Saturday, November 10, 2012

Can we please treat the disease and not just the symptoms?

You see that elephant in the room? Okay, I acknowledged him, but I actually don't want to talk about Obama's reelection or Romney, just because it's just about the only thing I've talked about all week in real life, and I'm done for the weekend. Probably. Probably not.

I am, however, going to talk about the church. More specifically, I'm going to talk about church members a little. In between election-centered rants, I also went on a couple of member-rants this week.

Don't get me wrong, I love my people and will defend them to my last breath, but sometimes I just want to grab them shoulders and shake them. It was that kind of a week.

Today's rant is brought to you by this article that dad sent me.

First off, I'm skeptical of this “teaching self government” program. That's a different rant entirely, I just wanted to put that out there to begin with, so you can understand that I have a biased opinion against programs like that. I believe they do more harm than good. I sort of tend to file them under “IMPACT” etc. which I also disapprove of. Not that every principle is worthless, but that it can be taken to an extreme that actually negates certain crucial aspects of the Gospel. Besides, if you're living the Gospel correctly, you probably shouldn't need those things to supplement your life. That's the abstract of my criticism. For the full argument, see me in person. I dare you.

So, to get back to the article. It's all about the way that this LDS family dealt with their fifteen year old daughter putting a semi (meaning”not”) permanent pink streak of color in her otherwise naturally brown hair.

When my younger sister Jensen put a pink streak in her hair this is how my parents dealt with it.

“You look so cute!”

And a few weeks later, after regular washings, all the color had come out and her naturally blonde hair was color-free again. End of story.

My parents are awesome though, more on that later.

Don't worry, I'll give this family a benefit of the doubt at the end of my rant. Ultimately, I'm not arguing against their treatment of their daughter or in the decisions that they made—or guilt-ed her into making. It's not what I would have done. It's not what my parents would have done (my awesome parents) and I can outline all the reasons why, but that's not really what upsets me about the story. What really gets to me in the attitude behind it.

There is something very persistent and negative about the way church members have to constantly vilify arbitrary components of the main-stream in modern culture, i.e., I don't like it when church members crusade against things that don't matter when they could be worrying about the kinds of problems that actually threaten their souls.

Don't argue that “it starts small” because you know what, most of the time, it actually doesn't start that small. I've grown up hanging out with your kids and watching you ignore the real warning signs, because you don't want to deal with any problems that are potentially serious. It's a lot easier to pinpoint something obvious like pink hair, rather than talk to your daughter about the fact that she shows little to no enthusiasm for the young women program.

For most parents it's easier to rail for a good hour about a somewhat tight sweater than it is to talk for thirty seconds about the availability of pornography on the internet. Kids know this and they exploit it.

“Geez mom, I know.”

And then mom drops it because she's just as uncomfortable as her son is.

The war is not against pink hair, it's against Satan.

For the record, the “For the Strength of Youth” entry on Dress and Grooming is here.

Although the Gospel never changes, you will notice that the church makes small (and sometimes big) alterations to the written standards not because 'God's changed his mind' but, I think, because the world changes. Is coloring your hair extreme? At one time, wearing your hair down was extreme. Cutting your hair short was extreme. 

Tattoos didn't used to be forbidden, but the church spoke out against the practice of body modification after it was hi-jacked by counter/alternative movements in Western Culture. I don't think that's a coincidence. The same thing kind of happened with beards. Beards used to be perfectly acceptable. Gentlemen had beards, but society changed and beards became kind of alternative. After that, the men of the church were encouraged (and in some cases, required) to be clean shaven. (Personally, I'd love to see this change again, I like a beard, me:)

I'd say that colored hair could arguably fall under this category of evolving fashion in grooming. Sure, a few decades ago, having hair dyed rainbow colors meant you hung out with these guys.

But who are we to judge, maybe they're nice?

Now though, things are different. Having pink hair doesn't necessarily mean that you're spending all your money on rock-concerts, and getting your tongue pierced in the school parking lot by the same kid who supplies the weed.

Now, colored streaks are considered whimsical, ethereal and even kind of classy when done correctly.

If you're going to argue against dyed hair using the whole 'unnatural' argument with rainbow colors, than I'd just like to take that thought to it's logical conclusion real quick. Dying your hair at all is unnatural. For that matter, cutting it/styling it/perming it should be called into question.

Sorry, but I just don't think so, and I have a hard time accepting the arguments that I've heard against the logical conclusion train.

“It's alright if it's a color that appears in nature.”

Okay. Why?

“Because it's natural.”

Not for you, blondie.

On a related note about the change in the Western Culture's attitude towards pretty-pretty rainbowy hair, I introduce you to this lovely plaited mane.

She's adorable. I can only see the back of her head, but that's dang cute and you know what, I bet she's a nice girl. She's probably on vacation with her family right now and was very grateful and loving to them for taking her along, but in a week or two she needs to go back home to her job and her volunteer work at the local animal shelter.

That's a bit of a side effect of this attitude that a lot of church members gloss over. It offends people when you talk about choices they made as being totally unacceptable. It makes it sound like you're assuming that they're creeps, because (let's face it) you are.

I work at a coffee shop in Salt Lake City, so I am constantly surrounded by people who don't follow the word of wisdom. They're pretty thick-skinned, a lot of them, but I've found that I have to be careful about the comments I make, because it hurts their feelings when I'm critical of their choices, just like it hurts my feelings when people are critical of my choices. The way conversion/coming unto Christ is supposed to work is that you teach people the truth and their hearts change, so they personally feel inclined to make different choices. Attacking the choices first isn't really the good way to go about helping someone, if it works, it's because of guilt, not because of a true change of heart. The true stuff can come later, but don't count on that. That's bad missionary-ing.

There is a very fine line between standing for truth and righteousness and being overly judgmental and ultimately hurting the Lord's plan by pissing off all the potential investigators that we meet. It's a constant balancing act and one of life's challenges is that you figure it out.

“But it's hard!”

Of course it's hard. Suck it up.

Articles like this take it for granted that “Of course all good people know that dying your hair pink is a regrettable lifestyle choice that leads to sneaking out at night, drugs and dog-fighting”, and then we end up with a bunch of cute, sweet pink-haired girls feeling bad about themselves and like they're not good enough, or at least that church members don't think they're good enough to join the church/come back to church/associate with church members.

Well done.

Now, here's the part where I try to be fair to this article that so infuriated me.

I don't know this family. I don't know the parents. I don't know the girl. I don't know all the facts. I don't get to raise this girl and I have absolutely no justifiable reason for why anything I say should matter to her or her parents except maybe because I'm just clever.

Ultimately, it's the parents responsibility and divinely appointed right to raise their children the best way they know how, and it's clear from the article that the girl had previously agreed to follow the family's rules, which included not messing with her hair.

She knew her parents would be upset and she did it anyway, which makes what she did wrong.

Her folks had every right to consequently be upset about it. I just hope they realize that the real problem with what their daughter did is disobedience and not necessarily the inherent evil of the color pink or a massive violation of the Dress and Grooming standards set out by the church, because it's freakin' debatable at least. I doubt they've acknowledged the real root of the problem, because, well, I know a lot of Mormon families and they're not all experts in human behavior/motivation.

In fairness, most people aren't, it's not just a church thing.

They have personal standards that they hold firm to, and that's to be admired. Helping your children to follow those standards is very important. Even when those rules are kind of ridiculous/without an explanation that satisfies me personally.

The Lord does this too, e.g., we still don't actually know why we're not supposed to drink green tea.

(oops, sorry to interrupt but I wanted to warn you, here comes an abstract from another separate rant.)

It's a rule and I follow it, without question, simply because Heavenly Father said. Eventually, every church member needs to get this through their thick skulls. Following the rules that your parents set for you, even when you don't agree with or understand their rules is an excellent way to begin learning an eternal principle.

There is some value in obedience for obedience sake, especially with parenting, but be careful about how you use it. You don't want to abuse it.

Let me finish this ranty-poo with one final thought. I'm not a parent. I'm nearly twenty-five and single and a bit of an idiot sometimes, but I don't think I lack the experience needed to understand rebellious teenagers. I never was one, but basically all of my friends proudly were. All of them came from LDS homes. I was with them during their darkest times; during the fights that fractured their relationships with their families. Some of my friends, I'm very sad to say, could have turned out a lot better off, a lot stronger and happier and basically just not-so-screwed-up if they'd had parents who were willing to lay aside their weapons during the battles that dixn't really matter and address the real threats against their child's spiritual well-being.

And, maybe this particular family, with the no-longer-pinkish-haired fifteen-year-old isn't a proper example. Maybe these particular parents are just really thorough about helping their kids through every single challenge they face, so they're bored and had to resort to nit-picking about pink hair. That's a possibility, I guess, but if that's so, they are the exception to the norm that I'm familiar with.

I'm used to seeing parents who have the unfortunate tendency to pick the wrong battles. It's a bit like your child is going to war, and you show up for a skirmish or two near the beginning, but when they really need you, you act like the war is over and wave goodbye. That's your child's soul this battle is being waged over, isn't it worth feeling a little uncomfortable and out of your depth? That's how your kid feels all the time. Being a teenager is vastly unpleasant, or don't you remember?

All my friend's parents in high school were like that, and they had one other thing in common.

None of them listened to me.

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