The Violence of Lines

“When people began living in settled agricultural communities, social reality shifted deeply and irrevocably. Suddenly it became crucially important to know where your field ended and your neighbor’s began. — Christopher Ryan, Ph.D. and Cacilda Jethá, M.D. in Sex At Dawn

Whosoever Looketh On A Woman

As we closed our eyes for the congregational prayer, I could feel the closeness of her skin, electricity arcing as from one lead to another. Right hand folded tightly under left arm, index finger extended slightly. A hoped for inadvertent touch.

That act, however innocent it may seem, had the potential to cost me everything.

Three weeks previous, my mission companion and I were shopping at Sears in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. I needed another white short-sleeved shirt, having lost one to bicycle grease.

As I turned to the counter, a moment cliches are made of: Eyes locked, time slowed. She smiled, I blushed.

It was easy to imagine that I had never seen a more beautiful woman.

In the history of pick up lines, this had to be among the worst: “Have you ever heard of the Book of Mormon?” I haltingly stammered, words fighting others I’d have preferred.

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My Life With Sade

Dedicated, with Appreciation, to Paul Denman, Helen Folasade Adu, Andrew Hale & Stuart Mattheman

Diamond Life: Heaven Help Him, When He Falls

click arrow to play…listen to each song as you read each section

      Smooth Operator

October 1984 | 2:30 am | Provo, Utah

Lying across a sturdy sofa, empty lobby of a dormitory, Brigham Young University.

Eyes smudged with eyeliner, highlighted hair tousled, bleached white 501s.

I’d been at The Star Palace, a refuge from the adjustment of moving out of Seattle and into Pleasantville. “Don’t drink, don’t smoke, what do you do?” I danced. Hard.

My best friend back home was black. We frequented black clubs, listened to black music. There’s no “black” in Provo. I adapted; rather than rock steady to the Whispers, I swayed to Swing Out Sister.

In a malaise of misfit and dried sweat, I was watching Night Tracks, a late night music video show.

He’s laughing with another girl,
playing with another heart.
Placing high stakes making hearts ache.
He’s loved in seven languages.
Jewel Box life, diamond nights and ruby lights,
high in the sky.

Sight: red lips, black hair, freckled brown skin.

Sound: delicate piano, driving bass, salvific sax; creating structure to protect, wings to carry a voice soft and soaring, mysterious and familiar.

Heaven help him, when he falls.

And fall I did. No help from Heaven.
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On Satchels and Sexuality

I’m leaning against a bar, swirling Johnnie Walker Black on the rocks and reading Somerset Maugham’s “Of Human Bondage” when a woman approaches with a scowl and purpose. “Empty that bag and prove to me that you need to carry everything in it” she demands, handbag slung defiantly over her shoulder, arms crossed. “You should not be carrying a bag; men don’t wear purses.”

One might expect such a confrontation would catch me off-guard, but this interrogation is common. For the past 15 years, I’ve carried what is derisively referred to as a man bag.

More frequently than it should, this accessory elicits stares, comments, scorn and on rare occasion, compliments. In the seeming view of many, my bag further erodes the lost beacon of masculinity, the fall of the Western World.

For me? It’s just a bag. I’ve come to see it as a Rorschach Test that reveals more about others than me.

With deliberate movement, I take another swallow of scotch, set the tumbler down slowly, and ceremoniously two-hand lift my black Ferragamo onto the counter, exhibit A in this darkened courtroom drama.

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LDS Male Feminists; Where your heart lies…

I recently attended the Sunstone conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. This conference is focused on Mormon philosophy and culture. Sunstone has become the sole alternative voice in LDS Mormonism. Amazingly, in a Church that boasts 12 million members, the largest alternate-voice-publication has a subscription base of less than 5000. The Church, obviously, has done a masterful job at squelching dissent, going so far as to state that there is no such thing as a “loyal opposition.”

As a result, those who have real and sincere questions about their faith, about the Church, must do a delicate dance to both remain loyal to the church, and yet answer their own natural and justified questions of doubt, all without appearing to oppose the church.

As an example of this, I attended a symposium panel discussion at Sunstone of so-called “male feminists” in the LDS Church, wherein they discussed their efforts to support the cause of feminism from within the Church. This is a church that openly discriminates against women, that is blatantly sexist, and that not only does not apologize for this position, but rather, lays the charge of their sexist attitudes and behavior on the shoulders of God. That’s right; the Church is not sexist, many members will respond, they are just following God’s will. Or, in my parlance, the Church is not sexist, God is.

Imagine for a moment that you were a mormon male. You are granted power and status that is denied to your wife. Imagine that your wife perceived real harm being done to her, was sincerely troubled by the actions of the Church, and confided with you regarding her discomfort.

The men on this panel, I have no doubt, are trying very hard to do the right thing, the ethical thing, the just thing. But, in the end, the overriding principle, for them, was to support the church, to remain within the fold, no matter the harm being caused to their wives, daughters, mothers, sisters, and others.

In an oligarchical organization, where all policy comes from above, where there is no formal recognition of the desires of the membership, where nobody has recourse to petition for change, the only option left, if one desires to oppose the policies of the Church, is to leave.

And yet, despite the injustice being done to the women in their lives, these men value membership in this exclusive club to a greater degree than they value justice for women. Feminists? I think these men, though of good intention and in many ways equal victims of an oppressive organization, need to reanalyze their value system, and for now, drop any pretense of calling themselves feminists.

To them I ask: what is it that you value more than justice? Fairness? Equality? What god do you worship that would have you place these ideals behind others? What are the ideals that trump these things? What message do you send to your wife, daughters, and other women when you tell them, by your actions, that you value your membership in this male-centric social club more than you value their status and the injustice that this club is perpetuating upon them?

Where is your heart? There is your treasure.

Gay Rights and Right-wing Wrongs

Right-wing histrionics blog Sound Politics continues its never-ending screed against all things not-republican…but in particular, I want to point out the potential hypocrisy of their rants against the new gay rights legislation passed in Washington State.

The new law adds “sexual orientation” to the list of protected classes that can’t be discriminated against in areas such as employment and housing. So, I’d like to send out a bit of a challenge to those opposed to making sexual orientation a protected class: for all of your arguments, substitute “religion” and see how well they hold. If you don’t experience the same outrage or discomfort with the law, then you’re likely a hypocrite, and probably a bigot.

Now, to be sure, there are those who will answer that they don’t believe that there should be any laws creating protected classes. Fine. I can respect such a position from a libertarian viewpoint, though I think the position a bit naive. If that is your argument, then why focus on the issue of sexual orientation and gay rights at all? Shouldn’t you, in the same breath with which you decry this right, decry the granted right of religionists to be free from discrimination as well? And, if that is your position, then your arguments fail when you go on to rant against any and all things homosexual, because your argument is not about the class of identified homosexuals at all, but based in a hands-off approach to government, which ironically, would put you more squarely in the camp of allowing homosexuals the freedom to live as they choose.

Just a small test to determine consistency…

Religion and Meaning

As science continues to erode the viable realm of religion, apologists for religion seem to cling to the life-vest of “meaning” as the last stand for the value of religion.

In other words, religionists claim that science is unable to answer the “why’s” of an issue (which, I think is a tenuous claim, but which I’ll put on hold for now), and that these questions are best left in the hands of religion.

OK. If this is the case, then let’s discuss it directly. This posting is meant to solicit responses and ideas.

Can anyone give me some examples of “why” answers that religion does well? If this is the realm in which religion excels, then let’s have a listing of those answers it provides.

Anyone?

The Magdalene Laundries; A Study in Authoritarian Idealist Regimes

So, I’m late in viewing the movie The Magdalene Sisters. I had a sense of the topic of the film, and I think I just wondered why on earth we needed more films to tell us that authoritarian idealist regimes do bad things?

After viewing the film, I read a review written by Steven D. Greydanus for the web site Decent Films.

Though Mr. Greydanus, an apparent apologist for the Catholic Church, admits to some wrongdoing on the part of the Church and some nuns who were involved in the Magdalene Laundries, he saves his real shot for film director Peter Mullan.

Mullan claims that his film isn’t meant to be anti-Catholic, but is meant to expose the victimization of young women by a certain phenomenon in the Church. Nevertheless, he freely acknowledges his animosity toward his Catholic upbringing, and admits that he brought his prejudices and sympathies to this project.

Perhaps he didn’t consciously set out to make an anti-Catholic film. D. W. Griffith didn’t set out to make a racist film, but it doesn’t make Birth of a Nation any less racist.

Whatever value the film might have had as an exposé of social sin is undermined, not enhanced, by its prejudicial stereotyping of every individual nun and priest. Instead of being a morally serious film about a corrupt institution in a flawed society, The Magdalene Sisters becomes mere agitprop about how evil and terrible Irish Catholic nuns, priests, and parents are.

To repeat a theme, human history has taught us that authoritarian idealistic regimes do bad things to people. These regimes are perpetuated by seemingly nice, normal people, who just happen to be participants in the abuse of their fellow humans.

Are there nice priests and nuns in the Catholic Church? I’ve no doubt that there are. But, in the end, fundamentally, they are working to further the cause of and giving their life’s energy to support an authoritarian idealist regime. As such, they are contributing to the devaluation of human rights and individual dignity.

Mr. Greydanus thinks that we should temper our criticism of nuns and priests who imprisoned a slave population of women, punishing them for minor sexual conduct, at times for years, for the mere possibility that some of them may have been conflicted about their role, or may have had other complex motivations for doing what they did.

This is silly. It is hypocritical to simultaneously decry the bad that is done by authoritarian idealist regimes, and then to also demand fair treatment of them. Authoritarian Idealist Regimes (Cathoicism, Mormonism, Communism, etc) afford no fundamental rights to individuals, provide no checks and balances for fair treatment, give too much authority to their leaders, and give too little assistance to adherents. “Just following orders” went out the window centuries ago as a moral justification for bad acts.

Even if you were a nice nun who worked in a Magdalene Laundry, you were still participating in the unjust imprisonment and forced slavery of young, innocent women. It doesn’t matter if you consoled a few of the girls along the way; in the end, you were still committing an abhorrent crime against human dignity, and committing a terrible injustice to these very girls.

Shame on you, and shame on any who seek to apologize for organizations that, by their very nature, will continue to commit grievous sins against humanity.

A Restrospective on an Experience

“Let us lay aside both the guns and the roses of idealism.”

I travelled to Venice and Prague this Summer. Both destinations were important to me for different reasons.

While in Prague, I had an experience while touring the Prague Castle and simultaneously listening to my iPod. I’ve created this short video in an attempt to capture the experience and the thoughts and feelings I had while walking through this city.

5 People I’d like to Meet…

Leonardo da Vinci

mp_davincida Vinci transcended the normal constraints of the human experience. The ability to talk art, politics, science, religion, sexuality…and all the while, doing it with style. If I could give him a gift, it would be an Apple iPod. Quote: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”


Herodotus

mp_herodotusHe was asking all the right questions at a time when most others were looking in entirely different directions regarding life, humanity and nature. The ability to ask the right questions is what makes for interesting conversation, and I think he’d provide that in buckets. Quote: “Circumstances rule men; men do not rule circumstances.”


Steve Jobs

mp_jobsThis man has so affected my life and shares such a compatible vision of technology and how we interact with it. Mostly, I’d spend much of my time trying to convince him to bring back the Apple Newton. Quote: “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?”


Sade Adu

mp_sadeI can’t explain it. But, I’d want her band to be involved as well. I envision a weekend in Monte Carlo, or in Spain. Good food, great music, passion, tears, and heartbreak. Oh, and we’d have to ride horses as well. Quote: “I know the end before the story’s been told, it’s not that complicated, but you’re gonna need a bullet proof soul.” [NOTE: I got to meet Sade. I write about it here: My Life With Sade]


Somerset Maugham

mp_maughmOf Human Bondage is one of my favorite books. I so identify with Phillip Carey, the lead character, that I think I would likely connect with Somerset Maugham as well. There is a kinship there that I’d like to explore and better understand. And then, I’d like to explore the ideas of human bondage that he wrote about. Quote: “It is an illusion that youth is happy, an illusion of those who have lost it; but the young know they are wretched, for they are full of the truthless ideals which have been instilled into them, and each time they come in contact with the real they are bruised and wounded.”


Other candidates: Carl Sagan, Aristotle, Joseph Smith, Frida Kahlo, Anne Rice, Joseph Campbell, D. Michael Quinn, Kurt Cobain, Jeff Buckley, Karl Popper, Low

Aural Fixation

I just can’t get enough of the brit group Zero 7. And, this song describes my mood tonight…

Zero 7: Simple Things: Spinning
iTunes

The Manchurian Village

I recently saw the remake of the movie The Manchurian Candidate. In general, I don’t believe in conspiracy theories. Most rely on a series of events and actions that fall outside of my experience with human nature.

Conspiracy theories have the effect (often unintended) of making us feel powerless to change the world. They seek to convince us that there are forces “out there” inherently stronger than us.

Noam Chomsky is one of the premier purveyors of conspiracy theories (see Manufacturing Consent ). I believe he correctly identifies some of the difficulties in the world (e.g. political and corporate Influences wield too much power over our lives). He asserts that this control is covert and coordinated; classic conspiracy. However, I believe his conclusions as to the causes of this are too simplistic, and overlook human nature.

We tend to look for and protect that which is like us. We tend to view our actions as “good” and the actions of others as “bad.” While the “effects” of certain conspiracies are valid, I believe the causes to them are more organic than the coordinated efforts that various conspiracy theories posit.

Why is this important? Because it causes us to be distracted from the real sources of problems facing humanity. It causes us to look outward rather than inward, and it causes us to despair relative to our ability to change the world.

There was another movie released this Summer that more accurately addresses the nature of conspiracies: The Village. It starts with a traditional conspiracy of monsters and creatures; evil beings who are “out there” and who want to harm us. The movie progresses, however, to show us that the source of the evil was internal to the community, not external.

Be not distracted. We have the power to shape our lives, to change our communities, and to improve our world. Don’t cede that power to those who would convince you otherwise, including yourself.