Christian Weirdness: Mormon vs. Catholic

Tonight, I took the opportunity to expand my Christian horizons by going to a Catholic mass.

Now, there are those among the Mormon church who believe Catholicism is the whore of Babylon mentioned in Revelations. That’s incorrect. The whore of Babylon is not necessarily a denomination, just a state of mind. Opposition to righteousness.

That in mind, I decided that I needed to stop just thinking Catholics were weird (besides wrong, of course), and that I was so much better than them, and actually try to understand. Besides, I’ve always found Catholicism somewhat interesting. Maybe because the majority of demonic possession movies have a Catholic background. Plus, the stained glass windows and cathedrals are beautiful.

So, tonight, I attended mass, dressed as I would for an LDS service—in a skirt. I was advised by the Internet that it was the only way to dress for Catholics as well. Imagine my surprise when people started showing up in jeans!

In the LDS chapel, we have hymn books out for the congregation. In this chapel, they had three song books and a missal and a book for you to follow along. I was having a hard time switching back and forth between them all.

LDS church is composed of three different meetings: Sacrament meeting, Sunday school, and the age- and gender-specific classes (Primary for children up to twelve, Priesthood for males over twelve, Young Women for girls twelve to eighteen, and Relief Society for women eighteen plus). A total of three hours, sitting down except when traveling from one to the other. Our Sacrament meeting is most like a standard church meeting, gathering in the chapel, taking the sacrament. It’s really a very simple organization. Opening hymn, opening prayer, ward business, sacrament hymn, sacrament, first speaker, second speaker, hymn or musical number, third speaker, closing hymn, closing prayer. Mass isn’t anywhere near that simple. I couldn’t keep track of all the prayers and hymns and things sung! Most of it was routine. And plus, there was so much sitting, standing, kneeling. Good way to stay awake, I guess. Bravo to Catholics for figuring that out! Maybe us Mormons could use a little more of that, and a little less of the classic elbow in the ribs.

To say I didn’t feel comfortable? An understatement. All in all, I found it too formulated, leaving too little room for revelation. See, Mormon’s don’t really use formulated prayers very often. Just for things like baptism, confirmation, the sacrament, and so on. I guess you could say our prayers are free verse. Reciting something like a prayer will never feel right to me. Also, I found a bit of it was really showy—more of the body than the mind and heart. Beyond that, I was depressed by the limited amount of scripture: just the Bible. I’m so used to the classic Mormon quad: The Bible, the Book of Mormon (testament of Christ in the Americas), the Pearl of Great Price (miscellaneous things, including the books of Moses and Abraham, and the Joseph Smith translations of the Bible), and the Doctrine and Covenants (establishment of the LDS church, and related revelations). To be cut down to one. . . is weird.

Now, I can’t tell you I felt the Spirit there. And I can’t say I didn’t. I’m not very spiritually sensitive. But the pastor did say some good things, and I had good notes to take.

After mass, I talked to the pastor long enough to give him my name and tell him I was Mormon. He made sure I felt welcome, and introduced me to another girl, who introduced me to basically everyone else. To be perfectly honest, I was overwhelmed by how included they made me—how nice everyone was. I’m a Utah Mormon. Here, Mormons can be nice, but they can also be very judgmental and cliquish, for lack of a better term. But I saw so little of that in the Catholics I met tonight. They invited me to an activity later in the week, and I think I might have to go. Because, honestly, in my own ward I haven’t ever felt so included.

My conclusions: Catholics are still weird. Their religion seems to be as steeped in tradition as Judaism. And, of course, I won’t ever believe the Catholics have it right. But they’re wonderful people—far better than I’ve been led to believe by Utah Mormons.

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On Agnosticism, Atheism and Mormon Weirdness

This past week, a girl I work with was talking to me. She was born and raised Mormon, but has since become agnostic. Now, I’ve got no problem with that. If that’s the way she wants to live her life, all power to her. But she kept asking me questions. Like how come if Jesus ever lived the only records of him were in the Bible? There’s no birth certificate or journal entries or anything.  And Joseph Smith was never actually told to form a church—just that the ones that existed already weren’t true. With all that, she wasn’t sure she could believe in God.

I’ve never been good at answering those kinds of things. That’s part of the reason I’m not going to go on a mission. I just answered as well as I could.

How do we know there are no other records of Christ? They didn’t exactly keep birth certificates back then. And journal entries could be destroyed. With most of the Jews getting into spitting fits at the time whenever Christ was mentioned, is it so hard to believe they destroyed some of the evidence?

As for Joseph Smith—that one stumped me. She asked it in Sunday School and stumped the teacher, too. I read the Joseph Smith History we have in our scriptures just to be sure I had the whole story. And no, in that piece of it, God never explicitly says, “Give me a church with a side of weirdness, hold the coffee.” I also browsed around the Doctrine and Covenants (our record of modern—back in the 19th century—revelations). After a few minutes there, I found Section 18, which speaks a bit of how the church should be built on the scriptures, basically. After a quick search I found that in Section 115,  God gives name of the church—The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. So, when I see this girl, I guess I’ll have to offer that to her, for all it’s worth.

This girl has a way of putting me and my beliefs on the spot. Some days, it seems she wants to be Mormon again. Others, it’s like she’s criticizing. But I find it sad that she’s not sure she can believe in God. It’s been so central to my entire life that it’s hard to think about what it must be like not to believe. I have been told from birth that God is there, the same way others are told that Paris and London are real. And when I see what could be interpreted as divine intervention and a higher purpose in my life every single day, it’s hard not to know He’s real.

I could never bring myself to be agnostic or atheist. I definitely believe in God—because the alternative is too horrible to think about. If there is no God, then what is our purpose in life? What is the point of anything, good or bad? If we’re just some accident of science, what’s the point of even getting out of bed in the morning? If we have no higher purpose, what’s the point of progression? Because we’re just going to die, and that’s it—lights out, close the book. If we don’t feel that we can talk to anyone about our problems, then we are truly alone. And even when people will listen to us, they’re still judging. They still don’t totally understand, because we don’t really understand, ourselves. And that’s it. We’re alone. Some of us, nobody must even love us.

Personally, I decline that. God is there. He is the great writer, scientist, mathematician, artist. Everything testifies of Him. He knows and understands us better than we do, ourselves. He loves us and wants us to be happy. And He will always listen, with that perfect understanding. The best friend to loners everywhere.

Some people will say I’m stupid, blindly following all these rules, believing in a higher power that died and came back from the dead, and let’s not even get started on Kolob. And yes, some of the things I do and believe are weird. But you know what? That weirdness is worth it, for all the comfort and courage my faith has given me over the years.

So, yes, I am a Mormon. I will always be a Mormon. Weird is part of the job!

Soften Your Heart and Know God

A replica of the Christus statue, on display at Temple Square in Salt Lake City.
A replica of the Christus statue, on display at Temple Square in Salt Lake City.

With the semester starting up, that means Institute for us so-inclined Mormon people of college age. I’m taking two classes—one about the New Testament, the other focusing on the Book of Mormon (the weird Mormon bible). So, this means that I might be posting more religious stuff now and again.

Last week’s lesson in the Book of Mormon class focused a lot on how a hardness of heart meant receiving a lesser portion of the truth (aka, being deluded by pride, self-righteousness, etc). So, in order to know more of God and be open to His will, knowledge and so on, we should pray for our hearts to be softened. My teacher asked us to think about that for a minute.

In church on Sunday, we had a lesson on our personal relationships with God. After all, He is our literal father. The source of all knowledge. Why do we never just ask Him for answers? Do we ever listen to Him when He speaks to us? Who is He? The fire-and-brimstone God to be feared? Or the loving Father and Lord who cares about the silly things like our latest crush?

I know God is there. It’s never been much of a doubt in my mind. The only doubt has been in myself. I know, today, that He loves and cares about each one of us. He knows us personally, better than we know ourselves. He may not always give us what we want, but He gives us what we need. He wants us to be happy. And He wants us to know Him. And I can’t wait to see Him again face-to-face–this being of flesh and blood who loved all us idiots so much that He allowed His perfect son to suffer unimaginable agony for us.

I’m not a very good person, in my heart. I’ve never been tempted by sex or drugs (although I love rock’n’roll!). My pride is my greatest enemy. I judge others harshly, undeservingly. And when I’m proven wrong, I have never once asked for forgiveness. In my heart, I have few good things to say about my sister and mother. Because wrath is better than the forgiveness that would leave me open to mockery.

So,  for me, having a squishy heart might be nice sometimes—for the benefits of the fuller portion of the word—knowing and understanding more. But. . . I can’t allow that softness. It’s what I’ve fought against for too long.

Having a softer heart didn’t help anything! Love didn’t keep Mom from throwing a VCR at my head. It didn’t stop my sister from trying to beat me senseless. Sharing scriptures didn’t keep the house clean. Forgiveness didn’t make my sister choose a higher path. Crying never stopped the fighting. In my family, all you can get for those valiant efforts is labeled the fragile snowflake—the sensitive, whiny crybaby.

I separated myself from that girl. Yeah, she’s still there inside me, but I dosed her with chloroform, beat her half to death, and tied her in a corner. She won’t be making an appearance. I can’t let her. She’d ruin everything I’ve worked so hard for. Me. Mac. The shell of a girl-woman who is sadistic, twisted, sarcastic, antisocial, blunt, and confident.

And thus we see the dilemma—defeating Pride and becoming that version of me that I hate the most. Oh, what to do. I’ll sort it out eventually.

It’s My Story

“This is my story. It’ll go the way I want, or I’ll end it here.”

—Tidus, Final Fantasy X

My story. My life.

All our lives are stories, and God is the great author of it all. Want to know what’s funny about it? Writers love to torture their characters. You think your life’s going crappy? Well, God is up there, fanboying about how cute you are when you’re in trouble. Look at Job!

As an aspiring writer, and long time fan of many story mediums, I have made plentiful studies of stories and tropes that within them fall. I know how the story’s supposed to go.

But what happens when it doesn’t go that way? When the heroine of the story isn’t the one to rescue anyone from the villain, but just Hostage #38? The hopeless girl who’s head-over-heels for the hero? The background character?

That thought bothers me. It always has. This is my story. I’m the heroine, aren’t I? I should be saving people! I am not to be upstaged by some jerk in a cape!

This logic has led me to shun my wallflower nature, and do some surprising things. I’ve confessed to my somewhat uncomfortably older (and emotionally withdrawn) former colleague my huge hero-worship crush on him. One of the most terrifying moments of my life.

But, among my two best friends (namely, my sister and my best friend), I am not, nor will I ever be, the hero. I am the antihero. The brooding loner who’s so awesome it hurts. My sister’s the hero. Our friend is the sidekick.

Well, this story is a work in progress. And the author isn’t nearly done getting His torture in. So, days go by. Maybe someday I’ll be comfortable in my protagonist role, and be rescuing people from villains right and left. But, my friends, it is not this day. This day, you can find me stuck in my comfortable complacence, dreaming, but too lazy to fulfill those dreams.

I guess I’m just waiting for The Call To Adventure. So, my goal for this year? Live a life that makes a better story!

Happy National Hangover Day, everyone!

Inactivity and Jack Mormons

I have a good friend (isn’t that shocking?) named Scott, who is a Mormon born and raised, like me, but didn’t turn out as well as I did, for all intents and purposes. He’s been trying to be a good boy by our standards, but then he turns around and does things that are considered very serious in our religion. And then he feels the need to tell me about it. Every time. Like I’m the priest and he’s going to confession.

He tells me all those things that I really don’t care about, that I really don’t want to know. Why? Because I’m the best friend he has and I’m his support line, and my support really helps him. No matter how many times I’ve told him I don’t want to hear about his escapades with underage drinking, pot, and sex, he just keeps telling me. He says he wants to get better and be a good LDS person, but he just keeps doing it. When he gets a Sunday off from work, he doesn’t even bother trying to go to church, instead spending the time with his non-Mormon cousin, who is nowhere near a good role model, no matter who you are.

And he’s still turning to me for help when things go wrong.

Now, I’m no saint, either, that’s for certain. My massive pride will be my downfall one day. And I can have a holier-than-thou attitude toward people like Scott, although I would never say that to them. I can’t understand him. I just want him to stop. Whether he stops doing what he’s doing or just stops telling me about it every time I see him, I don’t even care anymore. He doesn’t get it, and he doesn’t want to take any time to try to learn. And here I am, the best friend who’s supposed to sympathize. Not my style. I don’t do sympathy. Someone tells me about their problems, I assume they want a fix, not just someone to sympathize. Sympathy is a stupid reason to tell someone what’s wrong.

And let me tell you, if you’re a Mormon who believes what the church teaches, inactivity (jack Mormonism) is never the answer. I’ve been there. Done that. That was a big part of why my high school life sucked so much. I was dating a non-Mormon guy who didn’t care one whit what I believed, I was stupid enough to think I could change him, I wasn’t going to church or Seminary, or reading my scriptures. And without those things in my life, it turned nasty. Boyfriend dumped me for another girl after only a month, and sister became. . . well, her charming self.

I’m not saying that church, or Mormonism in particular, is an inoculation against opposition. Bad things happen in life. Otherwise, life would be really boring. Religion, in general, is there to make us better for it. We learn from our mistakes. We grow to be better. When crap gets bad, you have God (whoever that may be to you) to fall back on. And sometimes you have exactly what you need to deal with the situation.

Case in point, I read East of Eden for the first time about a week before my sister was arrested. Let me tell you, the character of Aron is a perfect fit for her. Nothing exists in her world unless it is perfect. If I hadn’t read that book at that time, I wouldn’t have seen that. I would still have thought I was the problem.

Call it what you want. Coincidence or divine intervention. Me, I see the hand of God in my life every day. The more I go to church, the more I pray, the more I read my scriptures, the more I see Him. That’s why it’s hard to see so many people, like this friend of mine, not realizing what it took me an inactive ten years to figure out. We need to make room for God in our lives, too.

God Has A Sense of Humor

I’m a literal person, when I decide it’s amusing. You tell me it’s just going to be a second, I’ll respond with, “Time’s up.” You tell me two minutes, I expect two minutes. Bad idea, to ever give me a definite time, if you don’t know for certain.

This drives a friend of mine, Scott, crazy. He’s one of those people who says two seconds when he means fifteen minutes. Which annoys me to no end. And he gets mad at me for telling him to set better time expectations.

Well, I was running low on gas the other day on my way to work, which is a few miles from my house. So, I prayed frantically, saying I’d get gas at lunch. I just needed to make it to work. Please, please, please, please, please.

Made it. No problem. And, at lunch, as promised, I headed for the gas station, praying all the way there that I would make it.

Well, I made it.

Into the driveway—

—then my car died.

I restarted it and managed to pull up to a pump, but the message was clear. I prayed to make it to the gas station, and goshdarnit, I made it to the gas station. And somebody Up There was laughing at me.

So, the next time my friend gets on me for being too literal, you know what I get to say? I learned it from the best! Besides, a humorless God would be boring!