Planting Seeds of Simon

Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash

I was supposed to be completing my work.  Pages of numbers scrawled in careless handwriting stared at me like a ravenous beast.  Every day I would labor over the numbers, but it was never enough. I was behind again.  I had my notebook and my textbook in my lap, my back slouched against the wall of the school hallway.  It was awkward, but less because of practice. Day in and day out, recess after recess I would work on my missing assignments.  Day in and day out, I would be sent out to the hallway while the class graded papers that I had yet to complete. Classes of students would file past, single file.  If I thought about it, my cheeks would burn with shame, but I didn’t think about it. That just made it harder to handle. If everyone in Sugar City didn’t know I was a loser, they didn’t have their eyes open.  I was in the hall more than anyone else in the fifth grade. I was in study hall so much that even when I went out to recess, the other kids already had their groups of friends. I was a loser and everyone knew it. Even when I walked across the stage to get my diploma wearing my high honors tassel on my square hat.  Even when I graduated from college. I’ve worked my whole life to try and overcome that gnawing feeling of inadequacy that haunts me from those early days sitting in the halls, wishing I could disappear.

I read the book, Lord of the Flies, with my teenage son this week.  He was assigned to read the book for school.  It’s an incredibly disturbing book and I’m glad that I was able to help my son to process the horror of it.  I wish someone had helped me to deal with the book when I had to read it as a teen. The level of savagery that the author portrayed has burned itself into my brain.  It teaches important things about cruelty and the capacity of good people to do terrible things; the beast that lives within each of us is real and we need to understand it, even if it’s uncomfortable. As a mother of boys, the book is particularly disturbing because it is perceptive. It is unsurprising that the author was a teacher of boys. He knows them well, like I do. There have been many times when I have seen the savage instincts of my sons flare up and I have thought, “They wouldn’t survive a week on their own.  They would murder each other within days.” They aren’t bad boys, but they are never too far from doing some very bad things. It takes constant nurturing and guidance to keep the flame of empathy and compassion alive. Like the boys in the book keep the fire alive, I have to constantly tend it. Hopefully they will learn to light their own inner fires of compassion and empathy.  In a world where the lights of compassion are being snuffed out, I hope I am successful. For some boys, compassion comes easily. For them, a culture of cruelty too often encouraged and tolerated by adults can be the most damaging. That boy was Simon in the book.

I relate to Ralph, and his struggle to bare the burden of responsible leadership.  I relate to Piggy and his asthma that keeps him from contributing in traditional ways.  But most of all, I relate to Simon. Simon, the awkward introvert who keeps trying to say the thing that everyone most needs to hear, but he can’t quite get the words out.  Simon, who craves the approval and love of Ralph so he tries to hide what everyone can see; that he is different and wrong and broken. Simon, the bravest and best of the boys on the island who was also the most vulnerable and lonely.  Simon, the betrayed and abandoned, who loved the survivors enough to face the beast alone. He was the only one who knew the real danger that the camp faced and he died trying to tell them.  The beast is not what you think it is.  The monster you fear is within you. Within us.

In a culture of cruelty, I don’t want to be popular and cool.  I don’t want to fit in. I would rather be Simon. I know what suffering feels like and I want a world where we have less of it.  None of it. The beast is not in the other party. It isn’t in another country. It isn’t in another faith community. It isn’t in another generation.  The beast is in you. It is in me. We can choose to climb the mountain. We can face the fear and discomfort of self-discovery. We can face our friends and share what we have learned whether they are in a place to hear it or not.  I believe in the power of planting seeds. I like to think that before Simon was murdered by the boys he loved that he was gathering seeds on the island and planting them. He was the kind of person who plants seeds.

It’s interesting to think of how the Lord of the Flies might have been different if Ralph had valued Simon.  What if he had listened to him? What if he had relied on him instead of on Jack? Perhaps a group of young boys would inevitably create chaos and cruelty.  Perhaps a group of fallen adult people are doomed to do only marginally better on this island cut off from our God. Still, I think it is possible for the Simons in our society to speak out more often, even when we do it imperfectly.  I think the Ralphs in our society can listen to us more. If we do, we could change the story of the world.

A Kingdom Not of This World

For the new year, I have been re-focusing on gospel study.  For what feels like the millionth time, I am beginning the Book of Mormon again.  I Nephi, having been born of goodly parents…. Each time I begin, it’s the same book, but yet it’s different because I have changed.  The world has changed.  

The impeachment Senate trial of Donald J. Trump has begun.  Hours and hours of arguments have been presented to show the contours of the Ukraine scandal and the reasons for the House to take the extraordinary step of impeaching the President.  I assume that hours and hours will be spent by the President’s defenders to cast suspicion on the House investigation. The country is divided with each side determined to remain so to the detriment of our country.

It reminds me of the sons of Lehi.  Laman and Lemuel on the one side, Nephi and Sam on the other.  Laman and Lemuel were suspicious of their father. He was a strange and visionary man.  He had coerced them into leaving the comforts of their home and community to wander in the wilderness, hunting game, and living in tents.  It brings to mind abusive families and cults who isolate their followers and subject them to privations. And Nephi and Sam support and believe.  They are the “good sons” who hang on Dad’s every word. Laman and Lemuel saw the good in the Jewish people that their father had condemned and they felt judged.  Why did Nephi and Sam see things so differently?

Nephi was himself a visionary man.  It might be said that he saw even more than his father did of the designs of God and His Son.  He clearly recognized the evil that had steeped itself in the culture of the Jews and knew that destruction was near.  He knew this in a way Laman and Lemuel did not because he inquired of the Lord. In making a sincere connection with the Spirit, he saw the truth; his family could not continue to follow God and remain in Jerusalem.  I assume Sam must have come to the same conclusions.

I’ve been reading the history of my mom’s great-great-great grandfather John Lowe Butler.  He lived in Tennessee in the 1830’s when he and his wife joined the Mormons. He moved to Far West and then to Nauvoo.  His wife’s sister, Charity Skeen, had also joined back in Tennessee, but was not able to migrate. She was a deaf-mute and her brothers were hostile to the church and felt she was being manipulated against her will.  He traveled back to Tennessee in 1842 on a mission. He visited Charity and learned that she was still strong in the faith and wanted to join her sister in Nauvoo. Her brothers threatened to kill John if he took her with him.  

He made an interesting observation of his former friends, and neighbors.  He said that the society was “all pretty well and bitterly opposed to the principles of the Kingdom of God.” He felt they were “full of the devil and persecution.”  He, like Nephi, could see that people were hard in their hearts, immune to the truth, and determined to walk their own way, away from God.

Like Lehi, John Lowe Butler had to leave his home and society in order to follow his conscience and become the man God intended for him to be.  In his day, as in our day, as in Lehi’s day, there are divisions that no calm recitation of “the facts” will bridge. The devil rages in the hearts of men.  He distorts the minds and hardens the hearts of those who allow him to. The narratives are many. The cynical insinuations multiply like rabbits. There are many warriors fighting supposed bad guys; each side certain of their own superiority.  Like the people of Babel, we hardly speak the same language anymore. Where is the truth? Who is the enemy? Is it Democrats or Republicans, Christians or Muslims, Muslims or Jews, rich or poor, white or black? What tribe do you belong to? How can you project the faults of your own tribe onto your enemy?  How can you defend your own people regardless of their crimes? That is the name of the game.

But the truth is there for those who are willing to inquire of the Lord.  In the Book of Mormon, Nephi sees our day. He sees a vision of the rise of “two churches,” one good and one evil.  The evil church oppresses the humble followers of Christ and puts them in bondage. Their creed is not of principle or ideology, but of power and lust.  Their God is not of heaven, but of mammon. This church is not exclusive. There are members in all parties, religions, ethnicities, nations, and economic means.  They see themselves as above the rules. They put the pursuit of power and wealth over everything else. They look down on those who behave honorably and act with integrity.  They subject them to persecution and bondage.

I was listening to NPR in the car on the way home from dropping Austin off at preschool.  The news talked about the Rohingya in Myanmar and the severe persecution of those people. I imagined in my mind a mob of angry men full of hate and violence.  Their victims were the Rohingya; and then they were my ancestors, the Mormon pioneers in Missouri; and then they were the Kurds in Northern Syria. And the mob changed too in my mind.  They changed from back to white, from poor to rich, from educated to ignorant, etc. Their weapons were likewise fluid. Sometimes guns, sometimes household items, sometimes laws, sometimes judges and lawyers, sometimes social media shaming.  

And I saw the truth of this moment.  Like Lehi did. Like Nephi did. Like John Lowe Butler did.  There is a rising of evil. There is a hardening of hearts and a blinding of minds.  The humble followers of Christ; not only Christians, but everyone who seeks to elevate mankind to greater civility, kindness, and devotion to true principles; will face persecution.  We will be driven out. Metaphorically and literally. Driven from councils and schools. Driven from houses of government and places of employment. We will increasingly find ourselves excluded from parties consumed with hate and tribalism, who seek power and revenge.  To follow Christ is to reject these things. Christ had a crown of thorns, not gems. He stood above the people nailed to a cross, not elevated on a throne of gold. He was willing to face rejection and death rather than deny the principles and truth he held sacred. If he had lived transactionally, compromised his principles, and made friends with the right people, he would likely have been embraced by the Jews. Perhaps he would have been made a king.  A fallen king for a fallen people. Instead He became the King of a different Kingdom. As he said to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.”

I made this image based on Zelda Breath of the Wild, but I made her naked. To me, she is being reborn as a member of a new kingdom of light and hope.

And it has never been of this world.  His Kingdom is Zion; where the pure in heart dwell.  Zion is all around us, just as the great and abominable church is all around us.  We choose which church we belong to by what we set our hearts upon. Will you be driven out with me?  Will you take upon yourself the name of my King? Will you become my countrymen in a kingdom that is not of this world?  Let us purify our hearts together. Let us partake of a cleansing sacrament of renewal. Let us join hearts and hands in devotion to a higher law, a better way, a holier path guided by the light of truth that resides in the minds of the pure in heart.  The Lord will not forget His people. He will not leave us comfortless. As long as we have one another, we will never be alone.

Trump Derangement Syndrome

“You clearly have Trump Derangement Syndrome!” Its a common diagnosis thrown out by Trump supporters. I was diagnosed with it today by someone who obviously considers himself qualified to hand out fictitious mental disorders on social media.

It didn’t hurt my feelings because the sting wore off long ago, although I was surprised by source of the attack who was promptly unfriended. There has been a lot of political drama in my life the last couple of days. I have been feverishly unfriending those who refuse to take the time to understand the feelings I experience and expect me to always behave myself when they say ignorant things. I am only human and although I have my fair share of human frailties, I refuse to tolerate those who too often criticize me in my pain, and fail to provide respect, comfort, and understanding.

My mind continues to go back to the idea of “Trump Derangement Syndrome.” It is a classic example of gaslighting. First, elect a mercurial and abrasive man to the highest office of the land. Make sure he is incompetent and divisive and fires anyone around him who might tell him anything he doesn’t want to hear. Then, when people get upset and point out problems, say that they are deranged and hate him, thus blaming them for the problem you have created.

Trump Derangement Syndrome is not a real disorder. It is a way of marginalizing a group of people with the stigma of a mental health disorder. Such a practice is commonplace, but wrong. Mental health disorders do not make people without sense or reason in the vast majority of cases. They should not be used to discredit someone, especially when the disorder referred to doesn’t exist. Qualified mental health professionals use diagnoses to understand a patient and guide treatment options, not discredit and dismiss them.

There is obviously something very wrong in America right now. We are imploding rapidly. Our allies, the Kurds, are being slaughtered as we speak. Our President styles himself a king calling the impeachment inquiry “unconstitutional” although his behavior has made it inevitable that he would be impeached, as the only remedy we have for removing a lawless President. This whole thing causes me immense distress. I have pondered long on our current situation and I keep coming back to Carl Jung. His book The Undiscovered Self, Jung hypothesizes about the challenges of our time. I’ve found a lot of wise insights in that book.

In short, he believes that the biggest threat to mankind is the submission of the individual to the collective– a kind of enmeshing where everyone is to blame and no one is to blame for everything. Factions (Republicans and Democrats) can project blame onto other factions while refusing to do introspection and take responsibility for doing the work of societal change and improvement. Gradually the state replaces the individual and eliminates religion, or makes religion into creed, which is state sponsored religion. Rather than bringing the individual to God, creeds use religious manipulation to subjugate the people. The best defense against this enmeshing, according to Jung, is genuine connection to God; real spiritual and individual wellness of individuals.

Jung lived during the two world wars and had a chance to observe and analyse Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini and, even better, the people they ruled. He gave a fascinating interview with H.R. Knickerbocker that you can access here. Be warned, he makes some rather rude generalizations about Coastal Americans and others. Also, some have considered his comments on Hitler to be too flattering. Some NeoNazis use Jung’s words to justify and explain their continued fascination and even worship of him. Jung, for his part, did all he could to stop the spread of totalitarian governments during his lifetime and his words seem eerily canny and applicable today.

The strange behavior of Trump and his supporters has been the source of much distress to the nation and the world. There are reasons for it, but I am unqualified to fully diagnose the problem. Still, it is increasingly hard to make the argument that there isn’t something strange going on in the subconscious minds of those who have created the Trumpian nightmare we are living through.

George Conway wrote a piece for The Atlantic that I thought was excellent in describing the unenviable position we find ourselves with a President who openly displays the textbook description of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Worse, he seems better at disordering everyone else’s life than he does his own, although one could argue he does both. It is called Unfit for Office.

Mental health is being increasingly discussed and recognized as the vital subject it is. The General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints had several talks that touched on it. Mental wellness and spiritual wellness are two sides of the same coin. I pray that we can embrace the mental health resources we have to help us solve our nation’s problems, heal our divisions, and create a true Zion society where each of us is free to grow and develop into the individuals God created us to be.

Part One; I Meet a Conman

The small television loomed large in the small family room in rural Idaho.  “He’s so hot,” Tiffany said with a dreamy expression. I looked at the screen with Pierce Brosnan’s face gazing lazily at me.  “I like Magnum PI,” I retorted. I had a crush on the mustached crime fighter for years. Some of my earliest memories center around feeling weak in the chest as I watched Tom Sellek play Thomas Magnum, a tough guy private investigator who looked rough and rugged.  In contrast, Peirce Brosnan seemed like a fake to me. He was! Remington Steele was a fake, a con man, a liar. I think that bothered me even then, before I could really understand what the differences were between the two men.  

“He has a mustache!” Tiffany replied with a scandalized tone.  “How would you even kiss him.” If felt a flutter as I thought of Tom Sellek’s mustached face kissing me.  “It wouldn’t be that bad,” I defended. She rolled her eyes condescendingly. “Remington Steele is way better! He’s so suave and his suit is nice and he just looks at you and you melt.  And, he’s kind of a bad guy. That makes him cool.” I didn’t understand that.  

I was a straight arrow.  Even as a little girl, I saw the world in black and white and Remington Steele was gray.  I liked to watch the show, but I didn’t trust Remington Steele. Tiffany liked to get away with stuff.  Even small cons on my parents seemed not to bother her in the slightest. If you could get away with it, there was no problem.  I couldn’t live that way.  

Years later I watched her graduate from high school, so anxious to get on with her life and leave her childhood behind, I couldn’t help but feel a great sense of loss.  She was leaving me behind as well. I didn’t have a great relationship with her, but I thought things were getting better. She was no longer the bully that she was when we were little.  She was always left in charge as the oldest back then, and Tiffany loved to tattle and blame me and criticise me endlessly. I hated her and the feeling was probably mutual. As she became a busy high school student and I started looking up to her a little, things got better.  We shared shoes and some clothes, and sometimes talked about boys or school. She would give me advice. Constantly. Sometimes it was helpful, but I didn’t like how she always seemed to want to know everything. I was smart too. Now she was leaving and I was heart broken. She didn’t seem to care at all.

We still saw a lot of Tiffany as she attended the local college.  She dated a lot of different boys, but nothing seemed to ever work out.  She graduated from the nursing program and moved to the big city to make her mark.  She was living in Salt Lake City and working as a nurse when she met David. He was a cell phone salesman with a palm pilot in his pocket.  His smooth charm and sad story won Tiffany over and before anyone knew what was happening, they were getting married.

“He’s been married before?” I asked.

“Yes.  Don’t be so judgey Bridge!” she retorted.

I was self aware enough to realize that I was judgemental.  I had boycotted the senior prom my junior year because they had decided to have prom at Retrix, the only dance club in town.  I thought Retrix was the most unholy place in Rexburg and I couldn’t believe that the school was forcing us to support that kind of place.  Nothing came of my solitary protest and the next year prom was again at Retrix. I toned down my outrage and I ended up going to it. I was a little disgusted with the way the couples were dancing, but I had enough social awareness by then to keep it to myself.  I was learning that the world was bigger than Rexburg and my Mormon upbringing. Tiffany was in the big city now, and she might know a few things I didn’t about the world outside. Even so, I didn’t like how fast everything was going. We hadn’t even met David and now he was going to join our family.    

“He’s awesome.  You are going to love him.  He’s so spiritual and nice and handsome…..” her words and her tone sounded familiar.  It was like Pierce Brosnan. He was too good to be true. He was rich and a body builder and he had this sob story about his past that cast him as a pitiful victim of bad circumstances.  His parents had divorced right as he was getting ready to go on his mission. He had to stay home to help his family work through the traumatic experience. Then he married a woman who ended up going crazy and stabbing him in the back with a knife from their kitchen.  He moved out and got a restraining order against her and filed for divorce. Now he was getting his life back together. He was going to be rich. He was going to be powerful. He was full of drive and determination, and seemed to have just a little bit of a Machiavellian streak; just enough to make him willing to do whatever it took to be successful and that’s what Tiffany wanted most.  So what if his past wasn’t ideal? It was his future that mattered, and he was going to be successful.  

I never questioned his story.  I never speculated that David’s ex-wife might not be the woman that David and his family painted her to be.  I never considered that his man might be a con artist; that like Remington Steele, the person he was pretending to be was very different than the man he actually was.  I was hopeful that he was a diamond in the rough, a bad boy ready to be a good husband and father as I watched David and Tiffany walk out of the Salt Lake Temple as man and wife.