A Hump Day Threefer: Catching Up With Spring, Before It’s Gone

Mormon Leaders Demonstrate  “Continuing Revelation” on LGBT issues

Flunking Sainthood

Just over three years ago, Mormon leaders touted a controversial LGBT policy as revelation. Now its reversal is also being presented as revelation.

April 4, 2019
By Jana Riess — Religion News Service

(RNS) — In a stunning reversal, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has announced that it is walking back a controversial 2015 policy that affected members in same-sex marriages and their children.

The 2015 policy had prohibited children of same-sex couples from being baptized (which Mormons can do beginning at age 8) and also from being “blessed” as infants. Priesthood ordination for tween boys and missionary service for young adults were likewise off the table for children born to same-sex couples unless they were willing to publicly disavow their parents’ relationship after turning 18.
The 2015 policy also targeted the parents, stating that any adult members who were in a same-sex marriage or long-term homosexual relationship were in “apostasy” and subject to a mandatory church discipline council.

On Thursday (April 4), the church abandoned both halves of the policy, which has become known to many as “the ban.” Children of same-sex couples are now eligible for all ordinances and opportunities in the church, and their parents will no longer be regarded as in apostasy, though same-sex marriage is still considered a “serious transgression.”
This change comes as the latest in a string of announcements that church leaders are heralding as revelation, from major women-friendly updates to the church’s temple endowment ceremony to amendments to the missionary program.
But it’s a particularly surprising one, given that the current president of the church, Russell M. Nelson, was the leader who most ardently defended the 2015 policy as a revelation of God.

Speaking in January 2016, when he was still an apostle and had not yet replaced the late Thomas S. Monson as president of the church, Nelson said the ban was the result of top church leaders’ meeting “repeatedly in the temple” to seek God’s guidance. God, Nelson said, had “inspired his prophet … to declare the mind of the Lord and the will of the Lord” with the LGBT ban.

The ban was, in other words, a clear revelation.

More than three years later, Nelson says it’s now the Lord’s will to reverse that policy — and that this is also a revelation.
Most intriguingly, he noted that the church’s top leaders had continued to wrestle with the LGBT ban from 2015 to now: “These policy changes come after an extended period of counseling with our brethren in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles after fervent, united prayer to understand the will of the Lord,” he indicated.

In other words, Mormon leaders continued discussing and praying about the LGBT ban even after it had been presented to members as a revelation and a fait accompli.

What does this mean for Mormons, also called Latter-day Saints? In a church that has been criticized for sometimes suggesting that “when the prophet speaks, the thinking has been done,” the policy reversal demonstrates that robust discussions continue at the highest levels, and that Nelson is not afraid to alter the church’s course — even if doing so seems to destabilize his own previous statements.

It also suggests that any policy is subject to modification, and perhaps even abandonment, even if it has previously been heralded as a revelation from God.

The church has been careful to note that reversing this particular LGBT policy does not alter its underlying doctrine about chastity or its commitment to “traditional” marriage between one man and one woman. Yet because the church itself presented the LGBT policy as holy revelation back in 2015-16, it’s tricky to disentangle “policy” from “revelation.”

Which may be exactly the point. The genius of the Mormon notion of continuing revelation means that, in theory at least, God is speaking constantly to address the needs of a changing world. Everyone should be on their toes — or, as Nelson put it last year during a tour of South America, be ready for more changes to come.

“Wait till next year, and then the next year,” he said. “Eat your vitamin pills. Get some rest. It’s going to be exciting.”

“Exciting” is not a word that many of us who follow Mormonism would typically associate with a gerontocracy that until Nelson’s tenure followed a glacially incremental approach to change.

Now, however, with the church publicly reversing its own previously stated revelations, “exciting” may be the watchword going forward. If that means we get to jettison unjust policies, I am all ears.

New York Times — Opinion

JAMELLE BOUIE — May 19, 2023
The Four Freedoms, According to Republicans


On Tuesday, Republicans in North Carolina overrode Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto to pass a strict limit on bodily autonomy in the form of a 12-week abortion ban. . . .

North Carolina Republicans are obviously not the only ones fighting to ban, limit or restrict the right to bodily autonomy, whether abortion or gender-affirming health care for transgender people. . . .

The war on bodily autonomy is a critical project for nearly the entire G.O.P., pursued with dedication by Republicans from the lowliest state legislator to the party’s powerful functionaries on the Supreme Court.

You might even say that in the absence of a national leader with a coherent ideology and agenda, the actions of Republican-led states and legislatures provide the best guide to what the Republican Party wants to do and the best insight into the society it hopes to build.

. . . What else is on the Republican Party’s agenda, if we use those states as our guide to the party’s priorities?

There is the push to free business from the suffocating grasp of child labor laws. Republican lawmakers in Arkansas, Iowa, Missouri and Ohio have advanced legislation to make it easier for children as young as 14 to work more hours, work without a permit and be subjected to more dangerous working conditions. …

There are other ways to solve this problem — you could raise wages, for one — but in addition to making life easier for the midsize-capitalist class that is the material backbone of Republican politics, freeing businesses to hire underage workers for otherwise adult jobs would undermine organized labor and public education, two bêtes noires of the conservative movement.

Elsewhere in the country, Republican-led legislatures are placing harsh limits on what teachers and other educators can say in the classroom about American history or the existence of L.G.B.T.Q. people. . . .

Nationwide, Republicans in at least 18 states have passed laws or imposed bans designed to keep discussion of racial discrimination, structural inequality and other divisive concepts out of classrooms and far away from students.

Last but certainly not least is the Republican effort to make civil society a shooting gallery. Since 2003, Republicans in 25 states have introduced and passed so-called constitutional carry laws, which allow residents to have concealed weapons in public without a permit. In most of those states, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, it is also legal to openly carry a firearm in public without a permit.

Republicans have also moved aggressively to expand the scope of “stand your ground” laws . . . . It should be said as well that some Republicans want to protect gun manufacturers and dealers from lawsuits. Gov. Bill Lee of Tennessee did just that this month — after a shooting in Nashville killed six people, including three children, in March — signing a bill that gives additional protections to the gun industry.

What should we make of all this?

In his 1941 State of the Union address, Franklin Roosevelt said there was “nothing mysterious about the foundations of a healthy and strong democracy” and that he, along with the nation, looked forward to “a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.” Famously, those freedoms were the “freedom of speech and expression,” the “freedom of every person to worship God in his own way,” the “freedom from want” and the “freedom from fear.” Those freedoms were the guiding lights of his New Deal, and they remained the guiding lights of his administration through the trials of World War II.

There are, I think, four freedoms we can glean from the Republican program.

There is the freedom to control — to restrict the bodily autonomy of women and repress the existence of anyone who does not conform to traditional gender roles.

There is the freedom to exploit — to allow the owners of business and capital to weaken labor and take advantage of workers as they see fit.

There is the freedom to censor — to suppress ideas that challenge and threaten the ideologies of the ruling class.

And there is the freedom to menace — to carry weapons wherever you please, to brandish them in public, to turn the right of self-defense into a right to threaten other people.

Roosevelt’s four freedoms were the building blocks of a humane society — a social democratic aspiration for egalitarians then and now. These Republican freedoms are also building blocks not of a humane society but of a rigid and hierarchical one, in which you can either dominate or be dominated.

A painting of the “Four Freedoms” by Norman Rockwell.

[NOTE: We have a bird feeder on a pole strategically placed by the Fair Wendy, and I can watch the birds in it therapeutically even from my Covid isolation. ]

Washington Post — May 18 2023

Why birds and their songs are good for our mental health [Excerpts]
Birds are a way to connect with nature, which is associated with better body and brain health, research shows

By Richard Sima
Looking to improve your mental health? Pay attention to birds.

Two studies published last year in Scientific Reports said that seeing or hearing birds could be good for our mental well-being.
So give them a listen as you learn why they may help.

Research has consistently shown that more contact and interaction with nature are associated with better body and brain health.

Birds appear to be a specific source of these healing benefits. They are almost everywhere and provide a way to connect us to nature. And even if they are hidden in trees or in the underbrush, we can still revel in their songs.

“The special thing about birdsongs is that even if people live in very urban environments and do not have a lot of contact with nature, they link the songs of birds to vital and intact natural environments,” said Emil Stobbe, an environmental neuroscience graduate student at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and author of one of the studies.

Recent research also suggests that listening to recordings of their songs, even through headphones, can alleviate negative emotions.

Being around birds is associated with better mental health

Everyday encounters with the bird kind are associated with better mental health.

In one study, researchers asked about 1,300 participants to collect information about their environment and well-being three times a day using a smartphone app called Urban Mind.

The participants were not explicitly told that the researchers were looking at birds — the app was also collecting data about other vitals such as sleep quality, subjective assessment of air quality, and location details. But the 26,856 assessments offered a rich data set of what is associated with mental well-being in real time in the real world.

By analyzing the data, the researchers found a significant positive association between seeing or hearing birds and improved mental well-being, even when accounting for other possible explanations such as education, occupation, or the presence of greenery and water, which have themselves been associated with positive mental health.

The benefits persisted well beyond the bird encounter. If a participant reported seeing or hearing birds at one point, their mental well-being was higher, on average, hours later even if they did not encounter birds at the next check-in.

Intriguingly, the birds benefit both healthy participants and those who have been diagnosed with depression, which is one of the most common mental illnesses worldwide and does not always respond to conventional pharmaceutical treatments.

This has an interesting implication for trying to protect and preserve environments to sustain bird life, Hammoud said, “because people with depression do show positive effects toward birdsong and birdlife in the area.”

Listening to birdsongs alleviates feelings of anxiety and paranoia

A second study found that listening to short — just six-minute — audio clips of birdsong could reduce feelings of anxiety, depression and paranoia in healthy participants.

“Listening to birdsong through headphones was able to hit the same pathways that might be beneficial toward mental well-being,” said Hammoud, who was not involved in the second study. “That’s a very, very nice finding,”

Researchers asked 295 online participants to self-assess their emotional states and to take a cognitive memory test. Then they randomly assigned the participants to listen to birdsongs or traffic noise, of more or less diversity. The researchers then had the subjects remeasure their emotional and cognitive states.

In The Yard: Our Bird Feeder, with a male cardinal

Participants who listened to more diverse birdsongs (featuring the acoustic acrobatics of eight species) reported a decrease in depressive symptoms in addition to significant decreases in feelings of anxiety and paranoia. And those who listened to less diverse birdsongs (two bird species) also reported a significant decrease in feelings of anxiety and paranoia.

By contrast, listening to more or less diverse traffic noise worsened symptoms of depressive states.

The research shows the “healing aspects of nature, or also the not-so-positive effects of urban surroundings,” said Stobbe, an author of the second study.

Previous research on the health effects of nature sounds found that they could even confer cognitive benefits, though the second study did not replicate that finding.

Why nature and birds may benefit us

Birds help us feel more connected with nature and its health effects, Stobbe said, and the more connected we are to nature, the more we can benefit from those effects.

One hypothesis on nature’s salubrious effects, known as the attention restoration theory, posits that being in nature is good for improving concentration and decreasing the mental fatigue associated with living in stressful urban environments. Natural stimuli, such as birdsong, may allow us to engage in “soft fascination,” which holds our attention but also allows it to replenish.

Nature — and birdsong — also reduce stress. Previous research has found that time spent in green outdoor spaces can lower blood pressure and cortisol levels, Hammoud said.

It is not yet understood how birdsong affects our brains, but neuroimaging studies have found brain responses of stress reduction to other forms of nature exposure.

Walking in nature vs. an urban environment decreased self-reported rumination, which is linked to a risk of depression and other mental illnesses, and decreased activity in a part of the brain’s prefrontal cortex associated with rumination. Viewing green scenery engages the posterior cingulate cortex, which is associated with behavioral stress responses and may help regulate the reduction in stress responses from nature exposure.
Going out to see birds also tends to encourage more physical activity, which has its own panoply of mental health benefits, and exercising outdoors may, in turn, magnify the health benefits of exercise. . . .

We can enjoy our feathered friends at any level of intensity. You can watch and listen to birds in your own backyard. You can also find a birding group and meet other birders in your area. . . .

Birdsongs can be used to soothe our minds in a stressful world, or in a clinical setting to treat patients with anxiety or paranoia, both studies suggest.

“People can use easy, accessible treatment or prevention techniques by just listening to an audio CD of things representing nature,” Stobbe said. “Or, of course, also going inside nature and trying to seek those effects.”

One thought on “A Hump Day Threefer: Catching Up With Spring, Before It’s Gone”

  1. I remember how, in the previous century when I lived in Utah, the LDS Quorum of 12 backed off of their hard-line position on caffeinated beverages. The rumor was that the Church had bought up Coca Cola (or was it Pepsi?), but I think they realized that the Mariott and Roy Rogers chains were missing out on a lot of potential customers.

    Nowadays I am skeptical of ANY preachers who use the name of the Lord to justify their own vain agendas.

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