God's Punishment?

Most human beings throughout time have tried to come up with explanations for why bad things happen to others. In my opinion, it seems to be part of the human condition to attempt to rationalize, to find fault in others, to find a 'reasonable' reason why Heavenly Father has allowed something bad to happen. If someone is raped, maybe they were dressed for it or even in the wrong situation... If someone is murdered, than maybe they were in a place they shouldn't have been or had bad behavior... If a child dies in an accident, we suspect the parents could have been more vigilant or responsible. Excuses are even found in a positive vein- “They were so good that God took them home” or “God really knew what he was doing when he gave you this challenge- I could never have done as well as you!” It appears that we come up with excuses that make us feel more comfortable.... not the afflicted If people have bad things happen to them because of something they did, then we are safe, we do not have to worry... it could never happen to us because we wouldn't do 'that'.

I read a study a few years ago that talked about the dichotomy of how human beings think. We are able to rationalize our own behavior and when bad things happen to us we are able to give ourselves the benefit of the doubt- after all, we know why we failed at something. We forgot, or had an emergency, became too busy, etc... but most human beings are unable to give others this same benefit of the doubt. Part of this may come from the idea that we cannot know their mind and so we cannot know why something happened. But people tend to be suspicious and fearful and so we tend to think that when people have trouble, then it must have been something that they did. This allows us to justify bad opinions of them, good opinions of ourselves, and to feel comfortable with the idea that those same 'bad things' will not happen to us. After all, how fearful could we become if we realized that most of the bad things that happen in life are random/non personal because of someone else's agency and only a small amount of bad things are truly due to our own agency?

I have a hard time understanding why people (including myself) cannot find a way to figuratively step back and give our fellow brothers and sister's more tolerance and understanding in all circumstances. Why we are not able to take a small amount of time (and even prayer) to try and see into the hearts and minds of our fellow human beings and give each other the 'benefit of the doubt'? Why can we not assume that people are usually not genuinely out to hurt us... that mistakes, misunderstandings, and bad things can happen? We can truly err without full knowledge and harm others by our behavior and judgments in ways that we ourselves may be unable to fathom.

While I am really struggling to understand why we as human beings are unable to be more tolerance and understanding of each other, I am truly unable to understand why some people use their intolerance and fear as 'scatter-shot'; spewing forth their rationalizations as a shot in the face to those individuals that they wish to express their fear and anger against, but also hitting dozens and hundreds of individuals that were not their original targets. The most recent case in point that I can think of are the words of Republican Bob Marshall from Virginia at a press conference last week...

“The number of children who are born subsequent to a first abortion with handicaps has increased dramatically. Why? Because when you abort the first born of any, nature takes its vengeance on the subsequent children. In the Old Testament, the first born of every being, animal and man, was dedicated to the Lord. There’s a special punishment Christians would suggest.”

So, assuming that all first time abortions are elective and have no reasonable need or reason, Heavenly Father has set it up so that these families and innocent children will suffer his vengeance? (Please do not make me waste time with statistics or friend's accounts showing that this assumption is void and untrue- I am hoping that it is obvious.) Doesn't take much of a stretch for like-minded individuals to decide that all parents with disabled children have had abortions or other pertinent misdeeds that they are being punished for. I wish that I could say that this gentlemen said something that most individuals would consider crazy and not true. But I have heard these explanations for most of my life. A parent told me when I was younger that my aunt was being 'punished' for marrying a non member of our church. So her punishment was for her son to have autism. My son has difficulties and I married a non member... so clearly I should have known better. ;) I have friends who have willing adopted those who are disabled, hoping to enrich the lives of these individuals as well as their own. The lives of individuals with disabilities and their families already have a difficult walk on this earth. They willingly take up the mantle that Heavenly Father has given them. They struggle, they fight real and figurative battles daily in the hopes that their children will have an easier life, understanding the reality that their children will face prejudice, hatred and fear in their life for many reasons not of their own making. In my opinion, Heavenly Father does not punish individuals for another's sins on purpose and disability is not a punishment for a parent's sin!

I believe that Heavenly Father allows some individuals to come this this world with differing challenges – let's face it, we allall will have challenges. Some of our challenges will be more obvious than the challenges of others, but I can not stress enough we will all have challenges, troubles, problems and heartache. No one -no matter how good and perfect- will have a perfect, challenge free life. The most perfect of us all (as Christians believe) is Jesus Christ and if we read the scriptures we make no mistake- he faced challenges and heartache. But our Loving Father allows people to come with bigger challenges for the good of all. We are all here on this earth to learn and help each other. So that we may lift each other up and take joy in our difference -not tear each other down in fear and intolerance.

This legislator claimed that disabled children are a punishment from God for past misdeeds. He is not alone by far in his beliefs. I find this claim to uphold unborn life as sacred, but in the same breath to dismiss and trivialize born, breathing life as distasteful and hypocritical. I can't help but wonder...why do almost all those individuals that claim to speak for God, end up sounding more like the Devil and his angels rather than our loving Father?


History of a Song: February - "I Hope They Call Me On A Mission"

(I have wondered sometimes about the history of some of the primary songs and the hymns we sing in church. So I thought that I would look one up once a month and indulge myself!)

The song “I Hope They Call Me On A Mission” was original written in 1970 by Newel Kay Brown. He is originally born in Salt Lake City (a leap year baby!) and currently as of 2010 lived in Texas. He also wrote a few pieces for flute and clarinet as well as a hymn currently in the hymnal (#71 With Songs of Praise). During an interview, Brother Brown said that his inspiration for the song came from one of his favorite songs “A Mormon Boy”. When he was asked to contribute a song on missionary work for possible inclusion in a song book, he tried to write a song that reminded him of his long ago favorite.

This song is one of the few songs that it is fairly guaranteed that most Mormon children will know by heart before they reach their age of majority. It has been performed by Enoch Train, Ryan Shupe and the Rubberbands as well as inclusion in a LDS movie or two. It has also been made into a satire by John Bytheway (Somehow They Called Me On a Mission) and a spoof of the song was reported to travel around the BYU co-ed dorms for a while.

*****I hope they call you on a mission
So you'll be gone a year or two.
By then, I'll probably be married
So I'll no longer have to deal with jerks like you*****

This song is interesting in a few ways. One is its almost universal appeal- children like to sing it and seem quite exuberant about it. I do wonder how many children truly understand the lyrics and really want to go on missions based on thousands of repetitions of a song. I guess I also wonder how guys feel about this song in general. I mean, men are not really allowed to 'hope' they will be called- it is practically mandatory. So I think that girls can make the decision as they are growing up and 'hope to be called', but that is not the same situation as boys. And the church in many ways does not advocate for women to go on missions...

So, if you went on a mission, do you think that this song helped you 'decide early' to go on a mission? What does this song mean to you?


ABA and Difficult Situations

My husband had a disturbing experience the other day. He was shopping in a big box store with Bug and they were looking at a few toys while I got my glasses fixed. While they were doing so, a young man came into the aisle with an adult female. It became clear to my husband fairly quickly that the young man had autism and the female was not his mother, but probably his 'section 24' worker. The young man than asked to buy something and was promptly told no. This prompted him to go into a huge tantrum that seemed more of a statement and attention seeking and less of out of control behavior. The worker's reaction was extraordinary. She immediately became livid- absolutely unreasonably angry and it was clear very quickly that she was so angry that the situation would possibly go out of control for both of them. She was clearly so angry that she would be unable to help in any de-escalation of the situation. What was her next step? She looked at the young man and said “ Well, you just lost three stars, young man!”

I am so confused by ABA sometimes. In this situation, the worker allowing herself to get angry and then telling the child that due to his behavior he has lost a privilege, etc.. really seems to send the wrong message. For one thing, it feels pretty hypocritical to punish someone else for not controlling their behavior while you have lost control of your emotions/behavior. It was clear to my husband that the child's response was not “oh I should stop”. It resembled more of “Well, nothing left to lose now-already lost my privileges.” My husband quickly moved my son out of the aisle and they left as the situation did continue to rapidly spiral out of control. I was once told that anyone using behaviorism has to be very, very careful because often, the lesson that they are trying to teach is not the lesson that the other individual is picking up. And ABA is so rigid and doesn't take a lot of factors into account for the individuals involved. In some ways (and this worker expressed this) it is more about expressing and exerting control over someone else.

Now, it is possible that the worker was having a bad day and this wasn't her typical behavior. It is also possible that this is the worker's typical behavior and the child was having a bad day. Of course, we could have misunderstood the whole situation. And it is possible that the parents are either OK with this behavior or have no idea that the behavior by the worker is going on. It is also possible the the parent's know, but are so desperate for the break that they are willing to accept the worker's behavior. It is also possible that the worker is not really trained at all and is just struggling to figure out what she is supposed to do. There are probably several options that I haven't even thought of yet.

But that whole situation shouldn't have happened. In the end, it wasn't fair to the child. Sure his fake tantrum was silly, but he probably just learned to keep doing the tantrum by the worker's behavior. And the worker will probably get even more angry and quit, leaving the family in a bad spot, and leaving the child with more adverse behavior that the new worker will have to deal with. The whole situation just makes me sad.


2010 Poetry Corner # 3 - "A Word a Year"

I’m 35

I am…
out of control


How to Save an Apex Predator... and in turn, Save Ourselves

Article of Faith 13: “We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul— We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.”

In some ways, the title of this post is an oxymoron. An apex predator is by definition a “predator that have virtually no predators of their own, residing at the top of their food chain.” So it begs the question of why an animal that has 'virtually' no enemies needs to be saved in the first place...? How did the great white shark find itself in the exalted position of 'king' of the seas and yet be in in such risk of extinction?

The answer is very complicated. One reason appears to be simple biology. Any predator reproduces at a slower rate that a prey species and the great white shark is no exception. The female great white will not become pregnant until she is at least 4-5 meters in length (thought to be reached around 9 years of age). She will then give birth to 2-9 pups and will not become pregnant/ give birth again for at least two years – it is also thought that the larger pups in the sharks belly will eat their weaker siblings so that only a few will actually be born. On average, a female great white shark will give birth only twice in her lifetime... although so little is known about the breeding of great whites that these numbers could be incorrect. However, if we assume the very best situation and every pup survives that is born, this shark has very little leeway to be able to keep its population steady if anything else happens that could potentially adversely affect its population.

Unfortunately, there are a few other adverse situations that happen with great white sharks. Sharks are prized for their jaws, teeth and trophy status to sportsmen and targeted fishermen. They can become trapped in protective beach meshing that has been set up to protect us from them (when they become trapped, they will suffocate within minutes. The sharks are also at risk of dying after being caught during commercial fishing for other fish. They also have the problem that inshore habitats that are commonly used by adult great whites as birthing and nursery areas are becoming degraded and in some cases taken over by another apex predator -man. Shark fins are prized for food and hundreds of sharks are killed each year after they are caught, their fins removed, and then they are dumped back in the ocean where they die as they can no longer swim or catch food. When they are caught and kept, their flesh is usually sold under the name of smooth-hound shark. Shark cartilage is sold as a 'health' food and their skin is used for leather. Some great whites are even caught to be prominently displayed in large aquariums. And some are killed as a byproduct of media frenzy and fear/revenge after a human is attacked by a shark while swimming or surfing- even if the shark involved was definitively not a great white shark. On average a shark will kill five human beings a year on accident while human beings kill hundreds of thousands of sharks a year.

When it became apparent that the great white shark was in serious danger of extinction, some governments passed laws attempting to help protect them from humans. In 1991, South Africa granted the great white protected status and was followed by California and Australia in 1994. The World Conservation Union considers the great white shark as 'vulnerable to extinction'. Many scientists believe that there are less than 10,000 great white sharks left in the oceans. They are protected under at least three international conservation agreements and since 1994, they are fully protected in Namibia, the Maldives, Malta, and Florida.

So, with all of this information... what can we do to help the sharks survive? One thing is to educate yourself and others about sharks. Unnatural fear can only be combated and abated with knowledge. If the majority of people understand that shark attacks are rare and killing sharks because “they are sharks” is wrong and unacceptable, media reactions will go down and people will be less likely to go out and indiscriminately kill them. Do not buy shark products and, if enough people do not buy them, then they will become less valuable and fewer sharks will be killed for necklaces and trophies. We need to work harder to keep our beaches clean and unpolluted so that breeding and nesting areas are available for sharks to use.

By now, you are probably wondering why I would suggest that saving the shark has anything to do with saving ourselves. In Mormon terms, we believe salvation is attained through a combination of faith in the Atonement and good works, with emphasis on the good works. Many people tend to be fairly 'species-ist' and believe that because we are 'made in the image of God', we are more important than any of our Heavenly Father's creations. However, the scriptures tell us that the Father notices death of a sparrow (Matthew 10:29-30)... How can we decide that our fears are more important that a creation of our Father? How can we allow one of his creations – an entire species- to die for poor reasons; our fear, our ignorance, our lack of concern, and our lack of will? How can we allow our fear to overshadow the beauty and majesty of this animal. And what will happen to us and our world without the great white shark? Will our oceans become barren as the the great white's prey explodes and eats the fish to an unsustainable level? Will we have to put fish on an endangered species list and no longer be able to eat is as a healthy meal? Will other predators take the place of the great white shark that might become even more dangerous to us in the future? Would the oceans become a truly dangerous place for us to swim in or enjoy?

***** On a slightly different note, I believe (my belief only) that the more we human beings dive in cages to see sharks, the more sharks become 'used to us'. I believe that sharks are more likely to attack people when they are more comfortable in doing so- predators tend to not attack other predators due to fear of injury). The more accustomed they are to our presence in deep water (and our 'calling' them with blood), the more likely we are to convince them that we are a tasty and easy treat. And it is more likely that the 'man eater' will begin to eat us instead of our usual cases of mistaken identity. The recent shark attack in South Africa is in my mind as I type these thoughts. *****

It is in our interests- both temporally and spiritually- to help save the great white shark.. Of course this is only my opinion.... What do you think?


Challenges of an Apex Predator: The Great White Shark and our Ecosystem

Yesterday, I asked the question: which is the most frightening apex predator? The choices that I brought to the discussion were a great white shark or a human being. My thoughts lean towards human beings being the more dangerous of the two groups. In this post, I want to take the time to introduce the great white shark as an unique and beautiful creation, look at the differences between great white sharks and the other shark family members, and how the great white shark interacts with his environment and its inhabitants.

The members of the shark family are different from most other animals that live in the ocean due to their lack of a bony skeleton. Instead, sharks have a cartilaginous skeleton which gives them an advantage of a lighter weight physique. They have jaws that do not attach to their cranium which allows greater range of movement, teeth that are continuously replaced with the advantage of always having a strong weapon for catching prey, and their bodies and skin are developed for easy movement and speed in water. One disadvantage to not having bones is that the shark is not able to swim backwards- only forwards or to the side. Sharks also have the disadvantage that they have problems with buoyancy- a very fatty liver helps to keep them from sinking, but most sharks need to stay in constant motion so that they do not sink, and also to breathe as they need the water to move through their mouths to their gills so that they can breathe.

Sharks have a very long history on our earth. Sharks are believed to go back hundreds of millions of years and modern shark ancestors are believed to have begun around 100 million years ago. One of the great whites well known close ancestors was C. Megalodon, a shark that is believed to have gained lengths of 100 feet (In fact the great white is C. Megalodon's only surviving close relative although this is relationship is not agreed upon by all scientists and is a subject for much debate.) The great white shark in many ways physically looks like its past ancestor -whether they have behavior in common is still debated by scientists.

The great white shark has a few traits or behaviors that are unique in comparison to its other shark cousins. The great white shark can hold its head out of the water- out of hundreds of sharks, only one other shark can do so the same. The great white shark wins hand down on the claim of being the world's largest predatory fish. Great white sharks are also different from other sharks in terms of their fins, conical nose, and distinctive coloring. It is one of less than a handful of sharks that have been documented to attack humans – not that that is a great distinction!

The great white shark is a very important and vital part of the ocean's ecosystem. As an apex predator, they feed on a large number of invertebrate and vertebrate animals - examples are sea lions, seals, other sharks, rays, whales, small cetaceans, etc... As an adaptable animal, its diet can and does change with its environment so studying the shark's feeding habits are difficult at best. Because the great white shark is the 'top dog' of the seas so to speak, its importance to the oceans and to our world cannot be overstated. If the great white shark was to become extinct, it could lead to huge increases in its prey populations which in turn will cause changes in many other animal and plant populations. And unfortunately, this shark is currently endangered and runs a real risk of extinction in the future.

So, you ask, why have I possibly bored you with all this information about a animal that at best you have never seen and know very little about? Why defend a creature that seems to have so few redeeming characteristics to the majority of the human population? A few ideas are listed above. In the last installment to this post, I hope to answer this question fully and also hope that I can instill a sense of concern if not urgency for the endangered species of the world which struggle and for the sanctity of life that I believe in.


Which is the Most Frightening Apex Predator: The Great White Shark or Man?

(This post is part of a three part series which will attempt to address our relationship with sharks, why we fear them, how we can save them, and why we should!

Apex Predator- (also known as alpha, super-, or top-level predators) are predators that have virtually no predators of their own, residing at the top of their food chain. Apex predator species are often at the end of long food chains, where they have a crucial role in maintaining the health of ecosystems.

In the last month, there have been two very highly publicized and sensationalized shark attack/ fatalities. In Cape Town, South Africa on January 12th, a man named Lloyd Skinner was killed by a 'dinosaur sized' or 'gigantic' shark that is believed to have been a great white shark. In Stuart, Florida on February 3rd, a kite surfer named Stephen Howard Schafer died from injuries sustained when he was attacked by a shark that was originally reported to be a 'great white' shark who attacked in a 'multiple shark attack' or from 'a herd of sharks'.

Sharks are in the mind of most human beings to be the ultimate predator. It you ask people what animals they are frightened off, very few off the top of their heads name lions, crocodiles, etc... Sharks are the most frequently mentioned and great white sharks are the most accused and feared. Why this fact is seems to have many factors. Some factors are education/history (except for brief moments in some biology classes, the tales were hear from the past are not positive toward sharks), biology or natural survival instinct (fear of the unknown, the dark, 'monsters' and being eaten alive are all biologically ingrained fears), media (sharks are routinely stereotyped and villianized in most media sources and these sites sometimes actively push humans toward fear and loathing – remember “Jaws”) and control (as human beings we are fascinated and repulsed by things that we cannot control or will not bend to our will.) So, as long as humans have used the sea, sharks and man have had the potential to collide with negative results for either party.

So I ask the question: Who is most dangerous... the great white shark or man? To me, this question is so much more complicated that it sounds. Any apex predator is dangerous and certainly you will not find me trying to make an argument that sharks are not potentially dangerous to us. Sharks have instincts, are carnivores, and roam the seas looking for food and sometimes to breed. They have large teeth, are very 'curious' creatures, can sense even minute amounts of blood in their 'air' and are frankly quite formidable in the sense that they can move quickly and silently in their environment. The are also the larges predatory fish in the sea. The idea that they have flexible territories so more than one shark can exist (and do) in coastal areas adds to the risk. A great white shark is a predator and while humans are not their preferred food, shark attack numbers go up as more and more people enter a sharks environment. After all, we as humans need to remember that the seas are a shark's home and its domain- we are the visitors.

Humans are also an apex predator. We rule the land we inhabit. Other animals may question this fact, but few human beings could disagree with this assessment. We move other animals out of their habitats and take the space for ourselves. Humans mold the land into the image and shape they want for food, transportation, habitation. We move rivers, carve mountains, and sometimes change the entire shape and ecosystem of an area with man made inventions such as a water dam. We kill animals who live in our territories deliberately if they cause us difficulties or annoyance, and unintentionally by our daily activities. Land is our home territory and over the years (with few exceptions) we remind all others living that we are the supreme apex predator.

I believe that human beings are a much more dangerous predator than the shark for three basic reasons. The first is that the great white shark may change the borders of its personal territory, but as a species, it never pushes past certain borders and certainly has never found the way to leave it's environment and continue to live. The shark, no matter how it is feared, cannot leave the ocean so we can control how often we put ourselves into their territory. However, human beings have taken over may portions of territory previously denied to us- the air and the sea for starters. The shark has his tools or weapons- they have changed little over thousands of years. Our weapons have changed greatly over the years and allow us to kill the shark with very little risk to our own personal safety. Another concern is that great white sharks are not interested in us as human beings or predators. Human beings are too bony for a good meal and unpredictable. So while a shark may bite us out of confusion or curiosity, usually one bite is enough for the shark to find the human unappetizing and he is off to hunt something else. Humans on the other hand, are perfectly willing to hunt sharks for food or simply for 'sport'. We will carefully bait them and after tricking them into a trap, we will kill them as trophies or simply for 'a good weekend'. The last reason I believe that humans are the most dangerous predator is that we seem to be one of the few predators that is not on the 'endangered species' list. As human politicians and scientists debate global warming and growing populations, biologists and marine scientists watch with growing alarm at the rising number of animals that need to be listed as endangered or even extinct. While their voices are not quite unanimous, their voices cry that we are the animal that is causing the harm.

So this is my opinion... What is yours? Which apex predator do you think is more dangerous... us or them?


2010 Poetry Corner #2 - Robert

I have a man, a man who lives with me.
I love him so; he is a part of me.
I wouldn’t know how to live my life without
What will I do when life turns inside out?
Will we be together after my last breath?
Or will love live on in separate form
Will I have to live with someone else for eternity?
Without the one who makes me want to live?