Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Dad, Not a Superhero

Last Sunday was Father's Day. I was among the fathers asked by the Primary to play a game. We went into Primary and were asked to respond to certain questions about ourselves. Our own kids were asked to give what they thought our responses would be. Points were given for correct matches.

I knew I was in trouble when we were asked about our favorite sport. You see, I'm not a sports guy. I have never much cared for sports. My personal athletic misfortunes included one season of football at age eight and three seasons of baseball from ages eight through ten. I was always one of the last kids picked for any athletic game of any kind in elementary school. And frankly, I was OK with that.

After my youthful unhappy sports seasons, I successfully avoided playing sports for many years except when absolutely necessary. When the other boys broke for the gym and the basketballs the moment "Amen" was uttered in the closing prayer at Mutual, I carefully steered clear of the gym and escaped.

Hanging out with kids in the neighborhood was a little bit different. When my friends wanted to play sports, I usually had to play too if I wanted to hang out with them. When the sport was basketball, I usually just sat on the side of the driveway while the other kids played and made shots. On some occasions, I was needed to make the teams even. But even in those cases, nobody really expected me to play and nobody would be so unwise as to throw the ball to me.

Football was different. I could be on the field with the guys without causing much of a problem. I didn't really hinder whichever team was unlucky enough to draw me. And occasionally I surprised everyone (including myself) by being marginally helpful.

Of course, I had to play a variety of sports in junior high and high school physical education classes. In those settings I found kindred spirits that were also athletic misfits. I did what was required, but nobody really expected me to perform at any sport.

Throughout the years I have mostly succeeded in avoiding being a sports spectator. I have not attended an actual professional sports game since going to a few cheap hockey games when I was a kid. Utah had a professional hockey team back in those days and our family somehow ended up with very cheap season tickets one year.

I have attended my kids' soccer and baseball games. But it is well known among my family members that I am not a sports guy. I could live without sports for the rest of my life and still feel happy and fulfilled.

One of the things I want to demonstrate for my kids is honesty. So when I was asked to write down my favorite sport, I had to honestly answer, "None." I was surprised when my daughter guessed that baseball was my favorite sport. I'm not sure she has ever seen me watch a baseball game. She was still very young by the time her older brothers had all wrapped up their very short baseball careers.

Besides, baseball has got to be one of the most boring sports on the face of the earth. The strategies could be mastered by someone with an IQ in the bottom 5th percentile. A full length baseball game lasts for-stinking-ever. Just wake me up when it's over.

I guess it could be worse. We could be watching golf instead.

My son guessed that soccer was my favorite sport. I have been to more soccer games in my lifetime than any other type of sport game. But that's only because my kids have played soccer. If my kids aren't playing, I don't watch soccer. (Or any other sport, for that matter.)

All of the other dads had favorite sports. Some of them really like certain sports and certain teams. I don't know what teams are out there. I don't know who the players are. I'm rarely even certain what 'season' it is. I really couldn't care less about stuff like that.

The rest of the questions were OK. The only other one that tripped me up was my favorite superhero. Every other dad gave the same answer: Superman. I'm not much of a superhero guy either. But I don't much care for Superman. He's an alien with fantastic physical powers. But he has a weakness for a hard-edged chain-smoking woman that ended up saving his wimpy butt in a recent movie.

I picked The Tic for my favorite superhero; although, upon reflection I would rather have selected Mr. Incredible. The Tic is a goofy spoof on superheroes. (I kind of like the quirky humor that was used in the cartoon series.) Mr. Incredible learns to be a better father.

Alas, my kids are stuck with me for their father. I don't do sports and I'm no superhero. But I do try to be a good father. On occasion I actually succeed.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Order of the Arrow Election Difficulties

A few months ago, I was asked by the leadership of my local Boy Scout district to move from the district camping chair position to become the adviser of the local Order of the Arrow chapter. Not to worry. I have served in that position twice previously. Although, it has been a number of years since I last did so.

Upon beginning the position, I discovered that the chapter was in pretty bad shape. Very few new members have been elected in recent years. The boys that have been the most active are growing up and moving on. I could see that we urgently needed to recruit more members.

Of course, I knew how to do this. I had successfully led O.A. recruitment drives for years as a youth and as an adult.

The process of a boy becoming a member of the Order of the Arrow is somewhat drawn out. First, members of the order must visit the boy's scout troop to hold an election. At least half of the troop's registered youth must be present. To be eligible, a boy must:
  • Be active in the troop.
  • Have 15 nights of outdoor scout camping under his belt. (Only one long-term camp may be counted.)
  • Hold at least the First Class rank.
  • Be approved by the scoutmaster.
To be elected, a boy must receive at least half of the votes of those present. Once elected, the boy must go through the order's overnight and full-day induction, known as the Ordeal. Candidates are responsible for the cost of the event and for their own transportation.

The Ordeal is a challenging experience. During the Ordeal, candidates:
  • Sleep alone under the stars (or rain, or whatever the weather is doing) to learn self-reliance.
  • Spend a night and a day in silence to learn the art of meditation.
  • Eat scant food to learn self-denial in the face of trials.
  • Spend a day working at demanding service projects to learn cheerful service.
The event begins and ends with a ceremony where four principles dressed in Native American regalia explain the purpose of the order and ask candidates to commit themselves to a lifetime of cheerfully serving others. In other words, it takes rather significant commitment just to become a member of the order.

One of my first duties was to go to scoutmasters in the district to arrange to come to their troops hold O.A. elections. Having had good success at this in the past, I was somewhat surprised to find this an extremely difficult task. Many scoutmasters have said that they currently have no eligible boys. Others have said that none of their youth are interested.

When I was a boy, I wanted to be in the O.A. so badly that my teeth hurt. I knew lots of other boys that felt the same way. We knew going into it that the induction was challenging, but that made us want to do it all the more.

Times have changed. Youth today have far more potential outlets for their free time than when I was younger. They are not particularly drawn to a fraternal organization that promises lots of hard work. Perhaps this shouldn't be surprising, given the long-term trend toward social disengagement that I discussed in this 2007 post. Fraternal organizations of all stripes are having difficulty recruiting members.

One of the main reasons boys are not eligible for O.A. membership is that they lack enough nights of scout camping. Sometimes this is due to the troop's lousy camping program. But even troops with strong year-round camping programs in our area have few boys that are eligible. Troops hold camp outs, but boys often fail to show up. They've got other things going.

When I was a kid, no one in the troop would ever think of missing a troop camp out. Parents universally gave such events the highest priority. This too has changed. Parents in my area have far less commitment to the scouting program than did parents a generation ago.

Since boys in the 12-13 age range often are not eligible, some have wondered why we don't target the 14-15 age range instead. To put it bluntly, most of these boys in our area are no longer interested in scouting. Scouting is something they did when they were younger. They have passed on. It's kind of like a sixth-grader that still likes to watch Barney and Friends. It's just not cool.

Few registered Varsity Scout units in our district actually run a scouting program. This age group meets every week in the numerous LDS wards in our district, but only a few do any scouting at all. They run their own programs. Few Varsity Scout units are interested in having anything to do with the O.A. Even if one or two boys are interested, the rest of the unit simply isn't interested in holding elections.

I must hasten to add that part of the reason that few scoutmasters are interested in holding elections is that our chapter has for the past couple of years looked like a home for lost boys. The boys that have been most active and that have held leadership positions have seemed to be misfits. Frankly, scoutmasters look at this crew and see nothing that they want their boys to aspire to.

Our recruiting since I became chapter adviser has been beyond pathetic. Only two troops have actually held an election. (Two others have made appointments and then stood us up.) We have elected only three boys. Two of those have declined to attend an Ordeal.

We have two more Ordeals in the fall this year. Our best bet is to catch troops after they return from summer camp. More boys may then be eligible after having camped more nights and earning more advancements at camp.

All I can say for sure is that even holding O.A. elections is proving to be a far more difficult task than it was years ago. I hope we can successfully generate some activity. But realistically, it may take several years to re-build the chapter to a reasonable size.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The LDS Church Calls for a Balanced Approach to Illegal Immigration

Immigration has been a pretty hot topic for the past few years. Almost everyone would agree that the current U.S. immigration system doesn't really work. Our current immigration laws simply aren't based in reality.

Moreover, it seems to me that the strongest voices on the immigration issue, while often opposing each other, work together to prevent the adoption of reality based immigration policies. Plus there are many parties for whom the status quo is satisfactory. They have no interest in achieving rational immigration policies.

Here in Utah, I have watched with interest as some conservatives—many of whom are members of the LDS Church—have come out in strong opposition to recently passed laws that the LDS Church has publicly supported. There has been much quibbling about whether statements issued by the church's PR department should be construed to reflect the will of the Lord, as expressed through revelation to his chosen servants.

The LDS Church has made several statements with respect to Utah's approach to immigration policy. Now the church has released this statement about immigration that goes further in clarifying the church's stance on the matter than any previous statement. It is more of a general policy and does not directly comment on Utah's immigration policies.

When I first read this KSL article about the church's recent statement, I came away with the sense that the church had rebuked those that have strongly opposed illegal immigration. Reading the actual statement left me with a different feeling.

The statement, it seems to me, offers a rather balanced approach. Central to the statement is a reminder of the chief principle guiding the church's approach to immigration. "The bedrock moral issue for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is how we treat each other as children of God."

Maybe if everyone involved took this principle as the main immigration policy guideline, it would be easier to find workable solutions to the problem. But care and concern are not synonymous with molly-coddling. The church promotes personal responsibility with the following statement:
"As a matter of policy, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints discourages its members from entering any country without legal documentation, and from deliberately overstaying legal travel visas."
The church makes it clear that the federal government is chiefly responsible both for our failed immigration policy as well as for solving the problem. The unchecked inflow of undocumented immigrants "may destabilize society and ultimately become unsustainable." That's a fairly strong warning.

The church goes on to say that "this issue is one that must ultimately be resolved by the federal government." Moreover, the church says that "the federal government of the United States should secure its borders and sharply reduce or eliminate the flow of undocumented immigrants." This does not sound like the do-nothing approach supported by some immigration advocates.

While advocating secure borders, the church asks for a far less stringent approach to "the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants now residing in various states within the United States." The church is opposed to "mass expulsion or mistreatment of individuals or families." In fact, any policy that targets "any one group, particularly if that group comes mostly from one heritage" should be avoided.

This brings to mind the church's own history of having its members forcefully (or under threat of force) expelled from locations in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois in the mid-1800s. Perhaps Latter-Day Saints should be among the foremost to advocate against anything that might even smack of similar treatment of others.

What to do with the undocumented immigrants currently in the U.S. is a difficult question. It is not feasible—nor do I think it should be considered desirable—to forcefully expel them from the country. The church believes that they should be "allowed to square themselves with the law and continue to work without this necessarily leading to citizenship."

There is a very vocal core for whom any "amnesty" program that allows illegal immigrants to "square themselves with the law" is anathema. In their thinking, such approaches threaten our national sovereignty and simply invite more illegal behavior. I get the sense that nothing short of expulsion or execution of illegal immigrants will suffice for some people.

While some of those that advocate for this position are vocal, they are known to be in the minority. They lack sufficient political clout to bring their desires to fruition. They do have enough power, however, to stymie progress toward feasible solutions. This plays right into the hands of those that prefer to keep things as they currently are.

The church openly opposes enforcement-only policies that fail to take a balanced approach to illegal immigration. In the eyes of the church, a balanced approach includes:
  • Compassion.
  • Reverence for the family.
  • Commitment to law.
Some illegal immigration opponents assert that not sending illegals back to their countries of origin is more likely to keep their families separated than allowing them to stay in the U.S., since many leave their families to come and work in the U.S. They conveniently ignore the millions of families in the U.S. that have one or more undocumented immigrants among their members.

As I said above, "commitment to the law" for some folks has only one possible approach when it comes to illegals: they must leave the country. The sooner the better.

After reading and considering the church's eight-paragraph statement on immigration, I see the church advocating for a reasonably balanced approach to a very difficult problem. The most strident voices on both sides of the issue are going to have trouble with the church's stance.

For some the statement will fall short of securing citizenship or something like it for the millions of undocumented immigrants currently in the country. Even if the U.S. comes up with a program that allows these people to become legal residents, political reality dictates that it will undoubtedly be a somewhat challenging process. Since many will be unable or unwilling to navigate that process, a large number of illegal immigrants will remain in the country.

For others the church's statement will seem tantamount to treason. Period.

Are there enough reasonable people in the country that are willing to make the necessary compromises to work toward a compassionate, lawful, and balanced solution to this complex and controversial issue? Sadly, I lack the confidence to answer yes to that question.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Why Does Deseret Book Sell Addictive Emotional Porn?

Despite denials from some quadrants, the problems caused by pornography addiction are clear and well documented. It damages one’s ability to properly engage in normal human associations, especially intimate relationships. People become objects that are valued mainly for their appeal to carnal desires. Pornography’s effect on brain chemistry is similar to taking addictive drugs. Its use is frequently accompanied by an artificial high-low (mania-depression) cycle.

Visual porn is broadly recognized. Its appeal to and effect on males has been known and exploited for millennia. But what about emotional porn? What about porn that appeals to females? This KSL article notes that romance novels can become more than a casual escape for women. They can be as addictive for women as visual porn is for men.

Romance novels include “entrancing but distorted messages” about human relationships. The article says that “there are similarities between what happens to a man when he views pornography and what happens to a woman when she reads a romance novel.” The article says:
“Men are very visual, and viewing pornography produces a euphoric drug in the body. This drug is the reason pornography becomes addictive. When the natural high wears off, a man will crash and feel depressed (as happens with any drug) and crave another hit.

“Women are more stimulated by romance than sex, so when they read romantic stories (and they don’t have to be explicit to work) they can experience the same addicting chemical release as men do.”
It has long been known that visual porn causes men to become dissatisfied with their real relationships because no actual relationship can live up to the false fantasy world in which they immerse themselves. No real partner lives and breathes to satisfy one’s lusts without demanding much. Rarely does a real partner look as visually enticing as do surgically and graphically enhanced porn models.

Emotional porn works in a similar fashion for women. The article says, “Women may find their standard for intimacy begins to change over time because [they] may not be able to get as satisfied with their partners as they can reading a book.” Taking another euphoric hit from a book beats the humdrum reality of everyday relationship building.

This issue raises a question in my head. Every couple of months we get a catalog from Deseret Book in the mail. Deseret Book is owned by Deseret Management Corp., which in turn is fully owned by the LDS Church. Each issue of the catalog is filled with numerous romance novel offerings. Perhaps it’s my own perception, but it seems to me that these offerings have proliferated like crazy over the past couple of decades.

The romance novels sold at Deseret Book usually feature some kind of LDS or religious perspective that is absent in mainstream romance novels. But the fact of the matter is that these religious-ized novels follow the same basic tried and true romance fiction recipe that can’t help but distort human relationships. It’s what this genre of literature is designed to do—it’s prime directive, as it were. People wouldn't read it if it merely portrayed reality.

As the KSL article states, a romance novel doesn’t have to be explicit or erotic to be harmful. So I have to ask why Deseret Book carries so many of these books—emotional porn with a religious theme. DB would never sell visual porn even religious messages mixed in. So why does DB sell emotional porn?

I assumed that religiously themed romance novels must make up a huge percentage of DB’s profit, given the amount of catalog space continually devoted to such books. But when I last visited DB’s home page, no romance novels were among the chain’s top ten best sellers. In fact, no fiction works were among that group. The fiction page had five romance novels among its top ten list with four of them being the top four, but there is no accounting for how much these books generate in sales or profit.

I have to admit that I am somewhat romance story impaired. Maybe that’s natural for guys. Back in the days before the LDS historical novel genre exploded, I mentioned to a neighbor that I had enjoyed reading one of the few such works available at that time. She enthusiastically insisted that I read a LDS historical novel she owned of which I had never heard.

It didn’t take me long to realize that the book was only loosely historical. It was the bizarre story of a fictional pioneer girl that married a temporarily reformed jerk to spite her true love pure Mormon boy after he left her to march off with the Mormon Battalion upon assignment from church leaders. The jerk later dumps the girl and she ends up marrying her true love when he returns from his service. Frankly, I wanted to vomit.

Perhaps this book is a poor sampling of the romance genre, since it was written by a guy. However, my neighbor, who was quite a romance aficionado vouched for the book’s quality. So I can only assume that it is somewhat representative of the LDS romance ‘literature’ that is out there.

I am certain that many readily defend the reading of romance novels. It’s just a brief escape. Only a few abusers are addicts. It’s not harming anyone. I can quit anytime I want. And as far as LDS romance novels, they always have a good moral basis. That makes them worth reading, doesn’t it? Sure, and mood altering drugs are always healthy as long as you have a doctor’s prescription. (sarcasm)

The reality is that pornography takes a toll on its users, regardless of whether the content is erotic visual material, blood and gore movies and video games, or emotionally engaging but distorted fiction. What seems like a harmless diversion can quickly snare us in a cycle of addiction and can ruin our ability to function properly in life's most important real relationships.

It is wise to avoid all addictive substances and behaviors. It might be good for church owned retailers to refrain from selling addictive substances, including emotionally addictive fiction. After all, we as a society don’t have much regard for pushers, even if demand for their wares is high.

Help is available for those that are already addicted. But a key ingredient to healing is a firm personal desire to overcome the addiction. This presupposes recognizing that one has a problem that needs to be corrected. Many that enjoy their addictions aren’t at this stage yet.

For those not addicted to any of these things, why start in the first place?