“Of Course I Miss It”

September 30, 2009

Yesterday my wife and I were listening to RadioWest’s interview with two filmmakers about their latest project, a profile of Utah poet laureate Alex Caldiero called “The Sonosopher.” It was a fascinating hour, mostly discussing poetry and the poet, and their place in society.

At one point the filmmakers mentioned that they had been surprised by Caldiero’s discussion of Mormonism. They had asked him if he missed the church, and he had said, “Of course I miss it. Of course I miss the community. I miss worshipping, singing. It’s sad, but the people I hang out with I can’t pray with, and the people who would pray with me I can’t hang out with.”

My wife said what she has said many times, that it’s the sense of community that seems to be the biggest loss for ex-Mormons. She said that many ex-Mormons gravitate towards recovery and post-Mormon communities because they need to fill a void left by the loss of the LDS community. That is an astute and accurate observation. A lot of former Mormons who don’t deal with the church at all in their everyday lives nevertheless still hang out on message boards, go to conferences, and even have picnics and parties with their ex-Mormon friends.

This seems to be a result of the success of Mormonism as a community as well as a religion. It’s difficult to think of a religion that so heavily invests its members in the larger community. The organization of the church mostly around lay members is one of its great strengths. Even on such trivial matters as cleaning the chapel, members feel invested, like the church is theirs. And the programs of the church are designed to foster interconnection of community. Home teachers, for example, come to know families and build ties with them of friendship.

The tight organization also allows the church to do some kinds of service that other groups are not capable of doing. Anyone who was in Louisiana and East Texas a few years ago saw how well-organized the church was to help with hurricane recovery. It really was amazing to walk into a stake center and see rows of new chain saws, pallets of food and water, tents, and fuel. Recently the Houston Chronicle, in an article about lessons learned from Hurricane Ike, mentioned that some private charities were better organized than the state and federal governments. They singled out the 7000 LDS volunteers, particularly the men of College Station (I still claim them as my ward), for their service in helping Galveston residents clean up.

When a person leaves the church, he or she of necessity separates from that community. As Mr. Caldiero said, you really don’t have the same relationship anymore; you can’t pray with the church members anymore, as he put it. There are no more home teachers, no more callings, nothing to tie you to the community. It stops being “your” church because you are no longer heavily invested in it.

It may even be worse for those who are “in the church but not of it.” These people are still connected in a superficial way but may feel a bigger disconnect with the larger community.

So, many people seek out what my wife calls a “surrogate community” (she was always the smart one). Unfortunately, for a lot of people, the new community is defined by being “not” the church community. These folks may idealize their current community while finding nothing good about the church. Hence the constant anger and harsh criticism some people dish out regularly (for some reason, Dan Peterson’s mention of those who complain about Mormon soup-slurpers comes to mind).

Realistically, people who leave the church are not going to find a comparable community because there is no community quite like the church. The trick, then, is to find something positive and uplifting that, although it doesn’t completely fill the void, can give meaning and purpose and, yes, a sense of community.

Prozac Nation

September 22, 2009

I’ve misplaced my bottle of fluoxetine, commonly known by the brand name Prozac. The last time I took one was on Friday. I really should have scoured the house for the bottle, but I have been too busy.

In the past when I’ve stopped taking it, within two to three days I’m really feeling it: I’m edgy, have trouble concentrating, and generally feel down and slightly out of control. I’m not feeling that way right now. Maybe it’s just that I still have my Seroquel, which I take before bed. It helps me to sleep, and perhaps the continuing good sleep is reducing the effects of the lack of Prozac.

Anyway, I thought I’d mention it here because when I’m dealing with depression, my mood changes, and it’s usually pretty evident in my writing. So, if you see anything here that sounds depressed, let me know. 🙂

Update: I found my pills at lunch, so I’m back on track.

Garments: Does He or Doesn’t He?

September 21, 2009

I spent all last week in bed with a rather nasty infection. I was too miserable to sleep and too tired to get up and do anything, so I mostly just lay in bed reading (right now I’m reading Shelby Foote’s excellent history of the American Civil War) and then watched both BBC The Office series plus the Christmas special. But I still would have preferred to be well and back at work.

I was well enough to go to church with my family yesterday. It was entirely uneventful, although after the meetings, a woman in the ward gave me the “garment feel-up.” This has happened to me on several occasions before, but it never ceases to shock me that someone would do this. Allow me to explain.

As anyone familiar with Mormonism knows, there is a special ceremony in the temple called the endowment which is supposed to prepare people for the higher ordinance of celestial marriage. Part of the endowment involves being “clothed in the garment of the holy priesthood,” which is really a two-piece set of undergarments, essentially a scoop-neck t-shirt and boxers that extend nearly to the knee.

The garments leave tell-tale lines under your clothing, and usually the scoop neck is visible through a Mormon male’s uniform of white shirt and tie. So, the wearing of the garment is a cultural marker reassuring others that you are in good standing, at least you appear to be, with the church. Not wearing garments probably indicates that you have strayed from the fold, and you might even be drinking coffee.

Needless to say, it’s been some time since I retired my garments. But I do wear an undershirt under my dress shirts because the white shirts tend to be nearly see-through. So I must present a confusing picture to church members who wonder if I’m still wearing garments. Apparently, there’s only one way to make sure, and that is the “garment feel-up,” which involves the curious church member rubbing their hand over my upper arm, where the sleeve of the garment should be.

As I said, this has happened to me on several occasions. Yesterday it was a little unnerving, as this woman, whom I don’t know at all, addressed me by my first name and then subtly did the garment check.

It’s tempting to be offended by this little ritual, but I see it more as a mechanism of comfort for the people who have done it to me. These people are probably genuinely worried about the state of my soul, but confirming that I’m wearing at least what appears to be garments reassures them that my damnation isn’t complete, at least not yet.

Utah Students to Hear President’s Message

September 4, 2009

In a surprise move, the Utah State Office of Education has announced that after reviewing the controversy surrounding President Barack Obama’s upcoming live address to the nation’s students, state leaders have arranged for a more acceptable alternative speaker: LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson.

“Over the last few days, we’ve received hundreds of calls and emails from parents worried that their children would be subjected to political propaganda from President Obama,” said Utah Superintendent of Public Instruction, L. Garth Groesbeck. “We didn’t want anyone to feel excluded or pressured, so we looked for someone who could serve as a positive role model for all students, regardless of political stripe.”

Groesbeck said that Monson was a “natural choice” to inspire the students. “Here is a man who has throughout his life reached out to others, especially widows, and who has consistently avoided political positions, except on crucial moral matters such as same-sex marriage rights and alcohol consumption laws. We feel strongly that by substituting President Monson for President Obama, we can give our children access to a more inclusive and inspiring speaker.”

LDS church officials indicated that the prophet would speak from the campus of Brigham Young University. “President Monson felt that, by speaking from the namesake university of one of the state’s founders, he would be able to share his message of faith and testimony without offending anyone’s political sensibilities.”

Monson’s theme will be “Strengthening Testimonies in the Latter Days.” Church spokesman Daniel Jenks explained that in these last days of trial and tribulation, “the most important knowledge one can accumulate is a testimony of our Savior. No other education can compare.”

Utah ACLU attorney Laurel Meyer said that she had been startled and outraged at first. “But then when I thought about it, I realized that all we would be seeing was a laundry list of platitudes and bad poetry. What’s the harm in that?”

Eagle Fortress president Gail Ruzkinsky applauded the state’s choice. “I have to tell you I was disgusted at the thought of our children being exposed to the virulent socialism of our so-called president, This choice leaves no doubt that, at least in Utah, we stand up for American ideals. We support God and country, not gays and socialized medicine.”

Church leaders indicated that the church would be happy to broadcast the prophet’s message to all fifty states, but so far, none of the governors contacted had accepted the offer.