Monday, July 31, 2006

12 Miles

That's how far I ran yesterday. It was a good chance to decompress. Last week my middle two kids got scuba certified and yesterday I had to get up at 6:00 am to take them to their last checkout dive. Since I was already up I took the dogs with me and we went to the lake to run. Even though it was only 7:30 am the temperature was already 80 and it was 90 by the time I finished a couple of hours later. It's been increasingly difficult to get out the door to run each day as the Texas summer has hit full stride and made it nearly impossible to run while the sun is up. Running in the evening makes me sleep poorly, and getting up in the morning is nearly impossible for me so my running has suffered.

I listened to my MP3 player as I ran and just enjoyed the beautiful day with all of the other people out walking and running. It felt so good to be healthy and even though the heat made me walk a bit, I finished the twelve miles feeling good. In the past week I've had a hectic vacation, worked long hours to try to make up for being out on Monday, met my daughter's new horse, and started looking for a new job but for a couple of hours I got to just enjoy being alive and healthy. It's a wonderful feeling when you get 45 minutes or an hour into a run and running becomes effortless your legs just move you along without thought for the next hour or more. Even though you're hot or uncomfortable, you know you're within your limits and it feels good to just be. I don't really think deep thoughts. My mind is able to just wander and drift and in some ways it's almost like a waking dream where my body is drained, but my soul is refreshed and filled.

My hips are a little sore today, but I'm ready to start ramping up for my next marathon. Last year I started in September. At that point the longest I'd ever run was 8 miles and the ramp was very hard on my body. This year I'm starting a little earlier with a better conditioning base and I'm hoping to have an easier time. I'll be signing up for the Austin Endurance Challenge again this year as part of my training and the first race is a 10k on October 1. Last year my goal was just to finish the marathon. This year I'd like to average at least a 10 minute mile pace.

A Wonderful Weekend

With everything happening in the last week I forgot to tell you how my California trip went. (Thanks for asking, BTW :)

A picture's worth a thousand words and it was remarkable watching Nicky Hayden tighten his grip on the MotoGP world championship with a brilliant win on a sweltering afternoon at Laguna Seca Raceway. Unlike last year when he dominated the event from the first practice to the end of the race, this year he to fight through from the second row of the grid before pulling away with the victory. Not only did Nicky do well, but his brothers Tommy and Roger Lee also did well in their AMA races with Tommy taking 2nd place in the Superbike race on Saturday.

Better than the racing was the time spent with my wife. On Friday we drove from San Jose to Yosemite where we saw the spectacular scenery including El Capitan and Half Dome. But the highlight was going to the Sequoia grove at the southern entrance of the part and seeing trees that are literally thousands of years old. On the way home I decided to take a "short cut" so we didn't have to drone along on the super slab. I managed to replace an hour of boring superhighway with three hours of a nail biter of a canyon road in pitch dark that often had the steering wheel at full lock while the car pitched and careened on the narrow road. Fun....

The weather at the track was supposed to be 80 degrees on Saturday and Sunday but instead of around 100. But we had a good time anyway. We even managed to get back to San Jose on Saturday in time to eat at my favorite Italian restaurant. On Monday we went up to San Francisco where I did a whirlwind pass through the Design Automation Conference while my while road the cable cars and saw the sea lions on the wharves. She got the better deal. Then we rushed back to the airport and got back to Texas at 1:00 am Tuesday morning.

A typical whirlwind vacation, but it was so nice to have four days alone with my wife and thoroughly enjoy each other's company. Looking back on it, we didn't do all that much, but I did enjoy it.

How Could I Have Been Taken In?

It is now so obvious to me that the Mormon church is false that I really wonder how I could have ever taken it so seriously. As JLO once put it, you'd have to be dumber than a sack of hammers to believe it. Yet many intelligent people continue to believe and practice Mormonism and donate considerable time and resources to promoting the scam.

I don't know if I've put the story of my awakening on here before, but curiosity about Scientology led me to a moment of clarity when a switch was flipped, everything fell into place, and I saw Mormonism for what it is. Sometimes it's easier to recognize someone else's insanity than your own.

Now, a couple of years later I'm finding that anti-Scientology articles are useful in understanding Mormonism since there are remarkable parallels. In spare moments I've been reading the Scientology InfoPack, What Scientology Won't Tell You.

For example, the techniques used for thought control (brainwashing) are the same. I used to chafe when people claimed that Mormons brainwashed. What others see as mind control I considered valid teaching methods. After all, memorization requires repetition so there's nothing wrong with having young men and young women regularly repeat their creeds as a means of helping them remember their path in life. And it's not really brainwashing if what you are teaching is true, right? I considered them to be good pedagological techniques.

Here are the brainwashing techniques used by Scientology and other cults and how they are used in Mormonism. I've quoted the linked article and then explained how those techniques are found in Mormonism.
  • Miracle, Mystery, Authority: The foundations of Mormonism are replete with miraculous events such as the first vision, visitations by Moroni, golden plates, translation of the Book of Mormon, angelic ordinations, etc. The temple is a mystery that can't be discussed anywhere that serves to bind members unquestioningly and absolutely to the church. Anything that can't be explained or that doesn't make sense becomes miraculous. Joseph Smith used these miracles and mysteries to claim divine authority which his successors inherited and continue to use. Church leaders claim divine authority and powers such as discernment, inspiration, and even direct revelation from God.
  • Attributing all individual suffering to misapplication, misunderstanding or even casual doubting of the group’s unfailing teaching. I think that "all" overstates the case for Mormons, but I know many members that immediately wonder what a person has done wrong when bad things happen. They also tend to attribute everything good to obedience to the church. A core doctrine of the church is that all blessings are predicated on obeying commandments. This is very fluid in a way that always benefits the church; good things are attributed to living church teachings and bad things are the result of either lack of worthiness or a test of faith. Members have difficulty even considering life without the church because they believe that without the church they won't know right from wrong, that they will suffer temporally, that they will lose their eternal families, etc. They have difficulty imagining life without the church.
  • Inducing "sensory deprivation and sensory overload, guided imagery and visualization, trance induction through repetition of words or slogans...". The ultimate way for a Mormon to receive knowledge is fasting and prayer. When confronted with a difficult problem or question they are encouraged to repeatedly fast and pray about it. This is usually accompanied by reading scriptures and counseling with church leaders. The answer comes as a "still small voice" that is usually described as feelings or thoughts that seem to come from outside your own mind. The church encourages members to fast on the first Sunday of each month and hold Fast and Testimony meeting on that Sunday where members stand and bear their "Testimony" of the truthfulness of the church. During this meeting you can hear the same stock phrases repeated over and over, often with exactly the same words. For example, you will hear the phrase, "I know the church is true." The statement doesn't even make any sense, yet it holds a special meaning for long-time church members. You will hear this and many similar statement.
  • Controlling the environment, i.e., the group member "is deprived of the combination of external information and inner reflection which anyone requires to test the realities of his environment and to maintain a measure of identity separate from it." Not only do Mormons have a uniquely flawed method for discovering truth, they also teach members to reject all sources of information that might challenge church orthodoxy. Only church published books are to be trusted. Other sources are automatically suspect since the truth of the church can only perceived by members who have the gifts of the Spirit required to correctly interpret information. Most members cannot even bring themselves to read anything that might challenge the church because they have taught that to doubt will cause a loss of the Spirit and everything that they cherish. The ultimate implementation of this in the church is the missionary program where young men are separated and isolated from friends and family, paired with strangers, saddled with a grueling schedule that allows no spare time for self, and controls all aspects of their lives for two years. This is preceded by requiring temple attendance where they pledge, literally, their lives and everything they can give to the building up of the church. This is a very important way to establish control over male members at a critical age.
  • Creating a mystique of importance around the group and its leader, so that the group and its goals are seen as more important than anything else. Ask a Mormon what differentiates their church from all others and they will almost certainly respond that it is led by living prophets. They believe that God reveals his will through these men and that they are the only people on the face of the earth who can do so. The church promotes itself as "the one true church on the face of the earth." Go to any Mormon church on the first Sunday of the month and sit through a testimony meeting. I guarantee that almost every testimony will claim to know that Joseph Smith was a prophet, that he restored the one true church, and that Gordon B. Hinckley is the living prophet of God. You'll hear this from children that can barely talk all the way up to the members that have one foot in the grave. Most members believe that the church's apostles literally talk to God and have literally seen him. Most cannot imagine life without the church. They see belief in and activity in the church as being absolutely vital to themselves, their family, and all of humanity both living and dead. This is cemented by the temple ordinances which are the most important events in the lives as members where they formally swear unending, absolute consecration of everything to furthering the work of the church. The church is central to everything in their life.
  • Requiring a level of perfection that is unattainable, with consequent guilt and shame serving as powerful control devices. If you make a list of everything that the church requires then it quickly becomes obvious that you can never live up to the standard. Furthermore, many of the standards are arbitrary and place undo importance on trivial things. For example, consider the mental energy spent by some Mormons on weighty moral matters such as whether it is a sin to drink coke. Another pet peeve is useless activity such as home teaching which is rarely useful and seems to be busy work to keep the troops occupied. The requirements are a source of constant instruction during all church meetings where all of the various requirements are repeatedly restated throughout life leaving a constant state of apprehension due to never being able to do it all. It's as if each Sunday's meetings are intended to create a renewed sense of inadequacy and dependence on the church to remind you of your shortcomings.
  • Demanding extraordinary levels of confession, including confession to crimes that one has not committed, making it "virtually impossible to maintain a reasonable balance between worth and humility." The annual (now bi-annual) temple recommend interviews with the bishopric and stake presidency are a regular opportunity for members to be queried about their worthiness. Faithful members are controlled by the knowledge that if they stray they will either have to confess or lie at their next interview. Members who lie must live with the guilt of both the sin and also the lie. Most members are good, honest people so they confess. Confession can result in very public and embarrassing actions against the sinner such as witholding the sacrament, disfellowship, or excommunication. Despite assurances of privacy, confessions are often discussed or speculated on by church leaders and members. Once confession is made many members must submit to embarrasingly probing questions about the sin that require them to reveal all of the details of the sin in lurid detail. It isn't sufficient for a teenager to confess to petting. The bishop may ask details about when, how often, what body parts were touched, how they were touched, level of arousal, thoughts, etc. A man may not only confess an affair, but may have to give graphic details of the affair and assuming he is being excommunicated may have to do this in front of a room of over 16 men who are his peers in the church and the community. The church claims that this is necessary to weed out sin in the church and to help the member repent and change, but it seems more geared to break down the member's self-worth and make them subservient and controllable by the church.
  • Claiming absolute infallibility of the group’s leader and doctrine. This one is a little tricky. The Mormon's do not claim infallibility of the prophet. In fact they explicitly deny it and claim that all members are free to pray about the church's teachings and reject anything that they feel is wrong. But there is a gulf between the church's words and actions in this regard. It's president has recently stated that members are free to believe anything they want, but when they publicly espouse those beliefs they cross a line and must be punished. So, while the church doesn't claim it's leaders are infallible, it expects the members to act as though they were. Disagreement must be silent. Doctrine is assumed to be infallible and unchangeable. Despite the fact that some of the doctrines have been quite fluid over time and that there is no authoritative definition of church doctrines, the church holds its scriptures to be the absolute truth and incontrovertible. Even in cases such as the Book of Abraham where the scripture has been convincingly shown to be a fraud and incorrect, the church continues to stand by it.
  • Creating a unique language, often non-understandable to outsiders, the effect of which "can be summed up in one word: constriction.... [The group member] is, so to speak, linguistically deprived; and since language is so central to all human experience, his capacities for thinking and feeling are immensely narrowed." This isn't as pronounced as in Scientology, but most lifelong members can attest that Mormons seem to speak a language of their own. The key words that they redefine for their own use are "know" and "truth/true." As in, "I know the church is true," or "I know that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God," or "I know that the Book of Mormon is the word of God." They claim to have a unique, better way of discovering truth. They have many other words that they use such as a testimony, and many phrases that have special meaning for them.
  • Giving the member a new identity by bringing his or her thinking into alignment with the group’s, prompting a redefinition of the self and a reinterpretation of the past in terms of the new present. The individual "switches worlds...and through socialization, discovers the ‘plausibility structures’ that make the new world coherent, fully tangible and fully believable...The formula for reinterpretation of the past is, ‘Then I I know.’ No where is this made more clear than when someone joins or leaves the church. Those that join often begin to make decisions that previously would have been unimaginable such as choosing to exclude non-members from their marriage ceremony or dropping out of school to serve a mission. Those leaving often face tremendous battles with family over their loss of faith that often results in the destruction of marriages, the separation of families, and shunning by family and former friends and associates. A Mormon is defined, first and foremost, as a member of the church with everything else being secondary.
  • Relegating outsiders to the status of reduced value or non-person. Mormons believe that after baptism and confirmation they become literal descendants of Abraham and heirs to his blessings. Everyone else is a gentile. People who do not join the Mormon church lack the spirit of truth and are therefore inferior and to be pitied. This, in fact, has been a major source of conflict between the Mormon church and the rest of the world throughout its relatively short history. From the beginning the Mormons have claimed to have all the truth, to be the only "true" church of God, that all other churches are false and an abomination to God, and that all other churches and governments would eventually fall and be replaced by the Mormon church. The Mormons believe that at Christ's second coming, he will assume the head of the Mormon church, burn the wicked, resurrect the worthy Mormons and stand at their head to rule the earth for 1000 years of peace. At the end of the 1000 years, the rest of the people will be resurrected and judged and assigned their final places in inferior kingdoms of heaven separate from God and Jesus Christ. I'm not sure how much more separate a church can make itself than to condemn all non-members to its version of hell.
I have no doubt that Scientology was a pre-meditated fraud that was consciously designed to exploit modern knowledge of human psychology and thought control. But it seems like the Mormons have adopted and refined similar techniques.

For any Mormons that happen to read this and take offense I have a couple of simple questions.

1) If the Mormon church isn't true, then would you want to know?

2) What evidence would be able to convince you that it isn't true?

If you cannot easily answer those two questions then you are thoroughly brainwashed and should seek help.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

On Sabbatical

I was informed last night that my contract was being terminated immediately. Then a couple of hours later I was told I could work until Friday to tie up loose ends and help ensure a more orderly turnover of my responsibilities. It was nothing I did; the company let go all of its contractors for business reasons. It would have been nice to have more notice, but that's not the way it worked. I knew that this was part of contracting, but this is the first time it has happened.

I still have teaching contracts and some money saved up and several different prospects so everything should be okay. But for the first time in 19 years I don't have full-time employment.

Strangely enough, I'm excited about it. I have several professional projects I've wanted to start but haven't had enough time for. Now I can launch into those nearly full-time as I look for another contract.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

What Would You Ask an Apostle of Jesus Christ?

This just in. Our stake will be sitting at the feet and basking in the glow of Apostle Bednar this coming Sunday. It is supposed to be a question and answer session. We were asked to "prayerfully consider an appropriate question, well suited to a Special Witness of Jesus Christ." I'd actually like to attend. It would be interesting to see what kinds of questions get asked and what kinds of answers they prompt.

My question would be simple:

When science and religion conflict which should we trust, the evidence that can be objectively tested or the dogmatic statements that cannot? For example, the evidence shows the world to be very old and humanity to have existed for more than 100,000 years and strongly contradicts Biblical accounts of a creation 6000 years ago. How can that evidence be harmonized with the doctrines of the Creation and the Fall, which are core doctrines of Christianity?

Some other possibilities:

Why is the church promoting a Constitutional amendment defining marriage in a way that is in conflict with D&C Section 132 and current church practice of allowing men to be sealed to more than one wife at the same time?

Have you seen Jesus Christ? If so, was it in a dream-like, visionary state or whilel fully awake and aware.? If not, what makes you a more special witness of Jesus Christ than other Christians?

Why does the church encourage its members to think for themselves and make their own decisions through personal revelation and then excommunicate them if they are inspired that the church is incorrect and publicly say so? If the church doesn't claim inerrancy, why does it expect members to behave as if the church leaders are infallible?

If the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve have all of the spiritual gifts and powers of the priesthood, including the power of discernment, then why was President Hinckley fooled by Mark Hoffman? I thought that the Lord wouldn't allow the prophet to lead the church astray, but for a while it was defending forgeries that even some prominent anti-Mormons questioned.

What question would you ask?


The questions will be taken live. Here are the guidelines that Mr. Bednar gave for the questions:

Questions should be:

1) Born of the Spirit
2) Prayerful
3) Well suited for an apostle of the Lord

I'm not even sure what the first two mean other than that they should be nice, non-threatening, and not calculated to challenge anyone's precious testimony. I think that that would rule out all of my questions since I've DEFINITELY lost the church's version of the spirit and I'm not very prayerful since I realized I was just talking to myself. I think the last one means I shouldn't ask any questions about fact or reason or anything that smacks of pseud0-intellectualism.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Electricity and the Priesthood

I guess I'm an example of why Mormons shouldn't cast their pearls before swine like me.

The weekly activity announcement from the YM's president ended with the following quote from Boyd Packer:
"Some think that unless a power is visible it cannot be real. I think I can convince you otherwise. Do you remember when you foolishly put your finger in that light socket? While you did not see exactly what happened, surely you felt it! No one has ever seen electricity, not even a scientist with the finest instruments. However, like you they have felt it. And we can see the results of it. We can measure it, control it, and produce light, and heat, and power. No one questions that it is real simply because he cannot see it. Although you cannot see the power of the priesthood, you can feel it, and you can see the results of it. The priesthood can be a guiding and protecting power in your life."

Elder Boyd K. Packer "The Aaronic Priesthood," Ensign, Nov. 1981, 30
I foolishly couldn't resist hitting the reply button. Here is my reply:
Sorry, can't resist here.

So, you're telling me that if I did a scientific study of, for example, priesthood blessings for the sick that I'd be able to statistically measure the effectiveness of priesthood blessings? This is an absurd quote because all studies that I'm aware of show exactly the opposite. They show no effect. He starts out by making a false statement, that scientists "feel" electricity and then draws a false parallel to emotional feelings such as in religious experience. The "feelings" of the scientists are not subjective feelings. They are repeatable measurements used to confirm or falsify theories that are in turn based on the results of many other experiments. Unlike scientific experiments which result in repeatable, falsifiable results, religion relies on subjective feelings that are not repeatable and usually not falsifiable. I can't say that I've ever seen the results of priesthood blessings, although I've certainly had strong feelings surrounding them. But the results are open to interpretation to confirm whatever belief you happen to have.
His reply included a dictionary definition of objective and subjective, some anecodotal experiences that confirm his belief, and some scriptural quotes explaining the principles that govern using priesthood power such as righteousness. His experiences are objective to him and he closed by stating, "It is real. I know it."

My parting shot:
I respect your beliefs. I'll remain skeptical until I see proof beyond anecdotes that can't be confirmed or reproduced. The example you give would have made world news and been published in medical journals if it had happened that could be indepently confirmed. The seemingly miraculous using has a natural rather than supernatural explanation. The natural world is full of surprises.

I'm well aware of the doctrines surrounding the priesthood. My personal experiences have been the opposite. I've never seen priesthood blessings result in anything miraculous despite all of the prerequisites you mention being met. For example, a sister received a blessing from an apostle (Faust) to be healed from a malady and despite the presumed worthiness of the apostle in question and the sister in question and faith on both parts nothing happened. Perhaps it wasn't the Lord's will? The problem with this world view is that your position can never be falsified. If it works, even if it's a one in a million occurrence then it confirms your belief. If it doesn't then it is God's will. You can't lose. This is called confirmation bias: noting what confirms your belief while ignoring everything that contradicts it. This is the problem with anecdote as well. If you try enough, eventually you'll get the desired result. If you are wrong, there is absolutely no way to prove it. This is also known as a position that cannot be falsified. You basically believe it because you believe it and nothing can possibly convince you that it is wrong.

And. You BELIEVE it. I'll accept that you find your beliefs compelling to you. But even scientists don't claim knowledge of the most basic fundamental laws of nature. Everything is provisional and all contrary evidence is considered.

Still, there is a very fundamental difference between the science of electricity and the power of the priesthood. By the definitions you quote, one can be objectively studied. The other is open to subjective interpretation, can't be falsified, and hence can't be objectively studied.

Sorry for the reply. Sometimes I just can't shut up. I don't mean to trivialize or minimize your experiences. I understand that to you they are very real. I just get concerned about the influence that these kinds of quotes have on youth when accepted uncritically and the lack of understanding of science that they betray.
Sigh. I'm ashamed to admit that I used to think like that. I'd never have accepted such sloppy thinking at work, but I regularly used it to justify my beliefs and convince myself that I had the "truth". The fact that it was highly improbably just made it all the more miraculous in my mind.

California or Bust

I'm getting very excited. On Thursday I head from work straight to the airport to fly to San Jose with my wife. We're going to goof off on Friday and then spend Saturday and Sunday at Laguna Seca Raceway near Monterey to watch the MotoGP and AMA Superbike races. We went last year and watched Nicky Hayden win his first ever MotoGP race. This year Nicky is leading the championship and will be looking to repeat his performance from last year. It's a great atmosphere there and I'm hoping for a bunch of great racing.

On Monday I'll be going to the Design Automation Conference in San Francisco and then jetting back home so that I can get back to work on Tuesday. This is a typically hectic vacation, but it should be fun.

Personality Types

A post over on RfM caused me revisit a Meyers-Briggs personality type website. The result was consistent with the past: INTP. Which is the Architect personality type. The description seemed to fit me so well that I got excited wondering what types of applications it might have. It seemed like a lot of the RfM posters responded that they were in the INTP and ENTP types. If the 16 possible types were evenly distributed then you'd expect to find about 6% of the population with each type but a lot of them seemed to fall into iNtuitive and Thinking personality types. Much more than you'd expect.

As I surfed around the web I wound up on Wikipedia (which often happens lately) and read the article on this particular personality type test and also found another article on personality types in general. The bottom line is that academia regards the Meyers-Briggs test and classifications with the same level of respect as horoscopes. They have no supporting data, not good theoretical basis, can't be falsified, and are poor predictors of behavior. In fact, since the 1940s, psychologists have rejected the notion that there are stable personality types or traits. The advent of the personal computer and the ability to use it to mine large quantities of data has changed that. In the last couple of decades further research has led to some agreement on the Big Five personality traits. The Big Five are Openness to to experience, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. I'll propose the acronym OCEAN for them. These seem to be pretty universal personality traits that can be used to predict, in general, how a person will behave.

Just a guess, but I suspect that many Ex-Mormons would score high on Openness to experience and Conscientiousness and relatively low on Extroversion.

Curiously, this also led me back to Scientology. It seems that they use a personality test called the Oxford Capacity Analysis (OCA) which is designed to show that you are mentally defective and require Scientology auditing, at a nominal fee of course. This then led me to Operation Clambake, which is always entertaining and hauntingly familiar. If you are Mormon, then look at that website and then consider how non-Mormons might perceive the Mormon church. In many ways it is every bit as odd as Scientology, just a hundred plus years further down the road.

You can take a quick Big Five personality test. Here's my result:

I'm a O76-C41-E53-A8-N76 Big Five!!

I think that my primary characteristic, and the one that led me out of the Mormon church, is my inquisitiveness. I want to know how everything works. I like to know everything about everything and read a lot. When I was a kid I used to get teased because I actually liked to read the encyclopedia and I loved reading a home medical reference that we owned. I also loved reading histories and historical novels.

If you're an Ex-Mormon, I'm curious about how you scored. You can take the test here.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Hotter Than Blue Blazes

It was 77 degrees at 6:15 this morning. It will be over 100 degrees by late afternoon. Again. Running really sucks in this weather and the combination of heat, a sore hamstring, and general fatigue has resulted in me not getting out and doing much running. It's been a week since my last run and I felt like crap this morning as I plodded around my 4.5 mile loop. On a positive note, my swimming is improving. I swam twice last week and was able to swim 800 m in 30 minutes. I did 400 m of breast stroke and 400 m of crawl. It's getting easier with practice and it seems to be helping my shoulders and hips.

Dieting sucks. Everyone knows that, so no great revelation there. But since losing 35 pounds a couple of years ago I haven't been successful in taking off the next 30. Well, I'm determined to lose it and I've started tracking calories with Dietpower again. But, I'm better at increasing the calories burnt by running than I am at reducing calories eaten and like I just said, I haven't been burning many calories. The result is that I've actually gained weight since I started my diet. Time to buckle down and make sure that I do some cardio every day.

Sneaking Around

After my last post on Friday (July 7), I hopped over to my sister's blog to check up on her adoption. She just got matched with a beautiful girl in Guatemala and had pictures up. I posted a comment on her blog and then mentioned the blog to my wife. She wanted the URL to my sister's blog so I emailed it to her. That was kind of funny because we were five feet apart on different computers. Meanwhile I'm happily surfing the web on my laptop when I look up into the angry face of my wife. She was angry to discover that I have a blog that she didn't know about. I realized she must have found it on my sister's blog so I hopped over there to see if my sister had linked to my blog. Nope. I'd ratted myself out by posting the comment with my blogger id. Duh.

Anyway, I was initially unrepentant about my wife's discovery. I started the blog as a place to anonymously post my thoughts and experiences as a way of venting, expressing my feelings, and working out some of the issues that I have in my life. I'd found other blogs useful and entertaining and figured that my mutterings might be useful to others too. Over time, several in-real-life (IRL) people have discovered my blog including my sister, a couple of friends, and now my wife. But I really didn't intend this to be a forum for sharing cuddly, what's going on with Bull types of stories. I knew that people that I know might be offended by some of the things that I write. I know that many Mormons would find my posts outrageous. I'm pretty sure that my parents would find my recollections of childhood and my upbringing disturbing. Basically, this blog contains some thoughts, feelings, and experiences that I've never felt comfortable sharing with other people. Perhaps it's foolish to put your inner feelings out in a very public forum like the internet, but even though it's public, it's also has an element on anonymity and I have found it nice to be able to put down my feelings and get feedback from whoever stumbles across this blog.

Apparently, my wife read my blog on Sunday and on Sunday evening she did a pretty good job of communicating the cause of her anger to me. And she really nailed a serious personality flaw that I have. The real problem is that I don't, and frankly, often can't express my feelings and fears openly to the people I love and care about. I have so much fear about the potential hurt feelings or potential conflict that I either bottle it up inside or I do things like this blog. I realize that this is pretty weak and cowardly. But it is also the way that life has taught me to cope. It has generally served me well in avoiding the worst of conflicts and avoiding fights, but the problem is that it also causes a distance and lack of true intimacy. It's something I need to be conscious about and work on. But, it will be seriously difficult. I envy people who are able to pour out their souls and let the chips fall where they may. But to me, feelings are dangerous things. Openess leaves me open to being wounded. I feel very exposed sharing my feelings and rather than accept the risks I stay closed.

One of my early posts was about the coffee brewer incident. The discovery of my new coffee brewer was a trigger that upset my wife. But I understand now that the bigger issue was the fact that I'd been drinking coffee for some time and had never told my wife. As I've left the church I've chosen to do things that are harmless to most people, but that are significant to Mormons. I stopped going to church. But I didn't tell my wife that I had decided to stop going and I didn't tell her the reasons. I just started sleeping in. When I started drinking coffee with my breakfast at McDonald's, I didn't share that decision and the conflicted feelings associated with it with my wife. When I first tried a Starbucks latte I didn't share the experience with my wife. I don't share with her the things that I read over on the RfM board or on the ExMo mailing list. I don't share the discussions I have with co-workers and friends about the Mormon church. I don't talk to her at all about religion or my feelings regarding religion. Part of the reason is because I don't think things should matter. But on the other hand, I know that they would matter to her and that these changes are things that she should be aware of.

Obviously, there are reasons why I've not shared. But, it is a troubling sign that our marriage has evolved to this place where we can't discuss these feelings and problems.

Hopefully, I can do a better job and stop sneaking around, get a pair, and start talking more about my feelings and experiences with my wife.

She clipped out a comic yesterday that had a pair of clams. One was saying to the other, "You really need to open up more."

BTW, since she may stop by and read this, Hi. Let's talk more, even if it hurts.

Friday, July 07, 2006

God Is In The Very Fabric of Our Lives

You may recall that I got my family kicked out of my father-in-law's house last month because I skipped church. Well, after our Sunday church skipping my FIL decided to call the family together for a very special family home evening. My wife was worried that it was going to be some morality lecture so she arranged for my son's girlfriend to be sequestered at one her sister's house for the evening to minimize the already considerable embarrassment we felt.

So, with dread we gathered in the family room as my FIL in law began his story. This is the story as well as I can remember it. Art is my FIL and Alice is my MIL.

Many years ago, when they lived in Connecticut, the church called for a Solemn Assembly at the Washington D.C. temple. All the worthy members arranged to make the seven hour drive and many left early so that they could spend the day doing temple ordinances before the assembly. Art and Alice got to the temple early and as they prepared to go in Art was stopped at the door because his temple recommend was expired. This was very strange because he'd just gotten it renewed the previous month. But, as often happens when a new year rolls around, the bishop had filled in the date using the previous year's date instead of the current year. He was careful to point out that not only did the bishop miss the mistake, so did he, and so did the stake president who also signed the recommend. So, even though he'd recently been found worthy to go to the temple he was banned and waited in the temple lobby for a member of his home bishopric or stake presidency to arrive so that a new, correctly dated recommend could be filled out. In the meanwhile Alice went on in to do endowments.

While waiting in the lobby one irritating member of the ward saw him and got a good laugh out of his predicament and made some humourous comment along the lines that he was separated from his wife because he was expired. Okay, it wasn't funny when he told it either, but he thought it was.

After a little while an appropriate leader showed up who was able to correct the recommend problem. This leader normally stopped off at a relative's house on the way to the temple, but by fortuitious coincidence he had missed the turnoff and driven right on by. As a result he arrived at the temple several hours earlier than he would have otherwise. This probably saved Art several hours of additional waiting in the lobby.

He proceeded to the dressing room where he dressed in white, got assigned to be proxy for a dead person, and received a new name "for and on behalf of" that person. As he exited the dressing room to proceed to the next available endowment room he ran into Alice. Another remarkable coincidence.

A large crowd was gathered outside the endowment room, which was a little odd since the room was empty. They went on in and took seats next to each other in the second row on each side of the rope that divided the seats into the male and female halves of the room. At the end of the session the temple workers invited the wedding party to go to the veil first. That explained the crowd. So, they waited along with a group at the back of the room for the rather large party to go through the veil into the celestial room. As they were sitting there peacefully they suddenly heard a very clear voice that said, "For and on behalf of Arthur X. YYYYY (FIL's name), who is dead." It was so clear that Art and Alice nearly hit heads as their heads snapped around to see who had said it. They looked around and couldn't see where it could have possibly come from.

At this point Art and Alice looked at us as if we'd been told something marvelous and miraculous. It was clearly very significant to them. I tried to keep a straight face and tried not to look at anyone else in the room. Out of the corner of my eye I could tell everyone else was doing the same. To their credit, my teenage boys kept their peace and stared at the floor as if something interesting was going on among the carpet fibers at their feet.

I guess the implication was that it was from God, although he really didn't explain. I personally think someone had the audacity to punk him in the temple. He'd basically given a hint in that it could have been the irritating lady from the lobby. Otherwise I'm not sure what the point was of mentioning that particular incident. But he seemed unaware of that possibility and seemed to place great significance on that voice. Of course, if it was from God, why in the world would he waste such an opportunity saying something so meaningless? Or perhaps there is some deep meaning in those words that I can't perceive. Well, it has at least as much meaning and articulation as the rest of the endowment ceremony.

At this point my father concluded by remarking that he'd recently read something in The Church News that said that "God is in the very fabric of our lives." And his story illustrated how clear that that was. God was working everywhere in our lives. The evidence was everywhere.

And that was it. I think he was a little disappointed that we didn't ooh and aah.

I don't know what I've been thinking. The story made it quite clear to me how foolish I've been in rejecting the church. Why, it's so obvious. So many coincidences couldn't possibly be coincidences. They are concrete, irrefutable evidence of the hand of God at work in the minute details of our lives. Or something like that.

After a lifetime of fanatical activity in the church, was this the best evidence he could come up with of spirituality?


Last week I was running 400m intervals at 7:00 min/mile pace. I planned on 8-10 intervals but with about 100m left on the 7th one I could feel my left hamstring start to tighten up and hurt. I pushed on for a few more strides to see if it was really getting ready to let go and stopped as it continued to get worse. Discomfort and soreness are a normal part of exercise and getting in shape. Over time you listen to your body and learn the difference between them and pain. Pain is a different beast and it means that you are doing damage; you are injuring yourself; you are going to have to take time off to heal.

I was a little sore the next day, but I was able to run without pain. But last Sunday I did a 10 mile long run and about 4 miles into the hamstring started to get sore. It didn't get worse and since I was in the middle of a loop I really didn't have any choice but to finish the run. So I slowed down and took frequent walk breaks and finished the run without any drama. Last night was my first run since Sunday and I figured that a 4 day break would have given the muscle time to heal. I headed to the track to do some intervals, but after a 1.5 mile warmup the hamstring was sore again and felt like it was going to pull as soon as I tried to run the first interval. I immediately pulled the plug on the intervals and did a leisurely 6 mile run instead.

It's official: I'm injured. Fortunately, not badly, but I won't be able to do any speed work for a week or two. In the meantime I need to do a little rehabilitation to let the muscle heal. No speedwork, lots of stretching, a good massage, cross training, and good nutrition until the muscle is healed. I've pulled muscles several times and I am fortunate that this is pretty mild. I've done a couple that really hurt badly and took a while to heal.

Why did it happen? Speedwork is very stressful on the body and makes you very prone to injury. Unless you really want to get faster, don't do sprints or speedwork. Just run at a comfortable pace that gets your heart rate in the desired training zone for fitness. I also just started a diet to try to cut 20+ pounds by the end of the summer. So, I was pushing my body hard and depriving it of nutrients at the same time. Probably not a good idea. So, until I'm done losing the weight I'm going to eliminate the speedwork and just focus on easier runs to burn calories.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Monsters of Iniquity

As we were leaving the 4th of July fireworks last night our ears were assaulted by a Christian street preacher with a bull horn. He was from the hell fire and brimstone camp that believes that we must all become convinced of our utter worthlessness and debased nature so that we can come to Jesus and be saved. He had a minion with a large, well-done sign outlining our need to be saved and how to be saved. However, along with being irritating, I wondered in what world his approach works. Here we have a park full of people spending the day together celebrating. I had all my family and had spent the afternoon canoeing, swimming, playing with the dogs, picnicing, and enjoying each other's company. From what I could see, the park was full of families spending peaceful time together. From what I could tell, the environment was friendly, peaceful, and loving. All of this was interrupted by this man screaming over a bull horn, "You are all MONSTERS of INIQUITY. I can tell you that if you continue to reject the Savior you are going to burn in an endless hell." And on and on along the same vein. I'm sure he was very successful.

Given that his recipe for salvation merely requires believing in Christ and accepting him, I'm not sure how that is going to substantially change those people for the better. I'm not sure how it would help me. Especially since my whole family, at some point in time, has met his requirements and I doubt that we are unique. Honestly, I think his whole point is to reinforce his believe that the world is an evil, dangerous place. Our lack of interest in his message merely reinforced that for him. In his mind we are wicked, unrepentant people. Our rejection of him merely confirmed that. It never occurs to him that we aren't the monsters that he believes we are. Given his world view, all the evidence confirms his beliefs.

I'm not sure that it is much different for most people, no matter their beliefs. Our beliefs and prejudices strongly influence our perceptions in a way to reinforce those beliefs. The difference is that his beliefs, like many fundamentalist religious people, are very negative of other people and promote hatred and intolerance.

Musical Generation Gap

When I was growing up my dad loved the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and wore out a set of 8 track tapes that provided an endless loop of their "hits". He's since moved on to Zamfir (?) and really bad country western cowboy songs along with an occassional classical recording.

My parents put all of us kids into piano lessons. Of course, this provided some introduction to classical numbers. My father's interest was that we learn how to play church hymns and he was always wanting our piano teacher to add them to our selections. I was a less than enthusiastic student and had little interest in practice except when I'd get an occassional rock song that I really enjoyed playing. I'd make great progress and really practice on modern songs that I liked and then my progress would stall as soon as my assigned piece reverted to something I found boring.

My mother probably had the most influence on my musical tastes growing up. She'd listen to what I now think of as pop country on the radio. But she didn't listen to rock or mainstream pop music. Once she bought a new stereo for the family and the store threw in a couple of free albums with the deal. She chose a couple of big band records that I really liked. I always liked the music she listened to and still do. Unfortunately, my father seems to control their stereo because I don't perceive any of her influence on the music that is playing when I visit.

My musical tastes have evolved over time and now they can at best be labeled as eclectic. In high school I was introduced to AC/DC when "Back in Black" became a huge hit. I hated it at the time because it just sounded like a lot of screaming and noise. It definitely clashed with the music I'd been raised on. Then I made some friends at church that were members of the Columbia Records club. They regularly bought new albums and got me signed up so I could get free introductory albums for myself and they got free albums for referring me. This opened up a whole new musical world for me and I remained a member through high school, college, and young adulthood.

My initial purchases were guided by my friends. I bought a bunch of AC/DC, Rush, Def Leppard, Van Halen, Styx, Journey, Queen, Scorpions, and other rock groups and the music really meshed with the my angry, rebellious, independent teenage psyche. But I also earned their disdain by purchasing things like Stevie Wonder. The club sent me an album each month so I was kept in the mainstream of popular music.

Over time I got bored with the rock and pop scene and started to explore. I changed my subscription so that I started receiving classical selections. In Minnesota I'd listen to public radio and their music reviews introduced me to classical composers such as Gorecki that I'd have otherwise never have listened to. I'd check classical CDs out of the library and really learned to love the musical genius of Beethoven and Bach.

While I served a Mormon mission in Bolivia I learned to enjoy Spanish music. Later I learned to love the rhythms and lilt of Brazilian music with the samba influence and the beautiful sing song words.

My love affair with music has continued to this day and I continue to explore all of the genres. But the most interesting thing to me is that my sons and I like to listen to the same music. We independently "discovered" Fort Minor and were simultaneously listening to the same album without knowing it. If I find something new, I'll tell my son and he'll download it and usually like it and vice versa. Obviously we don't like everything the other likes, but there is a very large overlap. This leads me to wonder if the generation raised in the 60s and 70s is experiencing a musical generation like I had with my parents or if the music of that era is more similar to the music of today or if we are just more open to exploring different musical genres. Or am I just wierd?

Napster and MP3 players has made this much easier since for a fixed fee we can download all the music we want and if we don't like it we just delete it. No buyer's remorse for us. Just complete freedom to explore an incredibly diverse library of music.