There’s not an easy way to talk about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Martin Luther King Day without re-hashing things that have already been said. It’s even harder to talk about King in a way that’s not going to come across as trite, opportunistic, or clueless, especially for people who have never lived the reality that people of color inhabit in this country. So hopefully, I can talk about the thoughts I’ve had on his legacy without it being a waste of everyone’s time. Hopefully the threads I was thinking of connecting here are thoughts that inform and strengthen one another. Let me know how I do.

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When Mother Nature Gives You a Raw Deal

I grew up with a healthy respect for nature. Actually, that’s a bit of an understatement. My childhood was basically a John Denver song. My elementary school was Rocky Mountain High – we were at about 7400 feet in the Colorado foothills – we learned how to read and write, yes, but only so we could understand the rest of schooling which was food webs and birds of prey and DDT and chlorofluorocarbons and how to snip the plastic rings from your six-pack so that a sea turtle didn’t die.

As a preteen, I moved with my family to a little town outside of Missoula, Montana, which is where hippies get to be reborn if they live a very good life and minimize the pain they inflict on other creatures. It’s basically where granola was invented. It’s a lovely little place where everyone you know has some sort of a connection to heirloom tomatoes or colloidal silver and your younger siblings come into the world at the hands of a midwife in your mother’s bedroom downstairs while you’re asleep.

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What do we think about who should be doing what?

I feel like it’s in the zeitgeist enough that I should be writing something about women who want to be ordained to the priesthood. And also politics. And also the membership numbers of the Church. And also people who want gay people to get married. What should I say as someone who represents my religion? What should I allow other people say to represent my religion? What do I think about who should be doing what, who should be saying what, and where what should be said?

I’m trying to think of an eloquent, nuanced, brilliant commentary on all of that.

I think I’ll borrow one from Nephi.

He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. Wherefore, he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation.

Behold, doth he cry unto any, saying: Depart from me? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; but he saith: Come unto me all ye ends of the earth, buy milk and honey, without money and without price.

Behold, hath he commanded any that they should depart out of the synagogues, or out of the houses of worship? Behold, I say unto you, Nay.

Hath he commanded any that they should not partake of his salvation? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but he hath given it free for all men; and he hath commanded his people that they should persuade all men to repentance.

Behold, hath the Lord commanded any that they should not partake of his goodness? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but all men are privileged the one like unto the other, and none are forbidden.

– 2 Nephi 26: 24-28

To My Sisters

I have a lot of sisters. They are fantastic people. I don’t know how I ended up surrounded with such talented, intelligent young women, but I admire them and love them and I want to talk a little bit to them tonight. And I mean of course, the three little sisters who were born into my family – the Country Mouse, the Marine Life Artist and the Swimming Angel – but I have quite a few other little sisters out there. There’s the girls I taught when they were high school and junior high kids in Xinfeng, Taiwan, who are getting into universities now and doing awesome things with their lives. I also feel like all the 50-something roommates I lived with through all the years of being a single migrant college student became my sisters, and I count them among my very best friends. My three sisters in law: I love them like they were biological. There are the girls I taught as a Young Women’s leader in China last year, the sister missionaries I worked with in Japan, the neighbor ladies, the best friends, the confidants – I’m surrounded by sisters and I love what I learn from them.

And if I had one thing I’d want to pass on, one thing I hope they could learn from me, I’m tempted to phrase it this way: You’re destined for so much. You have so much to offer. And you are so much more than the hottest bitch in this place.

Sorry for phrasing it that way, but that’s exactly how they’re phrasing it in that unbearably catchy song that’s all over the place. I loved that song the first time I heard it – I loved that they sampled “Funkytown.” I’ve got a shameless thing for pop music and it was groovy and I was into it. Then I started to see reviews. I started reading critiques of the lyrics. I wasn’t shocked, which is sad, but I was disappointed that yet another egotistical pop star thought he could get away with something as tasteless and crass as “you know you want it” and still be taken seriously. But that was the one line that really bothered me – a happy party anthem where he’s praising some woman in a club and the best thing he can think to tell her is that she’s “the hottest bitch in this place.”

I’m sad that a lot of women are going to be swayed by it. I’m sad that they’re going to squeeze into that little clubbing outfit and slip on those fantastically large earrings and head out for a night of fun, aspiring for nothing more lofty than convincing someone (preferably someone hot and loaded) that they’re the most desirable body in the room for the night. I think most of them want something more than that but I think a lot of them don’t think it’s real or don’t think they deserve it. I hope my little sisters don’t see themselves that way.

Little sisters, you’re lovely and beautiful. But those aren’t the things that are most praiseworthy about you. It doesn’t matter what your relative body fat percentage is compared to the other females in the room. You don’t have to feel inadequate because you don’t have the eyelash extensions or the glowing skin or the pristine pedicure or the ridiculously overpriced shoes that you see on the other girls. You don’t have to feel like it’s a lineup or a competition and you don’t have to feel like your value depends on the decision of some dude in a nice car who’s looking around trying to decide who to spend his money on in return for some physical favors.

You’re valuable and fantastic and amazing because of who you are, the things you say, and the things you do. Your talents are things that really matter to people, like your ability to be a trustworthy friend or how thoughtful you are when you pick out little gifts or do little favors for the people you love.

You’re lovely because you smile. You’re attractive because you’re kind. You’re the kind of person people like to be around because of the things you’re interested and the things you talk about. You have a lot of interesting talents – some of you are athletic, some dance, some paint, some can speak eloquently. Some of you are good students and some are good at teaching and explaining things to others. Some of you are particularly good with children, some are kind to older people. These are the things that good people value in you.

So please, my little sisters, my hermanitas, my imototachi, my meimei: don’t let the dudes in the music videos evaluate you and line you up for comparison. Don’t feel like the only way the world’s going to pay attention to you is if you shake your butt the right way or wear the most attention-grabbing thing you can find. If that’s what you aim for, there’s always going to be someone there to try to outdo you. It’s a big lie, really, because you’re never going to be able to hang on to that title of the hottest bitch in the place. And you’re not even a bitch at all. You’re my sister and I love you for who you are. I want to see you with the kind of guy who really appreciates you and deserves you. I want him to love and admire those things you’re good at – to smile when you read him a poem you wrote or to compliment something delicious you cooked him. I want you with the guy who is happy to describe you to his friends and family and who does it with adjectives like “fun,” “interesting,” “funny,” “talented” and “sweet.” I want you to wait around if you’re not getting that, and I don’t want you to go home with the idiots who don’t even see you for what you are.

And I want you to dance and to laugh and to love and be loved, and I don’t want you to wake up the next morning feeling like you’re anything less than the beloved lady you are.

“Because someone is different from us …”

I used to go blues dancing at a house in Provo, Utah on Thursday nights. I had happened into the group of people who sponsored the dances because they were also in the local Lindy Hop scene, and they were such a funny, eclectic group of people that I really enjoyed myself there. Blues nights were held at an older house with wooden floors that some absurdly large number of college boys rented together; they would clear all the furniture from the living and dining rooms and, with a little help from Lou Rawls, would transform the place into a vintage Chicago juke joint for the night.

It was at blues nights that I first met a friend who I’ll call Nate. Nate was all smiles, but quiet, and usually parked himself at one end of the room. He was friends with the exotic-looking Isabelle, a tango dancer with tattoos and piercings and those hippie pants made of hemp that brought back memories of my teenage years in Missoula, Montana and the smell of patchouli and marijuana. He and Isabelle started showing up at blues nights when the organizer had decided to include some tango lessons and they’d been there regularly ever since. I was curious about the two of them and where they’d come from. It’s safe to say that in Provo, Utah, you don’t meet all the same patchouli and hemp pants sort of people you meet in Missoula, and I wondered about what they did in this area and what had brought them here. I would chat with Nate from time to time when he’d ask me to dance. I found out he was a fellow vegetarian (not sure how that comes up in casual conversations, but there you go) and that he worked at an animal rescue farm somewhere in the area. He also told me about a vegetarian Chinese restaurant in Salt Lake which I was really excited about. He was such a happy and pleasant person and I probably should have made more of an effort at the time to get to know both him and Isabelle, but I would soon find myself whisked away to Taiwan for an 8-month internship. Continue reading

Correlation Nation

I listened to this episode of Mormon Matters on my hour-long subway ride yesterday. It’s always nice to have a little conversation going on that I can invest my time in during a long commute. (Yay public transportation! But that’s another post.)

I appreciated the discussion between three very wise and thoughtful ladies – Fiona Givens, Joanna Brooks, and Jana Riess. I look forward to reading the Givenses’ book (maybe I can talk my husband into us “needing” the Kindle edition). But I do want to share my thoughts about the dissatisfaction expressed toward the correlated Church curriculum.

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Christians, Christmas and Everyone Else

It’s interesting to spend Christmas in non-Christian countires. I’ve lived in Japan, Taiwan and China during the Christmas season, and it’s surprising at first to see how much they do celebrate Christmas, though to us Westerners it’s in funny ways. It involves statues of Colonel Sanders dressed up like Santa, festive cakes with strawberries and tiny bearded figurines, and shopping malls decorated with Christmas trees and colorful tinsel and bells, but not an extra shopper in sight. The best I could describe Christmas in China to a friend was, “It’s kind of how Americans celebrate Cinco de Mayo. A fun, foreign-themed party with some indulgent food and drinks after work.”

But it’s thought-provoking, when you’re living here, to reflect upon what makes Christmas significant to us as Westerners and to us as Christians. A lot of it is nostalgia and happy memories and culture, but for religious people, what would Christmas in the Non-Christian world really mean? What should it mean? What should we do about it?

If you’re not a religious person, you may expect from the tone of my post that I’m about to expound upon “the real reason for the season” and how we need to “put Christ back in Christmas” and you may be tempted to stop reading here and go on to something less predictable. And while I’m the sort of person who would typically nod in agreement when people express sentiments like that, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I would explain my thoughts about the significance of Christmas to friends who weren’t religious or came from a non-Christian faith background. I kind of did this when I was a missionary in Japan, though at the time I don’t think I really had the language skills necessary to fully communicate what I meant. Hopefully, I can do a little better in English, though how helpful my explanations will be still waits to be seen. Continue reading