“There Is No Escape From the Eternal Family”

friedrich_nietzsche_1

“There Is No Escape From the Eternal Family”

By Elder Friedrich Nietzsche

Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

 

This past summer I was entrapped into spending a week with my family and extended relatives. I was informed that there would be poetry readings and plans to attend concerts and the theater. To my naive delight, my sister even told me we would take in a boxing match. As you know, I consider boxing to be the manliest of sports. One man, alone without aid in the ring of life, nakedly defiant, swinging his fists at an uncaring and unfeeling universe, represented in a human, all too human opponent. To stand over that opponent, his bloodshot eyes gazing up vacantly at you, his spirit crushed by your mutinous despair, his soul so haunted and broken that later you find it unremarkable that he took his own life at the first opportunity–there is no feeling that compares to such a moment of triumphant exultation, that feeling of not just destroying a life but annihilating Life itself.   Continue reading

We Thought Love Would Be Enough

We thought our faces would be enough

But these perfect masks never slip

and we never see each other’s eyes

We thought the law would be enough

But its infinite exceptions stripped it bare

leaving a people divided and broken

Relegating oneness to rote demonstrations of loyalty

We thought that doctrine would be enough

to take care of the exceptions the law could not bear

But instead it exiled grace to another world

We thought that time would be enough

We would wait until we evolved and could wash the clay out of our eyes

But the world around us changed and the unwashed clay hardened into masks

And cemeteries continue as the counting houses of our change

We thought that love would be enough

Surely love would be enough

Is not love the essence of everything we believe?

But we turned all things–all words, all actions, all

intentions, all hopes–into love and affirmed that it

was the greatest of all and could not fail

And at our clinical distance

When it failed we could see nothing but victory

Faces were not enough

The Law was not enough

Doctrine was not enough

Time was not enough

Love was not enough

Unless these are not our faces

Unless this is not the Law

Unless this is not our doctrine

Unless time has not run out

And this is not true love

Social Media Is An Empty Graveyard

I wouldn’t call it an addiction to social media, not exactly. Certainly there are senses in which addiction is accurate, but it’s not the whole picture. Social media isn’t giving me a high like it once did. It maxed itself out, used itself up. Now I’m sucking on its corpse, trying in vain to drain it of life fluids that are no longer there. It’s more that social media has me locked in a death grip downward spiral. Even when there’s nothing to see anymore I go back again and again. I have ADHD (whatever the hell that means) but it’s more than that. I go back because at one point it was a home to return to. Now it’s a familiar graveyard, an empty house at the end of the street, but I keep going back in a panic, full of anxiety that I’ll miss out on something, that my virtual “family” is doing something in my absence. And they are. Of course. They never stop. There’s always a brother or cousin or uncle having an adventure or getting arrested or posting vacation photos. I mean, the only way I know about anything in the world is through social media. I don’t have TV for anything other than Netflix, so when I turn off social media, I literally shut out the entire world. I’m dependent on it for nearly everything I know about the wider world.

I used to read a lot more than I do now. It’s hard to spend a consistently long amount of time on a piece of writing without feeling compelled to check my phone, see what happened when I was away for four and a half minutes. I’m now in various stages of progress with about 12 books, but I won’t finish any of them, I’ll just add more as my attention gets more stretched and taxed and interrupted. I think I’ve lost the capacity to savor the world around me, to listen, to hear things in the silences, to read and read and then write and write, to organize and plan and stick to the plan, enrich flesh and blood relationships, to just bloody think for longer than 10 seconds. I read somewhere that ridding ourselves of social media doesn’t seem wise; we should instead learn how to manage it better. That sounds wise, but for someone who so easily drowns himself in it, I’m becoming convinced that mature management isn’t possible. For some of us these are two different worlds and until we can figure out how to create a balance,  we’ll have to choose one of them.

I’ve never been so false as I have on social media (really, just Facebook).  Not lying per se, just hyper-curated. And so is everyone else. Everyone is there in this stream of illicit eliciting. It’s not even necessary to have genuine interactions (with avatars of people, not people, hard to remember/believe that). If your post gets a few dozen silent likes (or loves or hahas or wows) you find yourself satisfied for 5 seconds and then immediately wanting more. But you weren’t communicating, you were being adored. You were reveling in adoration and silent applause. Comments are good too, but they don’t pack the purity of likes. Comments are like diluted heroin. And negative comments? Forget about it. I want my saying to be agreed with, to impress and inspire and amaze. Here are my children, or photos from a recent social gathering (aren’t you jealous I was with so and so?) and this victory and this defeat (please show me how sad you are thank you that feels better) and this mountain of trivial annoyances I’ll complain about endlessly and you’ll agree with me, they’re damn annoying. I just saw the most recent movie of the moment, let me share my experience with you, share share share share everything, everything except for those large swaths of my life that are too ordinary or dark to share, which constitute most of my life, but here’s this sliver of life that will represent all of my life and here’s this impassioned plea for activism or this angry rant, and this isn’t about me though it’s on my wall under my name, this is about this cause or that person or this principle or that value and even though we’re all sick together in this traffic-heavy virtual village of eternally unsated egos, let’s pretend we’re okay and other people are sick, so come on let’s crush this person over here and form a mob against that one over there but we’re not murderers or destroyers, we’re Serious Doers of Justice and Justice will be Done on Social Media and we will feel triumphant and treat one another to another round of likes as a reward. And people will love us and we will feel relieved every time that blue page comes up, like a childhood home that comes into view after being away for a long time and what’s new, what can I like, what issue needs my street-wise expertise, how clever can I be today, just love my my avatar and I’ll love yours and we’ll promise to help one another believe being everything is okay as long as we’re  all here, and eventually everything we do will be an excuse to parade our avatars in front of other avatars (if it isn’t already) and the meaning of life will become whatever can be shared and especially whatever can accrue the most likes. Our biggest regret will be that we’ll never get to see all the sad emojis lavished on photos of our funerals.

And God Said Let There Be

And God said let there be

Let it all be

And so God let it go

Let it live

Let it alone

Let it move on

Let it take its place

Let it find itself

God gave it up

Gave it over

Gave it space

Gave it to itself

But God stayed rooted to the spot

Planted in the desert and the deep

Fingers brushing over the wind-bent tares

Brow sweating, lungs heaving, shoulders trembling

As it went where it listed

Did as it willed

Loved as it loved

Let it go let it go let it be

There is God–a Sisyphus of stillness

An Atlas of forbearance

A Prometheus of self-restraint

Not that God could actually direct its hunger

Forge its path

Carve its fate into the clay

But leave it, clinging to itself

Hollowed out by ravenous emptiness

Abandoned it to its self-devouring

A gift disavowed and discarded?

The eternal temptation of the divine

In every moment, deciding anew, again and again —

Let it be, let it go, let there be light

 

How Can We Be Sisters If We Are Not Yet Women?

Simone de Beauvoir

“How Can We Be Sisters If We Are Not Yet Women?”

By Simone de Beauvoir

Relief Society General President

Welcome one and all. As females we are gathered from all corners of the Earth to listen to what I hope will be a message of inspiration and wisdom. Though all of us are females, many of us have not yet become women. And still less can claim to be, in fact, sisters. My dear fellow vessels of the XX chromosome, one is not born a woman, and one does not take upon herself the title of “sister” without undertaking the requisite work that would legitimately grant such a title.

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When Religion Treats Its Adherents Like Children

In James Smith’s How (Not) to Be Secular–his interpretive summary of Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age–he notes that, while the causes and reasons for a loss of faith or belief are numerous, most people who embrace scientific materialism over religion do so because of the story science tells more than because of scientific evidence per se. In other words, the form is what really matters, not the content. It’s not so much that scientific materialism is now true and religion has become false (where before it was the reverse). For many formerly religious people, the narrative that scientific materialism gives them feels mature, sophisticated, adult, and, most importantly, courageous. People that feel particularly infantilized by their religion will especially find this narrative appealing. Of course, religion needn’t be inherently infantilizing, but religions with rigid authoritarian structures that require high levels of loyalty and obedience are often experienced by their adherents as parental and controlling. Defenders of the status quo frequently respond that obedience is actually liberating because it helps one to avoid the pitfalls of freedom run amok, but the more obedience = liberty is insisted upon, the weaker the formulation feels, because it has to be repeated over and over again, as if it cannot stand on its own two rationally persuasive feet. Everywhere else obedience to authority is oppressive and stultifying, and freedom should be fought for and maintained; except, of course, here, on this one exceptional patch of ground, where paradoxically the more obedient and submissive you are to authority, the more liberated you supposedly become.

I mention this because I think there’s a good bit of truth to the notion that organized religion’s need to distinguish itself from non-religion often results in producing adults who come to realize that they feel like they never grew up, that they never became true citizens of the world. This isn’t because various forms of worldly abstinence are inherently childish or arbitrary, as if becoming an adult is synonymous with lasciviously experimenting with everything religion told you to shun as evil, but because they come to realize how simplistic and servile their faith has to be in order to maintain good standing in their communities. Instead of being an affirmative response to uncertainty and injustice, a fidelity to people and truths, faith becomes both a test of belief in supernatural things with no verifiable evidence and obedience to the words of fellow humans who by definition are prone to error and ignorance themselves.

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Unendurable and Unmournable Lives

During her testimony today a woman in my ward (I’ll call her Sarah) talked about her “smart and intellectual” sister who has been inactive for a while. They had a recent talk about her sister’s concerns and later that night Sarah couldn’t go to bed because she was wrestling with how to answer her sister’s questions. Finally she felt the Spirit testify to her that the church was true and God loved her and it wasn’t necessary that she be able to answer her sister’s questions, those things of most importance were still true. Her fears eased, she slept like a baby.

I thought about something Neal Maxwell said once about feeling like Nephi when Nephi said that he didn’t know the meaning of all things, nevertheless he knew God loves his children. There’s clearly something right about that; we shouldn’t have to feel like not knowing certain things automatically calls into question foundational things we believe in or have felt. But people so often apply this outwardly and not inwardly. Not knowing something doesn’t condemn me but it does appear to condemn her. The few things I do know save me, but the many things she claims to know do not save her. That’s all backwards. Her ignorance with regard to her sister’s questions should be confirmation of God’s love for her sister (of God’s “love for his children”) not of God’s love for herself. She felt at ease when she felt the Spirit because she was more afraid of what her sister’s questions might mean for herself, not what they could mean for her sister. When the questions were revealed not to matter, it wasn’t significant that her sister was still in a state of apostate ignorance, it was much more important that Sarah was protected from having to take her sister’s humanity too seriously. Her sister was really just a tool which allowed Sarah to maintain her “buffered self” (to use Charles Taylor’s term), a self that’s isolated and insulated in a privately constructed world with fragile facts and truths. 

But the primary struggle for religious communities in the modern age isn’t about specific questions, answers, and doubts, it’s about what communities are willing to bear on behalf of their members. More specifically, it is the struggle over what counts as that which “must be borne and endured.” Worse than making questioning and doubting unendurable, we’ve chosen to make those who question and doubt unendurable. We’ve chosen to consider certain lives unbearable and unmournable. We think little of the potentially unlimited strength of the love which is possible in genuine togetherness. Instead we see danger and threat everywhere, and the walls we are continually reinforcing are apparently always too brittle to withstand the coming onslaught and must be built higher and stronger. We love our self-reflecting images of ourselves as faithful and upright more than we love other people, so much so that we’ll do violence to anyone or anything that is perceived as a threat to that image. That’s understandable when the destruction of that image is equivalent to destroying everything recognizable about ourselves. But if that’s true, it means that the only solution will be to stop loving the images we’ve made of ourselves and instead love our real selves in all our immensely flawed vulnerability and shortsightedness. Then maybe we can actually learn to love others in theirs. 

Some Thoughts on Possible Male Beliefs and Attitudes About Rape

There’s a mountain of discussion going on right now about rape, particularly rapes that occur on college campuses and why female college students who are victimized are so often treated unjustly in the aftermath by their colleges, the legal system, and culture generally.

But I’m more interested here in why rapes occur in the first place. Obviously rapists are the proximate causes of rape (is that obvious? Please let that be obvious). But what is it that leads a man to rape in the first place? And is it possible that we’ve adopted attitudes and beliefs about men, women, and sex, that help to create an environment where rape becomes not only probable but inevitable? I’m especially interested in what men think or could be thinking about this. I often like to focus on men in these kinds of conversations, because A) I am one and B) men are usually those proximate causes mentioned above. What is it about being a man or understanding what must constitute being a man that leads to tragedies like this? There’s always need aplenty for analyzing legal and cultural structures, examining school and police policies, discussing what societal institutions should be doing to better protect their patrons, etc. But I’m more interested here in what would lead men to become rapists, or more broadly what kind of logic would need to be in place in order for men (and often women) to think and behave in ways that are detrimental to protecting the vulnerable and capturing predators or would-be predators.

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The Horror of the Empty Tomb

tomb-image

The four Gospels agree that women were the first to encounter the empty tomb, and were therefore the first witnesses of the first signs that Jesus had risen from the dead. Mark tells us that Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus, and Salome are intent on visiting the body of Jesus, perhaps to anoint it with spices, when they see the stone at the entrance has been rolled away. Inside the tomb is a young man (or angel) who tells them that Jesus has risen, and bids them find the disciples to tell them he is already headed for Galilee. The women then flee the tomb in fear.

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