Monday, June 15, 2009

History in the Present Tense

Absolutely amazing. Breathtaking. Awe inspiring. I need more cliches to describe this. Iran is erupting in protests over almost certainly faked-election results: the incumbent Ahmadinejad appears to have rigged the election to prevent his defeat by the reform candidate Mousavi (whose supporters wear green, explaining the sea of that color in all the videos and pictures). Hundreds of thousands of Iranians have taken to the streets to protest, and it sends chills down my spine the more I read about it. These people are getting beaten by state police and plain-clothes policemen, people are being killed, but they are standing up and not taking it. It is stunning. This in a country that only a few years ago was declared part of Bush's new axis of evil (though the broad stroke lacked the nuance one might desire from our head of state, he definitely had a point: the country hasn't been doing too much right recently). A country where candidates in presidential elections have to be OK'ed by the unelected religious clerics. A country whose president has denied the Holocaust and called the US a western devil and who knows what all else. This. Is. HUGE. Included below is one of the best raw, powerful videos I've seen yet on youtube of what's going on; it was taken earlier today (Monday) in a large square in Tehran where Mousavi spoke. Huge crowds, chanting, the sounds of freedom.

This next clip shows Mousavi a bit as well:

One of the most important sources of information (though by nature also fragmented and prone to rumor and exaggeration) has been Twitter, believe it or not. Here's a link to a collection of tweets from Iranians (warning: includes two pics of bloody protesters). Yes, they're out of context, they're short--but they're first-hand accounts of the panic and elation that is coursing through the Iranian people right now.

From the videos I've seen, there has been some violence on the part of protesters, though it seems remarkably little compared to the beatings they seem to be enduring. I've seen a few fires burning and some rock throwing, but at the same time there have been amazing pictures of protesters shepherding lone riot police who have gotten caught in the midst of the hostile public to safety (pictured at top--see another similar incident, in video form, here). The Iranians are hungry for democracy, and by and large they are going about it peacefully. If the regime keeps responding with force, though, I don't know how long it will stay non-violent.

Right now I'm praying for a relatively peaceful outcome and for the will of the people to ultimately prevail. And of course keeping up with the latest every chance I get. I've seen amazing coverage from The Daily Dish (actually the same blog that had the great series on abortion I mentioned in my previous post), Andrew Sullivan there has been all over every new angle as it unfolds. has also had some great coverage of the statistics of the election, with this post being a great example. BBC and NPR are also covering things pretty well. The perennially superb Big Picture blog also has a great collection of photographs which show protestors being beaten, fighting back, marching peacefully, the aftermath of raids on Tehran University, and more.

Again, this is amazing. We are either witnessing the birth of a much more direct democracy or about to see a regime strike hard against its own people. Let's hope this is more of a USSR falling thing rather than a Burma or Tiananmen Square thing. I certainly hope so.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

It's So Personal

There has been an amazing series of posts on Andrew Sullivan's blog, The Daily Dish, titled "It's So Personal." Sullivan has a strong Catholic background and is staunchly pro-life, but in the wake of George Tiller's murder he has opened a discussion on his blog featuring first-hand stories of women (and sometimes their husbands/boyfriends) about their decisions to either have or not have an abortion, with an emphasis on abortions that occur after ~20 weeks--the type of abortion that Tiller was one of only about three doctors in America to provide.

The best part about the series has been the even-handedness of it all. Accounts are published from people who had abortions who regretted it and those who think it was the right choice. There are stories of mothers who chose not to have an abortion and are happy with that decision, even if sometimes the baby only lived a few minutes, if at all. The stories contradict each other, in the sense that they don't all come to the same conclusions or even agree about some of the fundamentals. But they are all real in that you can get a sense, however small, of the heart-wrenching decisions that many women and men go through. The series brings nuance, reality, and detail to a debate that has for too long been characterized by the single word you put after "pro-" in your label. These posts remind us all that this really is not just a black and white issue, no matter how strong feelings are on both sides. [See this Newsweek article that basically says the same thing, more eloquently.]

You can read the first dozen or so posts here, listed chronologically. Since that list was published just earlier this week, there have been a few more published as well. Three that I found very touching were Not Knowing For Sure, A Target of Terror, and, perhaps the most unlikely, A Life Saved By Choice.

My point, again, is this: abortion is a terribly difficult choice. While I don't think it's possible or, ultimately, desirable to outlaw abortion, I also love life and want to see the number of elective abortions drop through promoting adoption, better counseling, and providing much more support for pre-, neo-, and post-natal care, especially for the impoverished. But the bottom line is this: don't vilify and lampoon those who disagree with you. Again, this is not a cut-and-dry issue, so let's all try to do what we can to understand other points of view and try to look with charity on all of our fellow women and men. I'm grateful to Sullivan for helping me see multiple sides of a contentious issue.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Missionary Moment

This is a story from a friend of mine named Chris Gong, who's currently serving a mission somewhere in Taiwan (sorry, I can never remember missions more specific than the country). His emails are generally quite short (this one is exceptionally long by his standards) but poignant is always a good word to describe them. Here is his most recent email, in full. I love it.

Elder Christopher Gong

Early in my mission, I was moved to the rural mountain town of QiShan in southern Taiwan. The branch was small but full of faith and love. One day, after seeking referrals in church, Andy Weng bounced up to us followed by his sister Emily. He said “We know someone who needs the gospel. It’s our Uncle. He just got out of jail on probation because he needs heart surgery. It’s perfect!”A little bit apprehensive, we set up a time for later that week.
I’ll always remember the first time we saw Brother Guo. He was slouched back against his motorcycle, stone faced and chain smoking. He wouldn’t come into the house for the lesson, so we taught him standing up outside by his motorcycle. We shared about our loving Heavenly Father and that through reading the Book of Mormon and praying, we can know He is there and feel his love. Emily shared her favorite scriptures and bore testimony. After loving persuasion from Andy and Emily, Brother Guo reluctantly set another time.
The next time we met, I was startled to see there was something different about him. “You’ve been reading and praying, haven’t you?” I said. “Every single day,” he said gruffly, but his eyes smiled just a little, and Andy and Emily were beaming. My companion and I sat at the Weng family dinner table, listening to stories and trying (and failing) to avoid getting served pig foot soup. Dishes were cleared, and we started the lesson with song and prayer. My first move companion bore testimony of the atonement in his first move Chinese. As everyone listened intently, straining to better understand, an amazing thing happened. The spirit filled the room, and we could tell Brother Guo’s heart was touched.
Over the next few weeks, Brother Guo read and prayed daily. He came to church with his supportive family. He struggled with and eventually overcame his addictions. We saw his heart softened, and the light in his eyes grow brighter and brighter. But because of his traditional beliefs and opposition from other relatives, he was still unwilling to commit to baptism.
As we were leaving after one appointment, Brother Guo exchanged some quick words in Taiwanese with his older sister. She said “Andy told him that missionaries can give blessings. He’s going into surgery this week, and he’s worried. Can you give him a blessing?” He may have been worried, but we were terrified. We could barely communicate, and neither of us had ever given a blessing in Chinese before. We knelt together in prayer. And then, in their broken down storeroom, with our broken Chinese, we performed the blessing.
We saw Brother Guo at church the next Sunday. He looked tired and walked slowly. After church, he pulled us aside. One night after his surgery, he had woken up with throbbing chest pains. Desperately, he prayed for help. The pains subsided. He was grateful and humble, and asked to be baptized.

So that's why I chose Ezekiel 36:26-28. as my mission scripture.

A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God.

May we all continue to have mighty changes of heart.

Love, Elder Gong