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I Have

As I watch so many people post #metoo, I look back on my youth and I think I was, and try to be now, one of the good boys- and this terrifies me because I was horrible. If I was a good kid, and I know how bad I was, how much worse were, or are, the others? And even now, like someone carrying a benign cancerous tumor, I wonder how healthy I really am.idahobeach

I grew up with strong female role models, grandmothers, mother, four sisters, and my father demanded the women in his home be shown respect. So much so that the only time I can recall my father ever raising his arm as if to hit me, was when I made a flippant remark toward my mother. I had not defied her, but simply been less than respectful. Dad would not stand for that. I had women teachers in school who were formidable and bright, I knew and believed that the smartest students in my grade were all girls, and in church I was taught of the existence of a divine feminine, a Mother in Heaven.

And still, in my mind, women became objects.

I had no idea how to talk to girls. I couldn’t do it. I was so caught up in an internal inferno of sexual desires, hyper male competitiveness, and crippling pubescent insecurity that I could not deal with anything beyond myself in the presence of a girl. All I could see was the shape of her body. All I could think of was whether or not she wanted me in the same way I might want her and if so what were the physical possibilities and how could I really know what she thought, or wanted, and how could I get there.

Sex was everywhere and in every thing. It was in the music I listened too, the shows I saw on tv, in my science text books, in Sunday School lessons, in the jokes my friends and I told each other, and most of all, it was in my head and all throughout my body. It was simply a part of the atmosphere, like oxygen or carbon. There were other things there too, like ozone, STD’s, and god given commandments against fornication, but somehow there was so much sex that if it didn’t crowd everything else out, it at least engulfed it, like an oil spill covering a beach. There might be a bird on that beach, but it would be an oil covered sex bird.

And this was before the internet.

The other things, the ones that were not sex, were either trivial, like algebra, or important, like football. Football was power and glory both on the field and off. It rewarded strength and violence with points on the scoreboard, and it brought me, or anyone associated, an elevated status among our peers. It wasn’t just football, there was basketball and baseball too, and all were important, almost “most” important. And they were really meant for boys. There were of course girls’ teams and even a separate girls’ gym. It was smaller and less elaborate. The girls sports did not have cheerleaders or dancing girls at half time. The sports I played did. The boys with status played and the girls wore short skirts and cheered us on. It was how the school, and the community, were set up. It did not matter that the girls teams won more games and garnered more awards, the pageantry and focus was on us- the boys.

And I bought it all.

Because of all this, and because of me, I went on dates, and took girls to dances, and talked to girls in class and on the phone and all the while I am not sure I ever truly treated them, or considered them fully, as people.

They were body parts. They were trophies. They were potential reflections of myself. I did not go on dates to share ideas or witty banter. I did not have a relationship because I valued the companionship of this other person’s soul. I surely did not share my soul with any of them, I was simply navigating the build up in the teen movie relationship where looks and status are the driver and there might be some words or events that crescendo in what it is all really about anyway- which is the kiss, or depending on the movie, sex. That was the win, the goal, the point.

This was me and I do not think I grew, or evolved, or was taught, out of that mind set and attitude. I wonder, or fear, that I might not have ever changed at all had I not detached from society all together for a full 2 years. For me that is what it took. I went away to a new geography without my friends where I knew that for a solid 24 months I would not go on a date, hug, or even hold a girl’s hand. I did not listen to the radio or watch tv. I wore uniform clothes in a uniform style where status, sex, or social rewards were completely off the table and my only true focus, was talking to people about what was important to them. That time taught me a lot in a very fundamental, very foundational way.

I went through a 2 year hyper masculinity detox, and in large part, I think it worked. I hope it did. But when I came home, it was all still there, it was all the same, it was just me that changed. It was like I had been washed free of the oil slick but no one had touched the beach and I was back. So I wonder how clean I really am and want to know how much oil I swallowed with all those years of swimming. I wonder how clean I ever really got because that 2 year detox wasn’t built “for that”. There was no lesson or curriculum deconstructing paternalistic hyper sexualized masculinity. There were lessons that related, or maybe correlated, but brushing against is not the same as confrontation. Correction and eradication, while related, are not the same.

So as I see people post #me too or #I have and I consider them and I reflect on me, I know that I have a part to play. I know I have been, and probably am, part of the problem. Sexual harassment and objectification isn’t a them problem, or a girl problem, or a Hollywood problem, it is a me and us problem. And when I reflect on my own experience and heart, knowing my own truth, my own sincere desires for goodness, I have to admit- I have.

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Philly Skyline: a new addition

It felt like going home. I didn’t grow up there, I don’t live there now, but it still feels like my home.

Philadelphia has a new spire in its skyline and the weekend I spent there recently was one of the more “Philly” sorts of weekends I could have imagined.

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It was full old friends, old buildings, new buildings, and new restaurants. But mostly it was that one new building.

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What once required a lot of car pooling and a three hour drive to DC is now a subway trip for them… and an all day flight for me.img_7283

it was worth the trip.

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Soap Box: but just a small one.

As I observe the world it sometimes feels as if there is me, and then everyone else. So let me just say this:

Dear world,

 

Without having to take a stance on any sort of “should” related value statement, please remember, or learn, that outside of the situation where one is a victim of rape, NOT having sex is always an option. Always.IMG_7732

 

Human genius is not a recent occurrence. Smart people have existed as long as humans have existed. (I do realize that many who espouse a belief in continuing human evolution may think this a dumb statement. I accept this with the rebuttal that there is within such theories a debate as to when what I am calling “humans” began their existence. Consider my statement applying to that point in time/evolution). Just note that you, all of you, are not by nature smarter than everyone who came before you, no matter how long before you it is that they came. Also, please know that there are smart, and even good, humans who disagree with you.

note- this also means stupidity is not excusable simply because it was in the past.

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Violence is always bad. Before you respond with some “defense of family and the innocent”, keep in mind that such defense would be unnecessary if there wasn’t some other initial violence. Stop glorifying violence. Strive to end the initial violence. There are occasions where it is excusable or forgivable, which forgiveness or excusing is only needed because it is bad.

 

Justice and mercy are not mutually exclusive nor should they be just plain exclusive.

 

There are surely such things as bad ideas but ideas themselves are not bad. We should only be afraid of the idea of having ideas when there is only one idea to choose from or if all ideas are coming from a singular source. Many bad ideas are easier to identify when they are placed in line with other ideas, no matter the quality of those accompanying ideas. This also means that good ideas, even if there is for some reason only one source for all the good ideas, are best identified and most appreciated, when standing in contrast to bad, or just plain less good, ideas.waterbuffalo

 

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There are Other Fish in the Sea:or the lake

I have a confession. It is a hard thing to admit because though I have done nothing wrong, it still feels like a sin.

I don’t really like to fish.fishinggear

I get bored.

I think I have always known, yet it has taken me nearly my whole life to admit. I want to like fishing. Perhaps I keep giving it a chance in hopes that I have simply been doing it wrong this whole time. Maybe I have just never hooked the big one and if I do, I will be hooked too.boatlake

In the fictional story of my youth, the one I have always told myself, I loved going fishing with my Dad. We used to go semi-regularly and I always wanted to go. In retrospect, as I look close enough to sweep the fairy dust away, I realize I never really went fishing all those times.  I went exploring.elibored

Dad would fish in rivers and streams. I would cast my line a couple times, snag the spinner on a rock or branch, then look around and find the highest visible outcropping of rock and shout, “Hey Dad, can I go up there?” He would say yes and I would scramble off.

I have since realized that this is not fishing.perchsage

It took trying to teach my kids to fish to learn this lesson. When you are teaching someone else, you can’t scamper off. You are trapped. And then you just sit there staring at a bobber trying to guess if that was a wave or a bite and so you reel it in to find the fluorescent cheese is gone from your hook so you bait it again and cast out the line. Again. For hours.catchThis admission hurts my own feelings. I shouldn’t feel ashamed but I am. It feels like I have rejected my father and my youth and how I was raised. I would say it is almost a rejection of my religion, but we already have an actual religion so saying that would feel sacrilegious.

 

But then again… Mom never went fishing with us and Dad still likes her. She always stayed home and read books. I should probably get her a Kindle for Christmas.

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Holiness in Unholy Places

I received word that a member of the church was being held at the maximum security federal penitentiary in Philadelphia. This brother had received special permission from Salt Lake City to receive the sacrament, an ordinance not normally administered to people while imprisoned. This facility was within my congregation’s boundaries so the regional authorities asked me to make arrangements to minister to him. I submitted my ecclesiastical credentials to the prison, underwent a federal background check, and had my name submitted by the prisoner as a formal request for me to be listed as his minister of record. This process took more than a month.trainstation

When arriving at the facility for the first time, stopping by on a Sunday after church, I was asked to fill out additional paperwork. I turned over all my personal belongings, only being allowed to retain scriptures and any money on my person. I had none. My hand was stamped, my photo was taken, and a warden escorted me first to a waiting lobby, then into a large visiting room. I was there on the assigned women’s visiting day so all the inmates in the room were female, sitting in rows of plastic chairs on one side, with families in matching chairs facing them, and a series of low plastic end tables in between. I waited off to one side till another warden led in a smallish white man with glasses and graying hair. We shook hands, hugged, then were shown to a side room with two chairs and a desk, usually reserved for visits with lawyers. The chaplain, who had previously told us he would provide communion wafer and cup for the ordinance, was unreachable being engaged in worship services of his own, so we were denied the proper equipment to have the sacrament. We talked instead.

He explained to me the details of his white collar crime. He told me he had struck a deal that he did not know was illegal. Once he did know he backed out and returned all the funds previously exchanged.This didn’t stop the indictment. He was convicted by a judge this brother described as antagonistic, and has been locked away for a year. His case was pending appeal. We talked for quite a while and parted ways, intending to attempt the sacrament again the next week.IMG_0434

That next week I was denied access to the prison. I was told by the guards that I was only listed as a social visitor and could only visit on one pre-scheduled day per week, and this was not the day. Being rebuffed I again contacted the chaplain who apologized and said there was a misunderstanding and to try again. I tried again and was this time rebuffed saying I could only visit before 1:30 on any given day. Our church services ended at noon so I could not get to the prison before the prescribed time. It was 12:45. I haunted the waiting room till the chaplain was summoned. He informed me there was another misunderstanding and that I could in fact visit any day, but that it did need to be before 1:30. He reiterated that if contacted in advance he would provide supplies to be able to administer the sacrament. I thanked him and we parted ways.

The next day, Monday, I received an email from the imprisoned brother that his mother had passed away that morning and he was not in good spirits. He repeated his request to receive the sacrament. I emailed the chaplain that I would be at the prison by 9am the next morning and rearranged my schedule to be there.dealers

Upon my arrival the next morning I was denied access. I argued with the warden who after several phone calls began the process to allow me access. I was brought back into the large waiting room with all the chairs while they processed the brother for visitation.

Every time an inmate receives a visitor they are strip searched both before and after the visit. On his arrival we found ourselves alone together in the large visitation room, being denied the private side rooms this time, and again were denied by the authorities any access to supplies to be able to administer the sacrament. By now it has been many months since this process had been initiated and this brother had yet to receive the bread and water.

We went to a far corner, I invited him to sit, then I went over to the vending machines and purchased a bottle of water and a “lunchable” package of crackers, cheese, and cold cuts. I also collected two white napkins and a white paper plate. We sat facing each other, me in my white shirt and tie, him in his prison jump suit, and I prepared this sad meal to be the sacrament.

He sat and watched as I filled the bottle’s cap with water, set it on one plate and covered it with a napkin. I then placed one cracker on the other plate and also covered it with a napkin. I invited him to say an opening prayer, which he did.

Afterwards I uncovered the cracker, broke it, knelt down and with a military issue of the Gospel Principals book I recited the blessing on the bread. I handed him the plate and as he took and ate the cracker he began to cry. No sobbing and sniffling, just a straight, sad, silent face. His tears continued on through the water and the conclusion of our small and humble service.

I cleaned away our setting and sat down. He could not speak at first. Here in this place filled with those who society has deemed dangerous and punishable, I felt the spirit.

As we parted this brother thanked me again and again. I accepted his thanks filled with the warmth that comes with service and a holy ordinance.

 

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The Suburban Middle Class Mind-Set: Four Wheeling Through Poverty

I have always wanted a Jeep Wrangler. Four slightly large but not huge tires, top down, and the doors removed from the hinges. Forest green, maybe black or midnight blue, not yellow. I have pictured myself driving it off road in the dirt, on the streets passing strip malls, and even pictured parallel parking it in Manhattan between a cab and a Smart car.  It was never an obsession, not a top priority, but it was always there. In 8th grade, drifting off during math class-Jeep. College, sitting in a dorm room eating instant noodles-Jeep. I have always thought it the perfect vehicle for the person I wanted to be, the vehicular expression of the inner me. I may wear a suit and tie to work, but deep inside, I’m a Jeep.

Funny thing happened when I lived in Philadelphia’s inner city, the Jeep drove away. It was not buried under life’s cares, it wasn’t towed away by day-to-day practicality, it simply drove out of my consciousness.061004-philly-W(4)

I have since moved to another local and to my surprise, the Jeep, or rather a vacant parking space meant for a Jeep, has returned to my imagination. I can’t shake that stinking contraption, it’s there all the time. I suppose I could exorcise the demon by simply buying one. I can think of a million reasons not to do that, but none of those reasons can shake the fantasy. I’m doomed and the realization of this doom has caused me to reflect a little on why this is the case. I have also reflected a little on why Philadelphia somehow made me mentally Jeep-proof. I think I know the answer, and it makes me just a little afraid of myself. It makes me a little afraid of us all. I will explain.

Philadelphia was the first place I had ever lived, not visited, where there were a lot of poor people. Now I have never been wealthy, or even very stable (reason number one for lack of four wheel drive dream car), but in Philadelphia there were people, a lot of them, that were very visibly doing much, much, worse than I. The longer I lived there, the more I not only saw such folks, but I got to know them. Names. Situations. Humans. This familiarity and proximity provided for me a new opportunity; I was able to help. I didn’t help much. In fact it could easily be argued that the net effect of me living there nine years was zero. At least zero in the dent I made on poverty. But being there and working there made a huge dent in me. That dent came from a constant blow to my chest that eventually crushed by ribs and touched my heart. I felt it. It hurt. But it didn’t only hurt it also gave me this sort of zealous energy and joy. This trying, this being needed, and this involvement in something bigger and more important than my day to day life was invigorating despite the pains I picked up along the way. Not only was it not only painful, it was also not only poor people. This was the first place I met real life rich people.

When I say rich I’m not talking the “I own a car dealership” kind of rich, I’m talking the “My name is Henry Ford the 5th”, kind of rich. Now no, I never really met the heir to Model-T dynasty, but surely I now know players in that same league and I will admit there was excitement in such encounters. Some such folks were wonderful, and others not so much; just like the poor people. Some people were doing fascinating and wonderful things with their resources, and others were just minding their own business. Knowing these people and peeking into their world taught me a few things, but it didn’t hit my heart. Some of those folks bruised my eye a little, but nothing lasting.cheesesteak

In Philadelphia I saw these two worlds, the wealthy and the destitute, rub up against each other. Watching these two tectonic plates, these huge forces of nature that have to our knowledge always existed, grate and rub, I learned what humanity is. Humanity is people, you me, us them, rich and poor. Humanity, these individual and singular people are what are important. Not the money, not the lack of it, but the person is what is important and one person interacting with another can do big things. Huge things. Things that matter! Not matter in the way that getting the high score on Angry Birds matter, but matters in the life outcomes and eternity sort of way. I got to live in that world. I was one of those people getting ground up between these two forces of nature, poverty and power, and I got to do a few little tiny things that really mattered.

And none of those things required, or had anything to do with a Jeep. That gorgeous chariot and all it offers never even occurred to me while I was there.

I have since left that city. It is a hard place to be and my job sent me somewhere else. Where I live now is wonderful. No potholes. No abandoned houses, no panhandlers, and no rib crushing blows. My kids go to a great school where I never worry about their safety and my wife never complains about the weather. I like my job, my friends, most everything about the place. I love it here-but the Jeep is back. I see it driving down the sunny streets and parked right over on the other side of my desk where chairs should be. It no longer has chrome rims, but it’s still green or blue. My dream car has returned and my chest has started healing. That dent, that damage, doesn’t hurt quite the same way, and that, is what makes me afraid.IMG_3945

My daydreams are not the faces of the people struggling to make it day to day but rather a gas guzzling car. The pain of tragedy and struggle is being replaced for a desire to have a little fun. Now make no mistake, I never abandoned fun, but it’s becoming my default setting. I had for some time filled my thoughts with doing good for other people, but without even trying, my thoughts are drifting to Jeeps. In fact I’m trying really hard to focus on doing good stuff for other people but Jeeps are all-terrain and apparently so are my daydreams. I have learned that seeing struggles on television, or the radio, or even talking to struggling people on the phone, just doesn’t hit my heart quite the same way. There is too much meat and bone, perhaps a little flab, protecting my heart from the outside world and I have a new found appreciation for a wounded heart’s ability to heal. This makes me afraid for myself. It also makes me afraid for all of us. I’m afraid because I think I might just be a normal person. Not super special or unusual, and if this is the case, than what are the rest of us dreaming about when we could be dreaming about helping people? Mine is a Jeep, what is yours?

And this matters because the one thing I refuse to forget is that those others, the ones who need help, really do need help. They need help from other people… more than I need a Jeep.

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My Mormonism: The beauty found in a Philthy place

I am Mormon. I think most people I know, know this. It’s not so much that I wear it on my sleeve, but moreso it is just sort of who I am.

BOFMIPADWe could discuss the ins and outs of what exactly being a Mormon means, lets do that one day, but not today. Today I will indulge myself in just one little aspect of what being Mormon means.

church on broadBeing Mormon is not so much what you believe, or where you sit on Sunday, but it is very much who sits next to you on Sunday. It is even more about who you hang out with on Wednesdays.

wardcouncilIn the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, there are no pastors or priests, at least not in the professional sense. There are plenty of people doing a lot of preaching, just not a whole lot of getting paid to do it. By not a whole lot I mean none.

But things still need to get done. Lessons to be taught, sick to be visited, Sunday sermons to be given. This is why Mormonism is about who sits next to you. Because that is who does these things. Better yet, you do too.

IMG_6798Sometimes it works out well, sometimes not, but that is how it works, and because this is how it works I have been forced to learn a few things.

Frazier readingI have not learned so much about what is in our books, which is important, but I have learned a little more about how the stuff in those books doesn’t matter a bit if I ignore the person in the chair sitting next to me. No matter who it is.

camp1Some of the people who have sat next to me have been right, even more have been wrong, and better yet, I’ve been both of those things too. Some have been beautiful, some not so much. Some well educated, others not so much. Some have been nice, many more quite the opposite. On and on and on, and still things have to get done. And when it comes time to get those things done, you look around, and that is all you have.

The people sitting next to you. CIMG2407

And you learn to love.

grndbrkmayorandusA family kind of love. The kind of love where you want to strangle your cousin Larry, because he deserves to be strangled, but he is your cousin and always will be. So you have to love him. You don’t have a choice whether or not to be cousins, you only have the choice to learn to love him or be miserable.

It isn’t easy.

But thats the point.

This is simply how it is.

IMG_8702 By “it” I mean reality.

Truth.

This is reality.

Take a look at the people around you and this is how it is. It is like this now, and it will be like this in eternity.

It is not clouds and space,

it is faces.

IMG_8194This is not to say that all these faces are just or justified, including that one in the mirror.

But here we all are. In this together. And our charge is to get better.

A lot better.

IMG_9425Christianity, of which we are part, is based on the idea that this human persuit of perfection is impossible. We can’t do it and are doomed to be failures, hence the need for a Christ to redeem us from ourselves.

And that is Mormonism.

IMG_6640This role of Christ, is where one sacrificed and helped another get better, even though that “other” was deficient.

And we are charged with the task of becoming more Christ-like.

So we have to help the person in the chair next to us, even if they are no longer sitting in that chair, even if they don’t deserve it, even if they are horrible…

Or even if they are wonderful.

IMG_2755And we have to be helped too.

Because on any given day or in any one way, I am both horrible, or even wonderful.

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And this role of Christ, this role of helping others strive for perfection, the role we are charged to take part in, has to be done with love.

Love must be the motivator.

Sometimes this is hard.DSC04973

It takes practice.

So you go about trying to get stuff done; great lessons or boring ones, false doctrines or clear and simple ones, friendships or trials.

bishopriccrewNo matter what you get right or wrong, no matter how much you improve yourself or the others around you,

If you figure out the love part,

It is wonderful.

meandmargie

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