Friday, June 26, 2015

Sorry, Mormons. It's Not About You.

For most of my gentle readers today is a day to celebrate the nationwide legalization of same sex marriage. It is also a day to mourn the loss of the Reverend Clementa Pickney and the other innocent victims who died in the mass shooting in Charleston. - A chilling combination that reminds us that progressive Supreme Court decisions are only a small step in the march toward equality and acceptance.

But for many believing Mormons, today's events will provide yet another opportunity to cry persecution. Take, for example, a recent op-ed in the Mormon-owned Deseret News that called the recent shootings in Charleston an assault on the "right to worship freely."

Can't say I'm surprised. I'm well acquainted with the Mormon penchant for making everything about them. The train of logic goes something like this:
The white supremacist, Dylann Roof, was really out to persecute religious people. In fact, he could just as likely have charged into an LDS chapel and blown away a bunch of white people. - In fact, Roof mistakenly believed that the members of the bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church were Mormons! - In fact, a group of LDS missionaries were set to, CONDUCT that bible study when they were prompted to stay away!! OR an angel (a really really white one) blocked their path and warned them away!!! OR one of the 3 Nephites called the Elders aside to help him change some Mormon guy's tire!!!! 
Suffice to say I wouldn't want to be at a Mormon potluck tonight, listening to the inevitable cries of persecution. (The death of their traditional marriages, perhaps?)

Instead, on this historic day, I invite my gentle readers to check out Elder: A Mormon Love Story.

And tonight Mark and I will raise our Friday night cocktails to the proud display of the rainbow flag at the San Francisco city hall and the removal of the Confederate flag at the South Carolina state capitol.

Sorry, Mormons. It's not about you.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Wouldn't It Be Nice - If I Hadn't Gone to BYU...

Last weekend I had the pleasure of seeing the new biopic about Brian Wilson, Love and Mercy. It's a sensitive and fascinating examination of the former Beach Boys' sheer genius and fragile emotional state. While the story shifts back and forth in time, its focus is Wilson's recording of Pet Sounds, the 1966 album that continues to rank at #2 on Rolling Stone's list of the greatest albums of all time - #1 is Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band which the Beatles released the following year, and drew heavily on Pet Sounds in its influence.

I grew up in Southern California and listened to the Beach Boys as a child. Like many people my age and older, their music is permanently stamped in my psyche. Even today, whenever I hear one of their classic tunes, the warm Southern California breeze, the hot sand beneath my feet, and the sweet smell of the ocean stirs in my memory. Good vibrations.

However, thanks to a certain deranged chucklehead at BYU, one Beach Boys song inadvertently conjures a foul memory.

In the late 1970's I was taking education classes to qualify for my teaching credential. Among the requirements were a series of single credit courses, lasting about six weeks, on topics pertinent to secondary school teachers. Many of these mini-classes were taught by young profs who had recently come from teaching in public schools and were exceptionally enthusiastic about their subject. So, when I signed up for a class about drawing on popular culture to assist in lesson preparation, I expected to learn some fresh, new ideas.

On the first day, my seven or so classmates and I were greeted by a roly-poly gent somewhere in his 60's. He sat on a metal folding chair that could barely accommodate his girth. Next to him was a portable record player - one of those numbers that could be carried like a suitcase and then opened with the turntable on the bottom and the speaker in the lid. He promised to, by way of example, demonstrate the evil, pernicious messages that were being fed to our children through today's popular music.

There was a certain whimsey to the whole experience. Bear in mind this was around 1978. The big acts of the day were the Bee Gees, Rod Stewart, the Commodores, Elton John, ELO, the Village People, Supertramp, etc. But Professor Chucklehead, convinced he was on the cutting edge, spent our class time dissecting songs that were at least a decade or two old, by artists whom the current rising generation would never listen to, unless it was to humor their parents or some other tiresome grown-ups in their lives.

I exchanged pained winces and stifled snickers with my fellow classmates as Chucklehead interpreted the underlying meaning of tunes like "Under the Boardwalk" - I know what those Drifters really want you to do under there - "We'll Sing in the Sunshine" - catchy finger-popper, but an obvious vehicle for free love - and even "Wake Up Little Susie" by the Everly Brothers - what, indeed, will they tell their friends when they say "ooh-la-la?"

Ironically, during this same semester, one of my housemates had taken to doing her living room aerobics routine to David Bowie's "Suffragette City."

The class started out as merely amusing. That is, until Professor Chucklehead went after one of my favorite songs of all time, "Wouldn't it Be Nice." The first track on Brian Wilson's Pet Sounds, it is both complex in its musicality and innocent in its message, much like Brian himself. (Tony Asher wrote the lyrics.) I won't go into what Chucklehead had to say about it, as I would rather my gentle readers remember it as the artist intended: a sweet and soulful tribute to adolescent longing.

You know it seems the more we talk about it 
It only makes it worse to live without it
But let's talk about it...

I highly recommend Love and Mercy. It left a profound impression on me, enough of one that I might even be able to, once and for all, bury the memory of Professor Chucklehead. And god only knows, I could do without him.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Destined for Destruction, and Proud of It!

A couple of years ago Mark and I were eating dinner at the Applebee's in Bountiful, Utah. The booth next to us was filled with bouncy Mormon teenagers enjoying ice-cream sundaes. A young lady in the group announced that she had been accepted into a summer program in Los Angeles. Then, when some others in the party voiced concern, she replied loudly, "Don't worry. Only San Francisco is going to fall into the ocean!"

We had to smile. It had been some time since we'd entertained this apocalyptic forecast from our former doomsday cult. Of course, in our day, it wasn't just SF, but the entire state that was destined to fall into the ocean. Why single out San Francisco? Well, there was the whole hippie/free love thing, followed by the whole gay thing, followed by ... what? The whole techie thing? Are algorithms a tool of Satan? Worldly knowledge, I suppose.

I must say, as a native Angeleno I am offended by this exclusion. I beg your pardon, but L.A. has totally earned its part in God's final Big One, thank you very much! Where do you think He got the script?

For those of you who have not had the good fortune to be members of the one and only true church, it's not just hippies, gays, and software engineers whom the Mormons have destined to perish in the wake of Jesus' return, it's everyone who isn't dedicating all of his time, talent and resources to the LDS Church. - People who enjoy iced tea or cocktails on a lazy Sunday afternoon. People who are obsessed with truth and scientific fact. People who pick out their own underwear. - That would include not only the state of California, but also the Pacific Northwest, the entire Atlantic Coast, and most points in between.

I admit that falling into the ocean isn't a pleasant prospect. But we've all got to go sometime. And if my options are ... plunging to my death on a lazy Sunday afternoon, cocktail in hand, in the underwear of my choice vs. enduring to the end, painfully sober, and left to exist on a diet of powdered milk, nitrogen packed wheat and dehydrated pear flakes ... I'll take the whole plunging to my death scenario.

I'm guessing there are even some folks in Bountiful, Utah who might agree with me. The bar at the Applebee's was surprisingly busy when Mark and I dined there a couple of years ago.

Friday, May 29, 2015

The G.A.s Fight the War in Heaven

Mormon General Authorities' Role in The War in Heaven to be Subject of New Mini-Series
The Salt Lake News - published Friday, May 29, 2015

Filmmaker Lowell Swainston (The Naked Testimony, The Naked Testimony 2 1/2) has created a new mini-series that twists the conventional Mormon view of the Pre-Existence. Pre-Mortal Saints: the War on Sex will begin airing this Sunday.

The concept that the most righteous spirits in the Pre-Existence were destined for greatness in this mortal life has been long embraced by believing Mormons. Traditionally, this meant that the most valiant in the pre-life, most specifically during the fabled "War in Heaven," were slated for top positions in the Mormon hierarchy. But recently, monumental bungling by the Brethren coupled with the dawn of a surprising strain of rational thought have brought this theory into question.

"Over the years, the General Authorities have devoted the better portion of their lives to fighting masturbation, gay sex, pre-marital sex, oral sex, kinky sex, sex education, sexual freedom, sexy thoughts, sexy underwear, anything and everything remotely sexual," Swainston explained. "Despite the relative success of their efforts, these seem like weak issues compared to the causes championed by Dr. Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi. It made me wonder, what exactly did these bozos do up there to land a GA gig down here?"

His curiosity piqued, Swainston posed the question on Twitter, drawing over 500 tweets inside of an hour.

"The general consensus was that the Brethren must have dedicated their pre-mortal lives to the obliteration of all forms of sexual pleasure," Swainston explained. "Once I had that figured out, the whole thing sort of wrote itself."

Excerpt from Episode 1:

Scene: Colonel Barack Obama is standing in a Telestial High School hallway opposite rising seniors, Boyd K. Packer, Mark E. Petersen and Spencer W. Kimball  

Obama: Good afternoon, young patriots, I understand you have served valiantly in your posts as hall monitors for the boys bathroom. 

Packer, Petersen and Kimball: Yes sir!

Obama: I've come here to enlist your support in the War in Heaven. Young Packer, are you up to the challenge?

Packer: Sir, yes sir! Only...

Obama: Only what?

Packer: Only I hate to leave my work here. It's essential to the preservation of my little factory, and to the safety of that of my fellow brethren as well.

Obama: Exactly what is your little factory?

Packer: Sir, it's my link to the creation, the life blood of my power down on earth, the vital essence of my godhood.

Obama: Packer, what the hell are you talking about?

Packer: My penis and testicles, sir.

Obama: So you're saying that serving in the War in Heaven might endanger your dick?

Packer: Maybe, sir. Where might I be called to serve?

Obama: The campaigns of Generals Eleanor Roosevelt, Alexander the Great, and Albert Einstein are all in desperate need.

Packer: A woman, a gay and an intellectual? I'm sorry, sir, but they pose the three most vital threats to my little factory.

Obama: I can see why you might think that. What about you, Petersen? Worried about your vitals too?

Petersen: Sir, yes sir! That's how it all starts. I leave my post and first thing you know I'll be touching myself outside of normal toilet processes. That's how it always starts. (whimpers) I do my best to control myself - I leave the bathroom and shower doors open, dress in constrictive clothing, snack constantly, tie my hand to the bed rail, imagine myself in a tub of worms ... I even scream STOP at the top of my lungs.

Obama: And none of this works?

Petersen: (dabs brow with hanky) Something always happens to trip me up. Maybe I see myself in the mirror naked or I eat a little too much spicy food or I wake up with a full bladder, and bam! I'm at it all over again.

Obama: Thanks for sharing that, Petersen.

Petersen: Sir, yes sir!

Obama: Kimball, what do you have to say for yourself?

Kimball: Sir, I would like to say that I think your people - that the Negroes - are as righteous as we Whites in the Pre-Existence. Native Americans are too. And I plan to preach equality when I am on Earth.

Obama: That's commendable, son.

Kimball: I also intend to stand against nuclear proliferation.

Obama: Excellent. So will you join us in the War in Heaven?

Kimball: I'd like to, sir. But I don't think I can after last night.

Obama: Last night?

Kimball: Colonel, at a weak moment I began to masturbate...that led to group masturbation...that led to an act of homosexuality...and then... (his eyes tear up)

Obama: And then what?

Kimball: (exhales) I had sex with my horse.

Obama: (glares back at him) Your horse? Kimball, I admit that out of the lot of you turkeys you are probably the only one I would agree to have a beer with. Still, you are one sick and twisted son of a gun.

Kimball: Sir, yes sir!

Obama: You three are unfit for duty in the War in Heaven. I order you to stand your posts here in the Telestial High School boys room and reap the eternal consequence.

Packer, Petersen, Kimball: (raise their arms in salutes) Sir, yes sir.

Obama: (briefly returns salute) At ease.

Petersen: Oh no, sir. That's how it all starts.

Nine episodes of Pre-Mortal Saints are scheduled to air this season. However, based on viewer demand, the filmmaker will consider an extension of the project. "Every LDS General Authority played his own unique role in the global war on sex," Swainston told the News.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

LDS Conference Center to be Possible Setting for 2016 GOP Debate

LDS Conference Center May Host GOP Debate
The Salt Lake News - published Thursday, May 21, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY - As the list of Republican presidential candidates continues to expand, party officials are seeking larger public venues for next year's debates. The LDS Conference Center, which houses a stage big enough to park a 747, is among the locations the GOP is considering, sources inside the party told the News.

LDS leaders are already eagerly entertaining the possibility. "The stage at the Conference Center is equipped with seating for the LDS General Authorities and the entire Mormon Tabernacle Choir," church spokesperson, T. LaDell Tweedy said. "But we can tack on extensions that will add an extra mile in each direction."

According to Republican party sources, other possible debate venues include the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center.

In the spirit of non-partisanship, Mormon leaders are also reaching out to the Democrats. "She's welcome to debate in the ward cultural hall of her choice," Tweedy said. "We'll let her have the whole stage to herself."

Related: Arizona Vacuum Cleaner Salesman Announces He Will Not Seek the Republican Nomination

***Hat tip to Gail Collins' hilarious Saturday editorial.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Those Hoity-Toity Mormon Girls or the Strange Terrain that is Mormon Culture

Looking back, it all seems crazy. There are the things that are now so obvious, I want to kick myself for not seeing it at the time. And then there are the things I still can't quite figure out. Like the guy in the documentary Wordplay who complains he has the solution in front of him but still can't figure out the puzzle.

For example, a long time ago I served as secretary in a ward Young Women's presidency in a suburb of Dallas, Texas. One year the annual YW retreat was switched to a fancy hotel downtown. Usually this Friday/Saturday overnight event was held at the stake center, with food served from the church kitchen and lodging provided on the gymnasium floor. But, thanks to a well connected local church member, the girls were offered a stay at a five-star hotel with a fancy meal included! In the beginning it seemed like a fantastic opportunity for the young ladies to practice their white glove and party manners, as well as enjoy a little pampering.

Only it wasn't. And that's what I still can't figure out.

On a Sunday before the retreat, the lesson in the YW meeting was on proper hotel and restaurant manners. Eager that the local Mormon girls demonstrate their heavenly-appointed poise to the Dallas elite, stake leaders had compiled a list of etiquette no-no's:

 Bring a bathing-suit coverup and wear it to and from the pool - or - If you need service in the restaurant, ask your waiter, not any employee who wanders by - or - Don't walk through the lobby in your bathing-suit, even with the coverup - or - In the restaurant, if you need your waiter, wait until he passes by, don't get up and look for him or call across the room, etc.

Right from the start it became obvious that practically nobody in the room was familiar with half, or even any of the suggestions on the list. It wasn't because they lacked the means or opportunity. This was an upper-middle class group of girls and women who came from families that - while hampered by tithing and LDS gender-specific parenting obligations - had the resources for an occasional dinner out or hotel overnight. Rather, it was that many of the girls had been in upscale hotels and restaurants and seen their parents behave completely differently:

My dad says if they work here they're paid to serve us, doesn't matter if he's not our waiter - or - When they get it wrong my mom never waits for the waiter. She takes her plate straight to the kitchen, etc.

The woman teaching the class, clearly clueless herself, sternly reminded everyone that the assigned etiquette had come from the stake leadership and, by extension, God. Accordingly, she presented the inspired dictates as if they were a list of palace protocol appropriate to the reign of Henry VIII:

If management sees you in the lobby in your swimsuit and cover up you will be asked TO LEAVE - or -  If you hang your wet swimsuit on your guest room balcony you will be asked TO LEAVE - or - If you put your elbows on the dinner table ... Well, you get it.

Upon learning that a dash from the pool to the lobby fruit bowl might lead to their arrest by hotel security, the girls were understandably apprehensive. At this point, the YW president, clearly also clueless, reminded everyone that the stake had made these rules for the girls' protection. After all, they were going out into the world - to a hoity toity hotel - a place akin to the large and spacious building in Lehi's dream. They would be amongst people with lesser beliefs, people with questionable morals, people who are only interested in one thing.

(Like...this afternoon's conference session on profit margins, perhaps?)

At any rate, her point was that even though what "the world" called manners may be hoity toity, we sometimes needed to humor "the world" for the sake of appearances, and, of course, the opportunity to spread the Gospel.

Somehow - and I can't quite figure this out - but in one hour, what might have been a fun stay at a plush hotel had turned into a deployment to a war zone.

In discussing this over dinner the other night, Mark observed that when most people venture into unknown territory, they take their cues from the people around them. But since Mormons are members of the one and only true church, the last thing they want is to take their cues from "the world." How hoity toity would that be! Hence the invention that when our steak isn't cooked enough we just haul our plate to the kitchen, etc.

Sound theory, I guess. But my head's still spinning over this one.

I don't actually know how the retreat went. As the YW secretary, I wasn't hoity toity enough to join the group at the hoity toity hotel. But the following Sunday there was a testimony meeting in the YW meeting. Girl after girl stood to proclaim that, while it was okay staying in a hoity toity hotel and eating hoity toity food, nothing could compare to the special feeling they had being back inside the church.

So...what was the point of this whole hoity toity experience in the first place? So the girls could turn around and ridicule their own activity? Maybe the well connected church member was one of those hoity toity liberal Mormons nobody liked? Even with hindsight, I can't figure this one out. Maybe I'm just too...hoity toity.