Enough with the Mormon-thing, sheesh.

Given that the name of this blog is "Confessions," consider this one of sorts: I was christened Mormon.

My parents, being the eminently pragmatic Chinese people that they are, joined the Mormon church in order to receive the discounted tuition at Brigham Young offered to church members.  So when I was born - first Chinese baby in Provo, Utah - I was christened Mormon.  I was never baptized tho. By then my parents had graduated and that was that.

Maybe it's this and the fact that my parents still hold affection for the organization that gave them their start in this country.  Or maybe it's because I've known a few Mormons and tho conservative, they've seemed like decent (albeit overly earnest) people.  Or maybe it's because I take my liberal values seriously enough to believe that tolerance really does mean tolerance for everyone (as long as they're not hurting anybody).  Whatever the reason, that the constant commenting on Mitt Romney's religion is getting to me.  

Every week I run across it in news stories, editorials, blogs and forum posts.  Ok, I understand that initially there would be the novelty factor since he is the first Mormon to run for president.  But c'mon people, get over it.  

Don't get me wrong.  I do not support Romney for president.  But I don't support him because I don't agree with his conservative and conveniently flip-floppy politics.  It has nothing to do with his religion.  I mean if it were the early 70s and the Mormon church still officially barred blacks from leadership within the church I would have issues too.  But it's 2007, and even if you don't buy that the sudden change in church policy was due to "revelation" there is no reason to believe that any given Mormon is any more racist than your average American.  Ultimately, each person should be judged on his or her own beliefs and actions, not by the religious label they carry.  Isn't that what we say?

If the religious right, who for the most part agree with Romney's politics can't get over their distrust of a different kind of Christianity (Yes, Mormons ARE Christian), well that's their problem.  But I am especially saddened whenever I hear the supposedly open-minded Left making snide comments about Romney's religion.  Even UUs  (tho it is thankfully infrequent).  Does our tolerance of religious diversity only extend to those with which we agree?  

Personally, I am glad to see a Mormon running for president, to see the LDS moving into the mainstream acceptance, which in turn will make Mormonism itself more mainstream (ie - less conservative).  And I'm glad to see religious diversity amongst the presidential candidates.  Maybe someday even an atheist can be president.

Happy Hanukkah!... sort of.

The holiday of Hanukkah celebrates a miracle in which oil that should only have been enough to last one night instead lasted for eight.  Less well known is the fact that the holiday of Hanukkah is associated with a war.  It commemorates the victorious Maccabean revolt, overthrowing Greek rule, and the re-dedication of the Temple.

How fitting it is then that on the first night of Hanukkah, we find ourselves embroiled in a war over oil in Iraq, and seemingly itching for war with its neighbor Iran.

The National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) released its report yesterday, confirming what the the U.N. has been saying for a while now.  Iran has no nuclear weapons program.  They in fact have not pursued a nuclear weapons program since 2003.

This good news would evoke a sigh of relief from any rational person, but for our current president and his administration, they somehow interpret the lack of nuclear weapons as justification for their continued sabre-rattling.  Go figure.

Hanukkah has started.  Christmas is coming.  This is supposed to be a season of peace.  Let us pray that it is so.

Buy Nothing Day

The day after Thanksgiving is supposedly the busiest shopping day of the year.  People usually have the day off, and with Thanksgiving over, their minds turn to shopping for the winter holidays.  Stores try to take advantage of this with huge sales.  A shoppers feeding frenzy ensues that makes pirrahnas look tame.  Yall know this.  

What you might not know is that the day after Thanksgiving is also "Buy Nothing Day." Buy Nothing Day is an effort to get people to mindfully abstain from the destructive cycle of consumerism.  Buying things that you don't need just because they're cheap.  Buying things for others that they don't need in order to buy their approval.  We've been inculturated to believe that women will love you if you buy them a big enough diamond and that luxury cars are an appropriate Christmas present.  We've been inculturated to believe that we "deserve the best," which of course costs money.  Buy Nothing Day is a chance to "just say no" to this addiction.

I mentioned this to my brother the other day and he was incredulous about the concept.  Half-jokingly he said that our economy depends on consumerism and that Buy Nothing Day was "un-American."  He asked me if I wanted all the people who made and sold the stuff to lose their jobs.  Aside from the fact that most of the stuff is made elsewhere nowadays (I still don't want them to lose their jobs), it's an interesting point.  A sad point.  It's one thing to participate in Buy Nothing Day as a political statement, a gesture.  But if we really were to change our way of life away from consumerism it would require some major national readjustments.

Scary Bedtime Stories

It's interesting to compare what different people are allowing their kids to read these days.  

In the news is the Catholic League's urged boycott of the soon to be released movie, "The Golden Compass," based on the first book of Phillip Pullman's trilogy.  According to them, the movie is part of a "deceitful stealth campaign" to convert kids to atheism.

While the Catholic League admits that the movie has been watered down, it argues that if the movie becomes popular it will encourage kids to read the books.  Kids reading, oh the horror!  And what heresies would they be reading?

They'd be reading not to fear the old man in the sky who rules by physical force.  They'd be reading to question the authority of hierarchical religious organizations, to trust instead the voice of conscience within.  And like all good kids books, they'd be reading about standing up for what is right, sticking by your friends, and the power of love to conquer fear and hate.  Kinda like the Harry Potter series, which has also been condemned for teaching heretical ideas such as tolerance of witches.

Contrast these well-written, life-affirming books with another one that I recently learned about, Help! Mom! there are liberals under my bed!  Targeted to a much younger audience than the Golden Compass or Harry Potter books, this book indoctrinates fear and hatred of liberals into little ones.  I suppose the authors (and buyers) feel they have to get them while they're still too young to think for themselves.

No matter how many times it has happened, I'm always shocked when confronted with this kind of scathing, boiling hatred.  Filled with grotesque caricatures of well-known liberals the book constitutes personal attacks taught to kids.  It's one thing to disagree politically or religiously; quite another to hate individual people based on a difference of opinion or belief.  

So on the one hand, well-written books that teach kids to love reading and to think critically for themselves are attacked.  And otoh, hate-filled "books" are published to tell kids to be afraid of the Other.  (Help! Mom! is not the only one out there.)  I'm concerned for the mental well-being of a large percentage of kids in this country, brought about by the people who are supposed to nurture them.


Making God in Their Image

A federal jury in Baltimore yesterday decided that the disruption of the funeral of a marine and the emotional harm that caused was worth close to $11 million.

While I am sensitive to how vulnerable people are when grieving for their loved ones, especially when they are taken violently and in their prime, I would normally think that $11 million is unreasonably excessive.

But this is Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist church that we're talking about here. The people who are so convinced that "God hates fags" that it's the name of their website. The people who think that our war dead is God punishing America for our tolerance of homosexuality. The people who, for months after Matthew Shepard's death, kept a running count of the "number of days Matthew has been burning in hell," accompanied by a picture of his head bobbing in animated flames and a soundtrack of anguished screams.

I visited their site more than once, repeatedly needing to convince myself of the reality of their existence. I could not (and still cannot) fathom the level of hatred that would motivate such behavior. How much time did it take to put that animation and sound together? How much energy does it take to be out there disrupting funerals day in and day out? I barely have the time and energy to pursue the things that I believe in, the things that I affirm. How could anyone sustain that much hatred/rejection/negation for that long? Is there space for anything else inside of them?

And I am flummoxed now by their response to the verdict. Phelps says, "It was a bunch of silly heads passing judgment on God." His daughter, Shirley Phelps-Roper (most of the "church members" are family) said, "You guys think you can change God?" How are they so certain that God is obsessed with sex as much as they obviously are? How are they so certain that God is so spiteful and petty? Even if I had proof of the existence of such a creature, I would not recognize it as "God."

Ann Lamott said, "You can be certain that you've created God in your own image when God hates all the same people you do." And I can think of no better illustration of this than Fred Phelps and his clan.

Conforming Individualism

Happy Halloween everyone!

My first Halloween in my house, and in a residential neighborhood.  And yet I didn't get more than a handful of kids.  So sad.  Now I have all this chocolate left-over.  Oh well, more for me!

My housemate and I had an interesting discussion tonight as we waited for the kiddies.  It's not the first time that we've talked about the extreme individualism in this country, at the expense of community, and how we lament its effects.

But tonight the question came up as to "why?"  Especially amongst so many intelligent and educated people, why would they not see the limitations of this extreme individualism?  Why would they not see that such stringent adherence to the doctrine of individualism is in its own way a kind of conformity?

I had been thinking of this question earlier in the day, and I realized that it's because it's part of our collective mythology - our American identity - and it's very hard to break out of one's own mythology.  We are taught from a very early age that the sign of intelligence - the sign of being able to think for one's self - is individualism.  Independent thinking.  We don't want to be "a sheep."  That's the worst thing that one can be.  We are taught to take pride, to invest our worth, in intentionally and continually mistrusting the group in favor of oneself.  Even when such behavior is clearly at our expense.

If you buy into the idea that individualism is a mark of intelligence, then of course you're going to have a hard time seeing how individualism for the sake of individualism is conformity.

Unitarian Universalism tends to draw from people who take pride in their intellectual acumen.  And this is both a blessing and a curse.  It is obviously a blessing to have so many people in our congregations who value reason and inquiry.  But that's if we can get them to join us in the first place.  (The sad truth is that no one buys into this myth of individualism more than intellectuals!)  I know so many people who would love UU if they could get over the fact that it's a group and, God forbid, a religion.  They don't join groups.  Those are for conformists.  And they certainly don't join religions.  Those are for people who don't think.  They will be content to live with their isolated selves, thank you very much, because they refuse to be "confined" by a community.  

Unlike the chocolate that I failed to give away tonight, their not coming through our doors diminishes us all.

Dumbledore Outed

J.K. Rowling has just informed us that one of the most beloved fictional characters of our time is gay.  I'm sure that the whackos who already hate the Potter books because they teach tolerance towards witches are having proper conniptions.

Well, Rowling did describe Grindelwald as very handsome and said that their friendship was very close.  As one character put it, they "got on like a caldron on fire."  Perhaps I shoulda seen it. Tongue Out

What I really appreciated about all this is how casually Rowling stated it. No big announcement (tho we are making it big now).  Simply as an answer to a question.  Clearly she knew his sexual orientation and it influenced the story she wove, even if she didn't think it necessary to spell it out for us. It makes me wonder how many layers of complexity the other characters have as well that we'll never know.

I had never given much thought to Albus' sexual orientation. I had passingly wondered about McGonigal's personal life because I really like her and want her to be happy.  And from her I generalized to the other professors.  Did they hang out in the faculty lounge?  Talk smack about each other?  Engage in secret and ultimately failed romances?  Experience awkward moments afterwards in the faculty lounge?  Inquiring minds want to know!!  Since such information was not forthcoming, I had to content myself with the rationalization that the story is told (mostly) from Harry's point of view, and students don't care about the personal lives of their teachers.

But while I had wondered about the other faculty, I never thought about Dumbledore's personal life.  He was in another league.  And I guess I kinda thought he had no personal life.  I guess I kinda thought he was functionally asexual.  But we all know that sexual orientation is independent of sexual activity.  And what bothers me about myself in all this is realizing... in not giving much thought to it I had essentially assumed he was straight.


Fred Thompson is the Anti-Christ

Who knew?

Not long ago, someone posted a link to a quiz that supposedly helps you identify the presidential candidate who most closely matches your socio-political views. (I'm not quite sure how they weigh things.)

I dutifully punched in my positions on a range of issues such as abortion rights, the Kyoto protocol, gun control, immigration, marriage-equality, minimum wage, the Patriot Act, and torturing detainees.

According to the quiz, I should vote for Mike Gravel

1. Mike Gravel - 95%
2. Dennis Kucinich - 90%
3. Barack Obama - 85%

Thanks, but I still plan to vote for Barack.

The more interesting and more scary thing is when, just for fun, I decided to flip it around and answer the opposite of my real views. I wanted to know who, from my perspective, is the anti-christ of presidential candidates. This is what I got:

1. Fred Thompson - 100%
2. Duncan Hunter - 95%
3. Mitt Romney - 95%

AAAAAAACCKK!! 100%???!! Hey, I knew he is a conservative, but he seemed like such a pleasant old man on Law and Order.

The Enneagram

I learned something new today - the Enneagram.  It's kinda like the Myers-Briggs, a personality "inventory."  A colleague shared it with us today. 

The word enneagram actually refers to a nine-pointed geometrical structure (just like a pentagram is five-pointed). But in terms of the enneagram of personality, it is the belief that all people fit into one of nine different personality types - nine archetypal ways in we view ourselves and the world and our relation to the world.

It's thought that these nine types originally come from Sufi beliefs, and that together the nine types of people make up "the face of God." (This is interesting to me because I know that in Islam, nine is the perfect number, the number closest to God.) In that context, contemplating the enneagram is more than just a way to understand psychological interactions, but is a means to enlightenment. 

I'm still digesting it, and frankly find it to be more difficult to grasp than the Myers-Briggs but that may just be familiarity.  Anyway, I won't go into detail except to mention one thing I noticed with respect to the ennegagram as a spiritual tool.

According to Susan, the nine types are grouped into threes.
Types 8, 9, and 1 are motivated more by anger - they think w/their gut.  They are doers.
Types 2, 3, and 4 are motivated more by need for recognition from others - they think w/their heart.  They are relators.  
Types 5, 6, and 7 are motivated more by fear - they think w/their mind.  They are thinkers.  (I'm a 5.)

Well these three groups remind me of the three margas (paths) or yogas (unions) of Hinduism - karma (action), bhakti (devotion), and jnana (wisdom) respectively.  Hinduism recognizes that different people have different natural proclivities, and thus are suited to different spiritual paths.  No path is better than another, tho a path may be better suited for any one person than another path.  In short, there are those who prefer to act/do things, those who prefer to relate/show their devotion, and those who prefer to philosophize.  In the end, all three are necessary for moksha (liberation).  That is, all three are necessary for union with the Divine, much like the three groups of the nine types of the Enneagram.

And I do truly believe, lest we end up in feckless navel-gazing, maudlin sentimentality, or blind action, that all three - head, heart, and hands are necessary for the full spiritual life.

If you're interested in learning more, I found this site to be very helpful:

And here's an online diagnostic:


I Heart Huckabee

No, not really.  I just think it's funny that there's a movie by that name and a guy running for President.  I had meant to post about Mike Huckabee when he won the Iowa straw poll last month.  I mean...came in second in the Iowa straw poll.  Mitt Romney won, but in my mind Huckabee won.  

Huckabee scares me.  Not because he's some evil, crazy conservative evangelical Christian dude, but precisely because he isn't... evil and crazy that is.

Reverend Mike Huckabee is a former Baptist minister, former governor of Arkansas - a conservative evangelical Christian with all the "right" credentials - anti-gay marriage, anti-choice.  BUT he's "progressive" when it comes to economic justice.

One of the things that I/we are counting on to win back the White House, in addition to the immorality and ineptitude of this war, is that people are unhappy about the growing class disparities, particularly under the GOP's helm.  Corporations are getting fat while the people struggle to make ends meet.  It's becoming obvious to more and more that this generation does not have the same economic power and ability to make a comfortable life for themselves and their family as their parents did.  Meanwhile, there's Enron.  Who would trust the Republicans on economic justice?

But Mike Huckabee is not a GOP insider. Mike Huckabee speaks truth to power when it comes to the injustice of a minimum wage that does not allow people to live.  And while he's anti-gay marriage, anti-choice, he also realizes that these are not the most important issues facing our society today.  He's got the conservative evangelical Christian credentials but he's not beating that tired old horse.  In other words, conservatives and possibly even some moderates can feel good about voting for him.

By all accounts he's a personable fellow.  A governor from Arkansas who plays the bass (as opposed to the sax).  Hmmm...

Huckabee came in second in the Ames straw poll, without having any money to buy buses or tickets.  And with his strong showing in Iowa, he is bound to attract both attention and money.  With more support, it's frightening to think what this guy could do.


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Acknowledgments is made possible in part by generous support from the Fahs Collaborative