of porn itself, and 5) that the porn can actually help increase intimacy in a real sexual relationship.

I've already written a post on what I think pornography really is (a realm where the person can be safely objectified and forced to perform to the viewer's fantasies.) With that in mind, I call baloney on the whole series of claims. First, I think it is more likely that men's sexual bullying techniques are more socially acceptable, not that their sex drive is generally higher. I also suspect that because women are a) more likely to be turned on by less visible things and b) not as often encouraged to be excited by visible things, and c) less likely to immediately betray their attraction, that their drives are less obvious.

Saying that men can't help it is selling their agency pretty cheaply. I'm a strong believer in personal responsibility. If they say they have to be either violent/promiscuous/etc. or sexual, they are threatening their partners and trying to shift responsibility for their behavior onto the partner. (Which is abusive, by the way.)

Also, pornography definitely hurts someone. It may not be the viewer in the most obvious ways, but it hurts those around them, particularly their partners. It is a not-so-subtle message that women are cheap, and that the partner isn't "enough" for the viewer.

Placing blame for the hurt on the guilt and shame is just another rather transparent attempt to avoid personal responsibility for the consequences of bad choices.

And there is no way that pornography (the objectifying of another person) can contribute to a spiritual, divine, intimate bond with a spouse. Just like the Spirit can't dwell in unclean houses, neither can respect for another live in the same place as pornography.

So I don't buy it one bit. And even though the easy topic is male-oriented porn, female-oriented porn (such as becoming sexually aroused by book characters) is just as objectifying and just as bad. So stop lying to yourself and take responsibility.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Endangered Species of Housewives

This is not about feminism, so please don't go there. It is a few thoughts about the value of having one dedicated stay-at-home spouse, and one dedicated work-outside-of-the-home spouse. Which spouse does which is not the topic I'd like to address here, because even though I believe in the guidelines in the Family Proclamation, I also believe in individual and familial adaptation and agency. (With my trust issues and other things, I do see value in having one gender primarily doing one or the other, but that is beside the point.)

I don't know many of my neighbors. No one in my family participates in community activities. I barely know anything about national political issues, let alone local ones. If I needed to borrow a tiller, I wouldn't know who to ask. If my neighbor needed to borrow my chainsaw, they probably don't have a clue that I have one. I don't really know if anyone on my street has kids my age, or what their names are. Very rarely does my family eat a meal that takes longer than 30 minutes to prepare. If I do take 30 minutes, I'm proud of fixing a "real meal". I have a few piles of things that need to be organized in my house, that I've just not found energy or time to organize. I don't decorate for Christmas beyond quick basics. My house is relatively clean and relatively comfortable, but not as much as I would like.

Of course, you might say that is because I'm a single mom. But if you examine my pre- and post-divorce schedules, that was just as much the case when I was married as it is as a single mother, probably more.

It is becoming increasingly necessary for two parents in a household to work. Strangely, it is a bit of a self-fulfilling problem. You don't have time to prepare meals from scratch, so you purchase quick-fix meals. You don't have time to decorate or clean, so you pay for others to do it. Rather than borrowing a tiller, you rent one from a home improvement store. All these things require money, so it becomes necessary to work in order to live the way you know how to live.

And meantime, we lose our sense of community. Interest and hobby groups take the place of geographical community. We are less exposed to things outside of our comfort zone. We live in our own isolated independent bubbles, spinning together briefly to touch on common interests. All those unseen, unsung contributions that the masses of stay-at-home housewives used to knit the community together have all but disappeared.

And almost none of those things have anything to do with having children.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Domestic Violence: It Could Happen to You, It Happened to Me

Battering is the major cause of injury to women, resulting in more injuries to women than auto accidents, muggings and rapes combined.
Stark, E., & A. Flitcraft. (1988)
Violence Among Intimates, An Epidemiological Review,@ in
V.D. Van Hasselt, et al., (eds.), Handbook of Family Violence

Children witnessing the violence inflicted on their mothers evidence behavioral, somatic, or emotional problems similar to those experienced by physically abused children.
Jaffe, P.G., D.A. Wolfe, & S.K. Wilson (1990)
Children of Battered Women: Issues in Child Development and Intervention Planning
Newbury Park, CA: Sage

One study demonstrated that some fathers deliberately arrange for the children to witness the violence.
Dobash, R.E. & Dobash, R.P. (1979)
Violence Against Wives
New York: Free Press

One third of women in Utah (34%) have experienced Emotional abuse during the past year.
One in five women in Utah relate that their children witness or hear verbal abuse, while one in fourteen report their children witness or hear physical abuse.
Domestic Violence Incidence and prevalence Study
conducted for Governor's Commission on Women and Families
Dan Jones & Associates, Inc., April-May 1997

from DCFS Utah

I am an average LDS girl. I had a list of qualities I wanted in my future husband. I had a plan for a career. I graduated from BYU. I served a mission. I married after my mission. I had a child. I was abused.

If the statistics are even close to accurate, if it is true that one third of women are emotionally abused, the chances are stellar that there are at least 20 women in your ward or neighborhood who are emotionally abused. From my observations since being enlightened to domestic violence, I suspect there is at least one man as well, probably more.

My current point in recovery is a strange one. I mostly accept what happened to me. Now, I'm dealing with trust issues and a burning desire to never be taken advantage of again, and not to let anyone in my circle of influence let the least scent of emotional violence pass. I find myself extra sensitive to those who try to control by passing along little niggling comments. I'm not willing to let things like that slide any more.

One misconception about abuse is that spouse abuse is not necessarily child abuse. Wrong. Spouse abuse IS BY NECESSITY also child abuse, if there are children in the home.

Another big one is the thought that, "Well, if it were me, I'd hand him his head on a platter!" and other, less complimentary or refined comments.

It's not true.

The core of abuse, ANY abuse, is emotional. There can be emotional abuse where physical violence has not yet occurred, but there is no physical abuse that has not been preceded by emotional violence. And it's not like an otherwise decent spouse suddenly hauls off and hits you. He's worked hard to get you in an emotional state where you feel you deserve it or that you must endure it by necessity. An abuser's best protector is his victim. By design.

For those who have survived abuse, reading Brian Mitchell's trial transcripts or the account of Natasha who was taken for sex trafficking, can be a walk down memory lane. Unlike the physical abuse, they can seem quite subtle, those hints of emotional abuse, but they are there for those with eyes to see.

The main thing that most domestic violence victims have in common is a desire to do the right thing, to be a good spouse, child, or parent. It is not a character flaw that leads them to become abuse recipients, it is just wanting to be good.

That desire to be good is deliberately cultivated by abusers into a fear of being bad.

So don't think you're safe. Emotional abuse is different from rape, mugging, kidnapping, or other crimes mostly in that it is more difficult to prove.

The best way to fight against it is to learn about it and become aware of the signs of abuse that happen before they become physical. You could save someone, maybe your daughter or son . . . maybe even yourself.

Hide your heart from sight,
Lock your dreams at night,
It could happen to you.

Don't count stars,
Or you might stumble.
Someone drops a sigh,
And down you'll tumble.

Keep an eye on spring,
Run when church bells ring.
It could happen to you.

All I did was wonder how your arms would be,
And it happened to me.
—Frank Sinatra

No More Secrets, Utah

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Singles of a Certain Age, or What I Wish Church Leadership Would Understand

Since I can't write headquarters, and my local leadership either doesn't have the power to do anything, or doesn't listen, I'm going to vent my feelings here. Not that it does any good, but at least I got my thoughts out, eh? Blogging at its best.

As someone newly into the midsingles scene, I am finding a ever-flowing source of irritation at the current setup.

As they "graduate" from a YSA ward, most active LDS singles have a lamentable choice to make. They can join a singles ward, fade into a family ward or if they live in the right area, they can attend a midsingles ward.

The first choice, going to a regular 30+ singles ward, is Creepy with a capital "C", especially for women. What 30-year old wants to be hit on by 50+ men, unless they're gold diggers? And, quite frankly, most 50+ year old men in the LDS church aren't really the typical target of your average gold digger, get what I'm saying?

The second choice is lonely. Activities are family-oriented. Comments in church are inevitably unconsciously hurtful and condescending. And you are definitely cut off from chances to meet other LDS mid-singles in a real-life environment.

The last choice has its own plethora of issues. Firstly, midsingles wards and activities tend to be older versions of YSA activities. Well-adjusted midsingles, those with careers, houses, and possibly children of their own, are not as likely to be interested in a wash of dances and volleyball games. They have responsibilities, things that need doing. Being involved in thinly-clad excuses for flirtation games is not really that fun, once you've grown up. Would you, a married adult, like to have all your activities structured that way? Well neither do we.

The sort of midsingles who ARE attracted to those types of activities are not the type of people that well-adjusted midsingles are interested in dating or marrying, particularly those who have been in a serious relationship before. Qualities that make good marriage partners do not include playing volleyball or the ability to act like a fool on the dance floor. Those activities aren't bad, but they should not make up 99% of available activities. If I'm going to spend precious time away from my responsibilities to try to meet other singles, I want to be doing something real and productive, or at the very least interesting.

Secondly, a typical midsingle who attends these childish midsingles wards tends to see people of the opposite sex as a list to check on or off. Like internet dating, the focus is on quantity and speed. Are they active/financially stable/slender/unattached to children/tall enough/etc, etc, etc? Rather than getting to know a person for themselves, potential dates are all too easily checked off the desirable list by some quality they often can't help. (To be honest, I suspect this plays into why some LDS marriages fail, but that is a topic for another day.)

Treat us like people, not like marriageable objects. Do activities that married people would do. Set up kid-friendly potlucks or game nights. Coordinate community service projects. Hold mini-classes on various interesting topics like gardening, home improvement or gospel discussions. Throw in some fun and creative ideas to throw people together who wouldn't otherwise get to know each other, like occasionally offering babysitting for stake couples functions or organizing dating auctions for families in need. And schedule some things for earlier in the evening, or on Saturdays. Many of us have real jobs and have to get up early in the morning on weekdays.

And for our sakes, STOP telling us we need to be married. We know that. We know that more deeply and personally than you do. But we are people, outside of our unmarried state.

As President Hinckley said nearly 15 years ago, "Though you are so diverse in your backgrounds, we have put a badge on you as if you were all alike. That badge reads S-I-N-G-L-E-S. I do not like that. I do not like to categorize people. We are all individuals living together, hopefully with respect for one another, notwithstanding some of our personal situations."

Help us become worthy, contributing people regardless if we find a marriage partner. And know that for some, there are good reasons not to marry again, from same-sex attraction to emotional issues. Marriage is not an answer for life's problems. For some of us, not being married any more is an IMPROVEMENT on our previously married state.

And if we're going to marry, it will be because it is right, not because it is dutiful or convenient, and it will be to someone who is well-adjusted enough to have a life beyond flirting.

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