Friday, January 29, 2016

Signing Off On Ward Gossip

After six years and over 300 posts, I've finally decided to move on. It won't be easy! I've loved writing this little Mormon-themed blog. Even more, I've loved the responses I've gotten from so many readers - not only in the comment fields, but in private emails, snail mail (I received a lovely gift from a reader just the other day**), and in real life. I've made countless new friends via this blog and I am grateful and indebted to all of you for your encouragement and support. I'm even thankful for the occasional snarky reader who has kept me on my toes. It's been a great six years.

** the DVD and CD's, Gentle Reader/You Know Who You Are!

Ward Gossip started as a writing exercise. Since I was at work on my first Mormon-themed mystery novel, a Mormon blog seemed a natural companion. My early posts took the form of emails from the (fictional) Abbottsville 4th Ward. Later I added "other musings" to include articles from the (also fictional) "Salt Lake News" as well as some book reviews, obits, and my own op-eds. With a few exceptions, I've opted for humor, so that we might laugh at the things we once took too seriously.

My favorite subjects have been the rank and file Mormons, those obedient, ever-cheerful, perennial do-gooders who struggle in vain to live up to the Brethren's impossible expectations. Hapless and lovable, they never cease to inspire laughter.
 And so on.

Of course there are plenty of funny blogs out there to fill any void Ward Gossip might leave behind. For starters, there's the amazing blogroll in my sidebar. Also check out the nominees for this year's Brodie Awards. Voting ends February 5, 2016. Ward Gossip is up for 2 categories: "Best Parody" and (fittingly) "Best Exit Story."

I'm going to leave the site up for an indefinite amount of time, as a cure for insomniacs, also for the link to my 2 Mormon-themed mystery novels, as well as the links to the sites on my amazing blogroll. I may be taking a break from writing, but definitely not from reading! I'll keep the roll current, adding new sites as I find them. Also, who knows? Those zany Brethren in Salt Lake may pull something crazy enough to resurrect Ward Gossip from the dead. At this point that's hard to imagine. But stranger things have happened.

If you're on Facebook and haven't already done so, please send me a friend request. Or follow me on Twitter. I haven't been active there so far, but I see more tweets in my future. Since I intend to keep writing, I imagine I'll start another blog or website at some point, or maybe contribute to a group blog. If there's one that will have me.

But first I'm taking a breather ... and maybe fixing myself a cocktail! After all, it is Friday.

Tonight Mark and I will raise our glasses in a series of toasts. First to the Gentle Readers who have followed Ward Gossip - I am forever in your debt. Then to all the funny, Mormon-themed blogs. Next to the hapless and lovable Mormons who inspire them. And finally to laughter. Because, lord knows, we all dearly need to laugh.

If you would like to stop receiving these emails - today is your Lucky Day!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

LDS Youth Participate in Another Fake Q&A

Last night the LDS Church aired a "Face to Face" with Elder Rasband (Quorum of the Twelve), Sister Oscarson (General Young Women president), and Brother Owen (General Young Men president).

View here.

The 80 minute program was presented as an "unscripted" Q&A with young audience members either raising their hands in the local Salt Lake venue or remotely querying via email or social media.

However, after listening for only a few minutes, it seemed obvious (to me anyway) that the whole thing had been written in advance. Not only were the questions outside the teenaged vernacular:
"Brother Owen, how can I not feel so alone when I know those around me have so many different standards?" 
But the answers sounded like mini-conference talks replete with "great question, Andrea," the perfect homey personal experience - not too verbose - then, "and the moral is..." Clearly the answers had already been prepared to questions the leaders had already chosen.

Of course, what could I expect? Imagine the apoplectic fit a real question might have inspired:
"Sister Oscarson, I've been living with my dad and step-dad now for 5 years. They're really good to me. But since the church changed its policy about the children of gay parents, I feel pressured to move in with mom and her boyfriend. Do I really have to? It creeps me out when her boyfriend reaches up my dress."
"Brother Owen, I'm going on a mission soon. Only lately I've been doing a lot of masturbating. I'm not sure I can stop. Does that mean I won't get any converts?"
See what I mean? We all know that's never going to happen.

I'm reminded of one of the last church meetings I attended. It was a joint Relief Society/Priesthood meeting in suburban Dallas. Our stake president was the featured speaker. I found myself seated next to a gentleman I'd never seen before. Thinking he was either a new ward member or perhaps a visitor from out of town, I made an attempt to welcome him. He went out of his way to ignore me, to the point of rudeness. Then the stake president stood before us, and, after some brief introductory remarks, turned the time over to questions from the audience.

The rude guy next to me eagerly raised his hand and the stake president immediately called on him.
"President, how can we teach our youth the difference between worldly knowledge and spiritual knowledge?"
At that moment I realized what was going on. The guy didn't want to talk to me because he was a ringer. He had been put there to set up the stake president for the answer he'd already prepared on the topic he'd already chosen. I thought to myself, "How could a grown man reduce himself to participating in such a sleazy and transparent con?"

Today, some twenty years later, I finally have my answer. He was trained to do so in his youth!

I kept listening to that broadcast, hoping against hope that one of those apprentice shills would switch sides and ask a real question.
Elder Rasband, how can I not feel like a dope when I know my friends with different standards are at the school science fair while I'm here reciting your prewritten lines in this phony Q&A? 
Unfortunately, I knew that wasn't going to happen.

***Awards season is upon us again. Don't forget to visit Main Street Plaza vote for your Mormon-themed favorites in the Brodie Awards!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Utah Says No to Trump!

I hardly ever venture into politics here, but today am making an exception.

This morning's New York Times ran a story about Donald Trump's relative popularity among Republican voters. According to the article, of all the traditional Republican enclaves, Utah has the weakest showing of Trump supporters.

Now, I don't say this very often, but, WAY TO GO, UTAH!

I'm neither a Utahan nor a Republican, and therefore in no position to explain this dynamic. Hopefully some of my Gentle Readers will weigh in on this in the comment field.

Mark says it's because Mormons adhere to organizations and therefore oppose Trump and his rejection of the Republican establishment. I see his point, only I'm pretty sure there are a sizable number of Rand Paul supporters in Utah - and he's hardly a team player either.

Could it be that Utah Republicans are too smart to buy a used car from a flamboyant blowhard who looks like he should be plugging the ShamWow?

Maybe. - But then they will buy an old beater from a reticent navy-suit who looks like he should be managing a crooked hedge fund. They'll even throw in 10% of their income.

Could it be the hair? I have to admit, that lacquered combover almost makes the Mormons' genetic male-pattern baldness look sexy. Almost.

Perhaps I'm overthinking things. What the heck, it's the holidays, and on this rare occasion, Mark and I find ourselves on the same side as the Utah Republicans. At least for the moment. That's reason enough to break out the champagne - even if it weren't New Year's Eve.

Cheers and Happy 2016!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Crazy Talk Gets Even Crazier

Mormons have always gone crazy in defense of their church and its teachings. It's never enough for a member to grudgingly go along with whatever the Brethren come up with next. She/he is expected to embrace each new policy or pronouncement with orgasmic excitement.

Yes, Brethren, YES! 

Although, in the wake of the recent new church policy regarding the children of same-sex couples, the quality of "faking it" has cheapened considerably. Uber-faithful Saints who used to carry on like Sally with Harry are now coming off more like Princess Leia with Jabba the Hutt. 

And the crazy-a**ed arguments they're making! For example, this popular post from (Gay) Mormon Guy that has been floating around social media for the past month. In it the openly gay, (I'm assuming) celibate, believing Mormon blogger argues that the Brethren are being totally fair. After all, the children of gay couples are not the only aspiring members who must face estrangement from their families. Among his examples are the daughter of fringe Mormon polygamists, and the son of radical Islamists who threatened to kill him for leaving their faith. 

I'll give the former extremist Muslim kid a pass for cutting ties with Mom and Dad. But I'm not even going to try to wrap my head around the (gay) blogger's logic of comparing married same-sex parents to homicidal fanatics. If any of my more intellectually grounded readers would like to take a pass at it, I welcome your insight.

As for the polygamy argument, I keep hearing it from seemingly thoughtful Mormons, even - and perhaps especially - from those who are gay.

How can an admittedly gay man equate his natural desire to be with another man to some creepy old pervert's desire to collect underaged girls? (Or to homicidal fanatics, for that matter?) How does one reduce himself to this level of self loathing? For the Brethren? Face it, they're a bunch of clueless old white men.

How clueless? Consider these remarks from apostle Dallin Oaks at a recent BYU Christmas address. Thanks to Heather! I saw this first on her blog, Four Monkeys.

"A few years ago, I analyzed the Christmas cards I received at my office and home. There were many, so this was not a small sample. Significantly, my sample was biased toward religious images and words by the fact that most of the cards were sent by fellow leaders or members of my faith.
I sorted the cards I received into three groups. In the first group I put the traditional cards—those with an overt mention of Christ and/or pictures evocative of the birth of the Savior. Only 24 percent of the cards I received were of this traditional character.
In the second group were those cards whose pictures and visuals were not at all religious, but they did have the words “Merry Christmas” to identify the religious origin of the holiday. This was the largest group—47 percent.
In the third group—comprising 29 percent of the cards I received—there was no mention of Christ or Christmas and no religious visuals at all. These cards had words like “Season’s Greetings,” “Happy Holidays,” “Peace in the New Year,” or “Peace and Beauty of the Season.” A few were so daring as to refer to “Peace on Earth” or “Faith, Hope, and Love,” but none had any pictures suggestive of religion.

For Latter-day Saints, Christmas should be a time to celebrate the birth of the Son of God and also to remember His teachings. In reality, His life has had greater impact on every part of this world and its history than any life ever lived. His gifts to us are the greatest gifts ever given—the assurance of immortality and the opportunity for eternal life. Those are the gifts we should celebrate at this and every Christmas." 

See what I mean Gentle Readers? Nobody should be lying down on her back for some creepy old man who spends his quality time dividing his holiday cards into groups and then running statistical analysis to determine the standard deviation of the appearance of the words "Christmas" and "Savior."

Nevertheless, I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that since Oaks' talk, Utah Valley stationary stores have been booming with business from shamefaced customers who've dumped their "holiday" cards for a new set of "Christmas" cards. And heaven help the poor schlubs who had already put theirs in the mail! -Sigh- You really don't need to act like you're enjoying it!

In that spirit, I wish you all Happy Holidays and Peace in the New Year! Thanks, as always, for reading.

I also hope that my above reference to Princess Leia doesn't dampen your enjoyment of the new Star Wars movie.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Loving that Appearance of Evil

It's tricky being a Mormon. They have to obey all these rules - or at least look like they're obeying them. That's the key. Looking the part.

Just about every Sunday Mormons are reminded to "avoid the appearance of evil." This gospel tenant is driven so deeply into their collective psyche that you'll find them rushing to explain even the slightest possible misperceptions.
Brother Benson, I know you saw me standing in front of the liquor store, but it was only because I was admiring an ad featuring a guy that looked like someone I used to play ball with. . . . Not that I'm gay or anything.
The problem is the emphasis on appearances doesn't stop at the chapel doors. During the week Mormons go out into the world, equally obsessed with how they look, especially when they're hanging with "the cool kids" - aka "nonmembers." This is why you'll see hipster-clad Mormons at Starbucks buying milk in cool looking cups or at LDS wedding receptions guzzling Martinelli's in cool looking champagne flutes. Say what you want about "evil." Bottom line, it looks really cool.

Speaking of Mormon wedding receptions, some years ago Mark and I attended one such cool looking affair in Dallas. The posh gathering featured a martini bar. Only, because it was a Mormon home, the caterers had to substitute mashed potatoes for the gin or vodka, gravy for the vermouth, sour cream for the twist of lemon, etc. Are you following me, Gentle Readers? They served mashed potatoes in martini glasses. HOW COOL IS THAT?!

As we were leaving this sophisticated soiree, Mark suavely turned to me and, in his coolest voice, said, "Make mine mashed, not baked." Then we went to a bar. I mean a real one.

In light of all this, the recent Utah Soda Wars should come as no surprise. (Read more here.)

Evidently there's been a rise of "dirty soda shops" staffed with "mixologists" who serve soft drinks laced with non-alcoholic flavor shots, offering Mormons the guilty pleasure of ordering what sounds like a cocktail. Competition is fierce, with 2 chains vying in court over the use of the term "dirty."

Care for an Extra-Dirty Second Wife? It's a combo of Mountain Dew, fruit syrups and half and half. Salud!

According to the article, these establishments have their share of regulars:
They know me, they know my drinks, and they get excited when I walk in,” she (a regular) added. “It makes me feel good.”
And, no wonder. It's like . . . everybody knows her name.

Dare I boast that I saw this coming? In my 11/17/11 post, It's Ward Cocktail Hour!, Abbottsville Stake President Dennis Newsome suggested cocktail recipes featuring his own alcohol substitutes. For example:

Long Island Iced Tea
3/4 oz Windex
3/4 oz clam juice
3/4 oz root beer
3/4 oz Mountain Dew
3/4 oz Karo Syrup
3/4 oz Mr Bubble
dash of lemon juice

Rum and Coke
1 part root beer
2 parts root beer

Gee, maybe I should sue somebody.

Or, better yet, maybe Mark and I will just toast the Mormons again over our ritual Friday night cocktails - made with real booze - not Mountain Dew or mashed potatoes.

May the Saints continue to keep up appearances!
Brother Benson, I know you saw me with that drink in my hand, but it wasn't a real cocktail, it was just my favorite Extra Dirty Returned Missionary. . . . Not that I'm gay or anything.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Take This Church and Shove It

Last weekend over a thousand Mormons gathered near Salt Lake's Temple Square to submit their resignations from the LDS Church. It was the latest in a series of reactions to the LDS Church decision to refuse infant blessings and baptisms to the children of gay parents. Read more here.

For the benefit of my gentle readers who are not blessed to have been members of the one and only true church, a Mormon's decision between formally resigning vs. playing permanent hooky is a tricky one. Both options have their challenges.

LDS Inc. requires the resigning member to write the local bishop who may impose all kinds of pressure on the resignee before eventually passing his/her request on to the stake president who, in his own time, forwards the resignation to church headquarters. On the other hand, lapsed Mormons who remain on the church rolls may expect to be contacted once, twice, even multiple times a year by eager beavers hoping to reactivate them - and for the rest of their lives, no matter how many times they move.

Evidently the group who protested last Saturday had the help of an attorney who was able to bypass the local bishops and stake presidents and deliver the resignations directly to the LDS Church Office Building. I find this all very confusing, probably because I haven't invested the time to study the matter. But I was under the impression that it had finally been established that once a person submitted a resignation from the church, he/she was out, at least from a legal perspective.

Just like once a person resigns from his/her job, he/she may pack up and walk out. The primary difference being, when a person quits a job, he or she usually gives a couple weeks notice, in the spirit of professionalism and good will toward the employer.

When a person quits LDS Inc. it's usually in the spirit of, "Take this church and shove it."

It's been 15 years since Mark and I formally resigned our membership in the LDS Church. When we quit attending in the 1990's there was no formal resignation process. At least not to our knowledge. If you wanted off the rolls you had to be excommunicated, meaning you had to commit a grievous sin like murder or rape or child molestation. Or, even worse, have gay sex or write a factual book about Mormon history.

Later, when we became aware of the resignation process, we hesitated to make the step, simply because it seemed like too many hoops to jump through. And, lord knows, we'd already jumped though our share of hoops for the Mormons. Instead we asked to be "no contacts." "No contact" was supposed to mean that we stayed on the rolls but the ward members were respectfully advised not to contact us. What it actually meant was that we stayed on the rolls and the current ward leadership didn't contact us. Then the leadership changed and it was open season all over again.

Our last "contact" came from an Elders Quorum President who called after 10 p.m. on a weeknight to ask if we had a pickup truck.

The next morning we caved and composed our resignation letters. They were concise and professional, following a form we'd found on the Internet, and included no specific complaints or criticism, only our wish to be removed from the records of the church.

Our simple request set off a mind-numbingly frustrating back and forth that lasted a full 14 weeks until we were finally off the rolls. The highlight was a letter from our bishop that juxtaposed his slant on our opinions, character and family against that of his own.

Descriptives used when addressing us:
  • ill-conceived
  • most serious action
  • sincere regret
  • distorted, uneducated and subservient
  • completely disagree
  • numerous examples to the contrary
  • cutting yourself off
  • reap a whirlwind from this unfortunate action
  • erroneously take umbrage
  • matters of spiritual life and death
  • a tragic mistake
Descriptives used in addressing his family (which we could be like if only we were righteous):
  • strength of character
  • poise
  • worldly and educational accomplishment
  • spiritual strength
  • phenomenal successes
  • unusual and continuing successes
  • moral and ethical compasses
Tonight Mark and I will raise our Friday night cocktails to toast the over 1,000 brand new official Ex-Mormons who didn't have to endure all this s**t.

If we had it to do over again, I think our resignation letter might go something like this: