Archive for the ‘purpose’ Category

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On this day of reflection, I think of my father, his father, my mother’s father, my son’s father, the fathers of my nephews and nieces, and the many men and women who have taken on fatherly roles in my life, my son’s life, and the lives of my friends and loved ones. It is an especially poignant Father’s Day for me, as it is the first Father’s Day in which I do not include a “Heavenly” father in my list. It is also the first Father’s Day in which the belief in traditional gender roles has unraveled before my eyes.

According to the religion of my birth and the traditional expectations in place for fathers, it is the purpose of a man to be a provider and a protector for his children. This tradition is a strong one that falls back on the natural physical strength provided men by their biology. Testosterone drives the sexual dimorphism, building physique and inciting aggression. Men were designed by nature to fulfill the roles of protector and provider, but Father’s Day is about far more than honoring the results of sexual selection.

Father’s Day is a time to honor those who go above and beyond. It is a time to recognize those who’ve provided guidance and direction to their children and the rising generation. It is a day for reminiscing on quality time, bonding moments, and fond memories. There are many men in the world who neglect their familial obligations and fail to make the selfless sacrifices that build lasting relationships with their children and pupils. There are many men who abuse the natural power granted them by their physical advantages over the weaker sex. As a result, many do not have quality time, bonding moments, or fond memories with their biological fathers on which to reminisce. Many have painful memories and lost opportunities that retract from the joy meant to be shared on this day of honor.

According to the religion of my birth, the ideal conditions for a child are to be raised in a home with a father and mother fulfilling their traditional, gender-specific roles. But there are many homes that break such tradition. There are homes in which the roles are swapped, dual income homes, single parent homes. There are children raised by multiple families due to divorce and remarriage, children raised by grandparents, children raised by adoptive or foster parents, by aunts, uncles, or older siblings, and countless children in orphan homes or marked as “wards of the state” who have nobody fulfilling a parental role. There are children with two mothers or two fathers, and there are children who’ve lost parents through death, divorce, abuse, or indifference.

Countless children are raised in conditions far from the “ideal”, and despite what religious leaders would have their followers believe, this is hardly a new trend. Non-traditional families have been a part of society for quite some time, and children raised in these non-ideal homes are still turning out okay. While not every child will have a traditional father to honor on this day, most have at least one person who has stepped in to fulfill the roles of provider, protector, teacher, and guide. Most have at least one person they can look up to and express gratitude to for their involvement and influence on their upbringing.

And so, why insist on maintaining tradition? Why insist on an “ideal”? This incessant need to provide a mold for the perfect father causes more harm than it does good. It hurts the self-image of men and women who DO step above and beyond expectations to fulfill fatherly roles for the children who fall under their wing, by birth or circumstance. It creates division between those who’ve been “blessed” with an ideal family and those who have not. It causes those children without good memories of a traditional father to feel left out and often fall into depression on what should be a happy occasion.

It is on this day that we honor the ROLE of father, and not necessarily the men who fit the “ideal”. Because, in reality, there is no ideal. There is no mold. There are those of good, strong, moral character whom we choose to honor for playing an important role in our lives. What matters is who has personally helped shape, guide, and direct YOUR path, whatever the circumstances. And so, on this day, I would like to honor all those who have provided for me and my son. I would like to honor all those who have protected me and my son. I reflect on all the memories I now cherish of those who have guided me, taught me, and helped shape me into the person I am today. You are ALL my “Father”, and you make this world a brighter place.

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Baby Blues

Perspective is a fascinating concept. Something heavily reliant on the tangible and yet impossible to grasp. We collect information about our physical, mental, emotional, and social surroundings through the use of our senses, reason, and intuition. Then, this information is gathered together with the vast processing powers of our minds and interpreted. This interpretation provides us with our general sense of our selves, our understanding of our place in this world, and an indication of the direction we are going in relation to all that we have observed and with which we have interacted.

Because our perspective is so readily dependent on input, it can be easily guided through such things as censorship. In some cases, it may even be necessary to use a metaphorical set of blinders in order to block out unwanted information, so that an individual can remain focused on a desired goal without distraction. When we know our destination lay at the end of a “straight and narrow” path, and we know the surroundings to be filled with such sights, sounds, and smells that might deter us or cause us to veer off course, we will consciously choose to ignore those distractions, put on our blinders, and accept only that information which keeps us steadily plotting ahead, striving to reach the light at the end of our tunnel.

This self-censorship is very typical of the religious and is construed as having an “eternal perspective”. From birth to death, believers of all faiths are given the guidelines that will steer them clear of distractions and keep them plodding forward. In the Mormon faith, for example, believers are told that they must “hold to the iron rod” while walking through the fog of life, as this rod (the gospel) will lead them through their struggles until they reach their desired end – a tree bearing fruit more wonderful than anything they could ever taste; “the pure love of Christ”. Each step on the path is plotted and charted carefully: from nursery to primary, cub scouts to Aaronic Priesthood, Eagle Scout to Melchizedek Priesthood, mission to temple, wedding to family, genealogy to proxy work, church service and callings to enduring to the end…

No matter how tightly one adheres to this path, however, small smidgens of information find their way past the carefully placed blinders. A rock in the road, a branch in the path, a trip over a root… The ever dreaded distractions striving to convince believers to let go their rod, and take a look around. Tempting as these little appetizers may seem, when one is determined to maintain their “eternal perspective”, it becomes second nature to ignore.. and keep trudging forward. But to what end? What exactly are these believers striving for? What is it about this censored perspective that makes it “eternal”?

Those born into a believing home are taught early to follow in the footsteps of their parents. They are told of a life beyond this life, a life in which some great all-powerful being has prepared a heavenly reward. In Christian faiths, this deity created our world as a testing ground for us, the lucky conglomeration of atoms that happened to have been formed in His image, as it pleased Him, and given free-will to think and choose for ourselves. Mortality is only a temporary “fallen” state in which we are to exercise that ability as we see fit, and when we die we will face punishment for poor choices, mercy and forgiveness for repentance, and rewards for our good deeds. In this “eternal perspective”, the “blinders” keep us honest, true, faithful, and loyal so that we may capitalize on the potential blessings our creator has planned for His most faithful followers and worshipers.

The eternal perspective is described as one of progress. It is a perspective which encourages individuals to “keep on keeping on” when times become difficult. It is a perspective which requires individuals to think of every action, every thought, every word, every deed or misdeed in relation to eternity. It is a perspective which makes light of physical pain, turmoil and suffering, because it is only a temporary ordeal that (if endured well) will strengthen individual spirits and prove their worth in the eyes of their divine creator.

But it is a faulty perspective.

What is so interesting about perspective, is that it can not only be easily guided and directed, but easily changed. When the self-imposed blinders are removed, a whole world of information comes flooding in. As promised, it can be distracting and overwhelming. Even terrifying. Someone brought up to willfully put up blinders and ignore anything that doesn’t steer them down their predetermined path will be ill prepared for processing the wealth of sensory input available. Given time though, it is possible to adjust. Given guidance, it is possible to learn strategies for filtering through the information – determining what is useful, what is faulty, what is important, what is unimportant, what is reliable, what is applicable… what is TRUE.

Following a narrow perspective with a singular focus is dangerous. It is dangerous because it can be so easily disturbed, so easily spun on it’s axis, so easily turned upside down. When an individual spends their entire life focused on a narrow path with a narrow goal, when something comes along from the “blind zone” and forces an altered view, that individual is not prepared to deal with the shock. They may utterly reject the altered perspective because it is too overwhelming, readjust their course, and continue on, choosing to ignore the resultant trauma and pretend it never happened. But this still leaves them unprepared for any future interruptions, and now their foundation is shaky, leaving them vulnerable.

The eternal perspective, supposedly, provides followers with “the big picture”. It takes all the many ordeals of life, all its challenges, all its struggles, and gives it structure. A story. A plot. A purpose. It is supposed to be a wide and all-encompassing view that takes all that we see and feel and interpret, and places it on a grand canvas in a glorious scheme designed for our benefit. But in practice, all this perspective does is force followers onto a predetermined course, funnel them down a predestined chute, and force them through a prefixed set of standard motions. It is faulty because it fails in providing a “true” interpretation of the vast wealth of information available to our senses.

It is utterly impossible to see and understand the promised “big picture” while wearing blinders that keep you trudging down a narrow tunnel, just waiting to reach the light at the “end”. Those determined to defend their narrow perspective have even gone so far as to claim that it is impossible for us “mere mortals” to comprehend the “big picture” at all, because our mortality necessitates this narrow view, and we will never in this life be capable of perceiving all that “God” perceives. When encouraged to remove their blinders and consider those evidences which would provide great insights into the questions they claim unanswerable, they thrust any and all such confounding information aside under the premise that it will all make sense “in the end”, when the “veil” is removed and we see the world as God sees it.

But it is possible to experience life without blinders. WITHOUT a “veil”. WITHOUT following a narrow course. It is possible to engage with all our senses, to explore all the sights, sounds, smells, textures… and learn to filter and process the wealth of information at our fingertips WITHOUT insisting on maintaining tunnel vision. And it is only in this manner that our perspective truly becomes “eternal”.

We need to start as babes. We need to teach our children that instead of curbing passions and conforming to a rigid standard, they should be sating their curiosity and exploring to their heart’s content. They should be learning how to “perceive” their world from MULTIPLE angles. Expand on their creativity. Encourage their inquisitive minds. Expound on their sensory play. When our children are given opportunity to question and inquire, they will be better prepared to process all the many experiences life will toss their way.

Those things which were supposed distractions will become mere pieces in the puzzle of life. Those things previously perceived as stumbling blocks on the path toward “eternal life” will become mere curiosities to be unraveled with rigorous inquiry. Those “appetizers” of information will become building blocks of discovery. Rather than assuming we know all we “need” to know and that all further answers to life’s questions will be provided at some undisclosed “hereafter”, we can be inspired to dig, expound, and improve on that which we can perceive and thus understand.

There is little progress in a perspective that remains rigid and unchanging, for such is the perspective of one who fails to explore. We are expanded – mind, body, and soul – when we seize the opportunities to alter our perspective. When we seek to alter our perceptions. When we change up the pace. When we strive to obtain the as-yet unobtained input. Every time we take a moment to change our perspective, we learn something new, and THAT is progress.

It’s hard to look upon a carefree child and not feel a sense of awe and inspiration. Every babe born into this world is a clean slate of trust, hope, and optimism. To look upon a baby’s smile, to hear a child laugh… it strikes a chord deep in the soul, and I don’t think there’s ever been a single person who did not wish they could somehow preserve such pure innocence. Perhaps the knowledge that it is only temporary is what makes it so beautiful, for that which is fleeting has value beyond measure.

As parents, while we certainly hope to prepare our offspring for the hardships of the world, I think we each hold tightly to a secret fantasy. A fantasy in which our children need no preparation, no protection, no preservation. A fantasy in which the pure joy of innocent laughter and untainted smiles lives on forever, never to be tainted or damaged by the toils and turmoil of struggle and suffering. In our subconscious efforts to make this fantasy a reality, we spin tales of wonder and excitement, and we revel in the sweet trust our children place in the hopeful stories of our youth.

Magical kingdoms of fairies. Hidden societies of gnomes, leprechauns, or “little people”. Mystical unicorns. Myths and fables which light up the imagination and bring a sparkle of joy to eyes so full of wonder and curiosity. Eventually though, the fairy tales always fall apart. Innocence is lost as children gain experience and come to face reality. Their brains develop with astounding intelligence, and with critical thinking skills honed for discovery, they begin to find the faults in the stories. Probably one of the most memorable and cherished stories to which nearly every child clings is that of Santa Claus, jolly ole Saint Nick, the loving, caring and affable man in the big red suit.

Our children start noticing inconsistencies and asking questions. Parents, often, cannot stand the thought of losing the joy and wonder that blessed previous Christmas celebrations, as their child lit up with excitement to discover the presents delivered magically under their tree on Christmas morning. Instead of encouraging this critical development and taking the opportunity to teach their children how to employ those thinking skills, parents lie and continue to fabricate the fairy tale, now spinning a web of deceit and even mistrust.

How does Santa get into the homes of children with no chimney? How does Santa reach all the children in the world in one night? How does Santa know who’s been naughty or nice? How does Santa know what toy every little girl and boy wants? How does Santa get into and out of the house unseen? How does Santa make all the toys? Why do all the Santa’s we see at parties or malls or supermarkets look different? Why does Santa’s handwriting on my present look like my mothers? Why were the presents from Santa hidden in my parent’s bedroom closet a week before Christmas? Why did I see my father putting presents under the tree, and not Santa? Has anyone ever seen the “real” Santa?

The questions build and build without end, as the puzzle becomes harder and harder for those amazingly intelligent children to piece together. Some children realize the problem quickly and give up the hope, give up the magic. Others have a much harder time letting go. They put their imaginations to use, thinking up more and more convoluted scenarios that explain away all the inconsistencies and allow them to cling to their belief. Some even go so far as to declare that while it may be impossible to understand, while there may be glaringly obvious evidences to the contrary, as long as they believed … Santa would still be real. There would still be hope. There would still be magic. There would still be that impossibly loving and mystical man who brought presents to all the good little girls and boys every year. As long as they believed…

It is my thought that all of us; man, woman, and child; cling to our beliefs in the unknown, the immeasurable, the fantastical, because we are in denial. We do not want to face the hardships of reality, because we do not feel ourselves capable of bearing the pain. Reality is often cruel and unkind. Reality contains stories of horror, sorrow, and incomprehensible suffering. Reality contains illness and disease, handicaps and imperfections, accidents and miscalculations, murders and war, loss and death. We cling to the magic, to the hope, to the belief, because the pain of life is so often unbearable.

But we do ourselves a disservice in thinking so. For while reality is often a struggle, it also brings with it great joys, and those joys often cannot be fully realized without letting go of the delusions of the heart. We waste effort and energy in clinging to fantasies that provide a sort of protective barrier from the physical and mental turmoils of life, because it is only when we embrace reality that we can begin to solve the very problems that plague our existence. When we allow ourselves to accept the logical conclusions, to trust our own minds, to follow the evidences provided by our senses, experiences, intuition, and critical intelligence, we prepare ourselves not only to face reality, but to CHANGE it.

When we waste time and energy believing in a higher power that will somehow solve all our problems for us, we fail to take that power into our own hands. Those brains so capable of spinning fantasies and fairy tales are capable of immense creativity and innovation, and it is because of that amazing capacity for critical thought, for problem solving, and for imagination that we as a species have been able to go from localized hunting and gathering communities struggling for each meal to living and breathing societies connected around the globe and improving the QUALITY of life for countless individuals.

When we see and accept the problems we face instead of hiding from them, we can begin creating solutions. While innocence may not last forever, ingenuity is a gift for the future. While the pure gaze from the untainted eyes of a newborn babe may be fleeting, his potential is ever lasting and even exponentially increasing into the infinite expanses of possibility. In a very short time, our species has evolved the ability to conquer lands, oceans, and stars. Our creativity knows no bounds, and we can be always believing in a brighter and more glorious tomorrow.

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Prayer is an essential part of the life of a Christian. It is seen as an opportunity to communicate with our maker, our creator God, our Heavenly Father. For some, prayer comes easy. My younger brother, for example, always has words that flow freely when he bows his head in prayer, and he is always so selfless. Always thinking of others. Always asking for blessings for the sick, the elderly, the missionaries… He thinks of everyone who’s crossed his path and asks for blessings for them by name. His prayers are wonderful and heartfelt.

For me, prayer was more difficult. While I had a wonderful imagination, it was difficult to “talk” to someone I couldn’t see, and it was even more difficult to think of what to talk to him about. He was God. Which meant He watched over me everyday. He knew my struggles, he knew my accomplishments. He knew my sorrows and pains, and he knew my joys and goals. He knew my thoughts and dreams. He knew me better than I knew myself… So what was the point?

I struggled so much with prayer, and when I struggle with something it becomes a puzzle. A challenge to be overcome. So studying and understanding the purpose of prayer, how best to pray, etc became a kind of obsession. I came to understand that prayer was more for our own benefit than it was for God’s. While he already knew what we went through every day, he wanted to hear from us, and sharing with him would give us an opportunity to express gratitude and look upon our day with introspection. Essentially, it was a form of meditation.

I came to understand the benefit of taking time out of a busy life to turn inward. To reflect on my *self*. To dialogue my experiences, my challenges, and my plans. To visualize my success. To verbally acknowledge my mistakes. And yet… I still struggled with the concept of telling all this to “God”. I had trouble framing my meditation into the form of a prayer, picturing myself speaking with someone and sharing my innermost thoughts (even though God already knew them). So my journey of understanding continued as I strove to piece together the puzzle.

The next piece was one I really struggled to wrap my head around. Prayer is seen as an opportunity to ask for blessings. While God delights to bless His children, some blessings have specific requirements we must meet before He can dish them out to us, and one of those basic requirements is to ask Him. Of course, getting any kind of divine intervention isn’t easy. It needs to be a humble request. A righteous request. It has to be something God already desires to give us and is just waiting for us to ask Him. It needs to be something that will be for our greater benefit. It needs to be something we’ve struggled to obtain on our own and we just need a little something “more” to get it.

The story of “Where the Red Fern Grows” provided a wonderful example I really related to as a child. The protagonist in the story was a young boy who wanted a pair of hounds. His family did not have much and could not afford to get him a dog. He prayed and prayed and prayed, and felt like his prayers weren’t being answered. He spoke with his grandfather about his disappointment, and his grandfather told him that he needed to do his part to meet God halfway if he really wanted his prayer to be answered. After thinking about it, the boy determined that his part in meeting God halfway was to earn the money that would pay for the hounds, and God’s part was to provide the dogs.

So, this boy set to work. He took every job a boy his age could work and he ran himself ragged, until one day an add for a pair of red bone pups came up in the paper, and he asked his grandfather to take his money to order them. He got his dogs. I saw this story as an inspiration and felt that I should treat prayer likewise. When there was something I desired so badly that I would do anything to obtain it, I had to push and work and struggle to do everything in my power to earn it, pray, and God would do his part to see it was provided.

There weren’t many things in life I really wanted that badly. I can think of only three specific examples in my life where prayer like this came into play. The first was while I was rather young. I’d constructed a diorama for a school project and spent an enormous amount of time into seeing that it was the best I could make it. When it came time to bring it to school, it was pouring down rain and that rain would ruin my project if I stepped out of the car to bring it into the school. On the ride there, I prayed my heart out for the Lord to see to it that the rain would stop, at least long enough for me to get my project into the building, because I’d done everything I could do and the only way my project would remain intact was if that rain stopped. Well, that rain stopped when we pulled up, and I ran inside, and when the school door shut, it started pouring down rain again.

In example number two, I wanted nothing more than to attend my college of choice and pursue a degree in veterinary medicine. I knew my parents could not afford to pay for my schooling, and I knew I did not have any particular sporting or other extracurricular talents that would get me scholarships. What I did have was book smarts. So I worked my butt off to get straight A’s in high school completing higher level courses and AP classes so that I would have an excellent academic record. I then applied for every scholarship I could find. I wrote essay after essay. Filled out survey after survey. And I prayed and prayed. I received a full-ride scholarship to my college of choice.

The final example did not have a happy ending. During my third year of college, I met and fell in love with who I thought was “the one”. He reeled me in, however, with manipulation until I was wrapped around his finger, and he started becoming very physically abusive. Completely submissive to his control, we married and I became pregnant. When I was approximately five months along in the pregnancy, he had a severe tooth infection that woke him in the middle of the night in screaming pain and agony. He asked me to pray with him for God to take his pain away so that he could get some sleep before we saw the dentist in the morning.

I felt that we’d done everything in our power to relieve his pain. We’d already been to a doctor, been given an antibiotic and pain medication. Certainly God would answer our prayer and take the pain away. So, we prayed together and nothing happened. My husband became irate and insisted that either God was not there or He did not love him. I insisted that that was not true, that sometimes the answer to a prayer is “no”, and that if He wasn’t taking away the pain it was for a good reason. I defended God and refused to deny Him, and in return my husband became furious for disagreeing with him. He beat me, bit me, punched me, slapped me, and choked me in his fury.

For a long time, I held on to that experience as a testimony building experience. I clung to my faith and the fact that I’d defended God in the midst of adversity as a kind of badge of honor. I felt that despite what I’d suffered, I’d felt His spirit comforting me. Little did I know that my experiences with prayer could all be easily explained.. without God.

The first was mere coincidence. It happens. It really does. Must we attribute a superstitious explanation to every coincidence in our lives? The second was the result of my own hard work and determination, no divine intervention necessary. And the third – well the third was nothing. I suffered a beating because there was no loving God there to hear my plea.

As I started thinking about the claims of prayer more critically, I realized that there are far more unanswered prayers than answered. And many of the “answered” prayers are over trivial nonsense.

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I was thanking God for stopping the rain to save my diorama. And I was thanking God for helping me get a full-ride scholarship to college. Meanwhile, millions of children around the world were dying from starvation. Thousands of women were being beaten by their husbands. Hundreds of transgender and homosexual teens were being disowned by their families and left on the streets. What about their prayers? Was a desire to eat not more righteous than my desire to keep my school project intact? Was a desire for the violence to stop not more righteous than my desire for a free education? Was a desire to be loved for who you are and accepted by your family not more righteous than my husbands desire for a night’s rest without pain?

Why does God pick and choose so haphazardly who he answers? Why are His blessings so random? Why isn’t the influence of his intervention greater than that of scientific advancements in medicine and technology? Why can’t he heal amputees? Why doesn’t he stop rape? Why doesn’t he stop murder? Why doesn’t he intervene when a helpless child is sold into sexual slavery? Why?

I dug deep looking for answers to these questions after suffering the turmoil of an abusive marriage. Surely, somehow, someway, something would make it all make sense. Surely the loving image of a Father in Heaven desiring to bless his children wasn’t a lie. In scripture, I found claims that God permits evil and suffering to exist for a “greater purpose”. I found that His desire for us to have and exercise our free will trumped his desire to intervene when one of his children was suffering. I found that all of the pain we endure is supposedly “nothing” compared to the pain Christ endured in our stead. And I found that all our experiences are meant to make us stronger, more loving, more compassionate, and will be “for our good”. I found comfort in these answers… until I really took the time to analyze them with an example.

Pretend for a moment that you are God. You have more power than can possibly be imagined. You are omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. YOUR daughter’s boyfriend has just forced himself on her. She refused his advances and asked him to go home. In response, he slapped her, grabbed her by the hair and thrust her onto the bed. When she moved to rise, he slapped her again grabbed her wrists to pin her to the bed and started to remove her clothing. When she screamed, he covered her mouth and nose so that her eyes went wide with the effort to gasp in air and he cursed her out for wearing such suggestive clothing, for getting him all worked up and then telling him “no”. He then proceeds to undress and rape her.

As he does so, your terrified daughter is praying for someone to hear what is happening, to open her bedroom door and come in and save her. You could intervene. You’re all powerful. You helped one of your other children find their car keys that morning. You saved little Billy from getting hit by a car that afternoon. You helped another child remember all she’d studied so she could do well on her test. But not this time… This time you watch, and you cry. Because you won’t interfere with free will. Even though you “could”. You won’t.

Now tell me. What “purpose” could this rape possibly serve? Don’t you DARE belittle this girl’s pain and call it “nothing”. Don’t you DARE suggest it will “make her stronger”. Don’t you DARE…

Any sane, loving human witnessing a rape would tear that man off that girl and kick his ass. So why doesn’t God? There are countless, COUNTLESS atrocities that are transpired by evil men, and God sits back and does NOTHING. That is NOT a loving God. If he can help find car keys, he can stop a rape. But he chooses not to. The only plausible explanation is that He simply does not exist. And that makes it so much easier to explain –

No need to excuse these atrocities as part of some higher purpose, as part of some greater plan. No need to suggest that somehow it will all be made right “in the end”. No need to imply that the very real and horrible pain and suffering people endure is minute and unimportant. When you remove God from the equation, it becomes far easier to take a stand and say these deeds are WRONG. The pain is REAL. And we will do everything in our power to right those wrongs, to lift up those who suffer, and make the world a better place.