Monday, January 15, 2018

Why are you Religious?

Several weeks ago a friend who is agnostic asked me why I was religious. I gave her an answer, but after the conversation finished I felt dissatisfied. I had given a single answer, a single reason as to why I was religious, but giving one answer felt wildly insufficient. I decided to write a couple blog posts to explore the many answers to her question: why am I religious?

In my first post, I'll list reasons that apply to any Christian religion. My next post will be more specific to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

  1. My Relationship with God. The most important reason I can think of for being religious is that my religion offers me an avenue to a personal relationship with God. One of the main topics I learn about in my religion is how to talk to God--prayer--and how to listen for his answers (which come in many ways and which collectively we call revelation). I've tried to do this, to pray and to listen for answers, and because of that I feel like I have a personal relationship with God. I really can't describe how awesome that is, how amazing it is to know that the person who created everything listens to me, and reaches out to me, too. I should add that I'm not always great at maintaining this relationship, that some times are better than others, but still--having a relationship with God is the first reason I am religious.
  2. Understanding Life. I recently read a book called "Turtles All the Way Down," by John Green (I give it 4/5 stars, definitely worth reading). The characters often discussed serious questions about the meaning of life--where did we come from? Why are we here? What is the meaning of all of this? They never came to any solid conclusions, but I sympathized with their existential angst. I know what it's like to look up at the stars and wonder what your place is. My religion gives me answers to those basic questions. I still have questions, for sure, but the big ones are covered. That gives me peace.
  3. Help to be More. If I were left to myself, I would live a very sad life. I'd be an emotional wreck and a slave to my appetites; I'd never do anything important or notable. My religion gives me a few things to help me be more than that: commandments, which help me know what I should and shouldn't do; a support system of other people who are trying to live the same way I am; and divine help, or grace, when my own strength isn't enough to get me there. 
  4. Community. Whether I'm moving across town or across the country, I can count on finding a group of friends at church when I get there. I know these friends will help me as I try to be a better person, teach me from their experiences, and let me help and teach them in return.
Those are a few of the reasons I am religious. Like I said, even this isn't a full list--I'll write up part 2 of this blog post soon.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

How Do You Eat Vegan?

Two questions I get asked pretty often are 1) What kinds of things do you even eat as a vegan? and, 2) I have been thinking about going vegan, do you have any suggestions of how to get started? I wrote this post to explain how I feed myself on a vegan diet.


I start out each day with a large bowl of oatmeal, into which I slice 1-2 pieces of fruit (or 1 piece of sliced fruit + berries). I drizzle honey on top of that, then add a bit of almond milk.

I really like bananas; the optional second piece of fruit on my oatmeal varies with the season.


I eat a quality PB&J sandwich. I use whole-grain wheat or multigrain bread, the kind of peanut butter that is just peanuts and salt, and jam or jelly that doesn't have high fructose corn syrup.


I snack almost constantly for a couple hours before and after lunch. Some of my snacking favorites include carrots, mixed unsalted nuts, apples, oranges, and clementines.


This meal gets a lot more variety than breakfast and dinner, but tends to follow a simple formula.
Starchy base + Veggies + Seasonings + (Optional Beans).
The foundation of my meal is a starchy base. I like rice, quinoa, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and pasta.
Next, I cook up whatever veggies I might have at the moment--usually 3-4 different varieties, whatever is cheap. Some common favorites are broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, tomatoes, carrots, spinach, mushrooms, asparagus, and bell peppers. I usually either saute them with a bit of oil or vinegar, or oven roast them with a bit of olive oil drizzled over the top.

And that, my friends, is how I eat vegan. There are lots of recipes that are more intricate or complicated than what I've mentioned here, too--if you want to try some I'd recommend Pinterest.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Variations on a Theme.

Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief.
Lord, I know; help thou my ignorance.
Lord, I feel; help thou my numbness.
Lord, I stand; help thou my faltering knees.
Lord, I strive; help thou my lack of effort.
Lord, I understand; help thou my confusion.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Wonder Women


I don't have any daughters yet. But when I do, I get to raise them in a world that has these awesome women in it.

Wonder Woman

Rey, from "Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens"

Jyn Erso from "Rogue One"

Isn't that so great?!?

I grew up with lots of kick-butt heroes of my own sex to look up to. The movies I watched were chock full of them. As a child, I got to relive the adventures of Han Solo, Aragorn, and Spider-Man over and over again. I also found awesome male heroes in the books I read.

My older sister was every bit as hero-loving as me. In fact, I probably got it from her. None of the kick-butt heroines that she idolized were from movies, though, because there just weren't any. Instead, she got her heroines from books. She had Eilonwy from Lloyd Alexander's "The Black Cauldron," Aerin from Robin McKinley's "The Hero and the Crown," and Cimorene from Patricia C. Wrede's "Dealing with Dragons."

So, awesome heroines have been around for a while, but not in movies. But things are changing now, and I find it delightful. I can't wait to help my daughter make a Rey costume for Halloween, to get her a Wonder Woman poster for her room, to show her all these examples of girls who are tough, competent, driven, self-sacrificing, and kick-butt awesome.

What a world to live in. What a life.

Oh, and go see Wonder Woman if you haven't yet.

Saturday, December 31, 2016


According to the internet, 2016 will go down in memory like this:

I can understand why. It was a tough year for me, too, in a lot of ways.

However, it was also a lot more than a dumpster fire. In some ways, it was downright fabulous. In the interest of promoting positivity and optimism, and without pretending that 2016 was actually perfect and not hard for many people, myself included, I've decided to share some of the ways 2016 was a great year for me. And so, in roughly chronological order...

This year I discovered Coldplay. I've always been aware of Coldplay's existence, and have liked some of their songs in the past, but this year they really just spoke to me. Five out of my top 16 songs from 2016 are Coldplay songs. I even got to go see them in concert at the end of the summer.

It. Was. Awesome. I don't know if I will ever go to another concert that cool. They gave out wristbands with multicolored LEDS that synched to the music, so the entire stadium was part of the lights show (along with lasers, lights, confetti, and giant balloons). They played for over 2 hours, which is just insane, and played SO WELL live. 

I took a French class on a whim at the beginning of the year. I'm by no means fluent, but I now understand/speak enough to have basic conversations in the language of love. I plan to one day speak 5 or 6 languages, so getting to 2.5 (English, Spanish, et un peu de Francais) is a good start!

I was on the BYU Ballroom Dance Company's 2:00 team this last year. The year's performances culminated in a huge Ballroom Dance Showcase that I got to be a part of in April.

Halfway through Winter semester, one of my friend suggested I try watching "A Crash Course in Big History," a series of YouTube videos about... well, everything, from the start of the universe to the end. Not only was it an awesome series of videos, but it introduced me to the geniuses behind the videos, John and Hank Green. I've since enjoyed watching lots more Green Brothers videos; I've also discovered this vast hidden world that is the educational side of YouTube, and have learned about everything from science to culture.

Two of my favorite Green Brothers videos: Are Poor Countries Doomed? and Towering Mountains of Ignorance.

I was published twice this summer (for the non-scientists in the room, a project I've been doing experiments for was published in a scientific journal--that's a pretty big mile marker in research!) Links here and here if you need help getting to sleep tonight.

A year and a half ago I attended a mocktail party, and decided that true happiness is sipping fruity non-alcoholic drinks surrounded by friends. This summer, I helped throw a mocktail party that included drinks, hors d'oeuvres, live music, and dancing.

This summer I jumped out of an airplane 1,300 feet above the ground. After 60 seconds of free-fall, I pulled the cord (or, the guy I was strapped to did) and glided down to the ground. It was amazing. I think all extreme sports are trying to be free fall--it is the definition of awesome. (No pictures because they were $60 and I'm cheap. Sorry.)

Rock Climbing
Last summer a few of my friends and I bought gear and became rock climbers. This summer we became contagious. We took lots of people climbing, and even convinced a few to buy their own gear so that they, too, could be climbers.

As if my summer wasn't already extreme enough towards the end of the summer my cousin invited me to go canyoneering. Free fall might be the most extreme experience possible, but canyoneering's combination of extreme (rappelling down 200' cliffs) and beautiful is something else entirely. 

Graduate School
The awesome didn't stop with the end of the summer. During Fall semester, I applied to graduate schools across the country so that I can get a PhD in Chemistry and go cure stuff. I got to fly to Los Angeles a few weeks ago to interview for a fellowship, and have already been accepted to Duke University in North Carolina (right next to where I grew up!)

While I was putting this together, I kept thinking of other awesome things that have happened this year, like hiking with my mom or going to a friend's house to watch General Conference. So, if I were to keep at it this post could get really, really long.

But I think I'll cut it off here. And hope that if 2017 ends up like 2016, it'll have as many awesome moments as 2016 did, too.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Why are We Mourning?

As I scrolled through my Facebook feed yesterday, I was heartened to see all of my friends posting about how, either because of or in spite of the results of the presidential election, we needed to come together as a country, love each other, and lose the spirit of bitterness and anger that has characterized this election.

Today, rather than posts of love and encouragement, the general feel of my Facebook feed has been something like this: "why is everybody still complaining? The world isn't over. The sun has continued to rise. Even if things don't turn out as well as I'm hoping they will with this new president, things are really not going to be as bad as you all think, so buck up and stop crying! Besides, we had to deal with this four and eight years ago, so it's about time you had a turn at not getting what you want."

I think these statements are completely reasonable from the perspective of the people giving them. I think that as far as they concerned they are right; life will go on just about as normal for them, and they really don't have anything to worry about.

In fact, I'm one of those people that have nothing to worry about. My future is as secure as secure can be. I'm a white male in good health; Trump and Pence's initiatives will probably benefit me, if anything, and the only way they're going to hurt me is if they start discriminating directly against Mormons. Because of the great privileges and blessings I going to go to a sweet grad school next fall, maybe Stanford or Duke, and study chemistry and cure diseases and wear hot lab coats and blow things up in chemistry classes. I'll publish scientific articles in internationally recognized journals, and discover things that will change people's lives, and I'll be well-respected wherever I go. So, really, if it were just for me, I'd be right there with all of my friends telling the rest of the world to get over themselves and cheer up.

But... meet Kate. This is my adorable three-and-a-half year old niece. Along with being absolutely the most adorable child on the planet, she is a ball of energy and spunk. She talks in cute little toddler-speak and pretends to be either a cat or a unicorn, depending on the day. She has all of us, all of her uncles, aunts, and grandparents, wrapped around her little finger.

These is Kate's mom, my sister, Cindy. Along with being one of my favorite humans alive, Cindy is probably going to be a moderately famous author in a few years (her first book comes out in 2018; agents and publishers and everybody else who has read it just rave about it, so it'll probably make a splash). She is just as spunky as her daughter, and is also intelligent, thoughtful, and kind.

My sister has a genetic disease called Cystic Fibrosis. This disease affects her lungs, her digestive system, and her immune system. When she was born the doctors told my parents that she probably wouldn't live past 19; on her 19th birthday we threw a huge party to celebrate that she was still alive. She's now 28. Keeping her alive has only been possible through huge advances in modern medicine. With the medications she is currently on, she is healthy enough that she's only in the hospital once or twice a year, usually for about a week at a time. She doesn't have nearly the energy or health of your average person, but she does a good job of using what little energy she does have to write and be a mom to Kate.

My sister's medications cost a lot of money. Like, several times what my brother-in-law makes a year. There is no way that they could pay for them unless my brother-in-law suddenly became a multi-millionaire CEO overnight. Because her disease is genetic, which means she's had it literally as long as she's been alive, insurance companies would generally deny her coverage because she has a "preexisting condition." The Affordable Care Act was a godsend for her because it doesn't allow insurance companies to deny patients coverage due to preexisting conditions. Through it they were able to purchase insurance, and, although the premiums are very high, as my sister puts it, "I'd rather be broke than dead."

Trump and Pence's plan to repeal the ACA puts my sister in a tight spot. She isn't eligible for Medicare or Medicaid, and if the ACA's protection for people with preexisting conditions disappears, literally no one will ensure her. She can get insurance through my brother-in-law's employment, I guess, if he is working for someone that offers a group insurance plan... except that he is doing contract work that doesn't offer group insurance plans. And even if he were to quit his current job and find a job that offers an insurance plan, what if he were to lose it and not be able to find another one?

Even setting aside the issue of whether or not she'll be able to get health insurance, before the ACA insurance plans typically had lifetime caps after which they'd stop covering a person; usually these were 1-2 million dollars. My sister's prescriptions are in the range of half a million dollars a year... I'll let you do the math on how long it would take her to max out one of those lifetime limits with medications alone, not even counting hospital stays.

 So, should she just... die so that the rest of us don't have to pay higher insurance premiums? Should she, unable to afford the medications that would prolong her life and keep her in as good of health as she has been, succumb to her disease and leave my adorable niece Kate without a mother?

You see, this is one reason why people are mourning the results of the election, and why it really isn't helping anything to say "buck up and stop crying." Although I, myself, will be completely and totally fine, as a middle-class white male in excellent health, I mourn because I don't know what is going to happen to my dear sister Cindy.

 I think there's another reason that people are mourning, too, that I don't understand as intimately as I do this one. I'll quote my good friend Mariah to explain it:

The world may [continue to be alright]. The individuals and groups against whom Donald Trump and Mike Pence's platform unjustly fights....not so much. I'm not worried about countries, nations, worlds so much as I'm worried about my Mexican friend who may experience hate crimes that may go unpunished under this presidency. I'm worried about girls who get raped or sexually assaulted who will be ignored and whose attackers won't be convicted, or maybe just for a couple months in jail to "teach them a lesson". (If people don't think this ALREADY happens, they need to open their eyes and do a bit of research--literally this year a girl was drugged and raped behind a dumpster, the man was caught in the very act by two eyewitnesses, and he was given six months in prison so that his "couple minutes of action" didn't affect his blooming sports career. And, as much as we'd like to believe it is, this is actually not even remotely uncommon. I'm sorry, I'm not trying to offend, but if you don't think this will get worse under a man who has no remorse (beyond getting caught) for sexually assaulting several women himself, I think you're deluding yourself.) I'm worried about gay and trans people, who will be legally persecuted and probably subjected to mandatory experimental therapy (check out Mike Pence's plan from January about "gay conversion therapy"). 

In essence, I'm sure the world will "recover" or "keep turning." I just don't think it's fair that just because many of us don't find ourselves in minority groups (meaning yeah, it probably will be okay for us and we can just wait it out) we try and tell people who are LITERALLY AFRAID FOR THEIR LIVES AND SAFETY that it's all just gonna be okay, don't worry about it, we can stick it out, it's not a big deal. I'm not trying to say we should be negative and doomsdayers, but I just don't feel comfortable telling my friends and family of marginalized groups that it's not a big deal, when actually, it is. 

What I wish I could ask you to do is to write your congressmen and ask them not to repeal the ACA. I'm a bit more of a realist than that, though, so instead I'll ask that, instead of brazenly asking us to grow up and stop crying, you take a moment to sit with us, listen to us explain our problems, and mourn with us. While I will not stop being friends with anyone who is rejoicing in Trump's victory, and while I do hope that he is able to accomplish lots of good and needed things, I plead with you, my friends, my brothers, my sisters, to stop condescending to us and, instead, give us some space for grief.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

So... Let's Talk About Dating

Quick comment before I get started--how have I made it three whole years since getting home from my mission without writing a post about dating? Maybe that has something to do with what I'm writing about today.

Anyway, on to business. Last weekend I started thinking about dating. I realized that Provo dating culture kind of hands you a concept of what being single is like on a silver platter. "Here, you should know that this thing that you are (single) is bad. You should feel shame for what you are, no matter how hard you're trying or how many reassurances you get from God and those who truly love and care about you. You should resent a lot of things, including people who find successful relationships with less effort than you've put in, every girl (or guy) who turns you down, and especially "the system," which is a combination of the expectations of church leaders and other adults, including family members, and the "Provo way" of dating."

Everybody gets handed this paradigm as soon as they seriously enter Provo dating culture. Some freshman escape it, but I've talked to lots of people who have only been home from a mission for a handful of months and already feel this way. And that singleness shame shows up all over the place--it might be why I've never before written a blog post about dating, even though I think about it as much as a lot of things I do write about.

What, I wonder, would a singleness paradigm based entirely on God's love, true doctrine, eternal perspective, and realistic optimism look like? I really can't even imagine it. I think I'm so caught up in the paradigm I described above, which is partially based on true doctrine (marriage is part of God's plan for his children) but carried to unhealthy extremes (you should feel bad about yourself if you're single), that I seriously can't even imagine what the correct paradigm would feel like.

If I had this paradigm, I can guess how I'd change. I think I'd be less afraid to ask girls out and less hurt by rejection. I'd be completely comfortable spending a Friday night with friends, or at home reading a book, if I couldn't get a date. I'd be able to genuinely celebrate every wedding invite that I got in the mail without feeling jealous. But still, these are just the symptoms of the paradigm shift, and I don't know what the shift is yet.

I'd love to hear other people's thoughts about this. What is the correct dating paradigm? And how to I trade out the one I've got now for that one?