Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thanks For The Loud Laughter

To: Abbottsville Fourth Ward
From: Donna Banta
Subject: Remembering Leslie Nielsen

Looking back, it is no wonder my slow departure from Mormonism progressed alongside The Naked Gun series. When the first installment opened in 1988, I was an active Mormon. My hands were covered in eczema and I was having recurring nightmares about being trapped in a box. Add to that, I regularly attended the temple where I was instructed to "avoid all lightmindedness, loud laughter, and evil speaking of the Lord's anointed." I didn't laugh much. But when I did, it was a freakish, hysterical laughter that climaxed in an endorphin fueled high that for a few fleeting moments made me feel alive.

In those days, laughter was serious business.

Enter my hero, Leslie Nielsen, who in the persona of Lieutenant Frank Drebin, provided me with a series of ninety minute uninterrupted happy highs that lifted my spirits like no temple session ever could.

My local Mormon leaders discouraged the faithful from seeing the films because of their sexual content. What should have worried them was the irreverence they inspired. Whether he was knocking Barbara Bush off a balcony, botching our National Anthem, flinging O.J. Simpson into the stands at Dodger Stadium, dismantling The Oscars under the guise of Phil Donahue, or locking Queen Elizabeth II in the coital position, our man Drebin never tired of poking fun at the "anointed." (I remind my gentle readers that immediately before Her Majesty wrapped her royal thighs around Lt. Drebin, the city of Los Angeles had presented her with a Revolutionary War musket.)

Face it Abbottsville Fourth Ward. Loud laughter's not only a good thing. It's downright healthy.

Those who fear leaving Mormonism because of all they've invested in the faith could benefit from the example of Mr. Nielsen, who spent 20+ years of his own life trapped in the wrong genre. He began his career as a dramatic actor, delivering stock performances in films such as The Forbidden Planet, Tammy and the Bachelor, and The Poseidon Adventure. Then in 1980 he was cast as Dr. Rumack in the film, Airplane! His character was to be a supporting role to larger parts played by Peter Graves and Robert Stack. But he stole the show with his comic timing and droll delivery.

Rumack: You'd better tell the Captain we've got to land as soon as we can. This woman has to be gotten to the hospital.
Elaine Dickinson: A hospital? What is it?
Rumack: It's a big building with patients, but that's not important right now.
After that it was nothing but lightmindedness, loud laughter, and evil speaking of the Lord's anointed.

Mayor: Now Drebin, I don't want any trouble like you had on the South Side last year, that's my policy.
Drebin: Well, when I see five weirdos, dressed in togas, stabbing a man in the middle of the park in full view of a hundred people, I shoot the bastards, that's *my* policy!
Mayor: That was a Shakespeare In The Park production of Julius Caesar, you moron! You killed five actors! Good ones!

Mrs. Nordberg: Oh, my poor Nordberg! He was such a good man, Frank. He never wanted to hurt anyone. Who would do such a thing?
Drebin: It's hard to tell. A gang of thugs, a blackmailer, an angry husband, a gay lover . . .

President George Bush: Frank, please consider filling a post I'm creating. It may mean long hours and dangerous nights surrounded by some of the scummiest elements in our society.
Drebin: You want me to be in your cabinet?

Drebin: I can't hear you! Don't fire the gun while you're talking!

Commissioner Anabell Brumford: (on telephone) Hello? He did what? How many animals escaped? Oh my god. (hangs up phone.)
Drebin: Good evening, commissioner. You're looking lovely tonight.
Commissioner Anabell Brumford: Do you realize that because of you this city is being overrun by baboons?
Drebin: Well, isn't that the fault of the voters?

I pity the priesthood holder who is assigned to do Leslie Nielsen's temple work, as it would be impossible not to envision Frank Drebin doing the same. Here's my take on that fantasy:

Lieutenant Drebin takes an unassuming seat some three rows back from the altar. The officiator dims the lights and begins the film. Only instead of God creating the universe, we get The Three Stooges bonking each other on the head. Drebin leaps from his seat, rushes up the aisle, knocks over the officiator, and begins fooling with the knobs behind the altar. The lights flicker on and off, the curtains go up and down, and The Three Stooges keep bonking each other. Then the altar explodes and sends Drebin flying through the veil and into the Celestial Room where he dangles from the crystal chandelier. The chandelier crashes down, the player piano blares from the speakers, and Drebin careens through the temple on a madcap romp that ends when he knocks the temple matron into the baptismal font, just after accidentally ripping off her dress.
Nothing to see here!

Comedies don't win many awards. It's usually the tragedies that attract the critics' attention. While I admire performers who accurately reflect real people's suffering, I sometimes wish we gave more credit to those who help to alleviate that suffering. To those who make us laugh. Leslie Nielson certainly made me laugh, and at a time in my life when I dearly needed to. He also taught me how to respond when a member of the Abbottsville Fourth Ward asks:
Well meaning ward member: Donna, surely you want to go to General Conference. What is it really?
Me: It's a mind-numbingly boring meeting run by a bunch of misogynistic homophobes, but that's not important right now. And don't call me Shirley.  
May he rest in peace.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving Etiquette -- Mormon Style

To: Abbottsville Fourth Ward
From: Millie Loomis, self-appointed ward media and culture critic
Subject: Holding my own at Thanksgiving

Back in the day, when my family gathered at my parents' house for Thanksgiving, we were all of one mind, one heart, one faith.

But thanks to today's turbulent times, that is no longer the case. 

I confess I have been in denial over this sad truth for some time. Two years ago I simply ignored the Obama sticker on my brother's van, likewise my nephew's "No on Prop. 8" tee shirt. When my youngest sister announced that she had broken off her engagement to pursue an Italian study abroad program, I held my tongue. At the time I didn't want to cause conflict at the dinner table. 

Instead I took the high road by bringing up neutral subjects like Glenn Beck's latest book, my favorite General Conference talks, and the joys of traditional marriage. 

Unfortunately, my inaction only laid the groundwork for a disastrous holiday the following year. 

Convinced that I was somehow "OK" with his extreme views, my brother turned on MSNBC before dinner with the volume high enough for my children to hear. My nephew boasted about his participation in a Pride parade. Worst of all, my youngest sister announced that over her past year in Italy, she had been drinking wine and living with somebody named Lucca, who was neither Mormon nor even her husband!!!

I again took the high road by introducing neutral subjects like the validity of our president's birth certificate, my favorite articles in The Ensign, and the rise of Internet porn.

I can only imagine what she's thinking!
My efforts were of no use. My son now believes that "gay people are happy," and my daughter wants to put off marriage to go to Italy -- not on a mission, not on a See Zion First tour -- but simply to LIVE!!

In order to avoid a similar trap this year, I emailed the following compassionate message to my siblings. Many of you may consider doing the same.

Dear (Loved Ones),

While I respect your agency and love you as individuals, I can no longer allow you to influence my children. This may be difficult for you to understand, but because I have moral values, I am trying to raise righteous children in the one and only true church. Out of respect for me and for my children's eternal salvation, I ask that this year our Thanksgiving dinner conversation be restricted to the following neutral topics: 

The Book of Mormon
President Monson
The good old U S of A
Why fornication is a sin
72 hour kits
Miserable souls who break The Word of Wisdom
The empty lives of female professionals
A cure for homosexuality
Grandma's tatting projects
How stupid intellectuals are

In spite of everything, I can't wait to see all of you. As usual, I will be bringing my super-yummy green bean and tater-tot souffle, also the maraschino cherry/Cool Whip mousse.  

We can all agree on tatting!

I sent the e-mail last week, and so far have not heard back from anyone, so I take that as a good sign. Wish me luck, brothers and sisters!

If you would like to stop receiving these e-mails, we'll send you Millie Loomis's favorite General Conference talks.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Musings From The Mission Field

To: abbottsville fourth ward
From: elder young, france paris mission
Subject: bon jour from the mission field!!!!

hey abbottsville fourth!!!!

first off, thanks all of you for your letters and care packages!! especially Sister Renfro for the super yummy fudge bombs, and mom for my favorite monster cookies with the extra chocolate chunks and gummy bears. my comp says i have the best ward ever!!!

we were bummed at the beginning of the week when we learnt that Madame Muzet's felony court sentencing date has been moved back so she can't be baptized until december. but then my comp reminded me that we were in gay par-ee, and we should be gay!!! lol (btw, by gay he meant happy, and I totally knew that by gay he meant happy, btw.)

so we put on our happy faces and rode our bikes over to Noter Dame to pass out pamphlets. at first nobody would take them, then comp and i started sticking them anywhere we could, like in people's bags, or under their armpits. comp even managed to slip one down the back of this guy's pants!!! lol sometimes people got all mad and threw them on the ground, but comp and i figured that was ok cause then the wind would just blow them all over france!!!     :-)))))

then this super cool guy rides up on his bike and introduces himself as Henri in ENGLISH!!! :-))))) he said he needed practice speaking and reading english. So right off we offered him the greatest work in the english language, The Book of Mormon!!!!! :-))))) He said he didn't want to read it, and I said yes he did, and he said no he didn't. i said have you ever red it? and he said no, and i said that he was being prideful and judging something he hadn't even red, and he said he didn't care, but he ended up taking it when comp tried to stuff it under his armpit. lol

we asked him if we could schedule an appointment to teach him, and he said he didn't want to be taught anything and got on his bike and road off. we knew he was just being prideful, so we got on our bikes and followed him. he speeded up, then we speeded up and pretty soon comp and i were in this super cool chase scene like in the Born Identity, only instead being CIA assassins, we were valiant warriors for the Lord, which made us way cooler than Matt Damon. i was amazed at how good the french drivers and pedestrians were at swerving to avoid our bicycles! just like in the movies!! :-))))) thanks to them we were able to stay on Henri's tail for idk how long, maybe an hour. then the chase came to an end when the handle of my scripture case hooked onto a rack at one of those outdoor book stalls and sent a gazillion antique postcards flying into the Sane River.
comp and i were kind of bummed after that, but we kept up our spirits and passed out more pamphlets to people who were either prideful or ignerant or downright satanic. this one old lady even pushed me down with her walker. i took it in stride. as a messanger of the Lord i realized that i have been blessed with more spiritual maturity and therefore must practice tolerence.

when we ran out of pamphlets we wandered over to a cafe to check the menu and who do you think we saw sitting at a table with a glass of wine? Henri!!!! :-)))))
we parked our bikes, grabbed a couple of chairs and joined him at his table. Henri covered his face with his hands and begged us to leave. i launched into the lesson while comp emptied the wine glass into a plant. then i remembered that the manual said that before each lesson we were supposed to get the investigator to pray, so i stopped and asked Henri to say a word of prayer, and he said no way, and i told him the manual said he had to, and he said he wouldn't, and i said he was being prideful. meanwhile the other people in the restaurant started to complain and this guy in an apron ran out and told us to leave. we told him we wouldn't leave until Henri prayed. the guy in the apron muttered some french words comp and i never learnt at the MTC and disappeared. then Henri bowed his head and said a short prayer that wasn't very revrent, but was a good enough start, and we stood to leave.

then 2 guys in aprons came out, each carrying a strawberry tart. only, instead of serving them to a table, they smooshed them into me and comp's faces. comp and i scraped the tarts off of our faces and into our bicycle helmets which we then used as bowls to eat out of. it's a technique we've developed by experience. french food is amazingly good, and it's surprising how often we get it for free like this!!! lol

on the way home we were kind of bummed when we saw that some of the strawberry cream filling had gotten all over our jackets and we didn't have any money to have them cleaned. then we realized the stains were really badges of honor -- like all battle scars heroes bring back from war -- and we wore them with pride!!!! :-)))))

please keep sending the letters and especially the care packages. my comp's from idaho, and all he ever gets are rice krispie treats and his mom's homemade fruit leather -- barely enough to sustain our testimonies.

love to all of you!!!!! :-)))))

elder young
france, paris misssion

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Friday, November 5, 2010

The Week That Was -- And Wasn't

To: Abbottsville Fourth Ward
From: Donna Banta
Subject: From the Sublime to the Ridiculous then back to the Sublime.

Mark and I began our week last Sunday doing what we do best -- pissing off the Religious Right. You got it, Fourth Warders, while you were locked up in your darkened houses observing the Sabbath, we mocked God by passing out candy to evil little urchins dressed in black and orange. At the same time, we watched our beloved black and orange baseball team win the fourth game in the World Series, beating the Texas Rangers.

Then on Monday night . . . well we all know what happened on Monday night. Because for once, both the Mormons and the Ex-Mormons were tuned in to the same channel.

It was the best Family Home Evening ever!

Then Tuesday's midterm election results sucked the Kum-bay-yah right out of the air, and we were again on different sides. -- Polarized over nonsensical issues such as the definition of marriage, the location of a mosque in Manhattan, and the validity of our president's birth certificate. As a fiscally conservative, socially progressive Republican, Mark couldn't understand why the (few) sensible members of his party lent their support to a bunch of right wing fanatics, knowing full well that their religious rhetoric was dangerous and their economic policy was irresponsible. As a liberal Democrat, I couldn't believe that my party who controlled the White House, Senate and Congress for two years and promised change couldn't even muster the strength to push through a measure allowing gays to serve openly in the military.

Perhaps what Washington needs is a cool-headed North Carolina rookie who pitched eight shut out innings against the Rangers, or a Columbian-born slugger who knocked a three-run homer into a sea of red at Texas Stadium, or a long-haired "freak" with a ninety mile an hour fast ball. Not once during the eight years of his presidency did George W. Bush come to San Francisco. But the Texas Rangers were here, and they fought the good fight.

Of course, that kind of courage only happens in sports.

On Wednesday morning Mark and I set our disappointment aside and rode the packed subway downtown for the parade.

Best friends for 33 years
It was only fitting that we met my former BYU roommate and BFF, Emily, who came straight from teaching early morning seminary in her East Bay LDS ward.

The crowd was ecstatic and the experience priceless.

Thank god nobody fell off the top of that Muni Bus!

When he got back to work, Mark discovered that half of his pictures didn't take because his camera's memory chip was overloaded -- SO HE MISSED GETTING ANY PICTURES OF THE PLAYERS!!

This blurred image of Bruce Bochy with the trophy is the last shot that registered. 

I may post more when Emily and other friends who were at the parade email them my way. (I am progressing slowly down the road to forgiveness. Last night I even allowed Mark to come inside and sleep on the couch.)

After the parade, Emily and I shopped in Chinatown and had a leisurely lunch at Cafe Claude. Religion never came up, nor did politics. Instead we discussed important things, like family, friends, good books, and, of course, baseball.

I am lucky. I am an Ex-Mormon whose best friend is a believing Mormon, and I'm a Democrat who is happily married to a Republican. But I know too many Ex-Mormons who have been shunned by their believing families and friends, and, like everyone, I have endured an endless amount of mind-numbing political debate. I am disturbed that our country is so divided, and that our national conversation has been monopolized by fundamentalist extremists. 

My dear friends from the Abbottsville Fourth Ward, it is no wonder that in contentious times such as these, many of us yearn for peace and spiritual well-being. For that reason, I am grateful for our membership in the one and only true, non-partisan, non-denominational Church of Baseball. 
In the name of cheese and rice, amen.