Sunday, September 9, 2012

Prozacville: Turning black-n-white minds into colorful paisley

Donning my gayest paisley shirt, I go to Sunday church with the Mormons.

The shirt is under a dark blue sports coat with brass buttons both worn over a solid black T-shirt and faded jeans. The T-shirt/jean pairing with paisley & coat is purposely meant to appear like something Dr. House, renowned TV atheist, would wear.  I’m told that I look like a younger version of him, though I’m six-and-a-half feet tall with a weight of Joe’s  golden plates (about 200lbs).  You may wonder why I wrote "gayest" just a moment before; it’s because that’s how a friend complimented the shirt once. Women just like it. It’s an over-flowering, intricate paisley, and I have a sneaky feeling that the members of my assigned Mormon ward (the congregation where I’m officially listed) will find my dress either alarming or intriguing, depending on whether they’re bigger fans of stripes.

I drive into the rainy parking lot and take in the LDS chapel building—brown-stone, white steeple, trimmed lawn, black asphalt.  It could’ve been airlifted, whole building and grass, from Anytown, Utah and plopped over a field dashed with a few Florida palms.  The palms alone make it different and on the verge of non-Mormon.  Inside, it is again distinctly Mormon—stiff carpeted halls just wide enough for two of us to pass, heavily papered walls and unnaturally pale white lights.  On the hall tables there are signups clamped to clipboards (clip-jobs, as I call them) advertising for youth activities and eagle-project collection drives. Missing are the sign-ups for feeding the homeless and volunteering at shelters. The halls are besieged with a diverse crowd, just entering meetings.  This distinction—not the pale white skin matching the lights, but a crowd of a few Blacks, many Hispanics, Polynesians and of course Whites—is unexpected.  The men of all races, however, do have the all-too common white shirt, dark tie/suit coat uniform.  You’ve probably seen it on the bike-riding missionaries of your local neighborhood, whom you’ve hid from when they come ringing.

Sacrament meeting starts first. All the members are there together, kids climbing on the seats having Cheerio wars with the ones behind them. I don’t fault the parents for letting the children spoil the chapel floor with bits o’ broken crayons and raisins. I’ve been a young parent at church and you do what you must to keep them content while feigning interest with a smile in the testimony bearing at the pulpit. It’s funny that the adults are the ones playing pretend at church and the children are being honest. I find myself sighing and eye-rolling at the phrase-tossing of "Book of Mormon" this and "Joseph Smith" that.  But I need to play stoic; switch on the poker face, so that, despite the flash of my cloth, I don’t stand out in character.  Not yet.

Still, the utterly monotone drivel about what I could never remember propels a hand to my coat pocket to retrieve my cell phone.  I text a friend who’s left Mormonism long ago and with whom I console myself when I need to dull my LDS-pain.  I tell Marla that I am at church. She immediately texts back, "Bullshit.  Really?"  I confirm it to her and let her know that I may be here for the long haul.  MormonThink, among its many unnamed true-believing Mormon contributors, has an active member as managing editor.  Attending is my cross to bear (one prior editor had to resign quietly when the church came for him, something I may find difficult to forestall in my case).  She tells me she is in her tank top, mowing her lawn, which in her Utah township, is almost across the street from the church (in UT most houses are across or up the street from an LDS chapel).

The Sacrament meeting ends without anything noteworthy. Dull dull.  This is hallmark.  I wait in the back, wondering who will notice me and introduce themselves with the clamping handshake and polyurethane welcome.  People see me, but no one approaches.  Finally, wondering where I will go to the next class—gospel doctrine—I turn to a couple sitting near.  They shrug when I ask where to go.  They’re new too.  We get chatting and find out they’re newlyweds and that we have a few Mormony things in common, but it is overly dull dull. Then we form a wholesome threesome and seek the next lesson together. 

In gospel doctrine they ask us new members to introduce ourselves.  There are five of us, in a class of maybe twenty.  One is a man from Laie, Hawaii, wearing a pale Lavalava skirt and bright lei over the uniform (the dark suit coat, tie and white shirt).  If he had left out the suit coat, he would have one-upped me in flash. But I still stand out with my jeans and flowery shirt; they recognize my strangeness and I’m required to stand to tell them my name, and that I am a member who hasn’t attended in years returning to see what’s what in Mormonville.  I get through this introduction two more times by the end of the three-hour block and I keep it as short as I can. 

The gospel teacher starts his lesson by writing a string of numbers with a trend and asks us to predict the next few numbers.  It’s a rather easy Fibonacci series, but I am not volunteering any answers. My vocal interaction must be precise and purposeful.  Someone gets it fast and the teacher points out that there is another trend that is just as predictable and precise as the number set.  That trend?  It’s about how "rich people predictably fall into wickedness and then destruction", and how the Book of Mormon shows you how to predict it. Phrases like "increased commerce", "dressing ostentatiously" and "abounding prosperity" are put forth as the digits of his new number set.  Not a word about how Mitt Romney might be a large digit with his ostentatiously abounding commerce.  Another phrase kicked out: "The easiest way to get rich is to ... join secret pacts."  This gets a lot of bowing heads and a "yes" in unison. I'm imagining regimented rows of white-hatted men and veiled women who unquestioningly accept "secret pacts" as gospel.  Members often drag out the pet Mormon conspiracy theory, labeled among themselves as "Gadianton Robbers" (in other places, you would hear the word "illuminati" but the LDS branded culture prefers their unique decaf lexis).  In conclusion, the class is warned in the words of prophet Ezra Taft Benson, that "the two groups who have the greatest difficulty in following the prophet are the proud who are learned and the proud who are rich."  Something tells me that rich, smart and powerful Mitt Romney may get a pass from the current prophet, Thomas  Monson.

The meetings drag on, though between them in the hallways, I get a number of looks from women.  I know these looks and they have no place at church, unless you’re into that sort of thing in this kind of place.  I might be...  I’m led into the male-only priesthood meeting by the Bishop.  The Lavalava wearing man is there.  Good—we flashy dressers need to stay together.  The lesson kicks off with a quote that definitely wakes me up: "If you cross to the devil’s side of that line [between him and God] one inch you are in the tempter’s power and if he’s successful you will not be able to think or even reason properly…"  

(Photo capture of today's lesson material)

I have to open my mouth at this point.  I ask, "Does this mean that those who leave the church can’t think straight?"  The answer that comes back is that once you start on that path, it’s a slippery slope to bad judgment and that you’ll ultimately become a horrible sinner.  "But," I say, "I am one of those that left the church for a time, back for my first time in years today. I don’t believe that I lost my ability to reason."  In fact, I know I didn’t.  I increased it many fold.  The reply was a squishy one that eventually returned to black and white thinking.  I believe that the color-set is not just their mode of dress. It is definitely a trend of style in thinking too.

After the meeting let out, I was cornered by a few members.  The theological discussions were rather dull dull, even for me, and I contributed about half of the words.  Then there was one of those hallway moments that could convince me that I might be into that sort of thing.  She caught me as I was walking out.  She was flattering. She liked my shirt.  We continued walking and talking all the way to my drive, which is a convertible sports machine that another friend once told me is called a "baja panti" car.  I don’t think this woman would know the term, but she might get the meaning by the way she was eyeing both it and me.  
Oy vey.

Until next Sunday, when we meet again…

Not So Temple Worthy Bride.

(authors note: many accuse me of arrogance or of immoral behavior after reading this post.  Understand that it is written in literary form, with license toward play on metaphor and characterizations which the LDS reader will enjoy.  For example, the womanizing Joseph Smith who hunted for his prey at church. The contrast and compare of black-n-white and colorful diversity.  The play on children being honest brokers, and more. My fancy dress and cars are exaggerated for effect. The women mentioned in this are fictionalized for literary purposes, nothing more.  If you cannot see this, please retake a creative writing course at your local community college and get back.)


  1. I was struggling to understand your motivation here. Am I understanding correctly that you are a MormonThink contributor and have been put in some "must attend regularly" basket to satisfy the "some of our contributors regularly attend" claim? To the less than discerning reader (me), you sound like someone that is forced to go to Church by your dad...or are you saying that you believe some core parts of the theology but dislike the culture and members or something? I'm left thinking "why bother going?".

    1. I am a wavering member with serious concerns. Some members at MormonThink have contributed significantly still believe that the church is true, yet they have issues with how some of the history is inaccurately taught in church. Two current, active, believing members in particular have recently written over 100 pages for one section alone for MT. They have asked that their identities remain completely hidden. Others there contributed to MT as true-believing members, but over time have lost their testimony. We are a diverse group. As managing editor, I believe that I should be open minded to what church activity has to offer me.

  2. My story comming up..