Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Solving a Mystery

Brian came home with a little plastic ring the other day. I didn’t think anything of it. I just thought it was a piece of junk, the sort Brian is always appropriating as a toy; he’s been using a glue cap as a tiny bowler hat for days now :-).

Eventually Rob took a closer look and found that it was a CTR ring. For those who do not know, CTR stands for “Choose the Right” and it’s a LDS thing; around here you can often pick out the LDS kids by such rings. It’s kind of like the LDS cross, a mark of the group, without the blood and drama.

Anyway, we had a mystery to solve:
[names have been changed to protect those with cooties]

I set out. “Hey Bub, where did you get that ring?”

“John gave it to me.”

John? We don’t know a John from soccer. New kid? I went on, “Is John your friend at school?”

“No. John is mean.”

Yikes! “Mean? What does he do?”

“Today, he yelled at Jenny and made her cry when we were playing a game.” Brian said.

“That’s not nice. John is a student in your class, though?”

“Yes.”

“Is John mean like that to all the kids in your class?”, I asked, wanting to be sure Brian wasn’t being picked on.

“Yes.”

Okay, so far so good, “Did John give everyone in your class a ring?”

Brian replied, “No, just me.”

So was he picked out specifically to get this ring then? I asked, “Did he say why?”

“No”

“Did he say where he got the ring?”

“John said his mom gave it to him.”

Yikes, again! “Did he say his mom told him to give it to you?”

“I don’t know.”

“Is that John’s ring? Did he wear it?”

“No, he has one.” Now this all is kind of odd, right? I was under the impression that LDS kids didn’t start wearing CTR rings until after they are baptized (at 8). Am I wrong?

“But he said it’s okay if you have it?”, I asked.

“Yes”

“Did he say what CTR means?”

“No. ”

At that I let it drop. Now, I know what I’m going to do. Brian has since lost interest in it and I’ll just give it to the teacher to give back to John’s mom, or I'll find her when I pick the boys up next. If it was just a kid who gave a plastic ring to a randomly chosen classmate (who's not his friend), then the ring goes back to the mom. I hope she'll tell her son to be more careful with religiously charged gifts to the non-LDS families there. I’m not sure if the JW family, for example, would be calm about this. On the side of paranoia, if it was some attempt to get a missionary foothold in the heathen family, send us a message, or save our children from us, I hope the message will get across to the mom also.

I blogged about a similar event before
, but I’m wondering. Would handing out CTR rings be seen as an acceptable act of LDS proselytizing in school? Would this be bizarre for a parent to initiate, in, say, Provo?

However that ring got on Brian’s hand, the thing that strikes me with this event is how threatening such a little thing felt. I know, I know… “Choose the Right”; how could anyone have a problem with that? I don’t, not with the literal meaning of the words.

It’s all in the code, association, and symbols. I don’t see that CTR in that shield as a symbol of unmitigated good as most here would. The R in that CTR ring doesn’t exactly mean “Right”. Sure, it does mean the same thing in great part. We agree on honesty, kindness, the Golden Rule and so on… But, to me, it’s a long tried tactic of all religions to mix morality with temporal regulations of tradition, convenience, or superstition. Everything from eating bacon to drawing pictures to being a good slave has been attached to, say, “Thou shalt not kill.” Wrapping them in the same package gives them the influence on other humans they’d never hold on their own, though at the price of diluting genuine morality a bit.

For us the problem is that symbol signals being part of a certain faith, placed in the same package as what we teach our children is right. That R in that shield was worn by the bigots who harassed me when I came out, and by the people who claim today hurting my family is a way of shielding themselves. That R means in part to say that Brian’s family should never have existed, that his parents should never have fallen in love and built a home. That R means to use a sheen of morality to undermine our family, to keep all of us from equal legal protections, and to uphold the notion that our relationships are not sacred, that our family belongs at the back of the bus. Worse, that R comes from people who’ve questioned the “moral character” of the amazing and wonderful child who came home wearing it, because of the sex of his parents. It means to teach children, our children, that their family, our union, the institute they depend on most and that will always have their back, is the opposite of R; that it’s evil, something in the LDS leaders' words that’s a “grievous sin” “inspired by the devil” on par with “adultery”, something to “terminate”.

I know many people I love do love this faith and I hate to come off as being so at odds with it that I’d be worried by a tiny plastic symbol. I know it may be impossible to feel it from my shoes as a parent. I also know people can be a part of that faith, and mean the R that we do teach our children, and hold more nuanced positions than what comes out of the press releases and official speeches.

But just think of the ramifications if anyone did successfully convert one of our children. Imagine, for example, if you were a mixed race family and your kid came home wearing a symbol from an organization that said your union was immoral, your children defective, and fought hard to be sure your home can’t have equal legal protections. No matter how much of a sliver that was of the whole teachings, no matter how charitable, moral, without malice, or how much value the members of that organization see in that organization or its symbols, I imagine most all would be worried too, if it was slipped around your child’s finger. Or am I being hypervigilant?

Brian would not understand any of this, of course, and at this point he shouldn’t. All he saw was a cool new ring, maybe one that matched the rings some of his friends were wearing, and I kept all seriousness out of my voice while talking about it. This incident is over, but the issue isn’t. In time they both will feel that pressure to become one of the group, unless we find our way out of Utah soon. I hope, if that day comes, it comes when we all can agree better on what that R stands for.

12 comments:

Ezra said...

That's an excellent point. CTR is the Mormon "WWJD"... it's not an innocent "follow the golden rule, because R stands for Mormon interpretations of right, not the charity and pure love of christ. I personally prefer WWJD, though I think both are a bit extreme to need to wear around all the time.

You're a good parent, and I'm envious of the wonderful home and you've obviously built together.

Beck said...

"Am I being hypervigilant?"

Probably you are, but I'm sorry for this culture that understandably has made you feel the need to react this way in self-defense and in protection of your son. I regret that you have been forced into this box by a culture that thinks it has claim on you and your family.

Had my kids come home with a cross necklace,or any other religious symbol, would I have felt the need to react in a hypervigilant manner to protect my children? No, because that symbol doesn't threaten the existence of my family... I'm sorry that my culture has made you feel threatened.

Kengo Biddles said...

FWIW -- It could be that the mother has no idea about you? (maybe?) and that she's just trying to reach out?

Or...her son's just a spaz and wanted to give away a ring?

Or?

I don't know. Just don't blow this into something it's not, Scot.

playasinmar said...

Good greif! Your baggage isn't Brian's baggage.

And sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

Alan said...

Scot:

I totally get why you would react the way you did.

I've also learned that it's usually wise not to ascribe to overt malice what could adequately be explained by mere inadvertence, insensitivity, chance, or human frailty. If further evidence dictates a change in conclusion, fine. But giving people or circumstances the benefit of the doubt like this usually helps keep my stress level down. FWIW.

Scot said...

Thanks Ezra. If I got to pick it'd be DUOWYWHTDUY, but that'd probably need a bracelet, or brass knuckles, at least.

Beck: "Had my kids come home with a cross necklace,or any other religious symbol, would I have felt the need to react in a hypervigilant manner to protect my children? No, because that symbol doesn't threaten the existence of my family..."

Yeah, that was the trouble I had coming up with a good analogy. They were either too extreme like the blood cross or too benign like the Dianetics symbol. There haven't been too many powers that only went down the middle of power and exercise of influence on homes outside their faith.

Kengo: "It could be that the mother has no idea about you? (maybe?) and that she's just trying to reach out?

Or...her son's just a spaz and wanted to give away a ring?"

Sure, sure and sure. That's the good thing; as I said, this is over. The solution didn't require knowledge of the reason.

I'd be surprised if she didn't know us though; Rob is the "room mom", I'm listed as the spouse right with the contact info everyone got, and I know most of the parents there know us personally. She is new though, and maybe the topic has never come up.

"I don't know. Just don't blow this into something it's not, Scot."

:-) Kengo, we've known each other long enough to just say it, man. I posted on this because I wanted your input.

Let me emphasize what I wrote, though. Something got lost in the font or in my distracted rambling:

"At that I let it drop. Now, I know what I’m going to do. Brian has since lost interest in it and I’ll just give it to the teacher to give back to John’s mom, or I'll find her when I pick the boys up next."

It's resolved; I'm just talking emotion, perspective, and speculation here. I did not make nor will I make a big deal about this, unless you count blog posts about a fear I hold about our children being taught their family is inspired by the devil by peers they want to fit in with. I'm know stranger things have happened by peer pressure :-).

But no worries, there will be no fist fight in the school parking lot... not yet. I'm sure I could take her, though.

Also, let me be clear about this: I do not know what happened; it's a mystery I was hoping to have some light shed on, given the facts I have:

A boy, one which Brian regards as not his friend and "mean", gave only Brian a ctr ring. The kid said it came from his mom, and he already has one on; it sounded like it was meant to be given away. I ain't say'n there's a smoking gun, and minus any one of those facts it'd seem far less suspicious to me.

playa: "Good greif! Your baggage isn't Brian's baggage."

Oi, I guess I need to rant less. Playa, let me emphasis this too:

"Brian would not understand any of this, of course, and at this point he shouldn’t. All he saw was a cool new ring, maybe one that matched the rings some of his friends were wearing, and I kept all seriousness out of my voice while talking about it."

Our boys have no idea, to this day, that there is baggage surrounding our family but they will learn. I have to brace and watch for it, just in case, and also make sure they don't see me bracing. Here I vent.

It wouldn't be that much of a worry if it wasn't for the fact that the same people with bias against us also teach that our children are defective. While I know we're not like a racial minority family--our children don't get the same baggage of experiences with prejudice their parents do--they will get a version of it.

Anyway, okay, I can see how I distracted from what I was aiming to know. Give me another chance?

Would this sort of thing be uncommon? Unheard of? Take gay out of the equation, and is it likely that a LDS mom would give her son a ctr ring to hand out at school? Even if not common, would it be seen as an bad thing to give non-LDS children, by most LDS parents' perspective? Or would it be seen as okay because who'd have a problem with the "Right", right? And was I right in thinking only children 8 or older typically wear ctr rings? Is it just strange for the kid to have it?

Scot said...

Alan: "But giving people or circumstances the benefit of the doubt like this usually helps keep my stress level down. "

That's good advice I'll try to take, and I bet I have leaned more towards suspicion here than I should have.

I'm not completely crazy, though. Am I :-)? This could have been given to "get a missionary foothold in the heathen family, send us a message, or save our children from us"?

I fear listening to Ruzicka's comments yesterday may have broke my hostility sensor here.

Kengo Biddles said...

Rant on, Rantzilla. Take no worries from me. :D

Evan said...

My Mom received a nice looking, hand made cross from a coworker as a secret Santa gift. It sat on our counter for weeks... of course we just couldn't put it up. I don't know what happened to it.

I remember when I was in elementary school, a friend of mine gave me a cross necklace. I remember being scared to show my parents, because I knew we weren't suppose to have crosses in the house. That day, while walking home from school, I just threw it in someones yard.

I totally understand how this worries you, especially when you do not know the motives behind the ring. Hopefully things will be figured out. As far as your family goes, I have always wondered what would happen if one of your kids showed a significant interest in Mormonism to the point of considering baptism and things like that... I think there is a slim chance of anything like that happening due to the events of last year. I don't know if this comes off as blunt, but I believe one of the reasons the church fights same-sex marriage so vehemently is because when these families exist, they don't know what to do with them... the Church teaches that your family is not eternal. So if Brian or Alan were to convert, that would mean that there would be no hope for them to be eternally sealed to you. And with the eternal family being such a central part to the Church, not being able to be sealed to their own parents would be a big turn-off to them, I would imagine.

Scot said...

Evan: "I don't know what happened to it."

Maybe she gave it to the DI? (do they have the DI in Texas? :-))

"I have always wondered what would happen if one of your kids showed a significant interest in Mormonism to the point of considering baptism and things like that.."

I posted on all that in detail a while back, here.

In short, I get to worry, but not pressure, unless they become hostile with others.

For example, I didn't express my views on the ring or the religious ideas for which it's a symbol to Brian; I'd not want my kids to feel about it the way you did about a cross. That's something I want them to figure out for themselves, and so I waited until he discarded it.

That, though, doesn't preclude me addressing attempts to proselytize in their school. They are at an impressionable age and have already been told that an "invisible face in the sky" will dole out supernatural punish or rewards by peers, and all kids like rewards. If it's just children talking, that's fine, but if it's parents telling kids to try to convert peers in school with supernatural threats and promises, that's not okay. I'd not want, say, my kids telling the Jehovah Witness kids that there were more than 114,000 people in heaven, or going on about their failed end of the world prophecies, or about the morality of skeptical restraint. If they did, I'd want that parent to tell me so that we could have a talk with our children about their proselytizing at school.

Beck said...

"...is it likely that a LDS mom would give her son a ctr ring to hand out at school?"

I wouldn't say it couldn't happen, but as for me and my house, none of my kids have ever owned or worn a CTR ring. And none of them have ever been pressured to give out rings to their non-member friends in a missionary spirit of recruitment. They are happy with their non-member friends and we leave it at that.

And all of my kids are older than 8. They have been baptized and may have been given a ring to wear after baptism, but none of them have chosen to wear one or have seemed to think they are a big deal at all. (And for the record, my son wears several other rings - but none are a CTR ring).

I guess we aren't the stellar missionary family we should be, but I think we're healthier to not be so centered on proselyting in the school hallways and playgrounds, but instead be centered on being good friends.

Thanks for the rant. It gets me thinking about another perspective of what may be a pretty innocent incident. The rant is valid - I just wish it didn't have to be there in the back of your mind.

Scot said...

Thanks for the perspective of those questions Beck.

"I guess we aren't the stellar missionary family we should be, but I think we're healthier to not be so centered on proselyting in the school hallways and playgrounds, but instead be centered on being good friends."

Truth be told, you're probably more effective missionaries that way.