The Restrict Act: the Sequel to the Patriot Act

People of my age who were around for the aftermath of 9/11. We need to remember what the Patriot Act did to this country, what it did to us as a people. We don't talk about it enough, and it leaves younger folks not understanding the air they breathe today. 

September 11th was a tragedy that left a lot of people in a state of paranoia about there being untold numbers of terrorists living among us.

That fear gave birth to the Patriot Act.

They told us it was necessary. 
They told us it would make us safer.
They told us the would only use the expanded powers it granted on the bad guys, the "terrorists" who hated America and freedom for no good reason at all.
People who raised valid concerns about what this law could be used for were demonized as unpatriotic alarmists who were too weak to do the so-called strong thing, the necessary thing to "protect national security." If you've ever wondered why people of a certain age seem to jump and start becoming totally irrational the moment they hear that phrase, that's why. 
It's a deeply encoded trauma response from 9/11.

It's burritoed inside of the thousands of times they replayed the Pentagon with black smoke billowing out of it, the Twin Towers crumbling to the ground, and the downed flight that was headed to Camp David on television. 
Over and over and over and over and over and over again.
"National security" wasn't a phrase I'd ever heard before until that moment. And the only thing I knew was what not having it anymore looked like. 
It looked like desperate bodies leaping from skyscrapers on television and hitting the ground.

It looked like people covered in dust, running away from the towers as they collapsed.
It looked like every person around me, the ones I relied on to protect me, realizing for the first time in their lives that they felt totally powerless to protect anyone.
The Patriot Act was supposed to make us all feel better. It was supposed to be the thing we could point to and say: "The powers that be are doing something. This is what's going to stop this from ever happening again."
Why was everybody so mad at Edward Snowden? Because Edward Snowden popped the bubble of that myth. He introduced us to the existence of the NSA and revealed that its purpose wasn't to find and stop terrorists. It was to spy on all of us. That's why we have more domestic terrorists than we've ever had before with mass shootings on a regular basis, and the NSA doesn't do a damn thing to stop any of them. 
The promise was they would have the tools to do that, to keep us safe. We expanded the list of what the government was allowed to do in our names, selling our privacy and a bit of our souls with it, to make the fear go away. It hasn't worked. An unstable person with violent intentions can't take a full bottle of shampoo onto an airplane, but they can buy an AR-15 and shatter the bodies of children in their schools.
And right now, history is repeating itself. The government is trying to convince you to give them the power to restrict or shut down any and all access to materials online they deem to be a national security threat. They're telling you it's just for TikTok. Just the bad guys. Don't worry. They would never use it on YOU. They would never use them as a censor against YOU to control what YOU think, say, or do. 
The Restrict Act gives unrestricted power to an unelected person, who is only accountable to the president, to cut off access to any information they want from being distributed on any platform to the American people.
Where have I seen that before?

The Patriot Act walked so the Restrict Act could run.
This time, rather than creating a department of Homeland Security (yes, that also came out of 9/11), they're putting the censors in the Department of Commerce. In case you thought it was about anything other than money.

Finding the Defiance in Turning the Other Cheek

Angel of Empathy, J. Kirk Richards
Part of how I'm navigating this current era of watching the most conservative apostles die on every untenable hill is by shifting my focus to female leadership, members, and their perspectives. What this looks like is getting their books from the Church's thrift store, Deseret Industries. I live in an area where this is very easy to do. Curating my library of church books to be predominantly written by and focused on women is something that brings me joy. 

So of course, some dude had to come and interrupt it.

Around the same time I picked up Rosie Card's book from the shelf, one of the employees came over to stock more books. Apropos of nothing, he tried to engage me in a conversation about the SEC fine, with the opener of "Did you know our church is the richest one in the world?"

Now, the trouble with doing this to strangers is you have no idea who you could be talking to and what their lived experience has been. I could've said absolutely anything back to him, much of which could've hurt his feelings. But I didn't. I was not having this conversation with a stranger in DI because it's not my job to help him manage whatever combination of feelings was going on inside of him to make him approach me like this. So I ignored him.

He didn't take the hint, so I said as gently as I could, "Yes, sweetheart. I'm aware."

He didn't expect that. He didn't know what to do with it. It confused him enough that he disengaged. He then left me alone to do my browsing.

Just because a person refuses to engage in a dialogue about the failures of the Church with you doesn't mean they are ignorant about the situation, or deluding themselves into apologetics to soothe themselves into pretending it isn't happening. Sometimes, the exact opposite is true. They know just as much, if not more of the details of the situation than you do. They know people involved whose names you don't even know.

The world of the Church is small like that.

When you come at someone sideways, in inappropriate times and places, with assumptions and accusations, you put yourself into a position where the only version of a story you will hear and can accept is the one being passed around by people in that exact frame of mind.


Because folks with the details you don't know aren't interested in having an argument, especially not with a stranger. Silence is how they protect their peace. It's not complicity in wrong-doing. It's the refusal to engage with someone who lacks tact and self-control. That behavior creates an echo chamber of its own in which no one involved actually arrives at a full vision of the truth.

Anyway, here's my haul from yesterday:

I'm going to make a Goodreads bookshelf of my finds to share what I've found so far since people have asked. You can also find what I'm currently reading in the Goodreads widget in my sidebar

I also got Becoming by Michelle Obama. Anyone insulting me for including her memoir will be reminded that she has never had to pay a $5 million fine to the SEC.


P.S. If you think "turning the other cheek" in Matthew 5:39 means passively letting people hurt you, let me relieve you of the burden of that false interpretation. Turning the other cheek is an act of defiance, the refusal to surrender your own dignity to the person trying to deprive it from you. That's what Jesus taught.

Remembering My Seminary Teacher, the Creationist

In my travels across the internet, I came across a creator who was talking about her upbringing in a flavor of Christianity that taught Creationism. As she was talking about the cognitive stretching she had to do to be out of step with the rest of reality, it brought to mind the experience I had with a seminary teacher who was a Creationist.

I remember her trying to do some kind of calculation during a lesson and trying adjust it for the earth only being thousands of years old. Several of her children were in class with me and rattled off the information she wanted without hesitation. That's what she taught in seminary and our Sunday School classes, even though it's not what the Church itself teaches about the Creation.

What does the Church officially teach about the timeline of the Creation? It's a non-committal shrug with the acknowledgement that there are more important things to focus on about the Creation than how long it took.

Years later, I was in a classroom at BYU with one of the most conservative professors on campus. He pointed out that the Creationist timeline makes no sense, even within the Biblical record itself, because it's based on the timeline of seven literal 24 hour days.

"How is this possible for there to be 24 hour days when the sun and the moon weren't created until the fourth day?"

He chuckled wryly, smiled, and said "I shouldn't do that to people," with no real sign of regret. It was such a brief interaction, but it freed me from any kind of loyalty to a Creationist worldview. I've stuck with that ever since. There is no requirement for me to base my faith on what is observably false, just because other people do.

Mormonism encompasses so many different worldviews, from the most incomprehensible and observably false narratives from evangelical Christianity to the "God is a Scientist who Uses Scientific Processes" that I experienced from my professors at BYU. It's very much a Choose Your Own Adventure, whether church members want to admit it or not.

We might as well embrace the cafeteria approach to religion because it's what people in our religious tradition have always done. Everyone chooses the interpretation of the world around them that is consistent with the relationship they want to have with reality and the people in it.

I can't stop people in the Church from needlessly believing in Creationism, but that doesn't mean I need to adopt it because it's what they're teaching their children.

The fact that my worldview is not identical to the person sitting in the pew next to me is a feature, not a bug.

When Leaving the Church Doesn't Include Your Children

"Leaving the Church means I can remove my kids from the community and make it so they never develop any loyalties to the institutional Church that I have to deal with."

Let's unpack that assumption.

My mom is from a Catholic family who has a complicated relationship with the Catholic Church. If pressed, that's what she would say her religious background is. She went to mass on her own when she was younger. I have memories of her taking me to mass. She stopped around the time my younger sister was born, and there wasn't much in the way of religious teaching that she ever tried to instill in us. It wasn't something that was important to her.

She had the assumption that if religious thought was something she didn't give to us, it was something she would never have to deal with. We'd be comfortably agnostic like her and that would be the end of it.

Dear reader. That was not, in fact, the end of it.

If there was a God, I should've been one of the last people to ever find out. Despite that, my religious beliefs have been in formation from the time I was a child, a tapestry of random things I'd gathered from the world around me. I've prayed and read scripture on my own without anyone forcing me to, having spiritual experiences in private from the time I was very young.

My mom said she didn't want to choose my religion for me, that she wanted me to pick my own faith. But I wasn't actually supposed to do that. I wasn't ever actually supposed to choose my own religious community, especially if it was different from hers. Once I did, this became a significant, ongoing source of conflict between us. If I wasn't going to be comfortably agnostic like the rest of them, why couldn't I have just been Catholic? She's asked me that before. That's a conversation for another time though.

Here's the salient point: you don't control the spiritual lives of your children. Your agnosticism, atheism, or secularism doesn't guarantee that's how they turn out, no more than your parents being believers meant that for you. Be okay with that possibility and decide ahead of time to respect their choices, or you'll end up doing as much damage to your relationship with your kids as your parents did to you by forcing you to conform to their beliefs. Never take the formation of your child's religious identity and make it about you. Because it's not about you. It's not about what you believe, want, think, or feel. It's about them. If you can't support your child in their identity formation separate from you, that's a you problem.

Your kid wants to get baptized or endowed and you make your grievances something they have to contend with? They want to serve a mission and you refuse to speak to them for most of the time they're gone? They're getting married in the temple and they already know your reaction is going to be explosive?

I'm telling you from personal experience that this doesn't become less abusive just because the person doing it is agnostic or an atheist. Have all the complicated feelings about your child being religious, especially if it means they're staying in or returning to a community you left. But deal with those feelings with a therapist. Don't take them out on your kids.

RIP Krista Brown Smith

Today was the funeral. It was the biggest one I've ever seen. There were so many people there, it filled the parking lot, the park next door, all the street parking on both sides of the building, and down the block.

The chapel was packed. The overflow and the cultural hall were packed to the point of standing room only. There were so many flowers up front, I don't know how they fit them all up there.

I was really nervous. It's been years since I went to church in person because of the pandemic. It was also my first time visiting since we left the ward. The eulogies were beautiful, especially from the former bishop she and I served with in Young Women. So many moments I shared with her came back to the surface for me.

The most important one was the time she invited me over for a girl's night, and we just talked for hours. She wanted to invite me into her fertility struggles, knowing that I'd been through so many of my own. We commiserated over the same frustrations and disappointments with the only fertility clinic anywhere near us. I gave her the best advice I had for any infertile person which I wish someone had given to me: have a time frame in mind for how long you're going to keep trying. Give yourself permission to stop. Don't keep hurting your own feelings more than you can take.

And as it so often happens, she gave up on the fertility treatments when she reached her point of exhaustion without success, only to get pregnant on her own after she stopped the treatments. I smiled when they recounted that story, knowing the hand I played in it.

She was such a good listener. She had a way about her that made you feel like you were the only person in the planet when you were talking to her. I confided in her my struggles with going to church, with the way things are for women who do so much with so little respect and recognition. She loved me in that moment exactly as I was, without asking me to be or feel any differently. I didn't realize it at the time, but that conversation was what put me on the path to returning to church. All because she made me feel understood. Accepted. Loved unconditionally.

It was also the last time I would see her alive.

Seeing her casket, I didn't regret not going to the viewing on Sunday. I want to remember her as she was then. Smiling and laughing with her on her couch, eating pizza and being one of the rare visitors who actually got to see her cat.

I've never been to an LDS funeral where they truly pull out all the stops. I didn't know what happened next. That the family would leave the building to do the burial and the cultural hall was about to be transformed before my eyes. Tables, chairs, centerpieces, plastic cutlery wrapped in napkins and tied with pink bows. In the time it took me to say hello to several of the people I had spotted, it all coalesced seemingly from nowhere. There was one more person I wanted to say hello to, and I already knew where she would be.

I went into the kitchen, and sure enough. She was surrounded by people who were all asking for directions for food prep and presentation for the luncheon. She had just enough time to give me the biggest hug and get a thirty second update on me and my family before she handed me a salad and told me to follow her so she could keep listening. Before I knew it, I was prepping and plating dozens of pieces of cheesecake, chopping lemon slices for water pitchers, running back and forth to refill salads, funeral potatoes, fruit, and dinner rolls.

In all that hustle and bustle, I felt a part of me coming back to life. The one that knew the alto parts to almost every hymn. The one who was loved and remembered to be invited to this, even after all these years. The one who belonged. It all came back to me so fast, it honestly felt like I never left, that no time had even passed at all. I could just pick up right where I left off with a group of people who have already decided that they love me, no matter what.

It was there all along. But it took me walking away, then coming back a different person for me to be able to see it. Thank you, Krista. For everything.

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