Countdown to Halloween (part 2)

Story 2:

Here’s a story about an encounter with the adversary that I think I heard firsthand from the one who experienced it. It’s been a long time and I’m sure my memory is imperfect, but this is how I remember it. It’s notable in being weird, but consistent with what we know about possession.

“Rural Brazilians seemed to be influenced easily and often by evil spirits. Those who practiced Candombl or other spiritualist religions even invited possession in their rituals. One missionary told me of his experience when he was asked with his companion to cast out an evil spirit. They were shown a woman, apparently possessed, storming about in a fit of rage, cursing everyone in sight. As the elders approached her, she surprised them by angrily abusing them in English, her speech evidently being dictated by the evil spirit, as she had no knowledge of any language but her own. The elders commanded the adversary to depart from her, which he did.”

Gregory C. Allred — Brazilian South Mission 1969-1970

Countdown to Halloween: The Devil is making me do this… (part 1)

For some reason, the Devil thinks it’s funny to put Halloween on a Sunday. Maybe it’s because he always tries to imitate the Lord, so he enjoys putting his Satanic substitute for Christmas on the week’s most holy day. Maybe it’s because he wants to make the point that he is behind every worldly mask of every worldly person we meet, constantly watching and waiting to see whether or not we live up to every covenant we have made, hoping that we will slip up and fall into his power. Or maybe it’s just because he likes making little Mormon kids’ sad when their parents say there is no trick-or-treating this year. But either way you slice it, this year is another one of the Devil’s devilishly devilish satanic sabbath years, and he is literally laughing his ass off.

So, with Halloween just one week away, I promise to provide you, dear readers, with one spooky Mormon missionary story per day. These are stories that were sent to me many years ago when I ran a website dedicated to missionary folklore. Enjoy! (but most of all… BEWARE!)

When I was in the MTC, on my way to Japan, my companion and I were “District Leaders” over another group of new missionaries. One night we went to their study class to see how they were doing. One missionary was missing. I asked his comp where he was. He replied that he was back in his room praying. We went back to our own class room and forgot about the elder.

Then, just before 9:00pm, we went back to the new missionaries room only to find the missing elder still missing. His comp said he was STILL praying. That night at exactly 12:00 midnight came a loud knock on our door. We opened it to find the missing elder’s companion and one other elder. “We need your help…something is wrong with Elder so-and-so.”

We dressed quickly and went to their room. We found the elder standing up, stiff as a board, with a glazed look over his eyes. “Take me to the Temple President, Now!” he demanded. We decided to walk him up to the front desk of the MTC.

On the way there he began to speak in a strange language (not the one we were learning in the MTC). We were scared to death! When we finaly got to the front desk we had the receptionist call our Branch President. We then sat the elder on the couch and gave him a blessing, casting out all demons. The elder returned to normal and said he was sorry etc.

However, this only lasted for about 5 minutes. He then went back to his demonic look and personality. He demanded to see the Temple President again and tried to walk out the front doors. We had to physically restrain him.

Finally the Branch President showed up and took him into his office (about 1:00 a.m. by this time). We all waited out in the lobby. Finally the Branch pres came out and invited us in. He told us that the Elder had prayed hard to see Jesus. The harder he prayed the closer he thought he was getting to meeting Jesus. What he didn’t know was that he was inviting an evil spirit. The Branch Pres cast out the spirit and had the elder sent home. He told us to never talk about this experience while we were on our missions and especially while were still in the MTC.

Rob Adamson — April 09, 1997

Pornography, Priesthood, and Barry Manilow

**** This post contains some elicit language and disturbing mental images — but nothing that has not been taught in at least one Elder’s Quorum lesson on Pornography — continue at your own discretion***

Several years ago I had the Elders’ Quorum lesson of a lifetime.  Our instructor was a convert of about 3 years, and he was in the military. I tell you this so that you will understand why he thought the “shock and awe” approach was the best one to take.  He also had not been fully aculturated to understand the subtle and not-so-subtle nuances of what is and is not appropriate to say out loud (or perhaps to even think quietly and keep to yourself).  So for the sake of everyone’s edification, I would like to humbly share with you today some recommendations on what is — and is not — an appropriate way to teach about this filthy and disgusting cancer on society within the hallowed (and sometimes annoyingly fuzzy) walls of a Mormon Meetinghouse.

———-

APPROPRIATE:
“In today’s day an age with the internet, pornography is more pervasive than ever. It is a filthy and disgusting cancer on society.”

NOT APPROPRIATE:
“The internet is a son of a bitch. If you want to look something up, all you have to do is Google “15-year-old girls covered in semen” and BOOM — there it is.”

———-

APPROPRIATE:
“Viewing pornography can lead to self abuse. Imagine that you all have a little factory…”

NOT APPROPRIATE:
“And don’t think for a minute that if you are sitting there alone at night looking at porn that you aren’t also doing something else. Come on… you all know what I’m talking about [insert explicit hand gestures here].”

———-

APPROPRIATE:
Ok ok… Perhaps it is alright to use a reverently explicit hand gesture, but only if the gesture is brief and understated and ends within the count of two.

NOT APPROPRIATE:
But it’s not OK if the hand gesture goes on for 30 seconds or longer while you eyeball each and every Elder in the room and accompany it with facial expressions or sounds of any kind.

———-

APPROPRIATE:
“So come on bretheren, this is a serious topic and is more common than you might think. What do you all think about this?”

NOT APPROPRIATE:
“Hey, Glenn. You’re sitting there in the back snickering with your arms crossed. You know, crossing your arms is an indication that you’re feeling guilty and that you have something to hide. So spill it.”

———-

APPROPRIATE:
“Many people have serious problems with pornography. It ruins relationships and destroys marriages.”

NOT APPROPRIATE:
“You all know that Richard and his wife are divorcing, right? Well now you know why.”

———-

APPROPRIATE:
“Pornographic images can come between the intimacy that should be reserved just for yourself and your wife.”

NOT APPROPRIATE:
“When you are choking the chicken all the time, you can actually get to a point where you lose feeling in your penis. This actually happened to me with my first wife — and I could never explain to her why this had happened. I tried to hide it from her, but she could see there was something wrong. And when I went to the doctor, he said there was nothing he could do. I had just looked at so much porn and had jerked off so often that I just lost all feeling in my penis — and trust me, you don’t ever want to lose the feeling in your penis.”

———-

Also, if you are ever in a lesson like this, do not approach your friends afterwards and say “hey guys, we totally need to debrief.”

In conclusion, I want to say thank you to this former Elder’s quorum instructor for delivering the most shocking, entertaining, and memorable Elder’s Quorum lesson ever — it even beats the Fandango hand puppets lesson by the guy who didn’t really prepare any message at all.  

And finally, after reading this, I dare any of you to go listen to Barry Manilow’s “Trying to get That Feeling Again” without thinking about this guy’s dilemma and snickering.

Here’s the link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XfH5St48fH0

Cousin A

I have a cousin (one of nearly a hundred), I’ll call her Cousin A.  She is not near to me in age or experience.  For most of my life I have thought of her, if I thought of her, as a rather sheltered, shallow little girl.  She married young — to her just-home-from-his-mission high school sweetheart — when she was just barely out of high school.  In the years that followed I heard about her now and then . . . the wife of a medical student, mother of a growing family, always cute and always stylish (in a Utah kind of way).  She seemed to be all the things I imagined a good, inexperienced, Mormon girl from Kaysville would be.  To be honest, I was a bit jealous.  She was what I thought I ought to be.  Until the day my mother told me that Cousin A had been hospitalized.  She had tried to cut her own finger off.

In one moment, this cousin whom I had always dismissed as just another perfect Utah Mormon leapt to life in my mind as a flesh and blood, complicated and very human being.  I worried and prayed for her.  My own years-long fight with depression was something I could never wish on another human being.  I pressed my mother for information, which often came to her second or third hand, but I felt this need to know. Thinking of the pain she must have been feeling, and the fear and pain her family — her little children, her husband and parents — would be feeling, broke my heart.

I was on my way to our most recent family reunion when my mother told me.  Cousin A had, in my mother’s words, “decided she was lesbian.”  While my mother spouted theories linking this unexpected announcement to scheming fellow patients in the psych ward where A had been in treatment, I thought about how it must have felt for her to have grown up as a good little Utah Mormon if all the while she was feeling an attraction to other girls around her.  What did it cost her to keep up the facade that I accepted so dismissively?  What kind of self-loathing is necessary to willingly take a knife and try to cut off your own finger?

I thought about this cousin when I listened to Boyd Packer tell members of the LDS church that homosexuality is completely unnatural and that God would never allow someone to be created who just was homosexual.  I wondered how she felt to be told that those feelings, ones she fought so hard that they ripped her apart inside until she took the battle out onto her own skin, were entirely within her control?

I know how I felt.  I felt angry.  I felt sad and hurt.  In President Packer’s formula the solution to all the problems of addiction and sexuality is simple:  The priesthood knows the answer and if you go to your priesthood leader they will provide genuine, even miraculous help.  That, I know, is very often not the case.  Although I have had wonderful relationships with many priesthood leaders — bishops, branch presidents, mission presidents — I have also witnessed the efforts they have made on behalf of people with addictions or other major problems and I what I have seen most often are futile efforts that result only in pain and additional guilt for the people they are trying to help.  I have known individuals who have endured the efforts of one leader after another, to no avail, even when the person in question follows every piece of guidance to the best of their ability.  It is easy to blame that failure on the addict or sinner.  But the claim, made by President Packer, and endorsed by the church, cannot be true if the results of that power rest entirely on the person being helped.

I do not have any desire for the church I was raised in to be wrong.  It would be simpler and nicer for me if they were right.  But the evidence of my eyes, my heart, my spirit and my experience is that President Packer, and the church, is wrong.  History will prove that they are wrong, just as it has in the past.  Meanwhile, the church will go on training girls and boys like Cousin A to fight themselves, no matter what the cost, and families will continue to be broken and individuals will continue to suffer and even die because, in truth, they are what they are and the need for human contact, for affection and connection, sexual and otherwise, is as natural and essential a part of their makeup as it is of ours.  It is easy for one man to tell another that “all he has to do” is to forgo, for the rest of his life, all the joys and comforts of companionship but there is nothing loving or compassionate about that.

Why would God do That?

A few weeks ago, Elder Packer gave a conference talking confronting the issue of homosexuality. Packer believes that sexual orientation is a matter of choice, inspired by temptation, that can be overcome. Dismissing the idea of ingrained sexuality and proposing the possibility of change, Packer poses a key rhetorical question. Packer asks the simple question “why would God do that?” It was likely that Packers intent was to show the absurdity of the idea that humans could be born homosexual because it so interfered with his world view and mankind’s place in that cosmos.

Packer was not the first to ask this difficult question. I am doubtful that Packer was actually grappling with the issue, I think he included the phrase as a self obvious rebuttal of the notion that homosexuality could be something core to one’s biology and not subject to willful altering. But Packer’s unguarded question points to cracks in the tidy world view that some try to frame.

What Packer seemingly unknowingly invoked was the Theodicy, possibly the thorniest issue in the question of God. The Theodicy is the problem of evil. Simply stated, the issue is why a good and benevolent God would create a universe riddled with evil if He had the Choice not to. He is either unable to change it, thus not omnipotent or unwilling to change it, thus not good.

Of course, that problem is from a traditional Christian point of view. For Mormonism, the solution to the problem is entirely different. In the temple, when God questions Satan as to why he persuaded Eve to take the forbidden fruit, he responded that he, Satan, was doing “that which was done in other worlds.” In other words, the pattern of evil and temptation in the world has been repeated anciently in worlds before.

Thus for Mormonism, there isn’t a problem with God creating evil since evil predates God. The Mormon God is not omnipotent in a tradition Christian point of view, since much of existence predates God. Evil existed long before God became God. The implication of all of this is that good never fully triumphs over evil. Evil and good co-exist eternally in the Mormon paradigm.

So to return to Elder Packer’s question, even in the Mormon paradigm God didn’t make homosexuals gay. And he may be powerless to stop it since God cannot ultimately vanquish evil–future devils will do “that which was done in other worlds.” The eternal cycle of good and evil remain in effect.

Of course, homosexuality is not evil. But that and thousands of other tendencies of human nature and the world around demonstrate that the plan of salvation is untenable as a explanation of the universe.

But this doctrinal stand is not all bad. In fact, it might be the way out. The answer to Packer’s question is that God didn’t do it. It is human nature. It doesn’t need to be fixed to redeem God from the Theodicy. If we realize that life is more complicated than simply choosing to either obey or disobey God, we can perhaps find a bit more compassion for humankind, and maybe even for God.

My Father’s Way

My Dad thinks I should keep my recent de-conversion to myself.  He thinks I should close my mouth, go back to church, walk the walk and just be a member, while inside I go on thinking and believing whatever makes me happy.  That is what he does.  I wonder if it isn’t the most Mormon thing about him.

The LDS Church isn’t exactly dishonest.  It is political.

I mean that in the worst way.  The Mormon church is out to make friends and if it has to fudge the facts a bit here or obfuscate the truth a bit over there, well, that seems to be the price of being the ‘true‘ church in a disbelieving world.

A bit of uncomfortable doctrine on the shelves, like eternal progression or polygamy?  Nothing a careful choice of words can’t smooth over.

Consider one example from the Pearl of Great Price Student Manual for the Institute and BYU course Religion 327 (copyright 2000):  On pages 28-29 the manual covers the history of the book of Abraham ending with the story of the discovery and subsequent return to the church of papyri fragments.  No discussion is made of the studies performed on those papyri nor the resulting discovery of a disconnect between what Joseph Smith claimed the papyri said and what we actually know that they said.  What we do get is the following paragraph:

The book of Abraham is an evidence of the inspired calling of the Prophet Joseph     Smith.  It came forth at a time when the study of the ancient Egyptian language     and culture was just beginning.  The scholars of the 1800s had scarcely begun to     explore the field of Egyptology, and yet, with no formal training in ancient     languages and no knowledge of ancient Egypt (except his work with the Book of     Mormon), Joseph Smith began his translation of the ancient manuscripts.

If you read the two paragraphs together you get this implication:  The church has fragments of the papyri and because of that there is evidence of Joseph Smith’s ability as a translator.  Now, to be clear, the manual does not actually say that.  The two paragraphs are separate.  But in the gaps between, in the place where a more honest description would explain that many scholars, LDS and other, have studied the papyri and have found clear evidence that these are the papyri Joseph Smith used, yet no evidence that his “translation” was accurate, that is where this manual lies.

This is just one of many examples of official obfuscation in Church publications and communications.  Meanwhile, the scriptures tell us that the truth sets us free.  But in order for it to set us free we have to know the truth in all its imperfection and complexity.

Which makes me wonder as many have wondered before me:  Why is the Church so afraid of the unwashed truth?

I want to be free and that is why, unlike my father and unlike the Church itself, I am not comfortable tucking my own beliefs safely inside myself.  To me that feels like prison.

The journey out — A small bit about me, Tierza

Way back when I was a student at BYU, right before my mission in 1996, I came upon a quiz you could take to see if you were an interesting person.  Now, understand that I do not consider myself remarkable at all.  You wouldn’t notice me in a crowd.  I just don’t stand out. But when I took that quiz I aced it:  Ever been in a flood? Check!  Survived a volcanic eruption? Check!  Lived in Alaska?  Check!  Endured hurricanes? A tsunami? A hostage crisis?  Had bears try to get in your bedroom?  Had the passengers in the plane behind yours on the runway have to push your plane out of the mud?  Worked in a packing plant for 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, without a day off, for over a month? Check, check, check, check and CHECK!  Of course those last few items weren’t in the quiz itself but once I got going I couldn’t stop.  Never mind that the tsunami was a terrifying 2 and a half inches, nor that the earthquakes happen every day in Alaska and weren’t much of a big deal, nor that the ‘hostage crisis’ was one I shared with almost the entire student body of BYU back in 1992.  I was, at least on paper, interesting after all.

It seems, according to this quiz, that the more dangerous and uncommon your life has been the more interesting you are.  The problem with a quiz like that is that what is uncommon about your life may not be anything you can control:  Most of my adventures took place in Alaska where I lived because my parents chose to live there.  It is also quite likely that what sounds good on paper just wasn’t that exciting in person:  All that dangerous stuff is only makes you interesting if you survive it.

Which is why, in my life, I have mostly avoided the dangerous stuff.  I don’t even like conflict.  I want things to be safe, simple and predictable.  As a teenager I was fond of declaring that I was glad I had been born in the church because I knew that I would never have been converted.  I could never have gone against the opinions of my family and friends to set out, on my own, to follow an uncharted path.  I couldn’t take the disapproval.  Ironically I knew this because I wasn’t really converted to the Church, and I knew I would never have the courage to leave the religion that had defined the lives of my ancestors for five and six generations.

I’m 37 now.  And this year I came out of the disbeliever’s closet.  I quit attending the LDS church.  I told my husband, my bishop and then my father and, eventually, my mother about my decision to stop attending.  It took more courage than I thought I had.  In fact, in the month it took the bishop to release me from my callings as ward chorister, music chairperson, young women’s personal progress leader, and Relief Society teacher, while I felt obliged to keep teaching and leading the music and, of course, attending church, I had a complete emotional breakdown that landed me in the hospital and intensive outpatient therapy.  To leave the church was to risk the emotional connections with every family member and friend that sustain me day to day.  It meant that my introverted and non-thrill-seeker soul would have to step out on the edge, look for connections and identity in places beyond my narrow, lifelong, Mormon identity.

Joyfully, most of my relationships remain intact.  My husband loves and supports me in my journey.  My father and mother are trying to understand and love me.  I still associate with friends from church and, as I try to be honest but kind with them, they are honest and kind to me.  I still fear.  I fear that their kindness is missionary work and not genuine.  I fear my husband with grow tired of me and my new visions of life.  I fear my mother will never be able to think about me without crying.

Mormon Expression Launches a Blog

As anyone who dabbles in any medium of expression knows, that medium is limited. I believe that communication is something that we strive for but never fully realize. Our thoughts get jumbled, our words get garbled and we are generally misunderstood at every turn. Sometimes, it is only through repeated, relentless attempts that we can get our message across. I guess this is why conference is held for 10 hours twice a year.

That is why we are expanding the voice of Mormon Expression to include written blogs. These blogs will not replace the podcast, but should complement support, and possibly contradict the regular recording. On this blog page, I hope to continue the mission of Mormon Expression by expanding the voice of dialogue. On this site, I hope to bring you a variety of voices, opinions and points of view and welcome all to comment and “continue the discussion”.

We are currently looking for a core group of perma-bloggers. If you think you can contribute to the mission of Mormon Expression, than we want you. There are only two requirements, really. You must occasionally have some post that deals with some issue of Mormon faith, culture or practice. Additionally, we do not allow any libel. We honor both faithful and unfaithful voices. If you would like to be a part of this, please email john@mormonexpression.com a paragraph explaining why you should be a part of the family and point me to some writing sample.

We will also accept guest bloggers. If you have something you want to write, send it to me and we will try to get it posted.