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Sunday Masochism

At church the talks were about keeping the Sabbath day holy, and I renewed my resolve to forego any personal agenda. This turned out to be be rather tormenting when Sunday afternoon rolled around, and I felt a burning desire to write fiction, especially as a rationalized that I get so little time during the week to do so. When the sun was shining on such a beautiful April day, the thought of sitting down and reading a book was tormenting me, and as I couldn’t think of any good deeds to perform, I resolved to take my family into nature. Teresa humored me up until I actually started packing. Boy did I call her bluff. We drove up Spanish Fork canyon and found a free camping ground, where I pitched a tent and labored to start a fire as my ladies sat and shivered in the suddenly cold air. Eventually we roasted hot dogs (vegan, of course) and ate them on fat slabs of homemade bread. When the stars were out and we climbed into the tent, the true coldness of the mountain air hit us. Even though we had enough sleeping bags and piles of blankets, I hardly got a wink of sleep the whole night. Teresa had it nearly as bad, though her lack of sleep wasn’t due to coldness so much as the fear of wild animals. As we expected, Aspen put up a fuss for hours. As soon as the sky began to lighten, we tore down the tent, stuffed everything in the trunk, and took off, wondering why we subjected ourselves to this masochism.

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Thoughts on Proposition 8

As the United States Supreme Court has been taking on the case of California’s Proposition 8, there’s been no lack of opinions shared on social media, especially from my friends who are in favor of the stance now termed “marriage equality”. Years ago when this issue was hot for the first time, I had no restraints in sharing my opinion of supporting Proposition 8. In some ways, I was probably a little too eager to flaunt my dirty laundry and a little too slow to step back and consider both sides. This time around, as I’ve avoided throwing myself in the furnace, it’s been easier to see where those who are against the proposition are coming from, touting the causes of acceptance and equality. Over the past few years, in my own philosophy, I’ve become more of a libertarian, believing that fiscal affairs and social issues are at their best when government intervenes as little as possible. It’s seemed more than evident to me that for a controversial issue such as the definition of marriage, which means so many different things to so many different people, a legal definition is problematic to say the least.

A friend of mine once told me: “I have no logical defense whatsoever for my support of Proposition 8. Yet I believe that if our nation were to discard the traditional definition of marriage, it would be a pivotal moment toward the moral disintegration of society.” After years of carefully thought out arguments I’d raised at the dinner table, I finally had to agree with my friend. If fairness, equality, and non-discrimination are the only criteria for determining the best decision as to the legal definition of marriage, I have no argument for my support of Proposition 8.

Yet my beliefs run  deeper than that which can be reduced to terms of political prudence. I could choose to sin before society’s emerging code of ethics and say that gender discrimination is perfectly valid in defining marriage, or I could choose to sin before my conscience in supporting legislation which undermines what I view as the fundamentals of society. As stifling as this inner conflict is, I also think it’s problematic to be on the opposite side of the spectrum, where the issues are so streamlined and well-packaged that one can believe that a phrase such as “hate is a choice; love is not” actually sums up the issue. Our challenge as human beings is to see the world from our opponents point of view, to avoid the temptation of turning them into straw men. In fact, this is the scientific method.

I’m grateful to my friend James Goldberg for putting tremendous thought, research, and fairness into this issue, which has helped me decide where I actually stand. (See his latest article: As an exercise in digesting my thoughts, In the following paragraphs I’ll give my reflections on the points he made:

James points out that there are five important attributes of both traditional marriage and the Western world’s emerging concept of marriage. (He notes that to much of the Eastern world, homosexual marriage would make no sense within societal framework, such as in Sikhism, in which wedding ceremonies don’t only involve a husband and wife but extended family members.) Of course, while most people seem fairly polarized on these issues, there are certainly those who fall between. Here’s my summary:

Attribute Emerging Marriage Traditional Marriage
Origin Sexual exploration can lead people through non-committal relationships until deciding on a more permanent though optional union. Abstinence in youth prepares for the lifelong commitment of marriage, which is the fundamental institution of society.
Exclusivity Exclusivity is preferred, though open relationships can be an option when both partners consent. Absolute fidelity is required.
Family Parenting is an option though by no means necessary. Parenting is quintessential. The love and unity of marriage is as much for the welfare of the children as for the parents.
Gender The genders of spouses are not essential factors for a healthy marriage or for the welfare of children. Gender defines the roles of spouses in dealing with each other and with their children. The balance between a male and female union is ideal for a marriage relationship and for parenting.
Accountability Long-term commitment is a matter of preference. Progressing through many relationships can be just as viable. Marriage is a life-long commitment, often between deity as well as spouses. Divorce is a termination of this covenant and therefore to be avoided where possible.

From my observations, the complex differences between these models have seldom been articulated in the heat of this debate. Rather, it’s been fashionable to over-simply the issues by focusing almost entirely on the attribute of gender. It’s been fashionable to view the debate as the broadening of a definition. But can the model of traditional marriage really be broadened to accept the model of emerging marriage without contradiction? Assuming the answer is no, if the model of emerging marriage were to be officially sanctioned by the government, could it be done without undermining the some 40% of Americans who still hold to traditional marriage?

As James argues, because these models have so little in common, it doesn’t make sense to define them both with a single word. The problem is, the word “marriage” has sentimental weight. It’s romantic and built upon thousands of years of tradition and values. The same can’t be said of the term “civil union”. No one wants to propose with the words “Will you civil me?” But can people wishing to enter into an emerging marriage relationship rightfully group themselves with a history, tradition, and values that don’t correlate?

James’s conclusion is that there needs to be a new word for the model of emerging marriage. He predicts that this won’t happen, because the all-powerful virtues of fairness and equality in America will eventually deem that the “gender discrimination” of marriage must be stopped. He also predicts that the decreasing numbers of those who fervently hold to the model of traditional marriage will have to be the ones to redefine themselves. If all this turns out to be true, life will go on. But I believe it will come with a cost.

Does the definition of a word really make that big of a deal? Could such a small thing really help facilitate the moral disintegration of society, as my first friend stated? Does the government really have any business in defining marriage at all? For me, the answer to all three of these questions is yes. For a believer in traditional marriage, the physical difference between legitimacy and fornication is a piece of paper. Yet to me it’s not just paper but a covenant to which I’ll devote my life. When considering the concept of legislation, the physical difference between order and anarchy can also be viewed as nothing but paper. Yet words and definitions can make all the difference in how we perceive ourselves and interact with others on both individual and societal levels. As a believer that the family is the fundamental unit of society, I can’t imagine how a government could responsibly not recognize marriage as a legal entity, especially over issues of property, children and guardianship.

For example, if Proposition 8 is not upheld, and marriage is defined as a legal union between any two people of any gender with any kind of commitment or values, and if failing to agree with this definition is termed as discrimination, private adoption organizations could be forced to act against their values. This would be a direct violation of the separation of church and state, the government having adopted the religion of moral relativism. In such a condition, if I were to show full “allegiance to the flag”, I would be forced to deny part of my religion: “Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity” (The Family: A Proclamation to the World).

The United States of America was never meant for such imperialism. In order to protect a very small minority, a 40% minority need not be discriminated against. The fundamental unit of society (For those who don’t believe in Marxism) need not be undermined. Those with no ill feelings for people of alternate lifestyles, who have no intention of anything but loving their families and upholding high standards need not be falsely labeled as haters. At the same time, those wishing to enter into the emerging model of marriage need not be discriminated against. They’re entitled to all the privileges,  benefits, opportunities, and happiness that society can offer without coming at the cost of others. The solution is not to label almost half of the nation as close-minded, old-fashioned, and discriminatory, but to let everyone do as much good as they can in their own spheres. Marriage can continue to exist as marriage. If something new is emerging for people of alternate lifestyles, let there be a new word for it. This issue could be resolved so quickly. We all just need to talk a little more about what’s really at stake and put aside the political rhetoric.

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The catching up on my life post as I turn 30

Goodness, I can’t believe how much time I’ve let slip by since my last post. I thought I was only a few days behind, not a week and a half.

First, as resolution to my previous post about our mouse friend, we successfully caught him again with one of my ingenious traps and relocated him a few miles away at the edge of a mountainside, equipping the little guy with one of Teresa’s warmest socks, which was loaded with food. As soon as I opened my makeshift cage, he dived right into the snow. I hope he survives. Most likely he’ll run across the street and find a way into someone else’s house. That’s fine with me.

This last week has been pretty epic. I told at the Weber Storytelling Festival. For one of the events, I was the featured teller with a full twenty-five minute block. In fact, being preceded by some child storytellers and a lowly “regional” storyteller, I was introduced as the “national” storyteller. While I told Teresa that this made me a bona fide national storyteller, she had some weak argument about it not actually being true. For it to be true, she claimed, this fact would have to be in a program. I argued that emcees are higher authorities than programs, because if there’s an error in a program, an emcee can correct it, but programs don’t correct emcees. What higher authority could there be than the MASTER of ceremony? I am a national storyteller.

Teresa, feeling a need for theatre in her life, auditioned for a local production of “Hello Dolly”, and I, wanting to be a supportive husband, joined her. While both of us totally bombed the dancing auditions (and by bombed, think Hiroshima) she was nevertheless cast as a fairly significant part: Ermengarde, and I was cast as her lover Ambrose. This fulfilled all her girlish fancies. Whatever. While I’d rather be putting on my own plays, it’s probably good for me to now and then gain some real world experience.

The hard part about all this was that the auditions fell right into the precious time Teresa and I had to prepare for a puppet show at a library. So, forced to stay up late and wake up early, we threw together a show on behalf of Dr. Seuss’s birthday, featuring two new mini shows: “The Dog in the Hat” and “Purple Zuchini with Mayonnaise”. Somehow we must have pulled off a successful show, because afterwards, to separate mothers came up to me and asked if we did birthday parties. I turned them both down, saying, in my own special way, “You wish you could have us for your kid’s birthday party. We are so beyond that.”

Lastly, today marks my thirtieth successful revolution around the sun. Concerning the philosophical nature of this momentous moment, nothing hit me whatsoever, which is by no means depressing. I feel perfectly fine about the first thirty years of my life, perfectly fine about where I am, and perfectly fine about where I’m going. I’m happy. Really. And that is a wonderful blessing. I’m so thankful for the Gospel in my life, because of which I’ve never had to wonder who I was or what was my quest. And having everything I do, I can’t imagine how I could NOT be happy.

I really am happy. I smile as I lay down at night. I smile as I wake up in the morning. I sing jovial songs as I commute to and from work. I love every moment with my family and friends. I love to immerse myself in creative projects. I love to eat, to cook, to exercise, to love, to laugh, to be entertained, to entertain others, to play, and even to work. There’s just so much to be happy about. My biggest concern in life has nothing to do with my welfare or the welfare of my family but the welfare of others. Am I charitable enough? Do I give enough service? While I’m pulling my car out of my cushy garage, and the woman across the street is laboriously scraping the ice off her windshield, what can I do to make her life better? In our six years of marriage, Teresa and I have been through a lot already, from relative poverty to relative luxury. I know what it’s like to be cold in the winter, to have a nearly barren refrigerator, to wonder how we’re going to survive the next month. I hate the thought of others having to feel these ways. I hope I’ll always remember to give as liberally as I’ve received.

I guess I do have one philosophical thought about getting old and all, some hypothetical questions I’ve tested on a few family members, from whom I’ve elicited tears and attitudes of depression. If you were to look twenty years into the future and see yourself as everything you hope not to become — financially poor, spiritually deaf, intellectually dull, emotionally unstable, with broken relationships and broken dreams — what would you say to your future self? Similarly, if yourself from twenty years ago could see you now, exactly as your are, with everything you’ve accomplished or haven’t accomplished, what would your younger self have to say? If this last question really bothers you, then you’ll know there’s room for improvement. It’s been said that children are the parents of adults. That’s been so true in my life. I’m constantly haunted by the young Stephen Gashler, who reminds me of my goals and principles. While in some ways I fear that I may have let him down, in many other ways, I think my life has turned out more gloriously than his limited world view could have imagined. I haven’t yet climbed Mount Kilimanjaro or built a theme park, but all in all, I’m okay with being thirty.

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Sunday thoughts

Some thoughts shared in Stake Conference that I liked were:

When we tell our children what to do and what not to do, we’re essentially telling them how to be like us. When we tell our children stories, we depict principles and ideals in their minds, giving them a basis from which they can choose for themselves what kind of people they want to be.

It’s not only a bad idea to judge other people, it’s insane, because only the person and God know all the information by which the person can be adequately judged, so whatever judgment we make will inevitably be based on assumptions and therefore inadequate.

If your children were to write your obituary right now, what would they write? What memories would they have about you? How would they typically imagine you? What examples did you show them? What principles have you instilled within them? How will their lives be forever affected because of you?


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Faith and Logic as taught in the Book of Ether

I love the Book of Ether. While I’ve often viewed it as a chore to get through, there’s nevertheless something profoundly spiritual about this section near the end of the Book of Mormon. I love the story of the Brother of Jared and Moroni’s insights on faith. This time through, I was really impressed by the doctrine of enlightenment. For the Brother of Jared, Abraham, Moses, Nephi, Moroni, John the Beloved, and surely many others, there was a point when their faith turned into knowledge, and they saw beyond the veil of mortality. And when this happened, they all seemed to have a similar vision. They saw everything. They comprehended the world’s history, the world’s future, and the cosmic designs and glories of God. It evidences that Plato may have been more correct than Aristotle after all, that this world is, in fact, a simulation, and a brief glance into the great beyond will enlighten us beyond any scope we could have before imagined. The paradox is that the only way to achieve this state of enlightenment is to, as Moroni put it, “doubt not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.” In other words, we can’t reach this point through logic, only faith.

But why should we put our faith in something we can’t logically support? What’s wrong with doubting what we don’t see? Shouldn’t we start with a “witness” before we put our faith in something? To me this is the great mystery of the Gospel. How can I logically explain faith? I can’t. Notwithstanding, it seems  that the Gospel has everything to do with this mysterious doctrine of faith. The Book of Mormon is a perfect example. Its very existence is the antithesis of Occam’s Razor. The simplest explanation for it is that Joseph Smith fabricated it. To believe the fantastic story of its origins, the fantastic stories contained within it, and to take every word of it at face value, when in so many ways it seems like a nineteenth century book, is an incredible leap in logic. And yet I believe in it. Very much so. I like to think I have many logical defenses for it, but when I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that my faith precedes my logic. And there you have it. I don’t know why it works this way, but I know that it does work this way, and I know that, for whatever reason, God wants it to be this way. He gave us the Book of Mormon in the most scientifically unsupportable way imaginable. And yet with supporting evidence from Hebrew writing styles, to horse bones, to DNA, I’m confident that it can’t be proven false either.

I think the whole world is this way. Until the veil is parted, we’ll never prove (or disprove) the existence of God. Supposing someone were to hack into the source code of this simulation and discover the truth, surely God could stop the system, reboot, clear the record, and leave this person to second guess his findings. Perhaps this sort of thing happens all the time, forcing us, the citizens of earth, to choose between logic and faith. And why is God so sold on this system of schooling? Again, I don’t know. Perhaps I’ll never be able to explain why. But I choose to believe, because it feels right, and the consequences fill my life with light and intelligence. And if not in my brain, at least in my heart, this method of obtaining truth makes a world of sense. I truly believe that those who choose a life of faith, rather than basing their life’s choices solely on empirical evidence, will have their minds expanded and, like the Brother of Jared, will eventually come to comprehend all things. This is my goal. It should be the goal of all Latter-day Saints. It is the essence of the Gospel.

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Saul and Ananias

After all Saul had done to persecute Christ and his people, Christ asked Ananias to go and heal Saul’s blindness. To Ananias’s surprise, Christ referred to Saul as “a chosen vessel”. Truly the Lord looks on the heart, knowing us far better than we know ourselves. It doesn’t matter where we’ve been, it only matters that when we put our hands to the plow and don’t look back.

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Mormons are cool

Tonight Teresa and I went to a benefit concert in SLC featuring a ton of Mormon artists: Alex Boye, Lex De Azevedo, Kurt Bester, Kenneth Cope, Peter Breinholt, Nancy Hanson, Michael Dowdle, The Piano Guys, and many others. Every performance was phenomenal and inspiring. I’m proud to be associated with these amazing artists. Mormons are cool. They’ve got a pretty good music scene going on. As for literature, my favorite authors are definitely Mormons. They make good athletes, scientists, and politicians. Perhaps this is because a true Mormon can’t accept mediocrity. At the core of our religion is a radical doctrine that life is not meaningless, and time is a precious commodity. I think most people realize this before they die. How blessed we are to have been taught it since our infancy.

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Goodness and Godness

Is God God because he’s good, or is good good because of God? In other words, is God a subset of good or is good a subset of God? Jesus told us, “There is none good but one, that is, God” (Mark 10:18). As opposed to saying “good is whatever God does”, Jesus implied that good is a classification that applies to God. If God were to cease to do good, it stands to reason that God would no longer be good. But if we were to reverse the semantics, and good were to cease to be God, good would continue to be good. Thus goodness is independent of God.

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Sunday thoughts

“The greatest temporal and spiritual blessings which always flow from faithfulness and concerted effort, never attended individual exertion or enterprise. The history of all past ages abundantly attests this fact” (Joseph Smith).

This quote reminds me of the futility of the building up of myself, my career, and my mansion as my ultimate aims in life. There’s only one thing in life that’s worth doing: build Zion.

“Upon the cross he meekly died for all mankind to see that death unlocks the passageway into eternity” (“Upon the Cross of Calvary,” Vilate Raile). This passage really stuck out to me during Sacrament Meeting. I think it captures the true point of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a nutshell. If there’s one concern that looms in the mind of every living soul, it’s death. Christ came to earth not only to show us how to live but how to die. By experiencing death and coming back again, he showed and taught that death, far from the end, is “the passageway into eternity.” The more dismal one’s view on death is, it seems the more dismal his view on life is. But to believe that death is glorious thing makes life glorious. I choose glory. And if there is no afterlife, at least I’ll have had a glorious life.

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Where are you Texas? – 6th Anniversary

Another fun day at my sister’s house in Lubbock. We went to the local LDS ward, where I really hoped to hear some Texan accents. To my disappointment, nearly everyone seems to speak American Neutral. I don’t think there really are any Texan accents out there, let alone Texans. I just see a bunch of normal people with soft-spoken, conservative viewpoints, not the fearless, gun-slinging, barbecuing cowboy confederates I’ve idealized. Still I believe they’re out there somewhere. Where are you, Texas? America needs you. I need you.

Though in the ward’s defense, one of the various things I heard in Sunday school was, from the teacher, “I believe that anyone should be able to have a gun. Now I’m not getting political on ya …” Another phrase I adored was, “Ya wanna know the truth? I hate church. There’s plenty of other things I’d rather be doing. But I come here for Christ.”

Oh yeah, and today marks six years of marriage for Teresa and I.