Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Stress...Why is There No Chocolate Coating for You?

Dear Sentry,

It's confessional time! I was going to write "confessional hour" but I really hope this letter doesn't take anywhere close to an hour to read! That would be where I'd encourage skimming of the letter or avoid reading it altogether! This is a letter meant to help me work through some of my thoughts that I've had recently. Some are connected to the last letter but mostly it's about stress.


Stress is that thing that you feel but don't want to deal with. You can't run from it and you can't fight it most times with your fists (or a swift kick to the nether regions). Stress is that feeling that you're facing a lot of hell and all you want to do is scream, rant, or laugh at it because you can't think of anything else sane. Well, Sentry, if you don't feel that way about stress, that's what I feel. Stress is something that I feel at the bottom of my stomach that creeps up my spine. It's a heaviness that I feel that sometimes makes me sick and sometimes just makes me not sure what to do. I wanna curl up in a ball and forget what I'm feeling but I know that I can't deal with it.


Stress or anxiety, the terms are interchangeable to me. When I feel panic or a panic that I can't remedy immediately, it takes the form of shallow breathing in my lungs. I feel scared to the point that I lose the ability to function. I just want to run. I've done this sometimes. My poor wife once had this happen to her. I ran from what was giving me tremendous anxiety and slept on her couch. Her roommate came home later, saw me on the couch and thought I was a rapist come to end their lives or something. Evidently, Sentry, when I sleep I look like a crazy man. But let's be real, I look no different from when I'm awake! Except that I don't rape. Ever. That was for clarification in case you think I'd do that.

Anyway...

A video to lighten the mood:

(Karen Walker, the answer is, "Yes!")

Returning to the letter:

My friends have seen this stress of mine in different forms: scatterbrained, confused, or denial of things. Suddenly information becomes locked away deep and I don't want to talk about it. It won't even make sense why I'm suddenly not willing to talk about it. At times this is cause I don't want to face whatever it is because on some deep level I'm terrified of it.


This past year, I've come to realize, has been about me finally confronting and recognizing stress. I am a dork and will cry over many things: babies, old and familiar religious music (some habits die hard), sad or poignant moments in movies, after laughing too hard, or if I get hurt. I cry or just curl up in the fetal position when I'm stressed. Sometimes I'll just sit where I'm at and stare at nothing for a while because anything else would be me facing that stress or anxiety and I just can't do that at the moment.


I don't write this, Sentry, to make you feel pity or want to help me feel better. I'll be on my feet and smiling and laughing in a few minutes anyway just do to my cheerful nature. I'm pretty cheerful around my friends most times. But then, when no one is around, I'll sit very still and just stop. It isn't always cause I'm relaxing. It's cause I'm hiding from that monster in my mind called stress.


I have a goal now. I want to face my stress, find coping techniques, medicine if I must, and gain information to better understand just what is happening in my brain.

Your friend,
Traveler

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Relationship

Dear Sentry,

You've seen it around you at one point or another: couples holding hands, tease-flirting with each other, having wild, raunchy eye flirts with each other. It happens. You can't dodge it, Sentry. Or perhaps in less uptight communities, you'll find couples or two random people making out, having a NCMO (non-committal make-out), or slapping their tongues together in an oral sword fight.


But it's more than that. Over the past year, much of my focus has been on just dealing with life. Dealing with it by coming to terms with some of the fears I've tried to hide from. It's a game I play: I tell myself I'm happy and I pretend I am until I can no longer avoid it, and then I work to fix things. Now, that's not saying that I'm not happy. I am happier than I've ever been in a long, long time. But there are still areas of my life that need that little fixer-upper kind of attitude. I am still in the process of doing that.


Suddenly many of my friends are casually dating or in relationships. And for the first time I am around more gay friends that fit into this category. It's a strange situation. My own roommate is dating a guy and I realize that I've never been around that before. So, Sentry, it has got my thinking recently: what do I think about relationships when it comes to me?



This is an area that fits what I described earlier as avoiding. It's a tangled area that I have tried to avoid over the past couple of years. And in all honesty I probably will still do that. But, allow me to explain the thought process behind this, Sentry (I'll try to keep it short).

I have struggled a lot with how I look at and interact with morals that I feel obligated to follow. I still am in the middle of figuring those things out. For that, it makes it difficult for me to want to develop any romantic feelings towards someone. I honestly think that's what I'm attracted to awkward and shy guys. It's a reflection of that attitude on my part. This weird fixation on rules and standards and morals, all abstract and superfluous, causes some kind of weird disconnect in my brain. Seriously, Sentry, my brain is weird. I have a cognitive dissonance where I'm fine with flirting and such but anything involving commitment makes me back off because I'm afraid I can't be totally honest or giving .

Finally, I know that I want to fall in love. I'm a total dork on that. The whole hopeless romantic runs through my veins. But I feel like my life is a mess with all this. I want to first figure things out before allowing myself to fall in love. Does that make sense, Sentry? I think relationships are a beautiful, crazy, goofy, odd, annoying, and complex thing. I just want to take care of things in my life. I don't believe I'm a catch right now or even worth noticing on that level. I don't mean that in some kind of self pity moment but rather as a way of saying, "Nothing to look at. Move on, please."


I brief list of things I'm working on: finishing school, figuring out my religious status and future, finances, assuming more control over my life, friendships, the "next step" plans, and such. Do I wish I were dating? Sure. Would it be wise to date? Hardly. So, friendships are all I need right now.

Does that make sense, Sentry?

Your friend,
Traveler

Some songs and videos on relationships:






Wednesday, August 24, 2011

When Avoiding Politics Always Use The Macarena as Your Escape Route

Dear Sentry,

It's been a while since I wrote a letter. I confess I've been busy this past week or so. I just moved to a new place where the Internet is at times questionable on reliability. So I'm sitting in my favorite place, enjoying a delicious hot dark chocolate drink, and typing away on my computer. I've been busy with life on a number of levels and maybe some day I'll share that with you. But right now, I kind of wanted to talk about something that has been on my mind recently.




Politics is the subject that's avoided around dinner tables. It's the kind of topic that, when brought up, you politely find a quiet escape from it or the group you're with. Passions flare and ignorance rears its ugly head. Let's be honest, when you hear someone say, "President Obama is one of the worst/best presidents we've had in a long time" you're gonna react. You'll either agree, disagree, or run the hell away to avoid the topic. Honestly, I support avoiding the topic of politics in most situations.


Sentry, I take the view that politics is an necessary evil. Humanity will create politics no matter what. That's my view. In my limited exposure to Hobbes, Locke, Aristotle, Plato, Machiavelli, and such political philosophers, I have bought into the view that you can't escape politics.

I have my opinions. They are varied and sometimes take a while to explain. I don't like to discuss them with most people because I think there are better topics to have (like why Karen Walker is my god). I also just find it annoying to have to debate all the time. They're my opinions, however correct they are (just kidding!), and that's how I see it. You can argue some other time with me about the relevance (or sanity) of some comment Glenn Beck or whomever you think is brilliant said one time. I just want to watch my West Wing/American Dad/Family Guy/Will and Grace/Rome/whatever other show I like to watch and leave it at that.

I detest conversations where people say, "All they need to do..." No. Odds are that's not the case. Politics is complicated, nuanced, and damn well annoying. A short couple of sentences about how to fix the problem in Iraq/Iran/China/etc. will not work. It won't ever work. So stop. Also, I hate conversations about the perfection of America and the evil of China/Europe/Saudi Arabia/Syria/Egypt/Your Mom/Venezuela/Brazil/Vanuatu/or whatever country you dislike today. Seriously, I don't care.


I don't like when politics can be summed up in pithy phrases. It excuses the individual hearing this to turn off their brain and not think. Let's be real here for a second, Sentry, politics does affect you. That big ol' reality show called Congress does affect your life in potentially every way. So, yes, it will affect you and avoiding it won't change that. Skipping down the road with your best mates, chattering about the latest gossip from Pretty Little Liars is probably better than discussing American foreign policy in Iraq or Malta and certainly something to have fun with. I'll always be more willing to talk about that, but don't pretend that this conversation is relevant or better serving than discussing what your politicians are up to (or what little indiscretions they are trying to hide). But maybe I'm a snob, I don't know. Anyway, politics - love it, hate it - it's here to stay.

So let's just agree to disagree. All right, Sentry? Remember: I'm always right. You're always wrong. Don't worry about it, ha ha! Finally, I have only a few videos to end this letter with. Love ya, Sentry!

Your friend,
Traveler







Yes, the last video was necessary.

Monday, August 15, 2011

An Observation in Time

Dear Sentry,

I have a friend named Honoria. She is someone that I care about deeply. But in all that I've observed I fear that she is ticking time bomb. If she ever goes kaboom in the foreseeable future, I fear for her. I want her to live many years. I think she will. I believe she has all that she needs to conquer the weaknesses in her. For that potential, she is commendable. But her obstacles are incredibly formidable, and, as always seems the case, she is her own worst enemy. She may believe religion or her parents or even men are her worst enemies but she need only look in the mirror to see the one that seeks her demise.


To illustrate my point, Sentry, if a person wanted to attack her verbally, all they would need to do to unravel her is to strike at her most vulnerable area: self-worth. Honoria is terribly weak in this regard and I am suspicious that she does not have that high of an opinion of herself. I have seen evidence for this in her calling herself fat (she is very healthy and skinny). Honoria has so many insecurities concerning her body. She masks it behind bravado and arrogance about it, but that mask is incredibly fractured. Spend a little time with her and sadly she will at some point discuss how she is fat. But it is a little bit more complex than that. I do not believe that Honoria sees herself as only fat. I think she fights an internal conflict over this. I think she sees herself as fat and also as skinny and healthy. I think her default view is that she is fat but she is trying desperately to believe otherwise. May her better side prevail on this.

This perception of her body should have, in my opinion, been somewhat altered in her adventures in the land of sex. Perhaps that was a bit naive on my part, Sentry. I am a firm believer in the ability of people to improve themselves. I honestly had hoped that her wanting to have sex and experimenting would help her see herself as not gross, fat, or unattractive. It appears that at this point I was wrong. She has created a dependency from sex. She needs sex in order to gain affirmation that she is wanted, needed, and loved. I have seen her deny this. Sex is fun, she will claim. I just want sex, is something that she'll tell me. I have come to the conclusion that she is in denial to herself. Oh, no doubt she just wants sex for its pleasurable potential but she also seeks sex to gain affirmation in her self worth. Yet I have witnessed her tear down her sexual partners if they do not meet her needs. I have seen her return to the same men that do not love her time and again. I have seen her hope that through sex she can gain their love. I have seen her express the desire to be someone's "first" in sex. I have no desire to take someone's virginity away. There's too much complex emotions, a lot of crying, and a lot of patience involved in that. But I think she wants it because it would be special and something new. Also, and perhaps just because, they would never forget her because she was their "first." Sadly, if a person wanted to strike at Honoria and cut deep they would have to belittle her skills and talents in bed. They could drive home the idea that no one even wants her through this. It is an idea that I believe she secretly harbors. A man could do this better than a woman as she still wants men more than women.

From body image to sex and now to dependency on others, Honoria has very little belief that she is worth-while. This is such a tragic attitude, Sentry. But I fear this is where things are most dangerous for her. Her dependency leaves her unstable as a person. Lacking self-worth ironically makes her very selfish, but not surprisingly. After all, how can she give love if she has little to no love for herself? In her defense, she can be a kind and loving person but I find that to be a "from time to time" thing more than a frequent one. She craves the attention of others. She hungers for their love and their desire to be around her. She wants to be the center of attention with others. Yet she sincerely fears that others don't like her or want her. That everyone will eventually abandon her. So she prepares for this by distancing herself and thus creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Her friends, as I have noticed (including me) are constantly rebuffed if they get to close. I know that she can love, Sentry. Yet she believes that expressions of love have distinct male/female responses. From what I have observed, she thinks that emotional expressions of love are masculine and therefore something she emulates (she does not believe that she acts like other women).


I would suggest, Sentry, that you see her as broken and playing defense. That would be the most accurate way of describing her, I believe. She clings desperately to her remarkable intelligence and hard work as a way to define herself. Relationships are weak around her because she has been taught by her parents that love is a cold and distant thing. Her parents, though, aren't fully to blame. There have been other moments in her life that have taught her this strange, twisted, and sad idea. Her dulled ability to express love and compassion is not fully her fault, she is but the product of her experiences. But I would suggest, Sentry, that you do not look upon her distant nature as being impregnable. Her distant nature is actually chaotic. Think of her as a castle with formidable walls to keep out outsiders or unwanted actions. But the problem with this castle is that there is a gaping hole in her defensible walls leaving her vulnerable to attacks by anyone and everyone. She may be able to put up a strong front in other places but she cannot truly hold out.


Another strange aspect about her (but not strange when we widen the scope to take in people in general) is her desire to be superior to others and yet act inferior. In this, I do not forgive as much as in other places. Honoria, though kind and nice, is arrogant. She uses her intelligence, preference for reading classical literature, choice of clothing, and atheistic nature to put herself above her peers. I honestly think this is due to how she was raised by her parents. I also think this is because she sincerely wants to believe she is better than others. Though gifted with intelligence, she is wrong to act this way. She has no issues with tearing another person down and then building herself up. It is the only area of her self-worth she can actively work on. Men become sexual objects for her (even though she craves romantic intimacy with them), gay men her playthings, lesbians are an exotic fantasy that she would go for but fears that rejection, and other women are a mystery to keep at bay and avoid at all costs. All exist to serve her, bow before her, or avoid her. This is not a perfect situation though (it is merely some subconscious fantasy on her part). Sentry, I do not enjoy being someone's plaything. I love Honoria but I cannot abide being that with her.


This arrogance that she possesses is unflattering in my opinion. I cannot be kind about it. I believe it to be the purest manifestation of her insecurity and lack of self-worth. The paradox of arrogance in her superiority and yet total disbelief in her ability to be anything more than pathetic to others is interesting, yes. It is also sad, Sentry. I fear that if she ends up alone or with few friends, it will be because of this paradox and not because of something else.


If there were anything I could suggest to her, I'd say love yourself. Accept yourself for all the good and bad that is inside you. Forgive others and let them have faults. Accept others as your equal and let yourself be their equal too. I have hope for her, Sentry. How could I not? I love her dearly as my friend. But I fear that ticking time bomb that is in her.

Your friend,
Traveler

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Layers of an Onion and Monty Python

Dear Kiley,

It's been a few days or so since we last exchanged letters. You were completely spot on with your last post on Mormons and obedience. I thank you for that! So you shared this quote by M.L. Mencken, “[Religion’s] single function is to give man access to the powers which seem to control his destiny, and its single purpose is to induce those powers to be friendly to him… Nothing else is essential.” I just wanted to comment on it.

But first: Monty Python clips!


I love Mony Python, ha ha!

So, to break down his comments (for my sake), Mencken claims that religion's sole function is for the individual to gain favors whatever they believe by seducing the divine in that individual's favor. The second claim by Mencken is that this is all that is essential.

I will agree with Mencken that one of religion's functions is to assist the individual in gaining favor from whatever they believe that controls the destiny of mortals. Judaism has Abraham bartering with God on saving Sodom and Gomorrah, Gideon with the fleece, Jeremiah and the whale, and so on. Greeks have such characters too with their demigods, gods, powers, and mortals. Catholicism today as the Saints that intervene on behalf of mortals in God's plan, Bodhisattvas work the same in Mahayana Buddhism, and so on. Individuals do interact with the divine in such a way. It is a perfectly rational explanation for why the individual believer interacts with institutional religion.

However, to say this is the sole function of religion is, in my opinion, a bit overly simplistic. Religion is not only about what M.L. Mencken states. Religion is also about acquiring and maintaining power, creating a coherent (and even incoherent) explanation of the metaphysical and physical universe, and providing a cause for existing.

Religion, like so many complex and diverse organizations, have layers to them. The motives of the individual, lowly believer can and are quite different from leaders, groups, and the entirety of the organization. So, yes, religions are like an onion (a stinky one). In my opinion, religions exist independent of the beliefs and will of the believers. They may influence it and direct where it goes but that cannot compare to how much the religion pushes them to believe and do.


So, to keep this letter short, I just want to give an abbreviated history of religion when it comes to politics and religion.


History or Yesterday's Hip Trends

This whole notion of separation of Church and State is relatively new in the history of civilization. Theocracies are rather an old (albeit tired) idea of how governments should run. To use a Mormon example, it is quite likely the "political structure" implied in the Nephite civilization derived its laws from the Laws of Moses (making the story of Korihor and the judges a bit ironic from this lens). Jewish civilization derived its laws and political structure from "divine" sources. Egyptian Pharoahs, Japanese emperors, European monarchies, Sumerian kings, and even Roman emperors all either claimed a divine birth-right or maintained some kind of divinity during life and after death. You wanted to rule people? You had to give people a reason to follow you.


Rulers in the ancient world were pretty much the head of their state religions. You couldn't be a king unless the gods were on your side. Another example of this is the Mandate of Heaven with China. Emperors were only safe as long as the mythical Mandate of Heaven was in place. Natural disasters and stronger enemies were your worst nightmare as a king. And crop failure was a bitch!

Things changed in Western civilization with the dawn of the Reformation. Those annoying Protestants challenged Catholic (meaning universal) rule throughout Western Europe. They had the audacity to argue that the Pope was not the sole authority on scripture. Nationalism began with this, local leaders in the German lands took advantage of this by consolidating their power away from The Vatican. Independence always creates problems for your former rulers. King Henry VIII used the Supremacy Act to severe ties with the Pope. It gave rise to greater British nationalism.

From this point on, governments made their power and jealously guarded it. They didn't trust religion (with the exception of the Spanish, Italians, Portuguese, and to some extent the French). Protestants and the new governments that were being formulated during the Reformation and the centuries that followed employed the idea that government should start to separate the idea of government and religion. Under President Jefferson, he wrote his famous letter.

My point in bringing all this up is to point out that religion, especially authoritarian style religions, have had a long history of sharing power with government. The Islamic Shari'ah Law movement and the Christian Dominionism are both modern examples of this effort. These movements are efforts to impose a particular set of views upon entire societies. I would argue that some religions, especially ones that have authoritarian forms of structure, do seek for more power, particularly political power. The function of religion is to acquire and maintain power.

Your friend,
That Crazy MoFo

Friday, August 12, 2011

Family...Isn't It About...Love?

Dear Sentry,

I've been writing to Kiley recently about my opinions on Mormonism. The last letter I wrote to her was one that spoke of my anger and frustration at Mormons' hypocrisy. Kiley gave a great response to those sentiments, Sentry. Since writing that letter and reading her response as well as Jonathan's latest blogpost I have come to have some more thoughts on this subject. A group that gathers at BYU called USGA (Understanding Same-Gender Attraction) watched the movie "Prayers for Bobby." It's one of those movies that makes me cry. I also have been getting further in my reading of And the Band Played On, the tragic history of the early years of the AIDS epidemic.

Now, I wish to speak to you, Sentry, about family. Family is the thing that is supposedly central to all beliefs of my childhood faith. It is a believe meant to invoke joy and optimism. I loved the Disney movie "Lilo and Stitch" because it was about family.


I loved the movie "Shelter" for one of the themes on family. It was something that tugged at my heart and resonated far more than anything else in the story.



Yes, Sentry, I am a dork. No matter how much I may feud or be hurt by what my parents say, I still love the corny and lame jokes my father likes to say (And they are very corny...). I love my older brother's cynicism and sarcasm, his wife's cheerful optimism and curiosity. I love the fact that my mom will drop everything to help you when you need it. Family is a strange thing. I am angry and hurt at what happened a month ago but I love them still.








Families come in all shapes and sizes. If I were to list all the people that I considered family...it would fill up pages. Family is what happens, in my opinion, when individuals' hearts become knit to each other in love (and not just romantic love). Dear friends are part of my family. That means that I would drop everything to help you. Your happiness is my desire. I want to see you fall in love with whomever you may love (male, female, gay, straight, bi). I want to see your life filled with laughter and smiles until your face is so wrinkled in your old age from smiling.

I want to meet the one you fall in love with. And when it takes several times before you discover the right one, I want to meet them all.
  
I want to rejoice when you're happy, cry when you're sad, yell with you when you're angry, and whatever else you may need from me.

Your friend,
Traveler


(I had to share LDS videos for this. If there's one thing the Mormon Church instilled in me, it's the desire to marry and have a family. Too bad for those Mormons that I'll be marrying a guy, ha ha!)



Wednesday, August 10, 2011

French Bisexuality: A Musical

Dear Sentry,

I just finished a film called "Les Chansons d'Amour" (Love Songs). It was a story about a "throuple" (3 people in a relationship) and about the loss that the characters feel when tragedy strikes. The story continues on focusing on the main character, Ismael, and his trouble dealing with loss. The story's other main element is the focus on new love.

I liked the film for the the way they melded the speaking and singing parts. The characters were interesting and intriguing at parts. I had a hard time remembering names (this happens when it's foreign, lol). The way the movie ends...well, it has an ending, but it just felt sudden and left a lot more to the story that just never was answered. The movie focuses entirely on Ismael so many of the other characters do not develop as much. However, I did like the movie and would give it just shy of four out of five stars. Music was fun and the artistic lens of the camera was very fun!

Sorry, Sentry. I don't mean to get all technical and all opinionated or critiquing of a film. I admit that I have a weakness for French films. My favorite movies have two French films on the list (Amelie and East/West). I want to also watch Presque Rien. I will probably adding Les Chansons d'Amour to my list of movies that I'd watch again.

Anyway, things from the movie, Sentry.





So, yes. I do recommend watching the movie, Sentry. Kind of nice to have letters to read again, huh?

Your friend, Traveler

Monday, August 8, 2011

From Hypocrisy to Moby: Schadenfreude

Dear Kiley,

This is an angry letter, I confess. The central theme here is hypocrisy. I do not deny that I am guilty of being a hypocrite as well. It is, unfortunately, a part of human nature to be hypocritical at times. Our very existence as being mortal, fallible, and imperfect means that we travel with such companions as hypocrisy, frailty, and sorrow alongside happiness, vigor, and courage. No mere person can escape this, in my opinion. It is for us as individuals, as humans, to not focus so much on rising above our hypocrisies (that should be an indirect goal). Rather our focus should be to work through our concerns, problems, and insecurities while finding a way to live and tolerate the many hypocrisies in our lives.

I turn my anger towards Mormonism and Christianity and look upon them as being the same in this view of them. At the same time, I do not deny that such a labeling of "hypocrisy" can easily be applied to any religion, government, or organization that has ever existed, does exist, and will exist in the future. But for the purpose of this letter, I wish to direct the label of hypocrisy at Christianity and Mormonism.

I have been reading the book "And the Band Played On" by Randy Shilts these past several weeks. The book covers the truly tragic and pathetic history of the rise of the AIDS epidemic in the United States and Europe. I hate what I am reading, or rather I hate how the history of everything is playing out in this book. I cannot help but cry during it, grow angry, and become frustrated with the whole thing. It's like see the unfurling of a vast and interconnected web. I'm watching as the lines become revealed and see how they interconnect and become tangled. The entire time, I'm waiting to see where my line connects to this whole thing.

I've never met any of the people that I've read about so far. I already fear they are all dead, some twenty-five years after the last year that was covered in this book. It saddens me so much. The book has so far argued successfully that the ease in which the AIDS epidemic spread in those crucial early years in the United States was the result of an apathetic media, society, and government. They were apathetic because homosexuals contracted the disease. Those dirty gays got the disease so it's all right if they die. No one cares about them.


(Warning: rant about to occur. Flee now if you are allergic to rants)

Where is the Christianity that supposedly follows Christ? The Christianity that takes to heart the counsel that Christ gave in these questions "For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if he salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so (Matthew 5:46-47)?" Where is the heeding of the commandment to love thy neighbor as thyself? Or are those that are not your type of "Christian" or non-Christian not worth their time? This Christianity that supposedly is for peace and love, helping others...where is it? Where were they - when the children they cast out of their homes for being gay, ostracized them for daring to love what they are attracted to naturally, hated them for actually standing up for basic human rights and dignity, sought to gain influence so as to make their lives better - where were they when they began to die? Where were their mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, grandmas and grandpas?

This short excerpt from the book is the most recent passage that made me cry. The person that is speaking has just lost two of his friends to the unnamed AIDS virus. After having read Stonewall, watched the Mormon Church's campaign for Proposition 8 in 2008, listened to the hate speeches of reverends and politicians, and just heard the typical hate rhetoric of so many average Mormons here in Utah, I can understand some of the pain that this man must have felt here:

"As a harsh rain beat down, Paul again pondered the familiar imponderables. Why is this happening to me, to all my friends? Hadn't they put up with enough shit for one lifetime? Why doesn't anybody seem to care? What a fucking nightmare" (Shilts 140).

So I cannot help but wonder when I see Mormonism and Christianity why I should ever bother to describe them as good or any word similar to that. I have heard such descriptions used to describe the Mormon community: they take care of their own. What about others? I don't recall Christ doing that when he spoke to the woman at the well, healed a blind man, healed lepers, healed a Centurion's servant, or brought Jairus' daughter back to life. I don't recall reading that Christ was ever arrogant during those acts. I don't recall him complaining or telling them how evil they were.

This is where I see hypocrisy. They laud their good gifts to each other and the world but continue to ignore all the evil around them. They defend such immoral acts under the banner of Goodness. They speak with such venom and oily smiles that it makes me sick. When I read of the AIDS epidemic and of the Religious Right's rise during that time, I see them as the foul, pathetic, and disgusting people they are. I read of the sorrow and loss of those that died from AIDS or those that lived to watch their friends and lovers die, the pain that came from not knowing what was destroying them, the feelings of being helpless by those few doctors that tried to stop what was happening, the abandonment of the gay community by society in their hour of need, and the the sorrow that comes from death.

Christianity and Mormonism, what are their fruits? Hypocrisy, abandonment, death, arrogance, and hatred. Where, if such a thing ever existed, did the Christianity and Mormonism go that supposedly existed in my readings of the scriptures?

Why does any of this matter? Humans are fallible and pathetic. Yes, yes. I know, I'm taking quite the Augustine of Hippo approach. Permit me, if you will. These religions that claim to have "The Truth" should show some evidence of this. Otherwise, how are they distinguishable from any of these other "man-made" organizations? Shouldn't these religions that claim they are "good" actually do good things more often than by accident?  Yeah, I know, I'm crazy for thinking that.

Your friend,
That Crazy MoFo

P.S. Some funny and beautiful videos to cheer you up :)




Saturday, August 6, 2011

Follow the Prophet (Kiley, It's a long one, sorry)

Dear Kiley,

So, I've talked about life (and death) with you. I'm sure I've bored you somewhat, lol! But I wanted to shift topics. Death is such a gloomy subject anyway. The next thing that I wanted to talk about with you was what I perceive as inconsistencies with the Mormon prophets.

As always, I'm not some expert on Mormon history or anything. Just a guy that reads a fair amount, ha ha! So, I want to draw a comparison between Joseph Smith and other prophets from things I've noticed.

When I served a mission, I was taught to encourage people to ask questions about why God did certain things in the past but not now to get them to conclude that God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow so there are prophets still on the Earth and that the ancient church is the same as the modern church. This tool of asking questions is what I wish to employ now.

From what I've observed, prophets maintain and have the gift of discernment, prophecy, the ability to decipher and understand languages lost and unknown, to tap into any knowledge they need, and heal the sick. Essentially, a prophet is superhuman. An LDS prophet has the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound...well, something like that.

Joseph Smith, the prophet of the Restoration, is credited for translating the Book of Mormon from Reformed Egyptian (a language lost and unknown to the modern world...and as far as I know it is still lost and unknown) into Old English with thees and thous. He was able to speak in tongues and did so on multiple occasions in front of witnesses. He cast out devils. Received revelations for countless individuals, saw visions of the afterlife and judgment, spoke with angels, healed the sick, and even saw and conversed with God the Father and God the Son. These certainly could qualify as miracles. We will ignore, for the purpose of this topic, the accuracy or even truthfulness of these events and abilities. He predicted the Civil War and how it would start in South Carolina. That prophecy was about thirty years before the actual event. 

Joseph Smith was the prophet of the Restoration. So why have things changed? In all the Sunday School classes I've had, I have heard all the amazing and wondrous things that Joseph Smith did. He was bad ass. But then Brigham Young comes along and others follow after. Spencer W. Kimball comes along and in 1979 receives a revelation to permit all worthy males the right to the priesthood (prior to that, black men that had ancestry from Africa could not hold the priesthood). Prophets after that just continue on, boring and mundane. The stories that are shared about other prophets pail in comparison to Joseph Smith. Joseph Smith healed people that had malaria when they members of the Mormon community were in Illinois. He was in the presence of Jesus in the Kirtland Temple. Honestly, the miraculous stories of Joseph Smith go on and on. I'll refrain from mentioning them and move on to my next point.

I cannot help but ask the following questions, then, concerning prophets. Why, did the Church not purchase or seek to translate Dead Sea Scrolls once they were discovered or at any point after? Were they not considered sacred? Did they no longer consider it the role or calling of the prophet to translate such ancient texts that are connected to Bible? Why is it that the prophets no longer translate languages? Why is the Book of Mormon translated into different languages by experts and not by the hand of the prophet? Why is it that the Mormon Church does not announce revelations about amazing doctrines? Why is it that Joseph Smith seems to be the only prophet that did this (the exception perhaps being Brigham Young's Adam-God theory. Kimball's revelation was more of a change of policy than new revelation where doctrine is changed so dramatically that it fundamentally alters things). I remember countless times of sitting in the Priesthood Session of General Conference wondering if the Prophet was going to announce some new and wondrous revelation. Why are there no longer stories of prophets administering to the sick, receiving revelations to be published for the saints to feast their eyes on? Why is it that prophets no longer prophecy about things? Prophetic utterances today seem mundane and...well, not prophetic.

I have heard others claim that the reason these things no longer happen is because it's not needed. The prophet doesn't need to translate the Dead Sea Scrolls because people can do it without prophetic assistance. I've also heard the prophet is busy. So what then, does a prophet do? Hold meetings and participate in the rituals of the Church and that's that? I don't recall Elijah attending or holding meetings to discuss church policy. But perhaps the writers of the Bible thought it not faith-promoting to mention that "Verily, Elijah did slumber most peacefully in the meeting on Weights and Measures of Israeli Public Policy. Yea, he did sleep mightily and snore mightily until some servant nudged him. Whereupon, Elijah, servant of God, did wake up mid-snore and listen for a few seconds more before dozing off." I'm sure that's what it was. They decided that such stories would put the readers to sleep as well.

It seems to me that prophets today do very little that is traditionally recognized as prophetic. It seems like the song "Come, Listen to a Prophet's Voice" just means "Listen to this old guy. He's a riot...ok, well, he'll at least put you to sleep with his monotone voice...but come anyway...please?!"

It seems to me that all new religions have a bursting of ideas, revelations, and news to be shared from the divine to its mortal mouthpiece. But then, after that, it's just a steer the course and don't rock the boat with new ideas. The Mormon Church claims to be a Church of Revelation but it seems to be nothing more than a treat of well described policy and PR moments and little else. Is this all God had to say to us in this period of Restoration? All has been restored and that's it? God has no comment no the treatment of women except in polite and rather boring church policy statements? God isn't that concerned with the constant suffering of His children in Africa and throughout the world? Perhaps not since those people are probably not tithe-payers. God cared little for the hundreds and thousands of gay men, prostitutes, and drug users that were killed early on in the AIDS epidemic? God probably hated them since they weren't following Jesus anyway. God just has nothing to say anymore that matters?

So the heavens are closed? The prophets don't care anymore or don't care to ask God anymore? Why is it that there is such a disparity between Joseph Smith and the men that followed after as prophets of the Mormon Church?

Your friend,
That Crazy MoFo

Friday, August 5, 2011

Someday!

Dear Sentry,

I have a dream. A dream that will one day become reality. When my forefathers (and mothers) arrived in the barren and desolate land of Utah (or Ootah, as they say in the Book of Mormon musical), they took to heart the counsel of beard-loving ol' Brigham Young and made their homes in these valleys. They heard the song in their heart (as it wouldn't be recorded and played for over a hundred years) the song "Go West" by the village people. Yes, Sentry, they went west. Why? Cause life was peaceful there. Go west. They went and in the West they settled. Did they complain? I assume so. I am related to them, after all. But did they make do? Yes!

My dream is to one day see Salt Lake City become a place of happiness, tolerance, and paradise (click on link). A city where men can walk around holding hands with other men. Where women can do the same!

Where on every street corner cannons shoot glitter on the hour (it will be a city littered in glitter, I realize, but a fabulous city!) to remind people that the rainbow menace is here to stay!
It will be a place where there is celebrating in the streets! Where gossip is done in the form of musicals!
Yes, Sentry! Just imagine it! Utah: gayest state in the Union! What's this? You lived in San Francisco? Psh, it's Utah where you wanna be. The rainbow flag is the state flag now! They have glitter cannons! What your city doesn't? That's so bland and tragic. Sentry, I see a Utah where the new state flag would be shown everywhere. It would be a city and state that would celebrate love in all its forms.
Some day this dream will come true, Sentry. Some day I will see the realization of it. Bigotry cannot last. Hatred and misunderstanding will one day yield to love and understanding. Tolerance will surrender happily to acceptance. We will get there. We will be better. Plus, how could anyone deny the opportunity to have glitter cannons to celebrate life? Come on, Sentry, you know you want your presence acknowledged by rainbow flags and glitter!

Your friend,
Traveler

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Death Part 2 and Other Fun Stuff

Dear Kiley,

I want to add some more to my letter on the value of life (and death) among Mormons. So last letter I focused on the God aspect of it (sort of, lol). Now I want to focus on the average Joe aspect. I've been reading a book on the history of the AIDS epidemic from 1978-1985: the beginning of it in the United States, Europe, and Africa. I confess that I cry while reading this book. It just breaks my heart to know and realize how the world actually works. So when I'm finished reading this book, I am soooo going to read something lighthearted and cheery.

Reading this book helped me realize that respect for life is conditional among my friends (Mormons and non-Mormons) and family. I grew up in a family where war was viewed as being inevitable and unavoidable. War was something to glory about. Death was virtually ignored because that was just depressing, you know? Capital punishment was seen as necessary and vital to the progress and security of society. Social deviants, particularly homosexuals to my father, did not really deserve life. Oh sure, no one should organize a mob and kill them, but they were disgusting, deviant individuals that mar the good nature of "average" Americans. Who these average Americans are, I have no idea to this day. While watching television one time, he said with disgust how terrible it was that the government was giving more money to fund the AIDS research. In his opinion it was the gays' own faults for contracting this lethal disease.

I will state simply here that while I don't use "support," I do recognize the ugly truth that sometimes war is an option that must be undertaken. The why's behind this are for another time. That same attitude is also what underlies my grudging stance of allowing capital punishment to exist (in other words, why I don't actively go out and work to remove it).

Growing up in Northern California, I witnessed friends and strangers alike cry out angry words against Muslim countries during 9/11 and in the subsequent invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. I am ashamed to admit that I supported such actions by the United States (particularly the invasion of Iraq). Several of my friends seemed to see war as same as fighting some kid after school with a ring of kids around you to watch it and cheer you on. Our enemies were wrong and we were right. Even as a believer, I found church statements and church members' support of war disturbing. How quick people were to cite passages for going to war and fighting over the passages of peace, forgiveness, and valuing life.

The main point I have in these two letters is that Mormons do not respect life, as I have come to understand. They may give lip service and fight for fetuses' rights but they do not value life itself. Life is cheapened by such doctrines as the afterlife and resurrection. It is devalued in the face of war, murder, genocide, and apathy towards such acts. Life is excused in the face of mounting starvation, human suffering, and even distance between those suffering and those not.

But can it be excused? I mean, aren't we all human and therefore prone to errors? After all, the West once actively participated in slavery for hundreds of years but it eventually learned from its mistakes, right? After all, we seem to learn from our mistakes. Nobody's perfect. The Church is a reflection, at times, of the people that are living their lives under the counsel of God and becoming better people, right? All these things may be true. And I will never deny the fact that there are those within the LDS Church that exhibit a better understanding than I do about the sanctity of life and live according to those values better than I do. But there are also those outside of the LDS Church in other religions and organizations that do the same. There is, in my opinion, no concerted effort to value life and no real interest in interpreting scripture and theology in such a way as to respect the priceless gift of life through all of its stages.

Do you agree, Kiley?

Your friend,
That Crazy MoFo

That cat is evil
I love this baby :)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Value of Life (and Death) and Karen Walker

Dear Kiley,

I wanted to talk about the value of life and death in the Mormon Church as far as I've seen and interacted with. As always my disclaimer, I am no expert so take my opinions for what they're worth.

When I was in Kindergarten there was this story that was shared with all of us kids. I was six years old (that's twenty years ago for me, lol!) then. My teacher (Mrs. Walsh, I believe), told us the story of the Gingerbread Man. As a child I loved the magical nature of the story. A gingerbread comes to life and runs away to go on an adventure. My teacher made us gingerbread cookies (real ones!) and I loved the smell and taste of gingerbread. There were even little adventures connected to the story that the teacher had us play. Yes, Mrs. Walsh was a good teacher.

Stories are meant to teach morals and such. The gingerbread man got careless and trusted in something that he shouldn't have trusted in. That carelessness cost the gingerbread man his life. A sobering thought indeed. Now, I know there are other meanings to the story (never let a woman put you in the oven or put frosting on your head before running), but I just wanted to share that observation.

The Mormon and Christian God is the creator and destroyer of all things. Mormons, though, limit God's creative and destructive powers. God does not create from nothing (ex nihilo or "out of nothing") and cannot send matter into oblivion. But the Christian God can and does. This difference, however important theologically and in the realm of matter, is not going to be addressed here.

Returning to childhood memories, I want to bring up another story. Remember the song "I'm trying to be like Jesus"? I find the song, as an adult, incredibly fascinating as it is an insight into remaking what has traditionally been taught about so many topics. Now, the point of the song is to encourage children (and by extent, adults) to follow the God of the New Testament, Jesus.

Children are typically sheltered from the more heinous stories of the God of the Old Testament (death seems to bother children somehow). But the funny part with this song is the great theological point that it fails to address. Jesus, as the Mormons see it, is the God of the Old Testament. That God is a God with so much blood on his hands that you could probably fill the rivers, oceans, and lakes with it and still not run out. He is responsible for the worldwide massacre in the Flood, the nearly successful genocide of the Canaanites, the murder of the first born Egyptians, the slaughtering of the Israelites before healing them with a brazen serpent, the wholesale slaughtering of the Assyrian armies, the murdering of a man for attempting to steady the Ark of the Covenant, and so on. Honestly, I could continue to list off story after story of the God of the Old Testament (a.k.a. Jesus the future Messiah) and his many fascinating ways of killing people (See 1 Chronicles 21: 1-14). In the Old Testament, from how I see things, Christ/God is quite the vindictive God. He is a God that responds to "sin and iniquity" with speedy death sentences (Romans 6:23). Families were slaughtered for one person's sins, the person died as well (Numbers 16:30-33).

Resurrection does not give value to life taken away. In fact, it cheapens life. In Sunday School lessons by the dozens, I was taught that the people killed in the Flood were sent to the afterlife to learn about God. They could not stay on Earth because their wickedness would destroy the plan of God and God would just not have that! This was seen as good thing and in every lesson the people in class would murmur their approval of this story.

The problem with this line of thought, though, is that it teaches something very sinister. Your life only has value to God and the followers of that faith so long as you are accomplishing the goals they/God has in mind. The moment you step outside of it, you are no longer of worth or use. Death is a kind service to give to you. Your life is not priceless but, rather, with a price. It is something with a finite value, to be extinguished when your service is no longer needed. That you can be revived is an empty and cheap promise. Why bother, then, with even living? God does not seem to care much about your life. When dealing with rulers, the lives of the common people are just pawns to be used as bargaining chips against their rulers (1 Chronicles 21: 1-14).

I'm gonna have to cut off my line of thought for now. This letter is getting just too long.

Your Friend,
That Crazy MoFo

Mormons, What?

 Dear Kiley,

I wanted to share some of my thoughts on Mormonism with you today. This has been due to our conversations on it both yesterday and in the past. Also, you're wonderful! Any lesbian or bi lady looking to meet a wonderful and awesome woman should meet her!

Mormonism (also "Morg", "that church," "the church with the polygamists," and "aren't you the ones that wear the magic underwear?") is something I feel somewhat familiar with. I'd like to point out that I am not a historian in any sense (my major is political science not history) so take my opinions for what they're worth! Mormonism is too huge of a topic to address in one letter to you. Honestly, if I did that the pages would go on FOREVER! So, I'll subdivide it into more manageable topics (and not make them too wordy).

I do not promise coherency in these letters, by the way. Just the ramblings of a guy that reads too much, ha ha!

When it comes to Mormonism in general, I see a religion that does do good (acts of charity, creating a functioning community for its members to interact in, and developing a safety net within those communities) and does not so good things. I find, as I do with all other spiritual doctrines of other faiths, that Mormon beliefs are smoke and mirrors. I recognize that the Mormonism at BYU is quite different from the Mormonism taught and practiced in Colorado, Wyoming, Washington, and California where I grew up and served my mission. In interacting with people from other places, I have found that Mormonism is different to some degree depending on where you are. I absolutely detest BYU's Mormonism. How can a group of people so evidently and clearly intelligent be so...ignorant?

A couple examples to illustrate my previous comment. While in Sunday School a few years back, I had a teacher sum up the Reformation as a time when people were just searching for the truth and a jolly good attempt at it too but thankfully God brought about the Restoration later so that those people's kids could know the truth. I was a believer when I heard this and was flabbergasted. All I could was about how the woman had willfully and naively ignored the bloody and brutal history of the Reformation. Just read about the Anabaptists or the Thirty Year War.


A friend of mine had a roommate that saw the Holocaust as God's punishment of the Jews. 20th Century Jews deserved what they got because of what their ancestors supposedly did 2,000 years ago to God's son. That kind of thinking just makes any rational person's jaw drop in shock. Good to know that 6 million Jews were all that was needed to atone for the crucifying of Jesus. Good to know that the persecution and hate they received for the past 2,000 years wasn't enough. To lighten the mood, watch this video.


They speak as though their view were true. The Reformation was just a big ol' friendly chat that the Restoration settled the matter on and no blood was shed in either times. The Jews were merely settling a debt with God, that's all. I see this line of thinking throughout much of my friends' thinking. It's fine for the Lawgiver to have power over death, but we are supposed to follow his example, but not kill, but ignore when he wantonly kills because he has a reason, but, but but. The Canaanites were guilty of child sacrifice so of course they deserved to be wiped out. All of them: men, women, and children. Infants and pregnant women would not have been spared. This was all jolly good justice on God's part.

These first few ramblings are my opinions on Mormonism. They are incoherent. But I admit they begin to cover my disagreement with the Mormons on how they view death, rationalize history, and explain the actions of God.

Your friend,
That Crazy MoFo


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Now I'm Talking About Boys

Dear Sentry,

The lovely lady list has been put up. My wife has commented on it. Now it's time for the man list.

Robert Downey Jr.
He is one of my favorite actors. I loved him in Iron Man and absolutely loved him in Sherlock Holmes. I love the way he acts and the personality of his characters. Mr. Downey, I would marry you in heart beat (sorry, wife ;) )

Mitch Hewer
He's a hottie. I fully admit to liking this boy based first on looks and then second on acting. I saw him in Skins and loved him in it. He is a wonderful actor, in case you're wondering.


Nicholas Hoult
He was also in Skins with Mitch Hewer. But I loved him in A Single Man


Neil Patrick Harris
What more can be said after stating his name? Nothing that's what. That's how awesome Mr. Neil Patrick Harris is.


Taye Diggs
Idina Menzel, I approve of your husband. I love that they met on Rent. 



Jay Brannon
He is one of my favorite singers. I love his voice. It's magical, in case you wanted to know.


Ryan Kwanten
This Australian actor is MF hot!!!! If you need to know what "mf" stands for, go look at gorgeous individuals of your attraction(s) and start using "hot" to describe them. Eventually you'll find some are more than hot and the "mf" abbreviation works (but do not shout "mf." Say the word). Oh...and Ryan Kwanten is a great actor as well. I first saw him in the Australian kids show Spellbinder. I love him in True Blood. Ryan, this song sums up what I want to do with you. Never has stupidity been so hot!


Enrique Iglesias
Who wouldn't want this man (other than my wife...)? He is a wonderful voice and he is a cutie!


 Rob Lowe
I love him in West Wing. He's one of my favorite actors in it (well, after Allison Janney). 


Jon Stewart
The man is genius. Pure genius. That's all.


Paul Blackthorne
I loved him in Dresden Files as "Harry Dresden." I loved the character that he played in it and was always intrigued by the actor. Mr. Blackthorne is a fun guy to like!


Dante Basco
The beautiful and forever-young Rufio!!!!! Loved him as Prince Zuko in Avatar: The Last Airbender and in But I'm a Cheerleader.



David Archuleta
This final one is more for a friend of mine. He knows who (if he still reads this, lol!). I'm not a huge fan of Mr. Archuleta but he is cute 


These are the men. So long for now, Sentry!

Your friend,
Traveler

The title is taken from a funny video I saw earlier this year.