Observations

How to Be a Jerk to a Person of Faith

“Grow up and end your magical thinking.” – Someone, some post every two weeks on my Facebook feed.

Disagreement is in the digital DNA and fiber optic bones of the internet. I’m fairly certain the original, Graham-Bellian creation myth of the internet’s inception involved Al Gore sending his friend Mr. Lee Jones a simple text message: “Tommy–come over here–I want to tell you all the ways you’re wrong.”

I mean, forget shouting fire in a movie theater. You want to really see people go nuts? Type “gun control” on Facebook.

You know all this because you are currently reading this on the internet and have ventured beyond the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic boards. You’re open to being challenged. Maybe you’re the kind of person who, when you hold up your phone or dare to crack open your laptop, you pretty much expect to be hit with a point of view that’s different from your own. Diametrically opposed, even. And you’re okay with that.

Mostly.

Sometimes, it’s hard. Sometimes, people aren’t expressing opinions so much as just being bigots, prejudicial, myopic, close-minded, or just downright jerks. When is an opinion not an opinion? When they’re being a jerk about it. When their opinion comes with a heaping helping of insult big enough to overwhelm whatever savory flavors their otherwise (I’m sure) cogent musings had to offer, the jerks no longer get to have their thoughts taken seriously. They’ve rendered them stupid.

Or you have. Or I have. It’s not like “jerk” is some subspecies. They are us.

I opened this blog with a quote that’s become all-too-familiar to me: Grow up and end your magical thinking. Roughly translated, it means: Stop believing in God you big baby who can’t handle the real world.

What is wrong with this? Well, my problem isn’t that someone doesn’t believe in God or thinks I shouldn’t. I may disagree with both of those positions, but I respect another’s right to feel, believe, and think differently than I do. In fact, having people with points of view different from my own is something I value (which is why I’m seeing so much of this in my Facebook feed in the first place–I cultivate diversity in my friendships, both IRL and online) You don’t believe in God? Okay, cool. That is completely irrelevant to me as to whether or not we can be friends or have association. What is important to me is this:

Are you a jerk?

Where “Grow up and end your magical thinking” goes wrong for me is that in its expression of an understandable, legitimate opinion (however much I disagree, denying the existence of God is a point of view that is not incomprehensible to me) it wades into the murky waters of insult by way of condescension and casual dismissiveness.

Grow up” suggests a certain amount of childishness; a clinging to apron strips because of an insecurity about the world and one’s place in it that can only be mollified by the idea of an all-powerful bearded dude who sits on a cloud made of tissues he uses to wipe away ignorant tears. “Grow up” equates God with an imaginary friend, and the believer with the toddler who bops around the living room talking to Clarence, the combo lion-poodle who knows how to rock a tea party. How is “Grow up” anything other than insulting? And why in the world would anyone of faith listen to someone for whom that is their baseline approach? Who could even get a fair shake in a conversation with a person who insists on infantilizing them for the great crime of thinking the universe is a little bigger than what they can see right in front of them?

“Magical thinking” suggests a wrongheadedness in one’s thought processes and perspective on the world. It is a cry in favor of science, obviously, but it also denigrates a worldview that essentially boils down to: current science doesn’t have an answer for everything.* Religion is an argument against arrogance. Reducing religion to “magical thinking” is a complete misunderstanding of the purpose of faith, just like “grow up” is a misunderstanding of its function. Most of the religious people I know don’t actually believe in the existence of magic. To equate someone’s sincere, reasoned beliefs with fantasy is… say it with me now… jerky. It is being a jerk.** And if you are being a jerk then I know–I know automatically–that you are the one speaking from a place of insecurity about the world and your place in it.

A confident person doesn’t feel the need to be a jerk. A confident person does not mock the thoughts and beliefs of others because a confident person is not easily threatened. Being a jerk is, always, a reactionary position; a defensive posture. A jerk wants you to know he thinks you’re stupid, and, if he can, make you feel stupid. You can’t destabilize a confident person because a confident person does not entertain the bad math that says they can only be sure if others are not. They are willing to embrace or at least hear out opposing views and learn from them because they understand the value of such views inspiring and challenging them. An insecure person is a destabilized person before they even get to you. They have already been threatened by someone or some idea or thought or action and then you come along with your opinions and your faith and your whatever and you bring it all back, all the bad they’re trying to hide. It comes back, right to the fore.

Basically: people aren’t mean for no reason. That’s simplistic, but it’s true. The jerk hits back because they’ve already been hit. They need to say, for example, “Grow up and end your magical thinking” because in some way it will make them feel better and whole again. They think it will, anyway.

I think I know a better way.

*Science may not have an answer for everything, but even as a person of faith I do believe that the answer to everything is science. There’s not really any such thing as magic. There is only the principles and the order of the universe, some of which we’ve discovered. God is a person who understands those principles and orders to a greater degree than we are currently capable, and He does his best to help us operate within them for the best result. That’s what we call religion.

**None of which is to say the reverse cannot be–and just as often is–true. People of faith can be jerks, too. They can look down on those who don’t share their faith and it’s just as bad. It’s just not the angle this particular blog is coming from.

Advertisements

Stop Talking About My Daughter’s Butt

To all the Boys of the World:

Stop talking about my daughter’s butt.

Back of a zebra

Look, a good blog has photos, but I’m not showing you butt pictures. Not human ones, anyway. This is a zebra butt.

When my 13-year-old gets in the car after school and I ask her how her day went, there are certain things I expect to hear. A brief sample:

“Fine.”

“Good.”

“The test was hard.”

“I got my report card back and I’m not ashamed to show it to you.”

“I have sooooo much homework. Can we get Slurpees?”

What I don’t expect to hear–what I don’t want to hear is that she got made fun of in first period for her clothing choices and that in second period she got “catcalled.”

“What do you mean ‘catcalled?'” I asked her just today. “What did they say to you?”

“They cussed at me,” she said. “Something about my butt.”

“Your butt?”

“Yeah.”

“Was it positive or negative?” (This doesn’t matter. I asked in the futile hope for a silver lining.)

“I… I don’t even know. For some reason, people like to talk about my body.”

This is a ladybug butt. Cute, right?

This is a ladybug butt.

Make no mistake here, “people” is (mostly*) “boys.” This isn’t the first time something like this has happened as these reports are growing all too familiar. My daughter has heard assorted, sordid opinions on the relative attractiveness of everything from her hair to her knees (yes, knees). And who knows what else. It’s not like talking to her dad about this stuff is the most fun thing in the world. I usually have to drag it out of her.

My wife and I are doing our darndest to raise a daughter with a positive body image. We kind of have to, and we all know why. From magazine covers to Kim Kardashian Instagram photos to pornography (and I realize I may have just written ‘pornography’ three times), it’s almost impossible to not have an unrealistic view of what women should look like. It’s a lot of work combatting all that garbage–and it’s important we do. We’d rather our daughter not have, say, eating issues or think badly of herself for entirely superficial reasons that don’t have one single, solitary, stupid thing to do with who she is as a person. Boys of the World, would you please stop trying to screw up our efforts?

This is a butt hinge.

This is a butt hinge.

When you say my daughter’s knees look like “baby faces” (they don’t–and what does that even mean? I guess if you’re an 8th Grade boy it’s a bad thing) or that her butt is too whatever (it isn’t), you’re not only being disrespectful to her (which I know you don’t care about), but you’re messing with her mind. You’re shaping what she thinks of herself–digging at the most obvious, surface level part of herself that she has, for the most part, no control over–and you’re telling her what a woman should REALLY look like. I guarantee that whatever image you’ve conjured up in your still-developing brain is pretty dang unrealistic. Unattainable, even. And that’s dangerous.

Do you know what a woman should look like? It’s so simple, I’ll tell you in three words: However. She. Looks.

You, Boys of the World, are not entitled to an opinion on the subject. Not one you can voice, certainly. You don’t get to contaminate my daughter’s mind with your girl-of-the-month ideas. As stupid as those ideas are, they stick around. They infect. Luckily, my daughter is one of the most self-assured people I’ve ever met. When I asked her if any of these garbage opinions bother her she said, “No, not really.” She’s strong like that. But I wonder… as she gets older and starts dating and going to dances and living more in the world… I wonder if these comments won’t come back to haunt her. And I wonder about girls who aren’t like her who are dealing with insecurities or struggling with their weight or who don’t have parents working as hard to build them up when others seem to only want to tear them down.

This is a cigarette butt.

This is a cigarette butt.

This is such a uniquely feminine problem. Exactly two comments were made to me about my appearance in high school and I’ve never forgotten them. My daughter gets more than that in one day.

Look, I get it. I was in Junior High and High School once, too. I was obsessed with girls and their bodies. It’s what happens. But I remember also having a healthy fear of girls and a sense that I had to be, y’know, decent towards them. All my friends did. Did something change, or did I run with a gentler crowd?

Either way, who cares? You’re commenting on girls’ bodies and it’s not okay. Any specific comment–good or bad–my advice is to just stay away from all of that. You’re not equipped, Boys of the World. You’ve got no idea how to do it appropriately. You want to know the first time you can actually comment on a girl’s appearance, safely? I’ll tell you. It’s when you pick her up for a date, and here’s what you say:

“You look nice.”

That’s it. That’s your how-to manual for not being a misogynistic jerkface.

This is a butte.

This is a butte.

And, just in case you think you’re getting away with it, I’d like you to know I know who you are. You’re the unthinking punk and the meathead jock, sure, but you’re also the boy in my daughter’s Sunday School class who runs with the wrong crowd, and the kid at school who has a crush on her and doesn’t know to express it. You’re the class clown who makes everything into a joke and goes too far. You’re the nice boy who just doesn’t know better.

I invite you to know better. I invite you to value the feelings and long term self worth of one of God’s daughters over the laughter of your friends. There’s no reason you have to continue on like this, Boys of the World. I’ll grant you’re still learning. That’s cool. Consider this a small lesson from me to you:

Stop talking about my daughter’s butt.

Thanks,

Some Girl’s Dad

*Shout-out to the Girls of the World: stop talking about my daughter’s thighs. (That’s a whole ‘nother blog.)

The Empty Tomb: “Why Can’t There be a Symbol of the Living Christ?”

I have a new project I’m throwing myself into concurrently with everything else going on. Since this is very much related to my unemployment and everything else going on in my life, I decided I had best start writing about it. This is the first in a short series of blogs on this project, one that means a great deal to me. It’s gonna get a little religious up in here, but for you process junkies I recommend sticking around. This is a fascinating world I’ve stepped into.

IChristLookingUpt’s not that I think the cross as a symbol is bad, it’s that it never really spoke to me.

As a Mormon, I was raised without it. No crosses on the churches, none in the home I grew up in, and if I ever saw a piece of jewelry with the cross it was usually on the person of someone well outside my usual circle.

As I got older and my circle expanded and I met my wife who was raised with the cross as the primary symbol of her faith, I came to appreciate its power as a symbol. It’s so elegantly simple and brings to mind instantly Christ’s suffering and sacrifice. Good things for any Christian remember on a daily basis.

I love what the cross represents, but I couldn’t help but wonder:

Why can’t there be a symbol of the Living Christ?

The sacrifice Christ made as Savior is important and that importantance can never be overstated. It is because of Him that forgiveness and change is actually within our reach and that’s a beautiful, world-changing thing.

But the miracle–the fulfillment of all that Christ promised–occurred on the third day after his death. The stone was rolled away, the tomb left empty. Mormons, Protestants, Catholics, and every kind of Christian in between believe in a resurrected Christ–a Living Christ who will one day come again and reveal Himself to the world. But there’s no symbol for that.

Why can’t there be a symbol of the Living Christ?

I, of course, did not grow up without symbols entirely. The Angel with the trumpet on top of Mormon Temples is instantly recognizable. The symbol for “CTR”, in all its configurations, appears frequently in Mormon culture on everything from jewelry to t-shirts to cross stitches on walls, serving those who know its meaning as a reminder to always “Choose the Right.” But neither of those symbols reflects specifically a belief in Christ.

crosscroppedIt was as I was reflecting on all of this that my graphic design training kicked in. Part of the beauty and efficacy of the cross is that not only is it a potently designed symbol, it also is representative of a real world object. It’s almost coincidental in its construction as a symbol and all the more powerful for it. You have to respect and admire the cross, on a variety of levels.

So, if there could be a symbol with similar meaning and potency (yet significant in its differences) as the cross, it would have to be equally as elegant and simple and almost coincidental in its construction. It would have to draw on an easily recognized iconography that already exists that could be readily recognized and understood.

And it was as I was thinking about all of this that I drew this:

FirstEmptyTombSketch

Next: Surprising reactions to the design and its hidden meaning.

Congratulations on Your Super Healthy Kid

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 9.44.48 AM

Detail from “Vaccines Work: Here are the Facts” by Maki Naro

I am not a scientist.

I say that to get it out of the way and let you know up front what sort of blog is this is going to be. There are plenty of articles and blogs out there that provide ample research and reasoning in support of vaccinations. The comic I’ve excerpted to the left is a great primer and is fun to read to boot. It gives a basic rundown of the objections raised by the anti-vaccination crowd and answers them in the best format for communicating ideas man has yet created (yeah, that’s right). If you’re looking for something more detailed, this exhaustively hyperlinked blog has basically done all the work for you. The point of both the comic and blog is this: vaccinations are good and believing otherwise is not a good idea.

You want to debate the science? Go check out the above links. I’m gonna approach this topic the only way I know how: as a parent.

* * *

If you’ll allow me, I’d like to sum up the entire vaccinations issue with one sentence: You don’t mess with Disneyland.

Wait. Let me add periods for emphasis:

You. Don’t. Mess. With. Disney. Land.

It’s no wonder the internet exploded with rage when kids with measles started pouring out of Disneyland. What’s happened since is a collective freakout the likes of which we only see once in a young, blue pop star. Because you don’t mess with Disneyland. It’s the happiest place on Earth. You’re supposed to come back with a Mickey Mouse balloon, not a fatal disease.*

I think we’ve all been more or less content to go along with the existence of the anti-vaccination crowd and not bother with them too much for this long because, until now, they never stopped anyone from going on Space Mountain. Now, they have. Now, we’ve got our Hannibal Buress moment. There’s a new spotlight on the issue and it’s bright.

I hate even bringing this up. Not only do I have family on the other side of it, but I’m very much a “let people decide for themselves” kind of person. I respect a person’s right to conduct their family affairs and raise their kids how they want. I believe in choice. I believe in agency.

But I guess I don’t believe in my kids dying.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. “Dying?” Man, what a jump and a mighty gun that is. That kind of language is just inflammatory. I mean, there’s sick and there’s death. One doesn’t always–or even usually–follow the other and lots of kids have had measles through the years and not died from it. Tons of them just get brain damage or go deaf. Sheesh.

While that may be true, for my middle daughter Cami and for a lot of kids just like her, certain sicknesses–sicknesses like the ones (hopefully not still) in residence at Sleeping Beauty’s Castle and preventable by vaccinations–are a likely death sentence.

So you can imagine my joy a couple months ago when she got a bad case of Whooping Cough that quickly developed into pneumonia. There was a time when we made a yearly visit to the hospital to get Cami the proper care for an annual battle with pneumonia. How fondly I remember holding her weak little hand while she did her best to breathe through her wheezing. Last month, it was with the greatest of nostalgia that I looked forward to (not) sleeping on the ER floor and subsisting on a diet of vending machine crackers while wondering if my daughter would live through the night.

Thankfully, it didn’t come to that. Being old pros at this, my wife and I got Cami in to her doctor within hours of the pneumonia symptoms showing up and righted that ship in time enough for her to not be admitted.

“But wait,” I don’t hear you saying. “That all started with Whooping Cough? Maybe I need to go back and read this blog again. Aren’t you advocating for vaccinations? How did Cami get Whooping Cough in the first place if she’s current on her vaccinations?”

Great question. Well done. How did Cami get Whooping Cough?

As a child with special needs, Cami has a lot of challenges in life. One of the challenges my wife and I have to pay special attention to is her weak immune system. Some people forget about kids like Cami when they say things like “Theoretically the only people who should be getting the measles are those who are not vaccinated.”** Even setting aside the issue of children who are not eligible for the MMR and other vaccinations due to cancer or age (but who are still very much susceptible to the measles, et al), and herd immunity and the accumulative wrongness of too many people making what they think is a purely “personal” decision at the same time, it is simply gross ignorance to assume that vaccines are 100% preventative. They’re not.

Cami was vaccinated against Whooping Cough and she still got it because she’s weak and it was around to get. That’s it. This disease that was on its way out is roaring its way back and mowing down kids like Cami in its path. We were fortunate in that the only bad things to come out of her bout with Whooping Cough were a short case of pneumonia and a persistent, violent cough that will probably be sticking around for another four or five months. I can even hear the cough waking her up in her bedroom right now as I’m typing this late at night.

Cami was vaccinated but some kid or kids around her were not, so she got Whooping Cough. My wife and I have now been shoved kicking and screaming into a whole new era of parenting: Cami’s pediatrician is advising us to keep her away from all children who have not been properly vaccinated.

If that sounds impossible to you then you’re sane.

In trying to deal with this new paradigm, we sent out an email to our extended family to ask for their assistance in keeping Cami safe. Here’s an excerpt:

We do not intend to offend with this email, but if you choose to not vaccinate that puts us in the position of also having to make a choice.

Obviously, the only sure way to keep Cami safe is to put her in a bubble and hide her from the world. That’s kind of ridiculous. However, if we know Cami is headed into a situation where adults or children are present who have not been vaccinated, then we will act on that knowledge, and when we don’t know and can’t know—at school and the grocery store for example—we will proceed just as we always have.

We admittedly don’t know what all of the far-reaching implications of this policy might be. We’re doing our best over here to deal with what’s been handed to us.

All we really know is that we’ve got to do what we can. This is our sacrifice to make, so if any of you will be attending a family function who might be a risk to Cami, we are not asking you to stay home. We will keep Cami home.

A calm, reasonable person wrote that email. We weren’t trying to berate anyone or force them to do anything other than what they felt best, we just wanted to protect Cami. That was our only motivation.

But I’ll be honest with you and admit I find it increasingly more difficult to keep a cool head on this issue. I respect everyone’s right to choose, but I find myself wondering if, on this matter, I really should. Where does your right to choose end and my child’s right to live begin?

I’m far from the only one wrestling with this. One father in Tiburon, CA has already made his mind up about it. He wants to take the choice away from the parents in his school district for the sake of his son with leukemia. Is he a good dad or a villain?

And what does it mean when the LDS (Mormon) Church (a religious organization that cites personal agency as one of the basic tenets of its faith) implores its members to get properly immunized and actively assists in efforts to immunize the world? 

Not to be inflammatory (but, let’s face it, that’s totally what I’m about to do), but how much difference is there, really, between driving drunk and choosing to not vaccinate? In both instances you’re talking about a “personal” choice that could result in negative, life or death consequences for the individual or those around them… or not. It’s the “or not” part that empowers the inebriated the world over to climb into two ton vehicles and clumsily weaponize them on the open road (the alcohol helps, too). If you don’t vaccinate your kids, I can’t help but want to protect my child from your drunk driving.

See, my child is Disneyland. She got Whooping Cough and was fortunate enough to not get measles (so far), but she’s my Disneyland.

And you don’t mess with my Disneyland.

Bottom line: if you’re going around thinking everything is fine and all of this worry is for nothing because vaccines are evil and your kid is fine and can run and play just fine and your decision to not vaccinate only affects you and your child anyway, I’m sorry, but that’s simply not the case. There’s a lot of kids out there who are not as strong as all that. And there’s going to be more every day if you keep not vaccinating.

But, hey, congrats on having super healthy kids. I truly hope they stay that way.

*If I was a Disneyland cast member, I’d be ticked. Do you know how hard they work to keep that place clean and disease free? I swear if you drop a piece of trash there it disappears into another dimension or something before it hits the ground. You could eat pizza off those sidewalks. (But not the pizza in Tomorrowland. That stuff is gross. Sorry, Mickey.)

**Actual quote from a recent discussion on Facebook.