book reviews, LDS, religion

Repost: A review of Jessica Bradshaw’s You’re Not Alone: Exit Journeys of Former Mormons…

Here’s a reposted book review from my original blog. It was written in June 2017, and appears here as/is. Some things have changed since I wrote this. Bill’s younger daughter came around, and now talks to him.

As many regular blog readers know, I frequently hang out on the Recovery from Mormonism messageboard, although I have never myself been a Mormon.  I started hanging out on that site because my husband, Bill, used to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  He and his ex wife were converts at the end of their disastrous marriage. 

Bill was once a fairly enthusiastic Mormon; when I met him, he still claimed to believe.  I think he had high hopes that the church would help him save his first marriage.  But over time, it became clear that the church would not save his family and, in fact, made his situation much worse than it might have been.  Unfortunately, Bill’s two daughters became devout members of the LDS church and he pretty much lost them when he divorced their mother and later decided to resign from the church. 

It is certainly no secret that I despise my husband’s ex wife for many reasons– many of which have nothing to do with the LDS church. The truth is, what happened to Bill would have happened whether or not they had been Mormon converts. My husband’s ex wife delivered the same despicable treatment to her first ex husband. She effectively influenced her eldest son to reject his father. She did the same to Bill’s daughters. She will likely engage the same method if and when she leaves her third husband, with whom she has another son and daughter. That is simply what she does because she’s an abusive person, who thinks her children are extensions of herself, and uses them as weapons.

However, although I don’t believe the church was the main cause of my husband’s split from his now adult daughters, it’s been my observation that the LDS church is an excellent parental alienation tool. The importance of the church and its ridiculous lifestyle tenets– its insistence on being privy to the most private aspects of a person’s life and focus on perfect families– made it much easier for my husband’s young, impressionable daughters to reject their perfectly good dad as “unsuitable” and “undeserving” of them. To be honest, I agree that Bill doesn’t deserve his daughters. In my opinion, they aren’t good enough for HIM. Fortunately for them, Bill is a lot more forgiving about his daughters’ decision to reject him than I am. He once had a very close relationship with them. He is their father, and will always love them, while I have only met them in person once. I have no connection to them, and I think their behavior is unreasonable and just plain stupid.

Perhaps my brief rundown of my personal experiences with the church will offer some insight as to why I read so much about Mormonism– particularly about those who choose to abandon it.  Since I’ve been with Bill, I have come to know a number of impressive ex-Mormons.  It takes a lot of strength of character to go against the grain and reject one’s family religion, especially when it’s a very demanding belief system like Mormonism.  I have found that many ex-Mormons are very intelligent, sensitive, and open-minded.  I truly like them as a group of people.  For that, as well as for her decision to divorce Bill, I will always be grateful to Bill’s ex wife.  Her decision to go LDS and Bill’s decision to leave the church indirectly influenced my life in many positive ways.  Of course, had she not divorced Bill, I might not have gotten to be his wife.

It’s indirectly because of my husband’s ex wife that I “met” Jessica Bradshaw, who just published You’re Not Alone: Exit Journeys of Former Mormons. I read her first book, I’m (No Longer) a Mormon: A Confessional, which she wrote under the pseudonym Regina Samuelson. I enjoyed the book and reviewed it, and Bradshaw and I became Facebook friends. I was delighted when Bradshaw announced her second book, which would be published under her real name. She also solicited stories from her ex-Mormon friends and acquaintances. I wanted to get Bill to submit his story, but he never got around to writing it.

Over the past almost fifteen years of marriage, I have seen firsthand what can happen when a person decides to leave a high commitment religion like Mormonism.  Some Mormon families truly believe in “free agency” and are okay with family members deciding for themselves what to believe.  There are many more families that can make leaving the church extremely difficult.  Some ex-Mormons wind up getting divorced, being shunned by family members and friends, and even losing their jobs or getting kicked out of college over deciding that Mormonism doesn’t work for them.  Deciding to leave Mormonism was a huge decision for many past members; it can be overwhelming and terrifying.  Many ex members feel that they are alone as they make this monumental decision for their own lives. 

Bradshaw’s latest book is a compilation of stories by former church members who left.  Each story is very well edited and offers valuable insight into what makes a person decide to leave Mormonism.  I was amazed as I read about how each person’s eyes were opened to the world beyond the church.  It was gratifying to read how many of these ex church members began to develop insight, empathy, and an expanded perspective of the world around them, even as many of them found themselves ostracized from their families and friends.

One contributor wrote about how, as a Mormon missionary in Japan, he experienced extreme cognitive dissonance.  He observed how happy, moral, and loyal the Japanese people were to their families and employers.  They were able to be this way even without the direction and interference of a church’s oppressive lifestyle restrictions or strict “moral” code.  As the years passed, the contributor experienced a series of life events that led him from being an “acting Bishop” of a huge ward in Salt Lake City to a convicted felon who temporarily lost his license to practice optometry.  This was a decent person– a good guy who was having a crisis of faith and could not talk to his wife, other family members, or friends about his feelings.  He started playing racquetball, took his new passion too far, eventually got seriously hurt, and was put on opium based painkillers.  He developed an addiction to the painkillers, started calling in his own prescriptions, and soon lost everything. 

Many church members would look at that story and determine that it was the man’s decision to abandon the church that led him to such disastrous consequences.  Indeed, when church members resign, a lot of active members think it’s because they want to sin, are too lazy or weak to live by the church’s rules, or were somehow offended.  Active members tend to avoid those with weak testimonies because they fear they will lose their own testimonies.  It occurs to me that active members who fear those who are losing their testimonies must also have weak testimonies, because if their testimonies were strong, someone else’s doubts would not be a threat. 

A person leaving the church often feels very much alone and may turn to habits that can turn out to be destructive.  In the case of the contributor I just wrote about, he turned to racquetball.  Racquetball is not a destructive habit in and of itself, but if one plays to the point of becoming seriously injured and needs pain pills, that can lead to a serious disruption of one’s life.  Perhaps if the man could have talked honestly to his wife or church leaders about his doubts, he might not have experienced such a calamity.  Maybe he would have eased up on the racquetball and not gotten seriously hurt.  Or maybe the positive feelings he got from the drugs would not have been as seductive, since he might have been able to get a sense of normalcy and calm without needing medication.

Unfortunately, for many people, the church does not lend itself to open discussion or honesty.  Married couples must cope with less intimacy because the church is a not so silent partner in their relationships.  Important decisions about things like religious beliefs are not left up to the married couple.  The church must be involved.  And the church’s involvement means there will be less privacy, pressure, and the potential for punishment and humiliation.  Many people who have doubts about the church don’t speak about them openly.  Instead, they simply fake it.  They lead lifestyles that are not authentic.  They miss out on a lot of wonderful life experiences and freedom due to fear of disaster and abandonment.  Being “fake” is also psychologically unhealthy and can ultimately lead to unhappiness.

I have only described one story in You’re Not Alone, but rest assured that the book is full of enlightenment about why people leave the LDS church and encouragement that there is life after Mormonism.  While the immediate consequences of leaving the church can be heartbreaking and devastating, most people are able to pick up the pieces and live better, more authentic lifestyles.  They make their own decisions and can accept their successes and failures as their own. 

I’ve seen firsthand how liberating leaving the LDS church can be as I’ve watched Bill.  When I met him, he was living on $600 a month and thought his life was ruined.  He thought God hated him.  What a blessing it’s been to have watched him blossom into a self-confident man who loves freely and enjoys his life.  He has plenty of money (not paying 10% gross to the church is a great thing), gets to travel, wears whatever underwear he prefers, and drinks whatever he pleases.  He is not afraid of being exposed to other people’s experiences and no longer has a testimony that must be protected at all costs.  And although he was abandoned by his daughters, Bill has found out that his life is still very much worth living and he is free to do it on his own terms.  I’m pretty sure that is what Jessica Bradshaw’s contributors have also discovered. 

Naturally, I recommend You’re Not Alone, especially to anyone who has been thinking about leaving the LDS church, but also to those who are in any belief system that has them in metaphorical chains.  I also think You’re Not Alone is a great read even if you aren’t LDS, although it probably does help to know something about the church before you read it.  I also recommend Jessica’s first book, I’m (No Longer) a Mormon.  Five stars from me.

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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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Ex, LDS, psychology

The “princess treatment”…

About ten years ago, I was a big fan of the Project Rant series on YouTube. This channel featured actors who would take the most entertaining rants from Craig’s List and recite them as if they were the people who wrote them. I can’t remember which rant attracted me first, but I was hooked after I saw my first video– which wasn’t actually their first video. I have a habit of catching on to things after they’ve been established for awhile. For instance, it took me four years to discover Desperate Housewives. I never got into Nurse Jackie until long after it was off TV.

This morning, I discovered a video by Project Rant that I hadn’t yet seen. It’s entitled “Bully”, and appears below…

This one is a bit darker than most of them… I had somehow missed its release. I like her parting shot.

I hate bullies. I understand on a cognitive level that bullies exist because they have unmet psychological needs, and they take out their angst on people they perceive to be different and/or weaker than they are. I still hate them, though. I have been on the receiving end of bullies for most of my life, and it’s caused me a lot of pain. It’s also made me surprisingly resilient and resolute about some things. As I watched the above Project Rant video, I related to the actress as she describes mean people provoking her to take action.

What is a bully? Simply put, a bully is “a person who habitually seeks to harm or intimidate those whom they perceive as vulnerable”. I’ve seen some people and behaviors described as “bullying”, when they don’t actually fit the definition of “bully”. For instance, I don’t think mere criticism of someone counts as bullying. There has to be a threat or intimidation involved. There also has to be a perceived power imbalance– whether or not there is an actual power imbalance– which causes the bully to act.

This morning, Bill and I were discussing a sad and distressing situation involving a female bully and her victims. For years, we were the only ones who seemed to see what was happening. Other people have now noticed the bully and the bad behavior perpetrated by this person.

Having a relationship with a bully, particularly when it’s someone as close as one’s parent, is like falling into quicksand or being caught in an undertow. It’s very troublesome and exhausting to extricate oneself from those situations. Once you’re out of that metaphorical quicksand or undertow, you’re wise to stay out of the morass and avoid the area. That’s what going “no contact” is about. A person can go “no contact” with a bully and still forgive them, and even wish the best for them.

But, as the actress in the above Project Rant video points out, sometimes you have to take bullies down a notch. There are times when it’s appropriate and even necessary to take action against them. Sometimes, you have to fight back. Sometimes, the smallest and most subtle and obscure clues can be profound in how they illustrate an actual scenario of how a bully is operating. Context is important.

The above video is pretty funny… especially at the beginning, as the missionaries ring the doorbells to the stars.

This morning, Bill related a story he’d heard from someone who had served as a Mormon missionary. Mormon missionaries, as you may or may not know, are not often treated well by the public. They tend to get a lot of doors slammed in their faces. But every once in awhile, they run into people who offer unexpected kindness to them. It’s those people who are the most memorable, and who often have a profound affect on the missionary’s experiences in the field.

I have kind of a special affinity for missionaries. I spent two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer, which isn’t the same as being a Mormon missionary in terms of my purposes for being away, or the day to day lifestyle. How the experience is similar, however, is that Peace Corps Volunteers and missionaries are far away from home and typically don’t have a lot of money. Both groups of people can be somewhat vulnerable in a number of ways. And since they are so far from the comforts of home, some situations are magnified in terms of how they are experienced and remembered.

Sometimes, people are cruel, but sometimes they’re not. I think the LDS missionary and Peace Corps situations are also similar in that, a lot of times, missionaries and Volunteers find themselves daydreaming about being at home and feeling comfortable among material possessions and loved ones. However, it’s possible for a PCV to visit home during their service. It’s generally not possible for LDS missionaries to go home while they are “serving the Lord”, even if there’s an emergency. Being a Mormon missionary can be very tough, unpleasant, and uncomfortable.

Imagine my surprise, then, when Bill said that this missionary had been treated like a “princess” by a couple she and her companion met when they were missionaries. The couple, who were members of the church, helped them out by giving them a place to stay for a couple of weeks. For some reason, the sister missionaries had nowhere to stay, so the couple had taken them in on a temporary basis. Years later, she remembers the experience of staying with the couple and describes their treatment of her as “like a princess”.

It’s my understanding that the church arranges apartments for the missionaries. The apartments tend to be cheap and spartan in nature, and sometimes they aren’t in the best or safest neighborhoods. But supposedly, the onus is not on the missionary to go out and find an apartment on their own. I am left thinking that the missionary in this story was waiting for a spot to open in an existing apartment, but I’m not sure exactly what the situation was.

I was just awestruck that the former missionary felt this couple who had taken her and her companion into their home– strangers to them, except for being fellow church members– had treated her so well that she felt like a princess. Either the couple who had offered hospitality are extraordinary people who weren’t aware of the concept of what missionary life is supposed to be like, or the missionary’s life at home was extraordinarily terrible. Bill happens to know something about this particular missionary’s home life. Indeed, he knows about it quite intimately. And he can attest that life at home was probably pretty horrible for her.

Still… hearing that story this morning really gobsmacked me. Over the years, I’ve read a lot of accounts from former LDS missionaries. I know that for a lot of them, the mission is pretty tough. It’s physically, emotionally, and mentally uncomfortable. Sometimes, it’s even dangerous. Sometimes missionaries come home with lifelong health issues related to their missions, or lose limbs or senses.

A number of missionaries have even died while serving. Some get sick with diseases like dysentery, or they become seriously ill because they don’t get adequate medical treatment. That tends to happen when the missionaries are in remote areas in developing countries. Some missionaries are victims of crimes. I remember in 2006, an “elder” (male missionary) from Utah was killed in Virginia when he and his companion stumbled across a criminal in the process of committing an offense. The criminal shot the missionaries, and one of them– Morgan Young– died, while the other was wounded.

Church members tend to regard those who die while serving a mission as somehow blessed– they had a special purpose that God needed them for in the Celestial Kingdom, or something. I remember, in particular, the missionary who died in Virginia, since that’s my home state and where I was living at the time of the death. His mother said her son had “died with his boots on”. Below is a quote from Gordon B. Hinckley, who was president of the LDS church when the missionary was murdered:

“I’m impressed with the thought that Elder Young has joined the ranks of a very select group who stand so very, very high in the estimate of God,” he said. “There is some special place and some special work for them to do under our Father’s plan.”

Some missionaries have accidents, which run the gamut from the garden variety car crash, to falling off cliffs while hiking, or even being mauled by animals. Many missionaries make it through the experience just fine, although some are left with emotional scars that haunt them. I’ve read a lot of stories by people who have been LDS missionaries and have left the experience worse for wear. But sometimes, the mission– as tough as it can be– is even better than being at home.

It’s not that different for Peace Corps Volunteers. Sometimes, PCVs die, have accidents, are victims of crimes, or contract exotic illnesses that affect them for the rest of their lives. I think that PCVs may have access to better healthcare. I know that they can be “medevacked” to the States or a western country for treatment, if it’s necessary. The LDS church, on the other hand, tends to do things as cheaply as possible. A lot of times, church members are tapped for help– donations of skills or material things, like a room in a house. So, say a church member is a doctor or a dentist. The church might call on that person to offer treatment for an ailing missionary free of charge, or at a much reduced rate. Sometimes people are glad to help, but other times, it’s an imposition.

I would think hosting two young women in a home, particularly since missionaries have to live by rather strict standards and rules, could be an imposition. I would not expect a missionary to be treated like royalty. But then, I also know that sometimes, just being treated with basic kindness, dignity, and respect when one has spent their whole lives being abused, can feel like royal treatment. So, knowing what we do about this situation, I guess I can understand why it felt like “princess treatment” for the missionary in question. She was getting treated like someone with value. And now, she wants to help others who are not being treated with value escape the morass, and get away from the bully who has victimized them for years.

It’s very satisfying to escape the toxic clutches of a bully. It’s even more satisfying to help someone else escape, and to help them realize that they can and should be treated with basic respect. But it’s absolutely mind blowing when someone describes being treated with dignity and decency as “the princess treatment”. I have no words for that. It’s possible that this missionary was really treated as if she was a princess, but I doubt it. I think being treated with warmth, friendliness, fairness, and love was so foreign and comforting to her that it felt like “the princess treatment”, much like a plate of bland vegetables or saltines tastes like the best food in the world to a starving person. It’s all about perspective.

Anyway… we hope we can help her take the bully down a notch. Maybe not with a literal baseball bat… but with something just as devastating and powerful. Time will tell.

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book reviews, LDS

Repost: Elder Bill Shunn is the Accidental Terrorist…

Oops, I lied. I just thought of this book and decided to repost it today. I posted this on my original blog on January 3, 2016. It’s here as/is.

Some years ago, I read a fascinating story by a guy named William Shunn, an ex Mormon who writes science fiction.  He had written about how, as a Mormon missionary in Canada, he’d gotten into some serious legal trouble.  The story, as it was originally written, was condensed so that it could be read in one sitting. 

I had forgotten about Elder Shunn and his wild adventures as a missionary.  Then I found out that William Shunn had published his story into a full length book.  Remembering how exciting I found the excerpt I’d read online, I was eager to download it.  I just finished Shunn’s The Accidental Terrorist: Confessions of a Reluctant Missionary and I’m happy to report that the story was just as fascinating and engaging as it was in its shorter form.

Who is William Shunn and how did he become an “Accidental Terrorist”?

Donald William “Bill” Shunn grew up in Kaysville, Utah, the eldest of eight children.  His parents were devout Mormons and raised their children to also be dedicated Latter-day Saints.  Like many young LDS men, Shunn had been saving up for and planning to serve a Mormon mission his whole young life.  His father had served in Germany and frequently told Shunn stories about the mission experience.

When Shunn was nineteen years old, he did what so many other young Mormon males do.  He put in his paperwork to become a missionary.  He also took out his endowments; that is, he went through the temple for the first time, donned “sacred” temple garments, got a new name, and became fully invested in the LDS church.  Bill Shunn came of age for the missionary experience in the mid 1980s. At that time, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints still had blood oaths in the temple endowment ordinance.  Four years later, that part of the temple experience was removed.

Around the time Shunn was planning for his mission, he met a pretty young lady named Katrina.  They started dating and the relationship quickly became serious… or as serious as it can get between two people who aren’t supposed to go to third base before marriage.

Shunn’s parents didn’t like Katrina, even though she was “gorgeous” and a church member.  Naturally, Bill was head over heels for her, and the feeling was apparently mutual.  They planned to marry once Bill finished his mission in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Bill Shunn writes very colorfully about what it was like to go through training at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah.  Then, he describes what it was like to go to Canada, where he settled uncomfortably into the missionary lifestyle.  Being a missionary made Bill miserable.  He missed Katrina and chafed at the lack of freedom he had.  So he decided to escape.  Shunn’s escape story was probably my favorite part of The Accidental Terrorist.  I’d love to describe it in this post, but that would spoil the story for others.  Let’s just say that he made a great effort that eventually failed.

Two months later, another missionary attempted to leave and roped an unwilling Shunn into helping him.  Having seen what happened to his own companion after he’d tried to escape, Shunn was determined to stop the other missionary from leaving.  So he called the cargo department of the airline the missionary was using and made a phony bomb threat.  Needless to say, that landed Bill Shunn into some very hot water.

My thoughts

William Shunn is an outstanding writer who has a real gift for painting mental pictures with vivid words.  I really had a hard time putting down this book and even stayed up pretty late last night to get through it.  While the book is entertaining and often hilarious, it’s also educational.  Interspersed with Shunn’s “terrorism” story is the story of Joseph Smith, founder of the LDS church.  I had read parts of Joseph Smith’s history before, but not written in such an engaging and entertaining way.  Also, I noticed that though I was familiar with Shunn’s story after having read it online years ago, this version is tighter and better edited.  I could practically envision the people involved in the story… it was as if it became a virtual movie in my mind.

I love a good missionary tale, especially when the missionary is an ex Mormon.  Bill Shunn’s life has turned out fine post Mormonism.  He and his wife, who didn’t turn out to be Katrina, now live in New York City and it appears that Shunn has been able to make a living from his writing.

You don’t have to be Mormon to appreciate Bill Shunn’s story.  I am not now nor have I ever been LDS.  My husband was Mormon for a few years and got me interested in the church.  I have been studying it for years, but have pretty much come to the same conclusions Shunn did.  It’s definitely not a lifestyle for me.

Anyway, I think you can tell this book gets my stamp of approval.  Five stars!

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book reviews, LDS

Reposted review of Perfect: The Journey of a Gay Ex Mormon

And finally, one more repost for today… another Epinions review from March 2012, posted as/is.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS church) has been in the news a lot lately, partly because Mitt Romney, a prominent Mormon, is hoping to become the next President of the United States.  I have a keen interest in Mormonism, mainly because my husband, Bill, is a former member of the church.  I spend a lot of time on a Web site called Recovery from Mormonism (www.exmormon.org), which is a lively discussion forum populated by people interested in or affected by Mormonism. 

Many people on the Recovery from Mormonism site are former members of the church, but there are also participants there who still attend and some people, like me, who have never been LDS, but have somehow been affected by or interested in the church.  Having spent approximately nine years hanging out on that Web site, I have read many stories of people who were raised Mormon.  One issue that consistently comes up among ex-Mormons is homosexuality. 

Officially, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints takes a dim view of homosexuality.  In order to remain in good standing, church members who experience SSA– that is, same sex attraction– are required not to act on their homosexual feelings.  In many cases, members of the LDS church who are gay are encouraged to get “therapy” in an attempt to overcome their homosexual feelings.  Being gay and Mormon is a very big deal among the LDS faithful.  Mormons believe that marriage is only valid between a man and a woman and only married people can get to the Celestial Kingdom, which is the highest level of Heaven.  Every faithful member of the LDS church wants to go to the Celestial Kingdom when they die.

It was on the Recovery from Mormonism Web site that I first read about Joseph Dallin’s book, Perfect: The Journey of a Gay Mormon (2009).  Since I love true stories and have a special interest in Mormonism, I decided to read it myself.

Joseph Dallin’s story 

Born in 1975, Joseph Dallin grew up in Utah, the eldest of his Mormon parents’ six children.  He was a very faithful member of the LDS church and had always been obedient to the church’s tenets.  From the time he was a young boy, Joseph Dallin expected to go on a mission for the church, get married, have children, and live a happy, church-approved lifestyle. 

But then Dallin turned thirteen, a difficult age under the best of circumstances.  As Dallin entered puberty, he noticed that he was attracted to males.  Knowing his church’s rigid stance on homosexuality, Joseph Dallin realized that his feelings were inconsistent with the church’s teachings.  He immediately began to fight against those feelings that he had been taught were so inappropriate.

At age 18, Joseph Dallin went to college at Utah State University, where he met a lovely young woman named Emily.  Joseph and Emily bonded and became very close friends.  After their freshman year at Utah State, Joseph went off to Houston, Texas to serve a two year proseletyzing mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  The whole time he was gone, Emily and Joseph wrote to each other.  Emily clearly had set her sights on marrying Joseph when he came home.  Then, the two of them would transfer to Brigham Young University and begin a happy life together.  But while the transfer to BYU happened, the marriage could not.  Joseph Dallin was gay and had too much integrity to marry a woman he could never love as a wife.

Joseph Dallin became embroiled in a battle between the man his church expected him to be and the man he actually was.  Dallin’s internal struggle almost led to his suicide as he tried to reconcile his forbidden attraction to men with the church’s strict teachings against homosexuality.

My thoughts  

I think Perfect is definitely worthwhile reading, particularly for those who have found themselves in Joseph Dallin’s situation.  His writing is very personal and thoughtful.  I think this book would be best received by people who already know something about Mormonism, although those who are very faithful to the church may be offended by it.  Dallin does not mince words as he describes his sexuality.  His writing becomes very vivid when he relates the struggle he had between his attraction to men and his desire to stay faithful to his beliefs.

Dallin writes that he began to have doubts about the church during his mission and includes some quoted material that may be offensive to some readers, particularly those who are LDS.  On the other hand, those who have thoroughly studied the church’s history will probably not be surprised or offended by Dallin’s revelations.   

Actually, as a non-member, the only thing that shocked me was that Dallin made his discoveries as a missionary.  Apparently, he was never taught about the church’s racist past and, in the course of learning more about his faith so that he could be a better missionary, Dallin discovered some disturbing quotes by Brigham Young in the Journal of Discourses, a volume with which Dallin had previously been unfamiliar.  He writes on page 111:

“… we were teaching the missionary lessons to a black woman who was preparing for baptism.  I couldn’t help but wonder what she would think of this statement:”

Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race?  If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot.  This will always be so.

Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 10

It is a missionary’s job to convert new members.  However, in reading about Dallin’s startling revelations about his church’s history, it occurred to me that missionaries are selling something they may not know that much about.  And becoming a Mormon often requires major lifestyle changes and sacrifices that can actually tear apart families.

Dallin explains that the part of Mormon history concerning race was never discussed as he was growing up in the church or during his training.  He had discovered old doctrine that had been swept under the rug and whitewashed with more current doctrine by newer church prophets.  Suddenly, everything Dallin thought he knew about his faith was fragmented by new information.  He discovered he had been taught to rely on his feelings rather than logic or factual information.  Naturally, the new information led to Dallin’s feelings of betrayal and bitterness, which helped change his perspective of his church.       

Dallin’s story includes a lot of perspectives from others.  He uses sub-headings to relay his anecdotes and different fonts for letters sent and received during his mission.  I’m not sure the different fonts were entirely necessary.  I actually found them somewhat distracting, especially since he uses fonts that are somewhat unorthodox.  For example, letters from Emily are printed in a very flowing, feminine font.  Dallin’s letters are presented in a font that looks like handwriting rather than a more conventional type.

As a final note, I was impressed by the way Dallin’s parents handled his “coming out” to them.  While their reaction wasn’t completely without drama, ultimately, they treated their son with a lot of love and respect.  Their loving reaction serves as a fine example to other religious families dealing with a homosexual son or daughter.

Overall

I would recommend Perfect to anyone who likes true stories, especially if they are empathetic to homosexuals who are struggling with religion.  This may be good reading for parents who are struggling with a child’s homosexuality, particularly in relation to the Mormon faith.  I think this is an especially good book for gay Mormons in search of some reassurance that the struggle between faith and sexuality doesn’t have to lead to suicide or other drastic measures.  Perfect is ultimately a very positive book that may serve as a source of hope to others in similar situations.

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