Monday, July 25, 2011

... and I Like to Jog Naked

I have struggled with how to approach this topic or if I should even discuss it.  We held my Mother's funeral on July 20th.  It was kind of non-traditional for Utah.  There was a small private viewing held for her close friends and family who could not be with her when she died.  Her children, including myself, did not attend the viewing because we said our goodbyes at her bedside as she struggled with the disease and and eventually died.  We did not need that part of closure.  We held the service at graveside.

I look at funerals somewhat differently than my religious friends and family do.  I don't believe that my loved ones are on the other side waiting for me.  There is simply no evidence this is the case.  So, the funeral is my last opportunity to publicly memorialize my loved ones memory.

My mother had 4 children.  3 are atheists.  My youngest sister is a practicing Mormon.  There had been quite a bit of discussion between my siblings and I, with my mother's input ,as to how we would proceed after her death.  Her wishes were met as were ours.  No one's voice was drowned out and the discussion was civil and all sides were represented.  The plan was: My mother would be buried in a pink dress with her mother's ring.  She made it clear she did not want to be cremated.  She did not care if the coffin was expensive.  She did not want the service in a church.  She did not believe the Mormons had the corner on god and found them to be pushy and judgmental and she did not want her children to be lectured.  If the weather was warm she wanted to service to be graveside.  If the weather was cold she wanted us to have it indoors so those who came to pay respects would not be cold.  She did not want a viewing if we did not want to hold one.  We would not pray at the graveside and there would be no official religious representation.

When we met with the funeral director we outlined what we wanted to have happen and he was extremely helpful in assisting us in meeting those requests.  His compassion and sensitivity were a noted quality and we enjoyed, as much as you can, his assistance and would recommend his company without hesitation.  During our conversations it was clear that there would not be a religious rite of any kind for this funeral.  My   mother's sister asked if they could hold a family prayer at the viewing as they closed the casket.  It was made clear that we did not have a problem with the prayer (we wouldn't be there after all) if it made them feel better but there would be none graveside.

The service was successful.  I conducted.  There was a musical number sung by my daughter Jessica and my sister-in-law Jennifer.  My Aunt Nene read a beautiful poem she wrote for my mother.  I made opening remarks followed by an open mic and concluded with closing remarks offered by me again.  I operated in the capacity that my siblings had requested and expected me to.  By all accounts, the service was beautiful simple and was exactly the type of service my mother wanted.

My Mother's Siblings and their families at her funeral 07/20/2011
So curmudgeon what is the issue?

We had three guests at our little secular funeral who found it necessary to use the open mic as an opportunity to bear their testimonies.  They could not stand the fact we were fine without the mention of the Mormon church or Jesus Christ, the plan of salvation, or even god.   Additionally, the hearse driver pulled me aside.  He told me that he had heard that there might be an anti-religion sentiment to our service.  He told me that he was happy to see that no one was forced out of their beliefs.  He thought it would have been wrong to not allow people to speak.  My mother's siblings attended the funeral in their Wrangler's.  They were dressed informally.  I was dressed in a black suit, white shirt, and red and black tie.  The hearse driver mistook me for the out voted religious minority at the service.  He made a broad assumption that I was a "member of the church" and about shit when he realized he was talking to one of the "angry militant atheists".  I was gracious and let him and the other's say their peace.  I didn't attempt to stop them.  I was non confrontational.

During this process many people have expressed their condolences and a few have had to add that they know my mother is in a better place, is watching down on me, is with her relatives, or is comforting someone else who is recently deceased.  As people would offer their religious views including the afterlife while offering their condolences I found myself turning them off or going somewhere else in my head until they were done while graciously accepting their kindness.  I don't understand why there is an imperative for them to share those things with people who do not want them.  I don't share my atheism unless it is solicited.

My point of this writing is to illustrate how unwanted religious expression is really a two way street.  Imagine, if you will, if I were attending a Mormon funeral and told the guests at the funeral that this is it.  Your loved one is going to rot in the ground and you will never seen them again.  While this is what I believe I have never shared it during a persons most painful or emotional times.  What if I made a point of telling them that they can pray their lives away but there is no one there to hear them.  Would any of those conversations give comfort to a hurting human?  No!  Neither do expressions of faith to an atheist.  My father-in-law put this in perspective to one of my wife's siblings.  He told them, 'you need to understand for Kevin this is it.  There is no more and he will never see his mother again.'  That was an appropriate acknowledgement of what I believed.  He did not offer faith promoting insights to me instead he cried with us and gave us incredible emotional support.

I have said it before, unsolicited expressions of faith are icky.  Faith, like your bedroom habits, should be shared when solicited and with like minded people.... otherwise keep them to yourself.

I think the next time someone offers an unsolicited and otherwise inappropriate expression of faith to me my response is going to be... " ...and I like to jog naked."  Well, as long as were sharing inappropriate information....

Sunday, July 17, 2011

My Mother's Obituary

This will appear in the Salt Lake Tribune on July, 19.  The funeral is July 20, 2011

Brenda Lynn (Young) Dudley 

Our mother, Brenda Lynn (Young) Dudley, died on 07/15/2011 from a long struggle with Emphysema (COPD) and Post-Polio syndrome. She was surrounded by family. Brenda was born July, 18, 1945 to Kenneth James Young and Melva (Kinser) Young in Newport, Rhode Island. She grew up in Utah and spent her happiest years with her Grandpa and Grandma Kinser in Springville, UT. She contracted polio between the ages of 5 or 6. While the illness left her with residual physical impairments it did not affect her spirit or capacity for love. She met and married Parley Elton Dudley in 1964. This union produced four children. They were divorced in 1994. She also parented several foster children and almost everybody she met. Our mother was a champion of her children who was satisfied living vicariously through her children. She put her children first and was always first to hold their hands when they were sick and to parade their accomplishments for the world to see. She loved each of her 12 grandchildren and wanted them to have the world. She is preceded in death by her parents and triplet brothers Ken, Kent and Brent. She is survived by her four children Kevin (Lisa) Dudley, Shelly (Anis) Aoude, Kimberley (Kyle) Walker and Shaun (Jennifer) Dudley. The family would like to extend special thanks to Jeff Abbott, her nurse, and to Lisa Dudley, her daughter-in-law, who both provided extra care and tenderness to our mother and the family in her final days. She will be interred at the Herriman City Cemetery (12465 S. 6000 W. Herriman, UT) after a graveside service on July 20, 2011 at 11:00. Flowers should be sent to Premier Mortuary Services 7043 Commerce Park Drive, SLC UT 84047

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Her Fight is Over

Brenda Lynn (Young) Dudley
July 18, 1945-July 15, 2011
Taken 07/14/2011

My mother died last night from a long illness that included emphysema (COPD) and Post Polio Syndrome.  She had been on hospice for 4 months and had made the decision that reality of death was preferable to continued hospitalization.  This was was not a decision that we were initially very excited about.  However she lived alone, was in pain everyday and fought for every breath.  This was her decision, as difficult as it was to face,  we respected it.

My Mother contracted polio when she was a little girl.  She was initially left without the ability to walk.  While she regained her ability to walk, she was left with one leg that grew shorter than the other.  This and her post polio syndrome contributed to her degenerative disk disorder and the resulting pain.  She became ill during the United States' polio epidemic of the late 40's and early 50's.  Her illness occurred before the vaccine was available.  She was always a vaccine supporter because she experienced, first hand, the devastating results of a now preventable illness.

With her declining health and increasingly frail condition came increased demands on my siblings and me.  I am personally grateful for the opportunity to serve her for those months.  I spent time with her that was invaluable.  Sometimes my other responsibilities kept me away for a couple of days and It was so nice to visit her and hear her say, "I have missed you so much!"  When I would arrive in the evenings to help her settle in for the night; I would ask her if she had taken her evening medication.  She would frequently tell me, "No, I waited to take them because they make me so tired.  I wanted to be able to visit with you."  On Monday, I was sitting with her, reading on my iPhone not saying a word.  She was drifting in and out of sleep and I asked her if she wanted me to give her her pills and let her sleep.  She said, "I'm not sleeping I am listening to you read."  When I would finally put her breathing mask on her she would tell me, "Looks like the party is over."

Her time on hospice was a trial for us all.  I walked in to find her unconscious and on the floor.  I found her passed out while sitting in the bathroom.  She was found a couple of times in the last few weeks without her O2 on.  These times were equally as painful as her death.  I have cried for what I was loosing and for what I already had lost.  Those tears have been shed over several months.  I learned that there is an indescribable beauty in putting someone other than yourself first.  I found comfort in giving comfort, cooking, listening and loving her for who she was.  I experienced some of the sweetest moments of my life by being patient and just sitting by her bedside.  She engaged her last months with humor and wit.

I know that my mother was proud of me and loved me.  She told the entire world and never forgot to tell me.  She would fight to attend the plays I did and my recent graduation form SLCC even though it meant she was in excruciating pain.   She loved my children and always spoke highly of them.  She also loved my beautiful wife Lisa and frequently told me she thought she was the sweetest woman.

Her fight is now over.  It went quickly.  I had a brief conversation with her yesterday morning over the phone.  The same afternoon she was struggling to breathe and by 7:40 pm it was over.  I miss her already.

Monday, July 11, 2011

If it is not true... It is not useful!

There is a common theme in both the Mormon and Post-Mormon communities and it is couched in the "truth."  What I have come to learn in both is that the real definition of truth carries a different values.  I asked the following question on Facebook a couple of weeks ago:
"Have you ever honestly asked yourself what if it's not true?"
It was a simple, albeit leading, question and yes it was designed to 'poke the bear'.  In the social media era of Facebook those of us who have faithful friends of the LDS Church are frequently graced with testimonies of faith and the assertion that they "know the Church and the Gospel is true." These messages invade the inbox of my email as well as appear on the on the news feed of my Facebook page.  So with out specifically calling out posters I asked the question.  I really just wanted to know what is their basis for belief.

As a young teen I realized there were logical problems with the doctrine of the LDS church.  The recent advent of the Internet and the ease in sharing information in the great information age gives the average seeker access to Mormon history.  The push back, in the advent of easier access to information,  by the 15 leaders of the church has been to obfuscate the definition of truth.  Even prior to the internet the value of a full education was discredited as Boyd K. Packer told a group of Church Educators(edited to correct mischaracterization):
“There is a temptation for the writer or the teacher of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not.
Some things that are true are not very useful.
That historian or scholar who delights in pointing out the weaknesses and frailties of present or past leaders destroys faith. A destroyer of faith — particularly one within the Church, and more particularly one who is employed specifically to build faith — places himself in great spiritual jeopardy. He is serving the wrong master, and unless he repents, he will not be among the faithful in the eternities."
So unless the teacher repents for telling the truth he will not obtain his highest degree of glory.  In fact telling the truth is not about the real history or facts it is about undying adoration of those who founded and lead.  There has been much progress made in the realm DNA research which has fully disproved Joseph Smith's claim that the Lamanites were descendants of Jewish or Israelites migrants.  The lack of archaeological evidence that any of the great civilizations existed and battles ever occurred where Joseph Smith or the subsequent prophets of the church claim further diminished the claims of the restoration.  But the real history of the world, and physics, and our understanding of how the natural world works not only diminishes the claims of Mormonism but of Christianity as well.  In fact the scholars have enough information to deconstruct the entire Bible and the Koran.  An understanding that not only challenges the divine origin of the LDS triple combination but relegates it to the lowly status of fictional literature and in the case of the Book of Mormon; poorly written fictional literature.

So back to my original Facebook post...  I was asked:
Have you ever asked yourself what if it IS true?
To which I responded:
I, at one point, thought it was. However, there is overwhelming evidence that says it is not... and none.... none that points to it being true. So yes I asked and the answer was provided in the facts.
And the inquirer replied:
Most people can skew facts and data to prove what they want them to prove, so I will go with those fuzzy things called intuition and experiences that only prove something to the person who experiences them.
That reply is the result that Boyd K. Packer et. al. was hoping for.  By making truth seem ethereal many faithful members can engage in inane justification of the lack of evidence and more importantly the overwhelming damning evidence that proves the church's claims are not true.  

It is in this debate that I struggle with the gist of the Mormon Stories conference recently held in Salt Lake.  The idea that you can be at odds or just not believe in the teachings of the church but still want to participate in the weekly religious services and to attend the temple.  If the plan of salvation and the plagiarized three degrees of glory are not based upon verifiable principles then why would you subject yourself to the droning sermons of sacrament meeting.  If the church was founded upon a false book why would you go through temple rituals that have no real world meaning?  They lead to nothing!  There is a reality that much of the church's doctrine is harmful to the self esteem and self worth of its members.  So I question why you would pay tithes to continue temple admission?  I know many members who pay thousands and some tens of thousands to tithing and offerings each year.  If it costs you that much wouldn't you want to know the truth?  Once you know the truth why would you continue to participate?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Sophia!..... You're Blowing It!

I was sitting on my front porch last night watching a group of kids play in the park across the street and watching the quiet evening bustle of my neighborhood.  The children had been in the park for well over an hour.  It was about 8:30. The children were playing of the playground equipment and getting into the kind of mischief that children do in a park.  The oldest was about eight and there were a couple of others that were as young as 4.  A dark haired stout mother in her early 30's rounded the corner saw her children in the park and yelled, "Sophia!  What did I tell you.  Where are your brother and sister.  You are blowing it.  I cannot believe how badly you are blowing it!  You are about to be baptized!  You know better and you are blowing it!

So from what I can gather by this exchange is that the mother had no idea where her children ages 8-ish 6-ish and 4-ish were.  She had lost track of them for over an hour.  I know because that's how long I had been on my porch drinking a beer and sketching the homes across the street with the temple in the background and listening to the children's banter.  What struck me odd about the entire exchange was was the fact that the mother blamed the eight year-old because the mother had no idea where the children were.  The eight year old was expected to be accountable for her siblings well being.  However the idea that baptism was being used as a hammer I not only found odd but abusive.

I distinctly remember being eight and discussion around what it meant to be baptized.    I understood that without the membership in the church and having my sins washed away it meant that I could not get into the top level of heaven.  If Sophia understands the same thing what her mother did to herself esteem is unforgivable.  I personally don't think an 8 year old has the cognition to comprehend what that commitment means nor do they have the ability to discern truth from fantasy.  Sophia still likely believes in the magic of Santa Claus and is no more able to determine if Santa is true than she has the ability to determine if Joseph Smith was a prophet or if any of the tenets of the LDS church have even the remotest possibility  of being true.

Sophia is not old enough to be responsible for her siblings nor is she old enough to sort through the baggage given to her by her mother and determine the difference between upsetting her mother and myth that that behavior will lead her to hell.  Her mother does know and used this tool as a weapon to gain compliance.  It was shameful and one of the worse things I have seen exhibited by a parent.