Resistance Is Futile

In the quietest and most remote, secret places in my mind, I often wondered if what I was doing on my mission for the LDS Church was ethical. An excommunication and a decade later, I still am timid about bringing this topic up for fear of terrifically offending people. If I do, forgive me, but try and follow my logic and set aside your pathos for the subject matter.

Where is the line between faith and ethics? Is having a prescribed set of beliefs enough to try and convince other people that they are wrong in the way they are living their lives? Is it ethical to try and change centuries of local culture, language, religion and beliefs on one’s own belief that you hold The truth?

Christianity’s history is rife with horrible atrocities committed in the name of God. The Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the forced conversion of the Native North and South Americans are all classic examples of people that most likely believed they were called of the Christian God to do His will. Looking back can we say that what they did was ethical? Probably not.

Think of the story of Robin Hood (either the Disney version or the one with Kevin Costner and his striking English accent). At the end of both, King Richard returns to his throne and blesses the marriage of Robin and Marian. But where did the King return from? He was off fighting the crusades, capturing the holy city of Jerusalem and slaughtering every Muslim in his way to do so. Because Western Civilization is so firmly rooted in Christianity we don’t even blink at the thought that King Richard’s war was not an ethical one.

Now, am I comparing to what I did while I was on my mission to the Crusades? Of course not. No one was put to death if they slammed the door in my face. In fact, the only people I ever thought about threatening with their lives were my companions (and only then for making me wake up to study Russian). No, LDS missionaries have moved beyond war tactics and instead are trained in sales tactics. Many of them are very good at it. While I believed that I was called of God to be in the Baltics and Belarus to preach the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, the ethical line for me came in co-opting entire lives. There was no such thing as the Lithuanian LDS Church or the Estonian LDS Church. It was and is all one church and that church is dominated by a quirky little place called Utah.

If you’ve ever traveled to the bordering states of Utah, you know that the Utah culture pretty much ends at the state line (SE Idaho excepted). Try translating that culture of religion into a foreign country and you are met with little success.

My biggest problem was watching these countries that I loved so much, struggle back on their feet after 70 years of Soviet occupation. When I got there they had 10 years under their belts of independence. One decade is not enough to revive a language, or a culture. But there we were all the same, trying to convince them that their ENTIRE existence was futile. That in the end, it meant nothing if they didn’t listen to us.

I sat on a bench with a Russian professor in downtown Vilnius and he wisely pointed out to me that the Russians could not accept another failure. They had just lost their lands, their political ideology, their leaders, in fact their entire way of life for three generations. It would simply have been too much for them to accept that their religion had failed them too.

To which I asked him if he had ever heard of the Borg . . .


Bug Bites

Apparently bugs only bite me when I don’t have insurance.  The past 48 hours I have been hobbling around the house and campus with a swollen, red leg caused by a spider bite.  The venom of the bite made my leg tremendously tender to the touch, but worse in my estimation, gave me a fever of over 100.  All of my family and good friends have urged me to go to the doctor to get it checked out.  Normally I would, but I haven’t had health insurance since I left my job last April.

I’m reflecting on this for the first time because I assumed that nothing would happen.  I find great irony in the fact that I am legally required to insure my vehicle in order to operate it on the roads here in Utah.  Along with my car insurance, I have renter’s insurance to cover my “things” where I live.  I have no problem buying traveler’s insurance to cover any changes that may occur on a trip.  But, when I look at the cost of insuring myself, I’ve decided to pass.

I suppose I should know better.  The last time I didn’t have health insurance was when I was on a mission for the LDS Church.  I’m not sure what the critter was, but I was bitten in the forests of Latvia and ended up with viral Meningitis.  That had me laid up for three weeks.  (If you ever want a real thrill, try getting a spinal tap in an old Soviet hospital).  I saw the bill on that hospital stay and I could have purchased a few new Skoda’s or Peugeot’s with the amount that was charged.

Why is it that I have to purchase insurance for my car and I’m not required to purchase for my body?  It seems to me that our priorities in this state and in this nation are askew.  Tacking on $1600 a year for insurance sounds reasonable to most, but for a poor college student, that is not an insignificant amount.  At my previous employer, the total for the year was only $650 for a single person.

It seems to create the have’s and have not’s.  I’m a single person so $1600 is the lowest dollar amount available to students.  Thank God I don’t have a family or I wouldn’t even be able to think about purchasing insurance.

In the end I’ll probably just ride this spider bite out.  If it get’s worse then I’ll think about getting it checked out and passing on the costs to those of you that can afford to have health insurance.


In a Tiny Little Mountain Town

When I was 12 years old, for some reason I remember the statewide vote held to allow small-stakes gambling in the three historic mining towns of Central City, Blackhawk and Cripple Creek, CO.  I don’t recall the size of the victory, but having approved the state Lotto a few years earlier, Coloradoans seemed to want to travel to the hills to try their luck at penny slots and $5 blackjack hands.

This was all under the virtuous guise of helping to save the towns’ economies and restore the historic mining buildings.  As a third grader, everyone in the Jefferson County school district took a field trip to Central City to tour an old gold mine and explore the historic district of a town that almost became our state capitol.  Central City was one of three finalists along with Golden and Denver and lost in a squeaker to the “Queen City of the Plains”.

            I have some personal family connection with Central City.  My great-grandfather was the first person in the county with a pilot’s license and was the first to offer flying lessons.  My grandmother was elected Gilpin County Clerk and was forced to resign under suspicion of embezzling.  It seems the Wild West mining mentality of those towns never dies.

             It was under the auspices of the old mining days that we explored the town as 9 year-olds and from what I can remember it was a bunch of run-down, old buildings with mom and pop shops.

            Fast-forward 17 years later.  I hadn’t stepped foot in Central City or Blackhawk since my field trip as a child.  I was there to celebrate my mother’s 50th birthday.  As I drove up the new highway and entered Central City, I was pleasantly surprised to see the massive historical restoration of the town.  All of the buildings are in pristine condition and it isn’t hard to imagine that with the exception of the automobile, this was pretty much what the city looked like back in the 1860’s gold rush era.

            Blackhawk was a different matter.  Their town fathers have really seized on the gambling revenues and, while they have restored their historic district as well, they have encouraged new and very modern casino growth on the outskirts to the South of the town.  As I pulled into our nice new casino for the weekend, I was shocked to see the elevator cores of a new 33-story Ameristar Casino being built across the street.  While that may seem unremarkable to some consider that the LDS Church office building in Salt Lake City has 28 stories and that the population of Blackhawk is 118 people.

            In my estimation the civic leaders of both Central City and Cripple Creek have kept to the spirit of what small-stakes gambling brought to their communities by not letting it completely destroy the history and overall aesthetics of their towns.  Blackhawk has sold it’s soul to the developers with the argument that there is not a “historic preservation zone” within their city set up by their planners and that they have every right encourage as much growth and tax revenue as possible.

            This past November, Coloradoans went back to the polls and approved a constitutional amendment, bank-rolled by the casino industry, to raise the legal betting limits from $5 to $100, stay open 24-hours a day, and introduce the games of roulette and craps.  This will only embolden the bigger names in the casino industry to enter the market and develop further tracts of land in these tiny mountain towns.  Worse yet, is the thought that Central City and Cripple Creek will be forced to acquiesce to the loss of gambling revenue from Blackhawk and open their towns to the utter destruction of their historic characters and souls.

            I’m ashamed to admit, but I will probably head up the hill next time I’m in town and try my hand at the new gambling limits.  Logic tells me that with the larger limits I should be able to win back my previous losses 20x faster this time around.  



This is the first in a series that hopefully will last all semester.  I'm taking an urban planning ethics class and we are required to write two journal entries per week on ethics.  Sometimes it will deal with urban planning and sometimes it wont.  Here is my first entry:

I’m not exactly sure what the ethics around gay marriage are.  All I know is that I’m caught smack dab in the middle of it.  Before the whole gay marriage debate started raging here in the States, my ex and I flew up to Toronto in May of 2004 and were married.  The catchword there is ex.  We were together for just over four years and, like many relationships, it just stopped working.  Our split was an amicable one.  We had to deal with all of the regular issues of a divorce.  Who got the house, the dog, the dishes, etc.?  The problem is, we’re technically still married.

Canadian law allows for foreigners to be married after being in their country for 48 hours.  To get a divorce however, at least one of you has to reside in Canada for 12 consecutive months.  In their rush to pass equal rights legislation they apparently didn’t think that any of the gay marriages would fail.

We’ve been apart now for three years and while this issue doesn’t keep me up at night, it is certainly in the back of my mind.  My friends and family tell me not to worry about it since it’s not recognized in the U.S. and certainly not in Utah, but I don’t think it’s that easy.  We as a GLBT community have been galvanized more and more into activism for marriage or civil union rights.  I support this movement wholeheartedly.  But what does this mean for me then?

Should I just turn a blind eye to the marriage certificate I have tucked away in my desk?  Should I make the effort to move to Canada after graduation and accept my penance? (Actually, Canada would be a great place to work and live I think)  What happens if, we as a society reach the tipping point and some form of gay marriage is legalized?  All of a sudden I’m legally married here.  I actually still consider myself legally married regardless.

Does that mean that when I go on a date I’m cheating?  If I were to get married to woman here or to a man in the future does that mean I’m a bigamist?

These are all very new questions that I am still sorting out within my own personal ethics and society is grappling with as a whole.

For now though, I’m just keeping my head down while I finish school and I’m quietly learning the Canadian national anthem.