Saturday, January 31, 2009

A reader with a story

I got another email from a reader the other day:

I just wanted to thank you for the very accurate and beautiful piece you've put together called Ex-mormon. It is so well put together that I felt like I had been shot into the past.

I was "mormon" too at one point. Recently I've been putting my own historical story together, not just for me, but for others like me who have had that epiphany and need an outlet and to not feel alone. I was looking through Google in hopes to see an example or something for guidance and found it in your stories.

I'm always happy to get these sorts of letters because that's basically why I wrote Exmormon: to make a connection with other people by exchanging stories and comparing experiences. And it turns out that this reader has an interesting exmo story of her own to share, and she allowed me to post what she's written so far for all of you on Main Street Plaza here: Mormonism is for the “Saints” who can afford it.

p.s. I know I've let the ol' blog here grow a little slow lately -- it's mostly because the discussion has livened up on Main Street Plaza (not to mention Rational Moms), and there's only so much of me to spread around. ;^) But you know these things go in cycles, and I have plenty more fun stuff planned for this space! :D

Monday, January 26, 2009

Yay, I finished the illustrations!!

Normally, I like to keep them as a surprise as each chapter is posted. But I don't think you can guess the whole story just by looking at the illustrations or the character chart, so (as an experiment or preview) I've posted them on an illustrations page!

This means I'll have no trouble getting Part VII: Orem High ready for the February 10th start date! All that's left to do is the page layout and write the caution/disclaimer...

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

"He even mentioned non-believers in his speech..."

That was the first thing my husband reported to me when I arrived home yesterday.

As excited as I am about finally having Obama as president, I wasn't quite on the bandwagon of celebrating the inauguration. All that controversy over Rick Warren (and whether we should be having a prayer at all) kind of put me off the whole thing. Basically it's because I don't want to be the wet blanket who complains about a symbolic gesture when more important things are at stake, yet, at the same time, I didn't feel like watching the piety show. We have to defer to the in-group/loyalty value (as we were discussing on MSP) -- and to get any recognition at all for the out-group, it's important to reassure the in-group (Christians) that this isn't about displacing them as the true Americans. Calling it a necessary evil is perhaps a bit strong -- it's a necessary annoyance. So I figured I'd just read the Humanist Symposium Carnival version, and leave it at that.

Then I started getting excited, reading about it in the Swiss paper on my way home from work:

That makes two days in a row that Obama has been the cover story (not to mention that he was in the news all the time during the election season). As far as I can make out from my (extremely rudimentary, but improving) German, for the most part the Swiss like Obama, and they're very impressed that the U.S.A. has elected its first black president.

It may serve as something of a positive example. Here's the even-more-familiar image that I see staring at me around practically every corner wherever I go:

I attempted to photograph this thing myself, but this other person was a far more skilled photographer

I know, I know, I chose to move here where I'll be a "foreign guest worker" until retirement, dependent on the good will of my hosts. I don't really have a cause to complain since I knew what I was getting into. Still, it puts those people who were whining about feeling harassed by a few atheist ads on buses into perspective as the value of inclusiveness/expansiveness chips away at the value of in-group loyalty/privilege.

Now, probably some of you are probably itching to point out that the Swiss ad's crypto-symbolism is about the danger of dark people (like Barack Obama), not about white people like me and my husband. But the thing is I suspect that people who would be swayed by this ad probably have some opinions about the various nationalities of foreign white people as well. And apparently it's a mainstream position to believe that those rotten (dark?) foreigners are out to, well, peck Switzerland to death.


Anyway, back to President Obama's message of hope, encouraging us all to take on the challenges that we're facing. I watched it, and I thought it was fantastic! He said so many things that absolutely needed to be said. Apparently, a CNN commentator complained that it didn't have a strong phrase like "we have nothing to fear but fear itself" -- and it's true that Obama's key points were couched in long sentences or phrased as negatives. But I think Obama did it on purpose so that people would listen to the whole speech instead of reducing it to a catch phrase. He's already got "Yes, we can!" -- he doesn't need another one. I want to see the Christians and other believers on board for these noble goals, so I hesitate to begrudge them a prayer if it's important to them.

And, of course I appreciated that he explicitly included non-believers as Americans. Actually, it was clever that he threw in the thing about other languages right afterwards -- all the people who might have been saying "What??? I hope he's not talking about Spanish..." were too busy being distracted by "OMG!!! He said non-believers!" ;^)

Here's to inclusivity!!!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

mormon-theme family photo

That's another search query I found in my grand list (of which I presented a small sample the other day). Naturally the query brought up the family portrait from "Temple Wedding," but somehow I feel like it should have pulled up this picture instead:

What's Mormon-themed about this family photo, taken back in 1994?

Not much, except for the fact that in the back of my mind I'd always thought of posting it sometime with the credits included. See, there's my sister who writes this clever blog. There's my younger brother who, among other things, was interviewed on the news. There's my older brother, whom some of you may know from his writing on By Common Consent and other places, and my youngest sister, the glamorous Mormon diva who recently sang in General Conference. Then, on the far end, a face you may already recognize.

That's the Mormon connection: your own accomplishments are fine and dandy, but it's somehow that much more presitgious to come from a big family -- all talented -- just like the Osmonds! ;^)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Wall-E: our new brave new world...

Are we humans rendering our planet uninhabitable? I thought the idea was still controversial in polite society, but apparently it's hit the mainstream -- at least enough to form the premise of a Disney/Pixar animated blockbuster: Wall-E.

Wall-E's setting is essentially a modernization of the tradition of 1984, Brave New World, Soylent Green, etc.: here's a scary and weird possible future for humanity. But what most surprises me about it is to see such a clever retooling first from Disney/Pixar, as opposed to coming from some more obscure indie literary channels. Admittedly, I don't know the obscure indie world well enough to say there's not a whole new genre of stories about how human society is going to evolve in the next fifty-to-a-hundred years (given climate change, diminishing fossil fuels, etc.). But before Wall-E, I hadn't seen anything that comes close to an interesting modernization of the question of where society may be heading -- just lots of the usual, cliché "post-nuclear-holocaust" premise that has been repeated so many times since the fifties.

Now, Wall-E is a comedy for kids, and it's very clear that it's not at all meant to be taken as something that could seriously happen in the future. Yet it's amusing to see how much social commentary there is in it.

It's not just that the Earth is covered with too much trash,

to the point where leaving the atmosphere entails pushing through a carpet of junk satellites...

The first scene where we see live humans reminded me of my two colleagues who chat with one another through skype even though they sit right across from one another:

Even if it weren't for the garbage,

the consumerism is, itself, a problem.

Americans have been sufficiently innoculated against communism that there's not much danger of a "government" taking over everything, but so what? It's not as though It's not as though there aren't other giant, powerful human organizations that have a huge control over the choices available to you in your life.

More stores don't necessarily mean more choices, particularly if you want the type of life that can't be bought in an ultrastore.

As "the Other Maria" points out in her insightful review, there's really no villain. This is, perversely, an improvement over 1984, which gives you the standard "blame the bad guy" out. But, here, it wasn't some sinister, evil person or organization that destroyed the Earth and ground the meaning out of these people's lives -- it was just a whole lot of people following the comfortable path of least resistance, to this.

As I said, this particular future couldn't happen -- it's meant to be a joke, an exaggeration. Yet it's an interesting to see how much it challenges a lot of the "common wisdom" I talked about in my New Year's post. And the fact that has arrived (controversy-free) right in the middle of the consumerist mainstream? It makes me wonder -- maybe attitudes are changing...?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Ask chanson via google, 3 1/2!!!

Yep, I get search queries. And, though the vast majority land on posts that answer the query in an obvious way (eg. Q: napkin art, Q: youth conference lds, Q: the mouse that didn't believe in santa, Q: southern right whale penis photo, etc.), many warrant special attention.

As in installments 1, 2, and 2 1/2, all of these are real, unaltered search queries that led people to my blog!

Q: essays on my vacation in german language
A: Ever since I put up two posts called My summer vacation essay, part 1 and 2, I started getting a ton of queries looking for summer vacation essays, presumably for school (eg. Q: free on line essay on my summer vacition, or Q: essay on my summer holidays for 2nd standad child). The weird thing, though, is how many of them specified they'd like the essay to be in French, German, or some other language. Here's a clue folks: if you'd like an essay in German, try translating the desired essay topic into German before typing it into google. Of course, the people who are clever enough to figure that out are probably doing their own homework rather than search-querying for help...

Q: how do mormons determine who is worthy
A: Mostly through interviews, especially the "temple recommend interview". Officials in the lay ministry (such as the Bishop or Stake President) interview the members individually every now and then.

Q: what is the true meaning of christmas for a kid?
A: It really depends on the kid. And even if the kid is only interested in the presents now, his/her later memories of Christmas (looking back) may have added meaning.

Q: ex-mormons feel like a slut
A: Probably some do, but not all. And, to be honest, believers may feel more guilt and shame over sexuality than exmos.

Q: exmormon fly
A: This one has me stumped. Are you asking if exmos can fly? Or whether a fly could be an exmo? Or are exmos more likely to accidentally leave their fly down or something? I'd like to help you, but you have to be more specific.

Q: my parents think i'm apostate
A: Join the club.

Q: i do not belong in byui
A: Join the club.

Q: i ran naked my wife stayed clothed
A: Join the... I mean what the...?

Q: what do most people do right after sex as far as bodily fluids
A: You see, there's this miraculous invention called a towel...

Q: ok to masturbate if wife doesnt want to have sex and mormon?
A: I think so, but you may want a second opinion. (see also: fidelity, autonomy)

Q: why do women feel threatened by their spouse masturbating
A: I think it's mostly because they worry their spouse would rather be having sex with someone else, feel they can't compete with the sexy women in photos, etc. If you'd like your wife to cut you some slack on this, I'd recommend making it clear to your wife that you love her, that you're attracted to her, that you're not wishing you could trade her in for someone else, etc., and that the masturbation is just about variety or frequency or something like that.

Q: marriage or finding girl solves the masterbation?
A: I wouldn't bank on it.

Q: mormom return missionary sisters make good wives
A: That may be true, but it depends on the individual woman and on what you're looking for in a wife.

Q: can you go to jail if you read sex stories even if they don't show no nudity
A: Why would you think you could be put in jail for reading sex stories, whether they contain nudity or not? Has someone been filling your head with such nonsense? Note: this query came in from an I.P. address in Alabama, and I assume that possession of erotica is not illegal there. It's comforting to know that the Internet is counteracting misinformation all over the world.

Some readers may notice that I kind of focus on the sex-related queries in this feature -- even though they're not the majority of the queries I get. They're some of the most interesting ones, though. It seems like people will ask google stuff that they won't ask their friends and family. In particular, people type in queries that I assume are fetishes they'd like to read titillating stories about. I hope readers won't be offended if I list some of these off as a curiosity.

Remember: I had no choice but to read these weird, perverted queries myself when they showed up in my logs, and I was shocked! Thus, I have to post them so you can see what I'm talking about. Additionally, this list may help budding erotica-writers out there by giving them some market-tested ideas to use to help people like our friend from Alabama.

Q: perverted part in the grinch
Q: white christmas gay porn
Q: mom & son nude beach photos
Q: attracted to physically strong
Q: women's topless breasts spokane
Q: sexy sister missionaries
Q: unexpected sex in public local bus
Q: moms getting wedgies
Q: look male but he female
Q: erotic stories about mormon missionaries
Q: short erotic stories, santa clause
Q: breastfeeding orgasm stories

Anyone interested in writing any of those?

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Here's another one!!

Just today I happened upon another heartwarming tale of growing out of Mormonism!

This one is very different from yesterday's, and since it's an online serial (I love those exmo lit online serials) you can read it right now. Well, the beginning anyway.

It looks beautiful so far!

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Multicultural Surprise! Jack B. Worthy's "The Mormon Cult"

A Chinese, born in China with a dark skin, and with all the handicaps of that race seems to have little opportunity. But think of the mercy of God to Chinese people who are willing to accept the gospel. In spite of whatever they might have done in the pre-existence to justify being born over there as Chinamen, if they now, in this life accept the gospel and live it the rest of their lives they can have the Priesthood, go to the temple and receive endowments and sealings, and that means they can have exaltation.

-- (Apostle) Elder Mark E. Petersen, in a talk given at Brigham Young University (BYU) on August 27, 1954

The Mormon mission experience is a unique and remarkable thing. If you send single young adults to a foreign country to learn the language and culture, there's a danger they'll assimilate, internalize the new country's values and culture, and stay there. Yet, the LDS church has a pretty strong track record of getting missionaries (or mishies, as I like to call them) to learn a foreign language/culture just enough to get around easily but not so much that the new country becomes "home."

How do they do it? Well, I've just read an interesting new missionary memoir that goes a long way towards explaining how it works. From a faithful LDS persepctive, Jack B. Worthy's mission was a "failed" one -- not only did he leave the church at the end, but he essentially went on to choose his mission country (Hong Kong) over his Mormon American culture. Naturally this gives us some contrasting points to show how those missions that do work work.

The Mark E. Petersen quote above (which I read in Jack's book) isn't just shockingly racist. It also betrays the common human failing of being unable to perceive the people of another culture as being just people. As I discussed in Is religion the problem? it's weird, but while you naturally see that your own community is full of all different types of people, it's nearly impossible to avoid mentally flattening different races and nationalities into cartoon caricatures. Even educated people who know intellectually that foreign societies have the full spectrum of human qualities still have a difficult time feeling on a gut-level "they're more like us than they are different." Obviously Chinese people don't see themselves as a handicapped race, with little opportunity, who had the misfortune of "being born over there as Chinamen." In fact, I'll bet there are plenty of Chinese people who pity Americans for being "born over there" (in the U.S.), into a culture that many Chinese probably view as pitifully limited and obscure. Jack's memoir is a positive and encouraging tale of breaking through the haze of a simple, provincial perspective and getting to the point of seeing "just people, like us" in the faraway city of Hong Kong. The similarities began to stand out so much more than the differences that he'd originally called his memoir "Confucius Was a Mormon Pioneer."

Like many missionaries, Jack was sorely disheartened by the vast gulf separating faith-promoting mission expectations from the mission reality that he saw around him. The critical point that pushed him over the edge into apostasy, though, was the humiliation of being disfellowshipped and sent home in shame after he had sex with a local girl. Jack describes how returned-missionaries are put in a position where they're socially required to tell stories from their missions that are as faith-promoting as possible, and how this experience affects their own memories of their experiences, making the faith-shaking parts fade and the faith-building parts grow by comparison. Of course, humans naturally frame their memories to emphasize how they got where they are today, so -- since Jack's mission ended badly -- his memories focus on his growing doubts and unease (even though he didn't fully stop believing in Mormonism until a decade later). In the book, he gives some interesting speculation about where he'd be today, and what his own mission memories would be like if he hadn't made that fateful decision to sneak out with a girl to the upper deck of an anonymous boat docked at the pier and have sex under the stars.

Considering Jack's happy, secular life with a bi-cultural family in Hong Kong today, I'd say this is an encouraging story of taking opportunities to learn and of overcoming adversity (where adversity, here, is indoctrination and the traumatic experience of getting excommunicated shortly after his mission). I particularly liked the end where he talked about getting a job doing the stock role of "the white guy" for Hong Kong television: "In one movie, I was a member of a group of Eastern European terrorists who had come to Hong Kong and taken an entire high school hostage. Of course the Hong Kong police force saved the day, and I ended up fighting to the finish alongside my terrorist friends." That sounded like such a fun job that remarked to my (French) husband that it almost makes me wish I'd chosen to learn Chinese instead of French! Jack closes with some fascinating comparisons between Chinese culture and Mormon culture (including some rituals and beliefs about the dead, from his own new extended family), and with a message of understanding:

In 470 B.C., only nine years after Confucius died, a rival philosopher named Mozi was born. Mozi, a contemporary of Socrates, taught universal love. He believed that the same degree of good that one wishes for one’s own parents or children should also be wished for the parents and children of others. He also taught that the identification one has with one’s own community and nation should be extended to all communities and nations.

So the last remaining elephant in the room of this book review is why did he name a positive story of cross-cultural understanding "The Mormon Cult"?

I emailed the author to figure this out, and he told me the following:

I consider all religions to be cults, as well as many other belief systems that are not labeled as religions, e.g., Herbalife and patriotism. Are they qualitatively different or just quantitatively different? I guess it depends on how you define cult, which is not easy. To keep it simple, we could say there is only a quantitative difference. The question then becomes, Where does the LDS Church lie on the continuum of cultishness? That's not an easy question to answer. I think it's safe to say that there are religions that are much worse, and there are many that are not nearly as bad. And within each religion, even, there are many levels. I grew up in Nebraska, which was probably much different from growing up in a small town in Utah.

That makes sense to me, and fits quite well with the theme and conclusions at the end of the book. However, I felt like that point didn't come through at all in the first section of the book, which explains in detail how Mormon indoctrination works (eg. training small kids to "bear their testimonies", telling people with doubts to "fake it till you make it" since saying you know X encourages you to convince yourself that you really do know it). I don't want to belabor this point too much because we've just gotten done discussing it in detail over on MSP here, but the problem is that people aren't going to assume you mean to place Mormonism on a "continuum of cultishness" if you don't say so and you don't call anyone but Mormons a cult. These guys, for example, absolutely don't mean some sort of nuanced "within each religion, even, there are many levels" when they call Mormonism a cult.

But, in the end, the publisher picked the title The Mormon Cult, and the (potentially even better book) Confucius Was a Mormon Pioneer got shelved. The tragic reality is that there's a real market for faith-promoting Mormon books and a lesser market for books proving that Mormonism is bad and wrong -- but essentially no (paying?) market for heart-warming, positive stories about being raised religious and finding your own way to skepticism.


Sunday, January 04, 2009

Back from vacation!

I'm back from my Christmas/New Year's vacation to France and Holland!

Here we are frolicking by the pyramid of the Louvre.

It turned out to be unexpectedly Internet-free, which is why I've hardly posted at all over the past two weeks. (If you're looking for something to read, you can see the latest edition of my weekly roundup Sunday in Outer Blogness or check out some cool carnivals: The Humanist Symposium, The Carnival of the Godless, and The Carnival of the Liberals.) Practically the only time I got to be on the Internet was on the train going back and forth between Paris and Belgium. (Free WiFi in the train! Just sayin' for any of you out there who doubted the awesomeness of train travel.)

Going for days on end without the Internet was kind of relaxing but a little disconcerting (I suppose that's a bad sign).

The good news is that I had plenty of time to read a new exmo-interest memoir (The Mormon Cult), which I'll be telling you about this week. Plus I had time to draw many of the illustrations for Orem High. Of course I still have to scan them all in and color them. Will I be done in time for my planned February 10th start date or will I have to move the date back? We'll see...