Sunday, May 29, 2011

Why I'm a bad mom, part 6: Teaching them from the Book of Mormon

Back in part 2, you may recall I was trying to teach my kids a little something about their Catholic and Mormon heritage. It's surprisingly tricky. The problem is that either you're talking to someone who believes (and half the discussion is negotiating a peaceful way to agree to disagree) or the subject doesn't come up at all (because, really, religion is not that interesting, especially compared to Legos or other kid-interests).

But a fantastic new musical changed all that!!

Singing along with The Book of Mormon has provided a fun and funny intro to Mormonism. It turns out my kids weren’t aware of even the most rudimentary points like (1) Grandma’s church is called “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (2) its members are called “Mormons” (3) Mommy (me) was raised in this church — that when I was a kid, our Sunday family activity wasn’t hiking in the woods, it was going to church. Every Sunday.

The kids have also learned that the Mormon missionaries use the title "Elder" and are sent two-by-two all over the world to try to convince people to join their church. They've learned that Mormons like to call God "Heavenly Father" and that Mormons believe that Satan/Lucifer really exists (even though lots of other people believe in God without believing in Satan). Here are some typical conversations:

Nico asked me to explain the song Man Up, so I explained that Elder Price and Elder Cunningham have to go talk to the villain (General Butt-f*cking-naked), but they're afraid -- so Elder Cunningham is singing about how he needs to be brave, like Jesus was brave. Nico's a little vague on the Jesus story, though, so I had to explain further.

me: Actually, Jesus was killed in a horrible way. [conveniently, just then the line "What did Jesus do when they put nails through his hands?" played in the background]
Nico: Who killed him?
me: The Romans.
Nico: But... where was God when this was happening?
me: God doesn't exist.
Nico: No, I mean in the story!
me: According to the story, God wanted it to happen.
Nico: [thinks about that a bit] Oh.


Leo: When you were a kid, you went to this church?
me: Yep, every Sunday.
Leo: What do you do there?
me: Hmm... Well, people tell you stories about God -- kind of like Elder Cunningham in Making Things Up Again, except that you're not supposed to make up new stories, you're only supposed to teach stories out of old books.
Leo: But... You shouldn't just teach out of old books! With science, sometimes the old books are wrong.
me: Yes, that's right. In science, you should find the most recent books because they generally have more accurate information than older books.


Now, probably a lot of people are thinking that it's questionable of me to be encouraging my kids (ages 8 and 9) to sing songs that are not only loaded with profanity, but also cover adult topics like female genital mutilation, infant rape, and people dying of starvation, AIDS, or dysentery. Hence the title of this post. But the tough subjects aren't covered in detail -- they're simply mentioned -- so it's easy to give the kids as much information as they ask for without delving into details they don't need.

Here's what I mean. When Nico was asking about the FGM references in Hasa Diga Eebowai, and asking how they were using frogs to cure AIDS, I explained as follows:

In Uganda, the people have terrible problems -- they don't have enough food or clean water, and many people have AIDS, which is a terrible, deadly disease. But some people are also doing things to make their problems much worse. For example, some think that girls need to have a part of their body cut off, and some think they can cure AIDS by hurting a baby. That's why Elder Cunningham was making things up -- he was trying to convince people to stop doing the things that are harmful. He told them that hurting a frog can cure AIDS to keep them from hurting babies. Really, neither one cures AIDS, but he figured that at least this way people will stop hurting babies.

Nico didn't ask precisely which part of the body was being cut off nor precisely what people were doing to hurt the babies and frogs, but if he had, I'm sure I could find an appropriate anatomy textbook and/or explained that the word f*ck actually refers to mating.

It's funny that they don't appear to know the definition of that word and they haven't bothered to ask. But they do know that it's a highly offensive syllable to most English-speakers -- almost magically so -- and that's more than 90% of what you need to know about the word; far more important than the precise definition. Naturally, they love the line where Elder Price says "Excuse me, sir, but you should really not be saying that!" :D

They also love the references to Boba-Fett.

See also parts 1, 3, and 4.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

On Being Wrong

Kathryn Schulz absolutely nails it:

(Hat tip Saganist and Jon Adams)

This is one of the biggest things I've learned in my life: it is inevitable that some of the things you believe are wrong.

A lot of it is due to invisible assumptions -- beliefs you hold without even realizing you hold them because you've never really consciously noticed them. (Here are some past posts where I learned from new experiences and by noticing my own invisible assumptions.)

Even on questions you've spent some time thinking about (and have reached a conclusion), it's important not to get too emotionally attached to your conclusions. Always be ready to question your conclusions when presented with new arguments or new evidence. (Here are some posts where I learned from my own errors and reconsidered my conclusions.)

There's no shame in being wrong (even publicly) and admitting to it. Refusing to ever recognize or admit your own errors -- dogmatically fighting to the death to back all your past statements to avoid ever having been wrong -- (ironically?) makes you less credible, not more.

It's how Science zeroes in on accurate results, and it works on a personal level too! :D

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Indulge me: one more Lego post...

I never finished my Lego tree house post because I wrote it on the day of the grand Blogger crash -- so I was only able to post the first half. Here's the rest:

Back when I made my Lego city, I felt like -- in my effort to build a whole city in a reasonable length of time -- I skimped on details and on the design of some of the buildings. (Though I did add some details I liked.)

So this time I decided to just design one play-set -- and pull out all the stops!! For instance, I made it open, and designed fun interiors:

Here you can see the fireplace, with food cooking over the fire:

Here's a side-view of what it looks like opened:

And here's the interior opposite the kitchen:

Leo wanted to have some secret compartments to hide treasures in, so I built some in. Here's the same view with two secret compartments open -- see if you can find them!

Above that small spiral staircase and ladder, we find the bedroom:

You can also access the bedroom from above:

Naturally, you do this by opening the top of the tree:

On the other side, you may notice a red roof:

which also opens so you can play inside:

For fun, I added the same thing nearer to the top of the tree:

You can open it to put characters in the upper rooms:

(If you look closely, you can see a mummy looking out one of the windows.)

So, that's my Lego tree-house playset -- hope you like it! :D

Monday, May 16, 2011

Pullin' together we can work it out!!

OK, I apologize for the reference to a certain musical that some say doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with the greatest musical of all time (which I've been rushing home to spend every moment listening to because it's so unbelievably fantastic!!!).

Anyway, it turns out that -- despite team underdog rebranding itself as "Team Awesome" -- PZ is still mercilessly wiping the floor with us!!!

So "Team Awesome" wants to come up with stunts we can offer to compete with the PZ's puny offer of bothering to shave his beard off. (And, don't forget that it's for a good cause.)

Myself, I was thinking of trying to organize a showtunes singalong -- where I try to persuade my fun-yet-faithful Mormon relatives to have a blast performing some (of the non-explicit-lyrics) songs from "The Book of Mormon" during our next family reunion! But, really, if I can I'll do that no matter what. Because it would be so much fun!!!

But the question remains: is there something I could offer to do (as a prize) to sweeten the pot to get more donations for "Team Awesome"? Ideas?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Insights on Mormon culture, thanks to "God's favorite musical"!

I haven't seen "The Book of Mormon" yet, but you can hear the songs online, and people have already started discussing them on Main Street Plaza.

When the reviews of the musical first started appearing, I remember there was a lot of focus on whether they got the doctrinal details right (Is Kolob a planet or a star? Does God really live there? etc.). But it appears that what they really got right is unique character of Mormonism — what it’s like to be Mormon! (And, really, placing less importance on the precisions of doctrines like Kolob and more importance on Mormon practice and attitude is, itself, quite accurate.)

If you have an opinion on any or all of the songs, please vote in our poll and tell us about it. Here's my favorite (followed by what I wrote about it):

A lot of the songs had me going “Wow, fantastic! And so true!” But it was listening to “You and Me (But Mostly Me)” that made my whole youth and childhood pass before my eyes. Standing there, happy to supportively sing “my best friend…” while somebody Awesome! sings his heart out about serving God. And it didn’t hurt that the song kind of reminds me of ’80′s pop, and of “Humble Way” from God’s second-favorite musical:

This same missionary scenario — including the leader/subordinate relationship, and the fact that it’s cute that they’re not really humble about their awesome task — is exactly what the song “Humble Way” was about. “You and Me (But Mostly Me)” is what “Humble Way” wanted to be (if it had been totally brilliant).

I completely agree with Holly’s assessment that this would be perfect sung as a duet between a young LDS guy and his fiancee. I don’t think that’s reading anything into it that’s not there. Hierarchy colors so much about Mormon interpersonal relationships. And the (officially unequal) partnership between missionaries sets the model for marriage.

One point that is pure genius is the fact that their unequal relationship isn’t quite the central focus of the song. The leader’s earnest desire to do something great for mankind and God is as central (if not moreso). And the fact it’s tied in with his own ego is winked at.

You can see this symbolized in the Mormon temple endowment ceremony (which I haven’t been through, but I’ve heard about it). The fact that the wife covenants to obey her husband is OK because the husband is making a covenant with God. If you complain (or do anything other than stand beside him being supportive), then you’re the buzzing fly that’s detracting from a man and his important business between him and God!

I can’t imagine any song could more perfectly capture what Mormon patriarchy feels like.

And I can't wait to see the whole musical!!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

I Am an Artist of Lego!

Apologies in advance -- I don't mean to turn this into a Lego blog -- but I have to show off my masterpiece!

It's a Lego tree-house.

Or, more precisely, it's a Lego stone house built into a tree.

I didn't have enough brown pieces to make it just a tree house, but I got some interesting new grey cave-wall type pieces when I bought a sack of 1 Kilo of used Legos from a second-hand store.

My 7-year-old Leo helped out by making some of the bushes and the little ducks in the stream. He was an enthusiastic participant right from the beginning, even helping me wash and dry the used Legos.

[me: I felt so Swiss, carefully scrubbing all those Legos with a toothbrush! my husband: Yes, that was very Swiss of you.]

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Wow, Thanks!!!

I opened up ExMormon's Amazon Page this morning (which I don't usually do because it rarely changes), but boy was I in for a pleasant surprise!!! I received this new review:

I bought the book after looking at the blog. I couldn't stop reading it because I could relate to it so much. I grew up Mormon and I haven't been a practicing Mormon since I left BYU as a teen/young adult. I could really relate to the Mormon culture and also relate to not fitting into that culture. I brought it with me on a Christmas family trip to Mexico and my Mormon relatives were into it also and wanted to read it. It was hilarious at times and also touched me to the core, this book. This is one of my favorite books ever, a book I could read again or pass on to jackmormon buddies and relatives, seriously love it! I'm so glad someone wrote about what it can be like growing up Mormon and in that culture.

I am totally floored! I can hardly imagine receiving a better compliment. This makes my day! (week, month, year... ;^) ).

I was already aware of the earlier nice review (by Book-o-philiac):

This was an amazing novel. I usually don't read fiction books, but decided to give this one a try, due to my leaving the LDS Church. It touched on so many of my experiences of growing up in the LDS Church and many of the reasons that I left. Anyone is considering leaving, even briefly should read this book.

Four stars and would recommend to anyone!

For that review, Book-o-philiac emailed me to tell me how much she liked the book. Naturally, I thanked her and asked her if she would please go write that on the book's Amazon page. ;^)

BTW, I haven't mentioned this in a while, but if anyone is interested in writing a review of ExMormon (for a blog or a publication or Amazon or whatever), just email me and I'll send you a review e-copy: chanson dot exmormon at gmail dot com.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Speed of Lightning! Roar of Thunder!

It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a frog!

To all those who are younger than Gen-X, please excuse the obscure reference to the "Underdog" theme song. ;)

If you follow the atheosphere like I do, you probably already know that Camp Quest -- that fun science-not-Bible Summer camp for kids -- needs some funds. And, to make the fund-raising more interesting, they decided to turn it into a competition between PZ Myers and a team of other cool atheist bloggers. In round 1, PZ totally wiped the floor with the competition, so some more cool underdogs signed on.

Now, as fond as I am of PZ (I met him in person and even included the photo of our radio interview together in my masthead if you look closely), I am compelled by some mysterious human compulsion to support Team Underdog. (Also note: Team PZ doesn't need my help, but I qualify for Team Underdog.) Hence I've added the donate widget to my sidebar =>

And remember, it's not just about beating PZ (and watching Hemant shave off PZ's beard). It's a great cause! As much as I loved LDS girls' camp as a kid, I wish I could have gone to something like this!! I'm planning to send my own kids as soon as feasible.