As A Liberal, I Need Conservatives: Rejecting Political Homogeny In The Church

I was walking through Barnes & Nobel the other day and saw a book titled, “Adios, America: The Left’s Plan to Turn Our Country into a Third World Hellhole.” My first reaction was sadness. Sadness that book titles have now somehow been reduced to clickbait article headlines.

But then, as I stared at Ann Coulter’s face, I started thinking to myself, Does this women genuinely believe that I am attempting to destroy America? That I wake up and hit the floor with my first thought being, “What can I do to make my country worse?” After all, the word “plan” in the title implies that I have some sort of “Ruin America” checklist….

See! Look. I have more in common with the Socialist party than Republicans. I mean it when I say I'm a liberal.

See! Look. I have more in common with the Socialist party than Republicans. I mean it when I say I’m a liberal.

Yes, I am a liberal. While in the American system I’m an Independent, since I won’t register for either party, my political leanings are very left. I’ve said it before, but people have a hard time swallowing this. And by people, I mean the very conservative indivduals I associate with. After all, as Ms. Coulter once said, “If Democrats Had Any Brains, They’d Be Republicans.” (She really can come up with book titles…) Most of these people don’t think I’m an idiot, so I must not be that liberal. As a culture we have come to assume that a person who is intelligent will think the same as we do. After all, only an idiot would think something else.

Liberals are painted to be devil worshiping-bleeding heart-lesbians by the right, but I am aware that conservatives are seen as gun toting-sexist-greedy-one percenters. As much as I disagree with them on pretty much everything, I do not believe they all fit this picture. I don’t see them as stupid. I don’t even think they are wrong.

“Wait! But you said you disagree with them!”

Yes. I do. But I can listen to them and make a genuine effort to understand why they believe what they do. When any of us do this, which requires listening without arguing or trying to change someone’s mind, we can see that those we disagree with are often fully rational people. You have to go into the conversation with no desire to prove someone wrong, but only to connect with another human being’s thought process. It can be difficult, but it’s worth it.

I hang out on Mormon Newsroom a lot. It’s a side effect of having a background in public relations. Well, that and being a Mormon. Earlier in August, Michael Otterson gave an hour long talk on current issues the public affairs department is working with right now. At one point he discussed common questions he heard, such as, “Can a member be a Democrat and a good Mormon?” His response was,

“That one makes me smile, because if the members who ask it could travel to some countries of the world and meet faithful members of the Church who belong to their national communist parties I fear their blood pressure might be permanently damaged.”

Why is that? Why would our blood pressure be damaged? How is it that we are so incapable of understanding that people can come to different conclusions about the world we live in, but still be good, intelligent, and well rounded?

Within the church, perhaps it’s because we are used to the notion of absolute truth. However there is no current political or economic system in which that can be found. So, reject the idea that you must belong to only one ideology to be a member in good standing.

But this concept that the other side of the aisle are fools for thinking unlike us is not one that is unique to Mormons, as pointed out earlier. Between sensationalized news and polarizing elections, most of America has come to view those with political differences as the enemies to all that is good and right. We are not a team that bring different views to the table to come up with the best solution representing as many constituents as possible, but rather opponents, waging a constant war in which compromise is not a sign of intelligence, but rather weakness.

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#FeelTheBern

I want to tell you a story about a friend of mine. To give you an idea of how far we are apart on the political spectrum, she didn’t like Mitt Romney because he was “too left” while I am sitting here happy that I can finally vote for a candidate that willingly identifies as socialist, (looking at you Bern.) She works for a Pro-Life firm here in D.C. and believes deeply in this cause. I respect her, and what she is trying to do. I don’t think she hates choice; I think she is an incredibly compassionate person who feels it his her moral obligation to give her voice to the voiceless. She isn’t trying to set women back 100 years; she is trying to stop what she sees as a horribly violent act.

I’m Pro-Choice, but I don’t think she looks at me as if I’m desperately trying to encourage infanticide. Probably because I’m not. I believe that making abortions illegal is an ineffective way to go about stopping unwanted pregnancies. Also, between rape, incest, and medical issues, there are plenty of times in which I could see supporting that decision, and therefore it needs to be kept as an accessible medical option. And even when I wouldn’t “support” abortion, I still remember what Frederica Matthews-Green once said,

“No woman wants an abortion like she wants an ice cream cone or a Porsche. She wants an abortion like an animal caught in a trap wants to gnaw off its own leg.”

This isn’t intended to be an abortion debate, so please don’t email me about this. I’m not looking to argue, simply to say that this, like so many social, economic, and international political issues, has multiple sides that can be reached by fully functional individuals.

Any desire for America to reach only one political party, or to paint one side as being always in the wrong, is ridiculous, and frankly, to quote everyone’s favorite overused declaration, “not what the founding fathers intended!” We need each other. We are each other’s checks and balances. No one party has all the right ideas. The other side is going to be right. A lot. In fact, we may even be right at the same time. We may be wrong at the same time. But the point is, mature people should be able to sit down with others and acknowledge what they have to offer, and see how that can compliment what they have.

Perhaps asking America to put aside political differences is a bit much. I hope not. However, it certainly isn’t too much to remind people within the church that a variety of political opinions are perfectly ok, and in fact, good. It brings greater diversity of thought into our meeting houses and enriches all who have the privilege of existing in that kind of environment. It allows our opinions to grow and change as we seek to see the world through the eyes of another.

We are all children of God, and none of us are identical. He did that on purpose. Do not try and limit His creations by forcing them into sameness.

The Good, the Bad, and the Extremely Attractive: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Review

I grew up on a steady diet of classic film and television. I think my mother preferred Gilligan’s Island to SpongeBob, so TV Land was on as much as anything at our house. While the original U.N.C.L.E. series was not a staple of our home, my father was certainly inclined to the 60’s spy genre, and both parents had an affinity for Cold War films, sparked no doubt by their military contracts in the 1980’s. Then again, who doesn’t love a good USA vs. USSR movie?

Walking in to the theatre, I brought somewhat high expectations, but also a certain nostalgia factor.

Set in the early 60’s, the film starts with establishing the not overly complicated plot of an evil organization, with former Nazi ties, has built a nuclear bomb to sell to the highest bidder. This emergency situation calls for America and Russia to put a pause on the whole Cold War thing and send in their best two agents to handle the situation.

MFUit

See what I mean?! Its Matt Bomer + 007.

The American, Napoleon Solo, is played by the ever dapper Henry Cavill. He has been essentially blackmailed into the CIA after being arrested for art theft. Ever the American way, the government decided to release him from prison and use his set of skills to their advantage. Imaging if someone combined James Bond with Neal Caffery from White Collar. While I would not call him a particularly three dimensional character, I don’t think that was the point. Cavill nails the ultra-suave spy type to a tee. I found myself even impressed by his speech patterns.

From behind the Iron Curtain comes Armie Hammer as Illya Kuryakin, a giant, yet refined looking, KGB agent. He is quickly established as terrifyingly strong, chasing after a car in the opening sequence, and ripping the trunk lid off after attempting to stop said car by shear brute force. Solo first refers to Kuryakin as an “it.” Many have already noted that Hammer’s Russian accent is nothing to write home about, but it didn’t bother me. His dry humor and likability brought the character to life in a very pleasant way.

This movie is filled with cliches. There is no other way around it. But the fact is, it does all of them very well. The two unlikely partners argue all the time, but still manage to be an excellent team. There are “surprise” double crosses, crazy Nazis, car chases, and spy gadgets. But it works because that’s exactly what they were trying to do. The entire movie is a very stylized homage to the genre of spy thriller, and what it may lack in originality, it makes up for in pure entertainment.

The one major deviant from its 60’s counterparts would be the leading female charater, Gabby Teller. Alicia Vikander’s character was a pleasant skew from the lackluster women that were so often only written to be rescued by the hero. To be fair, she does get rescued, but all three of the leads need rescuing at one point or another, so I took no issue. She was smart, independent, and easily went toe to to with the two leading men. In fact, she went toe to to with just about everyone in this film. Her unique skills are found in cars, both as a mechanic and rather impressive driver. This is of course in addition to a variety of other spy related things I won’t list in an effort to not give too much away.

The film was beautiful to watch. It was colorful, sleek, and stylish. The cast and cinematography were really quite pleasant to look at, and I know if they ever make another, I will be more than happy to go see it.

Screen Shot 2015-08-15 at 4.07.33 PMScreen Shot 2015-08-15 at 4.08.08 PM Screen Shot 2015-08-15 at 4.11.20 PM

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. didn’t try something new, they worked to make the best of the classic formula. Some may call that playing it safe, but regardless, I had fun. And isn’t that what going to the movies is about?

Overall Rating: B

See the trailer here:

I’m Back (An Honest Answer to “What’s New With You?”)

There is a question that I think most people dread at one point or another when seeing family or friends they haven’t in a while. That is, “So, what’s new?”

Nothing.

Nothing is new with me.

This past week I was with my family at our annual family reunion, and for the first time ever I was not wholly looking forward to the experience. The idea of having to answer the question of what is going on in my life right now seemed like an experience I’d rather avoid.

As of late, the most honest description I could give of myself is a failure. In several areas of my life, most notably my professional one, or lack thereof (I have now been out of college for a year and am still mostly unemployed), I feel a deep sense of guilt. Here I am, this person that so many have expected such great things from, doing what feels like nothing with my life.

These days it feels like I’m climbing an impossibly high mountain, getting a little higher every now and again, but still falling all the time, and never making any noticeable gains. If you’ve seen Pixar’s Inside Out, imagine the scene where Joy is attempting to get out of the Memory Dump, except for me it’s been about 1,001 tries and I am becoming a little discouraged.

When I got back into the car to leave my family reunion, at which I had given as optimistic an outlook on my life as I could, I completely broke down. I cried and cried, feeling as if I was the greatest disappointment. I had no career, no relationship, no money, no accomplishments of note.All those success indicator boxes we look to for check marks were blank.Now let me be clear, my family is wonderful and did nothing to bring this on, but the simple fact is, my expectations for myself were not met. I had wanted to tell them wonderful things, but I felt I had nothing.

So, I let myself feel all the things that I had only briefly breezed by these past months. I let myself feel sad and ashamed and angry and frustrated. I said the words, “I failed.”

But then, after I allowed myself that honesty, I remembered something I said. The last piece I wrote for NASA Social was on the Hubble Telescope. It contained the following:

“[F]ailure is never the place in which we must take up permanent residence.”

It’s funny how we sometimes need our own advice to get going again. I realized later, this sense of optimism was something I had grown up listening to all the time. Gordon B. Hinkley was the president of the LDS church while I was a child and I believe that man was himself optimism personified. Notable quotes from him include,

“Things work out, it isn’t as bad as you sometimes think it is. It all works out, don’t worry. I say that to myself every morning. It will all work out. If you do your best, it will all work out. Put your trust in God, and move forward with faith and confidence in the future. The Lord will not forsake us.”

“Please don’t nag yourself with thoughts of failure. Do not set goals far beyond your capacity to achieve. Simply do what you can do, in the best way you know, and the Lord will accept of your effort.”

“You have not failed until you quit trying.”

My circumstances have not changed, but tenacity has returned. I didn’t start climbing the metaphorical mountain that is adult life because I thought I couldn’t do it. It takes a lot of confidence to move yourself across the country to start a life in a city with no job leads or friends. I just needed to remind myself why I did this in the first place. I have ambition and goals and dreams and I intend to see them through. I intend to build a life, and that is no small feat. It will take time, but it will come. 

So the answer to the question, “What’s new?” is still nothing.

But it will be something soon.

Writing Note: My recent discouragement has extended to my writing and you may have noticed I’ve been away for the past few months. There are a lot of things I can’t control in my life right now, but I can write more. I want to start doing an article at least once a week. Also, I intend to branch out on topics. When I started this blog, it was never about getting views or having one cohesive theme; it was simply a place where I could practice writing. I want to get back to that, and that means some days I’ll write about religion, and some days I’ll review movies, and some days I’ll tell you a weird story that happened at the supermarket. It will be eclectic and marvelous. At least to me.

The Most Important Thing I Learned From Hubble

In 1990, NASA launched a multibillion-dollar telescope into space. Within weeks, everyone realized something had gone wrong. The pictures Hubble was capturing were a drastically lower  quality than intended. In fact, they were essentially the same as the images we could get from the ground. It was awful, a worldwide embarrassment. All the years, money, and labor that had gone into this project looked like a waste.

But NASA did what it does best. It reminded us of the tenacity of the human spirit. It reminded us that failure is not defeat.

Every person will fail within his or her life. In fact, we will most likely do it repeatedly. That is the reality of the human condition. But whether it be flunking the ACT, losing that job promotion we wanted, screwing up our own relationships, or even making a $2.5 billion telescope that takes blurry photos, failure is never the place in which we must take up permanent residence. We can push through and grow from what we have lost and learned.

In a commencement speech given at Harvard, J.K. Rolling said,

[S]ome failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.

Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected…

The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more than any qualification I ever earned. 

(View the entire speech here.)

We can escape the confines of our mistakes by how we react to them. We can refuse to stay down when life knocks us to our knees. We can brandish our free will in the face of our adversaries and say, “You can not and will not control what I will become! Only I can.”

In spite of the many jokes and naysayers, NASA pushed forward and sought to solve the challenges they then faced. They did not abandon their work, and they did not lose sight of why they needed this. They were seeking to learn about the universe we exist in on a scale that had never before been possible. They knew the work they were doing could dramatically affect the scientific community, and was essential to the overall goals of the space program.

The problem with Hubble was its mirror. The edges were too flat by 2.2 micrometers. Such a small error, but nonetheless catastrophic to the images. But after the discovery was made, a plan was put in place to fix it. In 1994, the Space Shuttle launched a servicing mission and the results were dramatic.

Hubble_Images_of_M100_Before_and_After_Mirror_Repair_-_GPN-2002-000064

Since then, Hubble has supplied the world with now iconic pictures of our universe. It has taught us about the very nature of our origins. We can see planets, nebulae, and galaxies in drastic clarity. The knowledge it has brought us is forming the foundation for human spaceflight as we push to explore beyond our earth.

One could easily feel dwarfed by the grandeur of the universe we now see, thanks to Hubble, but I find myself in awe of humanity. When we see infinite galactic objects, from planets, to black holes, we do not shrink back and say, “No. I think I’ll just stay here.” There is something inside us that says no matter how small we are, or relatively insignificant, we will not be halted in our attempts to grow beyond ourselves. And while we may fail, fail, and fail again as we seek to do this, that same place within us that creates a desire for exploration will also remind us that we are infinitely more than that which what holds us back.

“Endings are not our destiny.” – Dieter F. Uchtdorf

Horsehead_Nebula_1680x1050_03 NGC 2174 25th-gallery-090 25th-gallery-220

For these, and many more stunning images from Hubble, including the 25th Anniversary image, go to hubble25th.org.

5 Things to Know About My Experience As An LGBT Mormon

1. I am an LGBT Mormon.

This may come as news to many, since it’s not something I’ve probably discussed with the majority of people reading this. So, I will begin this article by “coming out,” as it were, to the whole world. In all reality, I don’t know if I have one “coming out” moment, as we live in a heteronormative society, so I’ve had to do it several times, nor do I expect this to be the last time, but from here forward, it will be fairly public information.

Now, some of you may have known me in the past and say, “But I remember you dating a boy!” or  “Didn’t you like that guy, that one time?” To clarify, I identify with the B in LGBT.

2. My sexuality is not a defining factor in my personality.

Fun facts about me, Rebecca Moore: I have brown hair, I’m 6 feet tall, I am attracted to more than one gender, and I’m allergic to sulfa drugs.

Seriously, it’s no bigger deal to me than those things.

Now, don’t get me wrong. My orientation has more of an affect on my day to day life than my other fun facts because of the society we live in, (I’ve never had to sit in a conversation where people all sat around talking about how everyone with allergies to sulfa drugs were just lying sluts, but you can bet I’ve had to hear that about bisexuals), but to me personally, it’s not good, it’s not bad, it just is. I’m not ashamed of it. I’m not interested in repressing it, or making it go away. It’s just there.

Obviously, this affects me enough that I’m writing about it, but my decision to share my perspective has much more to do with how other people view LGBT individuals and how it affects my life, than how I personally view myself.

3. The LDS Church has been my safe haven.

Many people have had tragically negative experiences within the church, but mine has been far from that. With one or two minor exceptions, I have never faced homophobia, nor any sort of discrimination from my fellow members.

My friends never treated me any differently, my priesthood leaders were compassionate, and overall, everyone treated me with the same respect after knowing as they did before. None of their actions ever changed, and that, for me, was beyond ideal. I didn’t need fanfare or a ruckus, I just wanted to be seen as a complex human being, and this is simply one of a thousand other things that make up who I am. They see me as a child of God first and foremost, and I will always be deeply grateful for being blessed to have been surrounded by so many who are living the gospel of Christ, not just preaching it.

4. My parents accepted me long before I came out.

Both of my parents raised me in a very empathetic and open home, and I credit them to be a major reason to why I never had to go through an identity crisis with my own sexuality. While I can say that I have always experienced attraction the way I do now, or at least as long as I can remember, it wasn’t until I was 14 that I finally put a word to what I am. This can be a trying time for anyone, the rage of youth starting to come on in full swing, but when I came to grips with myself, I felt no shame or guilt. It simply was.

In my younger years, when my mother had explained sex to me, she had always done so in a positive way. When we addressed the topic of homosexuality, she told me a story.

My uncle Luke, her older brother, is gay, and years ago, she was sitting at home with her mother when their phone rang. It was Luke, calling to ask if he could bring his partner home for Christmas, as his partner’s family had essentially disowned him, and he had nowhere to go. My grandmother, a staunch Mormon who had grown up in the South, assured him he was welcome at their home for Christmas. Afterwords, she turned to my mother who was 16 at the time, and said, “No one who would ever treat their child like that deserves to be a parent.”

While it was several years before I would come out to either of my parents, I knew that whenever I was ready to talk about it, I would be loved and always have a home with them.

5. My sexual history is not up for discussion.

We live in a world that has hyper-sexualized people whose orientation is different from heterosexuality, and mostly see LGBT people as sexual beings first. When many think of a gay man, they think of his relationship with other men before they think of his accomplishments in, perhaps, astrophysics or banking. They see the person’s interest in sex as their primary interest, when in fact their primary interest could be in cultivating a rather impressive herb garden.

But here we are, and so I feel the need to address what may become a barrage of questions about my own sexual experiences.

You don’t get to know about them, nor do you need to.

I am more than one thing, and while it has been my decision to be very open about a lot of personal things on this blog, this will be where I draw the line. Delving into my own sexual history to satisfy someone’s curiosity about my own orientation is wholly demeaning to me as an individual, and completely unnecessary in understanding the simple fact that I am attracted to men and women.

Also, while we’re here…

Sexual orientation is not about your current or past sexual actions. It is about to whom you find yourself attracted.

I am currently not sleeping with anyone, but that does not make me asexual. It simply means I’m choosing to not have sex with anyone right now. I do not intend to change this fact until I’m married.

As far as monogamy and bisexuality are concerned, they are not mutually exclusive. If a bisexual settles down with one person, they do not become “straight” or “gay” depending on the gender of their partner. Or in even simpler terms: “I don’t stop being Italian whenever I’m not eating Italian food.”

Lastly, I currently worthily hold a temple recommend, which means I am living LDS standards. I do not intend to change this at any point in the future. This decision was my own, and I ask that, while some may not understand it, it still be respected. I am my own person. However, I also would never wish that my choice be used to prop up bigotry toward individuals who have chosen a different path. Respect should come from all sides. 

As I leave this with you, I also issue a challenge to others similar to me, if they wish to accept. Share your story. My time in the church as an LGBT member is neither unique nor common. I know plenty who share my feelings and experiences, and plenty who don’t. I believe that if we want to improve as a community, open and honest discourse is vital to bringing us closer to a more Christlike society. If only certain stories are told, we cannot see the entire picture, and will not be able to truly improve ourselves.

In the end, I admonish everyone to seek to see humankind as Christ sees us.

Worthy of love.

Note: I will not be reading the comment section of this for my own sanity. If you have serious inquiry, I’m considering writing a follow up post, and of course want to engage in this discussion, so I will be accepting questions or comments at tlatoaetm@gmail.com. These will all be screened before being forwarded to me. 

The Stars Are For Everyone

“Make no mistake, this journey will help guide and define our generation.”

nasa_bolden_state_of-nasa_020215_945Last week, I had the privilege of attending the State of NASA, which is essentially the same thing as the State of the Union, just for the space program. I participated with many others from Langley Research Center, where I was able to tour their facilities and see what they are doing to contribute to Orion and The Mission to Mars. Later, we heard from Charles Bolden, NASA’s Administrator, via Kennedy Space Center, who gave a wonderful address on where the space program is heading.

I’ve thought a lot about what I wanted to write in regards to his remarks, and going into the event, I was pretty sure I wanted to write about the importance of private partnerships, but there was a particular line that struck me that I have not been able to shake.

“It was through the Space Shuttle Program that NASA opened space flight to many who had previously had no chance of flying – bringing diversity in our crews to include women, minorities and astronauts from many of our partner nations – perhaps its greatest legacy.”

Out of all the tremendous advancements made by the Space Shuttle Program, why would the diversity of the crew be its greatest accomplishment?Dr._Mae_C._Jemison,_First_African-American_Woman_in_Space_-_GPN-2004-00020

As I’ve thought over this question, I’ve come to realize the simple truth that the push to the stars is our future, but that future is impossible unless we are taking everyone with us.

NASA and what it stands for is the American dream in its best form. It is the spirit of exploration and the triumph of human will over the unknown. It is the desire to push to be something greater than who we are now, and we will never be able to accomplish our best if we are putting limits on our people. For years, the American Dream was not actually a possibility for a rather large section of our population. It still isn’t one hundred percent there, but we must keep trying. Our future cannot include only a fraction of the world.

Representation matters. Being able to see someone like yourself triumph and accomplish their dreams matters. It inspires the lost and the lonely because they see themselves and it lets them say, “If they can do it, maybe I can too. Maybe everyone else is wrong. Maybe I can be more.”

On my wall, I have a print of Uhura from Star Trek bending down to a little girl who is saying “Representation Matters.” The painting was inspired by this story from Whoopi Goldberg.Representation-Matters-1

“Well, when I was nine years old Star Trek came on, I looked at it and I went screaming through the house, ‘Come here, mum, everybody, come quick, come quick, there’s a black lady on television and she ain’t no maid!’ I knew right then and there I could be anything I wanted to be.”

The idea that anyone can be anything they want, if they just put their mind to it, has long been propped up as what makes America great, even when we have not actually lived up to that mantra. But now, through NASA, that statement is becoming a greater truth for the American people.

Diversity will become our greatest legacy because it is how we will inspire the best and brightest from all walks of life to carry us into the stars and beyond. It is how we will change who we are as a people while we push to change the world we live in for the better.

Social and scientific advancement must go hand in hand.

Read the entire State of NASA here.

Stop Watering Down My Beliefs

This piece was written for altFem Magazine. AltFem seeks to “give voice to women who find in their religion not just spiritual solace but also strength, power, and confidence. Mainstream media coverage of women of faith depicts these women as disempowered and brainwashed by dominant men in their faith. Religious women are almost invariably painted as irrational and their devotion to their religion inauthentic. altFem is working to change that perception by providing a platform where religious women of all faiths can speak for themselves rather than be spoken for—and its goal is nothing less than redefining feminism to include and celebrate women of faith.”

There are very few people in my life, whether they know me well or not, who are unaware of the very strong beliefs I hold, namely my faith and my feminism. Often these subjects come up in conversation, and not always in the best of ways. In the many circles I frequent, one or both of these topics are frequently the focus of negative attention.

But the thing is, most people like me, and so they quickly try and explain that they are not talking about me when they say derogatory things about something I believe. Phrases like, “But you’re not, like, really Mormon-y. You’re totally normal,” or “I’m just talking about those crazy feminists! I mean, you aren’t even that liberal.”

My patience with these kinds of phrases has been wearing short as of late, because as much as some people around me may want to protest to this fact, I am an extremely devout Mormon, and I am an adamant feminist.

This past week I spent nearly 9 hours going to church functions, on top of which I also fasted, read scriptures, and prayed multiple times a day. I believe, with all I am, that the Book of Mormon and the Bible are the word of God. I believe Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God. I believe we came to a fallen world to learn the importance of free will, and to become perfected through Christ, and return to our Father in Heaven. All of this is not to imply I’m some perfect Mormon, but simply to illustrate that I certainly fall into the category of devout. I am a very mormon Mormon.

Also, as I type this, I am wearing a shirt that says “A woman’s place is in the House and the Senate.” If you were to go through the books in my car right now, you’d find a copy of Bell Hook’s Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center and I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai. I am best known for two things, one being a study I did in college (which went viral after The Guardian reported on it) that quantified whether or not the BBC show Doctor Who had become more sexist since it’s head writer changed. The other thing I am known for is my continuing attempts to combat misogyny in my own religious culture (not to be confused with the doctrine or gospel of my faith) and beyond. I don’t sort of support women’s rights. I am an unwavering intersectional feminist.

I am devoutly religious, and I am a feminist. And I don’t have to water down either of these convictions.

We live in a world that has confused strong beliefs with some sort of insanity. We imagine convictions somehow exist on a scale of 1 to 10, and we mentally place those who have extremist, violent, harmful, views on the 10 side, because they must have some strong convictions, right? Well, not if you stop to consider that much of what they believe is not actually in line with the beliefs of the whole community. Those who perpetuate violence and hate in God’s name are clearly missing the point. They hardly ever actually follow the tenets of their religion. Wouldn’t that make them less devout?

There’s mass confusion about feminism, too. The people who think all women must have careers, and are better than men, or something else along that line are subscribing to some seriously antiquated ideas in feminism. They aren’t particularly current feminists. It would be like someone claiming to be a scientist, while still thinking the world was flat. But the media, society, or some combination of the two has used such extreme rhetoric, like “religious nuts” and “feminazi” to make the world think that people with strong beliefs have somehow escaped the loony bin.

When people are around logical, balanced, intelligent individuals who are strong in their views, many try and water down what they believe. Because after all, they aren’t crazy, so they probably aren’t that focused on that way of thinking. It never occurs to people that they should challenge the idea those who are fervently living what they believe are not, in fact, insane.

The first thing we must do is be willing to be an undiluted version of who we are. Be unapologetic about your faith, political stances, and world views. Yes, it may be uncomfortable at first to be a vocal member of your faith in your more progressive (and paradoxically close-minded) circles, and I know that a “radical feminist” is not exactly who the person next to you in the pew on Sunday would always have you be, but don’t be afraid. You don’t have to be rude and shove it down people’s throats, but don’t shy away from opportunities to teach others what you really believe.

Once, when asked why I thought I was a feminist, I gave a fairly standard textbook definition of feminism, and then said I believed that, therefore, I was a feminist. The person responded with, “Well, that’s not really feminism. That’s just common sense.” Perhaps it’s both?

On the same note, I once was explaining to a friend of mine why I am a LDS, and why I had made certain lifestyle choices. I went over the basic doctrines of Mormonism, and her response? “Well, that actually makes a lot of sense.” I wasn’t trying to convert her, but a clear explanation helped her to understand my faith, and realize I’m not a brainwashed sheep.

I love what Aziz Ansair said a while back on why people need to stop distancing themselves with the word feminist. “If you look up feminism in the dictionary, it just means that men and women have equal rights. And I feel like everyone here believes men and women have equal rights. But I think the reason people don’t [want to call them self a feminist] is that word is so weirdly used in our culture. Now, people think feminist means ‘some woman is gonna start yelling at them. So, I feel like if you do believe that, if you believe that men and women have equal rights, if someone asks if you’re feminist, you have to say yes because that is how words work. You can’t be like, ‘Oh yeah I’m a doctor that primarily focuses on diseases of the skin.’ Oh, so you’re a dermatologist? ‘Oh no, that’s way too aggressive of a word! No no not at all not at all.’”

And the same goes for your faith, whatever it may be. People won’t stop thinking of it as something crazy until we stop watering it down to comfort their ignorance.

We can choose to distance ourselves from the world’s standards, and instead help everyone become more empathetic to each other. We must not be ashamed of who we are, and we must be willing to stand with our convictions, even if it is not the easiest thing to do at times. We must be willing to endure this temporary discomfort for the sake of progress in thought. After all, that is the foundation for progress in action. 

Why You Should Be As Excited About Orion As your Grandparents Were About Apollo

In case you haven’t heard, we’re going to Mars. I’m not talking a robot or probe. I mean actual living, breathing, human beings.

Last week NASA, with help from Lockheed Martin, successfully performed the first flight test for Orion. You should get used to hearing that name. It’s our generation’s Apollo. Orion is “NASA’s first spacecraft designed for long-duration, human-rated deep space exploration. Orion will transport humans to interplanetary destinations beyond low Earth orbit, such as asteroids, the moon and eventually Mars.”

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Look who was live on NASA TV!

Since Mars is a much longer trip than the Moon, the operation will happen in stages, as opposed to just sending it to Mars. Just prior to the launch, I was able to spend a day at NASA Langley Research Center learning all about Orion and what is going into to the project.

In addition to the final goal of actually landing on Mars, NASA will be making other significant advancements along the way. One of the most notable for me was their planetary defense system. As mentioned before, Orion will land on an asteroid before it lands on Mars. When they do this, they will be able to collect samples to learn more about the asteroid, but they are also working on contingency plans in case an asteroid was ever on a trajectory that would hit the Earth. They would be able to send up a rocket, and using the 0 g environment, redirect the asteroid, so that it would not collide with us, landing us in history with the dinosaurs. Here’s a video of the simulators they are using! (You only need to watch until 3:07) 

Safety First

If you watch until the end of the video I included, you will also see a huge advancement for deep space travel: the inflatable house in space. How cool is that! For take off, they need the spacecraft to be as small and light as possible, but they also want a larger living space for the astronauts, as the journey will be many months (6, if I’m remembering correctly). Using similar material to a basket ball, they can create a habitat for the astronauts to live and work. This will be much more effective for deep space travel.

On top of all the amazing scientific things that are happening (and I only mentioned a few), Orion is already having amazing effects on the ground. “Lockheed Martin leads the Orion industry team which includes major subcontractors Aerojet Rocketdyne, United Technologies Aerospace Systems, and Honeywell, as well as an expansive network of minor subcontractors and small businesses in 45 states across the country.

“In addition, Lockheed Martin contracts with hundreds of small businesses across the United States through an expansive supply chain network. There are approximately 3,000 people who work on the Orion program nationwide, including contractors, civil servants, subcontractors, suppliers and small businesses.”

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Expanding the space industry would drastically affect our economy for the better. Yes, it’s pushing for the stars. Yes, it’s letting the next generation dream about reaching further. But it will forever change things here at home. The space industry can help create a stable economy, and the American people should understand how vital an investment that is.

Orion is amazing. What it will do is amazing. It is the next leap into the great beyond. Orion is the future.

oojourney_to_mars (1)

Sources:

NASA

Lockheed Martin

It’s Ok to Hate Jell-O: How to Deal With Culture Vs Doctrine

This article was originally written for and published on Millennial Mormons.

In the October 2013 session of General Conference President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, “[T]o be perfectly frank, there have been times when members or leaders in the Church have simply made mistakes. There may have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles, or doctrine. I suppose the Church would be perfect only if it were run by perfect beings. God is perfect, and His doctrine is pure. But He works through us—His imperfect children—and imperfect people make mistakes.”

This was a rather bold admittance. While it was not exactly new information that God’s people are imperfect, including His prophets, apostles, and other leaders, it was still quite a thing to state in the middle of General Conference when we were supposed to be receiving council and revelation from these men and women.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the greater part of the 20th and 21st century, you will know that the church over the years has faced criticism from external, and internal, individuals or groups for practices, principles, and doctrine. In fact, I can think of no point in time, Genesis to now, where someone was not critical of God or his mouthpieces. Now, what President Uchtdorf said is true, there have been mistakes made in the past, and I’m sure that more will be made at some point or another. However, we should not take this knowledge as an excuse to challenge the doctrine of God to conform to the world’s standards.

Read the rest at Millennial Mormons!

The Morality of Space Exploration

Imagine sitting next to Thomas Edison as he is creating the light bulb, and all of a sudden, someone walks in and says, “Tom, would you put that away! There are real problems we need to deal with. You shouldn’t be wasting time making a fancy candle.” You would probably think, “Wow, this person is so backwards. If they only knew how important this is and how much good will come from this.” In fact, I know you would think this, because we all do all the time. After all, how many inspirational Hollywood movies focus on a dreamer who has to overcome all the naysayers and then create something amazing? But for all we do to celebrate the forward thinkers of the past, so many still refuse to see the importance of investing in scientific advancement.

I spent the past three days with NASA as a social media contact for the Antares Rocket launch in Wallops, VA. Before going, I told people they could send me questions I could ask the scientists and other representatives I’d be meeting with. I got some really interesting ones here and on Facebook. One person asked “Do they think they have the moral right to spend such enormous sums on space technology when there are such urgent needs here on the earth?”

My initial reaction was dismissive. I thought, “I’m not going to waste these people’s time by asking such an asinine question,” but then I realized that this kind of attitude of discouraging scientific progress, whether coming from a false sense of moral superiority or just a general shortsightedness, was a much too widely held attitude, and with the explosion at the launch, naysayers will have one more thing to point to as to why funding should stop. 

The youth of America are often accused of always needing instant gratification, however I have come to think that is much more of a universal human trait as I see many older individuals being the greatest critics of the space program because they don’t see the payoff IMMEDIATELY. But it is there and it’s huge. 

Now, I’d like to tell you about my time with NASA over the past few days. 

The Antares Rocket, which was built by Orbital Science, and contained a variety of supplies and scientific experiments that are needed on the International Space Station. The ISS itself is a marvel, and even though it can be thought of as routine, it is anything but that. The ability to keep six people in space for months at a time is a key stepping-stone to developing the technology for a manned mission to Mars, and build permanent outposts in space. The amount of time and manpower going into this is remarkable. But equally so, is what is coming out of this push to move farther into space exploration. 

Much of the scientific equipment being sent up is medical. Spending long amounts of time in space creates unique medical problems, and people need to figure out answers. One of the issues faced is how blood flow goes from the heart to the brain. “A human health study called Drain Brain will inform understandings of blood flow in space to possibly aid in the treatment of headaches and other neurological systems reported by crew members living on the space station. The special neck collar used to measure blood flow from the brain for the Drain Brain study …does not require surgery or special knowledge to operate. This could make the collar a useful tool for monitoring patients on Earth who have heart or brain disorders. Drain Brain could also have implications for development of screening mechanisms for cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s disease.” (Taken from Orbital CRS-3 Mission Overview) Other equipment being sent up could have similar outcomes, in that they answer problems both in space and at home. 

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) research is vital to answering many very real problems we face in the world, but with American students falling further and further behind in the these areas , it is unlikely we will be able to compete in solving them on a global scale. Is this because American students are stupid? No. They simply need more opportunities, and NASA is working hard to provide them. 

The Student Spaceflight Experiment Program, part of National Center for Earth and Space Science Education, was sending up experiments from students all across the country that would help find answers to problems in long term space flight, from air filtration to calcium deficiencies. 

I was able to attend the conference where several teams of students  presented what they would be sending up on Antares. I was amazed by how elegant some of their ideas were. Addressing the formerly mentioned issue of air filtration, one team discovered that living chrysanthemums, could help filter out some of the chemicals in the air. They were sending up a small tube containing seeds to test whether or not they could grow in a zero gravity environment. 

Afterwards, I spoke with some of the students. I was particularly moved by one group of middle school girls who were studying muscle loss in a certain type of shrimp that has similar muscle makeup to humans. They were so excited about this opportunity. One told me, “This has been the most amazing experience. I didn’t know I was smart. I had no idea I could do something like this. I didn’t even think I liked math and science.” Another piped in, “Yeah, I feel like this is really teaching a man to fish. We have learned how to problem solve. This was so hard, but I would do it all over again.” 

Programs like these are helping the youth of America discover their own potential. And this isn’t just inspirational – it is essential. I spoke with NCESSE’s director Dr. Jeff Goldstein on Monday at the conference about this. “There are a myriad of problems here on earth, but many of those problems are going to be solved through science and technology. We are going to need a next generation of scientists and engineers to address many of these problems here on earth. We have got to inspire the next generation, or we will have no one to solve those problems.”

A group of students as they presented to us their project nicknamed "Blood Suckers."

A group of students as they presented to us their project nicknamed “Blood Suckers.”

As I mentioned earlier, American students are falling behind in the world in math and science. This means, in the global job market, our children will not be competitive. “If we are going to compete in a high tech, 21st century market, we’ve got to bring innovative products to market that come from science and technology fields,” says Dr. Goldstein. “The need to compete, to maintain our standard of living, critically depends on getting the next generation involved in STEM fields.” If this weekend is any indicator, that is exactly what they are doing. Many of the students, even ones who had grown up around science, had no interest in pursuing it, until this program came along and showed them their own potential.

(I’d like to take a moment to note that, after speaking to their director, the experiment lost should hopefully be able to be built again and sent up on a later flight.)

It’s not just a distant day in the future we would start seeing benefits. There are immediate benefits from pushing forward with space exploration. On Sunday, while we were touring the launch pad, the facilities director told us, “These contracts have been a shot in the arm to the local economy.”

What is a problem Americans are facing right now? Unemployment. Investing in and growing the space industry can help create a stronger economy. If just these contracts have helped the local economy so much, imagine if, on a country-wide scale, this industry could grow to be as big as some of our other manufacturing industries. We could see a major change in our economy. 

Of course, that is not to say there will be no failures. As we saw on Tuesday, accidents happen. But going into the frontier was never supposed to be easy. It never has been. It wasn’t easy for our ancestors who did it here on earth, and we cannot expect anything different for our own generation. I spoke Dr. Goldstein after Tuesday’s briefing again and he remarked, “Failures are simply the signposts on the road to success.” To use an even older phrase, “Fall down seven times, get up eight.”

So, to the initial question of morality, my response would be that it would be morally irresponsible NOT to invest in the space program. We cannot abandon our future for the sake of immediate gratification. We have a responsibility to push ourselves to explore, innovate, and create, because through this, we will secure a better world for the next generations.