Monday, April 21, 2014

An Irreverent Catholic's Take on a Sunday Spent in a Mormon church: A Modified Re-Post

Nothing very charismatic happens in Sacrament meeting. Remaining awake for the duration can be a challenge.

The first thing you will see after driving into the parking lot of a meetinghouse for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is the back door to the church. You will probably enter the church through the back door. In Catholic churches and just about every other church I know of, worshipers enter through a front door into a foyer or vestibule, leading into a sanctuary. Mormon churches have front doors leading to foyers or vestibules, but no one, and I mean no one enters through those doors. Once I left my sweater in my aunt's car and had to go back to get it. Just for the novelty of the experience, I walked around the building to enter through the supposed front door. It was locked. I knocked. No one heard me. This was roughly ten minutes before the service was scheduled to begin, so it's not as though whoever was in charge of opening the buildings shouldn't have been expecting people to show up at that hour.

Another thing I soon learned is that if you arrive at the scheduled starting time of an LDS service, you're early. In Catholic masses, it's rare for a priest to begin his procession down the aisle even as late as 8:31 for a mass scheduled for 8:30. The Mormons admittedly operate on a different time frame, which they call Mormon standard time. It's ten to fifteen minutes later than the standard time within the zone. Even allowing for the later-than-scheduled starting time, about one-fourth of the members will walk in after the service has begun. It would be disconcerting to Mormons if this were not the case: they would wonder if something unusual was happening, as if maybe the Powers That Be had issued some special decree that Jesus himself was to conduct the meeting that day.

Once you've entered the church through the back door and have walked across a wooden floor that seems suspiciously like a basketball court, especially because of the hoops with nets at either end and the painted-on three-point and free-throw lanes and lines, you'll hear the strains of organ music. It probably won't be the best organ music you've ever heard. In other churches with which I've been associated, if an organist is needed, an application process of some sort, usually with auditions, takes place. At some point, payment is discussed, because church organists often are paid for their services. In a Mormon church, the bishop picks whomever he feels inspired to pick to be the organist, and if the person chosen wishes to remain a Mormon in good standing, he or she agrees to take on the (non-paying) job. Usually the Mormon chosen to be organist isn't brand new to the organ or at least the piano, but often the person lacks the experience or talent to perform in front of a group of people, much less to play fluently so that the congregation can sing along with the playing. I've heard terrible organists at Mormon churches, and I've heard some who were modestly skilled. The ones you see on TV appearing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir are typically among the most skilled and talented the church has to offer, although I've yet to hear one of them whose skills rival those of my mom. She could never play at a Mormon church even if she were visiting, though; she's the incubus: a Catholic whose in-laws think she seduced their son into being a Catholic.

Next, a man will approach the pulpit, which Mormons call a podium, and will speak a few words before announcing the opening hymn. The hymn will be sung with members seated. It took me a long time to figure this out, but Mormons have so many children at these services that they don't want to risk letting them stand up for fear they'd run all over the building and hijack the meeting. Unless it's a really popular hymn, the Mormons will only half-sing it. Someone will be standing next to the organist waving a music director's baton around. This person is termed the "chorister." Theoretically the chorister is setting the tempo and leading the congregation. Such is not really the case. The organist plays the hymn at whatever the hell speed he or she wants, and the congregation only looks at the person waving the stick to see if he or she (usually she) has gotten off-beat or is doing anything really weird.

Then they'll have a prayer, followed by any church business. This includes announcing new members, announcing people who are starting or leaving church jobs, announcing anyone who has been excommunicated [I think] and blessing babies.

Next comes preparation for The Sacrament [translation: communion], beginning with  the Sacrament hymn. The hymn usually contains graphic descriptions of the crucifixion and of Jesus' time alone in the Garden of Gethsemane. As the Sacrament hymn begins, members of the priesthood secure the doors and stand guard as though some covert CIA operation is about to take place. One is not supposed to enter or leave the chapel during this time. I've always wanted to announce that I was going to barf immediately just to see if they'd let me out during this apparently secretive phase of their worship. Then the Sacrament (communion to everyone else) prayer is said over the bread. Little twelve-year-old boys pass it out in trays. Sometimes they screw up, and then they all giggle. Sometimes they giggle even when they don't screw up. Don't expect anything special by way of bread. It's Wonder Bread or the store-brand equivalent. (Once it was my cousin's job to bring the bread, and his mom gave him whole wheat bread to take. One would have thought from the reaction of the members that rock cocaine was being passed out in place of white bread.) The most important person in the building is given the Sacrament first. If one of the twelve-year-old boys screws up and hands it out to someone else first, there will be hell to pay later.

Then the same thing happens with "water," which represents the blood of Jesus. Grape juice is apparently too expensive. I understand the reluctance to use actual wine, but it seems a church of such wealth could spring for a couple of bottles of Costco grape juice each week.

Then the CIA covert operation ends, and the doors open up. On a normal Sunday, speakers are announced. Mormons don't have paid clergy at the local level. (My grandfather, who is far above the local level, is living off the membership's dollar, but local bishops and the like slave away for the pure privilege of doing so.) Often there's a youth speaker, who very rarely has anything of intelligence to say, and is very rarely interesting enough to hold the attention of even his own parents.

Sometimes a musical selection follows. It very often sucks. Mormons seem to have the attitude that it is acceptable to throw any song together at the last minute and then perform it in church, and this lack of preparation is evident. Usually this is a vocal solo or ensemble. If you're lucky enough to have an instrumental selection, the quality may [but not necessarily] be higher.

Then comes the featured speaker or speakers. Once a month someone from the "Stake," which is the rough equivalent to a diocese, comes to deliver a message on a specific topic. This person may be a very interesting speaker, or he may be the most boring, unprepared, and incoherent speaker on the planet. (It's always a "he." The Mormon church is run by males.) the more important in the church the person is, the more boring his voice will be. On two other Sundays in a month, the bishop and his counselors assign speakers. In most cases, these people would rather be sitting in the inner sanctum of hell, within striking distance of Satan himself and surrounded by flames, than be speaking before the congregation. Nonetheless, they speak when asked to do so because Mormons are accustomed to doing as they are told. What these speakers say is rarely thoughtful, organized, relevant, or remotely interesting. I know this, because I've actually paid attention a couple of times. I was, however, the only person in the building paying any attention, except for my parents and brother if they were present. For the most part, the speaker could be reciting from the Koran, telling about his hemmorhoidectomy, or speaking in tongues, and no one would notice, because Mormons pay little to no attention to speakers. They don't look in the direction of the speakers as they're speaking, and they don't listen to what any of the speakers have to say. Some Mormons have the ready-made excuse of having small children to corral. Others are just blatantly rude. They rest their elbows on their knees and hold their heads in their hands, looking down, quite possibly napping. They thumb through hymnals or other books in their possession. They use their iphones if they can do so discreetly. They do anything but pay attention to the speaker.

My mom says Mormons think they've done such a great thing by just showing up for three hours each Sunday that they have God's blessing to be as rude as they want while there. My father doesn't disagree. On the rare occasion my family attends a Mormon service together out of some family obligation, my parents look directly at whomever is speaking the entire time he or she (usually he) is speaking, and they demand that my brother and I do the same. It seems somewhat disconcerting to the speakers to actually have someone looking at them while they give their "talks." Boring as it can be, I've come to rather enjoy the aspect of making the speaker uncomfortable merely by paying attention.

Then there's a closing hymn and a closing prayer, followed by a short break before the Mormons divide up by age for Sunday School, to be followed by Priesthood Meeting and Relief Society for the adults, and Primary, for the kids. I won't talk in great detail about Primary except to say that women have the unenviable job of holding children's attention after the children have already sat through two hours of church. Such cannot be easy. I also will shate that the songs sung by Mormon children are intended to indoctrinate them from a very early age to the principles of the faith. If a little kid grows up from the age of three singing about golden plates that were buried in New York until a young boy was shown where to find them, that child will grow into an adolescent who will take it for granted that such is the truth rather than questioning it, as my father did. If my father had started attending the LDS church early enough to sing those songs at an young age, skepticism may never have hit him. Also, some of the songs are insulting to the intelligence of the least intelligent kid present. I got into big trouble with an aunt once for refusing to sing along on a special song they were practicing for a program. The song was something about  "When I grow up, I want to have a family, four little, five little, six little babies of my own." If at that age (probably seven) I had spoken of such in my own home, I would have been forced to endure a lecture about overpopulation and the earth's dwindling resources.

The first Sunday each month offers a slightly different routine in lDS churches. In place of speakers, the Mormons have an open microphone. They don't call it that, of course. They call it "Fast and Testimony Meeting." They customarily fast for about twenty-four hours prior to their meeting. Then whomever is inspired to say something goes up to the microphone and speaks his piece. Usually it's boring sameness. "I know the Church is True. I know Jesus is the Christ. i know Joseph Smith was a prophet." Etc. Many try to relate brief faith-promoting stories. Some relate long, convoluted stories that they may find to be faith-promoting but that no ones else does. The most exciting possibility occurs when a truly crazt person makes it to the microphone, in which case all bets are off, and anything and everything may happen.

I've only been to five testimony meetings. I slept through one of them because I was two years old and had tired myself out by screaming and fighting to escape as my grandfather and uncles blessed me in front of the congregation. In the other four "Fast and Testimony Meetings," I've heard: a woman say that Satan had appeared in her bedroom two nights earlier  and had tried to take her life because she had gone to bed without wearing her sacred undergarments; a man confessing to his wife and the entire congregation that he had committed the sin of adultery, pointing out his alleged adultress who was present in the congregation; a man declaring that he knew for a fact that Jesus Christ wore a crew cut and had no facial hair; and a woman declaring that the death of Martin Luther King had been accomplished by the priesthood in order to do the Lord's work of ridding the world of evil. These are just a few of the highlights. Many other less remarkable but funny things have been said in these meetings. I should have kept a list.

I've taken care to be tasteful here. My father has been through the temple, where secret covenants are made, and those present at the temple ceremony are told under severe penalty not to ever reveal them. While my dad never sat me down and told me, "Here's exactly what goes on in the temple ceremony," he's answered any questions I've asked. I could have provided information here that would have, not at all in fun, placed the church in a very bad light. I've tried not to poke fun at the things Mormons hold most sacred and dear. The things I've discussed are matters I'd like to think Mormons themselves could either laugh about or look at and ponder as to whether change is in order. Whether certain readers will take what I've written in the spirit it was intended remains to be seen.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Celestial Rooms, Categories of LDS Membership, and Other Oddities

reprint from an earlier posting

 This picture is of the Celestial Room of the Vancouver Temple, not of the lobby of the Pink Cloud Motel. I thought it essential to make the clarification, as confusing the two is a  mistake that could easily be made. Families pray together in these rooms when they're inside their homes. As far as what else might happen in these rooms, I'd rather not even think about it. Celestial Rooms In Homes make is clear to others that the family who lives here is just half-a-stride and a slightly quicker pace or so closer to the Grand Celestial Kingdom than are the rest of the Mormons -- even the uber-Nazis.

My mom was on the phone with a relative from my dad's side of the family for almost an hour this afternoon.  This particular relative can only speak for about fifteen seconds without something about her church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, creeping into the conversation. Such is the case with several of my paternal relatives.

Many people have been born into or have struck up affiliations with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints but do not practice the faith to any serious degree. Some no longer believe. Some profess to believe but claim they just can't follow the rules. Mormons are not unique in this regard. The same sort of church/self relationships  exist in many faiths, particularly in those religious denominations with comparatively demanding rules for members to follow.  The following comments do not pertain to non-practicing, lukewarm, or on again/off again Mormons.

I've decided that practicing Mormons fall into three categories: Mormons, uber-nazi Mormons, and Mormons With Celestial Rooms In Their Homes.  (My LDS relatives would  probably name the categories celestial, terrestrial, and telestial, but that is a subject for another day's blog.) I have one nuclear family of relatives who fall under category one. The remainder are solid twos and threes.

Regular Mormons attend church on a consistent basis, although they don't seem to feel the need to drag a sick child to church because both parents have classes to teach on a given Sunday.  They probably pay a full ten per cent tithing (probably even on their gross income), as they do attend temple session on occasion, and paying one's tithing is supposedly a requirement for a temple recommend. They don't consume alcohol, coffee, or tea, and probably don't drink many caffeinated soft drinks, but they don't make a habit of pointing out distinctions between what they drink and what others drink. They typically do family things on Sundays. On an occasional Sunday, this may be expanded to  include extended family, and sometimes the Sunday activities may even include water, as in swimming in a pool or going to a beach.  In other words, they're sane.

Uber-Nazi Mormons would never swim or go to a beach on a Sunday. Satan owns the water. This is also a reason given for why young men and women on full-time missions may not swim. (I never understood why, if Satan owns the water, it would be safe for non-missionaries to swim any other day of the week, either. If anything, wouldn't God be all the more vigilant in protecting His Chosen People on His Holy Sabbath Day?)  Uber-Nazi Mormons' sons serve missions whether or not the young men personally feel the call. It's an obligation and an expectation. Sometimes high-priced carrots, as in new cars or paid college educations, are held over the prospective missionaries'  heads. At other times, the pressure is more psychological: 100%  of Grandma's sons, sons-in-law, and grandsons have served honorable missions. Do you really want to be the one to change that?  Uber-Nazi Mormons pay tithing rather than the mortgage if there isn't enough money for both.

If one were to  consider that Mormons of this category usually have two or three boxcars  full of children,  it would, in most of these cases, seem more prudent to devote the extra square home footage to additional sleeping quarters so that the offspring aren't sleeping in such close proximity that the lice can crawl from one head to the next one without taking a single step on non-human-head  territory, and the virus germs can travel from one host to another without going airborne.  That's just Alexis being OCD again, my Mormon relatives With Celestial Rooms In Their Homes  would say.

Some Mormons With Celestial Rooms In their Homes have sufficient funds that the space availability for sleeping quarters is a non-issue.  For them, it's both a function and a statement. Function: We have a special room to pray because we apparently believe God won't hear our prayers unless we're in our Celestial Room. Statement: We can afford a Celestial Room.  Unfortunately, none of my relatives With Celestial Rooms fall into this sub-category.

*** Not all Celestial Rooms are maintained to perfection. I've been in one (in a home rather than in a temple; I'm usually not allowed inside either kind of celestial room, and this is one I wish I had not been allowed inside) that would make a hoarder cringe either in self-recognition or because the standards of cleanliness and order were beneath even those of the hoarder.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Truly Stupid Childhood Misconceptions

Note: This is a reprint of an earlier blog.

Most of us, if we think hard enough, can come up with a few truly stupid things we believed as young children. My brother believed more stupid things than I did, though he doesn't remember most of them. I'll help him to remember. Matthew believed that all cats were female and all dogs were male. I'm not sure if he figured the truth to that one out on his own or if he had to wait until high school biology to learn the scoop. My brother also believed that the only parent who was a child's biological relative was the mother. (I should note that my brother does and always did bear an incredible physical resemblance to my father. He must've thought it strange when people commented on it.) My brother also thought the 4-1-1 operator could come through the telephone and attack you. He totally freaked out anytime he knew someone was calling directory assistance. My brother also believed that if a toilet were flushed when a person was sitting on it, the person would be sucked down through the pipes and into the sewer. I terrorized my brother with this irrational belief for the better part of two years until my mother finally put an end to it by sitting me on the toilet fully clothed, and flushing, so Matthew could see that his fear was without foundation. I was a bit irritated at my mom for ending it all so abruptly. I might have had another year or two to torment Matthew had she not intervened.

I carried around a couple of strange beliefs myself. I thought that when a couple divorced, the divorce occurred in a church ceremony, just like a wedding -- with music, flowers, and maybe even a reception -- except instead of vowing to love and honor, etc, the divorcees aired their grievances about the spouses they were divorcing. I imagined songs such as "All my Exes Live in Texas," "You Don't Bring Me Flowers, or maybe "She's Out of My Life." Both my parents frequently performed at weddings. I asked my mom once if she'd ever played or sung at a divorce. She just laughed. I think she thought I was trying to be funny. One day I saw an earlier incarnation of the TV show "Divorce Court" and realized that I had it all wrong. (When I made this discovery, my brother was still fearing the directory assistance operator and thoroughly entrenched in the belief that all cats were female and all dogs were male. I share this with you merely to give you perspective.)

I also believed that one of my uncles-by-marriage on my dad's side was Lee Harvey Oswald. My mother went through a major Kennedy obsession as a child, and her library still features hundreds of books on the Kennedy family. When I was in timeout, I was usually sent to my parents' den. The most interesting thing to read was the books about the Kennedys. I noticed a striking resemblance between the late Lee Harvey Oswald and my uncle. At first I thought maybe the two were brothers, but my uncle's name was Lee. Why would a family name two sons Lee? (This was before I knew about George Foreman and his habit of naming his sons after him.) In my little mind, I realized that Uncle Lee WAS Lee Harvey Oswald -- that the televised shooting of him by Jack Ruby was either a fake or he had miraculously survived it, and rather than filling the public in on what really happened to him, and possibly having a trial for the shooting of President Kennedy, they essentially put him in the "Criminal's Protection Program" or something like that. I always thought it rather strange that they didn't bother to change his first name.

For obvious reasons, I avoided this uncle in the way I would avoid snakes or outhouses. (Note: I have never in my life been inside an outhouse and don't intend to change that status anytime soon.) I made my stupid belief known to the family and endured years of humiliation when, at a family gathering during which I was about five years of age, for some reason the adults were discussing Russia. They were arguing about Russian currency. I don't remember the specifics. I finally had enough of what I saw as a rather silly argument when we had an expert sitting right in our midst. I pointed my finger at the man and blurted out, "Why don't we just ask him? He lived  in Russia."

"I did?" my Uncle Lee replied in a quizzical manner.

"Yes, you did," I declared. "It was before you shot President Kennedy. I know who you really are."

It seemed that the resemblance hadn't been lost on the rest of the family, because the entire group burst into loud laughter at my proclamation. I immediately ran from the room in humiliation, but not before hearing my Uncle Lee accuse my dad of telling me that he, Uncle Lee, was Lee Harvey Oswald. My dad replied something to the effect that he's never once discussed President Kennedy, Oswald, or Uncle Lee's resemblance to the alleged assassin with me.

As you can see, my brother's stupid misconceptions far outnumbered mine, though we both were guilty of major imbecility. I suspect that other kids I knew believed dumb things as well, but I never learned of the specifics.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Pleasant Grove Strikes Again

Megan Huntsman

After almost having gotten past the idea of having slept for several nights in a home that was within easy shouting distance of Martin MacNeill (of forcing his wife into cosmetic surgery, drugging her with the excessive medications he insisted on being prescribed to her, and then drowning her in the bathtub fame), it seems that the cosmopolitan city [note:sarcasm font] is once again in the news. This time, it is because one of Pleasant grove's residents has been arrested and charged with killing seven newborn babies. Megan Hunstman, 39 years old, allegedly gave birth to the babies, killed them, then kept them in her home in cardboard boxes. Hunstman supposedly lived with her three daughters, who are now between the ages of  eleven and eighteen.

I've read conflicting stories on her husband or husbands. One account has her being married at different times to seven different men. Another story says that her sole husband was away in prison during the interval in which the babies would have been born and killed.

Hunstman is a relatively common surname in Utah. the most prominent bearers of the surname would be Jon Hunstman, Jr, former governor of Utah.  No clarification regarding any familial relationship or lack thereof between the prominent Huntsmans and Megan Huntsman has been provided to date.

I spent a summer in an apartment roughly two blocks from where this all went down. the most recent murdered baby was allegedly murdered in the year 2006. It was in 2008 when I spent a month in that apartment. At least no baby was killed [of which the authorities are aware], but the lady and her daughters lived in the house during that first summer when I was in the apartment two blocks away. I'm pretty sure I walked by the house. It gives me the willies. I'm going to need pharmaceutical assistance in order to sleep tonight.

If the idea of eerie events happening near you  keeps you awake at night, you would do well to avoid Utah.  At the rate things are going, Utah will soon catch up to central Florida in terms of weird murders.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Rest in Peace, George Donaldson

I should have taken the time to post this earlier, but I've procrastinated as I often do.

The Earth has lost a consummate musician and an even better human being. George Donaldson, the stately anchor singer of  Celtic Thunder, succumbed to a massive heart attack in his sleep on March 12. He looked healthy enough to me, although, perhaps because of his baldness, I would have guessed his age as older than the actual number of forty-five that it was.

I've seen him with Celtic Thunder in concert three times and have seen him on TV numerous times. I met him after two concerts. My parents knew him better than I did because they've worked with him on occasion.  He was a very kind person.  The world is an infinitely poorer place with his loss. Rest in peace, George Donaldson.

George Donaldson, February 1, 1968 - March 12, 2014

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Judge Alex, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, and Marigolds

Judge Alex, who stands for truth, justice, and the American way, will be leaving us soon.

My dad brought flowers to me today when he came home from work. It was a cheap bouquet, of course. He's not going to spring for two dozen long-stemmed roses for me unless I die or do something similarly grave. for that matter, they looked a bit old. He probably either took them off the hands of some patient exiting the hospital who had too many flowers to carry, or perhaps he got them really cheap from the hospital gift shop because they were getting almost too old to sell. In any event, I could speculate for the rest of the night and possibly never arrive at the actual means by which he came in possession of the flowers.

The bouquet contained carnations, a single rose, and, I think, a few marigolds. The marigolds were timely in light of a recent sermon at the LDS general Conference in which Elder Jeffrey R. Holland made some reference to the masses preferring a god who patted them on the head, made them giggle, and then sent them on their merry way to pick marigolds. It was possibly a literary reference. Then again, it may have been merely a jab at those who do not see God as the vengeful and wrath-filled he-man as portrayed in Mormon doctrine.

I'm told I should like Elder Jeffrey R. Holland because he did a big favor for a close member of my family -- a member of the family whom I actually like. I, on the other hand, do not blindly follow instructions of anyone. For me, the verdict is still out regarding Elder Jeffrey R. Holland.  While he's less overtly hostile than some of the LDS general authorities, I found that remark condescending and unnecessary. Why can he not speak his own truths quietly and clearly without denigrating the beliefs of others?

I digress. Allow me to return to my original topic, which is the flowers that my father brought home to me today, and the reason for those flowers. My dad just heard the news from God knows how long ago that "Judge Alex" will end as soon as the last season that has been filmed is aired.  He thought I might be in deep mourning. While I'm sorry to see the program end, "deep mourning" is just a bit extreme in description of how I'm feeling about the situation. My life will go on, as will Judge Alex's.  judge Alex will probably have continued life on TV, for that matter. Perhaps he'll become a Fox News pundit. Then my dad and I can watch and shoot the TV with foam darts together.  I can hit Megyn Kelly's forehead from a distance of twenty-five feet.  Judge Alex's forehead is even bigger.

It seems to me that the floral arrangement should have at least a token marigold.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Spring Break Rears Its Ugly Head

unrest in Isla Vista created by non-UC-Santa Barbara students

A social media-promoted spring break gathering turned violent when a sheriff's deputy was hit in the head with a backpack filled with beer bottles in the UC-Santa Barbara off-campus residential area of Isla Vista. When an ensuing arrest was attempted, a riot erupted in which fires were started, traffic signs were removed, and projectiles were thrown at law enforcement officials. Law enforcement from neighboring Venture County was called in for reinforcement.  Hours later order was restored. Over one hundred arrests were made, and at least forty-four people were taken to a local hospital.

I'm quite familiar with the neighborhood, community, or whatever you'd care to call it, of Isla Vista. While I wouldn't willingly take my grandmother there, seedier places than Isla Vista exist within a ten-minute drive of my previous hometown, which is considered one of the safest communities in the U.S.

The spring break event -- what has become an annual street party dubbed "Deltopia," which allegedly morphed from the "Floatopia" spring break event of several years ago -- was attended primarily by high school students and students on spring break from institutions other than UCSB.  I'm sure there were UCSB student in attendance, but the majority have left the area for spring break. In this particular case, the reputation of UCSB students has been sullied by outsiders.