Monday, April 30, 2007

Doomed unrequited love was something we could definitely relate to in the Mia Maids class

The next morning over breakfast we compared notes on the dance. This didn't take too long since no one had really met any serious prospects. The ones that were closest to finding a romance were Amy with Greg and her sister Alexandra with this guy Matt who was from Ely. But neither one of these was particularly promising since Greg was a non-member and Matt lived way on the other side of creation where Alexandra could hardly hope to see much of him. Plus he seemed like a bit of a hayseed. So when they had finished their stories, I recounted to them the whole situation with Tom and how Lara was leading him on just to get him to join the church. The other girls agreed that it was pretty pathetic of him to fall for such a thing, but that on the other hand if it got him to convert to Mormonism, his soul would be saved, so at least some good would come of it. Then, since no one else had had more than one or two dances with any one guy, we moved on to comparing our class schedules to see if we had any classes together.

We each had received a schedule of classes in our registration packets, just like a real college class schedule supposedly. Read the rest of the story ->

More good news about atheists!!!

There's a new carnival in town for atheists: The Humanist Symposium!!! Their inaugural edition includes not only a post by yours truly but also one by Outer Blogness's own from the ashes!!!

This is a fun carnival because the idea is to highlight positive aspects of being an atheist and a humanist. The term "atheist" describes an absence of something, namely absence of belief in God or gods. However, (like the term exmormon ;^) ), being defined by this negative can actually mean a whole lot of positive things in your life. So it's cool to have a blog carnival to focus on all of the good stuff!!! :D I hope it will be a big success!!!

I have a hard time seeing how people could view atheism (or humanism) as bad -- except possibly fear of the unknown and unfamiliar. As much as I don't proselytize for atheism myself, I have to admit I feel a lot of hope for the future when pondering quotes like this one I saw on the Secular Earth site:

My only wish is ... to transform friends of God into friends of man, believers into thinkers, devotees of prayer into devotees of work, candidates for the hereafter into students of the world, Christians, who by their own admission, are 'half animal, half angel' into persons, into whole persons.
- Ludwig Feuerbach

I don't know much about the "Secular Earth" community except that they left a comment on my blog, and I have no idea who Ludwig Feuerbach is, but they've got at least one good quote going for them, so maybe there's more where that came from. ;^)

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Update on life here at crazy house...

1. I haven't told my parents about my blog or my novel yet. Because, y'know, it hasn't come up in conversation. (Translation: I'm too chicken.)

2. For the duration of their stay, I'm taking time off from work, so the work-related craziness pressure is off for the moment. Mom and Dad -- being the coolest parents ever -- are spending their vacation here at my house helping me clean and re-organize everything, and doing yardwork and home repairs that I've been putting off since, well, since last time they visited...

This is a fabulous vacation for me because the stress is melting away as all of the things I'd been letting slide (but worrying about in the back of my mind) are getting done!!! We're rapidly moving from a state where the house looks like a pig-sty hit by a tornado (I wish that were an exaggeration) to a state of it being fit for human habitation.

This morning the parents are off at their respective churches, so I'm getting in a little blog reading. Soon the boys and I will be off to the park to meet their grandma after church. (There's a nice park right near the LDS chapel.) And we'll bring Grandma some nice croissants!!! :D

Thursday, April 26, 2007

ex-Mormon vs. post-Mormon vs. DAMU

What's in a name? ;)

Back when I wrote my handy guide to different types of Mormons I claimed that ex-Mormon and post-Mormon are just two words for the same thing. Since then, many people have told me that there's a real difference between the two, namely that an ex-Mormon is someone who is angry and/or recovering whereas a post-Mormon is someone who has moved on.

That makes a lot of sense as a distinction, and I suppose that's the idea of this one new forum I found the other day: I guess if that's it, I'd qualify more as post-Mormon than ex-Mormon myself. My novel qualifies more as ex-Mormon since the focus is on being Mormon and experiences shortly after leaving the church. (Yay, I don't have to change the title!) Maybe the sequel should be called post-Mormon...

However, it's important to keep in mind that a lot of people's choice of labels depends more on which they encountered online first, so people who started out on RfM are more likely to adopt the label "exmo" whereas those who came in through the foyer are more likely to go with DAMU (DisAffected Mormon Underground).

It is becoming increasingly clear that Recovery from Mormonism (the main bulletin board of has a bad reputation -- not only with believing Mormons but within the post-Mormon community -- as being full of angry rants, and I think that may be why a number of former Mormons take offense at being called exmos.

It's unfortunate if this is causing a division of the variety "I don't believe in the church anymore, but I'm not one of them." I'm not terribly interested in posting (or even reading) a bunch of angry rants myself, but I think most of us have gone through some anger over this, and can understand what people go through when it sinks in how very much they and their families have sacrificed for something that ultimately they've found to be false. So I hesitate to say "Hey, just buck up and stop complaining" or even "Whew! I'm glad I'm not like that!" since who knows if any given "angry apostate" will still be "like that" a year or two from now.

So I guess I'm saying that while I'm interested in building bridges of common interest with the faithful Mormons, I don't want to do it by trying to draw a line around the "good guys" that includes me and leaves people who aren't all that far from me out in the cold...

Cross-posted here.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Heart-shaped Cookies...

We stepped out of the building and found a low brick wall that we could sit on with no one around.

"Well?" I asked.

"I've brought a little present that I was thinking we could give to Y and Z. I baked them a batch of delicious heart-shaped cookies."

"What?!? Are you crazy?! Can you imagine the embarrassment of giving them something like that?!?! We'll look like the biggest geeks on the planet! Don't you think that we should stick to more subtle tactics?"

"We'll give them anonymously," Amy explained. "They'll find the cookies and eat them and all the while they'll be wondering romantically about the girls who thought to give them this little gift. It'll be perfect! Anyway, my mom always says that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach."

"And how to you propose to give them anonymously?" I asked.


Sunday, April 22, 2007

Everything is crazy at my house...

Now more than ever!!!

For three main reasons:

1. I'm in the final corrections phase of the second edition of my book. Not my novel, but rather the book for the ol' day job. So I've got to do the last corrections and beautifications of all of my sample code, but...

2. I'm starting a new job very soon -- one with tons more responsibility than my old job. And it should be a doubly rude awakening from the lifestyle I've had the past couple months since I left my job to focus on finishing my book. My schedule contained a whole lot of putzing around the house and reading every single updated blog before getting to work. It's amazing how blogging can expand to fill the time available!!! But that lifestyle is over. I'm going to keep posting here regularly and keep up with my activities over on Main Street Plaza, however it looks like I'll have to cut back on my blog reading at least for a while. So if I've been a regular reader/commenter on your blog and start to seem scarce, don't take it personally -- it's not you, it's me. ;^)

3. My parents are visiting for three weeks. The bright side of that one for you dear reader is that I hope this visit will generate plenty of hilarious stories to post!!! Especially since I don't think they know about my blog (yet), so that might make some waves. Even if I wanted to keep it a secret, it's not clear it would be possible. Sure I can hide all the booze before the parents arrive, but an internet habit of this magnitude is hard to disguise...

p.s. You can help me out on Main Street Plaza by emailing to submit a guest post and/or volunteer as a regular writer or artist.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

BYU Students Don't Support Torture

Well, that's what one of the signs in this picture says:

Am I surprised? Absolutely. Not about BYU students opposing torture -- that should be a no-brainer I hope -- but rather that BYU students are openly protesting a decision made by the board of trustees, which includes the first presidency of the LDS church. (For those who aren't up on the latest Mormon news: they invited Dick Cheney to speak at the BYU commencement.)

I don't think it's so much that BYU has changed as it is that Cheney has just done too much damage for anyone to want to honor him. So apparently some students, faculty, etc. have planned what has got to be the world's politest protest: an alternative commencement.

Why do I call it polite? Because it's not even competing with the regular commencement -- they've conveniently scheduled it after so everyone can attend both...

Monday, April 16, 2007

Let the Manhunt Begin!

The very first thing I heard upon arriving at Youth Conference was a dirty joke.

Somewhere behind me in the long line of kids walking from the buses to the registration tables a boy's voice said "Why did the condom fly across the room? -- because it was pissed-off!" Not very funny, really, but it made me smile to myself. It seemed like a good omen for how the conference would go -- hopefully not one hundred percent goodie-goodie. Not that I objected to religious education in principle -- heaven knows I had a lot of work ahead of me if I wanted to make it to the Celestial Kingdom one day. It was just that for this event the prospect of spiritual growth was hardly my real reason for attending.

I was sure most of the other kids felt the same way. We came for the fun of spending the weekend in a college dormitory with five stakes worth of Mormon kids -- practically all of the Mormon teenagers in all of Minnesota. read the rest ->

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Youth Conference Begins!!!

I've been burning the midnight oil so that Youth Conference can begin tomorrow as scheduled, and I just finished the illustrations just now!!! I'm thrilled because -- if I do say so myself -- they're fabulous!!! (Hey, I spent a lot of work on this, so I'm going to pay myself a compliment... ;-) )

Plus, I've made a character chart just like the one I did for Young Women's -- so if you're reading along and forget who somebody is, the answer is right there for you!!! :D

I meant to get out and do some publicity for this, but I got sidetracked by about a million other projects (like Main Street Plaza -- time consuming, but worth the effort!!), so as usual, please feel free to tell your friends about this novella, especially if you like it. :D

Now, if you haven't finished reading Young Women's yet, you've got a little more than twenty-four hours left to get caught up... :-) (But don't worry -- they're independent so you can read Youth Conference even if you haven't read Young Women's.)

(Sorry, I kind of O.D.'ed on smileys for this post -- blame it on the sleep-deprivation...)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Good News about Atheists!: Hemant Mehta's I Sold My Soul on eBay

I have set out on a mission of my own, if you will, to show the world the friendly face of atheism. I would love to meet more friendly Christians. And so would every atheist I know.
-- Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta isn't just a friendly atheist, he's the friendly atheist. And since he snagged the title of "friendly atheist" first, all of the other friendly atheists have to be more specific when choosing their own titles (for example I'm "the friendly American exmormon atheist mom living in France," whew! and I hope there won't be too many people fighting me for this coveted position!). I thought about challenging Hemant to a duel over the title "the friendly atheist." Just for the irony of doing it. Then I thought "Nah, I'll just review his book instead."

I Sold My Soul on eBay isn't quite what I was expecting when I first picked it up. The title -- though catchy -- is a little misleading. I'd assumed Hemant had actually auctioned off his soul as a stunt along the lines of "the blasphemy challenge" or like the ex-Mormons who have attempted to sell temple secrets on eBay. But from following Hemant's blog, I should have realized that sort of thing is the opposite of his style.

What Hemant actually auctioned off was the opportunity to send him to church. Like many atheists, he was curious to learn more about religion rather than just dismissing it out of hand, and he figured an eBay auction would be a fun way to get in contact with someone who's motivated to introduce religion to an atheist. This book is the distillation of what Hemant learned from about a year's worth of church attendance at a variety of Christian churches as a result of his eBay auction.

I Sold My Soul on eBay: Viewing Faith through an Atheist's Eyes is a book addressed to Christians, full of constructive critiques and strategies for making their services more engaging, especially for young adults who don't normally attend church. It has lots of helpful advice on what approaches appeal to non-Christians (and/or non-churchgoers) instead of putting them off.

The book covers the large-to-mega church category more thoroughly than any other type, and I must confess that it was a bit of a challenge to me to generate a whole lot of enthusiasm for them, even given Hemant's lively analysis. I felt a little like how I'd feel if a market researcher showed me a row of giant, gas-guzzling S.U.V.'s and asked me which ones had the most pleasing shape or most comfy ergonomic interior when I'd really rather be discussing strategies for improving public transportation. That probably sounds pretty rich coming from someone who's an avid supporter of Mormon literature (including giving serious advice to LDS authors for making faith-promoting works more effective). But at least with the Mormon lit community, I can claim I'm rooting for a legitimate underdog. Reading about these stadium-sized churches with tens of thousands of members situated on beautiful multi-building campuses, I kept thinking "Sheesh, these guys are the last people on the planet who need help with their marketing..." But that's how friendly Hemant Mehta is -- he's interested in helping out wherever he sees room for improvement.

Hemant's advice seems quite sound, and will likely be useful to those pastors who read his book. My main critique of his critique is that (aside from a few remarks about charity work) Hemant's focus is almost entirely on the church service itself, so of course the biggest churches with the resources to put on a fantastic show come off the best. Yet when he talks about his childhood faith (Jain), most of his positive associations revolve around the fact that his family was part of a small group of families who shared a long-term bond, meeting in each other's houses until they had built up enough members and resources to build their own temple. Hemant doesn't really discuss whether small churches might be more effective than mega-churches at creating this type of community bond and/or creating a sense of community with the local neighborhood. However, when comparing a large number of different churches, it's very difficult to compare what it might be like to be a long-term member of each one. In terms of what is reasonable to cover in such a survey (namely what sorts of things will inspire a one-time visitor to want to come back) he's got a lot of great ideas.

Hemant also helps Christians with their outreach by explaining the atheist's perspective. When approaching an unfamiliar person, nothing is more of a turn-off than making it clear that you're mentally squeezing that person into some wrong and insulting stereotype. Hemant gives a clear and friendly explanation of how the atheist's perspective contrasts with the Christian perspective. In my opinion, this is where the book really shines -- you can see that Hemant is sincere about wanting to foster understanding and dialog, so he takes the Christian point of view seriously and approaches it respectfully when explaining how his point of view is different.

I would definitely recommend this book for any Christian who is serious about wanting to reach out to atheists by understanding the atheist's point of view. But since I probably have more atheist readers than Christian in readers, I'll bet many of you are asking yourselves "Okay, but what's in it for the atheist reader?" For the atheist reader there are three things:

1. Every time I've visited a service of an unfamiliar religion I've learned something from it. Even though Hemant isn't addressing you, you can learn something from looking over his shoulder (so to speak) as he's attending these services.

2. We've all heard about how atheists are the most hated and mistrusted minority in America. Well, what are we going to do about it? We're going to get out there and say to our friends and neighbors "Hi, I'm so-and-so, and I'm a member of your community and an ordinary person -- not the sort of bogeyman you might imagine atheists to be..." Hemant Mehta sets a great example of how to keep your tone positive and constructive when talking to Christians so you can help people see the friendly face of atheism.

3. You can use this book itself in your bridge-building efforts. How many of you have gotten a gift from a (well-meaning) Christian friend or relative that was a Bible or other devotional materials? Or one of those books that tries to poke holes in evolutionary theory so that you'll be convinced that a supernatural explanation is more likely than a natural one? All of you, right? ;^) Well, rather than getting pissed-off because they just don't get it, help them to get it by giving this book as a return gift. Or proactively send it to family members if you're one of the many atheists who has Christian relatives who don't understand you.

This is the one book I would recommend for atheists to give as a gift to Christian friends and relatives. It's a friendly message from an atheist to a Christian that doesn't say "Here's why I'm right and you're wrong," but instead says "Here's how we can understand each other and get along."

Monday, April 09, 2007

Will somebody translate this out of kid for me?

My little Leo -- who will turn four next month -- went on a school field-trip to a farm the other day.

me: Did you see animals at the farm?
Leo: Yes.
me: Did you see a doggy?
Leo: Yes.
me: Did you see a kitty?
Leo: No.
me: Okay, no kitty. What other animals did you see?
Leo: I saw a dinosaur.
me: Really? A dinosaur? Did you see chickens?
Leo: Yes. I saw chickens and a dinosaur.
me: mmmmmmmmkay....

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Happy Easter Science!!!

Who'd have thought a religious holiday would be so conducive to learning about science??

But we learned by experiment last year that leaving eggs in a water-and-vinegar solution degrades the shells, and we applied that knowledge to do a better job on our egg-coloring adventure this year!!!

(I'm including pictures even though we discovered over Christmas that it's actually funnier when you screw it up than when it works...)

The other fun science experiment involved our easter chocolates. There's a tradition in France of having chocolate fish for Easter (it's related to that whole eating fish for Lent, explained here), and this tradition has extended to having chocolate versions of all sorts of sea animals, such as cetacians and crustaceans. So since my kids are really into dolphins, whales, and sharks these days, we were hoping to find them some chocolate dolphins, like we found when Nico was a baby:

But what we found was better: chocolate dinosaurs!!!

I think the theory behind the chocolate shops selling chocolate dinosaurs for Easter is "to hell with tradition, let's just make Easter chocolates in any shape we think kids might like..."

And my kids were thrilled!!! Nico got a stegosaurus and Leo got a Triceratops:

The science came in as soon as Nico noticed that his stegosaurus was actually made of two pieces tied together with a ribbon with other chocolates inside!!! He immediately wanted to investigate to determine what his dinosaur had eaten. So he carefully untied the ribbon, looked inside, and had me tie it back up again.

Then I asked Nico the results of his research on the diet of chocolate dinosaurs. He explained that his dinosaur had eaten lots of chocolate eggs and chocolate fish!!! :D

Friday, April 06, 2007

Thinking Blogger!!!

Thanks to Johnny of The Fire Sermon, I've just gotten a "thinking blogger" award!!! Thanks Johnny!!!

The terrible thing about this award is that when you pass it along to other blogs that make you think, you can only pick five. If your blogroll looks like mine, you can see how this might be a problem... Fortunately my choices have been narrowed down a bit since a lot of thought-provoking blogs have already gotten the award. :D

I'd like to start outside of Outer Blogness with one of my favorite atheist blogs: Jewish Atheist. J.A.'s perspective is particularly interesting to me since he was raised in a strict religious household, has since become an atheist living a secular lifestyle, and yet is still interested in his heritage and in maintaining a dialog with the faithful of his community. Probably a lot of people will think it's funny of me to be pointing out this parallel since it's such an ingrained Mormon thing to want to claim the Mormons are like the Jews that people raised Mormon can't stop doing it even after they leave the fold. ;-) But seriously, even though there are plenty of differences, there are some interesting similarities. In particular many of my ex-Mormon friends will probably appreciate his discussion of what it would have been like if he'd married before leaving orthodoxy and a post where he talks about his interactions with family and community.

Then I'd like to include The Hathor Legacy. This blog is all about analyzing how female characters are portrayed, which is a topic I love to think about!!! Now, I know I march a little bit out of step with some feminist common wisdom because of the fact that I think "objectification" is not a useful theory for such analysis, and I'm guessing many Hathor Legacy bloggers disagree with my unorthodox ideas. However, everybody always agreeing with one another is not a recipe for critical thinking, and since this is an award about "the thinking blogger" I'd like to go with one where there's room for some thought-provoking disagreement.

Now I'd like to pick a few from Outer Blogness, but there are really too many insightful blogs on this list for me to narrow it down to just three slots. So rather than going with people from my brilliant family ;-) such as my brother or my cousin or some of the other obvious choices, I was thinking of maybe using this to highlight some thoughtful blogs I haven't linked to lately but who deserve some more attention:

Stay At Aum Mom is a fun one: "Looking for fun in the parenting Zoo." That's one of our quests at my house too. ;-) Interestingly, "Stay At Home Mom" has the same handle "Mel" as another thought-provoking blog Æsahættr. And since the two of them are confusing me by having the same name (you guys aren't the same person, right?) they can share slot #3 on my "thinking blogger" awards list. :D

Then there's Todd's Hammer, which contains some interesting political insights in addition to the occasional Mormon topic.

And to finish off the list, there's Holly of Self Portrait As. Holly puts the fun back into being the crusty professor that the students are intimidated by. ;-) Hopefully this award will help bring her blog out of hibernation. I saw some signs of life on one of her secondary blogs where she posted an amusing piece about the dangers of "literature abuse".


Sorry to the many thought-provoking blogs I've missed, but since this is an exponentially-reproducing award, there's a good chance it will eventually come around to you!!! ;-)

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Subtle (but important) details...

When I was seventeen, I read The Godmakers. I'd recently concluded that the claims of the LDS church are false, so I was more than receptive to "anti" materials -- I was actively looking for them.

So what do you imagine I thought of The Godmakers?

I thought it was horrible -- pure garbage.

And it irritated me because -- given all of the legitimate criticisms one can make about the church and its claims -- why publish this nonsense?

This was many years ago, so I don't remember all of the details, but I remember that the striking thing about the book was how much of it was devoted to explaining how Mormon beliefs conflict with mainstream Christian beliefs -- as if that were a proof that Mormon beliefs are wrong. Such reasoning may be convincing for those who were raised with Protestant beliefs (or are otherwise already convinced that mainstream Christain beliefs are right), but to the average person raised Mormon, such arguments are gibberish.

A few months ago I was reading a novel by a Mormon, and when I read the stuff where brother who leaves the church is portrayed as a ne'er-do-well with lots of problems, I didn't object because, hey, that can happen (though it's a bit more common in faithful LDS novels than in real life... ;-) ). And when the exmo bro takes the main character's (LDS convert) fiancé to a bar as a bachelor party, that seemed pretty normal. Then my suspension of disbelief abruptly ended when the exmo bro whips out a copy of The Godmakers. Without any hint anywhere in the novel about exmo bro being "saved" or converting to evangelical Christianity....

Confusing secular exmos with Christian exmos...? That's like... That's like mixing up Scottish and Irish!!!

I thought the author should have changed it to the following:


"He's an odd duck, your brother. He said I should check out this website." Eric pulled out a little piece of folded cardboard which Eliza recognized as a Zig-Zag box.

"He gave you rolling papers?"

"No, it's written on the inside." Eric opened it up and Eliza saw that Gary had written "" on the inside of the empty box.

Eliza snorted. "Yeah, that's a great suggestion if you want to waste your time reading the rantings of a bunch of angry apostates."


See? That's not only more realistic but funnier!!! (Having him maintain a stash of copies of The Godmakers to distribute? Pfft! I suggested this "improvement" to the author, but I guess my idea didn't make the final cut ;-) ).

Aside from that point, I liked the novel. I had a similar reaction with Brother Brigham -- I liked the novel overall, but a lot of details about the apostate characters could have been better. Even if the character in question is a villain -- or rather especially if the character is a villain -- plausible details make a work more effective. A little bit of research can make the difference between writing something that resonates with readers versus writing something that rings false.

And lest you think I'm unfairly singling out faithful LDS authors, remember that I gave this same criticism (perhaps even more harshly) to Walter Kirn's work here (see the comments as well as the body of the post).

And now for the self-indulgent part of the post!!! :D

I would like to recommend that serious faithful LDS authors take the time to read my novel Exmormon. Not because I think you could learn a thing or two from my amazing literary skills ;-) but rather because -- if you plan to include apostate characters in your work -- it's useful to have a multi-faceted image in your mind of what people who leave the church are like. If the only face you know of the apostate is what apostates look like to Mormons, you'll come up with a flatter, less lifelike portrait of your character than you will if you've seen apostates from another perspective: what they look like to other apostates.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Nico's got a girlfriend...

I had to pick up my little Nicolas from school early the other day, and when I went out to the playground to get him, I found him playing with a little girl. There's nothing unusual about that, although they seemed to be playing an odd game: the girl was standing on a platform, and Nico was crawling around on the ground at her feet. So I asked Nico what they were playing.

Nico replied: "We're playing shark. I'm the shark, and if she falls in the water, I'm going to eat her."

Then I asked the girl what they were playing, and she replied (in French): "Nico's my boyfriend and we're going to get married."

Thus we see the Mars-and-Venus relationship model in its most rudimentary form. ;-)

I was kind of surprised by it, though. Sure I remember picking boys to be my boyfriend when I was in Kindergarten and earlier (the girl is probably four or five years old). But since leaving the church, I'd always thought that was some sort of weirdo Mormon thing to encourage little girls from the cradle to start looking at little boys as potential husbands.

Maybe it is a weirdo Mormon thing, but not exclusively a Mormon thing...? Opinions?