Saturday, December 14, 2013

Nightmares and Prayers

"Mommy, last night I had a nightmare because I forgot to say a prayer," Harper whispered solemnly as I lay beside her in bed.

The cynic in me wanted to explain that we don't always get what we pray for, that prayer isn't a magic equation for happiness, and that often God doesn't have the same plan for us as we have for ourselves, even if that means being scared sometimes. I wanted to save her imminent disappointment and tell her that fear, pain and suffering are a part of life, with or without the presence of prayer.

Instead, I squeezed her tightly and said "Well, it's a good thing you said a prayer tonight, isn't it?"

She smiled sweetly and drifted peacefully to sleep, completely enveloped in the comfort of unadulterated faith.

As I lay next to her, I longed to feel the simplicity of childhood, before earnest belief was tainted by experience, intelligence and skepticism. I lamented the days of "good guys" and "bad guys", of happiness without complexity or the inevitable reality of sadness. I yearned to believe without the ominous heaviness of doubt that a prayer could exact precisely what was intended.

We tend to see "growing up" as a positive event; that shedding our naivety and ignorance for critical thinking and realism is a step forward. We spend years in school being taught to deconstruct and analyze, to not accept anything at face value. We are encouraged to scrutinize facts with suspicion until proven with viable evidence.

And then we are expected to compartmentalize "faith" in a safe little box separate from analysis, criticism and deconstruction. We intend for our faith to be unaffected by our new, "mature" perspectives. But how?

I thought about these things as I watched Harper sleep, cuddling the seven stuffed animals she had chosen for that night's slumber. I wondered whether "growing up" was all it is cracked up to be. Is it really progression to have wonder, awe and perfect faith erode like a trickle of water that slowly creates a chasm over the years? Is it truly advancement to allow reality and faith adopt-to an extent- an inverse relationship?

Laying beside her, I was consumed with the maternally universal desire to keep my child in a box, as though to preserve her innocence and purity, pickled in a vat of love, happiness and rainbows (and probably horny toads and Batman, for these are a few of her favorite things.) I had never before felt this desire so strongly. Because I had always idealized intellect and intelligence, I assumed I would want my daughter to strive for acumen and genius.

Now I just want her to believe that Batman altruistically catches "the bad guys" and puts them in jail, that California is on the other side of "Planet Earth", that five is just about the largest denomination fathomable, and that prayers are a repellent force field for fear and sadness.

It's not that I think brilliance and faith are mutually exclusive. But after tonight, if I had to choose between the two for my young daughter, I would hope that she maintains her perfect faith rather than become an intellectual powerhouse.

Now I'll go and check on her, rearrange her seven stuffed animals and make sure she's warm and tucked-in.

And I bet she won't have nightmares tonight.

Monday, November 4, 2013

"Are You A Liberal Mormon?" : an open letter to Joni Hilton

Dear Joni Hilton,

You recently wrote an article entitled "Are You A Liberal Mormon?" If your essay's title was a sincere question, then I can sincerely answer that, based on the definition you so kindly ascribed to the aforementioned religio-political group, no, I am not a Liberal Mormon.

In your article, you defined Liberal Mormons as those who "decided which aspects of our faith to accept or reject, from honoring the Sabbath to wearing less than modest clothing." According to you, Liberal Mormons (or Jack Mormons, which you have declared a suitable synonym) "do not attend the temple, they do not show up to help someone move, and they do not Home Teach or Visit Teach with regularity."

I can tell you with utmost candor that I have not merely "decided" which aspects of gospel doctrine to accept or reject. You wrote that "living in the grey -the fringe- takes little effort." You ascertained that this liberal life in the grey is a result of "laziness." I promise you that I wrestle with the incongruousness of my political and religious beliefs on a daily basis. If it had been a decision, I would have chosen to "accept" or "reject" and let my mind, heart and soul have a sojourn from turmoil. It would be great to relinquish my ambivalent thoughts to laziness. And besides, honoring the Sabbath and modest dress are not intellectual conundrums but rather simple tasks of obedience. I don't grapple with the existential appropriateness of wearing booty shorts to the beach.

I was married in the temple. I'll admit that I should attend the temple more frequently, but I'm willing to bet that most of the LDS populace could say the same, "liberal" or not. I have been known to show up to help people move from time to time, although I was unaware that this was an indicator of religious devotion. I assume you were using this as an example for charity work in general-and you've got me there. I could definitely be more charitable, and I could probably work on getting my Visiting Teaching up to 100%. How about you?

Look, Joni. I know you have received a lot of criticism for your article. I know that the online magazine wherein it was originally published has since deleted it from its website. I see that you have issued a public apology for the insensitivity of your words, and I'm sure that although you still believe in what you have written, you probably wish you hadn't displayed it in such a public format.

You see, Joni, I am actually on your side. When you wrote about "Liberal Mormons", you must not have understood the political connotation the term has adopted. Nowadays, a "Liberal Mormon" is one who identifies with a more liberal political ideology. They can also be known as Mormon Democrats or Mormon Liberals. This group of "fringe" Mormons may believe in things like a more universal health care system, less foreign intervention for self-interest and even (oh me oh my) the right for gay people to marry civilly. They may take issue with some cultural aspect of the church, such as delegating Jell-O a food group or thinking beards are unholy, but they do a pretty good job of separating these worldly laws from eternal principles. They are very different from "Jack Mormons".

I think you've been gravely misunderstood as a result of semantics. You've offended the non-conservative community of Mormons who identify with a different political worldview by equating "Jack Mormons" with "Liberals". I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you were not thinking politically at all. You couldn't have been, based on your article's definition of Liberal Mormons.

Lucky for you, being a Mormon Liberal has nothing to do with watching R-rated movies, drinking "tasty" iced tea, or wearing bikinis to the beach. It is not an "admittance of weakness" but an acceptance of the universality of God's love regardless of political standing. Having a non-conservative worldview is not "playing right into Satan's hands" by feeling "proud and superior". It's understanding vulnerability to Satan's power and fighting for our faith despite others telling us that we're unworthy.

You wrote that being a faithful member of the LDS religion means to "embrace every part of it," but I ask you who do you know that doesn't struggle, in some way? Isn't the focal point of our religion - of Christ's message- to recognize our imperfections while continually striving to be better?

I don't think it's a "twist on faith" to believe that God doesn't expect us to understand every part of His plan. And I really don't think you do either, Joni.

We should all help people move more often. We should all attend the temple more regularly. We should all be more submissive and humble before God.

Even you, Joni.

After all, no one is perfect, right?


Steph C., a Mormon Liberal

Thursday, September 12, 2013

I Often Think I'm Right

I often think I'm right.

I spent 5 years studying conflict narratives, exploring mediation, pondering reconciliation and theorizing about relativity.

I have two degrees that attest to my alleged expertise on the topic of conflict and its resolution.

I've taught multiple eight-hour seminars on effectively navigating interpersonal conflict.

But still, when I'm entrenched in my own personal conflicts, I often think I'm right.

It feels like a sickness- to be so obscured by the irrationality of rage and emotion that another person is found to be so intrinsically 'wrong'. The cliched adage "There are two sides to every story" is quickly eroded and the other person's story is dispelled as erroneous in order to solidify the veracity of my own. And the more 'right' I am in my narrative and my arguments, the more "wrong" the other person must become.

Even when I see truth in the other's explanation, I rapidly dismiss it and begin reinforcing my fortress of argumentative ammunition to obscure the cracks in my own story. In the truest sense, I see weakness and vulnerability as admitting defeat.

In the heat of the moment, I see conflict as zero-sum, and I must win at every cost. I justify my words and actions like a ruthless crusader unable to relinquish the dream of victory.

But it doesn't have to be that way.

After the heat of the argument has abated- after I have hurled hurtful words like a lance through my opponent's core- I remember. I remember that in almost every conflict-no matter how 'right' I think I am- I have contributed in some way to dissonance. Despite my immovable stance, I remember that by engaging in conflict, I am equally culpable as my adversary. I remember that there are so few instances where conflict has a clear "right" and "wrong". I remember that the other person is feeling as hurt- but also as 'right' as I am.

Of course there are 'right' and 'wrong' actions, and I am not a moral relativist. I absolutely believe that some deeds are inherently 'good' and appositely 'bad'. Still, when two people are engaged in conflict, they have more than likely both contributed to disharmony in some way, as hard as it is to see amidst the fog of anger and justification. But when we recognize our own accountability in conflict, we begin to understand the other's position, and can better understand our own.

Unfortunately, it is only after the argument has erupted and subsided that I think to ask "in what ways have I contributed to the other person's hardships? To what extent have I escalated this conflict? How have I hurt them, as I feel they have hurt me?"

These are difficult questions to ask, especially when entrenched in the stoicism of "right". They signify vulnerability and coax out the cracks in my arguments- the ones in which I feel so undeniably justified. But these are the questions that need to be asked if true conflict transformation is to occur. The facts, logistics and 'rights' and 'wrongs' of the argument may be important, but not as critical as understanding and accepting how I have hurt the other person.

How great would it be if I could stop myself mid-verbal assault and evaluate my role in a given conflict. How much more peaceful would life be if I could have the forethought to remember in the heat of battle that I'm not right, and that's okay. How humbling would it be if I remembered that conflict isn't truly resolved by divvying up land, or the redistribution of tasks, or by bowing out and admitting defeat. Conflict resolution- in its truest sense- is achieved when two people, or parties, or groups, or countries understand how they have wronged each other, and learn to love again.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

On Time

Lately I've been thinking a lot about time; how we try to condense it, stretch it, pause it, fast-forward and erase it. I've been thinking about how we try to control it and make it ours, or fight it, or ignore it, or wrap it with a bow and bestow it as a gift that isn't ours to give. I've been thinking about how much energy we exert on trying to bend something so immalleable, and why we relentlessly toil in a task so futile. Time is both short and inexorable, coveted and dispelled, treasured and wasted, fleeting and tangible. Time is our most valued currency, but it can't be bartered, bought or sold. Time is quite an elusively peculiar creature, and the more I think about it, the more difficult it becomes to define and understand.

Harper had her first day of Preschool on Monday. On Sunday night, I packed her backpack with sunscreen, a change of clothes and a water bottle as her teacher had instructed. I laid out the grey leggings and blue unicorn T-shirt she had picked out at Target. I put Goldfish and dried mangos in her Ninja Turtles snackbox, then sat at the kitchen table and cried. For months I had been waiting for this time. I had been looking forward to the nine hours each week I could spend doing whatever I pleased. For so long, I had wanted time to speed up so that I could have a little to myself. But the night before sending my only daughter off to school, I was crying at the kitchen table, begging time to keep my child a baby forever.

The next day I picked Harper up from preschool and sat down with her for lunch. We ate grilled cheese sandwiches and made funny faces with each other. I listened to her guttural laugh and smiled sitting at the table I had cried on the night before. I looked at her laughing face and wondered if I had ever been happier. It was a moment of pure elation, one that I wanted to pause and repeat over and over like a scene from my favorite movie.

I've been thinking a lot about that simple lunch, wondering why it brought such deep joy. I dissected the events trying to isolate the happiness variable; grilled cheese, carrots, hummus, funny faces, laughter. No factor had any intrinsic connection to happiness. I finally realized that the joy came from being entirely immersed in that moment in time. I wasn't thinking about what to make for dinner, or how the bathroom needed to be cleaned, or when Rivers needed the car. My only concern was the sound of Harper's laughter, the way her eyes turned to slits when she smiled just like her dad, and how perfectly wild she was. I realized how seldom I find myself truly immersed in time. For all of the ways I try to change time, or spend it, or make it go away, I very rarely appreciate what time has brought me.

When Harper was a newborn, I couldn't wait for her to smile, babble and crawl. When she was mobile, I thought about how fun it would be when she could walk. When she ran, I was excited for her to talk. Now that she's talking (incessantly), I sometimes wish she was a newborn again so that I could cuddle her and bask in her innocence. I've enjoyed every stage of her existence, but like with most things in life, I've looked forward to the next phase or relished the past more than I've lived in the present.

It seems only when time is threatened to be taken away from me that I truly appreciate it. How much more enriched would my life be if I chose to live fully in every moment? I exert so much energy on trying to control, fix and trap time, but when it's finally in my hands, do I truly appreciate it?

I'm writing this blog to remember that grilled cheese lunch of laughter, the one when I wasn't looking at the clock or the dirty dishes or the unfolded laundry. The lunch that I wasn't carrying on a half-interested conversation with Harper while writing a grocery list, or To Do list, or planning the afternoon's activities in my head. I'm writing this blog to remember that all the planning, scheduling and organization means nothing if I don't make the most of my time when I'm in it. I don't want to have another Dr. Seussian moment of "How did it get so late so soon?" as I did crying on the kitchen table lamenting the loss of Harper's babyhood.

I want to live in the amber of the moment, and not ask why.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

DOMA and Prop 8: Ambivalence at its Best

After months of hearings and deliberation, yesterday the Supreme Court overturned Proposition 8 and deemed DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) unconstitutional. Since the court's hearing, I've seen Facebook riddled with both jubilant rejoicing and apocalyptic innuendos. I've heard the terms "Prop 8" and "DOMA" mentioned with nostalgic reverence and vehement disdain. If you have been following my blog, it will come as no surprise to you that I was elated to hear about the Supreme Court's ruling. It was the conclusion I had been waiting for. But as with many things in my life, this happiness was not devoid of conflict and introspection.

For those who have heard the epitaphs but are unsure of the terms' political or social significance, let me break it down for you. I've had to do my own research to be sure that I know what I'm talking about before making bold statements on the subject...

Proposition 8 was a 2008 majority-supported ballot that amended state constitution, deeming that "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California". The ballot won by a small margin in November 2008, and overturned the Supreme Court's May 2008 ruling that same-sex couples had a constitutional right to marry. While many celebrated Prop 8 as a victory, the amendment was viciously battled, resulting in civil and government lawsuits which conjectured the amendment unconstitutional under the US Constitution's 5th amendment. On June 26th 2013, California state government refused to defend Prop 8 in the Supreme Court hearings and the amendment was overturned.

DOMA was a bill signed in 1996 by Bill Clinton as a federal law allowing individual states the right to refuse recognition of same-sex marriages. The law outlined a federal definition of "spouse" as being derived from a heterosexual couple, thus denying same-sex couples' federal spousal benefits, such as Social Security, retirement, filing joint taxes, immigration or hospital visitation rights, regardless of their states' stance on same-sex marriage. In 2010, Edith Windsor filed a lawsuit against the United States District Court after her wife, Thea Spyer, passed away and left her entire estate to Windsor. The marriage between Windsor and Spyer was recognized by their home state of New York, but Windsor was denied a federal estate tax exemption for surviving spouses and was made to pay $363,000 in estate taxes because the tax exemption did not apply to same-sex marriages. On June 26th 2013 the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Windsor, finding DOMA unconstitutional "as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment." This does not automatically make same-sex marriages legal throughout the United States, but it forces the federal government to issue spousal benefits to same-sex couples residing in states where gay marriage is legal.

Ever since I've "come out" as a Mormon liberal, other members of my faith have asked with earnest intentions how I reconcile my belief in modern-day prophetic revelation with my ardent belief in gay rights. It is no secret that in 2008, the presidency of the LDS church issued a statement that urged Californian Mormons to support Prop 8. The short but honest answer is this: I don't. I can't. These two beliefs- the beliefs who make me who I am- are incongruent. They are irreconcilable. If I have faith that the LDS prophet is the direct mouthpiece of God, then I must believe that God does not (nor will he ever) support Gay marriage. This is not to say that God/Mormons hate gay people, as many slanderous liberal advocates suggest, but it is to recognize that God has an eternal order, and part of this order is procreation and the union between man and woman. If I believe in everyone's equal right to agency and support civil rights to the core (as I do), then I automatically relinquish my right to say I wholly follow the Prophet. You see- I don't just advocate for gay rights as a political or social opinion. I can't accept that God would be so exclusive to deny anyone the right to love.

In late night, hours-long conversations with friends I have debated and wrestled with my paradoxical creedence. How could it be that I believe so ardently in two implacable ideas? Is it due to a lack of faith in my religion, or is my trial in life to continually grapple with these two irreconcilable ideologies?

A good friend once told me to remember the times where I've felt the spirit attest to the Gospel's truthfulness, and that should negate any existential questions I hold about the LDS church. The truth is that my faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ is unwavering- Jesus never mentioned the subject of homosexuality. My problem is that I cannot accept the Prophet's stark stance on homosexuality, and so I am told that I do not believe in modern-day revelation. It seems a very "all-or-nothing" notion, and this brings more turmoil than you know.

Another friend told me that if I do everything I'm taught-pray earnestly, read scriptures with real intent, keep my temple covenants- then the truthfulness of the LDS religion and all its tenets (including modern-day revelation) will be apparent and my other temporal grapplings will become less important.

"She's right", I thought. "Maybe I'm not doing enough. Maybe if I pray harder, maybe if I sing louder and listen more intently in church I'll be able to reconcile these two sides of me that have created a schism in my mind and heart."

But I've done all those things, I DO all those things to the best of my mortal ability, but my belief in gay rights is not quelled. There seems to be no reconciliation, as much as I fight for it. There is an eternal order to things that I must choose to believe, or reject.

And so my optimistic, maybe idealist conclusion is this: I will continue to pray. I will continue to ask God for answers. I will continue to follow the Prophet. I have felt for myself the truthfulness of the LDS church, and though it would sometimes be easier to deny it, I believe. But I will also continue to believe in gay rights. I can't accept that two people loving each other is wrong. I just can't. I will allow myself this discretion and not be too hard on myself. There is no spiritual or rational way to defend or explain my disparaging beliefs and I just have to accept it. You may think that I'm choosing the best of both worlds, and you may be right. But I promise you that trying to balance these two conflicting worldviews is anything but "best". It's difficult, and taxing, and tumultuous. But what else can I do in my ambivalence?

Monday, June 24, 2013

Memoirs Part II (oops there's an F word in here)

I was seventeen when I was sent to live with my sister in Los Angeles. We pretended the move was in my best interest, but we all knew that my mother couldn't handle my in-your-face attitude of defiance and was worried about my future. She had handled my dad's death with stoicism and without a hint of self-pity. She came to our swim meets, packed our lunches and mowed the lawn without ever unraveling into a mournful mess. She took over my father's finances and started working as a nurse's aid for terminally ill people dying at home. Muffins and juice were still waiting on the kitchen table when we came home from school. The grief she could hide, but the sadness of watching her children turn from everything she had taught- faith and obedience- lay bare.

“I cried myself to sleep last night” was all she said when she found a six pack of beer hiding in my closet after the neighbors informed her of the house party I had hosted while my mother was visiting her sister in England.

“It's not a big deal, Mom. Don't be such a fascist. I'm sick of you trying to control everything I do. Just back off me. It's my life” I yelled like the a phonogram for one of my punk CDs, more to hide the way my heart was breaking for my mother than out of anger.

She looked at me with the same anguish I had seen when she gripped the metal railing of my father's bed before pulling a sheet over his face, telling us that he was now with his parents and no longer in pain. But that night she said nothing to me, and instead returned to the kitchen to finish making sticky chicken for dinner. I longed for her to berate me- to yell and be upset so I could feel justified in the rage I felt toward her. Her meekness and silence made me even more upset.

I was wearing an oversized white T-shirt and black leggings when I ran out of our house and into the snow-covered street. I thought about grabbing a jacket before leaving, but I wanted to be sure my mother would worry about me, and so I purposefully left the coat behind. I ran down the frozen suburban roads that had once been a happy safe haven, before the pain of losing my father had coursed through my veins and overflowed into these quiet and quaint streets. I ran down Fletcher road where I used to play street hockey with my brothers, remembering how we would dangerously wait until the last minute to yell “car!” before picking up the goal nets and skating to the side of the street to let traffic pass. I ran up Walpole street and thought about biking to get penny candy at the corner store with Marisa DiTrapani after searching our couches for pennies and dimes. I ran up Montrose drive and thought about how I used to take the shortcut through the woods to get to swim team practice with Rosanna Tomiuk in the summers, even though our parents told us not to. These were happy memories but they made me upset because they were reminders of a time before the hollowness of death and grief had bore its ruthless hole in my chest. I wished I had no memories of such happy times because I thought they would never return.

I inhaled anger with every breath as I ran, although I wasn't sure what to be angry about. I only knew that anger was a more survivable emotion than sorrow because it allowed blame rather than introspection. I thought about the war in Iraq. That made me mad. I thought about Capitalism. That made me mad. I thought about McDonalds cutting down the rainforest. That made me mad. I thought about my mother, and she made me mad for no real reason other than the fact that she made me think of my dad. I didn't want to think about him. And so I thought about bombs being dropped over Bagdhad until I reached a frozen payphone at our neighborhood liquor store.

I had left my house with no agenda or plan other than to make my mother upset, although I didn't know why. I picked up the cold, black phone and it stuck to my hand like a warm tongue sticking to an icy metal pole. I didn't care. I lifted my other hand and slowly dialed a collect call to my boyfriend who lived in Tennessee with an index finger too numb to shake.

My mother hated my boyfriend in Tennessee, and that's probably why I called him. He was a punk rocker, with PUNX tattooed to his knuckles and a full sleeve tattoo devoted entirely to me. I felt guilt for allowing him to design and undergo the intricate shrine on his left arm because I knew that I wouldn't love him forever, as he assumed would be the case. But it felt nice to be loved so purposefully, and so I had held his hand and smiled as he sat in the tattoo parlor chair, whispering “I love you” into his ear with forced sincerity.

“I hate my mum, Dan. Can you come get me?” I cried angrily into the payphone when he picked up, as though he lived down the street and not across the continent. Dan said he would leave that night. After we hung up I didn't know where to go and so I sat on the icy ground and thought about Baghdad.

A kind police officer found me huddled against the liquor store walls a few hours later, and beckoned for me to come over to his car.

“Were you looking for me?” I asked as I sat in the front passenger seat, submitted to the fact that I was going home after only having been a runaway for less than 6 hours, not even meriting a seat in the back of the cop car.

“I was on the lookout for a jacket-less teenage girl wandering the winter streets. Your mother is worried about you,” he said in a gentle tone.

I wished he was mean so I could yell “Fuck police brutality” and jump out of the car. But he was so kind, and my eyes welled with tears as I told him that I didn't really know why I ran away, I was just really upset about the war in Iraq.

“Well, maybe you should try again in the summer-or at least wear a jacket next time”, he replied with a wink and dropped me off in front of my blue and white house that looked so cold and uninviting under the blanket of ice and snow.

“Your mother loves you,” he said as I got out of the car, and I nodded because I knew it was true.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Everybody Hurts, Sometimes

My initial response to hardship is anger. This is a recent realization, although in retrospect I can see that anger has coursed through my veins for years, pulsing with purpose whenever life lets me down. It makes me a perplexing anomaly, since I generally think myself to be a positive, easy-going and happy person. But when life hands me lemons, my first response is not to make lemonade, but rather to load those lemons into a baseball pitching machine and catapult them straight back in life's face while yelling offensive expletives. My anger is a dormant beast awaken very seldom, but when it's lanced with disappointment the beast is ruthless and full of spite. In this regard, I have come to find it more difficult to identify and harness my reactionary anger because it is masked so purposefully by a blanket of happiness. While tragedy has left me raw and self-aware, I am slowly realizing that in some ways, I am moored in a port of adolescent bitterness.

I recently endured an early miscarriage. I was only 8 weeks pregnant-so early that I almost feel silly for having such an emotional attachment to the blueberry-sized sea monkey. I had always been somewhat apathetic towards women who experienced an early loss of pregnancy. After all, I thought, the fetus was still just an amassment of cells and not yet a decipherable human baby. What I didn't take into account was the excitement that inevitably follows a positive pregnancy test- wondering whether it will be a boy or a girl, thinking up possible names, giddily whispering the new secret to your family and closest friends, imagining its face and dreaming about holding its tiny, warm body in your arms. Those thoughts are what bind us to the tiny bean growing in our bellies, regardless of its negligible size or inhuman appearance. Those thoughts cannot be rationalized away with biological explanations of its unachievable future. And then in an instant, those thoughts are purged from your body and you're left with an empty feeling in your stomach where the excitement of new life once lived.

When I realized I was miscarrying, my immediate reaction was not sorrow, but anger. I berated myself, because surely there was something I could have done to avoid this. I was angry at my husband for not having to endure the physical cycle of wholeness and emptiness in his gut. I was angry at the tiny baby for not keeping its heart beating. But mostly, I was angry at God.

It wasn't a logical anger, because had I viewed things rationally I would have understood that 30% of pregnancies are miscarried and my situation was no different from the millions of other women who suffer early miscarriages. But somehow, I felt it was a personal vendetta against me. "Make me grow up watching my little brother suffer through leukemia, then let me watch my father die a slow death, then take away my new future child," I thought as I yelled into my pillow. I was angry at God for allowing bad things to happen, when all I should have been doing was asking him for comfort. But I didn't, and the pain and rage endured.

The sadness came later, as did the realization of my misplaced anger and the knowledge that I have a lot to work on.

In my sporadic moments of anger, I forget that everything good in my life has come from God. I turn my back on him in an instant and persecute him for not making my life perfect. I hate him for allowing me to endure pain. I forget that the greatest lessons I have learned in life- that my growing compassion for others and budding self-awareness- have all been the result of enduring trials. I refuse to see that God has a plan for me, and enduring pain and suffering is ultimately part of life's beauty.

I want my father to be alive. I want to erase the memories of watching my little brother suffer when he was so young. I wish I had never felt the hollow hopelessness of depression. I want the baby back in my body. But to be honest, I wouldn't retract any of the invaluable lessons I have learned from abiding through those difficult times. That is what I need to remind myself whenever I want to punch a wall and curse God for letting life run its course. That is what I must remember when I feel the angry beast stirring in my breast.

In the end, life's beauty is only felt when we know what it means to hurt. And I guess that will make my next baby all the more cherishable.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


Just in case you're wondering why I haven't been blogging lately, here is the first few pages of the memoir I've been working on. It might sound redundant considering my prior blog posts, but hey, you have to start somewhere... And just to remind you (and myself): The First Draft is Always Crap. I'm thinking of getting it tattooed on my forearm.

* * * * * * *

I lived my life with the perpetually nagging feeling that I could not be normal. Not that normalcy was an impossibility for me (in fact, I always seemed to fit in quite well), but somewhere along the time line of my life I made a decision to consciously reject conventions on a daily basis with rigor and pride. If I trace my resolution in defiance, its onset would probably date back to 1999, when my first attempts at staving off the norm were made manifest by facial piercings and tattoos. Back then, the gauge of how well I was living against the grain was measured by the amount of punk rock patches and studs I could fit onto my hideous leather jacket, or the visible wear and tear on my over-sized skate shoes from doing ollies and three quarters of a kick-flip, long before Avril Lavigne made skateboarding cool. Yes, everyone, I was a punk rock rebel, and you better have damn well recognized it.

Although I would deny it at them time, my punk rock rebellion was a direct result of my father's passing. It was a slow and painful death, the kind where catchphrases like "at least you had time to say goodbye" and "he's not in pain anymore" are offered as consolation but provide no solace. I was thirteen when he was diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer, before the childlike admiration one holds for their parents is shattered by adolescent dissension.

We were sitting around the kitchen table on the evening my parents broke the news. I was seated next to my older brother Dave, and across from him sat my little brother. My father was at the head of the table, flanked by my mother and eighteen year old sister. We were all seated in our quotidian six o'clock dinner spots and to a distant observer, this assembly would have appeared to be just another family meal. But being in the room, you would have been able to feel the heaviness that lingered in the air like the suffocating tangibility of Los Angeles smog, as though our family was trapped in a valley of toxic words that spewed out my mother's mouth like fumes from an exhaust pipe.

I studied the outdated maroon and turquoise wallpaper with which my father had covered the kitchen walls while the words "cancer" "terminal" and "chemotherapy" floated through the air, then landed on the floor with heavy lifelessness. I wanted to sweep up those words and throw them in the trash can under our kitchen sink, so we could all forget about them and continue joking about my father's horrible taste in interior decor. I remember thinking that for all of the enviable attributes my father possessed, style was not one of them.

The only time I looked into his eyes that night was by command, when he promised us that he would live to see each of our birthdays over the next year. We had celebrated my thirteenth birthday six days before this fateful family meeting, and I believed if I could avoid turning fourteen, my father might live forever.

When he slipped into a coma on the afternoon of my fourteenth birthday, I was overcome with an unshakable sense of culpability. By waking up on October 19th 1999, I had granted my father permission to die. I didn't want to open my gifts. I didn't want to read my birthday cards, especially the one that was signed "DAD" in an erratic and shaky script, which was so unlike what would have come from the hand of my strong, immovable father of last year. I wanted everyone to pretend it was a normal day, so that we could all go on believing that my father had years of life left and ignore his weakened and gray body.

He died three days later.

I was upset when the coroners left a rose on the bed after they loaded his body into the back of the ambulance. The symbol of life resting on my dead father's pillow seemed to mock the gray and sunken head that had rested on it moments earlier. It was impossible that such a strong, unshakable man could have deteriorated into the hollow corps that lay breathless under the beige fleece blanket in our front room before they put him in a bag and carted him away, as though his life had been readily disposable and traded in for a flower. I hated the rose, but I was glad his body was gone. The lifeless figure had only been an effigy-a tribute to what my father no longer was. He was the father you would be proud to go to the public pool with, not only because of his washboard abs and ripped biceps, but because you could point and say "that's my dad" when he did handstand inverted flips off the high diving board, or when the swim team coach called on him to fill in for the sixteen and older relay team.

And now we had this rose.

I became withdrawn and angry, although it was a silent anger directed mostly at God.

I had been raised Mormon, a religion that teaches children to pray for what they want with earnest faith. At the onset of my father's illness, I held a perfect faith that my prayers would heal him. I knelt by my bedside night after night, pleading with God to restore my father's strength so that he would no longer be a shrunken shell of the man I loved so intensely. Over the months, I saw my prayers and my father's condition adopt a hyperbolic relationship; the more I prayed, the worse he became. When we turned our living room into an at-home hospice for my dad who couldn't make it upstairs, my prayers became sporadic and uttered with less intent. When the cancer spread and rendered him paralyzed from the waist down, and we had to use a lift to get him from bed to wheelchair, I stopped praying. Three days after my father died and five days after my fourteenth birthday, I broke a cardinal religious rule and got drunk. After that, it seemed there was no turning back.

While some people turn to God in death's wake, I ran from Him in vehement spite. If God existed, I wanted no relationship with the entity that taught miracles and compassion but had no time for a young girl's earnest prayers. If He didn't exist- which at the time seemed a more viable explanation for my fruitless pleas- then there was no point in maintaining communication with a lie. And so I began my purposeful yet subconscious crusade to defy every law and guideline that had been established by society and religion.

Fortunately for my deliberate image of abnormality, being Mormon gave my rebelliousness some added credibility. The main form of rebellion that Mormons tend to celebrate is in their rejection of alcohol, tobacco, freak dancing and consequently, premarital sex. In that sense, Mormons are pretty bad ass in terms of their steadfastness against societal pressures. I hadn’t lived my teenage years living in that particular avenue of societal revolt, and in that sense I was a Mormon dissident, while paradoxically adhering to the norm of teenage rebellion. Mormons also tend to stray away from any outward appearance of rebellion (other than rebelling against sexiness through modesty). That means tattoos, body piercings and patched leather jackets are generally frowned upon. As a result, not only was I rejecting mainstream society by being a punk, I was simultaneously dissenting from my religious culture, making my insurgence the Inception-style ‘rebellion inside of a rebellion’.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Loving as Religion

We spent the past weekend in St. George, Utah for Rivs' Iron Man 70.3 race. A few years ago, I would have been self-conscious and resentful about entering the heartland of conservative Mormon culture; self-conscious about my visible tattoos (thanks a lot 17 year old punk rock Steph), and resentful towards all the faceless Mormons who would undoubtedly make me feel like an outsider. I had never been to Utah before, but I was sure it was seeping with beautiful, stylish, self-righteous Mormons who had the innate ability to look into my soul and see that I was (gasp)... A LIBERAL! And I thought that they would judge and treat me accordingly. It's taken me a few years of introspective humility to understand the irony and hypocrisy of my reasoning. I was judging an entire geographical state of human beings to be judgmental. In thinking I was so "open minded", I was closing myself off to those I deemed bigoted before ever having met them. Wow, way to go, Steph.

I've grown very comfortable with the fact that I have visible tattoos, and I'm slowly learning that political ideology does not define a person. It can, but it doesn't have to. With that mindset, accompanied with the new found self-realization of my aforementioned hypocritical thinking, I went to Utah with no expectations, no pre-conceived judgement (other than the hypothesis that I would see a lot of heels, blonde hair and fake eye lashes), and with just a minor inferiority complex.

The first thing we did on our way to Utah was drive through Colorado City, which is famous (or infamous) for being a Polygamist settlement. For those of you who are not Mormon, let me clarify that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints do NOT practice polygamy. Just as Protestants broke away from Catholicism due to a divergence of beliefs, a faction of Mormons broke off from the official LDS church and formed their own religion in 1890 when then-LDS president Wilford Woodruff officially terminated the practice of polygamy. From this schism was born the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (or FLDS), a religion that holds faith in the same Book of Mormon as the official LDS church, but believes that the practice of Polygamy should have never been dissolved.

I guess I expected to see bonneted women hoeing wheat in the field as children ran down dirt roads chasing large wooden hoops with sticks in the their hands. What I saw instead were extremely modern mansions, outdoor pools and SUV-lined driveways. I saw a teenage boy walking down the road with school books in his hands, presumably on his way to Mojave Community College down the street. Sure, his Levis were riding pretty high around his waist, and he held a Walkman in his right hand and a TI-89 calculator in the other, but he wasn't the posterchild for polygamist depravity I had envisioned.

I began to feel guilty about gawking at these "different" people as we drove down the street. I felt I was making a spectacle of a people who were just living a life they believed to be right and true, just as much as I believe my way of life to be.

We left the compound and continued on our way to St. George. At the back of my mind, a thought began to form like a word on the tip of my tongue. I knew it was there, but I couldn't quite bring it to fruition. It wasn't until the end of our trip that I understood the scope of my budding epiphany.

Our weekend in Utah was pleasant. The scenery was beautiful, Cafe Rio was dangerously delicious (I may have gained 5 pounds derived solely from pulled barbacoa pork) and although I did see a plethora of heels, perky fake boobs and perfectly styled hair, I also saw lots of genuine smiles and met some sincerely friendly people. I have never been in a place where strangers are so excited to strike up a conversation, give a compliment or make a passing joke. It occurred to me that despite the cultural and political viewpoints with which I disagree, the sense of community and family emphasis is truly wonderful and unique within the Mormon culture. My budding epiphany was slowly reaching the surface.

We were sitting in Sunday school on our last day in St. George, surrounded by grey-haired couples who were following the lesson from their shiny new iPads, when my thoughts finally came together. I began to feel the intoxicating sentiment of self-consciousness creep in as I imagined how "ungodly" my nautical star neck tattoo must appear to the conservative generation of Mormons surrounding me. For all of the non-judgment and warmth I had felt from the people of St.George, I began to think that perhaps this 'final frontier' of senior uber-conservative Mormons would be the ones to make me feel out of place. Perhaps their liberal-radar was more in tune. Rivers was wearing flip flops, blue corduroys and a beige button down and was sporting a beard (well, a Fu Manchu mustache, but I think that may be even worse). I was wearing an Urban Outfitters bird T-shirt and the stretchy skirt I had worn the day before. My neck tattoo was clearly visible. Just as I was beginning to get lost in feelings of insecurity and diffidence, the elderly lady sitting behind me tapped my shoulder and whispered "I just love your blouse!" I thanked her warmly and went to turn back around so as not to disrupt the Sunday school lesson, but the kind lady was keen on carrying a conversation. We tacitly spoke about the weather, the Iron Man competition and where I had bought my "blouse". Her husband, hearing of Rivs' accomplishments in the race, reached forward and gave him a firm pat on the back, as a proud father would give his son. After the lesson there were smiling elderly faces waiting with kind smiles and hand shakes for me, and lots of proud back pats for Rivers. Sure, there had been culturally conservative Sunday school comments throughout the lesson, but I felt utterly at home. And that is when my epiphany was made manifest.

It occurred to me that it isn't our beliefs that define us, rather it's the way our beliefs translate into the way we treat other people that makes us who we are. We can be proud of our nationality, religion, political views or sexual orientation and use it as a means of identification. "I am American." "I am Mormon". "I am a Republican". "I am Gay". I don't believe there is anything wrong with feeling burning pride for our religion, or any other identifying factor. In fact, as human beings we need identities in order to feel self-worth and understand our place in the world. But what I came to find on my weekend in Utah, as trite as it sounds, is that our true identities are found in our ability and willingness to love others.

It's too often that our terrestrial identities keep us from recognizing our potential to love unconditionally, just as my 'liberal' ideology led me to write off the entire state of Utah. When we are so entrenched in our views, it becomes easy to pass judgement on those who think differently, and to treat them accordingly. I am supremely guilty of this.

This is not to say that it is inherently bad to be passionate about ideologies and beliefs. I wouldn't be writing this blog if I wasn't zealous in my worldview. But in a state of introspection I came to find that in comparison to love and charity, most of my other beliefs are quite trivial.

As this thought sequence unfolded, the Bob Marley lyrics "Love is my Religion" came to mind. Although these words are stigmatized as a free-loving left-wing hippie slogan, they are quite similar to the Christian mantra "Love one Another". Unfortunately, these polarized groups are often at odds with each other due to differences in belief, lifestyle and culture. In their polarized disagreements, they come to forget (myself included) that their basic core value is the same: just love.

Another song that came to mind as I was mulling over these thoughts were lyrics from a Church hymn:

"By this shall men know, that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another"

These words adopted new poignancy for me. The hymn doesn't say "by these white shirts and ties", or "by your clean-shaven face" that others would recognized followers of Christ. It simply says that our ability and propensity to love others is the greatest indicator of true discipleship.

And so, on my Utah vacation I came to learn that whether we're old or young, liberal or conservative, polygamist or monogamous, the only thing that truly matters is love.

Monday, April 22, 2013

A Tender Balance

Lately I feel as though I've been drowning in a sea of self-imposed pressure to 'do something' with my life. I seem to be clumsily treading in the waters of 'just making it', never able to lift my head high enough to take a breath of satisfaction. Where there once lived an insatiable drive to pursue every opportunity handed to me, I find myself eating cookies and reading Glamour magazine in my spare time. My justification is "what could I possibly accomplish in this hour I have to myself?" When my answer is "nothing productive", I get out the Costco tub of Pillsburry cookie dough and sit on the Lazy Boy. "I deserve this", I tell myself. But don't I deserve more?

I peruse Pinterest and the blogosphere and encounter women who are mothers of 4 with successful careers and beautifully decorated homes, who just happen to have made homemade Gatorade for their sick children. And I feel wholly inadequate.

I am a waitress.

My house looks like a Goodwill poster.

And I can't even keep it clean.

Now don't get me wrong, I absolutely love being a mother, and I have found more satisfaction in the calling of motherhood than any other job or degree could offer me. I look at my daughter's sleeping face and know that if I did nothing else with my life, having loved and raised her would be enough. Still, I can't help but shake this pervasive feeling that I could be more productive with my time, and that my window to seize the moment is quickly coming to a close. Women are becoming more successful at a younger age, and it leaves me feeling as though my prime is slipping into the periphery.

This self-inflicted sense of persecution contrasted against my lack of ambition follows me around everywhere I go. It seeps into my pores, leaving me feeling unsatisfied in the happiest of moments. I see resentment creeping into my veins. I hear my voice growing curt and abrasive with Harper. I am unable to be in the moment, because I'm always thinking about what more fulfilling things the moment could bring. And so, in the pursuit of 'something more', I end up with less.

Today, I woke up with renewed resolve, and a new perspective on what it means to be accomplished. I proverbially shook myself by the shoulders and shouted "You're not past your prime. You're not getting too old. You're not a Pinterest perfect mom. But you have a beautiful, happy family. Be okay with it."

I have decided to enjoy each moment, whether that means making Play-Doh pizzas on our scuffed wood floors, or writing a book, or eating a chocolate chip cookie while watching New Girl, or analyzing current affairs, or laying in bed with my husband and daughter on a sunny Sunday morning. I will no longer allow myself to give in to the choking anxiety that accompanies the thought "what more could I be doing?"

I will allow myself to believe that there is a season for everything, and that opportunities and 'success' will come in time. I will not give in to the counter-productive logic that an hour isn't enough. I will strive to use those sporadic hour sessions to do something fulfilling while still allowing myself guilt-free magazine and cookie sessions. Because I deserve to relax. But I also deserve feeling accomplished, productive and satisfied.

Most importantly, I will remember that raising my child in love and peace is more meaningful than having a blog-worthy home, or being published in the New York Times, or any other temporal gauge of success.

Today I have come to believe that it is in the sacrificial act of motherhood that we come to find the tender balance between selflessness and self worth.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Gay Marriage and the Huntsman

Instead of searching for something to write about, lately I've been waiting for a topic to jump out at me rather than writing for the sole purpose of producing a blog post. Now don't get me wrong; even if I wasn't innately passionate about a subject prior to writing, the process of research, contemplation and analysis always pivots me into a temporary obsession with whatever issue I am discussing. Don't believe me? Watch...

Apples. Yeah, apples are alright I guess. They're round and glossy. Crunchy and sweet. I eat them regularly. They're full of nutrients and loaded with health benefits. In fact, they're absolutely delicious. In fact, I love apples. Actually, I need an apple. Now. Where are all the apples? Did someone eat the last apple? I CAN'T LIVE WITHOUT APPLES!

See that thought process? It happens with my blog posts every time. Even so, I've been making it a point to write only when I'm extremely passionate about a subject matter, which brings me to this post.

Gay marriage. I know, I know... I'm a raving liberal that can't keep my political orientation in my pants. Sorry. I'm not ashamed to admit that the topic of civil gay marriage is one closest to my heart. In my opinion, the right for two consenting adults to marry one another is so starkly a civil right that cannot be marred by the blurring of church and state.

That is why I was both excited and relieved when the 2012 Republican Presidential candidate Jon Huntsman (who happens to be Mormon)recently declared his support for gay marriage outside of church institutions. In an op-ed piece for The American Conservative, Huntsman wrote:

"conservatives should start to lead again and push their states to join the nine others that allow all their citizens to marry. I’ve been married for 29 years. My marriage has been the greatest joy of my life. There is nothing conservative about denying other Americans the ability to forge that same relationship with the person they love."

He went on to assert that religious institutions should not be forced to accept gay unions within their respective churches.

This bold statement, made by a Republican nonetheless, was so poignant for me not because it will revolutionize the way members of the church perceive gay marriage (it won't), but because it marks a clear delineation between religion and politics.

I am well aware that the official stance of the LDS church will never waiver concerning gay marriage within its institution. I understand that this position is backed by eternal beliefs of gender, family and procreation. My intention was never to challenge eternal principles or to infer that our religious belief system is faulted. My only concern and consequent argument is that religious beliefs should not permeate into political legislature. Religion should not attempt to force those who do not accept our system of truth to live within the confines of our beliefs. Just as religious institutions are given the freedom to autonomously practice their rituals, rites and beliefs, so should political decisions be made free from the constraints of religious conjecture.

A prominent argument I've found in opposition to gay marriage is that it will degrade the sanctity of marriage. Really? I'm sorry to say, but when the divorce rate is sitting at around 45%, domestic abuse runs rampant, extramarital affairs are commonplace and swinging is the new cool thing to do, I'm pretty sure straight people have already degraded the inherent godliness of marriage. It is harsh and somewhat naive to say that two women who have been in love for years would further the downward spiral of marriage. And I don't want to be naive. I'm sure gay people will get divorced, abuse each other, have affairs and put their watches in a bowl for a swinging good time as well. But shouldn't they be allowed the opportunity to debauch what was once so divine, just as much as us straight people?

Okay, I don't want to be a Debbie Downer. I do believe that marriage can still be sacred, especially when faith and God are in the equation. But the sacredness of marriage is not dependent on civil law or constitutional amendments. It is contingent upon individual couples upholding their vows and covenants to ensure its sacramental meaning. But civil society should not be expected to comply with our belief that marriage is consecrated by God. Like it or not, a lot of 'Mericans don't even believe in God, and as beloved freedom entails, we are constitutionally banned from forcing others to adhere to any religion, creed or code.

This is the way I see it. I have been married for nearly 5 years. I was married by sacred ritual in an LDS temple. When I was married, I promised to keep faith and God a part of my marriage to ensure its sanctity and success. I believe that the success and sacredness of my marriage is contingent upon me and my husband's ability to maintain a relationship with God. I don't believe that allowing two men to marry would have any effect on my personal relationship with God or my husband. If it did, well that wouldn't be saying much for my marriage or my faith.

"But what will we teach our children?" I've heard people ask. Teach them that when two consenting adults love each other, they get married. Teach them that when two Mormons love each other, they get married in the temple, which does not (and never will) allow same-sex marriage.

So tip of my hat to you, Jon Huntsman, for being a real American through and through. Not only are you a Republican in support of gay marriage, but by asserting that religious institutions should not be forced to accept prospective changes to civil marriage, you were able to uphold your religious devotion, all while observing the tenets of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. That, my friends, is a taut tightrope to walk.

Thought? Disagreements? Opinions? You know I always like to hear what you have to say...

Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Right to Bear 8 Arms: what are you, an octopus?

What is usually assumed when I tell people that I majored in Peace and Conflict studies in undergrad and grad school, is that I am a pacifist. (Actually, lots of assumptions are made ie. feminist, anarchist, loves Birkenstocks, vegetarian, loves The Greatful Dead, hates country music, etc... But I digress.) The term 'pacifism' ranges on a spectrum from the promotion of resolving conflict through peaceful means to a belief in complete abstinence from violence, even for self defense. From my experience in somewhat heated political debates, 'pacifist' is often used as a derogatory term attempting to insult us 'liberal, dove-loving, peace-sign waving, hairy armpitted hippies', as though calling someone a 'pacifist' would negate any rational or logical argument they might have. I guess this is similar to calling someone a 'War Monger', which I may have done in my angsty teens, thinking that I had dominated an argument from the use of that single term alone. In truth, although I advocate for peaceful resolutions to geopolitical conflict, I would consider myself a moderate pacifist. I do think that violence is sometimes (but rarely) a necessary means to achieve peace, when all other diplomatic attempts have been exhausted, or if a group of people are being tyrannically oppressed. I think that global foreign policy is much too hasty in deeming military action as the most effective means of resolving conflict, and I definitely believe a major paradigm shift is needed in the way world politics deal with conflict. Still, it is my personal belief that there are instances when violence is a necessary evil. Phew. That was hard for me to write.

So, why the lengthy preface to a blog post about gun control? Well, I just wanted to state my stance on nonviolence before delving into my opinion on the subject of guns, just so you don't assume that I'm someone who wouldn't roundhouse kick a sexual predator in the face. Because I would. So hard. I'd even sucker punch a kidnapper in the jewels, and not even feel bad about it. And just so you know, Rivers sleeps with a machete under the bed. So there.

That being said, let me tell you about my views on gun control, since it's a topic that's been blowing up the social media sphere like Walter White in an underground meth lab. ( Didn't get that joke? No? Breaking Bad, anyone? Season 3? No, I guess that show is a little too rated R for my target audience...)

The major argument I've heard in opposition to tighter gun control laws is the good old 2nd Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America written in 1791, deeming that the people of America have the right to "keep and bear arms". Before dissecting the reasoning behind the amendment, let's take a look at the mechanics of a 1791 gun...

For starters, a 1791 gun was a single-fire weapon that needed to be reloaded through the muzzle after each shot. They had horrible aim, often misfired and did not have even close to the velocity or range that a modern firearm possesses. In other words, every shot had to count. People bearing arms back in 1791 were able to hit one target at a time (if they were 'lucky') with vast intervals of time in between shots, and were often stabbed or wrestled to the ground while trying to reload their musket in battle. In actuality, most militia men relied on more old school 'arms', like bayonettes, swords, sabres and bows. Modern assault rifles, on the other hand, have the ability to take down crowds of people in a matter of seconds with precision and ease, as we have regrettably learned through the recent onslaught of mass shootings plaguing the United States. As opposed to the bearer of a cumbersome musket who could conceivably be 'taken down' by an unarmed opponent, citizens bearing assault rifles have virtually no opposition. I doubt that the founding fathers could even fathom such destructive weapons when they bestowed upon the People the right to bear arms. If the arms debate was pitted around how many crossbows, cannons and Excalibur swords a citizen could posses, I think I would be more understanding of the opposing argument. But the fact that Americans are up in arms (pun) about the possibility of losing their semi-automatic assault rifles (which are only meant for one thing-killing multiple people in a short amount of time) baffles me.

The 2nd amendment was ratified in order to ensure that "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed." In essence, the right to bear arms was ratified as a safeguard against tyrannical rule, so that if the People felt their government was oppressive, they would be adequately armed for rebellion. Can you imagine what would happen if a group of extra-governmental militia people banded together to take out the president? Yeah, I'm pretty sure we call that terrorism, and there's actually a whole war going on to try and stop that, if ya didn't know. I think we can all agree that the original reason behind the right to bear arms is outdated. Citizen-organized militias are virtually illegal and I'd be willing to bet that any modern-day revolution would be quashed and quickly marked as treason. As a result, in 2008 the Supreme Court ruled that citizens unaffiliated with militias could still maintain their right to bear arms. In reality, it is no longer the 2nd amendment that is upholding this inalienable right to own guns (how many people do you know as part of a militia?). So let's not use that as an argument, k?

All this being said, I have to be clear that I am not completely opposed to gun ownership. I think that if having a handgun in your house makes you feel safer, and you've passed an extensive background check along with proper gun wielding and safety training, why not? Like I said, we sleep with a machete under our bed. If you like venison and a sweet deerskin loincloth, why not have a hunting rifle in your shed? Sure. No problem. What I can't understand is the debate over the right to own a semi-automatic assault weapon, or an arsenal of guns at that. A survey conducted by the Injury Prevention center at the US National Library of Medicine journal showed that gun owners own an average of 7.9 guns each. Please tell me the point of owning 8 guns. Unless you're an octopus,or have been watching too much Walking Dead and are preparing for the Zombie Apocalypse, I really don't get it.

Since 1982, there have been over 60 mass shootings in the United States, and, according to a recent study by Mother Jones magazine, most of the shooters obtained their weapons legally. The weapons used were predominantly assault rifles and semi-automatic handguns. I have heard the pro-gun argument that if a potential victim of a mass shooting had been armed, he or she could have shot the perpetrator before too many lives were lost. But as this study shows, there have been zero mass shootings stopped by armed civilians, although some victims were armed at the time of the shooting.

I guess my point in writing this blog is my ever present message of moderation and balance. I see no problem with a law-abiding citizen having a safely stored handgun in their home to protect against intruders. I know a lot of people whose minds are put at ease going to bed at night knowing that they have a weapon to protect them. But what I really can't wrap my mind around is how people can rationally argue the 'right' to own their own personal stockpile of assault weapons, or those who feel they're living under a communist government when they see a sign outside a store that reads "No Weapons Allowed".

There are tons of other disarming (pun) statistics that I could use in this post, but I don't want to bore you. Here are some links to the studies I've referenced, just so you know I'm not just pulling these statistics from thin air.

And I'd really be interested to hear your opinion on the subject. So please, go ahead. Shoot.