Unexercised Hearts

I just finished reading Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale.  I had been avoiding reading novels about World War II for a while now, unwilling to face the similarities of the rising white nationalism that is evident in our country today.  When I concentrate on it, it causes an ache in that tender place right below my diaphragm and I can’t stand up straight.  It’s hard to explain the physical impact that I feel watching the white nationalism bubble up into public view—with adherents emboldened by the words they are hearing from the campaign trail and White House.

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Some Thoughts on National Security–Introduction

On, March 3, 2016, notable scholars and practitioners in the national security field (many of them republicans who had served in former administrations) released a foreign policy-based letter opposing the candidacy of Donald Trump.[1]  While it made headlines for a day or two, the move—which would have been game-changing in any previous “normal” election season—scarcely made waves in the tumultuous campaign season.  Privately, many of my friends who work in the field of foreign affairs were baffled.  Why aren’t people paying attention to this?  This was the wonkish equivalent of an 85 yard hail mary in the last seconds of the Super Bowl.  [Read more…]

My Unexpected and Exceptionally Fuzzy Answer to Prayer

Sometimes these moments come in the darkest hours–and this one certainly did.  I was coming off of a year of heartbreak, trying to deal empathetically and lovingly with some challenges that people I care for very much were undergoing.  But I was finished.  I was empty.  There was nothing left in my heart, and secretly I feared that my ability to love had been extinguished, or maybe wasn’t even there in the first place.  I was on the way home from a dreadful whirlwind business trip to Jamaica–yeah I know, but trust me, it was awful–and I was sick, jetlagged from a previous trip, and underdressed for a cold dark plane ride.  I was huddled into an inadequate cardigan and trying not to cry.  It was just one of those “this is too much” times.  And I heard a distinct and strong voice in my head:  “You need to get a dog.”

What the what???

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A Loveletter to BCC’s Single Readers

Last weekend, Sister Bonnie Oscarson spoke at women’s conference and made, what I assume she knew would be, a controversial statement.  “We fail to teach our young women that preparing to be a mother is of utmost importance because we don’t want to offend those who aren’t married, those who can’t have children, or to be seen as stifling future choices.”  A longtime reader contacted me and wondered whether BCC would address this line.  I asked her what she would say, and her response broke a little piece of my heart.  “I’m not exactly sure how to articulate how much that hurt and why, exactly.  Maybe the gist of it is that *I* feel like I’m part of the “us” but keep getting reminded that no, I’m not.  Since I don’t have children, the thing of utmost importance in the Church, I went from being less valuable to my community to some kind of enemy to my community.”

Here is the sermon I wish our reader had heard: [Read more…]

In Autumn, a Young Woman’s Fancy Turns to….Making Soup Stock?

About a year ago I gave myself permission to label all the activities that I waste my time on as “hobbies.”  Sudoku?  One of my hobbies now.  Driving randomly around on the county roads near my house, then seeing if I can get home without GPS even though all I see is cornfields?  (Weird) hobby.  Watching dog training videos, even though I don’t have a dog yet?  Hobby.  Teaching myself to cook Korean food based on internet bloggers?  Delicious, delicious hobby.  But when the temperature starts to dip (please start to dip soon), then all I want to do is make soup stock.  [Read more…]

Coming Home

I drive by miles of cornfields every day to and from work.  I watch as the fluttering leaves and straight stalks slowly grow.  I pass only two or three cars on my 20 mile commute.   I arrive at work energized, ready to meet with students, plan lectures, research, and write.  And I return home relaxed, looking forward to watering my tomato and herb garden and then cooking a homemade dinner.  On my frequent traveling adventures doing student oversight or recruiting, I enjoy the time in other places, but look forward to returning home to the peace of this place of belonging that I’ve created.   After a year of upheaval and change, I did not expect to find this harmony.  But one day, I looked around and realized that I was happy.  It was an unexpected moment of grace that has continued with me—quiet in my heart—the whole summer. [Read more…]

Be Still My Soul: the Tallis Fantasia

When I am anguished of mind and soul I consistently turn to a piece of music that speaks to my heart.  I have started to joke that it is my personal ctrl+alt+delete.  It provides a reset button that lets me regroup and move forward.   [Read more…]

A Mirror Too Horrible

“There is no gender inequality in the doctrine of the church, there are just people who apply it unfairly.”  I heard this statement over and over while growing up in the church, attending BYU, attending relief society, and talking with smart people about tough issues.  It shored up my identity as a Mormon of fairness and conscience, and provided comforting walls to my Mormon reality.

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Celebrating Champions of Justice or The Day I Cried in Class

I’m usually a “shoot from the hip” kind of professor.  I prepare notes and presentations, but then I just talk with the students.  I ask questions.  And I try to lead them to thinking through issues more thoroughly.  My class is made up of 10 students from all over the world.  None of them are from the U.S.  They are here studying “Democratic Governance and Rule of Law” which is a fancy way of saying that we are teaching local attorneys to have the skills to reform their own justice systems.  My class is focused on American history and the American legal system, but they have other classes in comparative constitutional law, international law, human rights, issues in transitional democracies, etc.  We’re taking a break from the textbook this week to do a module on racial discrimination in America and the civil rights movement.  So in preparing a lesson slavery and the civil war and jim crow laws, to a class that includes four students from Africa, I thought long and hard about how to introduce this topic.  Contrary to my usual practice, I wrote it down.   [Read more…]

The Future of Mormon Cinema–A Decade Ago

I’m in the middle of a move right now, and as part of my organizing, I came across some notes from 2003 where I had written my jokes from MC’ing a singles ward talent show.  One of my bits was to take current t.v. and movie titles and mormonize them.

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Honest Prayer of a Nervous Home Seller

Dear Lord, help me sell this house before the snow melts, because a peaceful blanket of your winter moisture over my backyard will be the only acceptable camouflage for that neglected jungle.

Bless my eyes to open to new visions, and see the scuff marks upon the walls that have hidden in plain sight lo these many years.

Please send slightly unimaginative buyers to my door, that they may see the beautiful golf course next door, but not comprehend the possibility of a plague of mulligans that shatter the glass of house and auto and cause the sin of profanity.  And while you’re at it Lord, bless the untalented golfers to send their mulligans to the right—not to the direction of my vulnerable abode.  Send the balls to the right and the cash-buyers to the left.

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A World of Spice

The scent of butternut squash roasting in curry, coriander, and cumin is filling my kitchen, a layer of comforting protection from the bitter cold outside.  Some people express their love through song or poetry, I express my love by making soup.  My parents are coming to visit me for Thanksgiving, and I want to greet them with some hot, homey butternut squash soup and cornbread.  Unexpectedly, though, the scent of these spices is bringing back a strong memory from my childhood, also infused with curry and cold weather.  [Read more…]

RIP Glen A. Larson

TV writer and producer Glen A. Larson passed away from esophageal cancer on Friday in Los Angeles.  He is survived by his wife and nine children.

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Judicial Fairness

The parallels between the church disciplinary process we have seen unfolding in the media and justice reform efforts ongoing worldwide have been striking to me.  I believe that a comparison between international standards of judicial fairness and the church disciplinary hearing system is fair and warranted in adding nuance to this discussion.  While I recognize that the church is a different organization than a sovereign nation with police power, in both cases fundamental considerations of fairness color the perceived legitimacy of outcomes.  Membership in the church is voluntary, but we do not treat it with a relaxed and voluntary attitude that would accompany membership in a country club.  Children raised in the church are trained with every family scripture study, prayer, family home evening, and trip to primary that the reality of church membership is the reality of eternities with eternal consequences.  Gaining a testimony of gospel truth is a lifelong exercise in loyalty and commitment.  Most importantly, scriptures teach that the worth of souls is great in the eyes of God.  People matter, and the institution matters to its people—perhaps more so than any other institution or affiliation in their lives.  This is not a casual, blasé hobby.  The process may technically be voluntary, but that voluntariness is hugely mitigated by the personal testimony and loyalty of the participant.  Further, the church treats disciplinary hearings with a “court-like” approach.  Participants are summoned based on confession or evidence gathering.  The Church Handbook of Instructions contains both substantive charges and procedural guidelines.  Participants act as either advocates for the summoned, or advocates against them, and ultimately the decision of the bishop or stake president is subject to appeal.  There is an intention to create some elements of court procedure.  Because of this, I think it is at least informative to consider international standards of judicial fairness when thinking about the process of church courts. [Read more…]

Our Sisters are Leaving

There is a painful conversation swirling in our culture; whispered sorrow, frustration, anger, fatigue, and a tentative raising of voices asking for more representation in the governance and care of this institution that we call our spiritual home.  Millions of women are members of this institution charged with doing God’s work on earth, an institution that theoretically demands the very best that each member has to offer.  What can be said to those women who feel that their best is not wanted, valued, or needed?    [Read more…]

Lord, Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace

One of life’s great challenges is learning to lift up our eyes and actually see those around us.  To see them in all their frailties and faults and weaknesses and learn to love them for their whole selves.  I am not particularly good at this.  I don’t think many of us are really pros, frankly.  But every once in a while life arranges for you to look up. [Read more…]

Valuing Families

Every time I hear someone climb on the “family values” soap box and advocate for “pro-family” actions or attitudes, I get very nervous because I start wondering “if you are pro-family, who are you against”? [Read more…]

The Rather Uncomfortable Constraints of Life on a Pedestal

You walk into Relief Society and someone hands you the pinterest-approved announcement for the next weeknight activity:  “Pretty Pretty Princess Girls Night Out!  Featuring a ‘Modest is Hottest’ Fashion Show!”  Or maybe you show up to your freshman year at BYU, interested in wildlife biology, only to learn very quickly that it is not a major or a career that is compatible with motherhood.  You go to girls camp, excited about the hiking, but spend most of your time preparing for a very special fireside in which the leaders will tell you what boys really expect of you and how you can conform your life to those expectations of being sweet and modest and spiritual (and pretty).  You attend a nationwide institute broadcast by a seventy and his wife where they give advice on marriage to men and women, including the admonition for girls to invest in a full length mirror.  As a teenager, you look around your ward for role models, and identify those women with multiple children, and sweet voices, and color coordinated houses, and husbands who were successful enough to support a PTA volunteer wife.  You try to stand out in your singles ward, because you want to find a husband, so you skip relief society to stay home and do your hair–but it’s not enough, you need an interesting hobby.  Music and crafts and traveling to the country where you served your mission are okay.  Herpetology is not.  You are taught at a Deseret Book sponsored “Especially for Women” event that lobbying is not ladylike, unless you’re lobbying for families.  In Relief Society, you ask why women don’t have the priesthood, and you hear the hushed chuckles as the teacher smiles at you sweetly and knowingly and tells you that women are more spiritual than men, and that men need the Priesthood to catch up to you.  You join a book club where you and the other sisters only read young adult novels, just to make sure that you are not exposed to ideas of “the world.” You are praised–unyieldingly praised for your innate sweetness and your spirituality and your defense of your family.  When the boys are in scouts working on career day merit badges, you are learning how to support them, how to encourage them to honor their priesthood, how to keep their thoughts pure by covering your body, and then you make them cookies.  It is relentless messaging, year after year after year, starting in the year you were born, and never letting up.  Your whole life has taught you to do exactly one thing.  This:

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The Agenda

I sat on the other side of a very interesting table Valentine’s night.  I got proselytized to at a dinner party by a member of a local protestant church.  I realized that it’s been a long time since someone tried to put the sell on me, because most of my non-Mormon friends are either not religious, or just openly and non-controversially a happy member of some other religion.  I know about it, but it’s not a thing.  Anyways, back to the somewhat surprising dinner party.  I think the episode was a bit jarring to me, because the motivations were so so transparent, and so clunkily executed.  I came away annoyed.  Mission not accomplished.  [Read more…]

Why I’d Also Like to Hear a Woman Pray in General Conference

It’s because when I was 18, I set a difficult goal as one of four big projects to earn my Young Women’s Medallion.  I learned how to play one piece of classical music on the piano for every musical era starting with Bach and ending with Gershwin.  It took me months to accomplish.  My young women leaders invited the whole ward to the recital and I expected a crowd because I had seen most of the ward show up over and over again for Eagle Scout Courts of Honor. On the night of the recital only two people came: my home teacher and my Sunday School teacher. I understand that what I did was non-traditional and so people didn’t know that they were supposed to show up like they did for the boys. I want a woman to pray in General Conference, so as a people we learn to start showing up for our daughters as well as our sons.

Confessions of a Swing State Voter

I live in Virginia.  If there was any chance of me forgetting that at any other time of the year, it becomes starkly apparent in election season.  I have stopped watching television and answering the phone at night.  Apparently, through sheer force of repetition, I am supposed to now believe that Mitt Romney is not the right choice for women and Barack Obama will cost thousand of my neighbors who work in the defense contractor industry their jobs.  These are apparently the two issues that my fellow north-Virginians care most about.  Setting aside the slight distaste I have at being boiled down to a one issue voter (which I’m not), and setting aside the fact that the politicians have stolen the joy of television from me (which I will never forgive), it is kind of interesting to live in a swing state.  Your vote matters.  You can’t assume that the person you are talking to agrees with you.  There is a kind of energy that is interesting and appeals to that patriotic American in me.  This really is democracy in action.

I have not always lived in swing states.  [Read more…]

What might save us, me and you, is if the gentiles love their children too.

I love political songs from the cold war era, they are so grounded in the moment they were created and capture a vivid bite of anger or paranoia or gallows humor.  Who doesn’t love Rush’s “Tom Sawyer”, or Metallica’s “Don’t Tread on Me”, or the giddily inappropriate atomic bomb ode “Thirteen Men and Me the Only Gal Around” by Ann Margret?  I think the one that sticks the most with me, though, is Sting’s “Russians” with its industrial scoring, the Prokoviev themes, and the jarring, plaintive, and retrospectively over-dramatic rhetorical wish “What might save us, me and you, is if the Russians love their children too.”   Of course, having served a mission in St. Petersburg, Russia, I can unhesitatingly confirm that indeed, the Russians love their children too.  Phew.

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On Comparative Law

Many of my recent posts have been a call for more ecumenicalism in our interactions with others.  The recent events in the Middle East have brought home to me that the point of that kind of cross-cultural empathy is not merely a feel-good response to our neighbors.  It can be critical, even vital, to understand fundamental philosophical differences when trying to chart a way forward.  I think that some basic understanding of comparative law could be helpful in framing the events in the Muslim world right now. [Read more…]

Religious Privilege and Religious Freedom and Roughage

Before I go any further, I need to tell you something about myself.  I’m a firm believer that every person should get enough fiber in their diet every day.  Current recommendations are that women under age 50 need about 25 grams per day, and men under age 50 need about 38 grams.  Most Americans get about half that much in the average day.  So, let’s reiterate, I’m a fiber fan.  Go fiber.  Great.

Now let’s talk about you.  Who are you?  Well, in this piece, you are a rhetorical you.  [Read more…]

The Codification of Morality

A few months ago, I was attending a university level criminal law class in a Muslim country that recognizes sharia law in the constitution.  The class was lively, the students were prepared, and it was incredibly enjoyable listening to these students chew through topics like the presumption of innocence and burden of proof.  At one point, during a discussion of the country’s penal code, a student raised his hand and asked why drinking alcohol was against the law in that country, when it was not criminalized in America.  “How can one act be a crime in one country, and not in another?”  The teacher, probably not willing to be waylaid by a philosophical discussion of “what is crime” punted the question and briefly talked about sharia before moving on.  I think it’s too bad that the teacher didn’t delve into the question of “what is crime” because approached from a comparative law standpoint, it is pretty fascinating. [Read more…]

My Decision to Boycott Lowe’s

This week, Lowe’s pulled advertisements from TLC’s show “All-American Muslim” about several Muslim families in the Dearborn area. I don’t watch the show.  I don’t need to watch a television show that “normalizes” Muslims.  My Muslim friends and co-workers are normal enough to me without television.  Frankly, I don’t shop at Lowe’s all that much either, but I won’t be shopping there at all any longer. The people urging Lowe’s to pull the ads had a message to share.

I have a few messages to share here: [Read more…]

What to Make of Abish?

There are only four women mentioned by name in the Book of Mormon, and three of them are pretty straightforward female archetypes: the virgin, the whore, and the nagging wife. While they may serve the purpose of fleshing out the larger story that they appear in, they are not fleshed out themselves. I’m sorry about that. I wish more women’s stories were included. The fourth woman, however, is a bit of a surprise. [Read more…]

Mom Activism: Citizenship in the Community, Citizenship in the World

Whenever a child in Utah is born with PKU, an inherited (genetic) metabolic disorder where the body cannot process the amino acid phenylalanine, the health department (with the permission of the parents), notifies my friend Amy Oliver so she can step in to help.  Phenylalanine or “phe” is found in every type of food, and the higher the protein content, the higher the phe content.  If phe is allowed to build up in the body of a person with PKU, it causes irreversible brain damage and results in severe mental retardation.  People with untreated PKU are unable to function on their own and end up living in institutions.  PKU occurs in about 1 in every 15,000 births.    [Read more…]

Hi, My name is Karen NMN

I just found out that one of my best friends is a closet revolutionary.  I like her even more now. [Read more…]

Helpful Youth Activity

In the comments to the recent post on modesty, it was pointed at that many of the young women are receiving guidance on modesty, but that the young men aren’t.  To even things out, should the young men be included in the trend?  I have an idea:  [Read more…]