Friday, August 28, 2009

Julie & Julia & Joseph

Warning: Minor Spoilers, and a blog post that will be a little unclear if you haven't seen the movie.

I just saw Julie & Julia. A cute movie, I thought. Like many experiences in life, this made me think about my Mormon journey.

As the movie progresses, Julie models her life after Julia Childs. She sees her as an inspiration to be a better person in all aspects of life, not just in the kitchen. Julia becomes a hero to Julie through her writings (collections of letters, primarily).

This admiration is suddenly thrown in jeopardy when Julie learns that the real-life Julia doesn't like her blog at all. All along she had fantasized about Julia reading her blog, but now she learns that Julia doesn't even like her. She is traumatized as her imagined Julia collides violently with the real Julia.

Ultimately she works through this, as she realizes that the Julia in her mind has helped her life, even if the real Julia was a bit of a disappointment

I think Joseph Smith could be considered in this way. As a child I lionized him, but as I learned about his indiscetions and poor choices later in life that sheen wore off. But is there something good he can still represent? I think this is dangerous if someone is alive, as they might use that aura of perfection inappropriately, but if someone wants to use Joseph Smith (or Lincoln or Gandhi or Reagan or Kennedy) as a deceased idol, how is that harmful?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Leaving the church, but not really...

I posted this idea on NOM, and people seemed to like it, so I'm putting it here for posterity.

Ever wish you could really just get away from church visitors but don't want to officially remove your name? Moving soon? Here's a "permanent" solution I came up with (but haven't tested). It only requires a little white lie.

Here's my (only slightly unethical) suggestion based on my knowledge of church IT systems and practices. First, move to a new ward. Don't give a forwarding address. Eventually the church WILL track you down. When that happens, eventually someone from the local unit, probably the missionaries, will come to see if the address is legitimate.

Now for the finger-crossing part.

Tell them that they are looking for the former residents, who, as it happens, recently moved. Then--and this is where the magic happens--give them a "real" forwarding address. In the middle of nowhere. Preferably in a foreign country, but a US address is probably more likely to make it back through the clerk without a hiccup. Use to find a spot In Montana or Alaska (or northern Canada?) that is literally 4+ hours from a meeting house. You'll be safe until someone from that unit tries to find you, which will honestly probably be never. Thus your record will be considered "located," and they will never track you down again.

I might start with a foreign address--in Iran.

They may send you a letter after you move (rather than the missionaries), in which case you could just send a letter back to the sender explaining the same story.

Little bit of a lie, but I love messing with systems. You could show up and make an apology (without mentioning your name) to the local bishop, if it made you feel better, but only after waiting another 18-24 months.

Monday, October 6, 2008


Last week my wife and I had a very long talk about where I stand on the church. I haven't really come across anything in the last few years to make me think its claims of moral and authoritative superiority are true, and she, despite disagreeing with the recent actions against homosexuals and other issues, continues to fall back on "but it's true." We're both even-tempered, so while these can be animated, passionate discussions, they're (happily) not real fights.

Nonetheless, this one left me particularly frustrated. Perhaps because it's been such a long time since our last one.

The next night she said, "If you don't want to go to church you don't have to."

Wow. I never thought that that day would come. My mind raced--was this my one chance at "freedom?". Was I looking at a once-in-a-lifetime chance to escape from endless, mind-numbing Sundays? The door to my prison left ajar by a thoughtless guard?


"Yes. I don't want to be a controlling wife or anything."

I took one last look out of the prison door and turned back.

"I want to be where my family is. I'll keep coming with you."

What can I say? I know my attendance makes her happy, even though I complain to her about all the crap that gets taught. And I see so little of my kids, I'd rather play quietly with them in Sacrament Meeting (or in the foyer!) than stay at home.

Strange, really. I feel like some progress has been made, even though nothing's changing outwardly. One never knows what to expect, here on the middle way. But I was careful not to lock the door when I closed it behind me.

Monday, May 12, 2008

NOM Movie Review

Last night I watched My Kid Could Paint That. I highly recommend it to people who've found a way out of a prior belief system. Watching the progression of the film maker, both in the movie and in the DVD feature Back to Binghamton. It's fascinating to see the human drama of preconceived notion collide with raw data, then to watch some people cling to beliefs in the face of that evidence, while others begin to question and doubt their fundamental assumptions. It's clear that it caused the narrator an all-too-familiar internal turmoil.

When I first set out on my journey from belief to agnosticism (or, more candidly, outright disbelief) toward Mormon teachings, I felt very alone. It was as if I was struggling in a darkness that surely no one had been through before, save the "offended or unworthy." Having done considerable reading on religiosity since then (and even in seeing movies like this one) I find it fascinating that my experience is, essentially, a core part of the human experience. That many people go through these wrenching changes and emerge with added light and knowledge on the other side.

So then, tally ho!

Monday, March 3, 2008

Do I come out or not

I recently discovered a fellow ward member on NOM.  This was somewhat exhilarating, because even though I knew he was redefining his relationship with the church, I am completely "in the closet" in my ward; yet I could now interact with a local fellow member without blowing my cover.  Mind you, in real life people see me wearing non-white shirts and such, and I certainly make nontraditional comments, but I still go to most meetings.  And have a very "high" calling in the ward.  I've been debating "outing" myself to this guy for some time, but I'm not really sure how that would play out.  Given the negative reaction that often follows overt questioning, I'm interested in carefully controlling how much information I share with people who are basically acquaintances (i.e. fellow ward members).  Ah, life in the liminal lane!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Monday Night Services

I sing in an amateur choir, which my wife and I auditioned for about a year ago. I've never really done anything like it before, and, frankly, I'm a little out of my league surrounded by so many experienced singers. But I really enjoy the weekly chance to step out of the daily punishments of life and just create beautiful music.

We've just started working up our spring repertoire, and one of the pieces we're doing is Morten Lauridsen's Sure On This Shining Night. I have a hard time singing this, even though it's still in "practice mode" (I can only imagine where we'll be in two months!) because it is so spiritually moving to me. I literally choke up at certain points. Yet the lyrics are completely secular, based on the poem by James Agee--

Sure on this shining night
Of star-made shadows round
Kindness must watch for me
This side the ground

The late year lies down the north,
All is healed, all is health
High summer holds the earth,
Hearts all whole

Sure on this shining night
I weep for wonder
Wandring far alone
Of shadows on the stars.

I don't have a good place to recommend for a professional recording of this, but YouTube has a pretty good recording of a Taiwanese group performing it. It doesn't do it justice compared to performing it, but I just find this a truly beautiful piece of poetry and music.

When my Sunday's leave me feeling frustrated and generally unfulfilled, it's nice to know I communion with God (to the extent an agnostic can) every Monday.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

More Musings on Racism

I just had the chance to spend lots of quality time with my devout in-laws for the holidays. I love them a lot. They are great people. The parents know my current views on the church, but the siblings do not (although I come off as very heretical to them, I'm sure). We talked about lots of things, both religious and secular. Here's what I learned in one poignant conversation that flowed from a discussion of presidential contenders:

1. Oprah Winfrey is anti-Mormon,
2. the church was never racist (but it's complicated to explain that to journalists), and
3. suggesting that the church may have been mistaken prior to 1978 is disloyal (and therefore bad).

Have to admit, I felt like #1 came out of left field. After establishing that there was no good evidence for the assertion, I suggested that if it were true, it might be because she's black, and the church has a less-than-stellar record with its teachings on race. That led to the next two observations. At that point, tension building, we changed the subject.

These two observations by my family really bothered me because I've been thinking a lot about the recent article in the Wall Street Journal on racism in the church. Since the article came out last Friday, I have been increasingly agitated by the continued belief among the vast majority of Mormons that racism was okay prior to 1978 (or that whites withholding power from blacks, when so directed by God, is not racism). I even had a dream on Friday night that I was acting as a racist, even as I found my behavior offensive at the same time. Not a pleasant dream (particularly as it led to violence against me) but a clear reflection of how I am thinking about this issue these days.

I'm as close as I've ever been to writing a letter to a particular apostle who I understand actually reads his mail (rather than sending it back to a bishop or SP). I just feel that my integrity is demanding that I implore the leaders of the church to see the evil that is perpetuated by not officially forsaking pre-1978 "doctrine." Not that I expect the church to apologize on account of my humble letter, but then I can at least say that I've done something to further what I believe to be the best course of action for the sake of the many members whom I love.