Mormons in Church

As Mormons, we prize intelligence. But we’re also the first to admit we’re nowhere near perfect. Which is great! It leads to some fantastic memories to be made during meetings! Why? Because we assign speakers from the congregation—not just the local church authority!

So, for instance, one time when a girl said, “my friends have been very detrimental to my college experience.” And then she just kept going. Everyone else was quiet, but my Writer Roommates and I were cracking up in the back.

Or, standing up at the pulpit, reading her talk verbatim, a girl says, “I had some really scary health issues. I was scared and afraid.” Or a stake authority (higher up than the local, ward level, but still pretty local): “How grateful it is to be able to talk to you.”

Things like this are why Mormons are laughing during church.

On the first Sunday of the month, we have a testimony meeting, where members will volunteer to get up in front of the congregation and bear their testimony–tell us that they know certain things are true, and why. It can be a really powerful religious experience for us.

However,

One time, when I was a teenager, it was just me and my sister at church during one of those meetings. Behind us sat this little kid with an affinity for blowing raspberries.

So, a stay-at-home mom gets up, and starts talking about how she knows the Church is true, getting rather emotional about it all. How she loves her family. . .

*raspberry*

. . . and her three beautiful children. . .

*raspberry*

. . . and is so grateful to have them in her life. . .

*raspberry.*

That’s one of those things that had me fighting not to crack up. It’s undeniable proof–God has a sense of humor!

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EHS and Lockdown: The Summers of Hell

My mother has always had a thing with trying to separate my sister and I from our friends, all the while assuring us how much more intelligent we are. We weren’t allowed to play with the most popular (aka, richest) girls on the street, after one of them was mean to me one time too often. As a result, all the other girls had to make a choice: and it was made to exclude the crybaby. And, by extension, her longsuffering older sister. Lucky for all of them, though, as the cooler sister she had the brains and guts to sneak out. The crybaby never did. Two awesomes for the price of one, right?

As a kid, I wasn’t used to having many friends, let’s just say. All the girls my age that I knew well enough (a grand total of three) never wanted to be around me. The older girls just took pity on me. Sure, I’m grateful for that pity, but sincerity was always preferable.

I was ten years old when I became friends with one girl I could trust—my best friend to this day. Together, My sister, our friend, and me were an inseparable team. Except how my sister would go to this friend’s house without telling my mom. Or stay out too late with this friend.

This was where the trouble in our newest paradise really started. Mom started being quick to condemn this friend as a greedy little brat, and paint me and my sister as two angels Too Good For This Sinful Earth. Since the greedy little brat was having such a bad influence on her two angels, Mom started forbidding us to see her, except at church activities. That didn’t last too long, though, as I recall.

But, when we started going to school, it got worse. See, my aunt, uncle and cousin had moved into the neighborhood. This aunt is my mother’s sister, who’s a Type A personality you do not want to mess with. You get on her bad side, she is terrifying. Oh, and around her, my mother goes completely (and very unnaturally) passive.

Well, my aunt supposedly overheard our best friend calling my cousin fat. And the crap hit the fan.

Now, first of all, let me point something out. My best friend is pretty overweight. And a nice person by nature. Her saying such a thing about my totally awesome cousin, whom she always liked, is totally implausible. But our protestations amounted to nothing. Even as the excitement of going to school for the first time loomed, my mother was chewing out my best friend and her father. There was a very tense scene in my best friend’s front yard where the three of us had emotional breakdowns while Mom argued with my friend’s dad, about why we were never allowed to see this friend again. But our pleas fell on the deaf ears of a crazy woman. And my sister was sent to school with my cousin, in a different city.

So, the only time they got to see each other, really (since during that time we were forbidden from going over to our friend’s house), was when we had church activities. And when our friend got a license, she would drive us to and from those activities. And she would take long detours so we could just hang out for a few minutes. That certainly didn’t help matters.

But school was an instant love for me. I was practically a straight-A student throughout middle school. I loved learning new things—like about paragraphs and cells.

With my aunt living so close, though, she decided the golden trio (me, my sister and her daughter) needed to work harder, because there was no way our parents could pay for our college. So, the solution was to graduate with our Associate’s Degrees. How were we to do that? Electronic High School during the summer, of course! My sister and my cousin, both being actually in high school, were immediately signed up, of course. Me, I was offered the opportunity.

Now, I could tell that my aunt thought this was a great idea, when she brought it to my attention. But I had my misgivings. I was just out of seventh grade, which I’d only had one semester of. I’d taken in a lot of new information. I couldn’t handle what was in ninth grade classes when I couldn’t even fathom what eighth grade would hold! So, walking on eggshells, I told her very carefully and submissively that I didn’t think it was right for me, and I’d really rather not.

The next day, she returned, literally cornering me and yelling about how I had to do it because I was smart enough, don’t lie to myself. And my dad wasn’t going to pay for college. And I was getting enrolled whether I liked it or not.

It seems so minor. But that day was the day I climbed my favorite apple tree, sitting high in the branches where nobody could see me, and started dragging a sharp piece of apple wood across my skin.

So, much of the summer consisted of going to a computer lab at the local university extension and getting on computers with my sister and cousin. I tried. I really did. I submitted a few assignments for the Earth Systems class. As in, the first two. But when it got to abiotic and biotic factors of the environment, I was completely lost. Besides, next to me on either side, my sister and cousin were playing around on the Internet. Of course, this was a classic thing with me. Everyone else played around while I got stuck with the short end of the stick—like when my sister always snuck out. I wasn’t about to let that crap happen again. So, I also began Internet playing.

But one day, my aunt came along, and sat beside me. Without thinking about it, the first thing I did was check my email. She glanced over at my screen and whispered, “Mac, what are you doing?”

“Checking my email,” I whispered back.

“No. Get to work.”

I blinked, about to say that my sister and cousin had been doing it too, and why was I getting blamed, but looking over at their screens, I saw strictly aunt-appropriate things. Traitors. But I wasn’t about to sink to that level. So I said nothing. I tried to do the work, I really did. But online classrooms are not my environment. I struggled (never making it past those darned abiotic factors) before they finally stopped taking me. Summer passed, and I started eighth grade that fall. I never said it to anyone, but in the back of my mind, I referred to that summer as the Summer of Hell.

While my sister was going to school in another city, I was allowed to go to high school at home. So, I got to go to school with our friend during my freshman year, when she was a junior. It was a great time. After school, she’d sometimes drive me home (again with the long detours), and others we’d go over to her house for a while and play Kingdom Hearts.

But, of course, the good times were not to last. Near the end of the school year, my sister got in trouble for staying out too late with this friend again. And now, my aunt was here to back my mom up. So, they devised the plan to put my sister on “lockdown.” She was sent to live at my aunt’s house (my cousin had moved out by this point), allowed no contact with friends, no computers, no phone, no TV, no music. Only books and school.

And then, my turn came. The last day of freshman year. Nobody taking roll, of course, so my friend, myself and some others decided to have a mini-party at A&W a couple blocks away. We were going to take my friend’s car, until she realized that was what had gotten my sister into so much trouble, so we walked. Had a great time. At the end of the day, I went home and took a nap.

Only to be yelled and shaken awake by my mother, who wouldn’t tell me what was going on, or what I had done wrong, just that I was getting in a car with my aunt.

Enraged with the dim disgruntlement of the half-awake, I grabbed my iPod (music always helps calm me down) and headed outside. I couldn’t argue with my aunt. I was too afraid of her. That’s the kind of woman who will steamroll you if you so much as look at her funny. Except, no sooner had I got out there than the iPod was confiscated. And it was a very quiet drive to her house.

There, I was told it was my turn on “lockdown.” Because I had been accepting rides from my friend when I wasn’t supposed to. And I had gone out with my friends, leaving the school grounds, without telling my mother. (Who had, actually, confiscated my cell phone when hers was broken a few months previously.) Never mind that I didn’t have her number memorized and didn’t know how to contact her without my cell phone. Or that I didn’t even think about it. My aunt assured me that yes, I did think about it, and I did deliberately spite my mother. No matter how much I protested my relative innocence in tears, I was assured of my damnation. And, realizing I was trying to break down a concrete wall, after that I just stopped talking. I listened silently as I was informed that I would not be going back to the local high school, but separated from my evil friend, and sent to the same high school as my sister. I cried myself to sleep, still trying to figure out what in the world I had really done.

Thankfully, the next day, I was taken to the library and told I could get one book. The Wizard Heir by Cinda Williams Chima, as I fondly recall. That book was my escape—my refuge from the madness of real life. I spent all day reading it until my parents came to pick me up, out of the blue.

Of course, I still didn’t have a cell phone. And I didn’t have computer access, as I was still on a less strict lockdown. So, I was cut off from all the friends I’d made once more with one brutal stroke. Most of them, I haven’t seen since that day.

And that fall, I started at a new school. Discovered the escape to be found in working at the local haunted house—an outlet for my issues. Developed the Mormon Goth persona, so there would be no more crying protestations against what I was considered too young to understand. I learned my lesson. Shut up and take it. Suck it up and deal with it. You can’t fight crazy with tears. You fight it by yelling louder. Drowning them out.

So yes, I do have social issues. I don’t tell people what I’m really thinking or feeling, most of the time. I’ve worked very hard to separate myself from feelings. That way, it doesn’t hurt as much when I’m second-best to yet another person. When I’m invisible. When I’m treated unfairly.

It took me a while, but I realized the Summers of Hell were plural. More than I could consciously remember, with all Mom had put us through over the years.

Hi, my pseudonym is Mac, and I’m a Mormon. Believe it or not, my life in a “good Mormon family” was my own hell.

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.

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!

Holiday Cheer. . . or something like that

Twilight Zone logo

Dysfunctional family during the holidays? Play the theme song!

Sometimes there will be those days—days where my family pretends to be a normal, happy, loving family. They’re called holidays. Oh, we’re a fine bunch, spending Thanksgiving at the empty house where my sister is staying. Traditional down to the cranberry sauce. And then you think, this isn’t my life. It’s too foreign—like an episode of The Twilight Zone. Invasion of the Body Snatchers. My family is anything but traditional. We hardly know what a table is for!

This, I think, is where my hatred of holidays comes from. The only one I proudly participate in these days is Halloween, and that’s because Halloween means horror—fear. All things quirky, weird and dysfunctional. Thanksgiving and Christmas, on the other hand, are two of the worst offenders. You try to pretend to be a positive, happy family. Shove all the problems under the rug for a while. Me, I can’t stand that. It’s just putting on masks and pretending, and every store in the area lives for it. It’s all so commercial. They know we long for those happy families that really don’t exist, and they ruthlessly play to our weaknesses for all they’ve got. You can have a happy family if you do this.

I’m so sick of playing house.

Thanksgiving and Christmas are for the fakers. New Year’s is an excuse to throw wild parties. Valentine’s is for the mushy romantics. St. Patrick’s day—the sum of all evil on my list—is for the idiots. Easter for the Christians and family enthusiasts. Mother’s and Father’s day for the family enthusiasts to ignore all the crap their parents ever did to them. Independence Day for family enthusiasts and red-blooded American nationalists. And Halloween—it’s for the dysfunctional screw-ups like me: the freaks and the loners.

So over Thanksgiving, while around the country people were sitting around with their friends and families and having a fantastic time, and others were wishing they could, there I was, sitting in a dark corner of a stranger’s house, wishing I didn’t have to play the charade.

Now, with Christmas on the horizon and the stupid Christmas music becoming practically unavoidable, I’m dreading a repeat. Out comes the rug again, just waiting to be put to good use. This time, though, at least we’ll all be at my apartment, where there won’t be the awkwardness of a strange house. Even better? I’m working that day! It’ll cut down on all the cloying, saccharine-flavored bull crap I have to put up with this year.

Today in church we had a special Christmas program, where a few families sang some Christmas songs, and talked about how lonely we college students who weren’t going home for Christmas must be, because Christmas is a time for family, etc, etc, etc. It’s a time for being together, and being grateful for what we have. They all talked about how grateful they were to have such an awesome family, and singing about how there is beauty all around when there’s love at home.

It’s moments like these which can cut the people like me to the core. Those of us who maybe don’t have parents kind and dear. Who look at our own homes and think, there’s no love spoken here. Those of us who got lost at the dysfunction junction so long ago that we don’t know the way back. What are holidays but a reminder of what we’re missing?

To those of you out there who are like me, I wish you the best. Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and so on. Enjoy this time in whatever way you see fit. If you don’t have a family you can spend this time with, remember that family doesn’t need to be defined by blood. Do what it takes, but happiness, joy, and peace to you all.