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