Friday, November 29, 2013

Legacy - Joseph Smith's witness


I'm sure all you Utah folks remember the days when going to Temple Square to see the film Legacy: A Mormon Journey was the bomb. Those days were called the '90s and they're over. Now we get to watch it on YouTube without going anywhere. On my mission I watched a dubbed version, which we pushed on just about any investigator who was willing to come to the church to watch it.

I loved this movie despite myself. I knew it was cornier than Midwestern ag, but I loved watching the main character convert, contribute to building up the kingdom, get the dame, lose her for the cause of duty, and return to her in Utah with honor. He was the perfect investigator, the perfect convert, the perfect Mormon, the purest Mormon, and I couldn't help but love him for it.


There was, however one thing that bugged me: Joseph Smith's final testimony about seeing Jesus. It felt fake. I know, I know, he's an actor (who happened to look and sound like he could have been a gay Chris Sarandon), not the real Joseph Smith, but he did write those words and therein lay the problem. They sounded phony. They sounded contrived and forced and unbelievable and maybe even deceptive. I didn't like to admit it to myself, but that line was always my least favorite part of the film because it somehow gave credence to the crazy notion that Joseph Smith was a fraud and not a prophet of God.

Wasn't this supposed to be the big testimony-making moment of the film? Why did I feel it threw mine into question?

Special Witnesses of Christ


I loved the Church film Special Witnesses of Christ while on my mission. This film was totally heavy shit that the peoples of the world needed to brace themselves for. The men in the film were the awesomest dudes on the face of the planet who enjoy amazingly close relationships with the big JC! They took orders from HIM! And here they are on film bearing their "special witnesses" of Christ's reality. Do you know what "special witness" means? I think it's supposed to mean that you've seen Jesus - that you're so badass he's actually paid you a visit. You know what "apostolic testimony" means? I think it means that you've been hand selected as one of his top twelve (or fifteen). Whatever it means, I know it doesn't mean you have the same vague hope that Jesus was really the Son of God that your average member has.

Okay, so I mostly loved it. I have to admit I found a lot of it unsatisfying and particularly troubling. Why? These special witnesses don't say much at all despite having over an hour to do so. They just regurgitate Bible speak and Bible stories and Jesus "facts", but they don't actually give us anything personal that might actually be called a testimony or witness. There is nothing special about what they say

Why are they holding back? Why don't they give us some personal Jesus story for us to ponder? Why don't they elaborate on their relationship with the Savior of the World? Why does this film not live up to its title at all? I watched this so many times, each time looking for an apostle in these men. I wanted to see it. I already believed it was there. Why couldn't I see it?

Could it be that they have no real "witness"? Is their testimony as banal as everyone else's? Are they just spewing lame scripted shit because they have nothing authentic to say?

Scarcity of prophecy


Curious people would ask missionary me "So you have a living prophet who speaks with Jesus? Great! What has Jesus asked your prophet to share with us? What prophecies has the prophet given us?"

My typical response was that the inquirer should have us over so we could talk about it, or that he or she should come sit in on a session of General Conference, or that we had a great video we could show them, but in my heart of hearts I was a little worried. I knew as well as anyone that not only were the prophets and apostles vague as shit when it came to new information for the entire Church membership, but also that actual revelations and contact with heavenly beings had grown pretty scarce.

Angel wrestling, once an important prophetic activity. Joseph Smith got to sword fight.

I thought we needed these guys more than ever, so why do they not live up to their office? It seems they could magnify their callings a bit. Dare I wonder if our dear leaders actually talk to Jesus, the head of the Church, simply because they never tell me what's on Jesus' mind?

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Vagueness of prophesy


I always loved how hard the Big Fifteen emphasized being "PROPHETS, SEERS, AND REVELATORS". The world needed to know it! God's hand-picked team was running our show! The problem is I began feeling uncomfortable when it came to understanding what they were prophesying, seeing, and revealing. I couldn't really pick out their prophecies, visions, and revelations. In the mid-'90s they gave us the "The Family: A Proclamation to the World", but I've already mentioned how unhelpful that piece of work was...

Maybe God has run out of things to say. Or maybe I'm just crazy. Tommy's always blasting God's children with details of the future, right?

"Let me tell you about when I was just a mere deacon - oh, you've heard that one!
How about a story about when I was in the military?..."

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Abortion

Very much in line with conservative politics in the United States, most Mormons in the US are anti-abortion. Abortion is a very sad thing and the majority of women and couples who decide to have one typically do so with great reluctance and much deliberation.


One of the major topics of debate in the issue of abortion concerns our understanding of when life begins. Typically you either side with the "life begins at conception" team or the "life begins at birth" team. It's a sticky subject, to say the least. Your traditional Mormon take on things is that the zygote or embryo or fetus you have growing was predestined to come to Earth to have a body. There is a soul waiting for that body to slip out of the uterus and into the world so that soul can then take its place in the grand Plan of Salvation. Mormons would never want to rob a soul of its Earth body!

However I read something in the Book of Mormon that made me think Mormons shouldn't be all too worried about the souls of aborted fetuses. It's a nice little moment in 3 Nephi. The believers are about to be killed by the wicked because the sign of Christ's birth (the star) hasn't shown up yet and Nephi (no, not that Nephi) is so worried he prays for the protection of the believers. And guess what happens! The voice of the Lord (a.k.a. Jesus Christ, the dude who's about to be born into the world) bears Nephi tidings of great joy!


How the hell would Jesus have spoken to Nephi if his spirit were lodged inside the little fetus in Mary's uterus on the verge of being born? I looks like life just might begin at birth according to Mormon scripture... What's a boy to think?

If you wonder what the Bible has to say about abortion you might want to watch this Betty Bowers video:



The Primitive Church


Mormons are so proud to claim they have the same church that Jesus started way back in the day. I was told my whole life that God had restored his church through Joseph Smith so that everything was accounted for - all the ordinances, all the teachings, all the offices, all the miracles. We Mormons had the whole package and everyone else was just clutching at straws.

But it didn't take much observation to realize we had kind of fucked with things a bit. For starters, where did the two counselors in the First Presidency come from? That shit ain't biblical. And what happened to the prophetesses? I think I read about a prophetess or two in the Bible.

So hang on. Do our church people do what the biblical people did? It's easy enough to look up what these Primitive Church people were likely all about.

Deacon/deaconess - a servant, helper, underling
Teacher - a title for Jesus
Priest - Old Testament office
Elder - a bishop
High priest - the head priest in a group of priests
Bishop - Jesus and later the elders
Counselor - a legal, political position
Stake President - NA
High Councilman - NA
Area Authority - NA
Seventy (Evangelist) - anyone sharing the Gospel
Apostle - a delegate, i.e. a missionary
Prophet - so Old Testament
Prophetess - an inspired poetic woman

This doesn't really sound anything like Mormonism, it sounds kind of old and out of date. Are we sure we're the same church that Jesus established? I'm kind of having some doubts.

Aaronic Priesthood duties


Not that this was a major cause for concern, but I recall being a little confused when, as an Aaronic Priesthood-holder, my quorums would have lessons about our duties in which we would research them in the Doctrine & Covenants. Section 20 spells things out quite clearly from the office of apostle (not an Aaronic Priesthood office) on down to deacon.

Apostles - ARE ELDERS, they are called to baptize, ordain others to Priesthood office, administer the sacrament, perform membership confirmations, teach, watch over the church, and lead all meetings.
Reality - apostles are high priests who wear dark suits and sit in on board meetings; twice a year they give a boring talk.


Priests - preach, teach, baptize, administer the sacrament, visit each house to tell them to pray out loud and to fulfill their family duties, ordain other priests and lesser offices, assist the elders, and take charge of the meetings when the elders aren't around.
Reality - priests stumble through a couple of written sacrament prayers once a week, baptize their younger siblings sometimes, and occasionally stand in with the Melchizedek Priesthood-holders when they ordain someone to an Aaronic Priesthood office.


Teachers - keep watch over the church, strengthen the members, make sure the members are behaving themselves, make sure the members gather for meetings often, and take over when there's not an elder or priest present, expounding, exhorting, etc., but not baptizing or administering the sacrament.
Reality - teachers go to church a little bit earlier than everyone else so they can fill the sacrament cups with water, put bread on the bread trays, usher, and clean up the sacrament table.


Deacons - help the teachers out, expound, exhort, etc., but no baptizing anyone or administering the sacrament.
Reality - pass the sacrament and maybe be the bishop's little messenger.


It was hard not to notice that there were a lot of things we were supposed to do but weren't being held accountable for. It was also evident that there were things we did that weren't listed as our responsibilities.

Who cares? It doesn't matter! That was all 1830 stuff anyway when the Church was small. We've grown, the duties of each office have been modified through need. Just be a good kid and don't do anything wrong, OK?

Sure, no problem. Oh, hey, where in the Doctrine & Covenants can I find the revelations that changed my Aaronic Priesthood duties?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Environmentalism and conservationism

Despite Mormonism teaching that we humans are the stewards of the Earth, most Mormons (especially leaders*) say fuck all about being more responsible when it comes to the environment. Mormons are about growth, they're about big houses with big yards (in the middle of the desert) for big families, they're about big profits to pay for big houses and big families who can pay the Church with big tithing checks. Utah Mormons especially tend to be politically conservative and extremely critical of troublemakers like hippies and tree-huggers and just about any environmentalist type.


I remember having numerous arguments with fellow Mormons about how members should be much more concerned about the environment than they are and each time the Mormon argument came down to something like this:

"Well the world has to get worse before it gets better and besides Jesus will set things straight at the Second Coming." In other words, let's not worry about it.

Setting the tone for less-than-environmentally-conscious landscaping.

I knew it was coming every time, and it only made me more and more pissed off. How could I be part of a group that thinks like this? How could the Creator of the world be leading these people? I have to confess it made me doubt.

*Only this year, after some asshole youth leaders from Highland, Utah toppled a rock formation in Goblin Valley State Park, did the Church finally make a statement in favor of conservationism.

The Apocalypse - a baptism by fire


In my study of the Bible I learned, thanks to the Church Institute manuals, that one reason why it was so important that the Earth literally be literally baptized by immersion by the Flood was because the Earth needed that ordinance in order to receive the Holy Ghost. This later ordinance would take place just before the Second Coming during the Apocalypse, when the entire Earth would be literally burned with fire and literally purified.


This information was a little hard to swallow for me. Really? The Apocalypse is the Refiner's fire? The entire world needs to burn LITERALLY, NOT SYMBOLICALLY? I swear I had never heard this silliness before in my life. Is it not obvious what a bad idea that would be? All that smoke and ash will be a very serious problem. Besides isn't it going to be bad enough with the Four Horsemen running around? Do we really need a global fire? Mormon's don't really believe this, right? At least not any more, I hope.


Libido

Sexuality in the Church is double-edged sword - it's the most beautiful-est, spiritual-est, godliest power we have (WE HAVE THE POWER TO CREATE!) as well as the most base-est, evil-est, vilest of sins that hopefully will not land us in prison or Outer Darkness.


My discovery of masturbation came about largely as a result of trying to defy my sexuality. The Church had taught me to avoid arousal and sexual curiosity from the youngest of ages, so it's a little ironic that it was in my attempts to keep my erections under control that I discovered certain pleasurable sensations. Pushing my penis down caused it to rub gently against the inside of my underwear. Trying to pin it between my legs resulted in it slipping out from between my thighs and popping right back up. Both of these things felt pretty good, so I found myself at a loss. Do I try to make my erections go away or just let them rage?

I didn't masturbate to the point of ejaculation until I was probably 15. I hated myself. I went to God in prayer ashamed, hoping and praying that God would forgive me. I was exposed to some pornography at age 15 as well. I found it to be horrible beyond my imagination*. For the next eight years I regretted ever having seen those pictures and blamed them for my interest in naked women, and yet I couldn't help but glance at the bra section in the Sunday ads or the babes in the poster section of whatever box store.

A poster I remember catching my eye from back in the day.

Why had God made me so interested in women? Why had God given me such an insatiable urge only to tell me it was wrong? I was not comforted by the statistics stating that nine out of ten males masturbate. I didn't care what the rest of the world was doing, I wanted to do what God wanted me to do.

I did not have a serious masturbation problem. I wasn't one of those kids who has to tie his hands to the bedpost or go to the doctor for an embarrassing visit. I could resist fairly well. But then I'd hit a certain limit and have to get it over with.

Why wasn't God helping me "overcome" this horrible behavior? I was putting in the work and doing everything the Church instructed young boys like me to do (which resulted in me masturbating to the tune of a hymn more than once).

"I plead with you... start the repentance process now!" Rich Scott

I know this is the kind of thing active members like to jump on when it comes to people who have lost their faith. "Ah ha! You were sinning after all! That's how you lost your testimony!" Of course, that's not how it happened. I was doing everything right. I confessed to the bishop when I had to confess. I stopped preparing and blessing the sacrament when I "relapsed". I held everything the Church taught in the highest regard and feared constantly for the well being of my eternal soul. I was as Mormon as anyone I knew, but this sex drive thing really got me wondering if God was on my side or not.

* What disturbed me so much was a series of pictures of two women performing cunnilingus on a third. (Most of everything else I saw was basically just boobs with very distinct tan lines.) I was totally grossed out. Once just before my mission, and still in a state of general ignorance, I argued with a real porn affectionado on the unpleasant appearance of vaginas. I did not dissuade him. Even years later I was not all too interested in seeing anyone's labia, or butt for that matter, I just wanted boobs. I miraculously managed to keep my curiosities above the belly button. I guess my prayers were doing something for me after all.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Resurrection


This doubt takes me back many, many years to when I was in elementary school. I remember learning about how the atoms that make up our body are in constant flux and are constantly being replaced. Physically our bodies are not the same matter for even a single year and are almost completely composed of entirely new atoms in just over a year. The way I understood this was that my body was never really my body. I have no permanent body.


So I had to wonder what exactly gets to be called me and resurrected. I remember thinking about this almost every time I passed a cemetery. What's left of these physical bodies? What atoms count as their bodies? How is it that those atoms will reunite to reform the living, perfected body?


It wasn't long before I concluded that it didn't matter which atoms made up our body and that upon being resurrected the necessary elements would magically be whisked and whirled together to form our perfect body basically like Beast's transformation at the end of Disney's Beauty and the Beast. It was going to be awesome!


You might be wondering how I doubted the mechanics of resurrection rather than the idea of the dead coming back to life. What can I say? I was truly a child of faith.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Celestial Kingdom

Remember how Mormonism is so great because it answers those three really important questions: "Where do I come from?", "Why am I here?", and "Where am I going?"??? Thank God we have such awesome answers to share with the World because that whole Christian thing about there being no Pre-Earth Life and the Afterlife being either Heaven or Hell just didn't make any sense at all!


Mormons have answers! We know what to expect! That's why early on in my mission I really wanted to develop a seriously kick-ass spiritual thought about what's really in heaven to share with our many English class students who would come to the Church twice a week for free lessons.


We've got the three kingdom thing going on so Heaven's totally fair for everyone. Plus! if you make it to the Celestial Kingdom you get to learn and progress on into the eternities! WITH YOUR FAMILY!

"Welcome to Cloud City, Joe!"

We also know that the Earth will "receive its paradisiacal glory" and be turned into a giant Urim and Thummim (similar to one that God currently lives on) that we'll all live on it with Heavenly Father. Just think, you and every generation of your family living on a crystal ball! So cool!

I have to confess I never shared the spiritual thought, though. I just couldn't work it out. I think I got hung up on a few other questions. How will we be learning? Are there classes and stuff like that? Are they going to be more informative than Sunday School, Seminary, Institute, and BYU religion courses? What about all the science we'll have to learn? Will we have to sign up for labs? How is everyone going to live with their family? Will I be in my parents house, stuck with my in-laws, in my own house, or in one of my children's houses? I've heard that we'll still enjoy food even though we don't have to eat. Isn't that a little Hedonistic? Won't we have the power to Priesthood some delicious taste bud action right onto our tongues without all the mess of cooking? Will we still have to shit what we ate? What does the perfect shit look like, a type 4 maybe?

If we get to enjoy the things we enjoyed here on Earth, will they really be just as fun in the next life? I can't imagine riding a horse will be quite as fun when you can go inter-galactic whenever the hell you want, and hiking will be even less of a thrill than say crawling to your friends house when you could be flying a jetpack or something instead. I bet sunsets are going to be a total bore.

What do people do if they're not into the science of making worlds without end? Do they hang around making babies or something? How much baby-making happens in the Celestial Kingdom? If we already know everything down to its most intimate detail, why would we be wearing any clothing? Will we be so prudish that we'll be bothered by someone's nudity even when we are perfectly aware of each and every molecule of every fluid pulsing through each other's genitals? That might take the thrill out of climaxing.

Just what exactly do we expect of the next life? How does anything that has been revealed about it not sound absolutely absurd, like the kind of silliness little kids might dream up? What's really to look forward to? Why is hanging with the Father so great? Is he particularly funny or entertaining? Is he a good hugger? Is he just so smart that merely standing next to him makes our brains bigger? What is it we want from Heaven?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Where is Heaven?


Learning a second language opens up your eyes and gives you a fresh perspective on the world. It also gives you an older, even ancient perspective, a glimpse into the past.

I was a bit startled to learn that in my new language I would literally be praying to "our father who is in the sky" or "our sky dad". Mormons don't believe Heavenly Father's in sky! Where does the word "heaven" come from anyway? Oh, it means the clouds? Shit. So "heavenly father" means "cloud dad" or "dad obscured by clouds"? No shit? That makes it sound like we're part of some ancient tribe who worships the sun or something...


I remember as a child wondering about all the depictions of angels living in clouds and Jesus coming down from the clouds and God laying across the clouds and stuff like that and wondering what it would be like to hang out on top of clouds, but to my recollection I always had the presence of mind to not let my thoughts wander too far down that path. We Mormons knew God was in Outer-space on a planet in the Kolob system! We weren't delusionally looking to the sky for God!


The people at the Tower of Babel were naive enough to try to get to heaven by building a tower, though. And our dad in the sky was mad enough he changed all their languages (and apparently no one was insistent enough to get back together to sit down and learn each other's new language). Not like that's the only time the Scriptures indicate that God's in the sky or clouds somewhere. The references are many and often strictly literal.

I couldn't help but doubt. For all I could tell human beings once believed the gods lived in the clouds beyond our vision, but as science and logic expanded our understanding of the universe God has continually been pushed to the edges of human vision and understanding. We've chased God out of the sky with telescopes, airplanes, and satellites; we've chased him from our solar system; now God hides out in a galaxy far far away where we can never find him. He's an alien and space traveler with a taste for Earth clouds. Or is he? I mean Abraham 3 sounds pretty authentic, doesn't it? Nothing about it sounds like 19th century bullshit, right? 

I'm no fan of this movie but it gets some things right.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Un-holy Bible

Upon arriving in the mission field I felt very strongly that I needed to actually read the entire Bible before running around saying I believed in it. It didn’t make sense that I should be telling people about how the Book of Mormon complements the Bible without actually having a solid basis for comparison. I have to say deciding to read it all was one of the best decisions I made as a missionary.


I read both the Old and New Testaments in their entirety along with the accompanying Institute manuals. It took a long time. I was constantly flipping back and forth from my “quad” and the manuals underlining and highlighting things whenever inspired to do so.

But I have to admit it was not an entirely edifying experience. As it turns out the Bible is full of insane shit – unbelievable insane shit – bizarre moments that probably shouldn’t be called holy such as the many disturbing deaths and killings, of which Jehovah was often responsible.

One gruesome chapter really got to me; I honestly closed my Bible and walked away for a break. It was the story in Judges 19 of a Levite man who throws his concubine to the men of Gibeah, who gang-rape her to death and leave her on her husband’s doorstep. The husband comes out and tells her to get up and get a move on but she doesn't answer because she's been fucked to death. So he hauls her back home, chops her into twelve chunks and sends them off to the Twelve Tribes. And that ended my scripture study for the day. 

This could possibly be the tamest rendition of this act one could ever hope to create.

I'm not the only one who can figure out why God needed this story in his book. Maybe God just needed to chronicle the evil of this asshole Levite and the sick motherfuckers of Gibeah for whatever reason. Then again, it was Jehovah who approved of having concubines and sex slaves, and it was Jehovah who told the Israelites to quarantine women during their period and women who have recently given birth, and it was Jehovah who had bears maul children to death, and it was Jehovah who told the Israelites to kill Canaanite women and children. Maybe he even told Adam to procreate with his own daughters. The Bible doesn't really say how Adam and Eve started the human race, does it?

Did I believe in this book? Could I honestly argue that all the super weird stuff in the Bible was probably mistranslated or added in by evil and divisive copyists? Absolutely not, so I guess I shouldn't think about it too much. I might nurture my doubts.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Missionaries and "the elect"


Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints love to pray for the missionaries and "those who are ready to receive the Gospel", the idea being that you can essentially pray people into the Church. Missionaries are the hope and dream of all members' Church growth fantasies so they tend to be the object of many o' prayer. It's not just families and friends who pray for the missionaries [to find people ready to convert], or the missionaries' ward members (the fact is most wards won't even mention their missionaries by name in prayers once they're out of sight), but all members are essentially "praying the missionaries" all the damn time. That's a lot of praying. If that weren't enough, the temple prayer circles always mention the missionaries because heaven knows how powerful those prayers are!

Mormons do better than praying only for people they know serving missions or "the missionaries" in general, they pray for the potential members as well. The missionaries and maybe the missionaries' parents pray for their current contacts as well as the un-contacted "elect", meaning those individuals who have been "prepared" for the message and "ready to receive" it. "Please bless them that their hearts might be softened!" Yes, please do. Behind this type of praying is the idea that God and his angels are out and about setting up people's lives so that when they run into the missionaries the Gospel message will make sense to them and they'll want to sign a life contract with the Church pretty much right away. You know, like that family who lost a child in a car accident will totally jump on the whole eternal family thing right away, whereas a couple that hasn't even had kids is going to take more time to come around.

So why does all this praying for successful missionaries and read-made Mormon converts make my list of doubts? Well because you would think with all those faithful prayers coming from so many directions for one united purpose (the glory of God's Kingdom on Earth) you might actually see missionaries who miraculously run into elect child of God after elect child of God all the time, but it just doesn't work like that. Missionaries convert the vulnerable and desperate, who more often than not disappear into inactivity. There was no line up of souls hungry and eager to feast upon the Word.


It makes one doubts the efficacy of prayer, the competency of God, the truthfulness of the work, and the future of the Church. However I knew that doubts had no place in the heart and mind of a true servant of God, so I just kept on praying for investigators and praying for the elect. My actions had to speak louder than my words. What else was there to do?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Converts

 Missionaries teaching the ideal family.

Throughout my mission I found myself reflecting on the kinds of people who were typically more open and receptive to the Church. I, like most missionaries, contacted and taught a fairly wide range of people personally, consulted other missionaries (both in and out of my mission) about their experiences, and heard of past conversions from a wide range of sources such as Church publications, older members, and people with relatives who were Mormon. I thought a lot about these people and their stories. I wanted to understand how the Spirit works in peoples' lives.

It was clear that the vast majority of people joining the Church were either poor, uneducated, immigrants, refugees, mentally unstable, lonely middle-aged women, unconfident young men, or people seeking a stronger political connection to the United States. Most were probably a combination of two or more (but hopefully not too many were middle-aged women/young men). Why? Why did the Gospel of Jesus Christ appeal almost exclusively to these disenfranchised types of people? Why wasn't the power of the Spirit and the beauty of the message able to reach people who were in more stable situations or who maybe even held some respectable level of influence in their community? 

I kept reminding myself that the Book of Mormon says rather explicitly that the rich, who are puffed up in the pride of their hearts, pretty much just plain suck, and that the poor are more open to God because they're humble. (To be honest, the main reasons we missionaries wanted to convert rich people was usually so they could help the Church out tithing-wise and take us on awesome trips when we came back after the mission to visit.)

Lehi having a hard time converting wealthy men.

Could Heavenly Father help us find and convert some healthy, financially stable, maybe even prominent individuals (if they're humble!) who would help build the Kingdom and send the Work forward? We sure hoped so.

Wrong neighborhood, elders! Go find people with $$$!

The folks at the top really hoped so, too. My mission president insisted, under direction of the area authorities, that we missionaries spend more time seeking out native, adult males who could help build up the body of Priesthood holders in the country. We called it "Priesthood contacting" and it took precedence over speaking to anyone who was female, foreign, unemployed, or single. Our goal was now quality, not quantity. So basically the only people in our teaching pool that we could hang on to were the uneducated men. Our days out proselytizing involved us annoying the hell out of grown men on their way to work, at lunch, on their way home, and while they were out trying to enjoy some family time.

No, no more single mothers! We have too many already!

The thing is IT FELT WRONG. All of it felt wrong. It felt wrong that we were bringing such unstable people into the Church when deep down we knew how many problems they had. The last thing those people needed was the Church with all its nonsensical rules and dogma to complicate their lives further. It also felt wrong that we were required to suddenly limit our contact with many people because they weren't family men with the right ethnicity. I had always thought that all were alike unto God. Maybe they are. Maybe it's just that not all are alike unto the Mormon Church.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Church growth

While on my mission I had access to at least a couple of decades worth of Ensigns in each of my apartments which was great because I couldn't have been more interested in catching up on the words of the prophets. General Conference editions (May and November issues) were by far the best for kids like me who wanted to feast on the words of the Lord's anointed. The GC issues were also of deep interest to my missionary self for the fact that they contained statistics on total Church membership and convert baptisms.


There was nothing I wanted more than to revel in the growth of the Church and the power of God to bring people to it through His missionaries (like me!), so one day I started going through and comparing the stats. Unfortunately they were less than impressive. Sure the general Church membership numbers had consistently gone up, but the conversion baptism numbers were fairly sporadic and generally in decline since the early 1990s.

(from the blog linked above)

What was going on? The rock carved from the mountain had some serious rolling forth to do! There were more missionaries than ever, but conversions were always hanging around 300 thousand per year. At this rate the Church wasn't going anywhere anytime soon. Could it be possible that there's no real divine impetus behind the Church?

Now wait a second there, young missionary! Don't you doubt the Work! It's rolling forth at the Lord's pace. Your mission needs a more Utah-like presence of Mormons and you are there to make it happen!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Miracles - "modern-day miracles"

 
I couldn't help but cringe every time a "modern-day miracle" was announced. Over one-hundred operating temples throughout the world! A million members in Mexico! The inactivity rate hitting 75%! Hooray! The Work is true, the Work is true!

Modern-day miracles not only sucked in comparison to scriptural and early saint miracles because they were the were boring (no dead raised? no seas parted? fire from the sky to burn an offering? no blind healed? no angels from beyond the Veil? damn.), they were disturbing because they were all so corporate-feeling and un-Christ-like. Modern-day miracles are all about the Church's growth though hidden under the guise of "making blessing available".

Think of all the modern-day miracles Apple has had over the past years. I'm starting to think Apple is probably an even truer church than Jesus Christ's.


Fig leaves


The first time I felt a real fig leaf I seriously doubted the Adam and Eve (or anyone, for that matter) would put those things up against their genitals. The next time you run across a mature fig tree with nice big leaves, pluck a few off and shove them down your pants for a trip around the block, then return and report.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Jesus killing things


Remember when Jesus gets pissed off at a fig tree for not having any figs for him to eat so he curses the tree and it dies? Was that not weird? Why would the Son of God, Creator of the Universe, Savior of the World expect a fig tree to have figs in early spring? Why would a perfectly loving demi-god/god-god (however that's all supposed to work) allow his hunger to piss him off enough to curse a tree to death? How un-Christ-like of Jesus!

And previously to this little episode of wrath there was that extremely unsettling moment (maybe the scariest in all the New Testament) when Jesus transfers the legion of demons possessing a dude into a herd of pigs and makes them jump off a cliff. "My name is Legion, for we are many!" has to be the scariest lines spoken by any Bible character, but Jesus' behavior is pretty scary too. Why does he, the Master of the Universe, have to kill anything? Why couldn't he, The Final Judge, just catapult the evil spirits into Outer Darkness? How the hell can the spirits of our brothers and sisters who chose Satan's side exist in a pig's body anyway? Could Jesus send my soul into an animal body if he wanted to? And why, if Legion was able to occupy one human body, did it require a whole herd of pigs? Couldn't Jesus have sent all of the evil spirits into one pig and then sent that one demonic pig toppling over the cliff to his death all by his lonesome thereby saving the swineherd a lot of stress? What happens to those spirits after the pigs die, by the way? Are they supposedly trapped in pig flesh? Are they freed of their fleshy tabernacle to once again roam the earth tormenting the souls of man? Either way I hope Jesus had the decency to fully compensate the swineherd for his huge loss.


Saturday, November 16, 2013

Mormon Art

Have you ever wondered why Mormon art is so kitschy? I liked a lot of it when I was little, especially if it featured animals prominently somewhere in it. I think the now classic Arnold Friberg rendition of Abinadi standing in chains before Noah was probably my favorite (the jaguars really did it for me).


Friberg's obsession with superhero arms and tiny heads are probably what made him an instant hit among little boys like myself and Utah farmers.

(11-year-old head on college athlete body)

(the man of steel)

(shrunken head Viking father)

The Utah thing might explain why Mormons have long loved this portrait of Cowboy Jesus:


More recently the Mormon Jesus has been reinterpreted as the Fuzzy Bear Jesus.


Either way he's a hit with the young women of the ward.


And he really knows how to connect with your troubled son.


These paintings are unarguably bad, but for me the most testimony-damaging picture of all was probably Clark Kelly Price's "When the Angels Come". It's absolutely awful and I'm pretty sure the spirits of the pioneers who went through these kinds of grueling experiences cry every time someone looks at this painting.


It's a silly reason to doubt, I know, and I'm not saying it threw my testimony into a total tailspin, but poor quality of Mormon art had me scratching my head. How could such uninspired art be part of such an inspired tradition? How could something so ugly even sell?

The BYU Bookstore was always (and still is) a treasure trove of shitty Mormon art. It hurts to look at it. It hurts to think that people buy it and put it in their homes. I refused to accept it as part of my cultured heritage. Jesus, his Gospel, and his church deserved so much better.

Then again, at least it's not as awful as Jehovah's Witness art.