Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Christmas spirit

I hope everyone had a nice holiday break. I stopped blogging for a while and I actually read a couple books. It's amazing how that works. If I stopped blogging completely, I might actually put a dent in my reading list. I think this is where you're supposed to brag about what you got for Christmas, so I'll let you in on my coolest gift:

Pretty freakin' sweet.

My holidays were not very enjoyable, due to my in-laws staying with us and their cat. I'm having a little trouble coming to terms with the fact that I'm never going to have a fun Christmas or Thanksgiving ever again. I know I should suck it up for my wife's sake, but I can't help resenting her family for spoiling all my holidays from now till eternity. Apparently, I'm not as much of a grown-up as I should be at this point in my life. Oh well.

I'm just tired. I wanted to crank out an outraged post about Times & Seasons new guest-blogger, Dr. I-don't-prescribe-birth-control, but I don't have the energy. If you want to make your blog a joke, go ahead. It's embarrassing that the most prominent Mormon blog has so many contributors with such reactionary views, but what can I do? I can only watch as I become less and less Mormon each day. These aren't your people, Ned.

Don't get me wrong, I know that there are a lot of Mormons out there that agree with me. And that is encouraging. It's just that I recognize that it's now their fight, not mine.

Anyway, this wasn't a very fun post. I'm going to go read some of the books I got for Christmas, and start cheering up.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The scarlet thing in you...

Inspired by D-Train's last post at Unofficial Manifesto (I've really enjoyed UoM's recent renaissance, by the way), I will attempt to explain something that I'm still not quite sure I understand.

I apologize in advance if this sounds too Times & Seasony (you know what I mean).

For a long time I've struggled with the fact that my most profound, happy, and transcendent experiences have all been non-church related. Music, literature, and relationships have been the primary catalysts for these experiences. I can't just come out and say what these things are because there is something extremely personal and proprietary about them. Also, they would sound lame if I tried to explain them.

Even so, I will try to give an example of what I mean. Even though I'm a former English major, music has always affected me more sharply and immediately than books. I remember being a teenager and listening to certain songs that could just cut right through me. Most of them still can. I basically have three categories of music: stuff I don't like, stuff that I enjoy as good music, and finally, music that makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck. It is this third category that I find so important. If I want to connect with something greater than myself, I need only put on some Morrissey or Radiohead. This is when I am happiest.

Music is only one example of these transcendent experiences. It's difficult to explain, but I feel like I am who I am because of these things. Perhaps it's just a part of how we construct our own identity, but I feel like these experiences are the reservoir of the REAL Ned. People can see and interact with Surface Ned, but I am firmly anchored by my secret inner life.

I said that there were no church-related experiences in the reservoir. I think for that reason, I don't feel (and perhaps have never felt) intrinsically Mormon. If you strip me down to my essential personality, there is no Mormon-ness there.

I will go one further. The church experiences I've had have felt almost like a counterfeit of my true happiness. Nothing I've ever felt at church can compare to the rapture I've felt, say, listening to Depeche Mode or reading a great book. I've had spiritual experiences but they seem to fade as soon as they're gone. The warm and fuzzies I've felt in church contexts have occasionally been nice, but they always seem freighted with too much baggage to enjoy. I can remember feeling good at Church, but never truly happy.

What does this tell me? Well, first of all, it tells me that perhaps it is unwise to look for the source of happiness in a place that doesn't provide it to you. The church is a source of great happiness to a seemingly large number of people, which is great. They know what is in their own reservoirs, not me. Secondly and more importantly, there isn't anything wrong with me if I don't experience my happiness on the church's terms. I think that's the hardest lesson to learn. Don't twist yourself into pretzels to please the church, but make sure that whatever the church is providing you is indeed good. Its incompleteness is not the problem. I believe it was wise commenter Ann who said, "It's just church."

The church hasn't touched my inner-self, and perhaps no church ever will. There's no point in beating myself up in guilt over that. If there is a God, he has created us each to experience joy in our own way.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Comparison shopping for the priesthood

As you may or may not know, I use Gmail for all of my real-life and blog-related correspondence (VivaNedFlanders at gmail.com, if you want to contact me). It's easy, it's free, and it's anonymous. It's perfect.

Well, it's not perfect, but it's worth the money. Some people refuse to use Gmail because Google scans your messages and provides targeted advertisements on the side of your messages. Most of the time I don't even notice the ads, so I can't imagine Google is making too much money off of me.

Mostly, the ads serve as a source of unintentional comedy. Recently, the topic of vegetarianism came up with a vegetarian friend of mine. Google's robots helpfully provided this link: Amazon's Exotic Meat Store.


Anyway, I don't know what kind of heresy I've been emailing out, but when I logged on to my Flanders email account yesterday, this was my featured link: Get Ordained by the International Church of Atheism.

How could I resist clicking on that? Now, before you dismiss them, please note that they have a very similar priesthood policy to that of Mormonism. "We aim to ordain as many Ministers in our Church as we can." Well, I guess except for the whole woman thing. The point is that it is a very democratic not-religion that tries to de-mystify and de-privilege traditional notions of clergy by ordaining everyone.

That's the pro column. The $9.95 it costs to get ordained definitely goes in the con column. This might smack of simony at first, but it's probably cheaper than the Mormon equivalent. It's kind of like buying the lifetime Tivo service instead of paying installments each month.

Also, the International Church of Atheism encourages its "ministers" to get the title of Reverend added to their drivers licenses and passports, etc. In Mormonism, you only get to rent the title of Elder for two years. And you definitely don't get the cool clothing:


No contest there.

Actually, never mind; I found a place that will ordain you for free. God bless the Internet.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Handyman Ned; or, why I love Mormon Stories

I am not a very handy guy. I blame my father, who breaks out in hives every time we pass a Home Depot. If we ever had to go to the hardware store, he'd take a deep sniff, grimace, and say, "This place smells like work." This is not to say my father is lazy; on the contrary, he's burned through more precious Saturdays than I can remember sweating it out in the yard. But I think he resented yard work and home repairs so much that he resolved to protect me from them as long as possible. Good man. I've only lived in apartments since I moved out of parents' house, so it's never been an issue till now.

Until a few months ago, I had never painted a room, cleaned out a rain-gutter or used an electric drill. It's good to know how to do these things, but I am not looking forward to a lifetime of home maintenance. You may say, "Ned, my pregnant wife builds bookcases in the garage and my 8-year-old daughter mows our lawn. Get over it." My response is, how do you feel about doing service projects for late-twenties, stay-at-home not-Dads? Can you bring your own tools? Thanks.

Yesterday I decided to finally replace all the blinds and curtains in our living room. I wasn't looking forward to it, so I decided to listen to something while I worked. I really admire what John Dehlin is doing over at Mormon Stories, but I'd never actually gotten around to listening to one of his podcasts. Every time I meant to, I'd tell myself that I didn't really have an hour to sit and listen. For some bizarre reason, I didn't think you could fast-forward and pick up a podcast where you left off, so I thought I'd have to listen to the whole thing in one shot.

Well, I got to work, started up the computer, and went a bit crazy. I ended up listening to five of John's podcasts yesterday, or almost half of all he's done so far. They were great. John is still working out the kinks, but I am excited about the future of these broadcasts. The early ones are (way) too long at an hour and a half, but it looks like he's brought in all the newer ones at a lean 45 minutes.

I listened to John's interviews with: the mason, the anti-Mormon, the apologist (1st part only), and RoastedTomatoes and Serenity Valley (2 parts). (This sounds like the set-up of great joke.) John does a good job at letting these people tell their own stories, although sometimes you wish he'd press them a little harder. In particular, I think John did a good job of letting both the anti-Mormon and the apologist present themselves on their own terms but still putting some tough questions to both of them.

If you have some time, I highly recommend listening to some of these podcasts at Mormon Stories. I think I am going to start playing the podcasts on my computer in the background while I browse the bloggernacle at the same time. Thanks for all your work, John; it certainly made mine go by much faster.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

My mom raised me better than this; or, why I blog anonymously

There are two types of people in the bloggernacle: the onymous and the anonymous. I think our community is somewhat of an anomaly, in that so many participants use their real names. I admire the courage of Rusty, Ronan, Elisabeth, etc. who put their real names out there. Every once in a while though, some bloggers using their real names will complain about the anonymous masses. We anonymous types don't have anything at stake, they say; we don't have any incentive to behave. Perhaps they are right.

For my own part, I don't care about my anonymity. I don't actually know any Mormons and I'm not currently active in my ward. I can't embarrass myself in the Mormon community if I'm not really part of it. Also, I have a very common name. It is so common that the day I checked into the MTC, there was another Elder [Ned Flanders] reporting for duty. We had the same first and last names and they initially gave me his room assignment. (He went to Oregon on his mission, the poor bastard.) So even if I used my real name, people are just as likely to confuse me with my Oregonian doppelganger or one of the other thousands of other possibilities.

So why don't I pull an Athena, and reveal myself? My parents.

My parents are both very bright people, but they are singularly incurious about Mormon history or issues. I think my parents would rather have found a dirty magazine than a copy of Sunstone under my mattress. We had the usual assortment of faith-promoting Deseret Books (though I never saw anyone actually reading them) plus the Standard Works. End of story. What else do you need? A couple of months ago, my mom did give me an article about Joseph Smith that she printed out from the Internet. What site was it from? Meridian. Sigh.

I don't post onymously because I don't want someone to sidle up to my mom on Enrichment Night and say, "I read the most heretical thing on your son's website the other day." Among Mormons, it has become unfortunate custom to brag about the righteousness of your children. "I have five kids and they've all served missions and are married in the temple." It's like a Mormon batting average. My parents are batting pretty well for a baseball player but not too great for your standard Mormon couple. I've already screwed up their average, I don't want to add my apostate views on top of that.

I also wonder what effect the faithfulness of the children has on the callings of the parents. I once had a GA tell me that they don't call Mission Presidents who have children with problems. I don't believe that's true, but I wonder about it. Do any of the Seventies have wayward children? The Apostles? They must, right? Especially with the amount of kids Mormons have. I still think that unless your last name is Benson, it's probably not a good idea to have an apostate in the family.

While looking up an entry in my mission journal for yesterday's post, I stumbled upon an experience that I had forgotten. I had been in the country for about a month and lived in a tiny apartment with my companion and two other missionaries. The other companionship would come into our room at 6:30 am each morning to sing a hymn and say a prayer to start our day. One morning I didn't feel like getting out of bed to sing, and one of the elders told me that I was a disgrace to my father. (Nice guy.)

I don't believe that, but at the same time, I don't want to saddle my parents with any extra grief at this point in their lives. If that means lying low on the Internet, then so be it.

I will always be Flan-diddly-anders to you.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Flanders' Shocking True Life Confessions

Everybody likes to hear other people's confessions. It piques our curiosity and often makes us feel better about ourselves. "My life may suck, but at least I'm not that screwed up!" St. Augustine wouldn't be half as popular today had he titled his book "Interminable Religious Ramblings." He certainly wouldn't have a Spring Break city named after him.

Geoff J.'s comment on my earlier post and his follow-up post at his site have prompted me to confess something. According to Geoff, studying the Church is all fine and dandy, but at the end of the day, you have to ask God for confirmation. You have to, in his words, puncture the veil. My confession is that I have never punctured the veil. Furthermore, I have never attempted to test Moroni's promise, despite telling innumerable people on my mission to do just that. Yes, I'm a hypocrite of the worst kind.

The question arises: why not? After all those years growing up, and during two years of a mission, why the hell didn't you ask? I was scared. I was scared that I would pour my whole soul into it and not get an answer. I was happy surviving off the occasional warm fuzzy and not taking the big gamble. I had plenty of doubts, but the Church was true enough for me.

This worked fine until one day when I was teaching a discussion to a woman during my mission. I recorded the event in my mission journal:
"... the reason [the discussion] was so disturbing was that [Elder X] gave his testimony that he asked God if the Book of Mormon was true and if Joseph Smith was a prophet and he was answered by a good feeling--and I thought, 'Good, I don't have to say anything.' So I told her I knew Joseph was a prophet and the Book of Mormon was true because I felt it inside. She point-blank asked me if I had done the same as [Elder X] and I said yes and felt terrible. I don't think that was true. I haven't asked and received an answer like [Elder X] but I know it's true; it's hard to explain. But she knew just where to pin me down and she won. That was incredibly disturbing. I felt as though for the first time my lack of testimony, lack of preparation was hurting someone else. I felt at that moment that if she didn't get baptized her blood would be on my head."

I was attempting to skate a Clinton-esque line and my investigator called me on it. What was I supposed to say? "You're right, I haven't asked either. I'm secretly afraid that my religion isn't even true. I don't even know why I'm here." Well, that probably would have been preferable to lying, but we can't change our past choices. I decided to go with the party-line and hope for the best. I still feel guilty when I think about that discussion.

The logical question that follows is, now that you don't believe, why not ask now? Well, I'm still scared, but perhaps the other way now. Maybe I'd get an affirmative response. (It is at this point, reader, where you can make the exclamation, "My life sucks but at least I'm not as screwed up as Ned!")

I'm beginning to have doubts about the validity of the whole enterprise of asking God. It seems set up to favor only one outcome. If we ask and don't receive a response, then possibly we weren't asking hard enough or we hadn't studied it out in our minds properly. Perhaps we felt nothing because we had sins that blocked the Holy Ghost or we weren't sincere enough. How can we distinguish between a negative response and a non-response? Maybe we didn't want to believe enough.

I think that's part of the problem. I don't want to believe. There are so many things that bother me about the Church, I can't imagine the size of the shelf needed to house all my concerns. How can I ask sincerely if deep down I don't want to have to deal with all the thorny issues? I think the Sunday School answer is that I have humble myself and be prepared to accept polygamy, blacks not having the priesthood, and Boyd K. Packer. I just don't think I can do that.

Does it make sense to ignore facts we don't like and rely solely on a spiritual witness? Does rationality not always apply in spiritual matters? Does it make sense to have different rules and standards for our knowledge about religion than, say, science?

My confession, besides the fact that I am a liar and a hypocrite, is that I don't trust myself to recognize the truth.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Bloggers to commenters: Drop dead!

The bloggernacle has gone censor-happy. Feminist Mormon Housewives are discussing troll-prevention, while Rusty has thrown down the gauntlet: If I don't like what you say I'll ban you. (For the record, I am 100% behind Rusty. He has been more than patient dealing with obnoxious trolls, and even more to his credit, he left up the original offending comments for all to see.)

The previous examples represent the reasonable wing of the bloggernacle. Meanwhile, an anonymous e-mail tipster (thanks!) pointed me to the first installment of M*'s Rough Stone Rolling reading group. Comments have been disappearing from that thread faster than they appear. I've read some of the comments that Geoff B felt the need to censor (he even deleted one of his own!) and I must admit I'm mystified. They were neither vulgar, abusive, or off-topic. It seems that Geoff simply deletes whatever doesn't strike his fancy. After all, some things are true, but not useful. I applaud commentator Eric S. who continues to post comments, even after getting quite a few deleted. I wouldn't have the patience. Reading M* is kind of like what I imagine teaching history in the Soviet Union was like: you have to be prepared for everything to completely change at any time. I will give a plate of nachos (Flanders style) to whoever can create an M* mirror site that simply posts all deleted comments. Now that I would read regularly!

Over at the Bloggernacle Times, Grandpa Dave (as Ronan calls him) has seen fit to do some major surgery on a minor (and fairly innocuous) threadjack. For the record, I love Dave, but it is beyond bizarre that he feels the need to delete 10 comments about English-bashing on this thread, but allows these two train wrecks to plow on unimpeded.

Of course, perhaps I am asking too much of the man who first introduced the hated comment moderation queue into the 'nacle. I still read DMI (it has some great stuff), but I rarely bother commenting any more. Putting all comments into the queue is like calling someone on the telephone but making them send their replies to you on a postcard. Sure, I know my comment will turn up there in a couple hours, but by then five people will have already said the same thing. It's hard to have a dialogue on a tape-delay.

Of course, the dubious honor of King of Comment Deletions goes to T&S's peevish Adam Greenwood, who famously censored two of Ronan's comments. This prompted Ronan to complain publicly on his blog. Why don't I link to Ronan's complaint? Why, Ronan deleted it, of course.

Friday, December 02, 2005

I've said too much, I haven't said enough

I stumbled upon the bloggernacle late in its life cycle. By Common Consent and Times & Seasons had already been around for over a year. Dave's Mormon Inquiry was almost two years old. Every once in a while, someone would link to an old thread on BCC and I would be jealous that I missed out on the fascinating conversations.

I had no patience whenever I heard an old-timer complaining about burning out. I was like the guy that showed up to the buffet 15 minutes before closing. Everyone else was sated and I was desperately trying to shovel as much free food into my mouth as possible. "No, don't stop now," I would say in my head, "I just got here!"

Unfortunately, I think I'm in the process of burning out. No, I'm not quitting, I'm just running a little low on energy.

Nine months ago, I hadn't been to church in six or seven years. I hadn't seriously thought about Mormonism since my mission. I was a Mormon in name only. Thanks to the Internet, I've finally been able to ask the questions I never could before, and talk about things that have interested me for a long time. Don't get me wrong, I still have a lot of stuff to talk about and questions to ask. I am still quite ignorant and have tons of Mormon-themed books to read. I probably know less Mormon history and doctrine than the average Bloggernacle blogger. I still have a lot of great Mormon conversations to have, but a lot of the low-hanging fruit has already been picked.

Nine months ago, I was wrestling with my faith and my identity as a Mormon. My faith stopped wrestling back a while ago. My question is: can one still maintain an interest in all things Mormon if one no longer believes? Is there an ideal tension between faith and doubt that fuels interest in discussions like the bloggernacle? I'm just afraid that I've ruined myself for future debates if I already know which side is going to win in my heart.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Range of plausibility; or, Does God keep the Church from appearing too true?

In conjunction with my last post, I have often heard it said that in order to test our faith, God has suppressed certain evidences of the truth of Mormonism.

No Nephite artifacts? If we had those, there would be no faith required. In fact, just about any concrete corroboration of the BoM seems to be regarded as a potentially faith-shattering event. If evidence was uncovered that a man stood on the walls of a Mesoamerican city and preached about the coming of Christ, apparently people would start signing up with the missionaries in droves. If we actually had golden plates with reformed Egyptian engravings, people would join the Church solely based on intellectual facts, not faith.

This scenario seems to have a couple problems to me. First of all, it is not at all clear to me that more people would join the Church if there was more concrete evidence of, say, the Urim and Thummim, or a close correspondence between BoM and archeological history. I guess we might get a few more converts, but Mormonism is a lifestyle, not just a historical world-view. Even if we had Laban's Sword sitting in a glass case in Temple Square and allowed it to be examined by metallurgists, people would not be chasing down the missionaries to get baptized (except maybe sword-freaks, like Ethesis).

So my question is, does the Lord really suppress favorable evidence just to make it harder to be a Mormon and thus increasing our requisite faith? Would the Lord allow some damaging, false information to come out, knowing that it would destroy the faith of some? It seems to me that hypothetically, if certain information is so damaging that it destroys the faith of some, that it is an involuntary response. Perhaps we can force ourselves to believe certain things simply through sheer will-power, but it doesn't strike me as a particularly good thing or Christ-like. Would we be blamed if we stopped believing?

Why would the Lord try to confuse us in this way? It is my contention (sure to be controversial) that if we allow certain troubling things to damage our testimony, that it isn't really our fault. Would we really blame Abraham if he stopped believing in God after he was told to kill Isaac? It seems like good sense to me that any God that required the murder of your son, probably wasn't the real God.

I wish it were easier to believe. I'm not entirely sure that it's my fault though.

Conservation of matter; or, why did Moroni take the plates back?

Having grown up in the Church, there are certain details about Mormon history that I have never really thought about before. These stories have always just been. Every once in a while an aspect will jump out at me that I have never considered as an adult.

One thing that has been bothering me lately is the fact that Moroni took back the golden plates from Joseph once he was done translating. Actually, that is not entirely accurate. Despite the fact that we say Moroni took the plates back, he didn't have them in the first place. They were sitting underground for 1200 years, not in heaven. Anyway, I think the common explanation for this is that we wouldn't have to have faith if there was a stack of finely engraved golden plates lying in the First Presidency vault. I don't know if I necessarily agree with this, but this isn't the part that bugs me.

What disturbs me is the lack of conservation of matter. Removal of an artifact from Earth to wherever the angels hang out seems to be unprecedented in the history of the world. God is omnipotent. He doesn't have to beam down here for cheeseburgers. It just seems odd that he would send an angel to physically remove something. Has God ever taken physical objects (not counting humans) from our world into his before? Was the city of Enoch translated along with all of their buildings too?

Secondly, why bother having the plates at all? We know that Joseph barely looked at them; often they were hidden in nearby woods while he translated indoors. He presumably could have made the same translation even had the plates never existed, just like his translation of the Book of Moses. Why mess with the reformed Egyptian and smelting ore to make plates, and laboriously engraving them if they are just going to function as a "faith intensifier" for Joseph?

Are the plates sitting up in heaven or have they served their purpose? If, say, we receive more of the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon, will Moroni have to physically deliver the plates back to the prophet? Why were they okay underground for so long, but now they have to be safe-guarded in heaven?

Obviously, I don't have any answers to these questions. The golden plates are very interesting because of their sheer physicality. It would have been much, much easier for Joseph to just get revelations through his stone, whether he was a true prophet or not. Why didn't he?

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Ned in the city

Though I had to endure another miserable holiday at the in-laws, trying to sleep on a sofa-bed with a bar in the back and a noisy cat mewling through the night, my Thanksgiving went surprisingly well. Unlike everyone else in the bloggernacle (it seems), I have no connection to any of the participants in our little community and had never met any before this weekend. Thanks to Steve Evan's gracious hosting, I met a raft of honest to goodness 'nacle celebrities at the bloggernacle soiree at his apartment on Friday night. I caught a train into the city and escaped my in-laws for an evening at least.

Everyone at Steve's was extremely nice. While it was odd to see people attempt to karaoke without the aid of alcohol, it just goes to show how fearless we Mormons are in the face of adversity. It was great to finally be able to put a face to such illustrious 'nacle names as Elisabeth and Kris. Plus, now when I read everyone's posts I will hear their real voice in my head. Ronan's comments in particular will sound even better with an authentic English accent.

The only sour spot in the whole experience was the fact that I left my Fall issue of Dialogue on the train ($10 down the drain). Perhaps a MetroNorth employee will find it and convert after reading 74 pages on early Mormon polygamists. Now that's a conversion story! Consider them inoculated against future anti-Mormon literature.

Thank you again, Steve. If I had an apartment that nice, rest assured I would never invite anyone like me over (or Rusty, since he seems to drop food a lot).

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

FAIR's scummy board and its scummy moderators

I've never particularly cared for apologetics, but this just takes the cake. Over at the FAIR message boards they are discussing this case, which has also been discussed over at BCC. Here are some salient quotes from the news story:
"...Jessica Cavalieri, now 24, said she first told her church bishop in 1994 that Taylor had started abusing her when she was 7. She said her bishop, the local congregation leader, met with her mother and Taylor. But the bishop did not tell her mother about the abuse, Cavalieri said. Instead, he encouraged the family to work out problems through worship, she said.

"The girl was unaware her mother did not know of the abuse, and because her mother did not come to her aid, Cavalieri said, she felt ashamed and frightened to tell anyone else. She endured the abuse for five more years, while Taylor started abusing her younger sister, Ashley Cavalieri, according to court documents.

So she told the Bishop about the abuse and he did nothing. Other stories say that there might have been conflicting reports about the abuse, but frankly, the bottom line is that she told the Bishop and he sat on it for five years.

So how do you think the Christ-followers at the FAIR board reacted to this? (FAIR is a non-official, "amateur" Mormon apologetic organization.) They blamed the victim, of course! How dare she sue the Church! What a money-grubber! After several pages of criticism, the victim (or someone claiming to be her) then posted on the board. Were the posters shamed by the presence of the victim? No, they redoubled their personal attacks on her. At no point did the moderator appear. Finally, someone registered and insulted one of these bullies and was promptly reprimanded by the moderator for personal attacks. (To be fair, a few posters also jumped to Jessica's defense, but they have been shouted down by the majority and the moderators.)

I will post their comments because I think human trash like this need to be shamed publicly instead of hiding behind their scummy moderator.

One user with the ironic handle "Charity" left this message:
"The victim in this case is in a far worse situation now than she was. When you get revenge, you don't 'feel better.' You feel worse because you are disobeying God...you cannot forgive when extracting vengeance. Every dollar she spends of that settlement will drive her further away from a healthy state. "
Thanks doctor!

No, he isn't done. He tops it with this disgusting diatribe:
"Of course, she should have told. And should have told sooner to save her sister from going through what she did. I find that pretty repugnant that she didn't. And I am sure she is suffering pangs of conscience that she could not get up the courage to do that...But in sueing [sic] the Church, she knew she was not going after those most responsible, her father, and her mother for telling her not to tell. She went after money. Money would not restore her stolen childhood. It was vengenace [sic] pure and simple. In our mortal experience, vengeance comes from the adversary. Whenever you give in to the enticings of Satan you are worse off."

This is wrong on so many levels that I'm speechless. Did he just blame a 12-year-old for the abuse of her sister? Yes, he did. I usually don't get all riled up about garbage on the Internet but that makes me want to pound some "charity" into his face.

At this point Jessica (the victim, or someone claiming to be her) has joined the conversation. What words of comfort will the next poster bring? Scumbag #2? You're up.
"Enjoy the bling. It will be so much more comforting than addressing the real issues here...Were you truly LDS and not an opportunist, you would know [that the sex abuse reporting guidelines have been changed]."
Our final slimeball starts out by calling the victim "a greedy opportunist." He follows with a letter addressed to her:
"I'm sorry, but that last remark is simply untrue. It is clearly an attempt to claim immunity from criticism by exploiting your 'Victim'[TM] status. If you read this thread, you will discover what you presumably already know, namely that the Church made specific policy changes in 1994 to address this very issue. The criticism you have bought for yourself with your ill-gotten $4,200,000 is not for being an abuse victim (sob) but for your opportunistic money-grubbing. I don't have a problem with you going after the abuser; so you should. But siccing that vile ambulance-chaser onto us on the flimsy pretext that your stepfather was a member of the Church at the time was utterly cynical and self-serving."
If this is what its amateur apologists are stooping to, the Church should disavow them and their scummy message board immediately. How embarrassing and enraging.

No offense intended but I hope these people rot in hell.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Joseph Smith and Sudoku

A relatively obscure but fascinating fact about Joseph Smith is that he allegedly often carried what is known as a Jupiter medallion in his pocket. This medallion was supposedly discovered on his person after he was assassinated in Carthage Jail. A Jupiter medallion or talisman contains several several interesting inscriptions, including the astrological symbol for Jupiter and various Latin and Hebrew phrases. It also contains a "Magic Square," a box where the digits add up to the same number (in this case 34) horizontally, vertically, and diagonally. The Magic Square on Joseph's purported medallion uses Hebrew characters to represent these numbers, which in total add up to 136, yet another symbol of Jupiter.

I can't help noticing that the Magic Square is simply another variation on the principle behind the newly popular Sudoku puzzles. For those (poor souls) who are unfamiliar with Sudoku, it is a number puzzle where you fill in a 9 by 9 grid so that each row, column, and 3x3 box have the digits 1-9 in them. There is no math involved, just logic, and it really is quite addictive. I have been enjoying Sudoku ever since the Washington Post introduced them earlier this year.

Now, admittedly Joseph did not use his Magic Square like I use the Sudoku puzzles, but I think both forms hint at the same transcendence of numbers. It is a satisfying feeling when all the pieces fall into perfect place against all odds, just as it is satisfying to see all the numbers in a magic square add up perfectly and improbably.

Though I may not be in church on Sunday morning, I will be filling out my Sudoku and occasionally thinking of Joseph.

[Edited to reflect that Joseph may or may not have actually owned a Jupiter talisman.]

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

My conversation with my converts...

First of all, I want to thank everyone who commented on my last post. It really helps to have an outside perspective on these things. Anyway, I promised to report how it went, so here goes.

I called without having a chance to brush up on my Spanish, so it was quite a shock when they started talking to me. This family speaks fast, very fast. The connection wasn't great, either, so I had some difficulty understanding them at first. I spoke with the mother first. We had been talking for about 30 seconds before she got to the question I had been dreading.

The Mom: So, are you still strong in the Church? What calling do you have?
NF: Um, well actually, I moved recently.
TM: Oh, so what calling did you have previously? What callings have you had since the mission?
NF: Er, I actually haven't had any callings since the mission.
TM: [speaking to someone in the room] He must not understand me, he says he hasn't had a calling since the mission. [resumes talking to me] Are you sure you haven't had a calling?
NF: Nope, no calling. I'm not always there, so...
TM: It seems to me you have been lazy with regards to the Church.
NF: Uh, well, yeah, I guess.

At this point someone else grabbed the phone. I had great conversations with everyone, including one son who recently returned from his mission. We talked a little bit about my church activity but not too much. He said he was mostly around Americans in his mission. He didn't say anything outright, but I am guessing that this was a tough experience for him. I imagine that the culture shock of the mission is just as great (if not greater) coming from living in a single apartment with nine family members.

I got to talk to the mom again at the end of the call, and we had a more positive conversation. I tried to communicate to her that it was really her family that was great, not the influence of the church on her family. I also tried to say that her family probably would have converted even without us (her sister was a member before she met us), but she definitely didn't buy that.

I could tell she was disappointed with my inactivity but I am still glad I told the truth. Maybe this will help her be more open-minded if her kids fall away from the Church. Maybe not. But life is too short to go around pretending you are something you're not. Thanks for the advice.

Monday, October 31, 2005

I need advice, I need advice...

A hypothetical situation presented to you, my devoted readers.

Let's say that you are a returned missionary with a somewhat shaky testimony (some days it has stopped shaking and completely fallen down). You haven't seriously attended church in years and probably won't ever be a General Authority, a Seventy of any Quorum, or even the guy asked to bring bread for the sacrament.

Let us further posit that you have recently regained contact with a family you baptized during your mission. The family has now been sealed in the temple, both parents have stake callings and one of the kids has served a mission. What do you tell them about your activity in the Church?

If you say that you don't go anymore, might not their testimony be shaken? On the other hand, shouldn't you always be open and honest with life-long friends like this? Which is worse, lying or hurting them spiritually?

Should we feign testimony to help those who have yet to struggle with theirs? This is a very uncomfortable situation; any counsel would be greatly appreciated.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Worst Halloween Costume Ever

Wow, it turns out that I got sick of the whole you-know-what discussion a lot faster than I thought. I'm over it; let us never speak of it again!

Moving on, I wanted to complain about the previous owners of my house. I hate them with the fire of a thousand suns. Besides painting tacky amateurish murals on the walls and jury-rigging all the window treatments with push- and straight pins, they also left everything they didn't feel like taking with them. I mean everything. We had to have a special trash pick-up ($35) just to get rid of most of the stuff. We filled an 8 ft. x 8 ft. x 4 ft. cube with all of their trash.

The only amusement I get is sorting through all of their ridiculous catalogues that now come to us. Please know that I am only exaggerating slightly when I say they get every catalogue printed. Catalogues full of dog costumes? Check! Catalogues full of gaudy Victorian furniture? Check! Yesterday I got their catalogue for Christian Book Distributors.

It contains the worst Halloween costume ever: BIBLEMAN! Yes, that's the real name. Just for your information, the light saber thingy he's holding is called the "Sword of the Spirit." For perhaps obvious reasons, they don't actually call it a Halloween costume.

Only slightly lower on the child abuse scale is this doozy: the Faithgirlz Bible Backpack. I mean, wow. Note that the front pocket has a clear window so everyone can see you are carrying around the Bible. That's how the Phariseez roll, yo!

I'll stop. I could go through the whole catalogue. I think I became a little more Mormon just reading this thing.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Ned's Ultimate Banner of Heaven thread...

We'll all soon be sick to death of the Banner of Heaven talk (and many already are, I'm sure), so I thought I'd get my licks in now.

I think what bothers me most is that my sense of community has been violated. By Common Consent, Kulturblog, and Banner of Heaven were some of my favorite places to hang out. I was looking forward to meeting my fellow bloggers at Steve Evans' Thanksgiving party. Suddenly, I don't feel like doing any of these things, Steve's half-hearted apologies aside. I'm the idiot because I actually thought I had a connection with these people.

Do I want an apology? No, I'd prefer not to get one. If someone apologizes, you have to forgive them or else you're the jerk, no matter what they did.

Steve Evans-- for someone who has spent so much time helping form this bloggernacle community, it is odd, to say the least, that you are so blase about crapping all over it. That's all.

I'll get over it soon enough; it's not that big of deal. But are these people going to be my friends? No, and that's what sucks the most.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Ex-Mormons are people too...

The second-most famous couplet in the church, and possibly the only one which we still believe in is, "people can leave the church, but they can't leave the church alone." I used to think the same way. Now, I'm not so sure.

A recent thread on M* about the Church's efforts to track down members with no known address (like yours truly) elicited the usual comments about how if people don't want to be tracked down and visited, then they should just get their names removed from the rolls of the Church. Notice how they never use the word "excommunicated"; no, getting exed from the Church is apparently just like getting an unlisted number. You do it one weekend and then you never think about it again. (Please note: some people do just that, but this post isn't about them.)

Some believers (and I used to be one of them) just can't understand how anyone could be conflicted; there are only two options. Either the Church is true, and you should give it your all, or it's all a sham and you should immediately stop talking about, thinking about, or being interested in the Church that dominated a good chunk of your life. What strikes me is this almost neurotic desire to always be in control about what people are thinking about the Church. You should either think good things, or not bother thinking about it at all. This is more than a little unfair to those who suddenly find themselves unmoored by disbelief.

All I'm asking for is a little compassion. You can't possibly know what kind of familial and social pressures people are dealing with. Aggressively suggesting that inactives remove their names from the rolls is thinly disguised ideological bullying: you don't believe the exact same things as I do, so you must renounce Mormondom, cut all your ties, and stop discussing us. No matter how much tithing you've paid, how many hours you've spent in meetings, or how many years you served a mission, none of this can be part of your life story if you're not one of us.

I'm sorry, but I am one of you. No, I don't keep my name on the rolls to have something to complain about, I do it for my family. Heck, maybe I am trying to hedge my bets come Judgment Day, but I doubt whether my name is in an outdated computer system under a granite mountain will make much of a difference to Jesus. As I remember, he didn't much like bullies either.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Will blog for food

As you can probably tell just from the sheer number of comments I've been leaving around the Bloggernacle, I am not exactly working at the moment (to borrow a phrase from George Costanza). I wasn't too concerned about a getting a new job after we moved, but now I have been unemployed almost two months. This should be the most enjoyable time in my life, but it's not. Sure, I can sleep till noon, but I always feel guilty when I wake up. I can lounge around the house, but all I can see is all the cleaning and organizing I need to do. I feel cheated: instead of living it up, all I can think about is the growing blank spot in my resume.

The only thing I can do is get a job. Unfortunately, there simply aren't as many companies or openings around here as I am used to. I had a hard enough time finding a job in D.C.; how am I going to find one in Stars Hollow? I think the solution is to start spending at least as much time on job-hunting websites as I do in the bloggernacle.

So, if you see me leaving too many comments or comments at weird hours of the night, just say, "Ned, knock it off and get a job!"

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Various Stages of Mormondom

I just wanted to announce that the good people at Various Stages of Mormondom have invited me to post on Saturdays (or, in the case of this week, very, very early on Sunday). I have already ordered my Mayor Quimby-esque "Saturday" sash to wear around the house. You can check out my first post, on Mormon myths, here.

I've always enjoyed VSoM, and I am honored to be a part of it. JLS is irreplaceable, so hopefully we haven't seen the last of him around these parts.

P.S. I have been getting an enormous amount of comment spam recently, so I have turned on "word verification" for the comments. You just have to type the word displayed there, so it knows you're not a spammer. Please email me (VivaNedFlanders -at- gmail.com) if you have any problems leaving comments. Thanks!

Saturday, October 01, 2005


No one else seems to have mentioned it, but there is a great new site in the bloggernacle: Snarkernackle! Very amusing, even if it can't decide how to spell itself. Snark on that, Snarkernackle!

Friday, September 30, 2005

I've decided not to raise my children Mormon...

...and I swear it's only partially because of this post on Times & Seasons. For those of you who don't want to read hundreds of comments (and who can blame you), I'll summarize. A T&S perma-blogger believes that, absent massive personal revelation, it is better to stay single forever than marry outside the temple. The rationale given is that mixed-religion marriages can "hamper... their children's spiritual growth" because kids will figure out that one of their parents don't believe. Even worse, they'll figure out that religion is not more important than marriage. I present the following quotation verbatim:
"The problem is that SOME [exposure to the gospel] may be worse than NONE. I've been around people from part-member families (and while I know not all are like this), ones that I have known have had no trouble taking the sacrament and then going out to lunch and ordering (gasp!) an iced tea. Not that that is evil incarnate, but it suggests that this person, at least, has fully learned the lesson of her youth: the church is nice, and it works for some, but it wasn't crucial to me (as your mother) that you be raised by someone who believes in it. She would have perhaps been better off raised without the gospel and then encountering it wholeheartedly instead of learning that 'the half-way covenant' is good enough."
I think this is the problem; this person believes the Church should trump all relationships, especially marriage. You shouldn't even consider marrying an outsider. Why would you? They aren't part of the Church, and the Church is the most important thing in life.

I don't want my kids exposed to these kinds of clannish, suffocating ideas, at least not until they are old enough to judge for themselves. I think it is a toxic mindset. And I don't think it's only Mormons that are afflicted with this; most churches (I'm looking at you Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Judaism, etc.) strongly discourage marrying outside of your religion. I whole-heartedly reject all this foolishness.

Which is more important, my wife or church? You shouldn't even have to think about it.
My wife will always take precedence over church. My family will always take precedence over church. Guess what? I hope my children do learn that the church is nice and okay for some people, but it's not the most important thing and it's not for everyone. It certainly shouldn't determine who you marry and it definitely shouldn't make you feel bad about yourself.

And that brings me to the second reason I won't raise my (theoretical) children Mormon: the church can't deal with sexuality. If I was scarred by the repressiveness of the church teachings growing up as a straight male, I can only imagine the hell it must be to grow up gay and Mormon. If my kids are gay, I don't want them them to be made miserable by constantly hearing about how bad of sinners they are, just for being themselves. There is a lot of ugly, unnecessary guilt imposed by the church that we could do without.

The number one lesson that will be taught in the Flanders' home is that being a good person and good to others are the only essential things. Everything else, including church, is fungible.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

New online forum for believing spouses

I came across this new site during my daily scouring of the internet: a forum for believing Mormon spouses of inactives or non-members called Faces East. This community is just getting started, so if you fit the profile, or know someone who does, check it out.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Rough Stone Rolling release party?

With the release of the highly anticipated Rough Stone Rolling just minutes away, I have to ask, where is the excitement? To my knowledge, Deseret Book doesn't have any midnight release parties, and no members of the bloggernacle are headed off to the bookstore in their best Porter Rockwell costume. This is our Harry Potter, people! Supposedly, my copy left the warehouse today. We'll see if Amazon delivers it as timely as it did my wife's copy of the Half-Blood Prince.

I can't make any promises about staying up and reading all 768 pages straight through, though.

Friday, September 16, 2005

A delicate topic

Mormonism and its relationship with homosexuality seems to be the hot topic. If Steve would ever bother to restart his Bloggernacle Zeitgeist column, it would certainly be this week's winner.

If you haven't checked out Silus Grok's guest stint over at Nine Moons, I highly recommend that you do. Frankly, it's tough to read about someone willing to sacrifice so much to stay Mormon; I have to admit I'm a little ambivalent about it. I think the Church is richer with people like Silus in it, and I think his openness can only help tolerance and understanding develop in Mormon culture. On the other hand, I can't help thinking that he might be happier in a church that didn't brand his most basic desires as irredeemably sinful.

For those of us not in Silus's situation, the question of the Church's policy towards homosexuality can be troubling. The way I look at it, there are a couple possibilities:

1. God approves of the way the Church is handling the "gay question" and...
(a) will never change.
(b) will eventually include all sexual orientations. The time is just not right now.

2. God disapproves of the Church's policy towards gay members, but...
(a) chooses not to intervene. He lets the prophets make their own decisions.
(b) not so much that it warrants a new revelation.
(c) he can't get anyone on the line.

3. God isn't Mormon/doesn't exist/doesn't involve himself in human affairs.

I don't know that any of these are really attractive options for me. This is a tough and sensitive subject. I truly believe that God wants all of us to be happy, or as close as possible; I guess whether this includes the Church or not depends on the individual.

Regular readers will know that I am a huge Morrissey fan. On his latest album, he had a song that seems very relevant to this discussion (especially considering Morrissey's ambiguous sexuality and proclaimed celibacy), called "I Have Forgiven Jesus." Some of the lyrics are as follows:

"I have forgiven Jesus
for all of the love
he placed in me
when there’s no one I can turn to with this love...
why did you give me
so much desire?
when there is nowhere I can go
to offload this desire?
and why did you give me so much love
in a loveless world?
when there is no one I can turn to
to unlock all this love
and why did you stick me in
self-deprecating bones and skin
Jesus-do you hate me?"

I can't really add anything to that.

Friday, September 09, 2005

BYU is the fittest school?

The magazine Men's Fitness has apparently named BYU as the fittest college campus. I don't know if requiring a phys-ed class to graduate necessarily makes a campus fit, but I was surprised at the large percentage of students that participated in intramural sports. I wish my alma mater had more stuff like that.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Fondue with the Tanners

It always depresses me when the bloggernacle stoops to petty (and seemingly interminable) back-and-forths like this recent M* thread. But at least Kaimi's links finally revealed to me the origin of the fondue story: this comment. I'm sure everyone already knew this, but I've been wondering about the origin for months. I finally get to be in on the joke!

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Movie Review: Transporter 2

Transporter 2 was number one at the box office last week, thanks in part to Maude and me. We both enjoyed the goofy fun of the first Transporter, which has two of the best fight scenes ever (one involves a doorbell and the other bicycle pedals). We were also looking forward to seeing Jason Statham in action once again, as he is a criminally under-used actor.

As we left the theater after watching Transporter 2, I said to Maude, "Quick, let's get out of here before anyone realizes that we paid money to see that."

The first Transporter was fun and stupid; this one is just stupid. I don't go to action movies looking for plausibility, but don't insult my intelligence. I can't help feeling insulted when the Transporter flips his car 360 degrees in the air and clips a crane to knock a bomb off his car. I sense nothing but contempt from the filmmaker who has a plane crash full speed into the ocean with minimal damages.

I don't understand what is so hard about making a movie like this. Your audience has very limited demands: cool fight scenes and action sequences. Period. They couldn't care less about glowing purple orbs of vaccines, Russian biochemists, and Columbian drug cartels. (And Columbian drug cartels? Seriously, Luc Besson? Is it 1986?) The problem with Transporter 2 is that it doesn't even deliver this. The fight scenes are so heavily edited that you can't really tell who is punching whom, and the action sequences are too cartoonish to be any fun.

Despite this being a terrible movie, I have to say that I'm glad it made 20 million last weekend. Maybe now Jason Statham will finally start getting the roles he deserves. Let's just hope it's not Transporter 3.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Maginot Line

I almost didn't go to church again this weekend. The Episcopal church meets at the same time and Maude wanted to go. I told her we could alternate Sundays (since we only have one vehicle) and that she could take the first one. When it actually came time to wake up, she was too sleepy and told me to go ahead.

I didn't know what to expect, but this being the Northeast, I figured the Mormon ward house would be small and possibly located in a converted IHOP restaurant. Boy, was I wrong. I pulled up to a brand-new building, fresh out of the church-approved architectural oven. Is it just me, or are the Church buildings getting better-looking? I think this is a positive development for missionary work; it's hard to get people excited about worshipping God in what looks like an old bank branch.

The chapel itself was actually pretty small. Who has ever heard of a chapel with only six rows of pews? I guess this is a mini-ward house, kind of like the newer mini-temples. They had the overflow open so that it was about the size of a regular chapel, only with half of the seats being located in the cultural hall.

I came in about two minutes before the meeting started and landed a primo spot in the back row, just like old times. In my old ward in Virginia, I never exchanged more than two words with anyone during the eight or nine times I went, probably because there were 200-250 people there every week. This week, however, as soon as I had sat down, the guy next to me had introduced himself, his wife and his kids. I was right; it's going to be a lot harder keeping a low profile in small ward. He had gotten my name and half my life story out of me just during the prelude music. I tried going with the whole "I'm just visiting" shtick, but that never works. I wasn't planning on revealing too much about myself, but he came right out and asked me, "So, is your wife a member?" There's really no way around that question. I was only hesitant to answer because I saw two sets of typical over-eager Elders sitting in the chapel. I think they can smell part-member families, just like dogs can smell fear.

Finally, the meeting started and during it I met the guy sitting on the other side of me. He seemed like a kindred spirit, and possibly a new convert. He didn't take the sacrament either, which I find helps ease some of the stigma. As I prepared to bolt at the end of the meeting (to avoid having to meet the Bishop), this guy says, "See you next week." I don't think he was planning on sticking around for Sunday School either.

I am glad that everyone I've met so far has been so nice; I think I could enjoy my time here. However, I am a little apprehensive about the Elders getting ideas about Maude. She hasn't shown any interest in attending, but if she ever does come, I don't think she'd respond well to the missionaries. It was easy to have boundaries in a large ward; I have a feeling it will take a lot more energy now to defend them.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Sheep in sheep's clothing

Fortunately, I was in the midst of a move and missed most of the M*/BCC/Dialogue nonsense that flared up last week. (If you missed it too, and have a healthy dose of masochism, feel free to read it here.)

The fallout from this is that over at M*, Jonathan Max Wilson informs us that he can no longer in good faith participate in the bloggernacle. It seems to me that every six months or so, certain bloggers get fed up with the bloggernacle, insinuate those left behind are on the road to apostasy, and bow out. (In fact, I made a similar post almost exactly five months ago, and J. Max Wilson even left a comment.) That's fine. Maybe they are right, maybe they are wrong; what irritates me is the suggestion that they know my intentions better than I do.

I think the bloggernacle would be a much nicer place if everyone just took a deep breath, relaxed, and ascribed the best intentions to everyone in it. The idea that there are wolves in sheep's clothing, or Bloggernacle stalwarts who are secretly anti-Mormons posing as faithful questioners, is patently ridiculous.

Heterodox Mormons are not in league with Satan, and Orthodox Mormons aren't (all--ha!) Pharisees bent on driving the rest of us from the church. We are all working out our own salvation here, trying to resolve our feelings about often difficult and murky topics. I am not trying to lead anyone astray; I couldn't even if I tried. I am trying to figure out what parts of Mormonism work for me and which ones don't, and whether those that don't preclude me from returning to full activity. If discussing hard topics offends some people, then they shouldn't participate; life is too short to be constantly offended.

If the open and freewheeling nature of bloggernacle discussion offends you, fine, but don't pretend to know my motives. We are all sheep, still looking for the right shepherd.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

He who is transplanted, still sustains...

Phwew! It's been a rough few weeks, but somehow Maude, me, and the majority of our stuff made it to our new home. As you may have noticed from my updated profile there on the right, I have left the Washington D.C. metro area forever and am now a curmudgeonly New Englander. I've already practiced saying, "you cahn't get there from heeahr." I am certain my neighbors will just love me.

It's a big transition moving from an apartment to a home. Suddenly, I am responsible for maintaining more than twice the usual amount of space and three times as many bathrooms. Frankly, we weren't all that good about keeping three rooms clean; how are we going to fare with a whole house? I think maintaining this place and the yard could be my full-time job, which is convenient, because I still haven't found one. Without work, I've totally lost track of what day it is but I am pretty sure tomorrow is garbage day. Maybe this Sunday I can finally check out the new church.

I do miss my old work internet connection; I have about two and a half weeks of bloggernacle postings to catch up on.

Monday, August 01, 2005

NY Times article on Mormon cinema

I haven't seen anything in the bloggernacle about the New York Times Sunday Magazine article about Mormon cinema so I thought I would link to it (registration required, lamentably).

I'm not a fan of most Mormon-themed movies, but a comedy about church basketball sounds hilarious. It's too bad the title "Murderball" was already taken. On one hand, "Church Ball" will star Fred Willard. This can only be good news. One the other, it will also feature Gary Coleman. It could be a wash.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Too much personal revelation...

I think the concept of "personal revelation" is quickly wearing out its welcome in the Flanders' home. Everywhere I go in the bloggernacle, all I hear about is personal revelation. Apparently, if I want to drink a Coke or watch Schindler's List or jay-walk, I have to receive personal revelation that it's alright.

If I want to deviate from the Proclamation of the Family and stay at home with the kids or have my wife wear pants, we'd better start praying to secure our exemption from this draconian document.

I for one say, NO MORE! No more personal revelation about cooking with wine! No more asking about career choices. Do it or don't. Stop bothering God! He doesn't care! I just don't understand the compulsion to clear every single decision we make in this life with the Almighty. We've been taught correct principles (hopefully), now let's govern ourselves, people! Seriously.

It probably won't shock anyone that I'm not a huge Bruce R. McConkie fan. The excerpts I've read from Mormon Doctrine sometimes make my blood boil. That's why I was surprised to read about the following talk Bruce gave once at BYU:

...[E]xamples of what [McConkie] called "extremism" among both students and ecclesiastical leaders which he counseled avoiding: giving excessively burdensome callings...; prohibiting students from studying on Sunday; allowing students to seek "special blessings" ("These tend to... encourage undue reliance upon divine intervention in mundane matters"); praying on dates; choosing a marriage partner (he encouraged using "personal judgment, not requiring a heavenly revelation"); making no long-term goals in the mistaken belief that the second coming of Christ is imminent; lacking discretion in ecclesiastical interviews...; and avoiding "a witchhunting attitude when discussing which sins should be confessed to a bishop." (source)

What's this? A talk by Bruce R. that feels like a breath of fresh air? I feel like I'm taking crazy pills.

If something as important as choosing a marriage partner should be decided using "personal judgment, not requiring a heavenly revelation" then why are we pestering the Lord about things much less momentous?

Dear Prudence...

I don't know who is behind Prudence McPrude, but let me just say in true Bloggernacle fashion, I *heart* Prudie.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Calling all lawyers...

After three grueling years in law school, my beloved wife Maude is taking the bar in less than twenty-four hours. Since attorneys make up roughly 85% of the bloggernacle, I was hoping to solicit any last-minute advice you could give her.

Please note that any advice given becomes property of Ned Flanders, Inc., and donors will not be monetarily compensated.

So, counselors, how did you pass the bar?

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Protecting our Sister Missionaries

If I ever have children, I am not letting them out of the house. It's just too dangerous out there. I guess I'll eventually let them go to school and so forth (I'll probably be sick of being cooped up in the house with them for five years by that point) but even that's a maybe.

One thing I'd never let my daughters do is serve a mission. If they insist, I will carefully screen where they go. New York City South? Next. Colombia Baranquilla? Surely you jest. France Bordeaux? I'll think about it.

It is quite amazing that sister missionaries still serve. It is a dangerous world out there and missionaries are particularly vulnerable. They are out late (till 9:30) in unfamiliar neighborhoods and often without any particular destination in mind. Being North American (in the majority of cases) can also draw unwanted attention, depending on the area.

The sisters in my mission didn't complain about harassment, but if you walked anywhere with them, you couldn't help noticing the catcalls and unwanted attention. It was a private joke among them that you were considered a greenie sister missionary until someone had flashed you.

Am I over-reacting, or do we need to do more to protect the sister missionaries? Are there certain countries they should not be called to? Am I sexist because I don't have similar concerns about Elders?

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Proof that the bloggernacle is evil

Tess, in a comment on Is Church Embarrassing?, asks why I have started going back to church. I'm not really sure that I know the answer to that. It may be that the explanations I tell myself are wishful thinking; the reasons seem to change as I try to figure them out.

I had been attending the Episcopal church with my wife occasionally and I liked the feeling of going to a church, any church. I found the bloggernacle in December, left my first comment in January, and started blogging in March. I don't think it was a coincidence that four weeks later, I attended church for the first time since 1998. Would I have attended church without the bloggernacle? Probably not.

I used to think of the church as a monolith: I imagined scads of members with highly correlated testimonies. It's tempting to fall into the either/or mindset as a Mormon. Either the church is true or it isn't. Either you have a testimony or you don't. You are a faithful member or you aren't. When everything is in black-and-white, it's hard to see where you fit in. This virtual community of bloggers reminded me that there is incredible variety within the church. Some people with views very near my own are active, faithful members. This threw me for a loop; maybe I wasn't as far outside the mainstream as I had imagined.

Back when I was lurking on Times & Seasons, I saw a comment that said, "I pretty much disregard everything that some people, like Boyd K. Packer, say." I was shocked to see my own feelings reflected in a Bloggernacle stalwart, but pleasantly surprised that a believing Mormon could think this. I found the commentator's own blog, a website called Nine Moons (you may have heard of it), and this was the first blog I visited regularly besides T&S. So, in a way, you could say that Rusty's personal apostasy contributed to my partial reactivation.

Being part of the bloggernacle made me want to check out church, just to see what I was missing. So why do I keep going (well, not next week; it's ward conference)? I don't know. I don't take the sacrament, I don't get a lot out of the talks, and I don't actually talk to anyone. I don't think God cares whether I go or not. I guess I go to remind myself that there might be something else out there, something that is very imperfectly reflected in the noisy congregation of saints gathered each week.

Could I get the same feeling at another church? Probably. But I guess I'll stick with this one until they start bothering me at home.

Cross-posted at Nine Moons. Please comment there.

Friday, July 08, 2005

A moment for ward business...

As you have probably noticed, Rusty was kind enough to invite me over to Nine Moons to do a few guest-posts. Blogging on someone else's turf is a lot more stressful than I imagined. The night-sweats, the compulsive hand-wringing, and the dizzy spells are bad enough; I also have to come up with decent posts. Well, it's not really that bad, but I definitely feel the pressure.

In less momentous news, I have added a few blogs to the blogroll. I have to admit that I was very skeptical of the Mormon Open Forum, but it already has some interesting stuff posted on it. It's certainly an interesting experiment in open content. Who would have thought that the odd couple of Steve FSF and Kurt could come together and manage a blog? I tend to think only good things can come from more open conversation in the bloggernacle. Let's hope it lasts.

Missionary Philistinism

Nineteen-year-old males aren't paragons of learning and wisdom. Sequestering them with other nineteen-year-olds probably isn't a recipe for much improvement. Despite these serious handicaps, they are the primary representatives of our church. (I am setting aside the sister missionaries for a moment, since they are much more mature, educated, and scarce.)

Unfortunately, we but ill-prepare these boys for their service. Sure, we shovel a lot of language and scripture-sharing into them, but we don't provide any cultural background for the place they'll be living for two years. The sum total of the Argentine culture I was exposed to in the MTC was a three-page fact sheet about exports and demographics and one "culture night." During culture night, returned missionaries showed us slides of their mission, passed around a soccer jersey, and taught us a supposedly Argentine song. (We all learned it fastidiously, and then never heard it again.) That's it.

We hit Argentina knowing the name of the President, and that we should never, under any circumstances, bring up the Falkland Islands in conversation. Is it any surprise then that many Elders don't learn much more than that during their mission? I had to wait until I was back at the university to read any Spanish-language literature or learn about Argentine history. When I was finally exposed to these things, I realized that I had been missing out on whole levels of understanding. It felt like I had squandered a chance to fully experience the Argentine culture.

Why can't the church assign one short work of the native culture as a reading assignment? It would help missionaries' language skills immensely to read something NOT translated directly from the English Correlated Mormonese. It would provide insights into the culture that they will soon be immersed in and would give them a common reference point to draw on when interacting with people. Half the fun would be deciding what story or novella to assign for each country.

As it stands now, I lived in Argentina for two years, and returned without ever having read anything by Borges. That just doesn't make sense. And I can't even remember how many old men we met who wanted to talk to us about the gaucho classic Martin Fierro.

I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with well-rounded missionaries.

Cross-posted at Nine Moons. Please comment there.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Is Church Embarrassing?

I continued my unprecedented streak of church attendance Sunday, making it three weeks in a row. If anyone had actually noticed me showing up, I would count as a "re-activated male." I don't know if they still do that statistic, but during my mission we had to report every week how many men were reactivated (sorry, ladies, I guess you don't count). To count, these men had to attend for three straight weeks, so I assume three straight weeks of non-attendance would officially make one inactive. I could keep coming three weeks on and three weeks off to help the local missionaries bolster their stats.

I am happy to report that one of the sister missionaries gave the opening prayer in Sacrament Meeting. I think the First Presidency should send out a letter instructing bishops to have women do the invocations for a couple of weeks, just so everyone can get over that silly tradition.

Anyway, as I was sitting all the way in the back during Sacrament Meeting (feeling a little silly because the cultural hall was nearly empty), I realized that each week I've been analyzing the meeting to see how my wife would react. Maude and I occasionally attend the Episcopalian Church together but she has never been to a Mormon meeting. She thinks she'll be stared at for not conforming to the dress code, even though I assured her we could hide out in the back pew. I don't really care if she goes or not, but I'd like her to come at least once so she can see that we're not really that crazy.

Each meeting I've been trying to notice the things she'd notice and analyze if she'd be offended or not. I was glad I didn't take her to April's Fast Sunday, which featured a paean to the greatness of John Paul II (she's not a fan). The Father's Day meeting was fine but had a really terrible High Council talk. It sounded like he was winging it, and it featured a long, rambling explanation about how elephant herds fall apart without bull elephants. Yeah, great stuff.

This Sunday's meeting was almost ideal: there was a confirmation of a convert baptism, highly visible minority priesthood-holders, and a nice (if overly long) musical number (classical music, not a cheesy Michael McLean number). Other churches don't have the same problem that we do with widely varying Sunday meetings. They might change the reading from the scriptures, but it's still the same priests giving the sermons. They have the entire Mass scripted; after the sacrament, ours is more of a potluck.

I think my best bet is to take her on a Fast Sunday. It's risky, I know, but the testimonies in this ward have been pretty safe in the past. I think the open format would be much more interesting than last week's three dull talks on the Fifth Article of Faith (it can barely sustain one talk, let alone three).

Am I setting myself up here for the wackiest testimony meeting ever? Do you ever envy the consistent, traditional masses of other churches? Am I over-thinking this whole thing?

Cross-posted at Nine Moons. Please comment there.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Living in sin

As I mentioned in passing on the Millennial Star marriage statistic thread, my wife and I lived together for four years before we got married. This was one reason I didn't bother going to church during my seven-year dry spell. Not because I felt particularly guilty, but because I knew I was pretty much a persona non grata until I got married.

If I ever go back to church seriously, I suppose I'd have to clear this up with the Bishop. The only problem is that I don't think I did anything horribly wrong. I don't want to be TMI guy here, so let's just say that my wife is and was the only woman for me. Ever. And now we're married, so what's the big deal? The only difference between us and a Temple-attending celestial couple is the date the marriage ceremony was performed.

Don't get me wrong, I don't advocate sex before marriage, but I find it hard to condemn if it occurs in a serious, long-term relationship (with proper precautions). Mormons generally can't have serious, long-term relationships that aren't marriages. I honestly can't say if this is a good thing or a bad thing.

It just seems a little silly to me that unlimited NCMOs are a-ok, but my wife and I are guilty of the 3rd worst sin possible.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Playing with fire

I'm moving out of state soon (see you in hell, Virginia) and so I've felt emboldened to attend church for the past two weeks. Why emboldened? Because church is often like a barracuda; once they have you in their jaws, it's not easy to escape.

I like moving around a lot because my records inevitably get lost. I don't mind showing up for the occasional hour of church, but I don't want them bothering me at home. My wife thinks it's absolutely bizarre to track people down and invite them to church; the whole concept is very alien to her, and I think, off-putting.

My records for a long time were in my parents' ward, but somehow they tracked me down here. I have my suspicions how they got my address (my father, most likely) but thank goodness they don't have my phone number. I once got a visit from a man who said he was my home-teaching companion. He was very nice, but I still don't understand how I'm supposed to go home-teaching when I don't even go to church. One of the biggest mistakes the Church makes is trying to reactivate people by giving them callings. Sure, it might guilt them into attending for a while, but it ensures that they won't come back after they miss a few weeks.

So I am attending now, safe in the knowledge that if anyone does corner me and find out my name (hasn't happened yet, thankfully), they can't bother me for too long before I move. I am storing church up for the winter, since I am moving to New England, and it is my impression that it will be a lot harder to fly under the radar in a small ward.

I am almost tempted to reactivate just for the Elders' quorum help in moving, but even I have my scruples.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Calling all missionary stories

A lot of people don't like mission stories. Members have heard too many already and non-members don't really understand them. This is frustrating to returned missionaries because all our best stories are from the mission. Also, not a day goes by that something doesn't remind you of something that happened on the mission.

My wife Maude is long-suffering. She'll never say anything but I can actually see her eyes glaze over as soon as I utter the words, "this one time, in Argentina..." She probably has a pretty skewed view of Mormons, since most of stories she's heard about them are terrible.

Mission stories generally fall into three categories.
1) Stupid things that missionaries do. I'd wager this is probably the largest category (you can draw your own conclusions as to why).
2) Crazy/weird people encountered in the mission field.
3) Spiritual experiences. This is probably the smallest group.

Well, I am here to provide a safe haven for all your pent-up tales. I love mission stories. Even those in category 3. Maybe because I am "less active" (happy, Steve FSF?) I haven't heard very many. Maybe this will count as your virtual Home Teaching visit.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

I wear black on the outside...

Sometimes, when I feel depressed, I simultaneously feel guilty because I have nothing to be depressed about. I have a higher standard of living than 99% of the world, no major medical problems, and no immediate financial worries. In fact, I disgust me.

Is it true that once you have all your survival needs met, that you automatically have to look for something wrong to dwell on? Is there an evolutionary disadvantage to being content? I don't think I've ever been really happy. Looking back, all the happiest times of my life seem to coincide with periods of great stress.

I think I've given up on being happy or content or whatever that means. I just don't think I'm wired that way. I think that this might be why I have a hard time finding my place in the Church. We're supposed to be so ecstatic from our knowledge of the truth, that we can't help being filled with joy. Am I unhappy because I don't know the truth, or do I not know the truth because I'm unhappy?

In the end, I think I'm just scared. Scared that I am just fooling myself, and that there is nothing after death. Or scared to find out that I missed my one chance for salvation. The way I look at it, there's no good way for this to end.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Herman Melville on doubt

As I posted what seems like an eternity ago, I am making my way (albeit very slowly) through Moby-Dick. The whole book is great, but the following passage seemed to jump out at me:

"...rainbows do not visit the clear air; they only irradiate vapor. And so, through all the thick mists of the dim doubts in my mind, divine intuitions now and then shoot, enkindling my fog with a heavenly ray. And for this I thank God; for all have doubts; many deny; but doubts or denials, few along with them, have intuitions. Doubts of all things earthly, and intuitions of some things heavenly; this combination makes neither believer nor infidel, but makes a man who regards them both with equal eye." --Moby-Dick, Chapter 88.

I think I forget sometimes that doubt is a natural, even positive, emotion. If we never inquire we'll never find out.

Monday, June 20, 2005

19 gigs and counting...

My parents bought me this mp3 player in 2001. It was definitely one of the best gifts I've ever gotten and it's still going strong. Although it is a bit bulkier than today's iPods, it was one of the first 20 gig mp3 players on the market. Finally, after almost 4 years of filling it up, I am nearly out of space (just 500 mb left). In the vein of Kulturblog's recent craze of ranking the best music of the last five years, I thought I would post this list. These are the artists with most songs on my mp3 player. I don't have a high-speed connection, so I have these all on CD too.

1. Morrissey/The Smiths - 375 songs
2. The Cure - 351 songs
3. Blur - 207 songs
4. Nine Inch Nails - 159 songs
5. Joy Division/New Order - 159 songs
6. Beastie Boys - 147 songs
7. The Clash - 129 songs
8. Pulp - 128 songs
9. Radiohead - 126 songs
10. Depeche Mode - 98 songs
11. Outkast - 80 songs
12. Los Fabulosos Cadillacs - 77 songs
13. Giacomo Puccini - 69 songs
14. Belle & Sebastian - 66 songs
15. Sleater-Kinney - 63 songs

Looking through my list, I think it is a fairly accurate representation of who my favorite bands are. Thanks to the benevolent influence of my older sister, I have musical taste about 10 years older than I actually am.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

24th day of the mission

Over at Times & Seasons, Rosalynde has bravely posted her journal entry from the 24th day of her mission. As I publicly called for a contest for the worst entry (before having a chance to peruse my journal), and as Rusty has already bounded into the lead with his classic entry, I guess I'll have to reluctantly add my own.

I should mention that my mission journal was written down in much the same way as the Book of Mormon. No, not through inspiration, but rather without any punctuation or capitalization. I have attempted to divide the entry into sentences to make it slightly less annoying for the reader. But if the entry sounds rambling, you should keep in mind that it is all one stream of words on the page.

Rusty’s entry may have crying in it, but it can’t compete with mine for whiny teenage angst.

Friday 13 Sep 96

Rained briefly today but was only a harbinger of nothingness. [I should point out that “nothing” was, besides its literal meaning, also my code word for not receiving any letters from a certain female.] Felt weak in shower like I had been fasting all day. I liked the feeling, especially since I didn’t have to starve myself to feel it. [It is an odd coincidence that I just mentioned this on my blog the other day.] The Coke I got from [Elder N] yesterday seems to reinforce my soul. [I don’t know what that means. Elder N procured some caffeinated Coke Classic for me, as I was coming to grips with a 2 liter a day addiction to it.] I am afraid I will have to go through withdrawal syndrome this time since I didn’t have any symptoms when I came into this place. And I’m afraid the caffeine-free Coke will never taste the same again but the real stuff tastes great for now…

I seem to have found a kindred spirit in [Elder N] since he doesn’t seem as sold on the whole mission thing as everyone else (but more than me at times). He is a rollercoaster of spirituality and he takes a lot of things personally and he hates the “politics” of this place but he takes it a lot more personally [wait, does he take things personally?] because I really don’t care at all. As I always say, apathy is my only virtue, like a foot in the pearly gates. I don’t even know if that has a scriptural reference. I might never see them [the pearly gates] for that express reason.

Will I wait forever? Rain, rain never tells me anything anymore. It used to be my only oracle. Don’t you know my weakness is my only talent, my only pleasure now? Will I always have to wait in vain? [too much Bob Marley here?] And horrible coldness that burns my bowels and melts my brain, waves over me in a revolting sweep of separation. [Ooookay…..] Will Isaiah 52:8 mean nothing forever? [I looked up this scripture, and I have to say, I have no idea why I mentioned it.] My new theme word, my new life is nothing, nothing, nothing.

Thumbing through my mission journal, I realize it could have been worse (but not much!). Fortunately, the stuff I write about gets more interesting and less navel-gazy once I finally get to South America. I was a ridiculously prolific journal keeper; I have five college-ruled notebooks packed with entries (most of them, hopefully, better than this one). After my first week in the MTC, I didn't miss a single day until I got home, and I often wrote over a page a day. I think it was only the journal that kept me sane through those two years. Sadly, I haven't made a journal entry since, probably because nothing since has seemed quite as interesting.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Rotting holy oil

Consecrated oil is suddenly a hot topic in the bloggernacle. I have a metal vial of oil on my keychain that I never bothered to take off after my mission. Most of the time, I forget it's even there. It's probably weird to carry around oil that I'm not even worthy to use; do I think that if I'm in a jam and need to give a blessing, God won't care that I'm not active? If God can overlook that, then surely he can overlook the absence of oil.
Maybe I never took it off my keychain because that would be the sign that I wasn't coming back, that I was giving up on the priesthood permanently. Maybe I need a tactile reminder that I am a Mormon (however inactive).

Unfortunately, it's been seven years since I opened the vial (we gave lots of blessings on my mission). At this point I am too scared to open it to see if the oil has completely rotted. I'll leave it to the bloggernacle's literary critics to draw comparisons between the oil and my soul.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Father's Day gift advice needed

I am running out of time to get my dad a Father's Day gift. He lives on the other side of the country so I need to get it fairly soon.

My problem? I've tried nothing and I'm all out of ideas.

I figure, why not hit up the bloggernacle for ideas? My dad is a Millennial Star-type guy and doesn't have a lot of time to read things besides Dan Brown (and he already has all of those books). He travels a couple times a month for his job.

I need help, people. Christian over at the Spinozist suggested this classy ring. I'll put that in the maybe pile.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Nowhere fasting

While we're on the subject of fasting, I have my own confession: I never much cared for it.

I am prone to what I assume are low-blood-sugar headaches, so growing up, fasting always had the association of blinding pain and nausea for me. As a teenager, I grew to like the buzz you could get from fasting; your knees shake a little and your arm trembles involuntarily. You feel wonderfully light-headed and dizzy (Mormons will do anything to get around the Word of Wisdom, won't they?). At any rate, while it was enjoyable and gave me the sense of inner physical strength, I can't say it was an overtly religious experience.

Then came my mission. On my first fast Sunday in the MTC, an Elder passed out in the food line and we had to carry him out. Diagnosis? Dehydration.

Fasting is all very well and so forth, but making missionaries fast is stupid. And making missionaries fast in warm climates is downright dangerous. Under a beating sun, walking and tracting while wearing a tie is not conducive to hydration. At least my mission in Argentina was not tropical; I don't know what the Elders in the Philippines and Central America do.

On my mission, I finally developed a system that worked for me. After returning to the apartment on Saturday night with my companion, I would drink a two-liter bottle of Coke. I was so full, I didn't even want to eat or drink anything in the next 24 hours. It wasn't quite the spirit of the law, I know, but it got me through the Sunday.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Baptism for the remission of sins

A very interesting post at Millennial Star about the accountability of seven-year-olds brought to mind the following question (already raised by Grasshopper at M*): if we baptize for the remission of sins, why do we baptize eight-year-olds? They might have a couple sins, but with one or two exceptions, they probably don't have many major ones.

I have already argued that we should raise the baptismal age to eighteen.
My view is that we're wasting a very important ordinance on the very young and sinless. We get a kind of consolation in that we can do proxy work as adults and be baptized for others, but for me this just reminds me how much more powerful my own baptism could have been. Baptism is the most physical of all the ordinances, and thus makes a much larger impression than, say, the laying on of hands.

Thinking about my resistance to Jonathan Stone's bright line distinction between 7- and 8-year-olds, I am starting to wonder if I agree with any absolutes in the Gospel. Do we really believe that every sin is washed away in baptism? What if the person secretly doesn't feel bad about it or even think it is a sin? Is mild dishonesty in a baptismal interview enough to render the cleansing part of baptism invalid? Or is God bound by his promise to wash us clean?