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?