Monday, February 12, 2018

What to Read in a Post-Trump World

I think the election of Donald Trump was a terrible mistake, is an embarrassment to our country, and marks a low point in American democracy.

When the election was officially called for Trump,  I felt a terrible, sinking feeling I can only describe as sick at heart. It's the feeling I have when I face choices that are wrong, think about serious regrets, or hear that something awful has happened to a friend. Truly, I can't believe this happened.

While I think I understand the economic motives and "swamp-draining" impulses Trump supporters cite and I don't think all Trump voters are bigots, they did wittingly turn the country over to one. It doesn't seem right and it makes me sad that any American would consider him a viable option.

Since the election, Trump has proven to be immoral, incompetent, uninspired, and uninspiring. He surrounds himself with terrible people and gives voice to racism and misogyny. To make matters worse, our Republican Congress has shown an appalling lack of integrity by providing zero oversight (especially Paul Ryan). It's disheartening.

I know a lot of people have become much more politically active since the presidential election and have decided to run for office. It feels expedient to do something. Personally, I have picked two areas to focus my efforts on: literacy and compassion. By my calculations, more of both = less Trump and Trumplike thinking.

I've been reading some good books that have helped me think about politics and citizenship and to articulate the values that I apparently need to be a lot more intentional and explicit about exemplifying and promoting.

Charlie Sykes' How the Right Lost its Mind is a good description of what happened leading up to the 2016 election from a conservative viewpoint. I started noticing Sykes' insightful tweets after the election, so I decided to read his book.

George Lakoff's Moral Politics gave me a good overview of what Republicans and Democrats believe. Lakoff is a democrat and ultimately makes the case for his affiliation, but I found it fair-minded. Even though a lot of Mormons are Republicans, it is because of rather than in spite of my religion that I identify with a lot of democratic ideals. Mormon pioneers are the only group of western emigrants who famously left the trail better than they found it so that others might benefit from the crops they planted and the paths they cleared. I believe giving a leg-up to the person coming along behind you is better than insisting that they bootstrap it. Lakoff's book shows the expression of values and ideals for both parties and I think it's useful.

I read Ta-Nehisi Coate's Atlantic article "Donald Trump is the First White President" and decided to read his whole book of essays, We Were Eight Years in Power.  It feels uncomfortable to think about the ways in which what is happening now in politics is a backlash against the first African-American president, but, unfortunately, much of it is. If we don't understand it we can't take steps to improve it. Coates has important things to say.

I've mentioned Richard Weissbourd's The Parent's We Mean to Be before. It's one of my favorite parenting books. I reread it lately and was struck again by its relevance. Weissbourd contends that to be good parents we need to be good people. He encourages parents to become more disciplined and selfless in our interactions with our children. Just like our kids, we are growing and improving. He says,
"The subtleties of appreciating and being generous with others, acting with fairness and integrity, and formulating mature and resilient ideals are a life's work."
I would like this to be my life's work. Fostering this kind of moral growth seems to be the antidote to Trumpism, which is why I'm recommending this book again.

Any other suggestions for books to read in a post-Trump world?

Monday, March 06, 2017

Love trumps hate.

I have a shirt that I wore during the election. It says "Love trumps hate."

I think it's such a nice sentiment and something I really believe: Love [being kind and compassionate] trumps [beats or is more effective than] hate. Who could argue with that?

Literally every time I wore it (you can take me literally and seriously here) someone would tell me they didn't "get" my shirt. They would laugh and say, "Oh! You love Trump's hate?"

It confused me so much. How could anyone think anyone would wear a shirt that said "Love Trump's hate"? It was inconceivable to me. Nevertheless, every time I wore it someone would say that. Apparently it wasn't a very well-designed slogan for a t-shirt. I know that now.

At the time—before the election—these reactions to my shirt annoyed me, but only as a grammarian. The "trump" would be capitalized if I meant "Trump." And it would be possessive, like this: "Trump's." The people asking about my shirt were just being obtuse. Stinkers giving me a hard time. Haha. Because who, really, loves Trump's hate?

However, when I became aware of the alternative reading of my t-shirt it was just like the young lady/old lady illusion. Once you've found the old lady in the young lady you can't un-see her. At first all you notice is a pretty young lady looking away with a long slender neck and a feather in her hair. Then it hits you. Ew! That choker is a mouth. The dainty jawline is a big old nose. You can't un-see it. Love trumps hate becomes Love Trump's hate.

When Donald Trump was elected I realized it wasn't just that people were willfully misunderstanding the punctuation on my t-shirt. There are plenty of people who love Trump, and who love what he's about. I understand the sentiment and the dissatisfaction among Trump voters in the rust belt and elsewhere. I know conservative people (I am a pretty conservative person). I know the words to every song on Born in the USA including "My Hometown." I get the nostalgia for factories and glory days. Christian and I lost our house to a scammy mortgage company that went bankrupt in the 2007 recession and had to buy it twice. I'm not rich. I'm not coastal. I'm a mormon. I live in the red state of Utah.

But I was completely shocked when he won. I thought the way Trump demeaned a handicapped person would be enough for people not to vote for him. Yes, in the face of everything people are going through and how much they didn't like Obama or didn't want Clinton I thought that no one would vote for a man who is so ill-tempered, mean-spirited, unprincipled, and unprepared for public service. I was wrong.

A candidate who doesn't share my values or my view of America won. That doesn't, necessarily, have to mean a complete rejection of my values. There are still a lot of people (a majority if you look at the popular vote and post-election civic engagement) who are leery of Trump. We have to fight harder for certain things that we think are right and fair. That's OK. We can do that. We now know we shouldn't have taken for granted that Trump's bigotry would disqualify him as a presidential candidate. Trump as president is shocking, yes. But not debilitating. In America we've got a lot of tools to work with. Jason Chaffetz is one of them. Zing!

Conversely, I want to do my part to make it clear that the election of Donald Trump does not mean that he speaks for me. Just a day or two after the election my children began to hear things at school—mean things—about hispanic people. My daughter heard some people talking about Trump's idea for a wall and she asked me what deportation was. Then she burst into tears worrying that one of her 4th grade friends would be sent away. Are these the "liberal tears" right wingers joke about drinking out of their MAGA mugs? I don't find it funny.

Donald Trump's win seems to have given racist people license to say what they've been thinking, what they believe most people think and would express freely if unbound by "political correctness." My other daughter's friend was told by a boy at school that she would "have to get out of here on January 20th." I do not share these beliefs.


It's not "political correctness" that keeps me from saying or thinking hateful things about other people. It's not about being politically correct. It's about being humane. Even though I've come to the realization that people see it a different way, I still believe that love trumps hate. I do not love Trump's hate. If I were making a t-shirt and I wanted to be crystal clear it might say, "I disavow Trump's hate." I will teach this to my children and make decisions that reflect it. I will spend money on and vote for people who agree. Even if it makes me a loser and Donald Trump a winner, I still believe that love trumps hate.

Monday, June 27, 2016

What Happens at Girls' Camp Does Not Stay at Girls' Camp

When visitors show up at girls' camp and are taken aback by the unique culture Mia Shalom offers—the singing, the screaming, the enthusiasm, the lack of inhibition, the disregard for hygiene—I tell them, "What happens at girls' camp stays at girls' camp." But that is not true at all.

What happens at girls camp doesn't stay at girls' camp. What happens at girls' camp bonds the girls to each other and to their leaders. It jump starts latent testimonies, plants seeds of faith and friendship, shows young women what being faithful can look like (it looks like Mother Gooney Bird, kind of), fosters camaraderie that we are all in something together, and garners a whole lot of good will from the young women towards priesthood leaders that show up and help—priesthood leaders who will ask the young women to attend early meetings, show up happily for service projects, babysit for the relief society, graduate from seminary, go on missions, and—possibly—confess their sins to them.

I just got back from a week at girls' camp. There are people who love and look forward to girls' camp all year. I honestly wonder what that would feel like. Instead, I get mildly depressed during the weeks leading up to girls' camp and fantasize about breaking my arm—just seriously enough to keep me home from camp and on prescription pain meds with a couple of refills. Of course, this is silly because I willingly choose to go to girls' camp as part of my calling. And it's always a good thing. So is scouting.

Before I had sons I would probably have been against scouting. It's expensive and the paperwork is dumb. There are also political concerns that I am fully aware of. On paper, Boy Scouts is not my bag. But in action with committed leaders, it turned my son into someone great. He had leaders who put their money where their mouths were and took work off to sleep on the hard ground. They taught him things I didn't know how to teach him and showed him that being one in purpose (whether the purpose was fording a stream, getting dizzy and throwing a bunch of glow sticks in the air, or living the gospel) transcends personality types, age, and background. Now he's on a mission and the people he went on those campouts with are the people he misses and the things he learned on those campouts are the tools he uses to get along with companions and move forward when he doesn't feel like it.

As a middle-aged person who is faithful in the church, I look back at my life and see that besides my mom's example, Young Women leaders were the most instrumental people in forming my testimony. I remember every youth conference and camp we went to along with details about my leaders' lives, courtships, kids, and jobs. They were awesome and I loved them because they did things with me. I, personally, am not an awesome or inspiring leader. I can never think of things to say and I'm a big party pooper. I am not changing anyone's life by being at camp. But, of the leaders who have meant the most to me and my kids, not all of them have been inspiring and great. Some are just mediocre normals—like me. And I have found that mediocre normals are indispensable to me in helping me raise my kids.

When my kids were getting just old enough that I couldn't physically force them to do things anymore, I wondered about free agency and what my job was as a parent. When your kids are little, you put them where you want them. Strap them in the car seat and go. But when they're 12 or 13 you can't just carry your kids to church. My wise neighbor told me that children need to be enticed to do good because evil is certainly offering its fair share of enticements. Parenting older kids is all about persuasion.  Let me tell you, helpful leaders who are committed and involved make this job a whole lot easier.  My shy son's scout leader taught him to look people in the eye and shake hands just by being a nice guy who shook Sam's hand every week. Ellen's primary teacher made her stop hating church and throwing fits about going to primary by bringing her a treat. I need the help the church gives me in raising my kids. I know that other people need it too.

Which is why I'm adding this post as an addendum to my last post wherein I suggested that as LDS wards and stakes we should carefully and intentionally plan activities and not be afraid to do fewer things or to do different kinds of things. I don't like doing everything that gets planned for me to do, but I don't always know what's good for me. I sort of hate camp, but I recognize its value.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson explains why we need the community of the church and can't just be Mormons in isolation in his talk Why the Church? He says:
It's important to recognize that God's ultimate purpose is our progress. His desire is that we continue "from grace to grace, until [we receive] a fullness" of all He can give. That requires more than simply being nice or feeling spiritual. It requires faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism of water and of the Spirit, and enduring in faith to the end. One cannot fully achieve this in isolation, so a major reason the Lord has a church is to create a community of Saints that will sustain one another in the "strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life."
If you think you have nothing special to add to (or gain from) the community that Elder Christofferson is talking about, here's the most important thing I did at camp: The lady next to me in our cabin has bad knees and her inflatable mattress would deflate at night so she couldn't get up. She industriously tied a rope to the leg of my cot and used it to pull herself up and out of bed in the middle of the night when she had to use the bathroom. Laying in my cot provided the counterweight she needed to get up and out. If I hadn't been there, she'd be stuck. Being cot weight was, literally, the very least I could do. But it helped and I was happy to oblige. I bet you add more than just cot weight but even if you, like me, are cot weight, that's still enough to help someone out. Laying in my bed in isolation is one thing—I like it. It's fun. But doing the exact same thing at girls' camp was better and more meaningful. I think that's an important part of being a Mormon.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Let's Do Less: A Heuristic Approach to Ward Activities

What do you think of this idea: We should have fewer church activities.

While you're thinking about it, let me tell you two things.

1) If I lean a particular way, I lean towards being more anti-social than social. I like discretionary time. It makes me happy. I don't need to feel really busy to feel good and I believe that unscheduled time often leads to great ideas and important, unplanned moments.

2) In retrospect I can see that planning, attending, setting up for, serving during, and cleaning up after activities I didn't want to go to is good for me. In fact, aside from having and raising children, this aspect of the church—doing what you don't want to do—is the only thing that has made me a better person over the years (still not that great though because, as you'll see, I'm going to complain about it).

So, basically, I recognize that I enjoy activities less, probably, than the average person while also acknowledging that attending church activities is, generally, a good thing.

But still, what if we had fewer church activities? How would that be?

In his talk, To the Saints in the Utah South Area, Russell Ballard said,
"Now, some of you may be overprogrammed with lots of activities, including good ones. Please be careful not to overprogram your children. Turn off social media and other outside distractions from time to time to sit and talk and enjoy each other’s company.You don’t always have to fill up your schedule totally. Please carefully look at your calendars and consider where you might cut back a little and enjoy a less hectic life more fully. The Lord counseled us to find time to “be still, and know that I am God.”
For example, this week we had a ward campout (which we couldn't make it to). My daughter, a Young Woman, had a stake campout the same night. My 9-year-old had a movie night the previous evening for Activity Days. My husband has a 4-day campout next week and my son, age 13, has a different campout next weekend. We also have YM/YW every week and church on Sunday (obvs). I'm visiting 2 wards this Sunday for my calling and since I'm certified Telestial, that maxes me out church-wise. Also, we just spent Memorial Day together as a family. Then my husband left town for a business trip and I went to The Cure. My daughter gave me the concert tickets for Christmas and I went with my sister—All good things which kept us plenty busy.

One way of looking at this embarrassment of riches in terms of family activities is that it is wonderful. We have all these options of things to go to and do. But are we being spread thin? Are we engendering FOMO in our children by underestimating the value of free time? Are we just trying to kill time and fill up every second? Should we consecrate our time and resources more intentionally?

I've noticed that much of what happens in the church happens in meetings where very good, well-intentioned people say things in order to participate that they don't really feel that strongly about. We've all done it. The youth are notorious for it, especially when it comes to food. Mark my words—they'll say they want more variety than just chocolate chip cookies at the multi-stake dance, but inevitably all that will be leftover at the end of the night will be cranberry-white chocolate and peanut butter cookies. Mark my words.

Activities get planned because we find ourselves in meetings to plan activities. And we should definitely have activities. But I think we could have fewer. When you have less it means more. Plus, you spend less money, burden busy families/people/leaders/kids/parents less, and allow for spontaneous connections and fellowshipping to occur organically, much like Clayton Christianson describes in his book The Power of Everyday Missionaries: The What and How of Sharing the Gospel.

Are we leaving room for that kind of thing? Yes, I do want to get out of going to so many activities. But it's still a real question.

In addition to over-scheduling, which I view as an extension of my generation's tendency towards hyper-parenting, I think we sometimes stuff too much into activities as well. And, like our parenting style, it's not that we don't care. We care a great deal. In fact, our greatest fear might be seeming like we don't care.

So there's a program and decorations for everything. Some people like to do these kinds of things and some people get stressed out by it.  As with any large group of different personalties—different strokes for different folks.  For the most part in the church we can  accommodate different personality types by being observant and thoughtful and by not being pushy. But occasionally the less showy but more thoughtful approach gets dismissed or devalued because it doesn't look like a lot of effort. I heard about about a time in a BYC meeting where a thoughtful young man got uncomfortably grilled on the "spiritual value" of  a "just for fun" activity which he had carefully planned and carried out to appeal to his less active friend in the ward, which it did, which, hooray! "That's what I'm talkin' about," says Jesus.

(When I was in Young Women our theme for camp was Care Bears. And we picked "Party Bear." It was a blast and I'm still active. So.)

What do you think? Is more more or is less more? Should we provide as many options as we can for all people of different types and phases in life and let everyone opt-in or opt-out as they please? Or should we just have fewer activities? Ahhhhh. Doesn't that sound nice?
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