Name Change?

June 19, 2014

So, I was listening to church PR spokesperson Ally Isom’s RadioWest interview with Doug Fabrizio, and I was intrigued by her suggestion that the problem with “Ordain Women” is that it was in the imperative mood, as if Kate Kelly and her colleagues were dictating to the Brethren what the church should do. Apparently, things would have gone much differently for Ms. Kelly had she used a different grammatical construction. Perhaps, “It might possibly be a good idea to ordain women, maybe.  I don’t know. I could be wrong, Whatever you want to do. I’m good.” Or maybe like Jeopardy it could have been put in the form of a question: “What is, Ordaining Women?”

Now I find that it’s not just Kate Kelly, John Dehlin, and Rock Waterman who are getting hauled in by their bishops and stake presidents. Jana Riess and a woman known only as “Dana” have been summoned to meet with their priesthood leaders on account of their online posting. Meanwhile, I keep checking my email, and nothing’s happening. When I go out to my mailbox, I’m finding pizza coupons and unimportant stuff like my son’s report card. What the hell does a guy have to do to get a disciplinary council?

Then it hit me: My blog name isn’t commanding enough. It doesn’t pop. Ally Isom isn’t going to read “Runtu’s Rincon” and think, “That dude’s got it in for the Brethren.” So, maybe it’s time for a change. I’ve thought of a few possibilities:

Follow Runtu. He knows the way!
Choose the Runtu!
Preach my Runtu
Praise to the Runtu
Return with Runtu
Any criticism of Runtu is wrong, even if it’s true
Beware the Runtu behind the smiling eyes

A friend came up with these:
#BecauseofRuntu
Come, Come Ye Runtu
Hold to the Runtu!
Oh, Be Runtu!
Bow Your Heads and Say Runtu
Raise Your Runtu to the Square

 


Top Ten Hints for Polygamy Apologists

June 18, 2014

1. A person’s consent does not make any action toward that person right.

2. A person in a position of authority has an unequal relationship with his or her subordinates. The consent of a subordinate to something they otherwise would not do does not indicate that the authority figure has not abused his or her authority.

3. It is not OK to conceal extramarital sex from one’s spouse to spare the spouse’s feelings.

4. Telling someone after the fact that you have done something deeply affecting them does not change the fact that you have done something deeply affecting them without their prior knowledge or consent.

5. A person’s acceptance after the fact of an action done without their knowledge or consent does not make the action right.

6. Threatening to destroy someone’s reputation if they reveal that you’ve made sexual advances on them is not acceptable.

7. Publicly trashing someone’s reputation after they have revealed your sexual advances is unacceptable.

8. It is impossible for a child to give free and informed consent to an adult authority figure when she is told that her consent will guarantee exaltation for her family.

9. Concealing something from one’s spouse and others is a good sign that you are afraid of the consequences of getting caught. People tend not to be afraid of the consequences of getting caught performing “dynastic” rituals that have nothing to do with sex.

10. Absence of offspring is not solid evidence that someone has not had sex.


Moderation in All Things

June 16, 2014

I’ve been writing this blog off and on for about 6 years, and I had a different blog for a couple of years before that. One thing I decided early on was that I would leave the comments section open to anyone who wants to comment. Very rarely have I regretted that policy. My thinking was that most of the comments are aimed at me, and I have a pretty thick skin these days. I’ve had one commenter who spends a lot of time making little digs at my character and abilities, and it really doesn’t bother me. I figured that people like him are a good reminder of what things could be like if I were of a different mind. I don’t tend to engage in vitriol against any person or organization, so when readers throw such things against me or anyone else, it tends to show by contrast who is being civil and reasonable. (Mind you, I have had lapses in civility and reason on occasion, too.)

Recently, the situation with Kate Kelly has elicited some comments that I consider to be attacks on her character and demeaning to women in general. I have done some soul-searching, and I realize that I can’t let such things stand, so I have set up a moderation queue for the first time since starting the blog. WordPress automatically puts your first comment in the queue to avoid spam comments, but once the first comment is approved, you’re good to go. But any commenter who uses demeaning language or engages in personal attacks will be given a warning, and if that doesn’t resolve the problem, their posts will have to be moderated.

I don’t like this, and I’m sure some people will be unhappy with me for doing this, but I feel it’s the right thing to do.


Everything Has Chains

June 13, 2014

Given the subjects of a lot of my posts, some people are surprised to find that I am not technically a former Mormon. Yep, I’m still on the records of the LDS church, I’m still a high priest, and, at least according to the church, the terms of my covenants remain in effect.

I have noticed in the last two days a number of people are saying that the situation with John Dehlin, Kate Kelly, and Rock Waterman has them upset enough to formally resign from the LDS church. Here’s a sample of what’s been said:

A mother: “I’m thinking it’s about time I resign this narrow-minded church that has taken so much from me.”

A returned missionary: “I’ve just been too lazy to do it, but this has motivated me. I have also had contact with a couple families that were on the fence (friends/roommates from BYU) but have decided it may be best to just resign and get their families out. This might be an interesting catalyst.”

A high priest: “If I am going to resign, and I am definitely considering it seriously, I would like it to be something where it is directly linked with this latest action taken by the Church of Jesus Christ of North Korea.”

A non-Mormon married to a Mormon: “I may have my children’s names removed from the records of the church over this. They were unlikely to ever choose to be baptized LDS as it is, but if the church wants to treat feminists this way, then it can stop counting my children as part of that membership tally that it’s so fond of.”

As I’ve said before, I understand how these people feel. A lot of people I know held out hope that the church was becoming more inclusive and tolerant, and more open about its past, but really, nothing has changed. The church is the same today as it was last week before any of us knew about the pending disciplinary action. As Kate Kelly was reminded, disagreement with official policies and teachings is tolerated only if it is never expressed publicly. I remember being told multiple times that I was free to believe whatever I wanted to believe, as long as I kept it to myself. Even when I had checked out of the LDS church almost entirely, I was told I shouldn’t tell anyone about my beliefs or about the things I had learned about the church. I was even told that I should not share my thoughts and beliefs about the church with my own children, as if leaving the church had nullified my rights and responsibilities as a parent.

Make no mistake about it: the LDS church is an authoritarian institution that tolerates no dissent. I have long believed that the institutional culture–the personality of the church, if you will–is a direct reflection of Joseph Smith’s personality. If you have read anything about Joseph Smith (well, outside official publications), you know he could not accept challenges to his authority, direct or indirect. He was at the top of the structure, and he expected those subordinate to him to do what they were told. When anyone stood up to him, Joseph Smith became angry and sometimes violent. There are numerous accounts of him physically attacking people who stood up to him. Benjamin Johnson wrote:

Criticisms, even by his associates, were rarely acceptable. Contradictions would arouse in him the lion at once. By no one of his fellows would he be superceded. In the early days at Kirtland, and elsewhere, one or another of his associates were more than once, for their impudence, helped from the congregation by his foot.

And there’s an account from my own family history describing his completely losing his temper and shouting at my ancestor, who physically ejected Smith from his home when Smith became violent.

It’s hard to think of any incident in the life of Joseph Smith in which he accepted correction from a subordinate or ever acknowledged being in the wrong, let alone needing forgiveness. I’m reminded of the loss of the 116 pages of the Book of Mormon translation, but what you see there is that he acknowledges wrongdoing only in the sense that he gave in to the cajoling of a subordinate, in this case Martin Harris. Even when caught quite literally with his pants down in a barn with Fanny Alger,  Joseph said he would not confess to adultery or anything else. When men became upset at his advances on their wives and daughters, he denied everything and publicly denounced the women as liars and whores. In his speeches and writings, including scripture, Joseph reserved the harshest denunciations for dissenters and apostates, and those attitudes have persisted to this day, as members are still taught that “dissenters [are] base traitors and sycophants.”

I’m convinced that this inability to take correction or instruction from anyone beneath Joseph Smith is what shaped the office of President of the Church after his death. Brigham Young, aptly called “Old Boss” by his subordinates, assumed nearly absolute authority over the church and Utah Territory, even to the point that, when he ordered that someone be “used up,” that person was sure not to be alive for very long. I’m pretty sure that Brigham’s forceful personality explains a lot of this, and the autocratic rule seems to have diminished after his death. But what remains is still a belief that dissent from the ranks is not to be tolerated at all.

Most Mormons are familiar with recent teachings about dissent. Dallin Oaks, for example, has taught that “It’s wrong to criticize leaders of the church, even if the criticism is true.” Russell Ballard has said:

In the Lord’s Church there is no such thing as a “loyal opposition.” One is either for the kingdom of God and stands in defense of God’s prophets and apostles, or one stands opposed.

None of this is new. The church has never tolerated dissent, even polite and respectful dissent, so no one should be surprised by the events of the last week.

What I think is happening is that people who supported John and the Ordain Women movement allowed themselves to believe that things were different, that things had changed. If nothing else, we’ve been given a reminder that institutions do not change in an instant, or even in the 21 years since the last coordinated purging of dissent.

Is it possible for the church to change? Perhaps, but it’s a big ship, and it takes time and effort to turn a ship, especially one essentially chained to its past by an inability to question its own authority. As Eddie Vedder put it, “Everything has chains” holding it back from growth, and too often you find that  “absolutely nothing’s changed.”

In the meantime, the big danger to the church is that they are likely to alienate a lot of people who love the gospel but recognize that the church is an extremely conservative institution run by fallible men. As long as people like Dehlin, Kelly, and Waterman were in the church, those who didn’t necessarily accept the “official” version of the church’s history, origins, and practices could believe they weren’t alone. The three of them seemed to show kindred spirits that it was OK to be different and still participate in the church. Many times I’ve had conversations with Mormons in which they sort of nervously give the party line, but once they know it’s “safe” to speak openly with me, they relax and talk about what they really think and believe. Dehlin, Kelly, and Waterman were symbols that there were such people still in the church, that it was safe to talk about your beliefs and hopes and dreams, even if they didn’t exactly coincide with the church’s program for your life. With the recent moves, the church has made it abundantly clear that it’s not OK to think differently, unless you keep your thoughts to yourself, and there are likely to be far fewer people with whom it is safe to share your thoughts.

And that is the problem. Any institution that requires you to swallow who you are and what you think on penalty of expulsion is not a healthy organization. What I hear from people considering leaving is that they don’t believe the church is capable of becoming healthy again, and they wonder if staying in an unhealthy organization is healthy for them as individuals. I can’t answer that question for anyone but myself. And beats the hell out of me what I’m going to do.


Kate Kelly and John Dehlin

June 12, 2014

I’ve debated weighing in on yesterday’s article in the New York Times about the possible disciplinary councils for Kate Kelly and John Dehlin, but it has given me an opportunity to reflect on some things. I should note that the church has also sent a similar letter to Rock Waterman, a blogger with whom I am not very familiar, so I won’t comment on his situation.

I’ve known John for many years, and I like him and know him to be a good and kind man, even though I have to admit I’ve never quite understood what he is trying to accomplish. I will just say that he has helped a lot of people I know with their decisions about Mormonism (perhaps I’ve just answered my own question). When I was still trying to hold on to my faith, he encouraged me to find my own place in the church, a place that worked for me. That I wasn’t able to do so is no reflection on John or any of the other people who supported me. I don’t know what he has done that his leaders consider apostasy, but I suppose he’ll find out when he gets to the disciplinary council.

I do not know Kate Kelly personally, though obviously I am aware of her efforts with the Ordain Women movement. Generally speaking, I support people in all walks of life who try to effect positive change in their communities, governments, and religions. Mormonism has a long history of prophets receiving revelation in response to conditions in the world and in the church, from the Word of Wisdom being received after Emma Smith complained about having to clean up tobacco juice and the extension of priesthood rights to all worthy males in response to the construction of a temple in Brazil, a nation where relatively few people would have been eligible to attend. Although Ordain Women’s tactics have been more vocal and public than many Mormons believe they should have been, I take Ms. Kelly and her colleagues at their word that they were simply asking for consideration of new ideas in response to a growing feeling that women are marginalized in the church.

John’s work has been quite different from Ordain Women’s approach, as he has sought to stake out a place in the church for people like him who recognize that the foundational claims of the church may not add up, but they stay because they love the church and find in it a spiritual home and a context in which they can serve God. The change that John has advocated is a more tolerant and open Mormonism, but he hasn’t overtly challenged the leadership as Ms. Kelly and her colleagues have. What I have found amusing over the years is that John seems to be hated as much by a lot of ex-Mormons as he is by a lot of believing Mormons. I think that speaks to his middle-ground approach. Ex-Mormons hate him because he doesn’t pull people out of the church, and Mormons hate him because he won’t leave.

In the past, I would have thought that John’s position was the safer approach, as I’ve known a lot of liberal Mormons who have been welcomed in the church despite their unorthodox views, provided that they aren’t openly opposing the church or its leaders. I don’t see John as having opposed the church at all, and for that matter, I don’t believe Ordain Women has done that, either. That said, I have long felt that Ordain Women has been fighting a hopeless cause. The reality is that the LDS church does not change in response to overt agitation from the membership. Having a prophet and apostles who receive revelation from God means that change comes from above, and as Boyd K. Packer put it, the church functions only when members “face the right way” and take direction from their leaders. Trouble arises when members lacking authority turn around and face the wrong way.

When members are hurting, it is so easy to convince ourselves that we are justified, even duty bound, to use the influence of our appointment or our calling to somehow represent them. We then become their advocates — sympathize with their complaints against the Church, and perhaps even soften the commandments to comfort them. Unwittingly we may turn about and face the wrong way. Then the channels of revelation are reversed. Let me say that again. Then the channels of revelation are reversed. In our efforts to comfort them, we lose our bearings and leave that segment of the line to which we are assigned unprotected. (Address to the All-Church Coordinating Council, May 18, 1993.)

I do not know if the Ordain Women leaders believed they might find an advocate among the leadership, but it seems pretty clear they thought they would at least get a sympathetic hearing. However, the leaders of the church rejected their aims and expressed repeated disapproval of the movement and its members. What I think led to the disciplinary council is that Kate Kelly kept going, anyway.

A lot of people seem to be shocked that Kelly and Dehlin have been summoned for church discipline, but I’m not surprised. The church’s foundational claims and institutional practices are coming under much greater scrutiny than in the past, and more people are walking away. It seems to me that the church has to decide whether it wants to become more open both in terms of its history but also in terms of who is welcome in the church. The alternative is to circle the wagons, double-down on orthodoxy, and push out those whose approach to the gospel doesn’t match correlated homogeneity. President Uchtdorf’s statements and the recent essays about doctrinal and historical issues, flawed as they are, gave me a little hope that the church was cautiously moving toward the more open path, but this action at the very least shows that the wagons are still circled.

The danger for the church is that the shock so many feel at the moment will become disappointment and a recognition that the church isn’t as open and inclusive as they hoped it was. After all the “I’m a Mormon” profiles full of free-thinking, nonconformist Mormons, the reality is that this is a church in which “you are not required to change your way of thinking” but are required to silently make your beliefs “a private matter.”  It is still the same church Gordon B. Hinckley described:

People think in a very critical way before they come into this Church. When they come into this Church they’re expected to conform. And they find happiness in that conformity.

I can’t imagine the hurt and pain the three of them are feeling, and I wish them well. The church will go on without them, but in my view, it is a lesser institution without them and people like them.

 


Elder Grolsch

June 9, 2014

Some of you may have noticed that I have received some comments from my MTC companion, whom I refer to in my book as Elder Grolsch. I don’t have any way to contact him, so I thought I’d just write my response here where he can see it.

Dear “Elder Grolsch,”

I was so happy to see your comments on my blog, as I don’t think I’ve seen you since we met for lunch at BYU some 28 years ago. I apologize if I treated you at all harshly in my book, but I was really trying to write the book as I experienced it, and the young kid that was me struggled with you and the situation we were in. Obviously, I can be a real dick and was often so with you and throughout my mission. I’m sorry for not trying harder to get along.

Looking back on it, I think we were both just in an impossible and stressful position. I’ve thought about you a lot and wonder if you were trying so hard to “go the extra mile” because you were struggling with whether you really believed in what we were doing. At the end of the mission, you told me you weren’t sure you believed in the church, and in the MTC I knew you were trying really hard to have that kind of “spiritual experience” that would give you the testimony you felt you needed. I feel like I did you a disservice because I was so concerned about acting the part of a missionary myself that I didn’t listen to you and didn’t pay much attention to what you needed as a person, not just as a missionary. I’m sorry for that and hope you can forgive me.

If I remember right, you told me that you had been under a lot of pressure from your parents and family to serve a mission, and as I’m nearing 50, I can understand how hard that must have been, especially if you weren’t sure it was the right thing to do. I never felt that overt pressure from my family, though it had been pounded into me from a young age that I had been “preserved” from death for a special mission for the Lord. That puts its own kind of pressure on a young man, and I really took that to heart.

It’s funny how those were only 2 years out of the 49 that have made up my life so far, and yet so much of who I am comes from that experience. My mission has affected my major in college, my career choices, and my choice of spouse. Do you find that the missionary experience contributed a lot to your adult life, even though you walked away from the church soon after we came home? I would imagine so, but I’m just curious.

As far as me being a money-sucking scab, that’s fair enough as far as it goes. I work for a company that does IT work for the federal government, but I like what I do. I’m good at it, and in my own small way I think I contribute to some good things the government does. But no, my career will not have any lasting effects when I’m dead and gone. I’m hoping my book will stick around, even though its sphere of influence is pretty small indeed. Sooner or later I’ll write something I’m as proud of as I am of my book.

Anyway, I hope life has been good to you so far. I again apologize for not being much of a companion to you and hope you can forgive me.

Take care,

John


The Revelator, Part IX

May 28, 2014

“Does this match my pants?” Craig called out as he held up a tie from the closet.

“Let me pick one for you,” Ana smiled. “You should be grateful I’m here because you don’t know anything about clothes. You’d probably go to work dressed like a hobo if it weren’t for me.”

“I know. What would I do without you?” He really needed to clear out his collection of ties. Some of them dated to the 80s, long before his mission. One tie was stamped with parts of the Book of Abraham facsimiles; it was hideous, but he’d received it from a BYU Egyptologist, a strange little man whose paper Craig had edited (truth be told he’d quietly rewritten it). Then there was the dark-blue tie with a repeated pattern of the president’s face drawn to resemble a monkey; Dalton Kane had brought several of them back from the county Republican convention and had handed them out at the last MIC conference. Craig didn’t know why he kept it, as he was never going to wear something like that.

Ana chose a conservative blue-and-red-striped tie and handed it to him. Craig quickly knotted it and then kissed Ana on his way out the door. He had received yet another phone call from the nursing home asking him to come and give a priesthood blessing to an elderly patient. They called him because he lived closest to the facility, and he had been there many times. Not that it had done much good, as every patient he had blessed had died within 24 hours. He had told Ana he should start calling himself the Angel of Death, but she hadn’t found that very funny. Maybe he was imagining things, but whenever he visited the nursing home, the patients visibly stiffened and sometimes recoiled, as if his presence were a bad omen. Some patients seemed genuinely terrified of him.

Her name was Annie Stephens, but everyone in the home called her “Sis.” She had been born without fully formed arms and legs and spoke with difficulty, so she had lived in a nursing home since her parents had passed away some thirty years before. She had made the best of her situation, and rather than sit back and lament her life, she had taken it upon herself to minister (if that was the right word for it) to all the other patients. She felt they were in a worse situation than she was because life in the home was just life for her; for most of the other patients, moving into the home was a final acknowledgment that death was near, with nothing but pain and decline in the meantime. The local LDS mission president had been so impressed with her that he had extended an informal calling to her as a service missionary and had issued her an official black name tag labeled “Sister Stephens.” From that time, some fifteen years before, she had insisted that everyone call her Sister Stephens, but it had eventually shortened to “Sis.”

Craig hoped that Sis’s illness wasn’t anything serious, as her death would be a blow to everyone at the home. He had met Sis on his first trip to give a blessing a few months after he and Ana had moved into the neighborhood, and he had always stopped in to visit for a few minutes whenever he was at the nursing home. She was the kind of person Craig wanted to be, and her example both shamed and motivated him to try harder to be a good person.

Sis looked irritated when Craig and Brother Gilbert entered the room. “I told them not to call you,” she said in a halting voice. “I’m not ready.” She was had an oxygen tube under her nose, which wasn’t that unusual, given the respiratory problems that had plagued her off and on for years. But there was also an IV drip in her arm. Not a good sign.

The room was full of photos of Sis with various patients, most of them long dead, and local church members whom she had befriended. On the rolling tray by the bed sat one of the potted roses Ana and the kids had made for the patients.

Brother Gilbert looked decidedly nervous. He had recently moved in and obviously didn’t have much experience with nursing homes. He reached out to shake Sis’s hand, and realizing that she didn’t have one, limply grasped the stump of her forearm and nodded.

Sis let out a wheezy chuckle. “It’s OK. Just pretend they’re flippers, like a seal.”

Craig leaned over and kissed her cheek. She always liked that. “What’s going on, Sister Stephens?”

“Oh, just some little infection or another,” she said. “Nothing to worry about. There’s plenty of folks here who need a blessing, but I’m not one of them right now.”

“It couldn’t hurt,” Craig said, trying to sound helpful.

“No, I guess not,” Sis sighed.

Craig bowed his head while Brother Gilbert anointed Sis’s head with the consecrated oil.

Then it was Craig’s turn. He always felt a little guilty pronouncing such blessings because he knew deep down that he didn’t believe any of this. It couldn’t hurt, though, and it would probably make Sis feel better. He place his hands on her head and immediately felt the heat of a high fever.

“We bless you that your body will receive the strength to remove the infection you have so that you may be fully restored to health.” No, that was wrong. As soon as the words left his mouth, he somehow knew Sis was going to die. But he couldn’t stop now and abruptly finished the blessing with a mumbled “nameofjesuschristamen.”

After dropping off Brother Gilbert, Craig drove home silently, wondering if he was going crazy. She’ll be fine, he told himself. You’re just overthinking things, as usual.

“Who’s sick?” Ana asked. “I hope the Angel of Death won’t be making an appearance tonight.” By now even she was finding some morbid humor in the whole thing.

“Oh, nothing like that,” Craig said. “It’s Sis. She has some kind of infection, but she says she’ll be fine.” He wanted to tell her about his impression, but he didn’t want to worry her.

“Oh, I hope she’s OK!” Ana said, clearly worried.

“She’ll be fine,” Craig said.

Later, at his computer, Craig read with shock DuPlessis’ attempt to “out” and discredit Sidious, though he was impressed with Jared Richards’ response. It took a lot of bravery to put yourself out there like this, but how had it come to this?

He opened an email from DuPlessis, which appeared to have been sent to every member of the Short List, as well as to a large number of current and past posters on the MIC board. True to form, Alex proclaimed himself the victim, whose only crime was that he had been forced to defend his privacy, and he decried the double-standard of the moderators at that wicked board.

From what Craig could see, no one had replied to Alex’s message. Probably they didn’t want to be associated with what he had done, and Craig couldn’t blame them. But Craig felt obligated. He hadn’t exactly pushed Alex to this, but he had done nothing to stop it, and once Tanner had become involved, Craig had sat back and subtly fanned the flames of paranoia and revenge.

He sent a brief note to DuPlessis expressing his dismay at the turn of events (outright condemnation would have seemed hypocritical) and closed with this:

“Whether you intended to do so or not, you crossed a line by using someone’s personal information against them. You owe him and everyone else on the board an apology.”

Then Craig noticed an email in the Short List folder. It was from Tanner Scott.

“Brethren,

“Just like I predicted, it did not take long to expose the mole in our ranks. I’ve suspected DuPlessis for a long time. He always seemed just a little too angry to be real, but now we know it was all just an act designed to make us believe he was on our side. I knew that if I fed him enough information, eventually he would make a mistake and reveal himself. The Sidious affair seems to have done the trick.

“As you know, I have a friend who is very good at tracking down information about just about anyone, friend or foe. For the last few months he’s been looking into several suspects, including DuPlessis. (Don’t be paranoid. My friend isn’t looking at anyone here anymore.) What he found was interesting, to say the least. It seems that Brother DuPlessis isn’t quite what he would like us to believe. Some of you may remember that four years ago, DuPlessis gave a paper at a MIC conference in Kirtland, Ohio, but was not around for the closing banquet. Attached you will find a few photographs taken at a ‘bar’ outside of Cleveland, taken that evening. Let’s just say that Alex’s wife and bishop will find them interesting. LOL.”

Craig felt physically ill. What had he done?

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Alex arrived home from work, exhausted. Jean was on her knees, digging in the front garden, and as he approached, he saw that with her bare hands she was tearing the rose bushes out by the roots and tossing them into a rubbish bin.

“What’s going on?” he asked.

Jean looked up at him, and from the dirty trails down her cheeks, he could see that she had been crying. Now, she looked at him stonefaced. “I’ve had a message from your friends.”

She reached her bloody hands into the pocket of her jacket and help up the printouts. They showed Alex with several men at a club in Ohio. His heart sank. How did they find out? He had been so careful.

“Its–it’s not what you think,” he stammered.

“Yes, it is,” she said, holding up the last photo, which showed Alex kissing a bare-chested black man who looked vaguely like Zanoxolo.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The next morning, Craig wrote out a long apology, explaining exactly what he had done and why, and asking for forgiveness. Each time he had deleted it and started over, as it never sounded sincere and seemed only an attempt to excuse himself.

Ana walked into the room, carrying a small, potted rose.

“What’s that?” he asked.

“Sis passed away last night,” she said. “She wanted you to have it.” Only now did he notice that Ana had been crying.

He took the pot from her and looked at the delicate buds.

“Maybe Porter can teach me how to grow these things. I definitely need a new hobby.”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Tanner Scott sat at his computer. The room was cluttered with textbooks and disassembled Xbox controllers. Pinned to the corkboard above the desk were several “Hi, I’m Tanner” nametags from association conferences and UVU’s “Life, the Universe, and Everything,” Next to a Taylor Swift poster (to which he had taped his wrist band from the concert last summer) was a framed certificate of appreciation from the association for “ongoing efforts to support our mission.”

His mother was calling him for dinner, but it could wait. He had received the most important email of his life, and he was going to savor the moment.

“Dear Tanner,

“You have done excellent work, as I knew you would. I’ve been telling everyone at the association that you have a bright future in our important work, and I have no reservations in saying that you will lead the rising generation in defending the faith.

“I am sorry that I could not tell you until after the fact about what we were doing, but you can understand how important it was to keep things close to the vest until we were sure. I can safely say we couldn’t have done this without you, and saying you had a secret ‘friend’ feeding you information was pure genius. It kept all the suspects off-guard.

“In the end, truth has prevailed, and good has triumphed over evil. Even if he hadn’t been guilty, I shudder to think that we had one of those people in our group. I feel we can now move forward, cleansed and renewed, almost as if the group has undergone a sort of baptism. I am personally grateful for your help in bringing about this revitalization. Now is not the time to sit back and let our enemies divide us, for together we have a bright future.

“Your friend in Christ,

“The ‘fat old blowhard.'”

The End


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