Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Standing up for Your (Former) Beliefs

My husband is a cultural Catholic. Never mind the fact that he doesn't believe in God. He was baptized Catholic and raised in a Catholic home; therefore, if you ask him if he is Catholic, he will say "yes."

So even though he doesn't practice his religion or believe in its supernatural claims, he still has some sort of attachment to it that manifests itself in strange ways.

For example, it annoys him when Protestants claim that Protestants and Catholics are all fundamentally part of one big church. My dad likes to make this claim. Dad grew up mainstream Protestant -- then converted to Mormonism just long enough to marry a returned missionary in the temple and raise all of the resulting kids LDS -- then switched back.

Despite my husband's unbelief, he takes it upon himself to be offended by claims of Protestant/Catholic equivalence on behalf of believing Catholics. After hearing my dad talk about how Christians accept Catholic baptisms (but not Mormon baptisms), in a later private conversation with me my husband commented, "Just let him say that to my aunt, who is a nun. She'll tell him he's going to hell!"

Now my husband's aunt is super-mega-nice, so it would surprise me quite a bit if she told a Protestant -- to his face -- that he's going to hell. Still, my husband may be right about his aunt's fundamental beliefs.

The first time we went to visit Auntie, she asked my husband "Are you Catholic?" Of course he said yes.

Then she asked me what my religion was. I responded that I am a non-believer, not affiliated with any religion. The funny thing was that she wasn't upset by this at all since she figured that meant it would be no big deal for me to join my husband's religion. Then she told us how relieved she was because she was worried that I might be a Protestant.

Despite what that story seems to indicate, my husband's aunt is surprisingly accepting and tolerant. She's a really old lady (in her 90s) and has been a nun her whole adult life, so normally I would expect her to be really rigid about the whole religion thing, but she has been reasonably accepting of our choices.

Of course, during that same first visit my husband's aunt told us that she prayed that he and I would get married and have our kids baptized, to which we surprisedly responded "But Auntie, we are married."

"Civil marriage," she said.

But after that she didn't bother us about it again, and all the times we've stayed at the convent to visit her none of the nuns have ever pressured us to go to mass or anything.

Since then, on a few occasions Auntie has reminded my husband of the importance of having the kids baptized. But she was fine with my husband's explanation when he told her that because of our unbelief, we didn't feel like it was right for us to go through the motions of such an ordinance, but that we wouldn't try to stop the kids from having themselves baptized if they wanted to later, when they're old enough to make a mature decision about it.

I thought it was funny that she accepted this because in my mind it's not a concession at all. If the kids take up a religion once they're grown, whether we like it or not there's not a whole lot we can do about it. Sure we could threaten to disown them, but that's not really realistic. We have only two kids. We can't go around disowning them willy-nilly over trivialities like what religions they choose for themselves. If we did, we'd pretty quickly find ourselves with no kids at all, and then who would we annoy during our golden years? Think about that.

I can hardly ridicule my husband for his wacky relationship with Catholicism though, considering that my attachment to my LDS heritage is equally wacky, if not worse. I seem to have his same weirdo objection to seeing the true church of my youth diluted into just another flavor of mainstream Christianity. So I catch myself browsing around the Bloggernacle (LDS blog network) posting comments encouraging people to be open about their LDS beliefs and to identify as Mormon first and not just Christian.

Why do I care? Obviously I shouldn't. I think part of it is that after having grown up with the idea that it's a virtue to stand up and be counted as peculiar, I have some irrational aversion to seeing Mormons jumping on the mainstream Christian bandwagon.

Also I think it's because this whole "milk before meat" thing strikes me as counterproductive. I've spent a lot of time with ex-Mormons/apostates on the Internet and elsewhere, and I've noticed that there is one particular small current of ex-Mormon Christians who insist on disproving Mormonism by holding up a list of Bible passages and saying "Mormons think this scripture means this but of course Christians know it means that." This is bewildering to many people raised in the church -- apostate and faithful Mormon alike -- who say, "OK, so you've proved that Mormons and mainstream Protestants interpret the Bible differently. Well, no duh!"

But the thing is that it isn't as much of a "no duh" point as maybe it should be. I get the impression that some ex-Mormon Christians are not so much annoyed about having been duped into believeing Mormonism is true as they are about having been duped into believing that Mormonism is not that different from other flavors of Christianity.

So while this practice of downplaying the unusual aspects of Mormonism by claiming Mormons are monotheists or saying that the church doesn't emphasize the doctrine of eternal progression, etc., may make Mormonism more palatable and increase the number of converts coming in the door, quantity is not necessarily the only concern here.

If you find a person who is aware of the doctrinal peculiarities of Mormonism and converts in spite of them -- or even because of them -- now that's a quality convert. That's someone who will likely say "OK" when hearing more of the various eccentricities of Mormonism rather than someone who will just become progressively angrier until he gets to the point where he not only leaves the church but feels compelled to debunk Mormonism's claims of being "Christian."

It seems to me that one convert of the former type would be worth more than 10 of the latter. But I'm an apostate myself, so obviously faithful LDS shouldn't be taking my advice.

In fact, if you're Mormon you should probably do exactly the opposite of whatever I say, just to be on the safe side!

Published in the Utah Valley Monitor February 16, 2006.

Concurrently run as a guest post at fMh.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

La littérature dangereuse: Lifestyles of the rich and literate

From some of the great classics of the literary canon, we learn that when a community or class of people have nothing more important to do all day than get dressed up and receive visitors in the drawing room, they tend to develop an elaborate web of intricate rules of etiquette and then spend way too much of their time jockeying for position by worrying about how well their friends and neighbors are following those rules.

Leisure class novels don't necessarily represent the typical human experience, although they are probably pretty representative of the experiences of the sorts of people who have plenty of time on their hands to write whole books fictionalizing all their romantic adventures and intrigues they like to fill up their lazy afternoons with.

I'm not complaining here. Our literary world of imagination would be that much less rich if people like Choderlos de Laclos, Edith Wharton, and Jane Austen had had to get a job or take care of their own households without the help of servants. And it's fun to read along and play pretend.

I know there are tons of books that fall into the category of leisure class novels, but I'm just going to focus on three of them here representing the high, middle, and low leisure class: Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Dangerous Liaisons), The Age of Innocence, and Pride and Prejudice. Fortunately all of these have been made into popular films for the non-reader's convenience.

On the high end, we have the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont. They're born into the highest level of nobility, and feel no insecurity about their position. Consequently they feel themselves to be above the social rules of their society, and essentially have nothing but contempt for such rules. Their entire novel (Les Liaisons Dangereuses) is about how they make a game of putting on a proper façade while seducing everyone and doing whatever else they please on the sly.

Representing the middle, we have Newland Archer from The Age of Innocence. He's well established in his position in the late 19th century New York aristocracy, however throughout the novel it is constantly present in the minds of the characters that the Manhattan social scene is the little country cousin of the courts of Europe. Newland starts out seeing the customs and values of his community as being self-evident, and through the course of the first half of the novel becomes disillusioned as he comes to understand more clearly how his social world is constructed and how it works.

On the low end, the Bennet girls of Pride and Prejudice are in the leisure class, but just barely hanging onto it with the tips of their fingers. Their family is in a position to slip down to the merchant or working class within a generation if they don't get an infusion of new money fast. They can't afford to go around questioning their society's conventions and practices, so they don't. Not one person in the entire novel questions why things work the way they do.

In some ways The Age of Innocence is the most interesting of the three because of the way the reader gets to see Newland's awareness and comprehension increasing. Even as the novel opens, he's already something of a player, recognizing the socio-political importance of announcing his engagement (and hence family alliance) at the same time as his fiance's family is taking the risky step of welcoming back a cousin, the Countess Olenska, who had married a nobleman in Europe and then moved back to New York without her husband. Still, at that point he sees the social hierarchy and the types of pursuits befitting a gentleman as obvious, and it doesn't seem to occur to him that things could be any other way.

The Countess Olenska turns Newland's world on its side by showing him alternate possibilities. She sets up a house for herself in an unfashionable part of town. She frequents and befriends people who are interesting but are looked down on by the polite society (old money families) of Manhattan. Worst of all -- those top aristocrats that are revered by all of New York -- she dares to find them dull.

The closing segment of part one is beautifully poignant as Newland sees his cage for what it is just as he is in the process of locking himself into it for good.

I honestly wish the novel had stopped right there. Part two isn't bad, but it really doesn't deserve to be in the same novel with part one, which is a masterpiece. Part two is essentially a long, tedious lament as Newland slowly resigns himself to an unhappy life of attending an endless stream of dinner parties that he now sees as empty and pointless while trying to forget his true love.

In part two, the author develops the theme that there is beauty and value in the innocence and provincial, small-town atmosphere of old-money New York, where everyone knows everyone else's business and no one seems to have anything better to do than throw fancy dinners and gossip and sully one another's reputations. Compared to the author's masterful treatment of the mask of innocence being pulled off this society in part one, her description of why Newland and the countess should love their innocent home country anyway seems clumsy and unconvincing.

The explanation repeatedly given for why the Countess Olenska should prefer to mill around Washington, D.C. -- apparently doing nothing -- rather than going back to her glamorously exciting yet decadent life in Europe is simply "because she's an American." The reader is expected to accept this answer and say "Oh, of course." Still, it's a bit confusing since the cosmopolitan world-view that made her so attractive in the first place was clearly described in part one as having been the result of her rich and varied experiences in Europe.

Pride and Prejudice, by contrast, portrays a society of innocence in which the innocence is never lost, and where we are treated to a light, straight-forward fairy tale. It's a fun read with plenty of entertaining characters and dialog.

My biggest problem with Pride and Prejudice is that it just seems almost too convenient that Mr. Darcy is at once so lovable and so rich. Unlike most people's lives in reality universe, there is not a single hint of a dark shadow on Elizabeth's happily ever after, which makes the story vaguely unsatisfying, like candy or porn.

My favorite way of analyzing Pride and Prejudice is to look at in terms of evolutionary biology and reproductive strategy. In their society, maintaining or increasing one's social position was absolutely vital for the long-term survival and success of one's progeny. It was so important to them that the people there were routinely marrying their own cousins to keep money in the family, showing that social advantage trumped even genetic advantage.

Now consider the choice that Mr. Darcy is presented with in the story: his own very rich but dull and sickly cousin or the lively and clever Elizabeth Bennet. The overall values of the society at the time might have given the advantage to the cousin, but -- keeping in mind that he's loaded -- it is clear that increasing his wealth at the expense of seeing his future children sickly and inbred is not in his reproductive best interests. The author's alignment of her tale's conclusion with universal constants of human nature helps make the ending feel right, and not just because Elizabeth is the protagonist.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the universe of Les Liaisons Dangereuses is not even remotely innocent. It is unabashedly cynical, and for that reason it is in some ways the most fun of the three.

Right from the start, the Marquise de Merteuil describes how she analyzes her society and plays it to her advantage. The book is chock-full of cynical love wisdom, such as the following:

"It's a law of nature that only love changes; and love -- do you have it when you want it? Yet you always need it, and that would be a big problem if one didn't notice that fortunately it's sufficient for it to exist in one direction. That cuts the difficulty in half without losing much. One enjoys the happiness of loving, the other that of pleasing someone -- in truth a bit less intense, but to which is joined the pleasure of cheating, which evens everything out in the end." (translation mine)

It's interesting how the trajectory of all three novels tends to go towards balancing out the lot of the main characters. Elizabeth Bennet starts at a position of disadvantage and ends up fabulously wealthy and happy. Newland Archer starts in kind of a middle position and more or less stays there. So since the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont start at the top, they must obviously must suffer a terrible downfall.

I would imagine that if the author of Les Liaisons Dangereuses based his characters on real people, they were probably chuckling together about their exploits to a ripe old age. But in novel-land it's not okay to entertain oneself at the expense of others without getting some sort of comeuppance, particularly since in this case it would just inspire people to hate the nobility even more than they already hate the nobility.

Another interesting thing to note is that Les Liaisons Dangereuses is the only one of the three novels in which there are servants who are characters that play a role in the action. The Age of Innocence includes some small scenes of speaking to servants. In Pride and Prejudice it was important for the Bennets to emphasize the distinction between themselves and the servant class by treating the servants as invisible or as robots. The difference in rank of the protagonists is inversely proportional to how threatened they feel by the possibility of acknowledging that the servants are human.

Of course, while all three of these novels describe a lifestyle that is perhaps unfamiliar to the average reader, they at least are grounded in the familiar trappings of western culture. If you enjoy these sorts of leisure class novels, but are ready to taste one with a completely different flavor, a great choice is The Tale of Genji, by Lady Murasaki, which describes the exploits of the courtesans of the imperial court of 11th century Japan.

Published in the Utah Valley Monitor February 07, 2006.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Girlhood Dreams

When I was a little kid, feminism wasn't called feminism. The way I remember it, back then feminism was called "Women's Lib" and it was evil.

This was back in the distant era of the 1970s -- also known as they Polyester Age -- and "Women's Lib" was all about crazy stuff like burning your bra (irresponsibly immodest and a fire hazard!) and forcing boys and girls to use the same bathroom by promoting something called the E.R.A. And who could be in favor of such obviously misguided foolishness? So like all good and reasonable Mormon families of the time, we were opposed to "Women's Lib."

On the other hand, the fact that girls should be encouraged to aspire to be anything they want to be -- just like boys -- was a fact that was so self-evident that it certainly didn't require a name, such as "feminism."

My parents encouraged almost all of my childhood dreams, including ones when I was really little that my older brother insisted on pointing out were impossible such as becoming queen of America or taking over for Robin (of Batman and Robin).

For example, one day on a whim I decided that I should grow up to be a doctor, and I went and told my dad about this idea. In retrospect, it seems that a typical response from an LDS parent of the time might have been to say something like "Now honey, that would take an awful lot schooling during just the time that you'll want to be a mommy. You could maybe study nursing instead if you like while preparing for marriage and family."

It pains me to type out a statement like that even as a theoretical possibility since saying such a thing would have been so alien to either one of my parents that it would never have crossed their minds. My dad's actual response was to ask me what I wanted to be a doctor of, since there are plenty of fields out there to get a doctorate in such as mathematics, different branches of science, etc. So I went back to the drawing board to try to decide which field of research would interest me the most.

The one ambition of mine that I remember my mom didn't encourage was when I decided I wanted to grow up to be a prophet. I went and found myself a secluded natural area with a little pond surrounded by trees and prayed to have a vision. I tried this a few times, but as you might imagine it didn't work very well. I didn't let this discourage me, though. I don't remember how it came up in conversation, but at one point I was telling my mom about my plan and about my idea that I could just pretend I had a vision, and write a book about it, and then I could found a religion.

I don't know if I imagined my mom would praise my cleverness and ambition to aspire to such a highly esteemed position or what, but I was disappointed to find that she wasn't at all happy about it. Even after I carefully explained to her that if I told everyone I had a vision, no one would know for sure or be able to prove that it didn't happen.

I'm guessing my mom was displeased that I had apparently intuited that that was a perfectly normal and reasonable manner to go about becoming the leader of a religion. Out of the mouths of babes -- sometimes a child's innocent impressions of how that world works are cute and appreciated, and sometimes they aren't.

It didn't even occur to me to aspire to become prophet by rising up through the ranks of the gerontocracy of the LDS Church. Even if it weren't for the fact that such a thing would be as impossible for a girl as becoming queen of America, it didn't appeal to me since everyone knows deep down that that's not how you become one of the cool prophets.

But in the end my mom made mincemeat of my dream of founding a religion, so I got that Ph.D. in mathematics instead.

Published in the Utah Valley Monitor February 09, 2006.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Little girls, little girls, everywhere I turn...

Again because I have no shame, I'm reposting a bunch of immature stuff I wrote in my journal when I was 11 years old...lol

January 10, 1983

I ironed on a drawn Garfield that I drew to a white T-shirt. I wore it to school and everyone thought it was teriffic. Becca W- got pushed into a puddle by some fifth graders. The whole class had to write paragraphs about pizza. Amy's and mine were the best so Mrs. Byrne read them to the class.

Well, maybe I should start from the beginning. We had art instead of Science today. Mr. Ryle is our art teacher. He's really weird. We drew cities with perspective.

In music we switched seats so now I sit next to Eric R- in Science and Music. Actually I like him and he likes me so it's a good thing.

Recess wasn't that interesting, just cold. In math we had a substitute. Mrs. Bang. She was really nice and I wish we could trade in Mr. Kesti for her. Nothing interesting happened in reading.

During lunch I shared my lunch with Amy as usual. She never gets anything good in her lunch. I always get: a sandwich, a fruit-roll, chips, and a dessert.

During recess, Amy and I made up a song to the tune of L-O-double-L-I-P-O-P spells lollipop. Our words are "Mel-iss-a and Mark equals true love, love, it's the best of any kind of sex, sex, it's the kind of sex that's rated X, X. Mel-iss-a and Mark, true love you see, when you see behind the tree, it'll make you say 'Woo-whee!' oh love to see."

When we came in was when we found out that Becca had been pushed into a puddle. Then we did the pizza paragraphs. Also I know some French: "Le coq est mort" pronounced "La coke a mort." It means "The rooster is dead."

January 27, 1983

In class I got caught twice for chewing gum (same piece both times) and twice for talking to Laura. She gave me a cough drop. It gave me a headache.

We had Sex-Ed. And we wrote down a bunch of dumb questions. Susan asked: If you get your period, can you see the egg if you look carefully on your pad?

I wrote: Who was that cute blond boy in the film? and If you have a miscarriage, what if the baby starts growing on your pad?

In Girl Scouts we're starting cookie sales. Dad ordered four boxes. Other than that I can't start sales until Saturday.

February 10, 1983

Today I put together eight heart-shaped pink sugar cookies in tissue paper as a valentine for Eric R- and I'm going to give it early so as to give him time to give me flowers or candy or a plant or something. I'm not giving just to get though, I like him.

February 14, 1983

Today I was giving Eric his valentine. I wrote a tag that said "To Eric R-" on it and left it in the back of the room in Math class secretly. Everyone thought it was from Melissa.

We saw a movie. Jill and I threw dry beans at the rest of the audience. It was a field trip. Three sixth grade classes and two fifth grade classes. The movie was "The Man from Snowy River."

I now hate Melissa and Amy. They're creeps. My best friends are: Jill, Nikki S-, and Jenni G-. Some other friends are: Nikki I-, Patty A-, and Susan.

February 15, 1983

I went skiing today. I went down the lumpy hill a lot.

I had my patriarichal blessing today. It told a lot of wonderful things. I don't remember all of it.

February 16, 1983

Today Jenni came in on crutches. It was because of an incident skiing. She went down the lumpys and fell. She tore a ligament.

It took a while of sitting in the snow, but the first-aid guy came pulling a sled. Jenni was lifted into it (it was easy because Jenni's small). From there she got a snowmobile ride. I was there the whole time.

During lunch Melissa sat near me. She started eating an orange and said, "I used to be an orange freak." Then I said to Nikki S-, "Now she's a plain-colored freak."

You were eleven once, right? I'm just posting this so you'll see how very much I've improved since then... ;-)

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Merde, Alors !: My least favorite thing about France

I've already told you about my favorite thing about living in France, namely that it's a pedestrian's paradise, at least in the cities. I love the metro and other public transportation, and I love the city centers that are compact enough that it's easy to go all over town on foot.

Today I'd like to tell you about my least favorite thing about living in France: the merde.

When I say "merde" here, I mean it quite literally. When I step out of my house and walk towards downtown, I have to dodge four or five piles (or smeared streaks) of dog feces per block.

What shocks me even more than the fact that the crap is there in the first place is the fact that everyone here seems to find it perfectly normal and acceptable. It doesn't seem to occur to anyone that treating the public walkways as your dog's public toilet -- and then walking away without a second thought when he's done with his business -- is impolite and maybe even disgusting.

When my husband and I first moved here, I told him that they should try to train people to clean up after the dogs the way people do in densely populated areas in the US. My husband (who is French) assured me that French people cannot be trained to clean up after their dogs.

I told him that that was ridiculous. If people in New York City -- who aren't exactly famous for polite and considerate behavior -- could be trained to clean up after their dogs, then so can the French.

Over the past several years, there's been a huge amount of renovation in downtown Bordeaux to make the place even more pedestrian-friendly, including dramatically increasing the number of pedestrian-only roads and public places, and the installation of a tramway system. So along the lines of making the city more pleasant for pedestrians, the city government started an initiative to persuade people to clean up after their dogs.

As soon as I heard about this, I was all excited, and not just because it gave me an opportunity to say "I told you so!" to my husband. My husband refused to believe that anything would come of it. Yet just a few days after the publicity/persuasion campaign began, he and I were walking down the street and we saw a lady clean up after her dog.

"See?" I said, giving him a nudge.

His response: "She's probably German."

Of course my husband was right in the end. There were a few posters about it up for a few months, and there were some plastic baggie dispensers installed with little pictures of dogs on them, and then everyone promptly forgot about the whole thing.

That doesn't necessarily mean that things will never change. These things take time. The houses and buildings in my neighborhood are around a hundred years old, so they all have these iron rings installed near the doorways for people to scrape the horse-doo off their boots. So we can be grateful that at least we don't have to deal with that anymore.

Actually, I kind of hesitate to tell fellow Americans about this problem because they're likely to conclude that things haven't changed much in Europe since the days of the black plague. But that simply isn't true. Since those days, France has managed to rid the streets of the poo of every species except dog, and I have high hopes they will one day eliminate this last one as well.

In the meantime, the people here make the best of it. There's a superstition here in France that it's good luck to step in dog-doo with your left foot. I don't normally believe in superstitions, but I particularly don't buy this one since it's obviously just something they say just to make people feel better about something awful happening, like rain on your wedding.

Yes, stepping in dog-doo is like rain on your wedding. Isn't it ironic? Or something like that.

I think that the only thing it would take to change people's habits on this issue would be a few months of real enforcement with strict fines. The enforcement alone would get most dog owners to change, and the rest of them would be taken care of by the resulting social pressure as the good-behavior-enforcing citizens would get the idea that not cleaning up after one's dog is a dirty-look-giveable offense.

But even if sidewalk sullying is against the law -- and I don't even know that it is -- I have never seen any enforcement of it in France. I sometimes wonder if City Hall never made a real effort on this point because if dog owners really changed their behavior, then maybe some of those guys who drive the little street-washing trucks would be out of a job.

Really I'm a big liberal and I love France's social safety net and everything. But for some reason that doesn't stop me from inventing crazy conspiracy theories about the street sweepers' union.

So the moral of this tale is that when you're visiting France and looking up at the buildings admiring the architecture, don't forget to also look down at the sidewalk in front of you.

Unless you want to have lots of good luck.

Published in the Utah Valley Monitor January 30, 2006.

Monday, February 13, 2006

"If the church weren't true, I'd be an atheist" and other things I learned in seminary....

When I was a senior in high school, our early-morning seminary class was taught by three divorced ladies all living in one house with all their respecitve kids: Sister Intellectual, Sister Mystic, and Sister Homemaker [not their real names as you might guess... ;-) ]

I related best to Sister Intellectual.

One morning I awoke from my usual early-morning-seminary stupor to find that Sister Intellectual was talking about the lack of unbiased historical evidence for the existence of Jesus.

I remember vividly hearing her say "Good old Jospehus!" She explained how she had had a period of doubt, and the testimony of (non-Christian) Josephus served as evidence that Jesus lived and was the Christ, and that from there the first vision, the three witnesses, and all the rest fell into place, and if not for that she would doubt the whole thing.

(Note that I'm pretty sure she was talking about a passage that is commonly believed to be a forgery...)

Many Christians will find this ludicrously ironic that she felt that the weak spot in Mormonism was the evidence for the existence of Jesus, but I could see her point.

So as usual I took my best church friend to school (she was a sophomore, but was the only other LDS girl in my whole high school), and as usual we went to pick up my best friend who was a senior like me but was a devout Lutheran.

My LDS friend and I talked about what we had heard, and we agreed without hesitation that if the church were not true, the most logical alternative would be atheism.

The hilarious thing was that I was actually surprised that my Lutheran friend was annoyed at us for suggesting such a thing... lol

Of course at this point I was mere months (or perhaps even weeks or days) away from the epiphany of a lifetime......

Posted to RfM January 9, 2006.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Meta-blog: a blog entry about bloggin'

I know, I know -- once you're reduced to writing blog entries about blogging, you know it's time to step away from the computer and go out there and have some real-life experiences!!! And the most pathetic part is that I'm actually on vacation right now...

Anyway, you may have noticed that I've added a bunch of sidebar links. Please comment here if you object to any of them, like say, if you object to the fact that your blog appears here, you object to the fact that your blog does not appear here, or if I made some mistake with your link (i.e. listed your blog as an exmo blog when it's really an LDS blog or something like that).

Also, just because a link appears here doesn't mean I necessarily endorse the site. Basically, in support of our fledgling exmo blog network, I gathered up all of the blog URLs that people posted to Exmo-Social and RfM, and I have not gone through all of the content carefully. That's why I put the disclaimer "follow at your own risk" above them. Then I put "follow at your own risk" over the other exmo links because Exmo-Social is full of "adult content", and RfM is full of "anti-Mormon content". Then I put "follow at your own risk" above my list of LDS blogs just because I didn't want them to feel left out. But really I've checked those out, and they're pretty tame and entertaining. Oh, I have to warn you though -- they're full of "LDS content".

Actually I kind of hesitated before including the Mormon 2 Catholic one since really I'm no more in favor of Catholicism than I am in favor of Mormonism. Possibly less.

But then I thought "Hell, I've included a bunch of LDS blogs, so why not throw in a Catholic blog?" After all, we've got tons of Catholicism in the family -- my husband grew up Catholic, and every summer we take the kids to Lourdes to visit his elderly aunt there who is a nun. My brother's husband is also a "Cultural Catholic", and my other brother's wife is actually a believing/practicing Catholic. In fact my only married sibling who didn't marry any kind of Catholic is my sis who married her RM in the temple... :D

Then I was thinking it might be more interesting if it were something like "Mormon 2 Pagan" since -- if you're going join up with a religion anyway -- that one seems like it would be more interesting. But then I remembered that that's basically what Sideon's Sanctuary is, isn't it? (Hi, Sideon!)

So, in essence, if you wander around the sidebar here, you'll see all sorts of different perspectives.

p.s. about the Catholic blog: I've looked at it, and it seems pretty interesting. I tried to post a nice comment there a few times, but kept getting an error message, so they need to make sure their comments are working and/or turn of their "demon comment blocker" option off... ;-)

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Authentic faith-promoting anecdote for my LDS friends

This story was posted over on RfM by an authentic apostate (posting as "Hie/Goodbye to Kolob"), so I assume it is a true story. I'm copying it here because it made me laugh, and hopefully I won't accidentally strenghten anyone's testimony with it... ;-)

God punished me today for being a smart a** to the sister missionaries.

I saw two sister missionaries today crossing the street in Orem. I slowed down to wave them across. I rolled down my window and said with a smile on my face "You know, it's not true." They just turned their heads and walked off.

I drove off with this grin on my face. I reached down to grab my coffee and that damn plastic lid came loose and poured coffee on my shirt and crotch. Damn it!

(Sorry, I know I shouldn't be laughing at other people's misfortune, but I assume it was intended as a humorous story... :D)

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Youth Conference 1986

Some may have noticed that I've been serializing my Youth Conference novella over on RfM. The novella is part II of my novel Exmormon.

It's fiction (though the Youth Conference part is strongly based on actual events), so for non-fiction lovers, I thought I'd post my real-life Youth Conference journal entries for you here.

Let's set the way-back machine for August 4, 1986...

I recently went to Camp Many Point and then to Youth Conference. I will tell about Youth Conference first.

I knew I would hate it there. I told my mother I didn't want to go and not to sign me up for it, but of course she did anyway. I convinced my friend Jennie H- to go too so that I wouldn't be miserable. (She didn't want to go either.)

...here I'm skipping two pages of description of how very awful it was. It just keeps going and going... ;-)

We girls got dorms that were intended for boys. There were urinals and dirty drawings on the walls and everything. The dorms were incredibly ugly and the closets stank.

The activities were over-planned and boring. Most of them took place in a huge hot auditorium. It was stuffy and uncomfortable. In contrast I practically froze to death during the seminars.

We had testimony meeting on Saturday only to have one the very next day in our own wards the very next day.

Everyone was playing frisbee, and although I love the game, no one threw any to me.

Once Chris O- and Scott R- were playing frisbee. I walked by with Jennie as it was coming to Scott. I lined up the angle and stood in line with where the frisbee would come. Scott, being a polite kid, wasn't about to knock me over for a frisbee. He just stood there.

When it came to me I put my hand up and let it fly in. It was a perfectly effortless catch.

Scott then turned to me, and by the expression on his face I could tell he was in a state of shock. "Nice catch," he said surprisedly.

I was a little surprised myself and since I was quite embarrassed, I just tossed it back to him saying, "Here, want this?" turned and kept walking.

I think I know why he was so amazed. I've known Scott for several years and during that time in various groups and organizations we've played water balloon war, dunk people in the pool, canoe races, softball, kickball, volleyball, three-team keep-away, pie races, foozball, frisbee, tackle frisbee, sledding, swat the animal, hacky-sack, various relays, etc. I hadn't shown any promising talent in ay of these.

I might as well tell you right here and now that for years I've had the biggest crush on Scott. We've talked and had fun (our families are friends) and done a lot of things together. We were always at least friends although he nevver showed any specifically romantic interest in me.

At the dance that night my plan was to join in the group dances with Scott, Lynn, Karen, and Lynn's many male friends. I figured that during all this dancing I could look at him and imagine how wonderful it would be to be his girlfriend.

Unfortunately Jennie, being new, was shy because she didn't know anyone, and walked over to the tables. I figured I'd better go with her because I was her best friend at Youth Conference, and besides, I had nothing to lose because Scott seeemed to be ignoring me. I went over and talked with Jennie.

A few minutes later I looked at a table a few tables down, and there was Scott, talking to two of the girls he had met earlier that day.

I then said to myself, "Carrie, this has been coming for quite some time now. He doesn't like you at all, so just quit bugging the poor guy."

I turned to Jennie, who wasn't having a great deal of fun either, and suggested that we go back to the dorm. Surprisingly, she didn't want to. I asked her how long we'd been there and she replied "About 20 minutes."

"I guess I can stay for an hour, but after that I'm going back to the dorm."

For a half an hour I sat and wallowed in self-pity. I again asked Jennie the time. When she said there was only about 10 minutes left, I figured I could wait another ten minutes.

After a few minutes, Scott came hesitantly to our table and sat down. We had a wonderful conversation and he brought some other boys over to the table for Jennie.

We all had wonderful fun stacking cups, playing with the live-goldfish centerpiece and scratching words into the disposable plastic centerpiece.

Ah, how we danced. I was clearly the center of his attention. It was wonderful beyond description, especially holding him in my arms for the first time during the slow dances. We danced the last dance together.

The boys of our ward had escorted us to the dance, all except Scott. They had done a hopelessly lousy job of it. The boys walked ahead in a glob and the girls walked in a glob behind.

My mother, being a chaperone there, was determined that the girls should escort the boys to the next one, to show them how it's done, and to be polite and return the favor.

I, of course, escorted Scott. I took his elbow in the usual escort way as we walked to the dance. As we were walking he took my hand as we walked close together. I have to admit that I let out a few giggles, but it was so wonderful to be with the person I loved and know I was the object of his affections.

Actually, I should be really embarrassed to post something so ridiculous -- but what can I say? I think it's kind of funny, and apparently I have no shame... ;-)

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Personal Progress '89

Here's a little blast from my past as a Mormon teen. The boys got the "fun" of earning merit badges, so the girls needed some sort of award objects as well.

I remember getting a metal bracelet with oval-shaped indentations that I could earn gemstones for by setting goals in different areas. The gemstones were just colored plastic ovals that we got to stick to the bracelet's indentations with double-sided stickers. Later, the awards for setting and keeping goals were golden medallions with (relief) images of idealized young women on them to be worn as necklace pendants.

This little "improvement" I made to one of the pictures in my "Personal Progress" workbook as a teen illustrates a bit about what I thought of these lovely rewards:

Here's a picture of one of the awards that the teen me was mocking:

Thanks La for the above picture!!!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Those Wacky Health Insurance Companies!

As soon as I got my first real job, I finally got to experience the wonder of having my own real health insurance benefits, not as a dependent.

Actually, I think I technically may have had health insurance as a grad student, but I never used it because I wasn't sure that it was a serious policy that actually covered anything. So as a grad student I had always just gone to the cheap student clinic on campus. I found the service there to be pretty good, but I can't really judge it because I was healthy the whole time and really only went there for contraceptives, which I understand usually tend to be the main specialty of a university campus clinic.

But once I had a real job working as a programmer for a real company, I had real health insurance!

Or at least I thought I did. And since I was still young and healthy, I didn't have much reason to test it out.

After almost a year of working as a C++ programmer, I decided I wanted to switch to Java, which was impossible in the job I was in (since the company didn't do any Java). And since I also didn't care for the hour-and-a-quarter-each-way-through-heavy-traffic commute, I decided to quit my job so that I could train myself to program in Java.

Since I was planning to be unemployed, I said to myself "What the hey, maybe I should go out and have a check-up first before joining the ranks of the uninsured."

This was a really stupid idea, and I'm only telling you about it so that you can learn from my foolish example.

The lesson to be learned is that the correct sequence is as follows: (1) Go to the doctor, (2) wait until you receive evidence that your insurance has paid the bills as they were supposed to, then (3) quit your job. Important: Do not invert these last two steps.

When the insurance company refused to pay the bill, I called up their customer service department and found that not only was I not currently insured according to their database, but in fact their records showed I had not been insured by them at all.

I had papers to show that I was indeed insured by them, but unfortunately such proof is irrelevant when complaints are apparently placed on automatic redirect to the circular file.

And here's where having quit my job became a problem. When I called the H.R. person at my old job, she assured me that she had all the paperwork necessary to show that the check-up should have been paid for by the insurance company, and told me she'd contact them and straighten it out. But obviously she didn't want to waste her day on hold with the insurance company any more than I did. So each call I had to make to "remind" her to help me when she didn't contact them was a bit uncomfortable since my former employer hadn't wanted me to quit my job in the first place.

So I mailed the bill back to my doctor explaining what the error was, and included copies of all of my insurance papers as evidence, and requested that his office redirect their billing inquiry to the insurance company. My considerate and understanding doctor responded by sicking a collection agency on me.

So I heard from the collection agency next without even a note from my doctor's office as to why the complaint in my letter was ignored, which was in my mind a rather humiliating example of adding insult to injury. The only bright side of it was the chuckle I got from the collection agency's return envelope, which in the return address area explicitly included a line for the victims to write down their telephone number. Ha ha! Does there really exist anyone on the planet dumb enough to fall for that?

I of course sent my whole packet of evidence and explanations to the collection agency, which of course they ignored. As if they want to waste their time on hold to my insurance company any more than the rest of us!

So what do you imagine I did?

I paid the bill out of my own pocket of course. The time and stress of worrying about it was more costly to me than the $100 or so requested on the bill. I would have continued pursuing it on principle if I'd thought my efforts were anywhere near as inconvenient for the insurance company as they were for me. But it turns out that sacking your customer relations department and replacing it with a perma-hold answering machine is a very cost-effective solution for them.

Two months later I got another job, closer to home and using Java this time. This new one also theoretically had health insurance, but I didn't dare find out. Kind of like the experience one gets from a "scared straight" program, I was "scared healthy." Any disease or injury I might seek out medical care for had to pass muster of being scarier than the collection agency. None were, so I mostly just relied on my trusty immune system.

My only other experience with American health care after that was when I brought my husband and kids to visit my folks. My toddler threw up, and my husband thought it would be prudent to take him to a pediatrician. Of course the receptionist at the pediatric clinic was terribly worried when she saw we had no U.S. medical insurance, and made us sign a paper that we would pay on the spot.

For a bunch of random tests and about two minutes of having a doctor look at our boy, it came to $400.

Then the punch line is that after we paid this in person, two days later the clinic sent a new bill to pay the amount again for the same services! Fortunately I had saved the receipt that showed I'd paid, and mailed a copy of it to them. If the clinic went on to hire a collection agency at that point, I don't know about it since I went pack to France and my parents haven't forwarded me any mail to that effect.

This episode was a bit of a shock to our French sensibilities, being accustomed to having a real doctor come to our house and give a kid a proper exam for closer to $40 (which is paid anyway by some combination of our insurance or the state).

When I was a kid, I'd occasionally hear jokes about "house calls" and how doctors don't make them. I always wondered why this was even a joke since of course doctors don't make house calls. Duh!

Interestingly, in France they do.

Actually, I have to be honest here. Aside from that one dentist (see last week's column), I haven't had any complaints about the health care here in France. Both of my sons were born in a state-of-the-art facility, with tons of top-notch prenatal and follow-up care. And all of it without having the positive health benefits cancelled out by a sticker-shock-induced stroke.

You'll probably say "Well, sure the French can handle routine procedures like births, but if something really bad happened to you, you'd wish you were back in the US!" I can't really answer that charge either way since fortunately nothing really bad has happened to me.

Plus you might point out that I'm paying for it anyway, just through taxes. I can't really comment on that one either since my husband does my taxes. I know I'm being a bad feminist to allow that, but I guess my feminist spirit doesn't extend to the point of jumping up to volunteer to do some annoying paperwork when it looks like somebody else might do it instead.

That's just one person's experience though, so take it however you like.

Published in the Utah Valley Monitor January 19, 2006.