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Saturday, June 19, 2010

"May The Force Be With You!"

Here in this beautiful beehive state, “the force” is most definitely the Mormon church. If “the force” is with you, life here is easier and more comfortable. Many people in the state find it necessary to know who is on the side of “the force”. Sadly, some of these same people will judge outsiders as being on “the dark side”. The current controversy over an anti-Bob Bennett mailer is a perfect reflection of this strange division in Utah society. The flier showed republican candidate Mike Lee’s photo above the Salt Lake City Mormon Temple and Bob Bennett’s photo over the United States Capitol building with the caption “Which candidate really has Utah values?” The mailer did not come directly from Mike Lee’s campaign, but in my opinion that is irrelevant. Here are the facts: although people were apparently offended by the flier, it worked! Bob Bennett will not be on the ballot this fall. You see, Utah values are Mormon values and separation of church and state is non-existent in my current home.

Rules and laws in other states do not apply here. LDS seminary is part of the public school day. My husband gets calls from job recruiters on a regular basis and many ask him if he has a “temple recommend”. For you outsiders, this translates, “Are you a Mormon in good standing with the Church?” Now, close your mouths, I know you think that is illegal, but not here in Utah. All things in Utah, lead to “the force”! If you have “the force” behind you, you are “in” – with your neighbors, your companies, your schools, etc. If, however, “the force” is not with you it is harder to find your way in just about every aspect of society.

Recently, “the force” decided to give a nod to the Salt Lake City Council and allow it to make it illegal to discriminate against the gay community in housing and employment. If “the force” had not given their approval the city would still be in the dark ages as far as that basic civil right. I am grateful to the Mormon Church for finally taking that position and hope the “the force” remains on the moral and just side of all Utah citizens.

My family navigates through life without the powers of “the force”. We are happy and appreciate the positive aspects of our life in Utah. Along the way, we may even have convinced a few people that we are not on “the dark side”. As Utah adjusts to more diversity, the long standing battle may subside. We have to accept that one side is not more important than the other, nor more right than the other. People are just different and that should really be OK as long as no one is getting hurt on either side of the issue.

I hold out hope that Utah will not always judge people by their religion. However, until that time,
“May the force be with you!”

Sunday, May 23, 2010

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” Yoda

I love children, or at least I thought I did until I started substitute teaching a few months ago. I may reevaluate my opinion. I used to teach middle school before I had children, and I loved it! I had a federal grant to teach in a low income area in San Jose, California. It was a challenging job, but I thought it was wonderful. I adored most of the kids, and I was more than their teacher. In fact, many days I wasn’t a “teacher” at all. I felt more like a social worker, mother, police officer, counselor, and therapist all wrapped into one.

So, after 19 years away from the classroom, I thought I would give it another try. I started substituting at local middle schools. It was a horrible! I am not a stranger to adolescent behavior. But, I was shocked that these kids from middle and upper middle class white and mostly Mormon families were so unbelievably disrespectful. Somewhere along the way, their parents had skipped the lessons on how to behave towards their fellow students and their teachers. For me, it was another display of the hypocrisy in this state. The very judgmental community I live in needs to take a look in the mirror.

I am now substituting at the elementary level and it is a bit better. However, every day I am reminded in some manner that I am still an outsider in this community. Every day, whether I am in a kindergarten class or a sixth grade class, a student will ask,

Are you a BYU fan or a Utah fan?”

Of course, that is kid code for “Are you Mormon or not?” My answer is always the same.

I am from California, so I am not a fan of either, but I love the San Francisco Forty Niners.”


They all get very excited as Steve Young played for the 49ers and I am "in" without really answering their question. This answer gives me an instant connection with the majority of the class and being an outsider connects me with the others in the classroom. Who knew that defining myself in this manner would be so important to children.

So, many things have happened over the last few months that are both funny and strange. When I start the day in a new classroom, I try to get to know the students quickly and ask them to share something about themselves, they think I will remember. Well, kids do say the darndest
things, so here goes:

My name is Brigham, and I get my brains from Jesus.”

My name is Dallin and I am named after a prophet.”

My name is Joseph and I am a future missionary.”

Get the picture – religion is important to these kids and it is an accepted part of the public schools. Now I have nothing against religion being important to anyone, I just find it unusual that it is talked about in school so openly.

I was in a kindergarten classroom last week and two boys were literally grilling another boy about his religion. One little boy meanly questions,

Do you go the church with this? (the boy makes the sign of the cross with his fingers)

Why aren’t you Mormon?”

Another five year old chimes in,
I am Mormon!!”

I put a stop to this little conversation as the poor little boy who worshipped elsewhere was about to burst into tears. I have heard stories like this so many times from people I know, but had never truly witnessed it. I am saddened that such young children are taught to tease and fear kids who are different. I hope that regular classroom teachers put a stop to this as I did, but I am truly not confident!

I bring my coffee with me every morning and one morning another teacher stopped me and said

“Yeah, another coffee drinker.”

Then she gave me a warning. She said that once she had a parent stop her in the hall and ask

“Are you allowed to bring coffee into an elementary campus?”

Really – are you kidding me? One morning as I was taking a sip of my “morning joe” two third grade girls asked if I was drinking hot cocoa. I simply answered “No”. The one student whispered to the other “It is coffee.” Both girls put their hands over their mouths and started giggling as their teacher was being “naughty”. Again, drinking coffee, is not OK, but being rude to adults and teasing others who are different is accepted. CRAZY!!!

Another day I was in the library with a fifth grade class and the librarian read them a story about Jackie Robinson. The story revealed a lot about racism at the time and would have made a great lesson for fifth graders. I was thrilled and looked forward to what the librarian would teach after the story. All she said was, “So that is a great tale about the history of baseball.” What – that is it??? I wanted so badly to discuss the dangers of racism today – even against our current President, but I knew that would be looked down upon in lily white Draper Utah. I used to love teaching, especially about history and how we can learn so much from our past. I really wanted to be back in San Jose, California, teaching kids who knew first hand the ugliness of bigotry and discrimination. I felt like a failure that day!

So, I still love children, but I feel sad that we may be raising young people here who will never learn that it is OK to be different. Fear may keep them from the knowledge that other cultures, religions and places can make their lives better and more full. It is great to love who you are and to honor your faith. But faith should not lead to anger at those who don’t believe as you do. It is my hope that young people will learn that it takes more than just abstaining from coffee, alcohol, and premarital sex. Whatever your faith or lack thereof, it should be about how we treat our fellow human beings. We should not ever get so caught up in “the rules” that we forget how to behave towards one another. I only hope that this community and its teachers learn from the words of another great teacher,

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Rufio, Rufio, Ru-Fi-OOOOO

Watch Peter and Rufio:

Twice a week my family sits in a high school gym rooting for my son's basketball team. We spend about five hours watching all three games and for the most part love every minute. We are a sports family and basketball is our favorite. However, we have found that here in Utah, the fans are extremely harsh. They yell at the refs, the coaches, the fans, the players and at other parents. It is rude and appalling.

I have written previously about crazy sports fans and their bad behavior. However, at kids sporting events it is particularly disconcerting. Last week's game truly topped the charts. After a traveling call by the referee, I hear a young voice to the right of me yell out,

“Go back to church ball, Ref!”

I look over and see this comment coming from a boy who could not have been more than four years old. Now, I think that was meant to be a put down, but being that we are not in attendance at church ball games, I would love my readers to fill me in. The point is, however, what was this tot doing yelling at a grownup? Where was the adult in his life teaching him about respect and manners? Oh... they were sitting next to him yelling even worse things at the referee. The hypocrisy in this state unbelievable. These same families sit in church and think they have moral superiority and yet they don't show common decency at at kid's ball game. It is truly crazy to me.

Well, I knew I would be sharing that story but I had no idea that things were about to get worse, much worse. Now, I do need to be fair before recounting this next incident. Our student fan section is organized, loud, funny, and sometimes quite obnoxious. There have been a few times that I have thought they crossed the line and did not represent their school with pride. Having said that, they do show up and support the team every game and for the most part they are good kids.

When the opposing team is shooting a free throw, they loudly jeer,

Rufio, Rufio. Ru-fi-OOOOOOOOO!!”

Loud cheering during free throw shooting is common place at every level of basketball. So, while doing their regular “Rufio” chant during a free throw, a mom from the opposing team turned around and started screaming at our fan section.


I may not remember her exact verbage, but she must have said "gay boys" at least ten times. After her tirade, the parents sitting in her section gave her high fives. Are you kidding me??? I was mortified and our student section was also. The woman who ranted these hateful remarks is none other than the mother of a senior player, and NFL player. I know this because at halftime she and her son were introduced to the entire gym for Senior Night.

I am so sad that I live in a state where this kind of comment is accepted and rewarded. I should not be surprised. Despite the fact that I do need to judge this woman as an individual, I am well aware that she is a member of a church that has openly discriminated against the gay community. So, I do judge her and all of those who gave her the high fives. I may have a glass of wine with my meal and a cup of coffee in the morning, but I will NEVER behave in the ugly manner which I see on a regular basis in high school gyms. So... keep your supposed moral superiority and your shameful comments to yourself. I know who you really are, and so do all the others who witnessed your hideous display. I am sorry the teenagers upset you. But truth is just what Peter said to Rufio...


Thursday, January 14, 2010

"Words,Words, Words...."

Eliza Doolittle is another one of my favorite movie characters. In the wonderful song “Show Me” she proclaims to Freddy ….”Don’t talk of stars burning above, if you’re in love – SHOW ME!” Well, I suppose I can understand her frustration - actions do speak louder than words. However, I also know that words have enormous power and they changed Eliza’s life! Her newfound ability to communicate and use words in a different manner gave her opportunities she would never have had before.

I just finished an amazing book called The Book Thief by Mark Zusak. It is a WWII story about the power of words. In this book, words were the cause of much hardship, but also tremendous comfort. It was certainly a lesson in the value of all of our words and I loved it. I have been thinking about the book for days and pondering all the ways that words have influenced my life.

Words bring me pleasure, laughter, comfort, love, entertainment, fear, sorrow, and disappointment. A good book takes me places I thought I could never go and introduces me to characters that I love. Words can totally transform my world for a time. Lyrics from songs also evoke a vast range of feelings. I am moved by the words of great orators like Obama, King and Ghandi, and frightened by words of hate which are so prevalent during current times.

Whoever said, “Stick and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me” is pretty naive. Talk with anyone who has had a verbally abusive parent, spouse, boss, or friend and I think they will tell you they disagree. Words can hurt!!! Ask a child who has been the victim of a racial slur. Ask a student whose teacher has told them they were stupid or an athlete whose coach has verbally ripped them to shreds in front of teammates. Ask anyone who has had words used against them and they will surely tell you they are hurtful. It is, however, what you do with that hurt that counts. It is most definitely how you use your words that can mend not just your own wounds, but hopefully the wounds of others.

The main character in The Book Thief finds a source of healing in words. Through reading and writing she survives the insurmountable. This book will stay with me a long time and I am going to value all the words in my life more. Words can heal….I love you…..I am proud of you….I am sorry …what can I do to help…..” Words can truly be a gift. Thank you all for reading my words and following my blog. I am truly grateful!

Watch Eliza in all her glory:

Monday, January 4, 2010

"After All....Tomorrow is Another Day!!!"

Scarlett O’Hara has always been one of my favorite movie characters. My good friend recently asked me how I could possibly like her. Well, despite the fact that she was quite horrible at times, I admired her ability to move on and meet every challenge she faced. Although, I certainly didn’t approve of many of her actions, I wish I possessed more of her strength and will to survive whatever life brings.

As 2010 begins, my family is struggling with many transitions. My hope for this year is that we will make these changes in a smooth manner and that everyone will be content with the outcomes. Change is often frightening and the unknown causes a lack of sleep. I am going to try to make this year one that embraces all the upcoming changes in our lives. No doubt, this road may be rocky, but the four of us are accustomed to difficult paths. We are a family that gets stronger as things get more difficult. We rally around each other and are fierce in our support.

It is funny how when times are hard, you find out who is in your corner. Although it is disappointing when some are less than sympathetic or helpful, it is an important lesson to know who you can always count on. Over the years, we have been blessed with many friends that have helped us along the way and remain so grateful for their place in our lives. We have friends that have been a constant for over thirty years and friends that have recently become a part of our extended family. I cannot imagine our lives without all these fabulous people. So, knowing that we truly do have strong and loyal people behind us, my family will find our way through 2010 and no matter what it holds we will be content with that good fortune. I look forward to this year and know that although change is imminent, love and joy surround us. Today may look a bit cloudy, but “after all….tomorrow is another day!!"