Land of the Free… Except You Can’t Talk About God

“The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.” – G.K. Chesterton

            Soldiers go out and fight for our freedom, for their freedoms, for this country allows for that freedom. They train and risk their lives on our behalf, so that we can live our lives in relative safety. They love what they fight for.

            In recent discussions, the Pentagon has declared “Religious proselytization is not permitted within the Department of Defense.” Mentioning or sharing religious beliefs can be considered “acts of sedition” and can result in a court martial. This comes as the result of Pentagon discussions with Mikey Weinstein, a long time crusader against fundamentalist Christian “monsters”. Why is the Pentagon taking religious advice from such an anti-Christian source?  No one quite knows, but we can speculate that it has something do with a bigger agenda of alienating Christians and increasing the divide between Christian and non-Christian.

The Religious Tolerance Policy is advocating for soldiers to not speak of religion. It is stating that they cannot talk of one of the very freedoms they are fighting for in fear of being tried as an enemy of the state.

Our own soldiers! Enemies of the state due to religion? Really?


            Statistically speaking,  the majority of soldiers are Christians . Often religion is part of who they are. “Saying that a service member cannot speak of his faith is like telling a service member he cannot talk about his spouse or children,” Crews (executive director of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty) said. Out of fear of being court marshaled, those people would have to remain silent. There is worry that recruiting will suffer once troops hear that their religious freedom will be suppressed.

            Not only is it seen as sedition and treason, but Weinstien has repeatedly likened it unto rape. He declares that it is “spiritually raping” others by forcing your religion and spirituality on others while they cannot defend themselves.

            The Family Research Council (FRC) has put forth a petition to abolish this ludicrous rule, declaring, “Our brave troops deserve better.”  Thousands have responded to the call to help our soldiers freedom of religion. We’ll have to see where this leads, but if the military can be tried for expressing their religious beliefs, where does that put the rest of Americans?  Will this become a wide-spread epidemic?  Will the land of the free that was founded on Christian principles outlaw one of the very freedoms that was its genesis?  What will this do to the safety of our country when men and women who may have served to protect no longer feel comfortable doing so?



We Can Do Hard Things

             Do teens have the ability to do hard things, fulfill high expectations, deal with difficult situations, be goal-motivated for themselves?

              An issue of Reader’s Digest in 1941 used the word ‘teenagers’ for the first time to define the age group 13-19. The word has been around just over 70 years. Before that, one was considered either a child or an adult and the current ‘teen’ category most often fell under the adult category. Since then scientists have tried to prove that teens do not develop critical thinking strategies or have the ability to make life decisions for themselves because of brain developments. However, nothing is different physiologically or psychologically today with a teenager than they were 70 years ago.

            As of recent years, more excuses for ‘teenage’ behavior are being made. Not only do teenagers come up with personal reasons for potentially not doing something or doing something they shouldn’t have, but they have adults making up reasons for them!

            So are teenagers truly incapable of doing things of any real importance, or is that just some myth that has become much too common?

            Alex and Brett Harris, twin brothers and authors of Do Hard Things, mention an article they found while searching for examples about high expectations of teenagers today. The article is titled “When you formally develop a set of expectations for your teen, you begin to set up your teen for succeeding in meeting those expectations”. Sounds pretty good, right?

            “The author proceeded to list suggested expectations for teens, divided by age group. First, preteens and younger teens are expected to…

  • · Make your bed everyday
  • · Be able to take a message on the phone
  • · Clean your room every week (with help from Mom and Dad)

“Then comes older teens, 15 and up. Besides everything on the younger teen list, you are expected to…

  • · Do a daily chore [just one], like taking out the trash
  • · Make sure the gas gauge stays above a quarter of a tank
  • · Clean your room every week (with no help from Mom and Dad)

            “The article also includes an encouragement to parents about the list: ‘Please do not feel that your teenager should be doing all of them.’ Phew! We were getting worried there!”

             Let me tell you a recent story about a seventeen year old girl, Natalie Warne, who showed that she was capable of significantly more than “do[ing] a daily chore” and “clean[ing] [her] room every week”.

            Natalie, like many other teens, was set on graduating and going on to college when she found a cause that she thought was worthy of fighting for. She learned about the 25 year war in Africa in which an evil madman (my words, not hers), Joseph Kony, took young boys against their will and made them soldiers fighting for his cause.

            Natalie immediately started to research what she could do to stop this great tragedy. Her research revealed a group who was trying to pass a bill to provide American military support in aiding these “Invisible Children” to safely break away from Kony’s influence. She became an intern for the group working on the bill. Her work included assistance in planning and conducting presentations that advocated this bill. As the group brainstormed where to go for publicity, Natalie suggested getting Oprah’s attention. This was considered too lofty of a goal by some, but shortly thereafter they achieved just that!

            A little over a year later the bill was passed in favor of helping these “Invisible Children”.

            On a more personal note, I was involved in our local congregation’s “Day of Service” about a year ago. Our work included helping clean up the house and yard that would be made into an Eagle Lift Ministry home. Trenches were to be dug for pipes to be laid down, and gardens were to be planted, and shingles were to be stripped and added to the roof. It was a long and exhausting job.

            About 25 dedicated young women and men came to help parents and leaders make this activity successful. They hauled bricks across the field to the trucks; they dug trenches out in the sun. They were a central energetic force for a cause they found to be worth the time. They didn’t have to have adults tell them that this was worth working for, their ‘thinking strategies’ were not impaired.

           In a similar service day my youth group was to make many blankets for the hospital to give to newborns. A young woman in my group was unable to attend the activity, but she decided that this setback wouldn’t stop her from participating. On her own time she made dozens of blankets, and gave them to us to donate. What a remarkable self-motivated act of service!

            Elaine Dalton, from the general Young Women’s presidency, once said “In the strength of the Lord I can do all things.” As teenagers we must realize some restrictions may apply to us: the law, for one. But we should not let things cut us off from our dreams. In a famous poem, The Road Less Traveled by Robert Frost, he says that there are two roads: an easy road, worn by travelers, and a hard road less traveled. I say there needs to be a third road- the one you create. As teenagers with access to more technology at our hands than was used to put men on the moon, why can’t we do difficult things? Who says that we can’t chase dreams?

            We, the Rising Generation, do not have to wait for our 18th birthday where suddenly we know how to make reasonable, rational decisions. We can decide now! We have opportunities all around us to make a difference, and we often do change the world around us without realizing it. So pay attention. See what difference in the world you can make.

             Have you had an experience of ‘doing hard things’? Please share with us some ‘hard things’ we can do!

[Suggested reading: Do Hard Things by Brett and Alex Harris]

So Many Movies, So Few Choices

            Have you ever sat down to a movie that was PG-13 and wondered how it isn’t rated R? Or even a PG movie that seems as if it should be PG-13 at the least? Are the movie ratings as meaningful as they are made out to be?

            On the weekend many people enjoy escaping real life for a couple of hours with a dramatic, suspenseful, or funny movie. Movies are one of the most popular outings for friends and families in America. It can be extremely limiting to those going out to enjoy an afternoon/evening of movie watching when at least half of the movies portray scenes of terrible violence, uncomfortable sexual scenes, or a barrage of vulgar speech. After checking the movies that were out this weekend, there were: 7 R ratings, 8 PG-13 ratings, and a single PG movie. Not bad, huh? This is a better set of options than only a couple weeks ago where there were only two PG-13 movies and the rest were R.

            How movies are rated has changed much over the years. Originally there was G, PG, R, and X. PG encompassed a large amount of the movies that the general crowd would go and see. When the PG-13 rating was released (beginning with ‘Red Dawn’) in 1984 a stereotype began that PG was merely for children which increased the number of PG-13 movies produced.

             About the time that PG-13 originated, rated X became NC-17. Directors jumped on the chance to start lowering ratings. Things that had previously been X were made NC-17, and things that were R were made PG-13, so that these movies had an even better chance to pull in a larger crowd. Movies that had once been considered inappropriate for certain audiences were now targeted for the larger general audience. “[Filmmaker] Kirby Dick says that the ratings board is deliberately opaque, refusing to identify its members or their criteria. Dick found one strict rule for language — a formula for the number of allowable f-words — but no standards on sex and violence. “They want to make sure that they can get their films to be PG-13,” Dick says. “The vaguer the categories are the more they are able to fudge the ratings and push their films into the PG-13 category.”

            Movies have what Malcolm Gladwell (author of “The Tipping Point”) would describe as the “stickiness factor”. This is the factor that makes the movie memorable, so that it stays in your mind. This can be used to influence us for good or bad. “The information and entertainment provided through these media can increase your ability to learn, communicate, and become a force for good in the world. However, some information and entertainment can lead you away from righteous living” (as stated in the For Strength of Youth pamphlet).

            So how is that movies are not receiving their ‘rightful’ rating?

            Dick feels it wouldn’t be difficult to provide parents with better ratings, if the industry wanted to. “They should really break it out by category — sex, violence, profanity, drug use, mature content — and very precisely, but quickly, list what’s in each of those categories so parents can decide.”

            The ratings system plays into Hollywood politics, Dick charges, since the major studios are in the position of rating their own films and their competitors’. “That puts them in the position to rate their films less harshly, and allow them make more money.”

            It has come to a point where individuals must police themselves rather than trust the rating given. My own family uses as our source of information. We even invested in a Clearplay DVD system that filters out language and scenes based on the settings selected by the user so that we could watch a show such as Transformers, which is targeted for kids, but still has inappropriate content in it, comfortably in our own home.

            What are your standards when it comes to choosing the movies you watch? Do we settle for Hollywood’s idea of standards and what they want to make accessible?


Boy Scouts of America Under Attack

Over the past decade or two, and again today, the policies, principles, and values that the BSA hold dear are being brought into question. Again the issue is being pressed that the BSA should remove it’s no gay policy. Time and again BSA has withstood these attempts to change its policy, but now the organization is considering retracting the no-gay ban due to peer pressure. As a sister of a scout, I plead Don’t!

Isn’t it seen as a problem that these boys (all under 18) feel that they need to declare a sexual orientation? By declaring this orientation, it would seem that they would intend to practice it. Does it make sense to allow these boys/men who feel the need to make their homosexual proclamation to the world be involved in camping experiences with the very gender they claim inspire sexual feelings? We don’t send the girl scouts out camping with the boy scouts for a reason, and it’s okay that they have their own organization.

In the Scout oath the Scouts promise to be “morally straight”. I see a moral issue in letting homosexuals into an organization when their beliefs don’t match up with the beliefs of the organizations main oath. It would make more sense to me if homosexuals created or joined an organization that actually supports their beliefs/values instead of trying to make a long established organization like the Boy Scouts compromise their moral integrity.

Over the years numbers in scouting have been falling steadily. Will the cost of removing the ban be big enough to make a difference in the Boy Scouts overall financial success? I know that my own Latter Day Saints (LDS) brothers and their LDS and Catholic scouting friends will no longer be part of the program if the ban is removed. There are about 2 million Scouts in America, and though only 2% of the overall American population are Latter Day Saints (Mormon), nearly 20% of Scouts are affiliated with this religion. One article is quoted as saying: “It seems the Mormons aren’t afraid of throwing their weight around on issues they are concerned with and are on record as saying if the Boy Scouts of America are forced to accept gays as scoutmasters, the LDS Church will withdraw from the organization and take more than 400,000 Scouts with it.”

           D&C 115:5: “Arise and shine forth, that thy light may be a standard for the nations.” By standing up for our righteous standards and being true to ourselves, I believe that we will let our lights shine an example to others about holding strong to their moral integrity. Honestly, this couldn’t be more straight forward in the logic and with the spirit. How can this even be a debate?

Season of Thanksgiving

It is the season of thanksgiving. One popular hymn goes as such: “Are you ever burdened with a load of care? Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear? Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly, and you’ll be singing as the days go by…..count your many blessings, see what God hath done.”

How do you show gratitude for the blessings, big and small, in your life? Do we recognize our blessings or do we feel that they are actually entitlements and question why we don’t have more?

Joseph B. Wirthlin explained why we sometimes don’t see all of our blessings. “…The more often we see the things around us- even the beautiful and wonderful things- the more they become invisible to us. That is why we often take for granted the beauty of this world- the flowers, the trees, the birds, the clouds- even those we love… Because we see things so often, we see them less and less.”

Crazy, eh? The more often we actually enjoy something, the less we appreciate it.

Modern philosophies tend to tell us that with work and a little effort, we are entitled to a job, food, shelter, support. In truth though, we have no entitlements, but are given blessings… all the way down to the opportunity to live another day.

In Luke chapter 17:12-19 is the story of Christ cleansing the 10 lepers. Though he offered this cleansing to all ten, only one turned back to personally relay his thanks, his sincere gratitude to Christ. He immediately recognized and appreciated the miracle that Christ had given. The other nine may have had thankfulness in their hearts, but they failed to act upon it at the time.

Do we show our thanks immediately or do we wait for something to kick us into gear… like an annual holiday?

I am grateful for so many things, among them are: my family, my friends, opportunity for good education, laughter, memories, the church, my beautiful home, sunrises/sunsets, books (oh, there are so many good books), music (that which I listen to, and what I can play), and all the chances to serve.

One way that I show my gratitude to my family is by trying to be a contributing member of the family. I do this by babysitting my little brothers on the weekdays, keeping the house clean so we can enjoy more family time and have fewer chores when my parents get home, and developing my talents to share with my family. My gratitude does not only strengthen my family, but it strengthens me.

Did you know that showing gratitude is actually the sign of a well-educated person? Gordon B. Hinckley said, “Be grateful… The habit of saying thank you is the mark of an educated man or woman.” Why is this? Think of your meals… someone bought them. Think of your activities… someone organized them and facilitated them. Think of your freedom… someone fought for it. All we have is we have is partly because of someone else. When we recognize this, we exhibit a higher understanding.

There are many opportunities all around us to share our gratefulness. Sharing a sincere thank you takes only 1/86,400 part of your day, and it brightens another person’s day significantly.

So I ask again, how do we acknowledge these blessings? Do we name them ‘one by one’ or say ‘I want that one, and I want that one’.


       Does a leader have to live a moral life to be a good leader? 

        One prominent Wall Street Journal writer says, “Everybody knows the culture is poisonous, and nobody expects that to change.” Is this, in part, due to our current leaders in government, in churches, in communities and in families? 

       We have examples of leaders making moral and immoral choices from the past and present, and can see the effects on the people they lead. The very definition of a leader is one that helps guide, influence, and induce people to action, whether good or bad. Leaders tend to base their decisions on their core values and virtues. This happens in all facets of their lives. They do not tend to have one set of core values for personal life and a separate set of core values for their public life. Obviously, we want someone who has the ability to make good decisions regardless of the situation. It applies to moral conduct as well as strategic and fiscal conduct. The scriptures tell us that this is especially important in our time period. 2 Timothy 3:1-5 tells us that perilous times are ahead, and that the moral conduct of the world will deteriorate at an alarming rate.

        Matthew 24:6 states that we can’t be moral, and yet immoral, at the same time. One of these attributes will ultimately dominate the other. 

       A scripture example of immorality affecting a leader’s constituents is King Solomon. He was such a righteous leader that he was granted great wisdom, and thus riches, from the Lord due to his charity and pure heart. Slowly, he let his pride, his love of women and money, and his lack of faith in the Lord affect his leadership and was basically fired.

        In today’s world, we see similar examples of moral misconduct that affect not only the immediate parties involved, but can extend to our entire nation. Look at the scandal going on with General Petraus. This immoral personal decision had far-reaching consequences and ultimately compromised the integrity and safety of our country.   

       On the other hand, there are leaders who have shown personal morality that was further proven by their political actions. In Genesis 39 we read about Joseph and Potiphar’s wife. Joseph exemplified having righteous core values. Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph. She promised that there was no one around to spread word, but regardless Joseph denied her and fled from temptation. He was later blessed in all facets of his life because of his moral decision-making. 

       Does the choice in leaders today come from a generation that has rejected the past standards of choosing leaders that will push them to their full potential, a generation that does not hold leaders to certain standards? It is clearly stated in Mosiah 26:1-6 how such a generation works. We, the rising generation, have the ability to make new decisions, to look for those who can lead us forward righteously. We can raise our standards back up, and become what we wish to see in those who help guide us. 

       What do you think are some examples from current events in which it was important, or not important, for the leader to be moral?