Friday, December 19, 2014

The Friday Four, Part 97

~1~

You know the Milgram experiment?  This was back in 1961, shortly after Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann's trial started in Jerusalem.  Test subjects were instructed to push a button that delivered an electric shock to someone else - someone they couldn't see - when they answered a question incorrectly.  It wasn't a real electric shock, but the subjects didn't know that.  They were also told that the shocks increased in strength with each incorrect answer.  As the experiment went on, most test subjects continued pushing the button, despite screams of pain and pleas for them to stop from the other person.  They followed the orders of the experimenter to continue even when they didn't want to, even when they believed they were causing another human being extreme pain, possibly to the point of death.

Pretty disturbing implications there on humans' willingness to follow orders from authority figures, even when they contradict our individual consciences.  Obedience is not always a virtue.

Earlier this year a study was published in the Journal of Personality that looked at this concept in terms of individuals' personality traits
Those who are described as "agreeable, conscientious personalities" are more likely to follow orders and deliver electric shocks that they believe can harm innocent people, while "more contrarian, less agreeable personalities" are more likely to refuse to hurt others...
Kenneth Worthy links this to willingness to make choices that are against the societal norm but less harmful to the environment.
The irony is that a personality disposition normally seen as antisocial—disagreeableness—may actually be linked to “prosocial” behavior. This connection seems to arise from a willingness to sacrifice one’s popularity a bit to act in a moral and just way toward other people, animals, or the environment at large.
When the priority is not rocking the boat, being seen as agreeable, and avoiding any hint of disagreement or conflict despite the consequences, maybe being "nice" isn't all that "nice" after all.  Give me "contrarian...personalities" any day!

~2~


Global Neighborhood is a local non-profit organization in Spokane, Washington, focused on helping refugees adjust to life in the United States and become self-sufficient, integrated members of society through "employment, education, and empowerment".  They employ refugees at a thrift store down on Indiana (which I have patronized many times), at a cleaning service they started earlier this year, and at a screen printing business.  Global Neighborhood provides support for refugees from dozens of countries including Afghanistan, Burma, Vietnam, Eritrea, Turkey, and Uzbekistan, among others.

Coming to a new country, particularly after the upheaval of war, tragedy or disaster in your homeland, must be incredibly disorienting.  I'm glad this organization - overtly and unashamedly Christian - is reaching out to those in need of a friendly helping hand.

I love the focus on empowering refugees to provide for themselves and their families by earning a paycheck and learning valuable job and life skills.  Of course, monetary donations are helpful, but you could also volunteer to sort donated items at the thrift store or donate clothes, shoes, or household items yourself - they'll even schedule a pick up if you'd like.  You could consider hiring Blue Button Apparel to make (environmentally friendly!) t-shirts for your next family reunion, or check out GN Clean if you're in the market for cleaning services.

~3~

The Liahona Children's Foundation "is a grass-roots organization dedicated to nurturing the potential of children to lead healthy and productive lives."  Malnutrition during the first few formative years can lead to life-long deleterious effects.  LCF targets those children ages six months to five years in resource-poor countries who meet the World Health Organization's criteria for malnutrition, and provides nutritional supplements for them and education regarding the benefits of breastfeeding, hygiene and healthy food to their parents.  LCF is making a difference to some of the most poor and needy in the world.


While the LCF uses the already-established structure of LDS stakes in Africa, Latin America, the South Pacific, and Asia to efficiently gather information and resources and spread the word, no children in need are turned away.  Dozens of stakes are available for adoption, or you can join the efforts of one LDS blog to assist the Ta Khamu stake in Cambodia, as I did.

~4~

Since my oldest started preschool seven years ago, I've blocked out a couple hours every week during the school year to help out in the classroom.  Nowadays I alternate weeks between my two youngest boys' classes.  Some days I grade quizzes; some days I work with individual kids on reading or writing or match; some days I decorate bulletin boards or make copies.  Whatever will make the teacher's life a little easier, I'll do it!  (Sharpening pencils is my least favorite task, but if that's what's needed, I'll even do that!)

Of course, working in your own child's classroom brings the benefits of seeing your child in a different environment, getting to know their friends, and building a relationship with the teacher.  I especially admire those who give of their time without the motivation of those benefits.  There's one older woman - easily a grandma - who volunteers as a reading tutor every week at my kids' elementary school.  She consistently works one-on-one with the children who need the most help and loves and encourages them through the rough patches.

Even if your children are grown, perhaps the local elementary school needs just what you can offer.  Even if you still have other small children at home, perhaps you can find another mom to swap babysitting with so you can each help out for an hour or two.  Even if you can't commit to an ongoing regular schedule, perhaps you have a free hour this week you can offer.  These young kids, at the very beginning of their education, deserve the best start we can give them and an hour or two can make a huge difference.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Book Review: The Hero's Journey of the Gay and Lesbian Mormon by Carol Lynn Pearson

In The Hero's Journey of the Gay and Lesbian Mormon, with her own unique, yet quintessentially Mormon style, Carol Lynn Pearson expresses the struggle of gay and lesbian Latter-day Saints to find their place in a community that is just beginning to figure out how to welcome and embrace them.  Knowing some of Carol Lynn's history makes her words all the more meaningful.

Drawing heavily on Joseph Campbell's Hero with a Thousand Faces, Carol Lynn uses powerful poetic language to illustrate the steps in this hero's journey and reframe the experiences of gay and lesbian Mormons in a positive, uplifting, and affirming way that eventually has the power to elevate the entire community.  Some may find this very short allegory - I read it completely through twice in less than an hour, taking my time on the second go-around - trite or hokey.  I found it moving and emotionally potent.

So many of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters face isolation, stigmatization, pain, and fear within their own "Tribe."  Despite efforts to ignore, repress, or change this integral part of themselves, as part of this hero's journey they often "continue to feel different and a strong force pulls them] to the new path."  Fellow Tribe members don't always know how to act and their reactions hurt deeply sometimes:
Some members of the Tribe send you off with an embrace, but many in the Tribe turn away, sad or angry or confused or repulsed.  Even your own family is divided. You can hardly bear to see the pain on faces that you have loved so dearly.
"You are giving up your eternal exaltation!" says your father.
"Leave, before you pollute my children!" cries your sister.
Your mother holds you tight and says, "I don't understand, my child. But I believe in you. Believe in yourself."...
As you go to pack your knapsack with a few precious things, one of the Elders quietly approaches you and says, "You are not the first. We have lost too many like you. There are many great and important things that we have yet to understand. Please help us." He gives you an embrace and you set off on your journey.
Carol Lynn also uses the imagery of our common pioneer history as Mormons: "Your ancestors set out for a new land.  They sailed oceans, and then step by step they traveled plains. They were reviled, but they pressed on to create a new life. The talisman of their blood is within you. Their courage can be your guide. And you have been assured since you were small that the Spirit of God abandons no one."

The path requires faith and courage and great reservoirs of strength. And eventually, a return to the original Tribe to share the lessons learned.  "No learning is for yourself alone.  It is for all."  The allegory also includes assurance that everyone's journey is his or her own and finding the answers is a personal experience that allows for individual variation. "You have all traveled much the same terrain, but you have arrived at different points with different experiences and different decisions."

The ultimate answer, the goal of the journey - the Elixir - is, of course, Love.

While this short book is written directly to gay and lesbian Mormons - the use of the second person "you" throughout makes that clear - it is also carries pointed lessons for the rest of us.

We have lost too many.

There are many great and important things that we have yet to understand.

We need to acknowledge and understand the sacrifices that are asked of our brothers and sisters and do what we can to embrace them whole-heartedly with love and support.  The Hero's Journey of the Gay and Lesbian Mormon outlines their noble and difficult journey, but not all the work is theirs to do. We must do our part, as well.

**************************************
The Hero's Journey of the Gay and Lesbian Mormon
by Carol Lynn Pearson
ISBN: 9780963885272
Buy it from Amazon here: (ebook)
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Book Review: Women of Faith in the Latter Days, Volume Three

As with the first two volumes of this series, Women of Faith in the Latter Days: Volume Three, provides a window into the lives of women in the early church, both those who are well-known and those who are relatively obscure.  The format has changed slightly; instead of splitting each chapter into two sections (a brief biographical sketch and then a more in-depth "life experiences" portion), each chapter is now a single continuous piece, seamlessly blending the woman's life experiences with the overarching narrative of her life.

It's impossible to describe the full scope of this remarkable book in a brief review.  All I can do is give a few glimpses into the discoveries I made in the hopes that you will be intrigued enough to get to know these women yourself.

Many of the women in this volume - Emily Sophia Tanner Richards (who is described as "a progressive through and through"), Lucy Emily Woodruff Smith, Clarissa Smith Williams, Louisa Lula Greene Richards, to name a few - were active suffragists who rubbed elbows with famous women's rights activists and attended national and international women's rights conferences.  Quite a few women were involved in theatre.  Several were career women, including Ellis Reynolds Shipp who earned a medical degree and practiced medicine for 50 years, delivering 6000 babies.

Mary Elizabeth Woolley Chamberlain received her temple endowment at the age of 12!  Martha Maria Hughes Cannon ran for state senate as a Democrat against her Republican husband and won!  Maud May Babcock's smiling face greets the reader at the beginning of the first chapter and stands out against the other mostly dour photographs, more standard for the time.  Kirsten Marie Sorensen Jensen was called into her local Primary presidency in Orderville at the ripe old age of 12 and died in 1973, the year my parents married.

Three women of color are profiled: Tsune Ishida Nachie, the first Japanese convert to enter the temple; Mere Mete Whaanga, who wore the traditional blue Maori facial tattoos and was the first Maori to travel to Utah; and Cohn Shoshonitz Zundel of the Northwestern Shoshone tribe, who served as a counselor in her ward's Relief Society for 35 years.

While polygamy was definitely mentioned in both of the previous volumes,  it is a constant theme in this third volume because of the time frame covered, and the wide variety of responses from these women emphasizes that polygamy was not a one-size-fits-all experience.  Some of the women struggled mightily with polygamy, with feeling abandoned or ignored by their husbands, with loneliness and a lack of close companionship.  One left her husband when he took a second wife, another received a divorce for "nonsupport".  Other women spoke of their love for their husbands' other wives, the support they provided to each other, and their devastation and "palpable loss" when the Manifesto seemed to make their "great sacrifices" meaningless.  Some women even entered into polygamy after the Manifesto and lived apart from their husbands for their entire married life in order to prevent their imprisonment.  It's fascinating to hear about the living reality of polygamy from these women in their own words.

Mormon women are anything but monolithic.

************************************
Women of Faith in the Latter Days: Volume Three, 1846-1870
Edited by Richard E. Turley, Jr. and Brittany A. Chapman
ISBN: 9781609075880
Buy it on Amazon: (hardcoverebook)
Or from Deseret Book: (hardcover)
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Friday Four, Part 96

~1~

Below are more worthy organizations both local to the Inland Northwest and further afield to help you make this holiday season a season of giving!

As I mentioned before, all of these organizations I'm posting about are ones that I have either donated to or volunteered for, or that someone close to me has, but that doesn't mean that I'm actively contributing to all of them at this very moment.  Just like you, I have to make hard decisions about how to allocate my limited resources and time.  I draw comfort from Elder Holland's words in his recent (amazing!) General Conference talk, "Are We Not All Beggars?":
I don’t know exactly how each of you should fulfill your obligation to those who do not or cannot always help themselves. But I know that God knows, and He will help you and guide you in compassionate acts of discipleship if you are conscientiously wanting and praying and looking for ways to keep a commandment He has given us again and again.
So please don't feel bad if you are not able to give to every cause that tugs on your heartstrings.  Make the best decisions you can based on the information you have and on what speaks to your soul and move forward.  There's a time and a season for everything.

~2~

The non-profit Mobius Spokane runs two science museums in the heart of downtown Spokane: Mobius Children's Museum for little kids and Mobius Science Center for the slightly older crowd.

Back when it was only Mobius Children's Museum and Will was really young, we bought an annual family membership and went frequently.  With lots of hands-on activities available Will was never bored, flitting from the water table to the Filipino market to Cooper's Corner where he could drive a plasma car and learn about traffic safety to the dress-ups and musical instruments on stage.  When Josh came along, I'd sit with him in the Enchanted Forest - an area especially for kids three and under - and with the open layout felt confident letting Will explore on his own as I could always see him.

Eventually, though, they both aged out of being interested in all the "little kid" activities.  They just weren't that fun anymore.  So I'd just take Evan on his days off from preschool and let him explore just like his older brothers used to.

And then they opened Mobius Science Center across the street.  We finally went just last weekend and the boys had so much fun watching the turtles and snakes and other creatures and exploring magnets, prisms, sound, centrifugal force, hydropower, circuits, and of course Sue, the most complete T-Rex skeleton ever discovered!

The boys with Sue!

I love how kids are able to self-direct learning in both of these fantastic museums.  They can spend as much or as little time at each activity as they want and they're learning actively at each stop.  This is exactly how to get kids interested in and not intimidated by science.

~3~

When I heard about THRIVEGulu a few years ago, I was immediately entranced.  The horror stories out of northern Uganda broke my heart and this organization, hyperfocused on this one area, this one place to do good and make a significant difference, caught my attention.


THRIVEGulu "operates a center for community gathering and learning in Gulu, Uganda, to support the emotional healing and rehabilitation of trauma victims of the Ugandan civil war through educational programs." Their mission is to "assist the communities of Northern Uganda heal from the traumatic events of war, sexual enslavement, extreme poverty and lost opportunities."

What I love about THRIVEGulu is that, unlike organizations that swoop in with a well-meaning "white knight" complex, THRIVEGulu has cultivated relationships with local leaders, hired local Ugandans to run the programs, do the accounting and bookkeeping, maintain the community center, teach computer literacy, and partnered with a Ugandan NGO.  Nothing is done without the input and direct involvement of the local Ugandans.  This is truly an effort to empower the Ugandan people with dignity and self-reliance while letting them know they are not alone.

~4~

American Childhood Cancer Organization Inland Northwest (ACCOIN) does amazing work in this area to support children with cancer and their families.

Inland Northwest

They distribute family comfort kits and information to families with children who have been recently diagnosed.  Recognizing the added expenses that come with travel for treatment, the possible loss of a job in order to care for the sick child, and other financial pressures on these families, they provide emergency financial assistance, including gas cards, grocery cards, parking validation, etc.  They run support groups and fun events for the children with cancer and for family members.  Basically, they do anything and everything to support families through an incredibly difficult time.

Both of my two older sons had hospital experiences when they were very young, Will stayed in the Pediatric ICU for a week for his central apnea right after he was born and then spent a few days in the hospital for RSV when he was a toddler.  Josh had outpatient surgery for double inguinal hernias when he was about three months old.  I remember feeling so lost and alone and scared, and these were relatively minor issues.  I can't imagine how much more intense and prolonged those feelings would be if my children had cancer.  I'm so glad there's an organization like ACCOIN that provides these families with financial and emotional support in every possible way.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Book Review: As You Wish by Cary Elwes

One summer during college my cousin Mike and I traveled home together when school was done.  It's three long days of driving from Utah to Virginia and by that third day we'd covered an impressive array of topics of conversation.  One of us, I can't remember which, had the brilliant idea that recounting the entire movie of The Princess Bride would take at least an hour or so and help pass the time.

And it was truly brilliant.

From the opening video game sound effects to the closing credits song, we did everything: every voice, every facial expression, every hand gesture.  We took turns playing different roles and rarely stopped to quibble over getting the wording exactly right. As we finished out the final verse of "Storybook Love" our sides ached from laughing so hard, we were another hour closer to home, and we'd made a fun memory together while reliving other fun memories.

Having seen and read a few interviews with Cary Elwes about this book, I knew it wasn't going to be an expose' airing dirty laundry.  But I love how much this book gushes and oozes love and friendship and joy.  Ok, so that sounded hokey, but really!  The fact that my favorite movie of all time, which has brought me so much joy and happiness and laughter, was a highlight of the actors' lives only enhances the film for me.  Everyone got along and had a good time.  Everyone admired each other and worked hard to make the best movie possible.  Everyone was supportive and helpful.  No "diva" behavior, no tantrums, just fun and talent and work.

Peeking "behind the curtain" of a movie set is always fun, but I loved the little tidbits Cary shared about learning to fence with Mandy Patinkin, breaking his toe goofing around on an ATV (that's why he sits down so oddly at the top of the ravine!), getting knocked unconscious by Christopher Guest bonking him on the head with the butt of his sword, his first meeting with Robin Wright, the insane amount of food and drink Andre the Giant could put away, the multiple unnecessary takes of that final kiss, Andre's earth-shaking flatulence, and so much more.

Many other people involved in the film contributed to the book, too, with brief "sidebars" recounting their perspective on events.  Rob Reiner, William Goldman, Andy Scheinman, Christopher Guest, Wallace Shawn, Billy Crystal, Mandy Patinkin, Robin Wright, Chris Sarandon, and Carol Kane all had their own bits to add to telling the story.

It's not at all unusual for me to "inhale" a book.  Finishing an entire novel in one sitting, aided by an ability to read quickly as well as block out extraneous stimuli like a dirty house in need of cleaning or children in need of attention, is not unheard of.  But it is extremely rare for me to do so while grinning from ear to ear the entire time, pausing only to either chuckle mildly or laugh hysterically.

It was recently brought to my attention that my children have not seen The Princess Bride.  I will be remedying that oversight immediately so that another generation can enjoy the perfect telling of the perfect story.

***************************
As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride
by Cary Elwes
with Joe Layden
ISBN: 9781476764023
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcover, ebook, audiobook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Friday Four, Part 95

~1~

Several friends sent me this interesting piece on how fiction readers are different. A short excerpt:
It may sound hooey hooey, but it's true: Fiction readers make great friends as they tend to be more aware of others' emotions...Literary fiction [rather than popular fiction] enhanced participants' empathy because they had to work harder at fleshing out the characters. The process of trying to understand what those characters are feelings and the motives behind them is the same in our relationships with other people.
So what works of fiction have you read that you feel have enhanced your empathy?

~2~

Continuing my efforts from last week to highlight some worthy organizations during this season of giving, I have to mention SpokaneFAVS.

SpokaneFAVS

The mission statement sums it up nicely: "SpokaneFAVS provides non-sectarian coverage of religion, spirituality and ethics in the Inland Northwest. We promote dialogue through online journalism and community engagement opportunities."  Tracy, the Executive Director, and my sister Meredith, the Board President, put together this video for #GivingTuesday.


I believe in what SpokaneFAVS is and does.  It promotes education and dialogue and community.  My life has been enriched and my perspective widened by the intelligent, compassionate, interesting people I've met through SpokaneFAVS.

I write for SpokaneFAVS, I volunteer for SpokaneFAVS, and I donate to SpokaneFAVS.  These conversations and relationships are important for our community and I want to see them continue.  Will you help?

~3~

LDS Charities is the humanitarian arm of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and I'm proud that my church is involved in doing good around the world, partnering with other great organizations like the Red Cross, International Relief and Development, Catholic Relief Services, and Islamic Relief.  Whether it's providing wheelchairs for disabled individuals, helping a community build a well so they have access to clean water, training medical professionals in neo-natal resuscitation, or responding to a natural disaster, these projects change and improve lives literally across the globe.

And what's really cool - overhead costs are covered by the Church, so 100% of your donation - every single penny - goes directly to support those in need.  There aren't a whole lot of charities that can claim that.


~4~

Food banks provide the necessities of life to people in some of the most vulnerable situations.  Every time my kids come home from school with a flyer announcing a food drive, I dutifully send cans of tuna or beans or peas or olives in their backpacks the next day, happy to share some of what we have with those who have less.

2nd Harvest

Our local food bank here is Second Harvest.  I took my group of Laurels (young women ages 16 and 17) to volunteer there once a year ago and we processed something like 14,000 pounds of apples in a couple hours.  They have tons of opportunities for volunteers and they offer regular "family nights" where families can sign up to serve together.

A few weeks ago, I happened to be over on the other side of the state and had the chance to help out for several hours at the Bonney Lake Food Bank with a friend.  We sorted donations into categories to be shelved later and turned some chaos into order, ready and waiting for people to help.  It felt really good to actively participate in something I knew would materially help children and families.

So if you're looking for a way to make a difference in your area, research your local food bank, the place people in your community can go when they are hungry.  Ask what they are most in need of, what foods they can't accept, and when you can volunteer, and then act on that knowledge.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Book Review: Girls Who Choose God by McArthur Krishna and Bethany Brady Spalding

When this book first came out, I snagged a copy to give my niece for her birthday, only to find out that her mom had the same idea and had already purchased one for her.

I was thrilled.  Because that meant I got to keep it!

Girls Who Choose God: Stories of Courageous Women from the Bible is exquisite.  I love how each woman's story is given full attention, from well-known women like Eve and Mary to unnamed women like the Samaritan woman at the well.  For each woman, the authors lay out her dilemma, and present the reader with the same options as the woman faced.  The next page explains what the woman chose and again asks the reader to consider how he or she can be like this admirable woman.

Deborah has long been a heroine of mine, but too often in Sunday School she is presented as little more than Barak's sidekick which annoys me to no end, so I'm including her story here.
Deborah was a prophetess and powerful judge, and people in Israel traveled long distances to hear her wise counsel.  Sitting beneath a shady palm tree, Deborah settled conflicts and worked for justice.  She worried about the hardships her people suffered under the rule of a cruel Canaanite king.  Deborah wanted to free her people, but they had lost their faith in God's power to deliver them from bondage.
Deborah had a choice to make.  She could watch her people suffer,
or
she could teach them to trust in God...
(next page)
Deborah knew she must lead her people to freedom.  She inspired the Israelites to change their hearts and trust in God.  Then Deborah gathered an army of 10,000 soldiers and prepared them for battle.  Her soldiers had only simple weapons, while the Canaanites had 900 chariots.  But God revealed to Deborah how and when to fight, and the mountains and clouds defended the Israelites.  Working in partnership with God, Deborah led her people to victory.
When have you chosen to be a leader?
Everything about this book entices the reader to feel a connection with these remarkable women, many of whom we hear far too little about.  They are depicted as agents unto themselves, rather than as supporting characters in other people's stories, which is unfortunately often the default position for women in the scriptures.  The thought-provoking questions invite introspection.  The illustrations are warm, unique and stunning.  All three of my boys have voluntarily opened this book, read the stories on their own, and asked questions about these women and their choices.

I can't help but think that having more children, both boys and girls, as well as more adults become familiar with these stories will broaden our perspectives on the wide range of good things that women can accomplish when working with God.

*******************************
Girls Who Choose God: Stories of Courageous Women from the Bible
by McArthur Krishna and Bethany Brady Spalding
illustrated by Kathleen Peterson
ISBN: 9781609078829
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcover, ebook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).