family, funny stories, LDS, music, religion

Repost: Church jerks… or, the only time my dad wasn’t upset by my use of the f-word…

I’m sharing this anecdote from my earlier blog. It was written February 4, 2017 and appears as/is.

I’m lucky.  I grew up in a church that didn’t have that many jerks in it.  By and large, Presbyterians are a pretty low key group.  Or, at least that’s always been my experience.  They don’t tend to get in your business or act holier than thou.  Or, at least they don’t as much as some other churchgoing folks might.  My experience growing up Presbyterian was that we went to church for two hours on Sunday and that was basically it, unless we wanted to get involved in a social activity of some sort.  And it was entirely voluntary.

I just read an entertaining thread on RfM about the biggest jerks in church.  Some of the stories are pretty classic.  To really get the thread, you need to know something about Mormonism.  For instance, Monday nights are sacrosanct because they are “family nights”.  Monday nights are when families do some kind of church affirming activity together.  It’s supposed to promote bonding.

One guy wrote that he was trying to get some church business taken care of and this dude wouldn’t answer his emails.  So he called him at 8:30pm on a Monday night thinking that would be late enough not to interrupt family night, but not so late that it would wake up the guy’s kids.  The guy got an earful from the person he was calling.  The man of the house was put out that the guy would dare call him on “family night”.  Then the church jerk hung up on the caller.

Another person wrote about a bitchy wife who got into a Facebook argument with someone.  One of the parties involved wrote something along the lines of “I hope this disagreement won’t spoil our friendship.”  And the bitchy wife wrote back that she wasn’t “friends” in the first place and basically implied that she was better than the other person in every way.  Hmmm… how Christ like!

One guy wrote about being bitched out by a church member for “wasting the Lord’s time” at Walmart.  Even though it was “p-day”, the one day they got to do stuff like grocery shopping and laundry, this church member felt it was appropriate to publicly dress down those poor guys, who were no doubt tired, depressed, disheartened, and working for free, anyway.  Sheesh!

The only church related drama I remember from the church I grew up in happened when I was an adult.  I’m sure there were other dramas that I wasn’t privy to, but I am not really aware of them.  My parents mostly got along with people in our church, although my mom didn’t always attend because she was the organist at different churches.  There were two stints when she played organ at our church, but most of the time, she was playing at Methodist or Baptist churches.  I mostly attended church with my dad, who sang in the choir.  My sisters were out of the house, so I was left to sit with another choir member’s wife.

My dad fancied himself a good singer.  Besides being in our church’s choir, he was also in a number of local choral societies and singing groups.  He was often given solos by the choir director, a really cool lady who graduated from my alma mater, coached softball, and taught driver’s ed at the high school.  The driver’s ed teacher served as the choir director for many, many years, but had finally decided to quit.  The church had to find someone to take her place.

My parents were instrumental in getting a Jewish Russian woman hired as the choir director, even though a lot of people didn’t think she was qualified on account of her not being a Christian.  My parents wanted her hired because she had musical expertise, which the driver’s ed teacher hadn’t had.  The Russian lady, name of Olga, had degrees in music from the former USSR, I think.  The driver’s ed teacher had been very nice and was kind to choir members, but her lack of formal musical training had been a source of frustration for my mom, who was tired of playing the same shit every week.

After much debating among church members, Olga did indeed get the job.  She promptly pissed off my mom, who was the church organist at the time, by picking music and not consulting her.  Olga treated my mom, who had about fifty years of experience, with utter disdain.  My mom got so upset that she called the new director an “asshole”.  I had never before and have never since heard her call anyone that.  Mom eventually quit over the choir director and went back to playing for Methodists.

Some time later, the choir director infuriated my dad by telling him very frankly that he “didn’t have a soloist’s voice” and she stopped giving him solos.  To be fair, my dad could sing, but I hated it when he did.  That’s another story, though. 

In any case, this development, quite naturally, pissed my dad right the fuck off.  He was furious!  I remember him asking me to help him draft a resignation letter telling off the Russian choir director. 

I tried to explain to my dad that Russians and many others from the former Soviet Union tend to be brutally blunt.  When I lived in Armenia, it wasn’t unusual for strangers to stop me in the street and offer to sell me Herbal Life because they thought I was too fat and needed help.  And if you were a crappy singer or a lousy artist, they would flat out tell you you sucked.  Fortunately, Armenians always responded favorably to my musical pursuits. 

I understand it’s a bit of a stereotype to say that all former Soviets are like this, but culturally, they kind of are…  at least on the whole.  That’s just how they are… kind of like how a lot of Germans take a very long time to warm up to people they don’t know.  It’s not intended to be hurtful, per se.  It’s just their culture.

My dad wasn’t hearing me, though, and was extremely upset with the choir director.  So I helped him write a letter and titled it, “Fuck off, Olga.”  That was the only time my dad wasn’t upset by my use of the f-word.  I don’t think he ever gave her the letter.  He stayed in the choir for as long as his health permitted.  Olga eventually left the job and they replaced her with someone more appropriate for a Christian church choir.

I haven’t attended a service in that church since about 1993 or so… but there are still people there who remember me and my parents.  But then, it’s a church in a small town and people choose to be there rather than get assigned based on where they happen to live.  It’s my understanding that Mormons are basically assigned wards and they attend whatever ward serves where they live.  Either that, or they go to wards based on their marital status.  That could be why there are a preponderance of “jerks” out and about in Mormon and other “demanding” churches.

Anyway, I’m grateful that I didn’t have that experience with church jerks, except for ones that happened to be my age and were jerks to me simply because they thought I was annoying or weird.  It had nothing to do with religion and everything to do with our ages and/or maturity levels.  Thank God for that.

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disasters, divorce, Ex, LDS, narcissists, religion

“Time and all eternity…” (snicker)

A few years ago, I wrote a post on the Blogspot incarnation of The Overeducated Housewife entitled “The Ex is Much Like Wile E. Coyote”. I was inspired to write that post as I realized that a lot of Ex’s big plans eventually fall apart, much like they always did for Wile E. Coyote on the Road Runner cartoons. She has a way of coming up with really big ideas, but somehow, they almost always eventually lead to failure, if not outright disaster. Unfortunately, Ex is great at convincing people, so a lot of innocent folks have been harmed by her big ideas.

I should just call Ex Wile E. Coyote. She has much in common with him.

When I wrote that post, back in the fall of 2018, I was under a lot of stress. Most of it had nothing to do with Ex. However, because Ex has caused me and a lot of my loved ones considerable pain over the years, I couldn’t help but engage in a bit of snark. That post attracted a comment from a person calling themselves “Wondering Why”, who took exception to my habit of “trashing” Bill’s ex wife. This was the comment left for me by “Wondering Why”:

I have to wonder why you see the need to publicly trash your husband’s ex, repeatedly, on your personal blog. Why do you air such personal business? There is so much negativity coming from you in many posts, and SO much TMI info. So much of it is simply inappropriate. Just because you think it, doesn’t mean you need to write it and then publish it. Write it to get out your angst, but seriously, let it go already. You come off as snotty, petty and bitter.

I think I know who this person was. As I have mentioned before, I carefully watch who visits my blog. I could see that this person had visited several times and had even engaged me in chat once or twice. She has since moved to Germany and is a member of a group I run. She once told me that she’s a “first wife”, and I think she assumes Bill’s ex wife is a normal and “nice” person, and that I’m just a mean, bitter, second wife who is picking on her. I can see why she thinks that, based on only reading a few posts.

However, my negative opinions about Ex didn’t form in a vacuum. They are quite well justified, and venting about them helps me maintain my peace in an insane situation. The truth is, Ex does a lot of destructive things that complicate life for many innocents. Her crazymaking has a tendency to make people myopic– they can’t see the big picture and get stuck in her lunacy. It’s painful and distressing to watch if you’re a decent person, which Bill and I are.

Believe me, nothing would have made me happier than if Bill’s ex and I could get along and cooperate for the sake of family. She’s made that impossible, and now that younger daughter is older and talking to Bill, we’ve learned that this is how she treats most people who get close to her. She somehow convinces the most vulnerable people in her life that they can’t live without her, even as she fucks up their lives.

I have noticed that “Wondering Why” now acts like she didn’t leave that comment, and I have never confronted her about it. She’s friendly to me in the group I run. However, I did respond to her comment on the blog itself, as did a number of regular readers who know the backstory about Bill and his ex wife. In fact, that comment spawned several posts, because I was irritated by the hypocrisy and tone of it. This is a personal blog. It’s not always going to be light and breezy reading. If that’s what you want, get a subscription to Reader’s Digest.

Anyway… this post is not so much about a random commenter’s uninformed opinions about my character and posting habits regarding Ex, as it is about Ex’s harebrained schemes that always seem to backfire. Ex does a lot of really impulsive and ultimately stupid things, a lot of which have lasting and very negative consequences. It would be easy to ignore her dumb decisions if they only affected her, but alas… they affect a whole lot of people, as I recently mentioned in my post, Ripple eff-Ex Volume 2. Case, in point, Ex’s foolish decision to convert to Mormonism.

Back in 1997, Bill and his ex wife were living in Arkansas. Bill had temporarily left active duty and, despite having an international relations degree from American University, he was working swing and third shifts in a factory. They were broke, and Bill was constantly working to try to keep things running. Meanwhile, Ex was doing everything she could to ruin their finances and fuck everything up.

During that time, Ex, who also had a friend who was LDS, noticed a “beautiful” family at a restaurant. Or, at least this is the story I’ve heard… I’m not sure if this really happened, or it’s just a fable that sounds good. Ex supposedly noticed how well-behaved, happy, and peaceful the family appeared to be. They said grace before eating, and looked like they all got along so well. She allegedly complimented them on how nice they looked and they told her they were Mormons. I’m not sure if I believe this is exactly how it happened, but like I said, it sounds good. The upshot is, Ex unilaterally decided that she wanted the family to convert to Mormonism.

Bill was desperate to save his marriage, and he knew that Ex was going to do what she wanted regardless. He agreed to join the church. So Ex contacted the LDS church, who sent missionaries. I’m sure they were only too delighted to have a golden contact family– that is, a family who came to them willingly for church membership, rather than having to be convinced to join. Even though Bill loves coffee and booze, he willingly gave them up to make Ex happy. He jumped through all the hoops and got “endowed”, meaning he became “temple worthy” and was deemed good enough to wear the special undergarments that supposedly grant super spiritual powers. Ex also became temple worthy, and the two of them went through a special religious ordinance called “sealing”.

I have written about LDS sealing before, especially in my old blog. It’s a very big deal to LDS church members. The ordinance takes place in a temple, which only the most devout church members can enter. They even have cards with bar codes on them that indicate whether or not a person is “temple worthy”. The members have to answer questions before the cards are granted, and they have to keep them up-to-date.

So, Bill and Ex were sealed “for time and all eternity”. Aw… isn’t that romantic? I’m sure when they got sealed, they were happy to know that their family would be preserved forever, even in the afterlife. During the ceremony, Bill and Ex also got special new Mormon names. Ex doesn’t know Bill’s name, because she’s not cleared to know it. But Bill knows Ex’s name… which is actually the same name all of the women who got sealed on that day at that temple were given. Same as the men. Every day, a new name from a special list is chosen, and everyone who goes through the temple on that day gets the male or female “name of the day”. Because Bill and Ex had two daughters together, as well as Ex’s son from her first marriage, who, at the time, was using Bill’s surname and being raised as if he was Bill’s son, the children were also sealed to Bill– “for time and all eternity”.

Sealing, according to the Mormon tradition, technically means that after we’re all dead, Bill and Ex will still be married. This is where/things get a bit complicated. Mormons take sealing very seriously; however, the rules seem to vary or change depending on who a person is and who they know. I have heard a number of different things about what happens when a couple divorces and/or one person resigns their church membership. It mostly seems to depend on who’s involved with the temple divorce and who’s in charge of the church.

There was a woman who used to post frequently on the Recovery from Mormonism messageboard. She had an abusive ex husband whom she married when she was very young. She was “sealed” to him, because that’s what good and faithful Mormons do. But their marriage fell apart because he repeatedly assaulted her. She tried to get a temple divorce from her ex husband. This is a separate thing from a legal divorce– it’s something the LDS church does for women.

A temple worthy Mormon man is allowed to be “sealed” to more than one woman. All he has to do is get a sealing clearance indicating that he and the next wife are both worthy. But for women, it can be a hell of a lot more complicated, because women can only be “sealed” to one man, and getting unsealed, while technically possible, can be extremely difficult if one doesn’t have the right connections. Well, the lady on RfM has repeatedly written that even though she’s tried for over 20 years to get the “temple divorce”, the church would never do it. You can read more about this here. She also wrote that her hairdresser, who is “well connected”, got her “cancellation of sealing” in just a few weeks.

Take Marie Osmond, for instance. In 1982, she married and was “sealed” to Stephen Craig, who was a basketball player at Brigham Young University. They have a son together, but split up after only a few years of marriage. Marie later married Brian Blosil and, I can greatly assume, was granted a “temple divorce” so that they could be sealed in the temple. Marie went on to have two more bio children with Brian, and adopted five others. All of those children would have, presumably, been sealed to Brian Blosil. Marie later divorced Brian and remarried Stephen Craig. I’m sure that she and Stephen were resealed, simply because of who she is. For rank and file people, though, this is not such an easy thing to accomplish.

Bill officially resigned from the LDS church in 2006. When he resigned, he got a letter from the church letting him know that his name was removed from the church’s rolls and all blessings and so forth had been revoked. They also sent a cute little pamphlet inviting him to come back to church and get over being “offended”.

One would think that resigning from the church really would mean that he and Ex were automatically temple divorced, right? Not so fast. Again, it seems to depend on who you are and who you know– and probably how much money you give to the church.

Bill does not have any issue with his ex wife being sealed to someone else. In fact, he’d welcome it. When he resigned from the church, Bill even put in his letter that he supported allowing Ex to be sealed to her current husband, #3, who joined the church at Ex’s behest. But we also know that even if a former spouse has resigned from the church, church officials will send a letter to the former spouse if the actively LDS ex spouse wishes to be sealed to someone else. The letter invites the ex spouse to provide any reasons why his or her LDS active ex spouse should not be allowed to get re-sealed. Of course, any opinions given and the details provided aren’t an instant veto. Church officials make the final decision, although they might take into consideration any info they get from the Exes who respond to their queries. It’s just one more way they can get dirt on their members.

Some years back, when Bill and Ex were still squabbling over her decision to cut the children off from Bill (which really shouldn’t have surprised him in the least), Ex mentioned that she was going to try to get their sealing cancelled, so she and #3 could be sealed for “time and all eternity”. I remember early in our marriage, that always bothered me a little bit… because while I’ve always believed sealings are a bunch of hooey, I didn’t like the idea of Ex thinking she still had a hold on Bill. Now, of course, I don’t give a flying fuck what she thinks. I know for a fact that Bill won’t be uttering Ex’s secret name in the Terrestrial or Telestial Kingdoms (cuz I know neither of them are Celestial Kingdom material). But… I also know that Ex never managed to get that temple divorce. I always figured that she never tried very hard, probably because being sealed to Bill is a good thing to throw in #3’s face when she thinks he needs to be brought down a peg. You can’t tell me that Ex never compares #3 to Bill… because that’s what she does to everyone. She is a pro triangulator, and will happily stoop to whatever low depths she can sink to in order to keep people in her sphere compliant with her goals and wishes.

Well… recently, it came to light that Ex had, in fact, tried to get that temple divorce. Younger daughter explained that she and #3 had tried and failed to get permission to be sealed, and they appealed all the way to the First Presidency of the church. That’s about as high as it gets, folks. But the church refused to give her the sealing cancellation for a couple of reasons. First– either one or both of them were not “temple worthy”, meaning they weren’t following all of the rules and paying the necessary tithes to get into the temple. Second– Bill could always decide to rejoin the church, at which point, all of his “blessings” would be reinstated. And younger daughter added that Ex was told that even if the church did allow Ex and #3 to be sealed, Bill’s children and ex stepson would NOT be sealed to #3. Only their two children together would be sealed to #3. Evidently, because of that, Ex stopped trying to get the temple divorce. Obviously, being sealed to #3 was less important than having another thorn to stick in Bill’s side over their divorce. And if she couldn’t steal Bill’s daughters in the afterlife, what good was jumping through all the hoops? I doubt she cares much about #3, anyway.

The best part of this story? It turns out that younger daughter did not want to be #3’s daughter for time and all eternity. Once the temple divorce idea was finally put to bed, she said, “So that means I’m going to stay sealed to my dad? Good!” Of course, she was not speaking to Bill at that time. But it does his heart good to know that younger daughter never forgot him, as Ex had claimed she had.

So… like I said, Ex is much like Wile E. Coyote. She comes up with brilliant plans that she doesn’t think through completely, and they very often end up turning to shit. The decision to joint the LDS church, which I’m sure was a way of getting Bill to be more like her fantasy ideal of a good husband and maintain control over the children, has blown up in her face many times. In fact, the LDS church even served as a way for younger daughter to escape her mother’s clutches. Church members, noting the way Ex is, helped younger daughter out immeasurably when she needed to get away from her mom. And they have tried to help older daughter, too. Unfortunately, older daughter remains stuck… at least for the time being.

I always have a lot of empathy for people who post on RfM about the whole “temple divorce/sealing” issue. I know that subject causes pain, particularly if one is a believer in the church’s teachings. But even if one is not a believer, it’s kind of hurtful to think of your spouse being “sealed” to someone else, even if it’s a bunch of religious mind fuckery. On my original blog, I posted about this subject when, back in 2012, someone on RfM posted about how he was sealed to his first wife and his second wife was upset about it. Here’s what he wrote:

I am in a really difficult situation and would really love to hear from others on my problem. I was raised in the mormon church. I went every Sunday. As a kid, I held all of the leadership roles one could hold. I didn’t go on a mission because my “testimony” just wasn’t there. I rarely expressed my thoughts about the church because it felt so fake. I got married instead at the young age of 19. We had a civil marriage and got “sealed” in the SL temple exactly one year later, in June. Our first child was conceived that same month and born 9 months later. We had another one 18 months after that. Life seemed to just roll along. I just did what I was told. Finally, after 22 years of marriage, I found a reason to take a job in another city and so I could commute (and get out of the situation as much as I could). Little did I know that the end of my marriage came after only a year or so of commuting (BTW, we got pregnant again, unplanned, and #3 child was born just before I started the new job). After one year of commuting, I met someone and fell in love. She was non-mormon and didn’t really know much about the religion. We moved in together and I told my wife I wanted a divorce. She was very angry at first but then we finally ended the marriage.

Now for the problem:

My second wife and I have been married now for almost 8 years. We live in a different city than my kids (750 mi away) but we get to see them fairly often. My 10 yo girl spends time with us and loves her step mom. My ex (still single but has a BF) and I get along, no real problems at all. My older girls, now married and have small babies of their own, are warming up to us again. The problem is that my wife wants me to divorce my ex in the mormon church. She is adamant about it and says that our marriage will not be complete until I do this. We don’t practice the religion. Heck, I met with a SP 9 yrs ago when we were living together (and before my divorce was final) and told him everything. I don’t even know if I’m a member of the church anymore, and I really don’t care. I have two main concerns: 1. Opening this “can of worms” will cause a huge issue between my ex-wife and I where we have things working just fine right now. I don’t want to create problems that will be costly down the road due to our 10 yo. 2. My kids are STRONG believers of mormonism. If I do this, they will surely find out, and everything we have worked for will be ruined as far as my relationship with the older kids is concerned. If I lost my relationship with my older kids (and their kids), I would hold my wife accountable and would never be able to forgive her. I’m in a tough spot. Would love to hear from anyone who has been in this or a similar situation, or you just have thoughts about it. Also, I have no feelings for my ex wife. My wife sometimes thinks that I still have feelings for her. I don’t. We are friends to the extent that she is the mother of my children, and I want to just keep it that way. We only communicate when it comes to the 10yo. Thx.

My heart went out to this man and his second wife, so I left this response for them (remember this was circa 2012– things have changed since then):

I empathize with your current wife. My husband and his ex were sealed after they converted. Unlike you and your ex, my husband and his ex do not get along. His kids are very estranged and TBM and he hasn’t talked to them in 7 years. She has remarried, but as far as I know, the sealing she has with my husband is still intact (i.e.; we haven’t gotten anything from the church about a sealing cancellation, though my husband did resign a few years ago). For the first few years of our marriage, it did kind of bother me, because I figured the ex was still thinking she had a claim to him… She had told my husband that she had never wanted the divorce and didn’t want to be married to her third husband. I didn’t think he’d ever go back to her, but that sealing thing was just stuck in my craw.

But oddly enough, as the years went by and the ex did some truly mean and hateful things to destroy my husband’s relations with his kids, I started to care a lot less about it. The LDS church is a bunch of horseshit anyway. Besides, my husband has made it very plain to me that he doesn’t have any loving feelings for his ex-wife. That was visibly clear one morning when I accidentally happened to mention her name in the bedroom when we were about to have sex. He immediately lost his hard on. After that, I knew she was absolutely no threat and their “temple marriage/sealing” meant absolutely NOTHING to him. And that’s really all that matters to me. As long as he doesn’t have any thoughts of reconnecting with her, I’m cool. Of course, in the years since that bedroom incident, it’s been made even clearer to me that he would never get back with her. He hasn’t spoken to her in over five years.

Maybe your wife needs to spend some time among us here in exMormonland… It really is a meaningless thing if you don’t believe in the mumbo jumbo. It sounds to me like your wife just needs to know in no uncertain terms that the fact that you have kids with your ex wife doesn’t mean that you still have romantic feelings for her. I think it’s great that you two can be civil though. Believe me, I wish that was how it could have been with my husband and his ex. Total estrangement from his daughters has been very difficult for him.

He responded:

Thx specifically for your reply. I’m sorry to hear about the relationship your husband has with his kids. That is very sad to me, and I hope things turn out for the both of you the way you want them to. I really appreciate your insight to this whole mess. It has helped a lot.

And my reply:

You’re welcome.

I’m sorry my husband has a bad relationship with his kids, too. But that has a lot less to do with Mormonism than it does with the fact that his ex wife is just unreasonable and crazy. She did the same thing to her first husband and the son they had together and will likely do it again when she and her third husband split. And I’m pretty certain they will split eventually, though she may prove me wrong.

I hope my husband’s daughters someday figure out what they’ve thrown away and come to their senses. But even if they don’t, I hope they find peace. My husband and I are very happy and though it’s been hard for him not to have contact with his daughters, he knows that they’re young women who have to find their own way.

I wish you luck with your situation. It sounds like you’re fortunate enough to have a reasonable ex wife and a good relationship with your kids. That’s a blessing. Your wife probably just needs to be educated about Mormonism. Once I learned about it, it really helped me get over the sealing lunacy.

Wile E. Coyote, I tell you… Ex has a special gift for fucking things up… especially for herself! And friends, this is just the tip of the iceberg, which is why I continue to occasionally “trash” my husband’s ex wife on my blog. She is certifiably nuts, and she has hurt a whole lot of people… and continues to do so. Happily, she can no longer hurt Bill or me. And now that younger daughter is older and has gotten out of the toxic fog, she’s well on her way to being “vaccinated” against Ex’s fuckery, too. It’s bad enough when your mom is nuts… but adding ridiculous religious bullshit to life, which is already complicated and tough enough, really makes things harder than they need to be. That’s very unfortunate, as #3 once said to Bill when he said he wouldn’t be spending Christmas with him and his ex wife in my father-in-law’s home but, instead, would be coming home to his wife. I may not be “sealed” to Bill, but I love him dearly and I’ve never abused him. Living with that “for time” has got to be better than being shackled to an abuser “for time and all eternity”.

I guess when we’re all dead, Ex might be wandering around listening for Bill to call out for “Leah”… and she might be waiting a long time for a man to pull her through the veil. ūüėČ Of course, since Bill turned his back on the “one true church”, maybe we’ll be in Outer Darkness. I suspect that will be a more interesting place than Mormon Heaven is, anyway…

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book reviews, LDS

By request: Repost of my review of Way Below the Angels by Craig Harline…

Sorry… I know I said I was done reposting book reviews, but my friend Alexis asked me if I’d read this one. I had, so I am reposting the review for her, as it appeared November 28, 2014. And NOW I am really done with the reposts for today!

Here’s yet another book review about a story of a Mormon missionary.  If you read this blog often, you know I am a sucker for stories about people giving up time and money to serve the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Because my husband is an exMormon and has a rather negative opinion of Mormonism (which he has passed on to me), many of the books I tend to read about these experiences are somewhat negative.  This time, I read a book that was mostly positive about the missionary experience. 

Craig Harline, author of Way Below the Angels (2014), served as a missionary for the Mormon church back in the 1970s.  He went from his hometown of Fresno, California to Belgium, one of my favorite places in the world.  There, he made an attempt to learn Dutch, get along with his ever changing companions, and maybe attract some Belgians to the LDS church.  Harline’s time in Belgium was concentrated on Flemish speaking areas, namely Antwerp and Brussels. 

Although he wasn’t all that successful in wooing beer loving Belgians to the “clean living” of Mormonism, Harline seems to have come away from his mission experience with a deep affection for Belgian people.  Given that I went to Armenia for two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer and left my service with sort of a love/hate relationship with Armenia, I could sort of relate to Craig Harline’s story somewhat, even though we went away for different reasons.  I think that’s another reason why I like missionary stories.  I am interested in other peoples’ cultural experiences because I have a number of my own.

He writes one story about trying to drive one of the mission’s cars and almost running over a small Belgian man because he neglected to check his blind spot before backing out of a parking space.  Naturally, bystanders who witnessed Harline hitting the old man were shocked and horrified.  And Harline was also horrified and pictured himself being hauled off to court.  But no… it turned out the old man was in a hurry and just wanted to get on his way.  I witnessed a similar event once in Spain, when an elderly lady fell down at the bottom of an escalator.  Many people wanted to help her and get her seen by a doctor, but she was very focused on catching her train!

Like many young men who go on Mormon missions, Harline had fantastic visions of converting people.  He was sure his superior sales training, personal charm, and newly acquired language skills, along with the very appealing Mormon values and lifestyle, would be enough to win him many conversions for the “one true church”.  Reality soon came crashing down as Harline learned that Belgians were mostly fine with Catholicism or atheism or any other belief system that allowed them to drink what they wanted and smoke cigarettes.  What was really pretty cool about Harline’s story, though, is that he was open to experiencing Belgian culture.  He visited Catholic churches.  He made Belgian friends who were kind to him and open to visiting as long as he didn’t talk religion.  He learned to be more humble and, more importantly, be himself.  Those are valuable lessons that so many people could stand to learn, especially when they’re still young.

Craig Harline has an entertaining writing style that is fun to read, though it took me some time to finish his book.  I think the main reason it took so long is because I’ve been gearing up for the holidays and don’t have as much time to read and focus as I usually do.  I tend to be tired and distracted when I go to bed and that’s when I do most of my reading.  And yet, when I was able to focus on Harline’s book, I was definitely entertained.  I write this even though Harline’s writing tends to meander a bit.  His sentences are long and wordy and it may seem like he takes awhile to get to the point.  Fortunately, reading Harline’s long sentences was well worth the effort for me. 

I enjoyed¬†Way Below the Angels¬†and would read it again. ¬†In fact, it might be a good thing to re-read it at a time when I can devote more mental energy and attention to the task. ¬†I think this is the kind of book that needs to be digested in larger portions. ¬†Craig Harline currently teaches European History at Brigham Young University. ¬†Though this is the first book I’ve read by him, I see that he’s written quite a few others. ¬†If you like missionary memoirs, particularly by Mormon authors, I highly recommend¬†Way Below the Angels. ¬†¬†

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book reviews, homosexuality, LDS

Repost: A review of The Gate and The Garden: The Apostate Journals of a Gay Mormon Missionary in Japan

Here’s another reposted book review. This one was written October 18, 2017, and appears as/is.

After some concerted effort last night and an early bedtime, I finally managed to finish Corbin Brodie’s 2016 book, The Gate and The Garden: The Apostate Journals of a Gay Mormon Missionary in Japan.  I downloaded this book in 2016, less than a month after it was published.  I just got around to reading it this month.  Sorry to be so slow, but I have a whole stack of books to be read and I keep finding more.

Although I have read and reviewed quite a few exmo lit books, I had kind of gotten out of the habit.  I enjoy a good story about what it’s like to be Mormon, especially when the person is an ex Mormon.  There tends to be a lot less testimony sharing in books by the exmos.  Corbin Brodie (a pseudonym, as are all the names used in this book) is no longer LDS, but he did serve a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when he was a young lad.  In those days, missions for the guys started when they were nineteen years old; since 2012, the age limit has been set at eighteen.  I am not exactly sure when Brodie served in the Sapporo, Japan mission, but it must have been before 1991, since he makes references to the Soviet Union.

Corbin Brodie grew up in Canada.  He has a younger brother named Duncan and mentions his mother was a very faithful member of the LDS church.  Brodie and his brother were raised to be as faithful as their mother was.  Although I get the sense that Brodie wasn’t exactly TBM (true believing Mormon) from the get go, he agreed to served the expected mission.  His book mostly consists of journal entries he wrote during his time abroad and while he was at the Missionary Training Center.  It also includes a few short stories.  I gather that, like me, Brodie has an impulse to write.  I’m sure writing has saved his sanity more than a few times, especially when he was living in Japan.

By his own account, Brodie got off to a good start at the training center.  He was made a leader during his weeks in Provo, learning Japanese and the missionary lifestyle.  He adjusted to life as a missionary and went to Sapporo, where over the course of two years, he went through a series of different companions.  Brodie seemed to have an affinity for Japanese and picked it up early.  In his journal, he uses a number of Japanese words for church terms.  For example, he doesn’t call his companions “Elder” lastname, as Mormon missionaries call each other, Brodie calls them “Choro”, which I gather is the Japanese term.  He refers to other church officials and the mission home by their Japanese terms, too.  I’m pretty sure that the missionaries in non English speaking areas do use the local terms instead of Elder, Sister, or President.  Anyway, I kind of liked that he used those terms because I enjoy picking up foreign words, even if I don’t necessarily enjoy learning other languages.

At 19 years old, Brodie is now living in an environment where he is surrounded by guys his age, some of whom he finds attractive.  Given that he’s a Mormon, at his sexual peak, and serving as a missionary, being gay is, to say the least, a special challenge.  Although it’s not considered a sin to have “same sex attraction” (as the Mormons put it), it is considered sinful to act on that attraction.  So, I can only imagine that as difficult as being a missionary must have been, it must have been even more difficult to be a gay missionary.  Add in the fact that Brodie didn’t seem to enjoy Japan that much (he mentions not liking the food), and probably would not have had a whole lot of time to enjoy it even if he did, and you have two challenging years.

Brodie is musical and creative, but listening to music that isn’t church approved is forbidden.  Still, he manages to play the piano sometimes.  He seems to have some good experiences with Japanese locals, many of whom don’t want to be church members, but are okay with simply being friends.  He has some good companions who are friendly and some who are “hardasses” bucking for rank or simply people with whom he has nothing in common.  Through it all, though he serves faithfully, Brodie realizes that he doesn’t really believe in Mormonism.  It’s getting harder and harder for him to pretend to have a testimony.  Finally, during his second year, just four months before he’s scheduled to leave Japan, he has a crisis of sorts.  He makes it known that he wants to leave Japan.

Brodie’s leaders do all they can to convince Brodie to stay in country and finish his mission.  They tell him if he leaves early, he’ll be on the hook for the $2000 plane ticket.  Brodie realizes he’ll have to work a long time to be able to pay off that debt.  I actually had to laugh at this, not because it’s funny, but because essentially Brodie was kind of being “trafficked”.  It doesn’t sound that different than the women who are brought into foreign countries and forced to work off the price of their plane tickets.  Also, while I’m still not sure what years Brodie was serving, $2000 must have been an astronomical amount of money at that time.  It’s a lot now.

Brodie also considers his mother, a very faithful TBM who is in school earning her social work degree.  He doesn’t want to disappoint her or his brother, who has also put in his papers to go on a mission.  Eventually, he is convinced to stay and sent to the mission home to finish out his last four months.  The mission home is less onerous, except that Brodie chafes under the rules, including the one that doesn’t allow him to cross the street to buy a candy bar without a companion with him.

Brodie’s story ends rather abruptly.  There’s no neat wrap up at the end of his journals, although he does provide an interesting afterword.  He’s now living in the United Kingdom and has a son, although he is no longer romantically involved with his son’s mother (she’s a dear friend).  He’s still gay.  After he returned home from Japan, he took about three months to break it to his mother that he didn’t want to be LDS.  And his mother, to her great credit, eventually accepted it, although it was very hard for her.

Although I don’t remember if he mentioned it, I got the idea that Brodie’s mother must have been from Scotland.  He writes of going to Edinburgh before the mission and missing Scotland.  I can relate to how much he misses Scotland, since it’s one of my favorite places.  I also got the sense that even if Brodie hadn’t been homosexual, he would have left Mormonism.  It seemed to me that his intellect was too sharp to accept what the church teaches wholesale.  He couldn’t make 2+2=5, like some people can.

My one criticism about Brodie’s book is that it’s very long.  Although his writing is very good and engaging, it was tough going getting through this book, particularly with the inclusion of the short stories.  I realize that he basically published his journals as he wrote them, but personally, I think this book would have been stronger if it had been abridged somewhat.  The short stories were of good quality, but they kind of took away the flow of Brodie’s missionary story.  I love a good short story, but I don’t like to be distracted when I’m reading.  I felt the fiction pieces were somewhat a distraction.

I do think this book would be well-received by ex Mormons, especially male homosexuals who have served missions.  I think they will be especially able to relate to Brodie’s experiences.  I was happy to read that as hard as the mission was, it didn’t seem like the whole thing was a waste of time.  He did seem to come away from the experience with friends, some of whom I hope remained friends after he left the church.

Anyway, if I were going to assign a rating, I think I’d give The Gate and The Garden: The Apostate Journals of a Gay Mormon Missionary in Japan a solid four stars out of five.  It’s well worth reading if you’re interested.

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book reviews, LDS

Repost: Buttprints: The Thing that Wouldn’t Leave… (a review of You Can Smile Now You’re Rid of This A**hole)

Here’s another reposted book review. I read and reviewed this book on Epinions.com December 12, 2012. The author, who uses a pseudonym, has become a good Facebook friend of mine. We “met” on RfM some years ago. She’s really witty and funny, although her story is scary and cautionary. I am reposting it as/is.

I guess I should consider myself very lucky.  I met my beloved husband of ten years, Bill, on the Internet.  We did not meet on a dating site, though.  In fact, we started out as casual friends, having first “met” in a chat room based on a mutual interest.  Over the course of about three years, our casual internet friendship bloomed into love.  I have no regrets over having met my spouse online; though I do know that others haven’t been as lucky as I was.

I just finished reading¬†You Can Smile Now You’re Rid of This A**hole: A Memoir of Abuse and Discovery¬†by Bobbi Botaz¬†(2012). ¬†The title of this book, which I downloaded for my Kindle, pretty much says it all. ¬†Like me, Bobbi Botaz got friendly with a man she met online. ¬†Like me, she met her online boyfriend in person and ended up living with him. ¬†Unlike me, she has many regrets for having met “Rick Doubledee” offline and allowing him into her life.

Botaz grew up Mormon, though she was definitely not one of the faith’s most devout followers.  She explains her upbringing as the book begins, perhaps shedding some light on why she has had such terrible luck with men.  It starts with unsatisfying high school dates, continues with a brief, loveless marriage that produces her son, Eric, and ends with Rick, the so-called “thing that wouldn’t leave”.  After a flowery and romantic online courtship, Rick moves from Pittsburgh to “Goldeneye”, a pseudonym for the Colorado town where Botaz was living in the late 1990s.  From the get go, it’s pretty clear that he’s not the man Botaz thought he was as he shows up in a beater of a car, stuffed to the gills with his worldly possessions.  Botaz and her son are both immediately repulsed by Rick’s slovenly appearance; yet incredibly, she lets him move in with her, where he lives and freeloads for the next two years.

I was astonished as I read about the things Botaz and her son put up with when Rick was living with them.  He was chronically unemployed and always had an excuse as to why he couldn’t support himself.  He claimed to be sick, yet had no issues eating Botaz out of house and home or smoking cigarettes.  Rick was a very “talented” con man.  Despite the fact that Botaz didn’t particularly enjoy her loser house guest’s company, she continued to let Rick live with her as she financially supported him, even when it became clear that he was dabbling in some risky behaviors that could have put Botaz and her son in grave danger.  As time went on, Botaz realized that not only had she put herself at tremendous risk, she had also put Eric at risk by letting Rick live there.   

As I read this account, I couldn’t help thinking to myself that something like this would never happen to me.  And yet, I have to wonder if maybe I could have been victimized as Botaz was.  Thankfully, she does eventually find the courage to give him the boot.  As he leaves her life, he says “You can smile now.  You’re rid of this a**hole”, gifting Botaz with the perfect title for her book about their miserable life together.  Unfortunately, his butt prints were still left in her sofa long after he’d gone.      

Full disclosure here.  I have interacted with the author of this book on the Recovery from Mormonism Web site and Facebook.  I think that gives me a bit more insight into her story than others might get just from reading You Can Smile Now.  Botaz has a wry sense of humor that comes through in her writing.  While I couldn’t help shaking my head in dismay as I read about how she allowed Rick to take over her life, I also felt relief that she and her son survived the ordeal.  Maybe Botaz wasn’t the most street smart Internet user in the world back in the late 1990s, but she did at least learn from her mistakes and is willing to share her experiences.  She also takes responsibility for her choices, which I think is very refreshing.  A lot of people would simply blame Rick for being an a**hole, but Botaz seems very cognizant of her part in this fiasco.  And again, she’s learned from her mistakes and seems determined to be smarter in the future. 

I think Bobbi Botaz has guts to put this story out there for the world, since I expect some readers will judge her.  But if her story serves as a warning for just one person– male or female– I think it will have been well worth the effort to read it.     

I recommend this book to anyone who has ever been tempted by an Internet romance and needs a cautionary tale.  I also recommend this book to people who like true stories about real people.

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