Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Mormon Meeting 2

Okay, so I am one day late. Mondays usually make me depressed as I start another week of fun and excitement at my wonderful job.

I have already spoken a little bit about how boring Mormon worship services are. I talked about how they stand up and tell you about how they believe this, that, and the other. Don't get me wrong, if you are ever unfortunate enough to suffer through a meeting of that kind you will scoop out your eyes and wear them in your ears just for funsies. Despite my dread, the meeting on Sunday was not one of these Testimonial Meetings. My informant told me about how these only happen once a month, on the first Sunday. I have to admit I was relieved. This week I attended a regular worship service.

All in all, it was boring as anything, but not near the level of mind melting shock and awe boring as before. The meeting began in the same way, with the Eucharist, the announcements and all that. Then instead of the testimonies, several people gave little speeches that sounded a lot like the testimonies but were written. Not that fascinating but something to sit through nonetheless. The children squirmed and ate little fruit snacks while coloring. People's heads bobbed as they lapsed into sleep. The clock slowed, violating the normative laws of space-time.

At first, no one seemed to notice me. My informant told me that the Mormons would gush all over me and be super happy that I was visiting and interested in their way of life. But everyone seemed to ignore me. As I sat down and waited for the music to stop and the man in the cheap suit to start talking, no one introduced themselves or talked to me or otherwise seemed to see me. For a short period I wondered if I had gone invisible, but the curious stares of the children assured me I was at least as visible as Al from Quantum Leap.

After the service while everyone stood and talked to each other I also stood and looked rather lost, hoping that someone would ponce on me. No one did, so I took my time and worked my way out of the chapel. I had almost given up when another suit stopped and crushed my hand in a wonder grip designed to make me wish I was not so weak.

"Why hello there," he gushed. "You seem to be new in the Ward. I take it you just moved in?"

I told him I had just moved in. He informed me that I should come earlier for the rest of the meetings. I told him I was not a Mormon, but would like to attend. He told me to come in at 11 for the other classes. Sunday school and such.

So next week I will have more news.

Have a great week everyone!

Monday, October 19, 2009

What is wrong with these people?

I have no idea what is wrong with these people.

I have been spending this last week trying to get myself interested in going back to that God awful worship service of the Mormons again. I woke up last Monday dreading it. I drank my cereal and chewed my way through my coffee without feeling anything. Tuesday I refused to look at the calendar on my wall that would tell me I was one day closer to more torture and fell down the stairs. On Wednesday I closed my eyes and scrunched up my nose trying vainly to summon the backbone to tough it out again until someone honked at me. Thursday I spent the morning curled up on the couch in the lobby at work until it was time to wake up to go to work. Friday I forgot about my date and accidentally asked my significant other who it was I was supposed to meet. Saturday, well, I don't remember much of Saturday, but the haunting images of screaming children, sticky balloons, and giggling girls seem to indicate it is better that way.

On Sunday the appointed hour rolled around and I had to make a decision. I stuffed myself with dangerous amounts of caffeine mints into my mouth, guzzled some flat Mt. Dew, and grabbed my Iphone in case things got rough. What horror did I find? Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. The building was locked and silent. Not a car stood in the parking lot except a police officer looking to brighten the day of his fellow citizens. I could only stare. My informant later told me how this week was another conference. Another conference? How many of these things are there? Why do the Mormons need so many? From the looks of the last set of snooze fests, I cannot imagine what in the world there is to say.

I think this is the place where the Mormon have their real secrets. Screw the temple, next time I am going to conference.

Seven days until the next meeting.....

Monday, October 12, 2009

Elder Who: Time Slipping for Jesus

As the minutes dripped away into the eternities, my brain ceased to function on the plane of mere mortality. My self awareness shifted into another spectrum like a red shifting galaxy moves away from the Earth at near the speed of light. Consciousness stretched like a piece of taffy on a pulling machine. Even though the weather was relatively cool, I felt like I was on fire, the air had become concrete. My eyes stayed open as I became on with the universe and forgot where I was. Pockets of unreality peppered me as voices alternated between sing song and monotone.

Thus was my first Mormon worship service.

The day had not promised to be so surreal. In fact, it began much like any other Sunday, with coffee and cereal. I watched TV and read a little. I even toyed with the idea of catching up on some housework as I waited the morning out. My informant told me that the local meeting was to begin at one. This gave me the morning free and I was able to sleep in slightly. But before I knew it, noon was upon me and I showered, shaved, and hopped into my car and parked among a thousand others at the Mormon Church.

I felt nervous, a little tense. I had not been invited to attend and was concerned that I was breaking a rule. However, during the several visits by the local recruiters, I was invited a few times to come for a Sacrament but never set an appointment. The sun was a little warm but the breeze was cool and carried upon it the hint of autumn. It felt great to be awake and alive. I passed a sign that proclaimed to the world that visitors are indeed welcome. I relaxed a little, but still felt tense with excitement for what was to come.

I entered an inviting lobby that had overstuffed couches framed by fake flowers. Children punctuated clumpy groups of adults to seemed engrossed with conversation. Everyone was very well dressed with white shirts and ties. Even young boys had formal clothes on, although the exuberance of youthful potential had converted ties into toys. The women wore colorful dresses like you would see at a picnic and several other styles. I confess I am not an expert on female things having always been interested in the male world.

No one seemed to pay me any attention. I stood in the lobby for several minutes waiting for someone, a waiter perhaps, to show me to my seat or otherwise explain to me what to do. Eventually I abandoned such hope and began to follow some teenagers into the chapel. I found a seat on a padded pew and set back to observe.

The chapel seemed totally boring, and aside from a total lack of crosses, identical to any other. There was a sea of pews that were slowly being filled by parishioners, a sanctuary with a lectern and chorus seating. There were even chairs for the Church Elders and a the Eucharist was protected by a sheet. There were elaborate lights that hung at reverential intervals illuminating carpeted walls. Organ music provided a foundation for worshipful feelings. Overall, the place seemed inviting and comfortable.

People continued to stream in to the room taking seats all around me. Soon the pews were full of families separated by an empty space as though from above the pews could be read like a book with families as words. Many of them had programs and I wished I had grabbed one off the table outside or accepted one from the youth distributing them. A man with a suit stood and the organ stopped.

He welcomed us to church (Mormons have strange ways of speaking and I will intersperse my commentary with what I can remember) "this day" and another guy gave a prayer. I remember a lot of thees and thous in the prayer. Then the congregation sang a song from these really ugly green hymn books. I tried to sing along, but did not know the tune so I sort of hummed randomly in a way I thought would please God. Another suit talked about some logistical stuff and then we had the Eucharist. A mix of youth and adults passed around bread and then water between prayers. I was a little disappointed that the Mormon God's flesh was white bread and water.

Really, it was wholly unremarkable. I began to despair for the lack of an adventure. Had I spiffed and polished myself for nothing but a normal sort of meeting held by strangely spoken but otherwise normal sort of Christians? Where was the strangeness? Where was the exotic things that Mormons are known for? Don't they believe they could talk to God and that they are intersected with the Illuminati or some other Jewish conspiracy? Was my whole journey going to end in such a vanilla fashion?

Nope. Things picked right up after the Eucharist. The man in the suit stood again and told us that the rest of the time was for us. I metaphorically scratched my head. The rest of the time is for us? What is it he expected us to do? Again, I began to feel a sort of panic, as though I was suddenly in a play for which I knew no lines and was expected to follow the time honored tradition of taking all my clothes off for the audience. But fortunately, the others seemed to know what to do.

A woman got up out of the pews and walked boldly up to the lectern. She said she wanted to bear her testimony. She further elaborated and told a story about how her husband had been out of work but after a lot of praying he found a job and this is how she knows that God lives. She sat down. Interesting, I thought. A man replaced her and also asserted that he had a testimony. He then recounted how much the scriptures have helped him and his wife grow together and love each other. He sat down. A fat lady stood and regaled us with another story, somewhat longer, about how her brother in law was suffering and he is moving towards to truth of the church. She sat and a little kid popped up. He yelled that he had a testimony that the church was true and that Joseph Smith was a prophet and he loves his mommy. When he vacated, two more young kids repeated the same speech. Amazingly, the last one, a cute little blonde girl had her mommy up there with her and was whispering what to say to the poor thing!

I squirmed a little on account of the clear fraud and looked at my fellow parishioners to see if they also shared my discomfort. They did not look uncomfortable, they looked dead. Everyone's eyes seemed to fix in the middle distance. Children muttered as they colored on the programs. A few head seemed to bounce and people lost the war with the Sandman. I turned back to the new speaker, bemused.

A college age guy said he did well on a test. A old lady told about a trip she took to Illinois. On and on they went. Time began to stretch a little. My eyes began to get heavy, but I forced them open and stared like a deranged ape at the current speaker. He was a very old man, angular with white bushy eyebrows that overhung fiery eyes that seemed to accuse the world of being worldly. He spoke with great conviction and fire about how far things have gone wrong, about how the Democrats have fulfilled an unknown number of prophecies of the "latter days." He extended his verbal assault by recounting a trip he took thirteen years earlier and the poor service he received at an IHOP.

Colors began to do funny things. They would trade places with one another. When I directed my gaze on them, they flashed back into place. Objects would split into twins and rotate briefly around one another and then snap back. The lights themselves seemed to pour a liquid luminance down onto the program I was focused on. It would flow uphill, then down hill, and then sideways. Body parts turned to iron and then rusted and broke when I adjusted my position. I prayed that the world would come to make sense once again.

The man sat down with an offended huff. Another oldster replaced him and repeated his testimony, almost word for word. A woman replaced him, who was replaced by another human shaped figure, who was replaced by a human shaped voice. My head was almost between my knees as I heard how Joseph Smith was a prophet was drilled into my reality. He was a prophet, he was. I know he was. They know he was. I was as sure as the pew was hard (despite the cushion) and melding with my posterior that Joseph Smith was a prophet. Anything. Just make it stop.

It all ended like a freight train colliding with a mountain. The Suit Man stood and a hundred folks simultaneously resurrected. The green books appeared and we sang praises to God for releasing us from this unholy Limbo we had inflicted upon ourselves. The windows seemed to burst with painfully cold air that poured water on our slumbering souls. We rejoiced together. It was spiritual. I felt redeemed by the man in the suit and the sharp notes of the organ.

I am told by my informant that there are other meetings after the first one. I am told they are quite nice and interesting. I am told that this is where all the real Mormonizing goes on. I did not wait to find out. I was home recuperating with a beer and football on TV before my car's engine fully started. There are limits to every explorer.

Next week: Once More Unto The Breach (maybe I will bring something to read).

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Generalized Conference

Today was supposed to be the day that I went to my first Mormon worship service. There is a chapel nearby where I live and I asked my informant when they meet. I was told to come at 1:00 PM, but not this week. This week was conference.

According to Wikipedia, the place where all the lazy researchers like myself frequent, every six months or so Mormons get a "get out of church" pass and are allowed to watch the church on television and radio as they do all kinds of things like clean up their yards, bake or cook, or make a run to the store.

In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), general conferences are a semiannual meeting where general authorities and other church leaders preach sermons and give guidance to the members of the church. Changes to church leadership are also proposed and sustained through the principle of common consent. General conferences are held on the weekends containing the first Sunday in April and the first Sunday in October.
Apparently there are no actual meetings for the members. Despite the misleading name, there is no conferring or conversations between leadership and members. The big high uppity ups will stand at the podium and lecture the membership in the building and in churches all around the world about things. Usual topics include reminders to be Christlike and loving and to do this and that. According to my informant nothing very interesting is usually said and most members watch out of a generalized sense of guilt. I suppose Mormons have some kind of hang up with being free to sleep in and watch football.

Yesterday, at the urging of my informant, I watched one of the meetings on TV (apparently there are so many Mormons around they actually televise the speeches). My expectations were low and the first guy who spoke had this really strange way of talking. He wasn't saying anything very interesting, something about listening to god and revelation (and about five minutes railing against the pernicious influence of pornography), but the way he was saying it was strange. He had this sing song way of talking, almost as if he were performing some kind of deranged poem. It felt like he was talking to some really little kids and needed to keep his voice non-threatening and interesting at the same time. I hope upon hope that Obama adopts this bizarre method of speech, it could give us something else to giggle at. I wonder if all Mormon meetings are going to have people getting up and talking to the audience in this way.

I admit I grew bored sometime in the second sermon and flipped to another channel to watch something about a blender that you can tap. I asked my informant if I had missed anything and he said no. For any of my Mormon readers, I have a question. Why? What are you getting out of these meetings that aren't meetings? Do the leaders ever say anything interesting? Are you hypnotized by the sing song way of talking? Are you still asleep from the last conference?

I will have to wait until next Sunday to go to a Mormon church. I look forward to it.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Mormonism from Dummies

On my way home from work today in the wind, it occurred to me that many of my readers (both of them) may not know much about Mormonism. Well, if you are looking for accuracy go somewhere else. This is my take on Mormonism as evidenced through countless hours of careful research as well as copious amounts of artistic license (beer).

To adequately tell the story we need to jump into the way back machine and examine another budding religious movement: Christianity. (insert sound effect) Jesus Christ, an aspiring fisher of men had run afoul of a local ordinance. After his untimely departure the church he founded continued to grow and fill the western world. Eventually, the movement joined forces with the entity that had murdered its founder and everyone decided to blame the Jews. History marched forward as Christianity eventually splintered and dark adherents began fighting with pale adherents over the nature of the religion.

Questions by the dozens had surfaced in the intervening centuries that separate us from our Lord and Savior. Hard questions. No one, not even people who wore tall hats, could figure out the answers. Cue one illiterate farm boy named Joseph Smith. In the early part of the 19th century God the Father (now divided) and his son Jesus Christ paid young Joseph a visit while he was playing hooky from hoeing the beets. They told him that they had all the answers everyone had been looking for and apologized for taking so long and could not clarify before all the unpleasantness with nails and all that, there was traffic. They told him that everyone had gotten it all wrong. Joseph was too polite to ask what the answers were before they left once again.

Joseph seemed pleased with this useless information and went back to the thrilling cosmopolitan life of a farmer. Some time later God the Father sent an angel to tell Joseph where some lost gold plates could be found that would explain all the things the had talked about when God and Jesus had visited. Joseph acquired them and translated the story by looking in a rock hidden in a hat. Eventually he produced the Book of Mormon. Joseph started a church based on this book and began to baptize anyone who wanted to be saved.

Despite its encouraging origins, the Book of Mormon did not actually answer any of the questions. Distressed, Joseph prayed and God took pity on Joseph for the joke he had played and chose him to be his prophet. Thus, Joseph was able to come up with all kinds of detailed and wonderful new information to answer all the tricky questions that had plagued mankind for centuries.

Theologians had strayed so far from the original form of the church Christ had taught that they had entirely forgotten about the polygamy, magic underwear, secret temple sacrifices, hatred of wine (Jesus wouldn't touch the stuff), a human God living on an alien planet, Jewish Indians, communism, a cursed Negro, and BYU football.

He corrected the issues and implemented God's kingdom on Earth until an angry mob, tired of waiting for the punchline, tried to beat it out of him while he sat in jail awaiting trial for smashing a printing press.

The solutions were so effective that their evident truthfulness helped preserve the cohesion of the church as they walked to some cheaper real estate in Utah. They continue to remind the world of all the good ideas of the church by sending out their best and brightest young men to greet people unthoughtful enough to forget the questions in the first place.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Mission Statement

Greetings World,

I am new to this whole blogging thing. Well, I am not exactly new, I have been reading and posting to blogs covering various and sundry topics for years. What I mean is that I have not ever attempted to start a blog. Mostly I am somewhat self conscious of my writing style and I am not convinced I have anything interesting to say.

Today, however, I am hoping to change that.

I am beginning a new journey of discovery, a spiritual or an intellectual pursuit. Allow me to explain my aims and goals for my blog and for my free time over the next little while.

I have always held a sort of fascination for religion in general. I don't know exactly why, perhaps because I have not been exposed to many religious traditions. I was raised in a family that did not really consider religion to be a worthwhile interest, something of a "secularist" family. I have delved deeply into dozens of books about religions from all over the world. I have studied Eastern traditions, Islam, Christianity, and even some cults like the Moonies, Scientology, and Mormonism.

Earlier this year I moved from California to Salt Lake City, Utah and have found myself immersed in a culture I find very interesting. Mormonism is pervasive in Utah. I know, everyone knows this, but it is one thing to hear it and another thing to live it. The religion saturates the entire region. I am not complaining. These Mormons seem to be very interested in all things godly and have churches all over the place. Every block seems to have a meeting house and Sundays you can see bedecked herds of people flocking to worship the Almighty.

I resolved a couple of months ago to further investigate this religious tradition. I have spent a little bit of time on the internet and have heard a lot of conflicting things. I have also asked around at work about it, but most people are slow to speak of religion (not a polite topic), or I continue to get confusing information. I decided to expand my investigations and decided to invite some of their recruiters to my home in order to learn more.

They came on time and turned out to be very young men. We spoke for a while and they asked to give me a lesson, which I accepted. They returned a few more times and gave more "discussions" and eventually asked to baptize me. Sadly, they seemed to confuse curiosity with a religious desire, but I did not dissuade them. I have never met anyone so passionate or sincere as these two gentleman, so I found it odd that they did not have answers to all of my questions (imperfectly based on my research online). They refused to address what went on in the Mormon Temple and reacted very strongly when I brought up some rituals that seemed to depict violence and secrecy. They assured me I had access to bad information.

Over time, when I refused baptism, the recruiters (called Elders, I am not sure, they seemed a little young to be elder anything) eventually left me in peace. However, curiosity had not been sated. If anything, their presentations seemed designed to exclude much of the information I found online. They did not really address Mormon polygamy or anything about the Masons. My desire to know the real inside story has niggled at me ever since.

This brings me back to my Project. I believe the best way to learn about a culture is to immerse oneself within that culture. I have decided to become a "Mormon." I think I will invite the recruiters back to baptize me a Mormon. Then I can move and operate freely as an insider to find out what is going on in this cult. I am very excited, I have never been brainwashed before (wink, wink). This next Sunday I plan on attending a worship service. I will report back here what I have found, if anything.

I don't know at this time how far I am going to pursue this charade. I reserve the right to give up on this Project at anytime. I will allow my curiosity to propel me forward and carry on to wherever I can go. At this time, I would like to get inside a Temple and witness for myself the rituals that take place. I doubt they are sinister, but according to what I have read thus far, they will be revealing. I will also take a close look at the culture in general and try to get a feel for what how they view the world. I will chime in here from time to time about anything that is on my mind also.

Until next time Fellow Adventurers.