Tag Archives: BYU

Designing modesty

“A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

– Antoine de Saint-Exupry

Recently, there’s been a lot of hullaballoo surrounding an article in the June issue of the Friend magazine. I’m not going to discuss the virtues of whether or not you should allow four year old girls to wear sleeveless sundresses — that has been discussed in the Bloggernacle ad nauseum. My main concern about the modesty issue (concerning the Church) is how convoluted our stance on modesty has become (especially for girls). Here are some rules (though they are not limited to this list), as codified into our culture by the For the Strength of  Youth pamphlet and the hallowed Honor Code of BYU*:

– No sleeveless anything, whether it be tank top, spaghetti strap, or otherwise. Halter tops are right out.

– All shorts must cover the knee

– No more than one pair of earrings for girls, no more than zero pair of earrings for boys

– Do not wear tight-fitting clothes

– Always cover your stomach

– Avoid extreme styles and colors (I’ve always wondered what they did in the 1980s with this rule, what, with the preponderance of lime green and hot pink)

– Guys should have well-trimmed, non-shaggy haircuts, no facial hair, and, if mission standards are to be followed, a part in the hair as well

– No tattoos, even if it’s like, a totally radical tattoo of a Chinese character

– Clothes should not be low cut in the front or back

– One piece swimsuits for the ladies

– And now, apparently, no sleeveless for little girls either

I’m a big believer in simplicity. Though I fail at it many times, I try to live as simple and as modest a life as possible. I believe that ultimately, a well-lived, modest life will have trimmed away the gluttony and excess and spend its time doing that which has the greatest and most value. I believe this concept applies in many situations, including my spiritual and religious life.

The modesty rules we have currently today are anything but minimalist. In fact, most of the rules we have concerning modesty are reactions against cultural trends of which we disapprove. Few, outside of the more vague ones, such as “avoid extreme styles or colors” or “no tight-fitting clothes”, contain any kind of gospel principle (and even then we’re stretching it); rather, they sound similar to the edicts of Cosmo’s fashion section, a list of do’s and don’ts to stay “in fashion” with the latest LDS style.

I like to think that Jesus is the prime example of a minimalist. When asked which of the 613 mitzvot (commandments) were the greatest, Jesus boiled them all down (all 613 of them!) into two great commandments:

Jesus said unto him, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Matthew 22:37-40

The minimalism behind this is breathtakingly beautiful. Yes, commandments and standards are important, but instead of creating a “modesty checklist” (which the Friend also did), couldn’t we instead emphasize that our bodies are gifts from God? If we love God, we will respect and cherish that gift. Empowered by the love of God and a perspective of our place in the universe, we would refuse to abuse and exploit that gift when propositioned to do so by others. Such thinking would allow the flexibility and breathing room for cultural fluctuation but still provide concrete understandings of what is right and wrong. Rather than measuring ourselves against a list of rules, we measure ourselves against our worth prescribed to us by God. We use personal revelation to guide our way. Modesty, like all other commandments and standards, hang from those two great edicts.

Rules are more comfortable precisely because they are so specific and inflexible. We can hide our ignorance of the gospel, our insecurity in our faith, and our anxiety before God’s presence behind the wall of man-made law. We can be mean-spirited, bitter, judgmental, rude, spiteful, proud, back-biting, or all of the above, but as long as we pay our tithing, attend Church services, and do our home/visiting teaching, we’re still “righteous,” even if the love of God is not within us. It is easier to teach and instill skirt length, sleeve length, midriff coverage, one-piece swimsuit expounding, and one-pair-of-earrings exposition in 30 minute bite-size increments in Sunday School than either the love of God, or the love of others. Yet it is exactly the latter that saves and has eternal worth.

So what would Jesus say? Suppose a faithful disciple approached him and asked, “Master, which of these modesty rules are the most important? No bare-midriff? No knee-cap flashing?” The great thing is that deeply embedded in the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet, we already have such a minimalist statement that Jesus could possibly make:

Ask yourself, “Would I feel comfortable with my appearance if I were in the Lord’s presence?”

I propose that we eliminate all else in the “Dress and Appearance” section of the For the Strength of  Youth pamphlet and teach our youth this one basic principle above all else when teaching modesty. All in favor, please manifest in the comments. Any opposed do so by the same sign.


* I’m not sure if including the BYU Honor Code in our list of unofficial official cultural standards for modesty will garner controversy or not, but BYU is possibly the single greatest exporter of Church culture, and so I have included it as most Mormons would probably agree to the standards espoused in the Honor Code anyway concerning modesty.



Filed under education, parenting, religion

Public stoning, complicity, basketball, and shame-based punishment

Recently, if you don’t follow sports, BYU suspended one of it’s star players from the basketball team for breaking the Honor Code — specifically, according to the news, for having pre-marital sex with his girlfriend. The suspension came during the NCAA playoffs, and BYU, favored to do incredibly well, was severely crippled and lost to an unranked team.

BYU has, as expected, drawn a lot of both praise and ire. Some applaud what they term BYU’s commitment to its principles, giving up a lot of prestige, fame, and money for the basketball program in order to keep its integrity. Others attack the Honor Code itself, calling it prudish, archaic, old fashioned, and draconian.

However, neither of these things — basketball or BYU’s Honor Code* — actually matter in the grand scheme of things. As the news unfolded and exploded (this story has been covered and commented on by various news outlets, as well as the Daily Show, and Brandon Davies had been trending for days on Twitter), I started to worry most about the victims involved — the poor player, for one, and especially his girlfriend. Their lives have been irrevocably changed for the worse.

I was a bit dismayed at how cavalierly people seemed to dismiss the trauma Davies and his girlfriend must be going through. Not only has his sin been broadcast throughout the nation via sattelite broadcast, cable, internet, and Twitter, but many blame him for ruining what could have been arguably the one of the best seasons for BYU basketball in history. People have told me that Davies “knew what he signed” and that “if he chooses to transfer, he will do fine in another school,” but nobody talks about how his membership and role in the Church would  change. Not only will he be known as “that guy” for the rest of his life in the Mormon sports world — no matter where he goes — but he will no longer ever be able to function properly within the Mormon community again as well. Wherever he goes, people will know who he is, and they will probably not like him or trust him. Imagine if every time you went into the bishop’s office to confess a sin, it was broadcast on CNN and Jon Stewart commented on it. Even small sins would be mortifying; serious ones would make it very difficult to show your face at church again.

And, of course, nobody ever talks about the ramifications for his girlfriend, who will perhaps endure worse abuse. She is now the Yoko Ono of BYU basketball. She will now become the object lesson in hundreds of Young Women lessons about how important it is to guard your chastity and the horrible consequences if you fail to do so (how would you like to become the cautionary tale of how dangerous it is to be a slut overnight?). And when looking at the Church’s track record in the past on how they treat women who have sinned (especially sexually), she is in for a world of shame and degredation. It’s inevitable in a culture where chastity and virtue is taught through cakes with dirt in them and used chewing gum (that, by the way, completely ignore the power of the Atonement). What is especially unjust in her case is that she is not a high profile Mormon or an “ambassador” or “representative” of the Church. She was just a good girl who made an unfortunate mistake and now she’s going to pay in disproportionate spades for it. And though the media has (thankfully) not centered too much on her for the news, she will live in constant fear, if she chooses to stay in the Church, that someone will discover “who she is.”

What kills me about this is that it was so avoidable. Could they not have shown a little clemency with this case? Normally, when students break the Honor Code in a serious way, it is taken care of as privately as possible; it certainly isn’t discussed on ESPN. Certainly, BYU did not promote this story nor make it public, but this isn’t the first time such a thing has happened. Certainly they knew this would become a public scandal, especially with the spotlight so sharply lighting up the BYU basketball team. Could they not have waited until the cameras were off Davies to punish him? Even if a disgruntled student leaked the fact to the press, BYU could have claimed that they simply wanted to protect his privacy until after the season. Instead, by dismissing him from the team during such a high profile moment of the season, they all but signed his warrant to the press.

But of  course, this is no skin off of BYU’s nose. They look like heroes, staunch supporters of traditional, old-fashioned chastity and integrity. Davies knew what he was getting into (ignoring the fact that most of us make serious mistakes all the time but don’t have the news talking about it). Justice, many Mormons would say, has been served. Many probably feel betrayed, hurt, even humiliated a little. How could he betray our principles? He deserves it. And while I cannot speak for the motivations of BYU, I can’t help but feel that we assuaged our hurt at the expense of two precious lives of God’s children. Why should we consider our actions? He’s the one that sinned, right? Was it worth it?

The situation has often been framed as two decisions — either kick Davies off because he did break the Honor Code that he pledged to follow, and we should follow through with punishment; or, we let Davies off the hook, and people will see us corrupt and weak, and the sinner will go unpunished, which is not just. But there’s a third, middle way. Give Davies some clemency until the spotlight is no longer on him, and then, with a little more privacy, work towards repentance. People will say that means we’re rewarding sin, but I’m sure some people saw that when Jesus forgave the adultress who was about to be stoned. People will say the world will interpret it as preferential treatment, not mercy, but don’t we teach that the world often takes good and spins it into evil? Who cares what the world thinks? We certainly didn’t care during Prop 8, right? Why care now?

In the end, why did we really punish Davies? We had options — why did we choose the harshest one? Was it really to administer justice? And seeing how Davies’ and his girlfriend’s membership in the Church has been thoroughly obstructed and demoralized for years, if not for the rest of their lives, was this truly “just”? If not, what motivated this?

People will say I adopt a clemency stance because I am a liberal moral relativist seduced by the world and ashamed of God’s principles. They could not be further from the truth. I adopt this stance because of the example of a merciful man who was my mission president and one of the most faithful, God fearing men I know. Some missionaries complained that he was too lenient with some of the “problem missionaries” who broke the rules. We were sick of them; they dragged everyone else down, never did any work, passed up opportunities to teach people who were yearning for the gospel. Why didn’t he just send them home? In many cases, he would be justified; he admitted that it would probably even “clean up” the mission a lot and possibly boost morale. But, he asked us, after they get home, what then? Their lives in the Church would be crushed forever. If they somehow stay active, it will be despite their mission experience, not because of it. “No,” he taught, “I am concerned about the eternal consequences of these missionaries’ souls, not their short term success on the mission.”

So, we cleaned up the BYU basketball team, and showed sinners and potential sinners what’s up. The Church is serious about this sexual purity thing and they’re here to take prisoners and names. But at what cost? Davies and his girlfriend have just been saddled with an immense burden to their Church membership that will not likely go away. Those who decided to suspend him when they did most likely knew not only the consequences to their team, but also the resultant shark feeding that would descend on Davies via the media. But apparently something was more important. What? BYU’s dignity and integrity? Good old-fashioned justice? The Church’s image? And how do they compare with the potential worth of two souls, especially in the eyes of God?

A lot of people accuse the Church of being more focused on exclusive membership rather than merciful inclusion. They accuse us of using shame-based tactics and heavy-handed punishments to keep the people in line, especially when it comes to sexual matters. I had hoped that this was not true, and we proclaim that this is not true, but perhaps the Davies incident has shown what our true colors really are.

* When I talk about the Honor Code not mattering in the grand scheme of things, I mean the Honor Code in its entirety. Many of the rules of the Honor Code are based off what we teach as true gospel principles (such as honesty). However, considering that Jesus, the Son of God Himself, could not go to BYU because of the Honor Code (he drank wine and had a beard), the Honor Code is a man-made set of rules that will not matter one whit during the Judgment

/puts on fire hazard suit


Filed under life stories, religion

People Who Do Things #2 – David Tertipes

There are generally two types of people in the world — people who like to talk about doing things, and people who are actually doing things. I’m part of the former, but I’d like to be part of the latter. In order to find out what makes those types of special people tick (and how I can become one of them), I’ve started interviewing people I know who’ve stopped talking about doing things and started doing them.

( ~ )

David Tertipes is a student at Brigham Young University graduating later this year with a bachelor’s in German Linguistics. He recently presented a paper titled “The LDS Plan of Salvation as Archetype of the Monomyth” for BYU’s Conference on Literature and Belief, which is currently being reviewed for possible publication. A devout, practicing Mormon, along with his studies, he works in tech support, volunteers as the Technical Director for New Play Project, and lives in Provo, Utah with his wife and newborn son.

You’ve recently presented a paper about Joseph Campbell’s monomyth from The Hero with a Thousand Faces and the LDS doctrine of the Plan of Salvation. Where did you get the idea for this paper?

I first heard about Joseph Campbell and his idea of the monomyth or hero journey in one of my German literature classes. The professor brought it up as a way of discussing one of the novels we were reading, and that led to an interesting class discussion on what the hero journey is and why it is important. Being a class at BYU, the conversation turned quickly to similarities between what the Church teaches and the monomyth.

I have long been aware of elements of LDS doctrine that exist in other faiths, and have speculated on the reasons, coming to the conclusion that Adam, the first man, was taught by God everything he needed to know, and he passed it on to his children, who, through the generations misinterpreted, misunderstood, or simply forgot parts of it, but parts of it remained.

I had a very interesting conversation with a devout Catholic man in Germany where we came to the understanding that our two religions really were not all that different — He talked of baptizing his infant son, I talked about giving a child a Name and a Blessing, he talked of going through Confirmation at 9, I talked about being baptized at 8. We realized that we believed the same things, more or less, but applied different names to the ordinances. As I read Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, I noticed the similarities with the Plan of Salvation and began to explore that more deeply.

How did you find out about the conference you submitted your paper to? How did you feel about your chances on having your submission accepted for presentation and now, later, for publication?

I don’t really remember how I found out about the conference. I think I might have seen a flyer hanging on a bulletin board on campus, then I checked out the website. Or maybe one of my professors mentioned it in class. I was pretty confident when I submitted, but then I’ve always had a kind of inflated ego — just kidding, but I do pride myself on my intelligence and my ability to write and write well.

So as I prepared the abstract for submission, and got feedback from friends, I was hopeful that I would be accepted. And then I got an email from the man in charge of the conference, two weeks before the deadline for submission, saying that he was very excited about my paper and wanted to let me know as soon as he could that I had been accepted to present. That made me feel good, that I had been accepted to present even before they had received all of their submissions.

After you submitted your paper, the conference asked you to present it. What was going through your head at this point? What did you do to prepare for the presentation? Did you walk in front of the podium pretty confident, or was it more of a humbling experience?

I have always been a fairly good public speaker; maybe that comes from my theatre experience, or just the confidence I have in my writing ability. I wasn’t really nervous about the actual presenting, I was concerned more that I would not have enough time to present everything. I could, and did, have conversations with friends about the Plan of Salvation and the monomyth that lasted hours, and yet I was restricted to 15 minutes.

That was the one thing I regret about my presentation — I did not elaborate enough nor provide examples of what I was talking about, because I was so worried about not going over time that I ended up finishing several minutes early, not having fleshed out my arguments as well as I probably could have.

How did you feel as you presented your paper to an audience of scholars who, arguably, were more knowledgeable and well-read on the subject? How did you tap into that well of self-assurance?

I wasn’t really nervous about the fact that I was presenting until I actually stood up to speak. And, yeah, there was a little feeling of inadequacy, being only an undergrad student and presenting at this conference. But nobody ever asked about the status of my degree or my education when I was submitting, but when I arrived at the session of the conference I was to speak at (I was unfortunately unable to attend any of the other sessions of the conference because I was in class!), the man who was presenting before me, who was also leading that session, talked about what I was studying. I told him that I was studying to be German teacher, which he either misheard or misunderstood, because he introduced me as a German teacher at BYU. I don’t know if it was because they were unused to undergrad students presenting.

I did also have a hiccup of nervousness after I had finished and they opened it up for questions. But I think I handled it well, I was asked a question that I honestly had not thought about, which I admitted, but then proceeded to give what I thought would be an appropriate answer based on what I knew and the research I had done. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it might have been. I was very familiar with the subject and was able to come up with an answer.

When the conference asked if they could publish the paper, you only had an abstract written up. How did you tackle the task of writing up a draft for publication in a short period of time?

I procrastinated. I submitted the abstract in May, and I found out in June that I would be presenting. The conference was in October, and I did not write anything more than the abstract that I had already submitted. I did research and I wrote notes, but I did not write anything formally. Then I was told that the deadline for submission for publication was the end of January. So I started writing the paper in December. I probably should have written more sooner, which would have given me more time to revise and edit, but I tend to be a procrastinator, and I put off writing to the last minute. Luckily, though, I tend to write pretty well that I can pull it off.

Mostly I just forced myself to write every day. At least something. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds because the hard part of the paper, the research and the gathering of examples and sources, I had already done. I just needed to write it up, which went fairly quickly.

Your current goal is to become a professor in German linguistics. Did this experience with publishing and presenting stoke the fires even higher, or do you now have a more reserved, maybe cautious or more realistic approach to your goals?

I was originally getting my degree in German Teaching, which would have not only given me a degree in German, but also a teaching certificate, so that I could teach high school. A couple of experiences at the same time helped me to realize that I would much rather be a scholar and teach at a collegiate level than teach high school. This conference was one of those experiences that helped me realize that I enjoy the academic lifestyle of researching and presenting. I look forward to becoming a professor and having this opportunity on a regular basis.

Do you mind elaborating on some of those other experiences that moved you away from high school teaching and more towards scholarly teaching?

That same semester I had an opportunity to teach a mini-lesson in German and work with high school students at a German Language Fair at BYU. I don’t have anything against high school students, but knowing my personality, I know that I would be more comfortable teaching a more mature audience, a group of people who want to be there and want to learn the language. Most high schools require a foreign language, so many students are just there because they have to be, but at the college level, they are usually taking German classes because they have some need or desire to learn German.

This, coupled with the positive experience I had doing research, writing an abstract, presenting at a conference and writing up a paper, helped me realize that I enjoy the academic life. And it didn’t hurt that by changing my major to German Linguistics from German Teaching I am able to graduate a year sooner! Plus I had a really great German Linguistics class that I enjoyed and that got me interested in pursuing this field.

Many young students consider publishing as more of a graduate student or PhD student activity, yet you went ahead and submitted a paper anyway before you even earned your bachelor’s degree. Would you consider the whole process difficult, or was it easier than you originally thought? Would you recommend other more “green” students to attempt publication as well?

It was a whole lot easier than I thought it would be. I guess the hardest part was actually getting accepted. It really depends on the student, if you are the type of student who enjoys writing papers and doing self-guided research, I would definitely suggest submitting your papers to wherever you can. And don’t feel like you have to start on something new, you can take an old paper you’ve already written and expand on it or rework it. It’s not as hard as it sounds, really.

Is there anything you would have done differently with the whole process?

I would have started writing sooner, and prepared more for my presentation. I really needed more concrete examples and to relax and speak what I knew. This was a fun first experience, and I’m glad it happened early in my academic career, rather than when I’m working on my doctorate.

Are there any current goals to try and publish and present more? Any projects you’re currently working on?

I would love to publish more. You know the saying, “Publish or Perish!” I am currently working on my capstone paper for my German Linguistics degree. I am working on using comparative linguistics to improve the teaching of German as a foreign language, which in plain English means that I’m looking at how to improve the teaching of German in American high schools by looking at the similarities and differences between English and German, including the history of the changes that have taken place in those two languages. It should be fun and I’m excited to write it. There is a lot of talk about second language acquisition, and people have been learning and teaching languages for centuries, but recently there has been an emphasis in more of a linguistic approach to language learning, rather than just a rote memorization, “drill and kill” method that has been traditional.

Some of my professors at BYU are on the forefront of this field, using their degrees in linguistics to help them as they teach German classes. One of my favorite classes was in German pronunciation, where we studied phonology and phonetics as a way of improving our German. This is a fairly new idea, but I am excited to pursue it.

Academia has been traditionally considered a boring, difficult, thankless, and often “useless” profession and passion. What advice do you have to those who want to devote their lives to an area of study but feel daunted by the pressure from friends and family to pursue a more “useful” career?

I know what you mean; when I tell people what I’m studying I always get the question “What are you going to do with that?” It’s a valid question. If I weren’t going into academia this would be a less than useful degree. If someone really enjoys this lifestyle, then go for it. To be honest, I’m still hoping that I can get a job that will allow me to support my family, but I have always enjoyed studying and researching and teaching, so this is what I want to do. Research better ways of teaching German. I just hope I can make it work.

Do you feel any apprehension about job prospects when you finish your degrees?

Occasionally I do. I have talked to some of my professors who have said that usually the university where you do your PhD will offer you a position. But one of my Family History professors here got his PhD in German and Second Language Acquisition (just what I am going into) at OSU (just where I want to go!) and he said he could not find a job after getting his degree. Then he and his wife both received the impression that he should go into family history research, which he did professionally for 12 years until BYU asked him to teach classes on German family history. He told this story in class to show that he has the experience and that he has made plenty of mistakes, but that he can tell us what we should not be doing so that we can avoid those same mistakes. But the moral I got out of the story while listening, is that God will provide. I feel very strongly that this is a subject I should be studying, I am very excited about this field and the new research happening in Linguistics and Second Language Acquisition, but when I graduate, God will put me where he needs me doing what he needs me to.

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The Shackles of BYU

At the moment, one of the goals in my life is to get into the University of Washington. This has been somewhat of a life-long dream of mine – ever since I was a kid, I felt a tug towards UW instead of BYU. I chose to go to BYU anyway, and though there were…struggles, I guess I came out a better, more wise, more experienced, more compassionate person, and I ended up finding my True Love down there so all’s well that end’s well.

Though I still hold a little bit of angst towards BYU, I actually really admire BYU-I. According to my friends, their student government actually has teeth. They have instituted a program that requires every student to get a laptop and all textbooks are now electronic. Yeah, their rules are kind of harsh (no shorts, no flip flops, that kind of thing), but everybody there just seems so…happy. I have never met anyone who has come out of BYU-I with a bad experience. I came home my first first summer at BYU and my BYU-I friends would only gush about how much fun they had up there in the frozen tundras of Rexburg. I wondered what they were doing there that was so right – BYU left me frazzled and exhausted. My dad is Rick’s College alumni and when he heard about my troubles at BYU he wanted me to transfer to BYU-I. I didn’t, and I’m kinda glad because I met my wife later, but after I got married, I considered transfering up there at one point. I’m actually pretty sure I would have probably done pretty well.

So yeah. I actually like BYU-I. A lot. Whatever they’re doing, they’re doing it pretty well.

Which is why I cry for BYU-I. What an unfortunate name. Brigham Young University – Idaho? Really?

The problem is that damnable suffix. Why did you have to rename it after the original Brigham Young University and then suffix it? Why did BYU-I become a satellite school?

We have a satellite school here. It’s called the University of Washington – Bothell. I live close to Bothell. I once mentioned to my mother that I thought maybe I should apply there. She laughed. A lot. Because it’s a satellite school. If people see BYU or UW on your resume, they think, “Oh, nice.” When they see BYU-Idaho or UW-Bothell, they think, “What, they didn’t get into the real school?”

Which is a shame because BYU-I is a real school. It’s a pretty decent school. It’s not the same stature yet as BYU, but give it a time and I have a feeling that someday, they’ll surpass it for a lot of reasons that I won’t go into yet.

We have plenty of prophets, guys. Couldn’t we have renamed it something else? Named it after another prophet or another dead famous person that happened to be Mormon? It started out at Ricks College. Why not Ricks University?  Why not Joseph Smith University, or Hyrum Smith University, or Pratt University or I dunno, something besides a name that is already taken? I’m not sure what was going on in the meeting when they decided on the name, but I can’t help but wonder if some greedy BYU representative saw it as a power grab, to make sure that no other Mormon school would ever rise to challenge their supremacy in the Western Inter-Mountain Region.

I just hope they throw off the shackles of BYU soon. Otherwise, they’ll never really be taken seriously. And that makes me really sad for some reason.


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This is a proud, proud, proud day for BYU

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Recant! Recant! Recant!

Apparently, BYU lifted its YouTube ban. Just when I wrote a post making fun of it. I’m not saying those two are directly related, but…

You never know, right?

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