I actually would have forgotten all about the Logan Institute of Religion's closing social if I hadn't heard "Cupid Shuffle" earlier that day, which immediately reminded me. I believe every dance organized by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in North America is contractually obligated to include "Cupid Shuffle" and "Cha-Cha Slide". This one was different than normal, though, as it was hosted by a live DJ who played sort of a mixtape of all the songs with only a couple pauses for slow ones. The dance and the food were also the only options this time around. No games, no movie, no room hilariously labeled "The Friend Zone" where you could go make friends. But no choice paralysis, so that was nice. Of course I got food first, which I would have done even if the dance had started yet, which it hadn't, and sat down to eat in the dark gym where I hoped I could be left alone. But this guy, let's call him James, found me.
James was in my ward for a year or two until he aged out of it. He's one of those guys who will talk to you for half an hour no matter how little interest you show in what he's saying. Unlike most of those guys, however, he thinks he's some kind of holy man - he literally told me that everything he says or does is "sanctified" by the Holy Ghost so that he can say or do whatever he wants and remain temple worthy - with the mission to share his special, deep, made-up doctrine with anyone who will listen. This time around he told me about how the "Second Coming" doesn't actually refer to Christ returning to the Earth, but rather to the people of Zion coming together and coming up to meet him, or something, and the leaders of the Church just don't understand that yet. President Nelson, did, however, say in the last General Conference that time is running out, which James enthusiastically took as validation that "I'm not crazy!"
I just nodded through it like usual. I didn't know what else to do. He masterfully weaves unrelated and decontextualized scripture verses together to support his hypotheses, and I lack the skill to refute them on the spot. Besides, telling this kind of people they're wrong tends to just give them a persecution complex and reinforce their conviction. See also: anti-vaxxers. And I try to be nice to him because I know what it's like to be stigmatized for mental illness and I don't want to do that to someone else. But when he felt the need to tell me in graphic detail about his imaginary sex life that I never asked about, and called my dear friend Mackenzie whom he's never met a whore and servant of Satan, and got agitated while driving and started grabbing at imaginary demon-things he called "birds", and said he was working behind the scenes to stop the missionaries from baptizing those he deemed unworthy, I had to do something. I told the bishop everything and made it his problem. I felt bad, since he was new at being a bishop for the first time, but better him than me. Then James aged out of the ward and things calmed down for a couple years until the other night.
When he left to wander around I bolted from the gym and found a table in one of the lounges. I had to socialize, but so be it; at least I was safer. The dance was supposed to start at 7 so I returned to the gym only to find that it had been postponed by fifteen minutes, so I went back to the lounge and found a chair by the corner where I could be alone. Some girl perpendicular to me was still eating. Then "Joe" happened by. Joe is a regular fixture at the institute who looks for girls with athletic figures and then talks to them about football until they wish they were dead. I mean, I don't know what exactly they're thinking, but even I can tell they're not enjoying it. So he said "Hi" to this girl and she said "Hi" back and they stared each other down for a moment and I don't know how she did it, but he left. That was a surprise. Another surprise happened when she subsequently turned to me and said, "And how are you, Chris?"
Sometimes I feel like I have real honest-to-goodness dementia. It's absurd how often someone addresses me by name and I don't even recognize their face. Apparently this was someone from my ward named Jessica who's friends with Amelia Whitlock whom I quoted in the blurb for this blog, and she said Amelia recently noticed that and got all excited but I could have sworn I asked permission to use it in the first place so I thought she already knew that. Jessica asked what I was doing and I said I was reading an article on my phone about computer reconstructions of historical figures' heads and she said that was cool. I tried to scroll down to George Washington and show her, but my phone chose that time to replace the article with a choppy white screen and the moment I got to him she said "See ya" and left.
Then the dance started and I wandered in because a. there was nothing else to do and b. I never get to play my music that loud at home. So that went on and then the first of two slow songs came on and the DJ complained that there were too many ladies not being asked to dance. As generous as I am, there was nothing I could do to single-handedly solve that problem, and I don't typically ask strangers to dance anyway because in my view it's one of the least efficient ways to meet people. I looked around for somebody I knew. Technically I knew Jessica now, so I figured I'd ask her if I could find her. But someone very unexpectedly tapped me on the shoulder and asked me first, having either taken pity on me or taken her destiny into her own hands. So we walked sideways in a circle and demonstrated why this is one of the least efficient ways to meet people.
Me: WHAT'S YOUR NAME?
Me: WITH A 'T' AS IN 'TRAILER'?
I thought she said Tori, but I had to verify that it wasn't Corrie because that's technically a woman's name and even if it wasn't, you can never be sure. Given that she's from Utah I can't even be sure that "Tori" isn't spelled with four m's and a silent q. We had a nice conversation, all things considered, but it was over so fast, which is the other reason why this is one of the least efficient ways to meet people. After two or three minutes we just knew a few basic facts about each other, mostly about me because she asked most of the questions because I was still perplexed that this was happening, and then we high-fived and there was little else to do. Maybe this works for attractive guys, but I don't feel like I can ask for someone's number or add them on Facebook after two or three minutes of small talk, and I actually gave up years ago on asking for numbers without a legitimate reason at all because texting them and getting no response got old fast. I'm not likely ever going to see her again. So this experience left me more depressed than if nothing had happened. Don't get me wrong, though, I do appreciate Tori for being nice and assertive.
Eventually I needed a water break and there I ran into the missionaries, or rather I chased them down and demanded to know why they haven't visited me yet. Sister Black asked if I'd been dancing and meeting girls and whatever, and I said yes, but I guess she didn't hear me because she pushed me back to the gym. She pushed me with the fingertips of one hand, and I could have easily resisted or moved aside, but they wanted to come to my endowment if possible so I needed to discuss that with them anyway so I decided to just cooperate and let her feel like she was doing a good deed by forcing me to be sociable. I happen to know that she wants to travel the world by herself instead of getting married, so it seems slightly hypocritical, but whatever. I talked as I let her push me and then we reached the gym doors and the second of the two slow songs came on, which made her extra insistent that I go ask a girl to dance. I would have taken fifteen seconds, tops, to finish talking to the missionaries and then gone in and maybe found Tori and asked her to dance again if that wasn't too weird. But James showed up again.
James literally pushed me aside - a gentle push, like Sister Black's, though unlike Sister Black he's big enough to pound me into a pancake if he wanted - and started talking to the missionaries as if I wasn't there. He launched right into his special doctrine. I zoned out and only caught a few words here and there, but it went down exactly like the last time I lingered nearby while he talked to missionaries. One companion stared at him, enraptured, while the other glanced at me and smiled as if to say, "Is this for real? Are you hearing this too? At least I'm not alone." For at least five minutes he talked to them, long past the end of the second and final slow song, ignoring my telepathic pleas that could have been accurately bowdlerized as "Go away." At long last he did, and we wandered away in a daze. Sister Black, the one who'd smiled at me, said, "That was the craziest person I've ever met!"
"Was that your first time?" I asked.
"Yes," she said. "You know him?" I said I did, and we finished talking, and she characterized his interruption as "rude" which made me feel better that I wasn't the only one annoyed by it. If I have to suffer, other people should too. That's just fair. I'm glad I'm no longer the craziest person she's ever met.
The following evening USU held its monthly "Poetry and a Beverage" event. It was Glasses' final performance. I wrote years ago about my fiction writing group members whom I dubbed Bracelets, Redhead, and Glasses, and those were stupid pseudonyms and I usually don't even bother with pseudonyms anymore, but I stuck with them for the sake of consistency even though I think I only mentioned Redhead and Glasses one more time after that. At that time I described the latter as "a culturally unorthodox Mormon who hates society, speaks his mind and swears a lot", and that's still pretty accurate except that we're not supposed to say "Mormon" anymore. He's a real cool guy and I've talked to him and seen him around over the years but I just never wrote about him because our conversations are none of your business.
He's a master of rhythmic, almost rap-like, humorous and unfiltered poetry that he's performed at almost evey PoBev while here, and as far as USU is concerned, last night was his magnum opus. (As far as I'm concerned, his magnum opus is still the ode to Oreos that he wrote back in 2015. Good luck ever topping that one, pal.) It was long and covered a lot of unrelated topics, kind of like my early blog posts but actually entertaining, and included enough opinions to offend everyone in the room. Among other things he reflected on his time at USU, his positive memories and his less positive memories and the fact that tuition has risen 22% while he was here even though the national average increase was only 9%. He listed some things that everyone is supposed to love that he doesn't love (like animals, babies, and Bernie Sanders).
He concluded by expressing exactly how he felt about certain aspects of USU and college in general, repeating the same colorful four-letter verb as a mantra for each aspect. A very few people got up and left at that point, but when he finished he got the loudest and most enthusiastic applause of any act I saw that night or at any other time. The organizers were well aware of his previous contributions and smart enough to save him for last. I know I can't do justice to his poetry or convey its appeal with my weak summary, but this being his last time and all I wanted to pay tribute. He and a couple other people have asked when I'm going to perform at PoBev. I'm thinking probably never, but stranger things have happened. I just can't think of any.
Last weekend would have been a nice little stake conference if not for just a couple things: the guy behind me who bumped or jiggled my chair at least eighty times, and the departure of President Fjeldsted (pronounced with a silent j and a silent d) from the Stake Presidency. So just like a sacrament meeting five years ago almost to the day when he stopped being my bishop, this stake conference left me sitting here like
Except without a beautiful princess who's secretly my sister to comfort me despite having recently experienced her own loss of colossally greater magnitude that hardly anybody seems to care about. My life is so empty.
I first met Brother Fjeldsted in September 2012 after a summer of insomnia-induced inactivity from church. My faith was never lost, but it wasn't strong enough to get me out of bed for nine a.m. church after five hours of sleep. When fall semester rolled around, though, I knew I needed the emotional anchor of regular church attendance back in my life, and I also realized that I was an idiot because I could have just gone to another congregation that met in the afternoon. So I did. I went to another ward and I met a couple of really nice people who made me feel much more comfortable than I did in either of my previous YSA wards, and I knew I was at home, and then I met with the bishop one evening and informed him that I wasn't technically part of his ward and he said I needed to go to my real ward because he had no priesthood jurisdiction over the block where I lived. He brought me to the stake presidency, who reiterated what he said and added, "If we let people ward-hop, everyone would just go wherever the cutest girls are."
The stake presidency brought me to my real bishop, Bishop Fjeldsted, who conveniently was just waiting in his office. I was not in a good mood. I thought this business of something as trivial as my address being the determining factor of where I belonged spiritually made little or no sense, but I kept that to myself. I figured I would just sit out this meeting with this guy and then go inactive again.
Since I was already not in a good mood, I put up walls before the conversation even started. I figured this guy would want to know why I hadn't been to church for a while and why, for that matter, I wasn't off somewhere else on a mission like I was supposed to be at nineteen, and I tried to forestall those unwelcome inquiries by somewhat petulantly explaining those things before he could ask. But Bishop Fjeldsted, a meek, unassuming man with a huge smile, didn't care about them. He disregarded them altogether and simply expressed his happiness and gratitude for me being here. Somehow by the end of the meeting I was willing to come back, at nine a.m. on Sunday.
Bishop Fjeldsted recommended I get to know Peter, the Elders Quorum president. I resisted that idea because I wasn't keen on being friends with someone who was assigned to be my friend. But Peter was so persistent that eventually his genuine goodness won me over. This post isn't about him. I should write a post about him at some point. Both of these great men, in any case, became people I could confide in. Peter was a peer, but Bishop Fjeldsted was the first "adult" figure in my life that I could share personal things with and not regret it. He turned out to be from New York and have an Aspie child, so in some ways he was probably better prepared to understand me than I could have dreamed of. I grew to love him and the 36th Ward almost immediately. Not bad for arbitrary geography.
(Since then, I became aware of others who attended my ward despite not living in its boundaries or, in the case of one 37-year-old woman, its targeted age demographic. Years later when I informed a high councillor that I was temporarily defecting to the 35th Ward, he said, quote, "Just go wherever the cutest girls are. That's what I would do." Close quote.)
Bishop Fjeldsted and Peter were there to support me through probably the worst period of my life, when I almost lost my faith, starved to death, got evicted, and/or killed myself on more than one occasion. They helped plenty with my temporal struggles in their church capacities, but also dispensed plenty of advice and priesthood blessings for the emotional ones that seemed even more hopeless. In particular, a couple of quotes from Bishop Fjeldsted will stick with me forever. In one sacrament meeting he said, "Pride has no intrinsic value, but we're willing to sacrifice everything for it." And that blew my freaking mind. On another occasion, as I cried in his office, he mused, "Our society gives women a free pass to lie for their convenience." And that little observation is why he'll never become a General Authority despite being fully qualified.
Of course I felt cheated when he was pulled into the stake presidency. I had built up this relationship with him over a year and a half, and now I was expected to just transfer it over to this new Bishop I'd never even met? It didn't work like that. I had to start over building a relationship from scratch with the new guy, until they replaced him too. I'm not crazy about this system. I'm sure bishops appreciate being let go after a few years, though. Except when they get immediately transferred into the stake presidency.
But as a member of the stake presidency, President Fjeldsted still said hi and asked how things were going whenever he saw me, not in the fake way that everyone else does, but as an actual question looking for an honest answer. I still sought his advice a couple times. When I was running myself ragged doing chores and errands almost every day for a friend with Lyme disease that hardly anyone seemed to care about, he told me that I shouldn't overexert myself because she wasn't my responsibility. At the time his advice seemed callous. Now, however, I wish I had internalized it and followed it when a "friend" from high school who hadn't spoken to me for nine years decided to start asking for my money, because if I had told her where she could go after the first couple times, I could have saved myself from months of hell. I'll never make that mistake again. Anyway.
So last weekend I said goodbye to him and his wife, and they reminisced about how long they've known me, and he said to stay in touch, and he said "I'm proud of how you've handled everything." And nobody's ever said that to me in my life. I thought I would have to wait until I pass to the other side and fall into Jesus' arms to hear that. Sometimes it feels like my mistakes and shortcomings are all that matter to anyone else. So that was cool.
Speaking of death, I dreamed the other night that I went back to New York and found my dog Milo living alone in the woods. I took him to the Kellers' place to play with their dogs, as I often did. But even before I woke up I realized I was dreaming because Milo has been dead for some time and that just took all the fun out of it. In my dream, I almost cried a couple times. I was never able to muster more than a couple tears for him in real life, though I tried. I wanted to experience the normal, healthy emotions of grief. But I had already resigned myself to the fact that he would die much too early and I would have to slog through God knows how many more years of this mortality crap before I can rejoin him. I had this exchange with Bracelets the other day, in fact, after she read through the acknowledgements and blurbs of my book draft that she promised to feedback:
I generally think about the hereafter it in terms of my dog because no humans who were particularly close to me have ever died. My church tends to emphasize the whole "eternal families" thing, but so far I'm much more interested in its additional teaching that animals also have spirits and will be resurrected into eternal bliss. And that makes sense because a heaven without dogs is a poor excuse for a heaven. Maybe I dreamed about Milo because Easter was approaching, or maybe it's just a coincidence, but I've decided to make it meaningful for me regardless.
Also, have a picture of me and him because it seems appropriate. This was taken in high school, so the better part of a decade ago. My grotesquely long arms are a little bit less grotesquely long now.
BYU, Alien Comics, and Star Wars
Brigham Young University has been in the news this week for its Honor Code that it makes prospective students agree to. While I personally would despise living under the Honor Code, I respect BYU's right to have it in place to foster the sort of environment it wants, and recognize that it's a positive experience for the vast majority of students who go there. Nonetheless, the way it's applied and enforced has been a nightmare for some. To be clear, this is all they're complaining about on the Instagram page "Honor Code Stories", which has a lot of followers - I've seen several articles that cited the number of followers but when I went to the link the number was already higher than that, so I'm not going to bother. I fully support these students' cause and wish them the best. Again, this has nothing to do with trying to abolish the Honor Code or even change what's included in it, despite what some Latter-day Saints who belittle these students without reading what their actual grievances are would have you believe.
Anyway, I thought that now would be a good opportunity to recollect the time I made some young ladies at BYU break the Honor Code. It was long enough ago that I don't think they'll face any repercussions even if their identities are discovered from the zero identifying information I'll provide. It was December 2013, and I was returning to Utah from New York after Christmas, but winter weather delayed the plane so much that we arrived after Salt Lake Express stopped running. As good fortune would have it, my friend Laura was returning to Utah from Vermont on the same flight, and happened to know a group of BYU students on the same flight, and she arranged for us to both crash at their apartment. Instead of, you know, on the airport floor. I realized in hindsight that having me, a member of the opposite sex, in their apartment overnight was a violation of the Honor Code. And I couldn't possibly be less sorry. As Nicholas Cage would say, "Here's to the women who did what was considered wrong, in order to do what they knew was right."
A hair salon in Provo is also under fire for only including white, mostly blonde women in its ads. And normally I'm all in favor of diversity, but in this case it would actually constitute false advertising because, um, hello, this is Provo we're talking about. It makes the rest of Utah look like the United Nations. But unfortunately that's only the second stupidest controversy I heard about this week.
Recently the comics of Nathan W. Pyle have taken the internet by storm. Using aliens and fancy words, he portrays everyday situations that humans take for granted in a new light, humorously exposing how weird they actually are.
As an Aspie, I've known my entire life that human society is weird and frequently stupid and that most social norms are arbitrary if not flat-out stupid, but until I found a like-minded community on the internet I was always told that "that's the way it is" and I'm the one who's wrong for thinking differently. The Aspie-alien connection is very real. One of if not the largest online autism community isn't called "Wrong Planet" for nothing. I have to say that never being able to fully integrate or feel comfortable in society is a worthwhile price to pay for the ability to see through its crap. And this comic sort of validates. But then... this happened. Or rather, this happened some time ago and then some intrepid researcher brought it to light just the other day.
Naturally, I am horrified to discover that Nathan W. Pyle appears to share the pro-life Christian views of tens of millions of other Americans. His gratitude that his girlfriend's life was not cut short in infancy obviously makes him a terrible excuse for a human being who wants women to be forced incubators. I cannot in good conscience follow him or read his comics any more.
Oh wait, no. That's literally one of the stupidest things I've ever heard. And I only wish it were a straw man, instead of the accurate representation of mindless pro-abortion outrage that it actually is, up to and including the asinine phrase "forced incubators". So now Nathan W. Pyle is forced to defend himself for holding a viewpoint that some of his former fans don't think is acceptable. As if that weren't stupid enough already, notice that the majority of pro-life Christian sentiment is actually contained in the tweet that he retweeted, which was written by a woman. But none of the hate is directed at the woman. Because if it was, the haters would be forced to recognize how stupid they sound telling a woman that she wants women to be forced incubators. But of course, men aren't allowed to have an opinion on the sanctity of life because something something logical fallacy. Except pro-choice men, who are exempt from the logical fallacy because reasons. This particular man is just agreeing with a woman, but that's not okay either because pro-life women are officially supposed to not exist.
Look, obviously you have no obligation to like or follow social media channels devoted to the promulgation of ideas that you disagree with. However, when you go to the trouble of culling friends or public figures for simply holding those ideas, your social media feeds become little more than monuments to your own narcissism. Even more so than they already are by default, I mean. The internet becomes a fantasy world where all good, honest, right-minded people think, believe, and vote exactly like you do. Over time this literally makes you stupider as you forget how to process anything that isn't what you want to hear. It also makes you a jerk to anyone who does manage to break through your echo chamber with cogent reasoning. And in cases like this, where Nathan W. Pyle was doing little or nothing to promote his personal views through the artwork that everyone came to his page to see, it's just a total waste of shunning. It would be like if I stopped listening to Sheryl Crow or watching movies with Harrison Ford because I don't agree with every detail of their politics. Stupid, right?
Yeah, some people take positions so morally repugnant that you can't stand to be associated with them. That's fair. But if you think being pro-life is one of those positions, then no offense, but you're kind of stupid. If you can't grasp any good or honest reasons why a person acting in good faith would reach the conclusion that taking the life of a human organism in its early stages of development is wrong, but instead insist on making up stupid crap about how they're just masking their burning desire for women to be forced incubators, you're no better or smarter than someone who thinks you want to murder every baby in the world. It's also worth noting that there are tens of millions of pro-lifers in the United States and their numbers increase every year, so looking down on them as if they're some laughably outnumbered deviation from acceptable ways of thinking is not only arrogant, but delusional. I would even go so far as to guess that more of Nathan W. Pyle's fans support him for this tweet than otherwise. But it ultimately should have zero relevance to his alien comics.
Now, if there were any actual evidence of Nathan W. Pyle, say, screaming at pregnant women outside abortion clinics, shooting abortionists, or blowing up abortion clinics - stuff that for some reason is often represented as the norm while pro-choice violence, harassment, and rape threats go blissfully ignored - then he would be a piece of scum and losing his social media following should be the least of his consequences. However, I'm unaware of any evidence that anyone's life has been negatively impacted in any way by his gratitude that his girlfriend lived to adulthood. But because people are idiots, he had to take to Twitter again to run damage control after they ate him alive for it.
I'm sure the Christianity aspect (which, again, originated with the woman that he retweeted) has nothing to do with the outrage against Nathan W. Pyle, because Christians have a persecution complex and are not actually mistreated or stigmatized in the United States at all. Still, his claim to believe in separation of church and state is dubious in light of this scandal. From what I've been able to gather in my observations, separation of church and state means that religious people aren't supposed to have political opinions or express their beliefs outside of a church building. And if, God forbid, churches themselves want to get involved in politics, then they should start paying taxes because holding them to a different standard than literally all other non-profit organizations makes sense. It seems to me that Nathan W. Pyle already violated separation of church and state with his infamous retweet, which forced his beliefs on people by acknowledging them in a place where people could read them. But I'll let it slide this once because we all make mistakes.
I agree wholeheartedly with his closing sentence, yet find it laughable that he thinks the Democrats are any better. But I'll let that slide too because, oh yeah, I almost forgot, I like his comics. His votes can go toward the Pansexual Vegan Anarcho-Communist Party for all I care.
"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend." - Thomas Jefferson to William Hamilton, April 22, 1800
Now, it would be remiss of me not to mention some considerably happier news even if just for the two of you who haven't heard already. Behold:
I must admit this teaser comes nowhere close to recapturing the excitement I felt as an almost-12 year old seeing the "Revenge of the Sith" teaser, probably because this time I know there will be future Star Wars movies of varying quality until well after I die, but the bit at the end definitely got my attention. I can only describe it as
Over a year ago I wrote a post about why diversity takes a long time to "trickle up" through top leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and why it isn't the systemic problem some people think it is, so I'm not going to rehash that here, but if you bother to read it you'll see that subsequent events have further vindicated everything I said. Of course, though it "doesn't matter", I remain a huge fan of diversity and I'm very pleased that none of the ten General Authorities called this past Saturday were born in Utah. They were born in Argentina, Puerto Rico, the Netherlands, California, Chile, New York, California, Washington, Hong Kong, and Argentina, respectively. And let's be honest, we all know that while ostensibly the same country, for most intents and purposes Washington, California and New York are separate planets from Utah. This diversity will retroactively be amplified even further when Trump sells California back to Mexico.
Peter Johnson got some attention for being the first African-American General Authority - not the first black one, which happened in 1990, but the first black one from the United States. And this has some significance because the Church has struggled a lot more in making headway among black people in the United States than in many African countries. Black people in the United States have a history of systematic discrimination and persecution based on skin color that most black people in Africa, excluding South Africa, don't, so they understandably tend to have a harder time forgiving the Church's own historical hiccups in that area. Also, they tend to be less than impressed with our bland music (but then, so are plenty of white people). I know and/or have listened to several African-Americans online and in person who are members of the Church who still have a problem with both of these issues. Of course these are just general trends that explain the disparate growth trends we see, and not meant to be taken as stereotypes that apply to everyone everywhere.
Peter Johnson, in any case, is even more interesting than that. He is also the first former Muslim General Authority (having converted to Islam before he converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) and more than likely the first former rapper General Authority (having been part of a rap group during his preteen years that performed at community events). If he raps his first General Conference talk and quotes the Quran, I will officially bestow upon him the coveted title of Coolest Person on Planet Earth. So yesterday was a good day. It also happened to be The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' 189th birthday and my soon-to-be-missionary sister's nineteenth birthday but, contrary to what many Latter-day Saints believe based on a misreading of D&C 20:1, probably not Jesus Christ Himself's birthday.
Today, I had the privilege of attending the final session with some guy I just met who had a car. He wondered why we had to leave so early, and I said traffic would probably be pretty bad as we got close, and he expressed his surprise that traffic was pretty bad as we got close. Honestly, General Conference must be the Salt Lake Police Department's least favorite four days of the year. But we got there and then we just had to drive around for another ten minutes looking for a place to park, and in the process got to stop at six traffic lights. As I looked up the hill to the Capitol Building I was reminded of my participation in a protest march a couple years ago, and I made the mistake of mentioning that, and the guy asked what for and I had to tell him and I'm very sorry for bringing up politics during a church event. But you can read my account of that protest here on your own time.
We did eventually find a place that we hopefully wouldn't get towed from, and got out and walked, and I saw a mural that was new since my last visit and it was so compelling that I had to stop and take a picture. My name for it, which I'm sure is superior to whatever name the artist has for it, is "The Owl Who Ate a Rainbow and Had Explosive Crystalline Diarrhea". It should be part of a Skittles ad campaign if it isn't already.
As we waited at a crosswalk, two young ladies dressed for Conference walked up behind us and assaulted even my virtually non-functional nostrils with some kind of lotion and/or perfume stuff. After a few moments of hesitation, I rationalized that I would not likely ever see them again and could safely seize this opportunity to practice being smoother than the cream cheese on your bagel.
Me: One of you smells really nice.
Them: *giggle* Thanks. *giggle*
Me: Maybe both of you, I don't know.
So the guy I just met and I walked a couple more blocks, lost the young ladies and reached the Conference Center. Last year, Blaire Ostler and Peter Moosman stood outside by the Conference Center with signs that read "Hug a Bisexual Mormon" and "Hug a Gay Mormon", respectively. I was pleased to see that this year they a. did it again, b. followed the prophet's counsel to refer to themselves as Latter-day Saints, and c. increased their numbers by 150%. Blaire Ostler was busy talking to someone, so I hugged the two before her and the two after her and came back to her and said, "I missed you," and she might have taken that completely the wrong way but I guess she was cool with it. I hope these people will come back year after year and continue augmenting their numbers. Maybe they'll even let me join them when the Church is ready to acknowledge that asexual people exist. Their faith and fortitude is mind-blowing and augments mine. Few people or experiences of my life have touched my cold, dead heart more than the transgender woman who hugged me today and said, "Welcome to Conference."
I wanted to take a picture of them. I didn't because I was afraid it would be dehumanizing somehow, but now I think that concern was stupid and I wish I had and if I had this is where I'd put it.
So those wonderful LGBT Saints provided diversity, and I provided neurodiversity, and other people provided more obvious diversity by coming from all over the world with their different languages, skin colors, grooming and fashion. I especially love to see the Polynesian men who wear these - I know they're not dresses, but I don't know what they're called, and I don't want to be disrespectful at all, but they kind of look like dresses made of dress pants material, but anyway my point is I love that they wear these as their Sunday best instead of feeling pressured to follow American norms. The line went surprisingly fast but then our tickets didn't work and we had to go to a special door where they fixed our tickets or something. Because this problem was addressed, we were only a couple minutes late and I won't leave a terrible Yelp review for the Conference Center. We sat on the terrace in the very back with several Latino Saints who talked to each other in Spanish while I rudely eavesdropped to brush up on my rusty Spanish skills. Most of them put on headphones to listen to an overdub of the talks.
I took off my suit at one point, and then tried to put it back on at one point without getting in anybody's face, but one sleeve slipped out of my grasp and hit the man next to me. Not so it would hurt, of course, but I presume he was trying to pay attention to Elder Rasband's talk and I had just jarred him out of it, and I felt very bad and without thinking I blurted out "Sorry." In a whisper, so as not to distract everyone else too. Now I'm not sure if this particular man even knew English, because when they filed in the usher said something and this man asked another guy what the usher said and the guy repeated it in Spanish for him, so I just hope he at least knew what "Sorry" meant. With lightning-fast reflexes and without a word he held my sleeve up so I could put my arm in. "Thank you," I said, again being instinctively stupid, but I'm sure he knew what that meant because every English speaker on the planet knows what "Gracias" and "Merci" mean.
I would not have been surprised by any number of temple announcements. There could have been zero, after a whopping nineteen last year, but President Nelson doesn't strike me as the type to slow down and I was thinking anywhere between three and eighteen. We got eight, which was decent. In these announcements we see the continuation of President Nelson's priority to bring temples to Latter-day Saints in all corners of the Earth even if their numbers don't quite seem to justify it on paper. Most of these temples were anticipated by those of us who have no life and think about these things to be announced within a few years, but none of them were the highest on most of our lists. I will not be directly affected by any of these temples anytime soon, but I rejoice for those who will, which I'm sure included several in the audience. After the closing prayer, the man who'd helped me with my jacket turned around and embraced the man behind him, who said in Spanish with moist eyes, "Such emotion, brother... such emotion. Antofagasta."
Then the guy I just met took a picture of me to prove I was there and help me someday plead my case for why I should pretty please be allowed into heaven just this once please. Unlike most pictures of me, this one came out not looking like something that I want to kill with fire, so that's just one more evidence that the Church is true.
What did I actually gain from the actual messages in the actual talks, one may ask? Mostly just that I need to change the things that I already knew I needed to change and had every intention of changing someday when I get around to it, if I have to, I guess. I hope to gain even more insight by rewatching the talks at a later date (which of course I would encourage anyone else to do as well by following this link) when I'm no longer so tired that it's painful to keep my eyes open. These, however, were a few refreshing tidbits:
President Uchtdorf's reality check re: unwarranted triumphalism about the growth of the Church
Elder Andersen's acknowledgement that he doesn't understand my circumstances re: the Family Proclamation, but the Lord does
Elder Gong's disclosure of his struggle with insomnia that makes me a little less angry with God about mine
And that's all I have to say about this weekend right now but I hope we can do this again sometime.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, so you can't, unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.