Friday, July 28, 2006

A Persistent Idea

I had a persistent idea the other evening, and I couldn't make it go away.

Over on my other blog, I mentioned that my husband and I had exchanged memorized religious texts. I recited the Nicene creed, from my long ago time as a Catholic. He recited the first concept of the first missionary discussion, from his long ago time as an LDS missionary.

It was an interesting experience, listening to him talk to "Mr. Brown." He ripped through it pretty quickly, as if he was reading "The Cat in the Hat" for the 8,000th time. He didn't seem to stumble or hesitate anywhere. We exchanged pleasantries during the process a time or two, then he picked up right where he left off. Sort of like how Joseph was said to have translated the Book of Mormon.

The experience brought an idea to mind. It was a weird idea, and I had very mixed feelings about it. I tried to ignore it. But it wouldn't go away. All the next day, while I was working, it kept popping up. I decided to just go with it. Worst case scenario, I spend a couple of hours with my family doing something I wouldn't ordinarily do.

My husband is going to teach me the missionary discussions.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Washing Machine Blues

Frankly, there are only two good things about owning a house. The first is that you don't have to share any walls with noisy neighbors. I didn't really appreciate this aspect until a few years ago when an extremely amorous couple moved in to the apartment next door and installed a home theater with a sub-woofer that shook the entire building.

The other good thing is finally having a place for your own washer and dryer. No more trips to the laundromat, washing your pillowcases and sheets in the machine right after the family with the potty-training problems.

These two advantages may not sound like much, but they almost make up for a lifetime of grass mowing, wall painting, and snow shoveling. Almost.

Maude and I were fortunate enough to be able to buy a new washer and dryer when we moved into our new house last summer. The Monkish side of my personality was thrilled: I could drool on my pillowcase without reservation now. Only Ned and Maude germs would be present.

Our Kenmore washer and dryer have worked great for the past 11 months. On Sunday, after several days of procrastinating the day of my laundry, I finally decided to do a couple loads so I would have something clean to wear to work on Monday.

Thunk! That's the sound the dial makes when you pull it out and nothing happens. The hot water is flowing fine, but there is no cold water. Though I am not very mechanically inclined, I was able to disconnect the cold water hose from the washer and test the valve. The cold water shoots out of the hose without any problem once you've disconnected it from the washing machine. I even cleaned out the filter that's inside the washer next to the hose. Thunk!

I was out of ideas, so I scheduled an appointment for Sears to come look at it. I did it on their website on Monday night. I was disappointed that they didn't have any openings for Tuesday, but I scheduled a repairman to visit on Wednesday between 8 am and 12 pm. I took this morning off work and proceeded to wait. At about 10:10 am, I was getting restless, so I double-checked the email I had received from Sears. Sure enough, it said: "Your appointment is on Wednesday, August 2nd." Thunk!

Several swear words later, I called up Sears and confirmed that a week from today is the soonest they can get out here. It's rough; I had to wear a long-sleeved shirt to work today. I'm wearing clothes that I had put away for the winter, and now I find out that I have to wait another week?

I guess it's back to the laundromat for Maude and me. As for Sears, makers of the 11-month wonder machine, I think the least you can do is give me an Extreme Home Makeover. Just make sure you put in a Whirlpool. Thanks.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Cast Out?

DMI Dave has defined the Bloggernacle - and Viva Ned Flanders is not in it. He didn't exile us entirely. We're in a new area he's calling "The Borderlands."

This is a really good illustration of what happens to New Order Mormon-types.
  • We realize, for whatever reason, that we no longer believe some or all of the church's exclusive truth claims.
  • We decide that we want to stay affiliated with the church: for family reasons, for the community, because we think it's as good a place to find God and worship as any other, or any combination of the above.
  • We tell people or not, depending on our own circumstances. "Telling" usually involves things like letting the bishop know we can't teach, but that we're willing to serve in other ways. We try to work out a place for ourselves in the tent.
  • We're marginalized. Our honest search for God where we find God isn't faithful enough, and after all, we might damage somebody's fragile testimony (like the third member of the Godhead can't stand some a little heat and light).
I asked Ned to let me co-blog with him because I thought it was a good fit - Ned and I are in different places in our faith journey, but we both seemed to be able to interact with believers that they didn't find threatening. I know that my participation in the bloggernacle has been an enormous benefit to me in helping me to continue participating at church. I think after a long period of wandering, I may have found God again.

Apparently, that's not good enough.

I have an enormous amount of respect for Dave. For a guy whose last name I don't even know, he's been a huge influence on my ability to continue to see the good in the church. After a couple of years in the DAMU, finding DMI was a revelation to me. Here was a guy who talked about church stuff dispassionately. He talked about culture, history, and practice in a neutral tone. I didn't get the feeling that he had an agenda - that he was just interested in the subjects, and that he was writing down what he had learned. What a refreshing change of pace from the apologetics/polemics wastelands! And then the Bloggernacle emerged around DMI (at least, that was my perspective) and when BCC turned up (Democrats!) and Feminist Mormon Housewives hit, I figured maybe I can make this Mormon thing work after
all. Maybe these folks will have something to offer and will treat me like an equal, regardless of whether I buy into onlytrueness.

Apparently not.

I'm not sure where I'll go from here. When VNF moved to an "other islands" category on the Mormon Archipelago I thought maybe something was cooking. Now I suspect that it's just a matter of time before we're quietly dropped. The audience here is pretty small anyway. Losing our listing might just kill it. Maybe that's the point.

I do appreciate the folks who take us seriously and share their perspective without being obnoxious (Seth R. especially. That man can tell a story and share an opinion without setting off my BS meter even one little bit.) And my "New Order Mormon Guide to the Doctrine and Covenants" has been perking along in my brain for over a month now. I had thought that the experience might make a good essay to submit elsewhere, but the way the material was shaping up, the bloggernacle was looking more and more like the right venue.

Except now I'm not in the bloggernacle any more.

I'll try not to let the door hit me on the butt on the way out.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Disingenuous Fellowshipping?

I was taking out the garbage the other night when Maude brought me the cordless phone.

"It's the Mormons," she said. "They said something about game night." These last two words were pronounced with something I can only call bemused horror.

I turned on the phone and discovered that, sure enough, one of my previous visitors from the church was on the line. The guy was very nice and said he was inviting Maude and me over for desserts and games at his house along with the other man and his wife. I immediately felt bad. First, because I knew that this proposed event would never happen. And secondly, it's hard not to feel a little guilty that four people are willing to give up their Friday night, and possibly hire a baby-sitter, too.

I would be open to going to something like this, but I know Maude would not be. I have a lot in common with these people, but she does not. I can understand not wanting to be submerged in an alien social setting, with people who probably have half an eye on converting you into their strange religious sect. She doesn't know the extent of my deconversion, either, so she probably fears that I'm a couple of lemonade socials away from falling back on the wagon.

At any rate, I plead prior commitments to the nice guy on the phone. It was difficult because he tried to use the commitment pattern on me to schedule a new date. (I catch my parents doing this all the time, invariably about secular things, but it is still annoying.) Eventually we settled on the polite fiction that I would call him when I found a time that would work for us.

After I hung up the phone, Maude looked at me. "Game night?" she asked, one eyebrow raised.

"They're Mormons," I said, trying to explain. "They can't drink, so games are the only way they can socialize."

Reflecting on this episode later, I realized that the whole reactivation process can't help but sow seeds of mistrust. During their previous visit, I explicitly told my visitors (are they home teachers or reactivators? Who knows?) that I had zero interest in anything religious. Now, their invitation to Maude and me may be completely sincere and secular in nature. But how can it be? We were probably assigned to them in an effort to get some more priesthood holders active in the ward. They probably have to report on their progress with us during Elders Quorum. At first it's just Jello and Pictionary, and the next thing you know they'll be inviting the missionaries over.

Is it possible just to have a regular friendship between former Mormon and a current one? I think so, but probably not in these circumstances. The specter of reactivation will always loom over us.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Is suicide preferable to Lite FM?

I'm currently temping at a company until I can find something more permanent. Lots of temp positions are awful, so I feel pretty happy about my current situation. It's at a good company, the work isn't stressful, and the people are really nice. Well, most of them.

I share a cubicle with a 60-year-old woman. She lives alone except for the company of five cats, and I can only assume that she sees me as her main source of human interaction. At first, I felt bad for her, and tried to be friendly. Sometime between my first day and the day she forwarded me a racist email, I became less sympathetic. In that brief period of time, I was regaled with hundreds of stories, all told in mind-numbing detail, with absolutely no prompting from me. I know everything about her, her two daughters, and especially her five cats. I probably know more about her grandparents' lives than my own.

Dealing with people who cannot (or simply refuse to) recognize social cues from others is frustrating. I've become adept at not giving her any opportunities to start conversing at me, and being only minimally responsive when she starts anyway. I know I sound like a jerk, but I challenge anyone to spend five minutes with this woman and retain any charity towards her. Jesus himself would be tapping his watch, saying "I've really got to go."

Anyway, one of my many problems is that she listens to Lite FM radio. We share a large cubicle, so whatever she is listening to, I am listening to.

If I were Satan, and I was trying to settle on the soundtrack for hell, I would hesitate between Country Western and Lite FM. However, considering a large percentage of hell's population (possibly even a majority) will consist of country music fans, I would have to settle on Lite FM. That's nobody's favorite. It's the lowest common denominator of music.

If that isn't bad enough, the local Lite FM station has an extremely narrow playlist. I hear the same songs every day, only shuffled up into a different order. I'm sure some people are saying to themselves, "Surely, Ned is exaggerating. A radio station wouldn't play the exact same songs five days a week."

Unfortunately, I am not exaggerating. There is some rotation in and out of the playlist, it's true, but there is a hard core of songs that are played without exception, every day.

They are:

"In the Air Tonight" by Phil Collins
"Hotel California" by the Eagles
"Live Like You Were Dying" by Tim McGraw
"Escape (The Pina Colada Song)" by Rupert Holmes
"Someday" by Sugar Ray
"Rocket Man" by Elton John
"The First Cut is the Deepest" by Sheryl Crow
"The Heart of the Matter" by Don Henley
"Complicated" by Avril Lavigne
"Another Day in Paradise" by Phil Collins (yes! two by Phil!)
"Leader of the Band" by Dan Fogelberg
"Margaritaville" by Jimmy Buffett
and last but not least, "Kokomo" by the Beach Boys.

Mix liberally with Air Supply, Seels and Croft, and Rod Stewart and you have my day. (And no, I can't listen to my iPod at work.)

I think the worst part is that my cubicle-mate (I'll call her Angela) doesn't even like the music. She only listens because it's the only station she can pick up on her radio in the building. I'm convinced she only listens because they periodically give things away to callers.

I could really use a vacation to Aruba, or Jamaica...

Monday, July 17, 2006

One of the many reasons I love my wife...

Maude and I were watching the World Cup on TV when Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" started playing over the loudspeakers at the stadium.

"It's sad, but you know what I think of every time I hear this song?" I asked Maude.

She replied, "Die Hard?"

It's important to point out that I haven't watched Die Hard in ten years, and I certainly can't remember ever watching it with Maude. Sometimes it's scary how we know exactly what the other is thinking.

Maybe we need to start hanging out with other people.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Being Sustained and Sustaining

I was sustained for a calling yesterday. Building Scheduler and Ward Webmaster. I think it's an excellent fit; I spend about half my life on a computer anyway. I think the tasks involved will just be making sure there aren't any building use conflicts, and keeping the calendar up to date. I told the bishop I considered this calling a wonderful opportunity to send uplifting messages to everybody in the ward with an e-mail address. He kind of paused for a minute, but then I laughed and said that it wasn't really my style. He sort of exhaled and agreed with me – that it wasn't really my style.

On the other hand – sustaining. When my husband got his calling, we talked about it very carefully, and I decided that I was going to support him in doing it. And mostly, I do. The only thing that really bothers me are the Sunday morning meetings. Under the old regime, the morning meetings started an hour and a half before our first meeting. Plus, he got a Sunday off every month. That didn't interfere too much with him cooking my breakfast, so it was OK.

However, under the new power structure, he doesn't get a monthly Sunday off. Also, on the Sundays when women attend the regular meeting, there is a separate PEC meeting a half hour earlier that he needs to attend. Even though it's only twice a month, for only a half hour, I really resent the extra time. I think it's because they need an extra meeting without the women in order for it to “count” as PEC. I'm sorry; that just sets my quills ready to fire.

I told him how I feel about it, because there's no sense simmering in resentment – that would just make it worse. I'm not doing anything to put obstacles in the way of his attendance, or being mean about it or anything. I do feel, though, like this is an obstacle for me – that I'm not sustaining him as I agreed I would when he took the calling. And I'm being petty. Ick.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Healthy Skepticism

The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than that a drunken man is happier than a sober one - George Bernard Shaw

I seem to be quite easily troubled by stories from people who see the sacred in the mundane. Such behaviors are certainly not limited to Latter-day Saints. For example, I once read an essay about a Christian woman who used to give God credit when a parking space would open up at the grocery store - as if parking spaces in a parking lot were a miraculous thing.

I know I benefit from people who are able to see the miraculous in the mundane. They help me to see possibilities that I may have missed. Stories of miraculous printer repair remind me that there are people whose focus is ALWAYS turned toward God, and that they are happy and feel blessed. They remind me to look for God in my life.

However, I think the world also benefits from having people firmly grounded in reality. After all, sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar.

The main advantage the Earth-bound folks have is that we do not feel the need to squish every life event into a box labeled "God's Plan." For example, I don't believe God sent Hurricanes Katrina and Rita to Louisiana to implement some grand purpose for the South. I don't believe AIDS is a plague sent to punish homosexuals. And I don't think George W. Bush was elected to bring to pass the last days (though I admit I could be wrong about that one.)

It requires less theological gymnastics just to accept that Bad Things happen. Free of the need to assign Divine Purpose to the minutiae of life, the Earth-bound can take things at face value. We can invest our mental energy in working to solve our problems, and to enjoy our good fortune, instead of trying to figure out what God is trying to tell us by sparing our house from hurricane damage, when so many better people suffered so much.

Sunday in sacrament meeting, several people shared testimonies that bothered me. By "bothered," I mean that they shared stories that were powerful and sacred to them, and my inner teenager rolled her eyes and thought, "Yeah, right, whatever." I don't think of myself as more enlightened than the people who shared their stories of a miraculous (for them) experience. Quite the contrary: I felt bad for sitting there, listening to their sacred accounts of their miraculous experiences, and not really seeing anything miraculous at all in the event.

I'm glad for them that they felt God's presence in the happenings they described. Maybe I'm missing something really important by not seeing things the same way. But in the words of Simone Weil, "the poison of skepticism becomes, like alcoholism, tuberculosis, and some other diseases, much more virulent in a hitherto virgin soil."

Maybe in my case, a skeptical point of view is inoculating me against a purely cynical one.