Smoke and Reflection

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On my way to work this morning I came upon this view. Smoke from neighboring states’ wildfires has drifted into our mountain range and somewhat obscures the view. This haze has lingered for days, or has it been weeks? It reminds me of a roadtrip I took through the Great Smoky Mountains, where fog cloaked the peaks, not smoke. The mist was beautiful and mysterious but also inspired meditation. As the day warmed the fog eventually lifted. Here, the smoke continues to cling—a sticky, choking cloud. These Uintas should trade names with the range back East, because of all the literal smoke.

People talk of rising above the haze, finding clarity, a better view. People find a way to ascend—hike, horse, plane—or they hope for this veil to lift.

To see. To see, and to breathe.

The path isn’t clear all the time. The religious rely on their faith to nurture what they cannot see into knowledge; the spiritual also have a form of faith that guides them. The rest of humankind also believes in the goodness of others and desires improvement in themselves, but without any post-life motivation or incentive.

This is overly simplified: there are more than these three groups of people in the world, and there are definitely overlaps between these groups. Lives and attitudes and philosophies are so different. I accept this.

How do I assess the meaning in my life? What is my why?

Do I contemplate my purpose because of the smoke, or because of what the smoke obscures? Because I know the mountains are there, does this sustain my hope for better things? Does this motivate me to rise above the current smog?

What if I didn’t know what was hiding in the smoke, would my plan of action be to wait until it clears?

Sometimes I wonder if I’m being faithful, or just naïve.

Jilting An Ally: How to String Along A Fully Qualified Job Candidate Only Not to Hire Him

Introduction

Corruption rises to the top.

It may disguise itself as righteousness or good intentions, or appeal to its own authority, and those at its mercy often have no choice but to comply.

But sometimes they turn away and never look back.

Corruption will meet justice: That’s what many of us hope for.

I have a story that is not mine. But I know the person involved, a victim of a system that hides behind piousness while ignoring basic rules of fairness and decency. And legality. The story appeals to a lot of people, and maybe writing is my way to stop being so mad about it.

This person gave me permission to tell his story. I know him, his family, his ambitions and his disposition. I express my gratitude to him for letting me recount his experience. While this person will verify the story, I am writing the story from the recollection of a secondhand account.

It is my hope that readers could apply his situation to their lives; perhaps many do not have to experience it vicariously and have indeed also become victims of this system. Names and other details have been changed. I’ve abridged the story somewhat.

Background

Some time ago Gary Avery was an alumnus working part-time during a winter semester at his alma mater in a department unrelated to where he earned his bachelor’s degree. The job often demanded of him to work many hours beyond his part-time obligations but still only paid him according to his contract. In addition to this job, he taught at another school and had other professional responsibilities that required him to travel.

The university was a private religious institution with a strict Honor Code; the university investigated Gary Avery’s life and discovered that he wasn’t attending church. As a result, the school put him on probation. He finished the rest of the semester and decided to quit and pursue other opportunities that meshed better with what he wanted in a career.

A couple weeks after the semester ended, Gary Avery planned a trip to another country to study with the native artists where a lot of his research originated. This gave him a rare opportunity to improve his skills at the feet of masters whose ancestors invented the art form. He would receive a deeper understanding of history, theory, and technique. He spent about five weeks in this country, from the beginning of May to the middle of June.

The Rest So Far

When Gary Avery returned to the United States, he considered what to do for work. He would continue teaching in various capacities and freelancing. As the new academic year approached, an opportunity arose for Gary to teach in a more substantial, full-time position at his alma mater. In the department where he received his bachelor’s degree. The faculty worked closely with him during his undergrad, and he kept in touch with them while he pursued a graduate degree elsewhere, so they knew of his talent and dedication to education. The faculty essentially created a niche position just for him, for which he was solely and uniquely qualified. In the years leading up to this point in his life, he established the best possible network for obtaining what seemed an ideal job.

Keeping Tabs

Gary Avery had an interview with a hiring manager who dug into his file and saw that he was previously on probation. This manager, Colburn Patterson, asked what Gary did after he quit. He explained that he went abroad to study. Patterson then said that there was no way to keep tabs on Gary while he was out of the country. There was no way to monitor his nonexistent reckless behavior that was discordant with the Honor Code. There was no way Patterson would take Gary’s word that his behavior complied with the Honor Code. Patterson seemed to rather assume the worst.

So, Gary Avery was still on probation. Patterson said that if he could get an endorsement from his church leader affirming that he was complying with university policy, he would be freed from probation and get hired. This meant that he wouldn’t be starting fall semester, but Patterson would revisit his case in time to start for winter semester.

Making Good

Gary Avery went to his local church leader and explained his situation. Pastor Parker understood and told Gary he would work with him to the best possible outcome.

Throughout that fall semester Gary attended church and checked in with Pastor Parker, who determined that Gary was complying with the Honor Code and gave him an ecclesiastical endorsement.

Gary Avery was now qualified for the position. He met the professional requirements, and his spiritual leader endorsed him. He was ready to be hired.

Stacking the Deck

In the last half of the semester Gary Avery learned the school added a separate position to the customized one he was applying for. This new position included more responsibilities and was opened to a larger hiring pool. Undoubtedly, Gary was qualified for this position as well, but was he supposed to apply? How would this complicate the hiring process in his situation? Gary wasn’t too worried, because he was still applying for the original position and knew most of the faculty supported him.

Tracking Emails

In November, Gary Avery gave Colburn Patterson an update via email. Patterson replied that he did not know the likelihood of reemployment at this point, that Gary was still close to an “unsuccessful probationary period,” and further decisions will be determined by feedback from Gary’s ecclesiastical leader. There were other clues in their email thread that implied that Patterson had not communicated with Pastor Parker. However, Patterson still encouraged him to apply.

Gary Avery was confused about his supposed “unsuccessful” probation. At the end of December he touched base with Pastor Parker, who confirmed by email that Colburn Patterson had not contacted him about the endorsement. Nothing else was keeping him from getting hired. The pastor further stated that he personally wouldn’t want to work anywhere that didn’t want to hire him, but that he’d love to talk to Patterson just to get a sense of his thinking, and so that Gary’s frustration with Patterson “doesn’t bug [Gary] the rest of [his] life.”

Reacting

The associate dean of the department, Jeremiah Strang, was particularly upset by the school’s decision not to hire Gary Avery. He knew that the department and students would benefit greatly from Gary’s contributions; he knew that Gary was a good man with integrity, that although he had not attended church regularly in the past, he never truly rebelled against his religion: Gary never smoked, drank, or partied. He worked hard and built an impressive resume all before the age of 25. The department was powerless; whom could they hire now?

December ended, and the new semester began. Jerry Hough was another one of the faculty expecting Gary to start teaching the first day of class. His personality and temper overshadowed his slight frame, and people around him felt his presence wherever he went. When Hough realized that Gary wasn’t teaching, much less hired as expected, he demanded a meeting with members of the hiring board.

Strang and Hough met with Colburn Patterson and his superior, Lenk Douzebach. They discussed Gary Avery’s qualifications and process for receiving an ecclesiastical endorsement. Sometime during this meeting Douzebach went off the record and said that it’s his personal policy not to hire someone who isn’t a return missionary and isn’t married. Regardless of meeting the terms of his probation, Gary wasn’t going to be hired because he was single and didn’t serve a mission for the church.

Conclusion

On paper, Gary is qualified for this job. He has the entire department as well as his pastor to vouch for his character and desire to improve spiritually. It was his pastor’s decision—not the hiring board’s—to decide whether he met the worthiness requirements to work at the university. The hiring board’s job is to hire based on qualifications, not to judge based on their perception of spirituality.

Additionally, being a return missionary and married does not automatically make someone a good person, and being single and not serving a mission does not automatically make someone a bad person. Being single and not serving a mission should not diminish one’s chances of being hired. At all. Isn’t using marital status as a basis for making hiring decisions against the law, regardless of the privateness of the institution?

Other faculty are not members of the church sponsoring this school, but they have committed to live according to the Honor Code. Combined with the rest of the faculty, should we assume that all faculty are good, upstanding people? What about a religion “professor” who makes offhanded, misogynistic remarks during lectures all semester? An instructor. Of RELIGION. There are probably other examples.

Some professors with prestigious fellowships have come to work there, being neither married nor a return missionary, because they also are not members of the church. It’s hard not to assume they were hired to bring prominence to the school. Ideally, these professors would also follow the Honor Code. Realistically, not all of them do. Not even all professors who claim to subscribe to the religion do.

Never mind the process involved in recruiting for the athletics programs of this religious institution. Never mind the school dismissing students who change their religion after having crises in faith. Those are discussions for another day.

The university made a big mistake. They may never be penalized for illegal onboarding procedures, but not hiring Gary Avery—fully qualified and supported by department faculty—just because he’s not married and didn’t serve a mission sends the wrong message to that department and the individual.

The university will hire someone less qualified, but married and a return missionary. Yet the department will suffer, because their new hire can’t fulfill all the responsibilities and perhaps disrupt their organizational culture: They were expecting Gary Avery, they got someone else instead. That someone else will have an unfortunate struggle to meet the Gary Avery standards the department expected.

If Gary Avery still can’t be hired making a sincere effort to return to good standing in the church, how does that encourage him to keep going to church? Church attendance is his choice, but the university clearly conveyed that they don’t really care.

The university won the power struggle but ultimately lost a phenomenal potential employee: Gary Avery has decided to stop pursuing employment at this institution for now. He is free to seek other opportunities that may turn out to be much bigger than his alma mater could ever offer. That may be the best justice anyone can hope for.

Friday Hodgepodge

Tears, people. And partial bafflement.

This morning a new post appeared on my reader from my friend Amy’s blog. On Fridays she tries to post a Special Needs Spotlight, but today she decided to feature a video about the beloved American gymnast who emancipated from her parents when she was 16, Dominique Moceanu. If you know Amy’s blog, you’ll have a deeper understanding of why she posted the video. It’s inspiring even outside of this context, but nonetheless, I’m grateful she shared this video:

Two books, by worthy prizewinners:

Yesterday I finished Blindness, by José Saramago. Toward the end of my commute to work I finished a particular heartbreaking scene and held back tears while making sure my fellow commuters didn’t see how distraught I was. On my commute home I read another scene that brought joyful tears to my eyes.

This morning I finished The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate. She won the Newbery Medal in 2012. This book also made me cry, also because of sad and happy moments.

Excellent writing about important issues. Call to action and most definitely to contemplation.

I highly recommend both novels.

The other day I observed a conversation where one person said to the other,

I don’t know what your political leanings are, but there is one side that does whatever they want, and then there’s the other side with principles.

As I observed this conversation, I realized I was the other person, and the one person was talking to me. Approximately 67 trillion assumptions bounced around in my head, attracting and repelling each other until an image formed — like the kind with a magnet and iron shavings — of a big question mark. I didn’t say anything, because there were stray thoughts circling this question mark, trying to find a niche but also seeming to defy the magnetic force. In this defiance, these stray thoughts kept my brow from furrowing; they allowed me to have mercy on the one person’s soul. And if all I wanted to say was, “Huh?” I know that the one person’s “principles” would have tried to replace my metal shavings with shavings made of soap. Because the one person stands on a box of soap. Which is fine. I respect the one person’s opinion and I won’t treat the one person like less of a human being. This kind of understanding and regard is a principle the one person and I have in common. So we’re actually on the same side.

But we’re so, so not.

Guns, You Guys

I don’t even know how to formulate a decent argument about this, you guys. You would think I would learn what not to do by observing all the sloppy, lopsided “discussions” out there. I think I know a good argument when I see one. I try to consider opinions I disagree with; I try to understand why I disagree with certain opinions.

I recently watched this appeal by Senator Gabrielle Giffords. They gave her the floor, they let her make her powerful point in 13 sentences, but I wonder if her efforts are futile. I wonder how many people dismissed her or even the idea of her once she finished speaking.

I recently read this essay by Stephen King, which felt like a pretty even argument and a realistic perspective on what to expect with gun legislation.

I recently saw that David Mamet recently published his opinion about the gun issue. I haven’t read it yet, but I plan to, probably tonight.

ETA: I read Mamet’s essay, and it definitely provides contrast to Stephen King’s perspective.

It’s impressive that the gun conversation has lasted this long. More children have died in the meantime. It won’t be as impressive if nothing ends up getting done about it. I wish I could argue this decently; I wish more that I felt that I didn’t have to argue this. I wish I understood those who insist on doing nothing. I wish the argument could lead sooner to a real solution than to more of an argument.

I’ll quote my high school friend Brian who perfectly expresses my frustration: “It bothers me that this argument always boils down to ‘I could kill a bunch of people at a school no matter WHAT you do.'”

Neighborhood Sad

This past Sunday at church, the bishop announced from the pulpit that the son of a family in the ward was playing soccer last week and suddenly collapsed. The boy’s family took him to the hospital. The bishop said if anyone spoke Spanish in the ward, the family would appreciate a visit.

Wednesday nights, I go out with the Relief Society presidency to visit women who have recently moved into the ward. We introduce ourselves to these ladies, and we welcome them to the ward and reassure them of our desire to be their friends.

Tonight, while we were getting into the Relief Society president’s car to make some visits, the second counselor reminded me of the bishop’s announcement and said she received an email saying that the boy had passed away. She also said that because the family had spent so much time at the hospital looking after their son, both of the parents lost their jobs. It’s bad enough to have bills you can’t pay for, but for that to add another layer to a pile of grief and sorrow just breaks my heart.

The boy was 11 years old. It’s so much harder to get through sadness without answers or explanation. But I guess that the family isn’t really thinking about getting through it right now so much as feeling it. Feeling helpless, alone, crushed. Feeling angry, lost, numb.

I want to do something for the family, and going to the funeral doesn’t even seem an earnest effort at anything. Donate for the funeral or to a fund until parents can find work? Make them dinner? I want to show support. There has to be something more, something demonstrative, something that really matters. I’ll have to pray and ask for inspiration, an outlet for compassion or a way stretch out a hand; I need to see how One knows exactly what this family is feeling right now would do.

Future Names

Sometimes Reilly and I like to think of names for our future children. Sometimes they’re not serious names. Sometimes we do this during church, and it’s not very reverent.

We’ve already decided to name two future dogs Albus and Chad.

Just to keep track of names we think of, I’ll list possible names of future children here. These are in no particular order. And again, some of these are not serious. We merely asked what if we had children with these names? You can also tell by the Puritan-sounding names that at least we were halfheartedly paying attention during church.

Acer
Dubious (Doobie)
Goodly
Prudence
Bliss
Padme
Mirth
Sobriety
Constance
Dalliance
Gumption
Compass
Ignominious (Minnie)
Ignoramus (Ramos)
Edifice (Oedipus)
Hosanna
Awe
Humble
Treat
Seeus Lewis
Shamus/Seamus (Shame)
Igneous (Iggy)
Fiery
Simplicity
Middleburg
Lapsy
Contemplation (Template)
Dionysus (Nice)
Twins: Sentiment and Sediment

Our church has so many children, and I wonder if I can learn all their names. But this weekend I have seen the tired eyes of  parents and wondered if they have had to answer the big questions that have come out of Friday’s elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. I am so sad and angry, and my heart is heavy.

So many lost lives, so many grieving parents. How our hearts suffer.

I feel guilty sometimes at my anger. It has to be so hard to lose a child, someone so young with her whole life ahead of her. Someone whose curiosity and compassion were starting to unfold. I know parents miss their little ones; I know they are sorrowful. And this is by no means any consolation, but those 20 were spared. They don’t have to worry anymore about losing their lives to nature or someone’s bad decisions or other circumstances. Their families remain to suffer. The rest of us are left to deal with the conflict and the debate about mental health awareness and treatment as well as the conversation about gun control/regulation. We’re left to wonder why and struggle with our faith in God and humanity. We wail and cry ourselves to a shallow sleep, but those kids don’t have to struggle anymore.

At the same time, we realize in the substance of our struggles that those kids were also very much robbed of their lives, the opportunity to learn hard things, do fun things, and discover who they are. Their families were robbed of the chance to watch them grow up and find an added measure of joy through these young lives. I wish they were still here so they could be here to smile wit their families. They could have offered this world so much more innocence and purity and inspiration and love.

Of course we wouldn’t name our children Ignominious or Ignoramus or nickname them Shame. It’s a wonder that we even discuss the possibility of children on the very weekend of that dreadful, heartbreaking tragedy. I attribute that to hope. We talk about future names, but what is the name of our future? There is so much to look forward to and live for in this world. With sacred hope, we pray our children can experience those things. We hope for answers, happiness, and peace. With deep reverence, we hope our lives will heal from heartache. It keeps us alive. Without knowing what tomorrow may bring, it’s the best we can do.

Because No One Knows How to Spell

No one’s going to get my response to a friend’s recent Facebook status.

Friend: Is it wrong that I want to put up my Christmas tree before I find our forks, knives, and spoons?

Me: The tree has to go up before the utinsels! Also, I love groaning and rolling my eyes at my own jokes.

And I just feel like I’m betraying myself to explain the wordplay between tinsel and utensils.

I’ve said too much already.