Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Torture and Mormonism

This past week I had an interesting exchange on Facebook. I found out that one of the psychologists that designed torture techniques used under the Bush administration was called to be a bishop. This confused and concerned me. While I do believe strongly in the principle of repentance and change, I am very concerned that someone who had broken the law of the United States so severely could still be considered for a leadership position. How could this man have been involved in such an endeavor? And to call him to a leadership position seems risky; it was sure to call media attention to this man. This man may feel regrets for his actions. I do not know him. It is not my place to say what he feels or what he does not feel. I think, however, that this does raising interesting questions about morality and Mormonism. 

After saying all of this, I was (ironically) attacked for judging this man. I will post some disturbing and sad comments below.

"I'll keep my opinions of Joanna Brooks to myself. I see your points, but I think your selection of article makes a difference in how people perceive your initial argument. If you brought up an article simply about "hey, this Mormon guy helped design controversial torture tactics", people would focus on the morality of Mormons and torture. But the article you found was one that was casting aspersion onto his divinely-inspired calling because of his past involvement in torture. For me, that changed my interpretation of the issue from "ethics of torture" to "ethics of divine inspiration," and thus changed my response. There are probably a few reasons we don't have official Church positions on every possible moral dilemma: allowing people to seek their own inspiration to not be "commanded in all things," because there are SO many unique scenarios to address, or maybe because sometimes there are righteous exceptions (like Nephi and Laban). Personally, we can all pray for personal inspiration or seek advisement from priesthood leaders when we have questions and when the Church's position is unclear. Publicly, does it matter? Those who tout their to-the-letter religious devotion in the public arena, looking for approval of their image, were rebuked by Christ for being prideful. Ultimately, it doesn't matter what other people think of us. What kind of change are you calling for? If administrative changes need to happen, God will inform those who have responsibility for those changes - they're the men that we sustained less than a month ago in General Conference. I don't know enough about the situation on interrogation techniques to offer any answers there; maybe it was somehow like a Laban experience where Nephi didn't think the cost of a life was more than the benefit of escaping Jerusalem with a copy of the scriptures, but God approved (and commanded, that time) anyway. People don't often seem satisfied with the answer "I don't know," but sometimes it's all God gives us right now."

"Jacob, how many people are called unqualified? Almost all. You're disregarding the Atonement entirely. Why pull a mote when you've got a beam now you know just as well as I that torture is never justified. I protested its practice during recent wars when I was in high school. But I sin too. And far be it from me to criticize the Life's judgements. Even if it is wrong, all things will come full circle in the end."

"Katie is right. And I will never put stock in the many observers and commentators of Mormonism who believe there is "grave underdevelopment in the public morality and political theology of contemporary Mormonism”. God's church and His doctrine is perfect, though his people aren't. The fullness of the Gospel has been restored, there is no imperfection in God's morality nor His theology. The world scorns the church using their imagined perception of what true morality is, but they are just plain wrong, which is why I don't heed their complaints in any way."

Grave underdevelopment in the public morality and political theology of contemporary Mormonism holds no water apparently? After extensive research, I still cannot find anything on lds.org about torture. Saints are called upon to proclaim peace frequently in articles about war (a topic closely related to torture), but there is no codified theological teaching when it comes to torture. In another sad incident, I recently read an article that touched on the issue of a young Mormon woman in Iraq who committed suicide because she did not agree with the torture techniques being used. She was told by her superior officers that this war on terror was "different" and that these techniques were necessary. Necessary? Would you lose your humanity to "gain" a sliver of protection? 

There is a moral conflict here. It cannot be ignored. What did happen to love your neighbor? Would you want anyone to torture you or your family? What were Christ's teachings about enemies? Surely we must defend ourselves when necessary, but to stoop to the level of the "enemy" makes us no better than they are. Let's remember what Christ said about loving your enemy. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

New Ward and Changes?

Moving into new wards at BYU is almost more of a habit for me at BYU. Since last year, I have been in three wards. I seem to luck out every other time at BYU when it comes to wards. Freshman year I had an excellent ward that I loved. After coming back from my mission, I disliked my ward for a variety of reasons that I won't discuss here. The FLSR ward was awesome. But now I am in that every other ward rut again. 

I am not typically a judgmental person, but I have some beef with maybe just people in general lately? I feel like there is this sense of entitlement that people have. They deserve certain things. Frankly, we really don't deserve much of anything.  I feel like as a fairly nice guy, I often get the short end of the stick. I often am left to do more of the work while others can play and mess around. Then again, that makes me seem like I have a sense of entitlement. Sigh. Human emotions. Hypocrisy. All so complex. Someone help me figure out this jumbled life. 

On another note, my roommates may both be leaving. My mission companion doesn't like Utah and doesn't like living far from school (UVU). He may move next semester. Personally, I think that he won't last in Utah. Not to say he isn't a good guy, Utah just isn't his thing. And so I may be playing the roommate game again. Sigh. Two new roommates. That would be interesting. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Missions and Mormon Culture

Today my coworker that I worked with when I first started working at the ELC came in to see me today. She is a very pleasant girl and is one of the most friendly people that I have met at BYU. She's also a hard worker and seems to know what she wants. I was talking to her about the mission announcement and she told me about her experience with it. She felt that she should go on a mission.

It was obvious that today the talk of the town was the new ages for missionaries. Every other conversation that I heard on campus focused on the new ages. I heard more girls than I have ever heard talking about missions as I walked past the Benson, the JKB, the JFSB, and the library. I can only imagine in five years how BYU culture will have changed. I imagine higher average age of first semester freshman and a major influx of Sister RMs. I think to my mission in Thailand and imagine the sheer number of Thai Saints who will be serving. There's only one problem.

Don't get me wrong. I loved my mission and I wouldn't trade it for the world. This being said, however, I feel that in Mormon culture and maybe even sometimes in our teaching of Church doctrine we tend to glamorize missionary work. You don't get a blessing, put on a badge and magically become a perfect human being. Missions are full of imperfect people who are trying to do their best (for the most part). Missions are extremely difficult. There are days where you can't imagine going out in the 100 degree heat, or the negative 20 degree cold to tell disinterested people about Jesus Christ. There are other days where every appointment falls through, your companion is mad at you for some reason that you don't understand, and the food makes you sick to your stomach. You have days where you realize that you can't teach an investigator any more or that the family that you are teaching is simply เกรงใจ rather than genuinely interested. You wake up in the area where you have never had investigators and don't know how you can go on. For some on their missions, these days never end. They come back, disillusioned and tired. We have many who end up leaving the Church over this. Some people never talk about their mission because of this. I, however, am not really one of those people.

My mission was hard. Some of those memories are from my own experience during my two years in Thailand. I think, however, that the mission (and almost everyone's mission) is a defining experience nonetheless. You learn how to teach. You learn how to get along with people. You try to learn how to love other people. You learn that life never works out as planned. A mission is two years, but it feels like a lifetime of experience. However cliche that may sound, it is an accurate statement. For me (and this is just my experience), I also came to know that God really does love everyone. I remember one day, sitting in our small apartment on the West Side of Bangkok, I was talking with my companion about rejection. I told him to look at the map that bought and put on the wall. I told him to imagine how many people we talked to everyday. Imagine the rejection we got. Daily. Hourly. Every second of every day. Now imagine how God feels when God just wants to love you. God doesn't really ask much from us. We have to develop that pure and true love of God. We often hear the phrase "Love the sinner, hate the sin." If you are looking at someone and calling them a sinner, then you don't have the love of God. During Jesus' ministry to the Nephites, he never once used the word "sinner" in all of his discourse. The love of God, although hard for us to understand, is unconditional. God is sad when we make mistakes, but as our Father, he simply wants us to do our best. I tend to think that God knows our potential and guides us to reach it, but when we falter, He understands how hard life is. But that's another tangent for another day.

In the end, I am curious to see how this changes Mormon culture. Anyone have any thoughts?

Saturday, October 6, 2012

7-11 and Fridays

This Friday night all of my roommates were gone. I didn't really look forward to spending the night with an empty house. I hadn't made any plans because I figured I would want some alone time. I also knew that my mission would be having a reunion. I wasn't sure if I wanted to go. While I loved my mission and I liked the people in it generally, there are some people that are better to avoid. Eventually, my friend convinced me to go with him. On the way there and during the reunion we talked about life, the universe, and everything in between. He is working on the campaign for Scott Howell's Senate campaign. I haven't seen this friend in a while. We also talked about the complications that one of our mutual friends is having in his life. Life is much more complicated after more than a year of being home from a mission.

After our brief appearance at the reunion, I went grocery shopping. And then, for some odd reason, on the way home I decided to stop by 7-11. I can't tell you how many memories I have of 7-11 in Thailand. Laab burgers, Thai custard buns, Lactasoy, grilled cheese sandwiches, prik phaw potato chips. The smells and tastes of certain foods bring back vivid memories of many days. Christmas in Roi Et. Songkraan in Chiang Mai.  From the one by the church in Bangkapi, to the one at the front of our street in Ubon, Seven (as Thais call it) brings back a host of memories- some positive, others more difficult to process. Life was so much easier back then. I stopped in at Seven, got some hot chocolate, and headed home.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Tender Mercies

Ever since Elder Bednar's April 2005 talk the phrase "tender mercies" has entered into the Mormon vocabulary. Personally, I hate this phrase because it has become so cliché in Mormon culture. This being said, however, I like to think that there are happenings in our lives that are very much inspired by God.

Today didn't start off very well. I woke up late because I had been up late the night before doing homework and cleaning. I woke up, took a shower, had a quick breakfast, and finally left for the day, thinking that I would hop on my bike and be able to make it on time for my first class of the day. I went outside and discovered that my bike had been stolen. I walked to campus, arriving in my 8 a.m. class late. After that, I felt very groggy the entire day. I mean it wasn't that bad. It could have been better. Anyhow, I was walking across campus along the west side of the bookstore when I heard someone call my name. I ran into my friend that I haven't seen since she returned from her mission. I was surprised to see her since I hadn't know that she was attending BYU. 

We were talking for a bit. I could sense there was something troubling her. We continued to talk for a time, until she began to talk about how things had been so difficult for her lately. I listened and my heart ached for her. We tried to work through a few things. I gave her what little advice I could. She seemed happier when I finally left. She told me at one point that it made her day to see me.

I don't want to toot my own horn. That's not what the purpose of this post is. In the end, my bike is replaceable. I can catch up on sleep. Bad days pass. My bad day shouldn't prevent me from making someone else's day better. I am not the center of the universe. Just because I am having a bad day doesn't mean I can't be charitable or caring. There are opportunities all around us to make other people feel better, even when we haven't had the best day. And I felt touched to know that for a small moment, I could help someone feel a little less pain. Other people's feelings are so important. Take time to help someone. You'll be glad you did.