I've just recently completed my third involuntary move this year, and it had fine well better be the last one for a good long while. It was the first time since 2012 that I had to call around to a bunch of apartments which, to recap, is slightly below "stabbing myself in the groin with an ice pick" on my list of favorite activities. So I'm very, very grateful to my friend Terrah for volunteering to make all the actual calls for me, helping me move, and giving me food after I had to spend most of the contents of my bank account on this contract. I feel as though I should grovel at her feet or follow her around like in those TV show episodes where Character A saves Character B's life and Character B tries to repay Character A by following them around and being a nuisance. She says, however, that my friendship is payment enough. Most peculiar.
I somehow ended up in a highly coveted spot that's pretty cheap but not a total craphole, in the same complex where I used to chill on the porch with the infamous Debbie. And her neighbor used to chill with us and we both liked her and were jealous of each other at the same time without knowing it, but she's long gone and he still lives here and we're friends and when I found this contract for sale, I thought that was really cool and snatched it right up without remembering to clarifiy once and for all that it was a private room. The complex has both shared and private rooms but I was specifically looking for a private room because I'd rather sleep in a dumpster than a shared room. So I got to stress about that for a couple weeks but I tried to relax and remember that whatever abuse God sees fit to subject me to is for my own good. Come to find out, it is a private room and I only have one roommate because there are only two bedrooms because the laundry room takes up the space where a third bedroom would otherwise be. I will praise and adore my God forever.
It's well worth the tradeoff of being able to hear every footstep my upstairs neighbors make, and having the view outside the living room and bedroom windows blocked by recycle and garbage bins, respectively. And I'm only a little bit upset that the second time I used the dryer, the coin slot got stuck so that I'm out fifty cents but neither I nor anyone else can actually dry clothes with it for the foreseeable future. And I do mean stuck. I mean I literally pulled on the slot with both hands while propping my feet up against the dryer door. My next thought was to whack it with a hammer, which would be therapeutic whether or not it worked, but I restrained myself. I'm only a little bit upset about that. If it never ever happens again I'll be fine.
I love this place, but it's bittersweet at the same time to leave the stake, let alone the ward, that I've been in for seven years. I wanted to leave but also I didn't want to leave. I have a lot of good memories and a lot of horrific memories associated with the Logan YSA 36th Ward and I guess what it comes down to is that I needed a change and a fresh start, for psychological reasons if nothing else. Everyone who was there when I showed up is long gone and now so am I. The vicinity I lived in was ideal for other reasons, and almost everywhere I go on a regular basis is a bit farther away now, but taking different routes to get there is nice. I've been walking to Utah State University's campus the same two ways for seven years. The first time I walked to it from this place was nothing short of exhilirating. That feeling alone convinced me, rationally or not, that better things are yet to come.
I'm even ridiculously excited about the new school year that I'm not a part of. I love the atmosphere on campus when it bustles with people and activity, and I've missed that over the summer. I like being able to go to campus when I want to be around people, and go home when I want to be alone. I'm excited for all the incoming freshmen with their whole lives ahead of them, and I hope they'll make better choices than I did and have a better experience than I did. And I love the campus itself, the trees and the grass and the buildings, even for all the painful memories I have with it and the changes it's undergone and the fact that it's not a living thing. I love it deeply just like I love this town. They've both become a part of me, and I'm sorry if I sound high or something but nostalgia really hits me hard. Maybe I do need a change and a fresh start, but there are worse places to be stuck.
I consider myself an intellectual. In making this statement, I'm not claiming to be particularly smart, or to have any legitimate scholarly credentials beyond a Bachelor's degree in English, or to be in anything approaching the same league as scores of deservedly more famous intellectuals whom I idol- um I mean wor- um I mean admire. I actually do think I'm rather smart, and I think almost anybody who knows me would vouch for that fact, and I think most of my writing speaks for itself, and for whatever it's worth I probably know more about the history of black people in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints than almost anyone else in the world, but that's not what I'm primarily referring to when I say that I consider myself an intellectual.
What I'm referring to is the way I look at the world, and especially at faith, which is probably the most core component of my worldview. Every faith will have its mysteries and its inconsistencies, but I strongly believe that any faith worth embracing will, to a reasonable extent, satisfy the mind as well as the heart. I believe in analyzing and researching and asking questions and not being satisfied with stupid answers. An "I don't know" is always better than a stupid answer. Without downplaying the spiritual or "inspired" nature of religion, I enjoy looking at it through secular paradigms to see what insights they bring. For example, much of the success of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and many of the changes in it over the decades, make sense in light of Armand Mauss's theory that a religion needs to find an "optimal tension" with the surrounding society to stand out as different enough without alienating everyone.
There are those who think this kind of worldview is borderline sacrilegious, that secular paradigms are prideful or something, that religion occurs in a vaccum and every word or action or change is inspired for no other reason than that's the way God wants it, full stop. I used to be rather fundamentalist in my thinking too. When I had my first faith crisis and started finding information to deal with it, I tried to put my faith back together exactly like it was before, and doubled down and became even more fundamentalist. Everything in the Church is perfect; there are no problems here except the ones fabricated by evil and dishonest anti-Mormons. But this way of thinking turned out to be untenable because it was, frankly, wrong. The world isn't simple and it isn't black and white and religious matters, no matter how much we may want to deny the human element that the divine will always be filtered through and hampered by, are no exception. Just writing that makes me feel pretentious, but it's true so whatever.
Here's what it comes down to. God gave me a brain. Because he expects me to not trust solely in my own brain, it does not therefore follow that he expects me to turn it off. Because he left unanswered questions, it does not therefore follow that I'm not supposed to look for the answers. There's a thing called nuance. Anyway, Nathan B. Oman recently published this Interpeter article that I think every Latter-day Saint should read.
Abstract: This is a challenging moment for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- day Saints. Both its efforts at retention and missionary work are less effective than they have been in the past. At this moment, what is the most important task facing Latter-day Saint intellectuals? In contrast to those who argue that faithful thinkers and writers should focus either on defending the faith or providing criticisms of the Church’s failings, this essay argues that the Latter-day Saint clerisy should focus on celebrating the Restoration and finding new language in which to express what makes the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ a compelling and attractive force in people’s lives. The language which we have used in the past no longer seems to be as compelling as once it was. This is unsurprising. The history of the Church shows a cyclical pattern focused on missionary work, with seasons of harvest giving way to fallow times and seasons of planting. However, over time the Church tends to transform itself in the image of its most successful messages for proclaiming the Gospel. Latter-day Saint intellectuals have an important, albeit subordinate, role in finding such messages. Pursuing the project of celebrating the Restoration need not involve either usurping the prerogatives of Church leaders nor compromising one’s intellectual integrity. In this moment in the history of the Church, it is the most important project to which Latter-day Saint thinkers can turn their attention.
Sounds great, right? So this is one of those aforementioned other intellectuals who's way out of my league, since I don't typically use so many fancy words, but I feel I still have something to offer along the lines he's suggesting if I can just figure out what it is. I note also his very clear humility throughout. Some people assume that we self-proclaimed intellectuals don't know our place and think we're better than everone else. Okay, so I'm a bad example because I'm not all that humble and I do think I'm better than some people who are idiots. Sue me. But even so, my analytical and inquisitive approach is precisely because I know that I don't know everything and I'm not satisfied with my ignorance. Anyway, this was apparently one of those people:
*puts on mansplainer glasses* Well, ackchewelly, rocket science is part of the gospel. Literally. *takes off mansplainer glasses but keeps them nearby for my next post about abortion* I mean, I get where he's coming from, really, but the article is a call to action to address real issues and he basically responded with "Everything is fine and we don't need to do anything." I don't believe that's what faith is about or what God would want. I replied - or rather I meant to post this as a direct reply to his comment, but I appear to have made it a separate comment instead, but I never said I was infallible, okay - so anyway, I commented:
And a few minutes later I received this email:
And of course that made me feel like
I do wish to add, though, that while Oman's observations about secularism and the decline in church growth and decreased success of the missionary program are all accurate, they are of course not universal. Some countries are enjoying exponential growth that's simply failing to make a dent in the prevailing trend because it's such a small percentage in the total. For example, Nigeria. The Church is doing very well in Nigeria. It's just still very tiny and unknown to most Nigerians. And really the main reason I wanted to bring this up is so I could change the subject to my friend Chichikana El'Shadai Shungu, a Congolese missionary serving in the Nigeria Enugu Mission, who returns home in a couple weeks and recently shared with me pictures from his latest baptisms. This is from a group (a step below a branch) in Oju, Benue State. Pictures re-shared with permission.
Elder Shungu says, "I am very happy for this privilege that has been given to me to help my brothers and sisters to know the restored gospel of Jesus Christ."
I don't know about you, but I believe that every time we have a mass shooting here in the United States of America, one's first and only response should be, "Don't you dare take my guns!" Once you've gotten that out of the way you can take a few seconds to pretend to care about the victims, but really, it's probably best to not even bother. That just distracts from what needs to be our highest and only priority. We know that liberals are going to immediately politicize every mass shooting, so we have to beat them to it every time.
Look, just because every other civilized country on the planet has done something about this doesn't mean we can do anything about this. First of all, gun laws won't stop criminals from getting guns. Secondly, gun laws will stop criminals from getting guns, but they'll just use knives instead. And that's just as bad. It's just as easy to kill twenty people at once with a knife as with an AK-47. Makes me wonder why people even bothered inventing AK-47s. People will always find ways to kill people, okay? One time a few years ago somebody drove a truck into a crowded marketplace, and that proves that gun control doesn't work.
The reason gun control doesn't work is that gun violence actually has nothing to do with guns. It's all caused by atheism, mental illness, and violent video games. This also explains the discrepancy between the United States of America and everywhere else, because obviously none of those things exist in Canada, Europe, Australia, Japan, or any of the other places that don't have mass shootings every week.
In particular, mentally ill people like me and others I care about deserve to be further stigmatized after every mass shooting. In fact, as our beloved President says, we should be involuntarily confined for the protection of normal people. This is actually a very old idea and I'm not sure why we stopped doing it a few decades ago, but the consequences of stopping are clear. Now it may seem like I'm arguing against my own interests here, and disregarding the actual facts that clearly show zero correlation between mental illness and mass shootings, but I recognize that the Republican Party needs to protect its gun fetish at all costs, and if my quality of life is necessary collateral damage then so be it. At least I'm not yet one of the people getting shot.
Of course, I can't complain too much regardless. I can only try to imagine how it must feel to be a Latino in this great nation right now. But let me be clear that our beloved President bears no culpability for what happened, or for the climate that engendered it. He has never said anything ever that could be interpreted by any reasonable person as fanning the flames of American racial hatred and divisiveness. I mean, he even admitted that some undocumented immigrants aren't drug pushers or rapists. What more could you ask for?
I bring this all up because we need to be ready to have this discussion again, and again, and again, so we can make sure nothing actually changes. Nothing needs to change. There are lots of other causes of death that kill more people than mass shootings, so anyone who acts outraged over white supremacists and other scum going on killing sprees with impunity in this country is a fearmongering hypocrite and a moron. In fact, they're also a liar. They don't really care about the victims, they just want to take our guns. That's why we need to rise up, ignore the victims and shout "Don't you dare take my guns!"
I may have mentioned before that late in summer, the entire block leading up to my workplace becomes infested with demonic vampire bugs. This may have something to do with the pond next door that used to have turtles in it but doesn't anymore. It may also have something to do with the moat of stagnant, putrid water surrounding the farm across the street. Whatever the cause, though, I call them demonic vampire bugs because they're like no mosquitoes I've encountered anywhere else in my life. They don't loop around in erratic patterns and settle in carefully for a landing. They just dive-bomb me. And apparently nobody else. Some of my coworkers walk through the same area and don't seem bothered at all. They don't have to run the entire block while twisting, shouting and slapping at their legs. Apparently I'm special. It took only a couple days of perpetually itchy legs for me to fantasize about premeditated, fatal revenge.
I didn't waste much time weighing the ethics of the situation. I'm pretty sure killing mosquitoes is not a sin. And the Book of Mormon teaches that "Inasmuch as ye are not guilty of the first offense, neither the second, ye shall not suffer yourselves to be slain by the hands of your enemies." And honestly, given that I'm 5'11" and weigh about 140 pounds, there are probably enough mosquitoes there to literally kill me, literally. But the "premeditated" and "revenge" parts gave me a bit of pause. Is it possible to take so much pleasure in killing a bug that it becomes sinful? And granted, I'm a bit of a bug racist anyway. Recently I saw a bug crawling across the kitchen counter toward me and I was like Eh, it's just a box elder NO WAIT IT'S AN EARWIG GET IT AWAY GET IT AWAY GET IT AWAY! Box elder bugs can crawl in my mouth for all I care but I hate earwigs because they're gross. And my hatred of mosquitoes now extends to not just the women, but the men, and the children too. I would kill them all if given the chance. Even if they've never bitten me, they contribute to the perpetuation of the species and I hate them for what they are.
So my heart wasn't pure, is what I'm saying. Even if Jesus killed a bug at some point, would his heart ever be in the place that mine was at this time? Would the hatred in my soul come back to bite me harder than the mosquitoes?
So I resolved that issue by not worrying about it anymore, and after visiting four stores I got one of those things that's like a tennis racket but it's electric and you hit bugs with it and they die. The device and a twelve-pack of AA batteries together cost a little over twenty dollars, and spoiler alert, they were the best purchase I ever made. Okay, so I brought the racket thing to work with me the very next day. And despite my proverbial bloodlust (not literal bloodlust because the only blood the mosquitoes had was taken from me to begin with) I was very cognizant of the responsibility inherent in carrying such a dangerous weapon. Mostly the responsibility of not hitting myself in the crotch with it. What really unnerves me is that you push a button on the side to start the flow of electricity, but aside from a little red light on the handle, there's no indication that the flow is flowing. The racket doesn't glow or hum or anything. And sometimes as I carry it I thumb the button by accident. So I took the ammunition (batteries) out until I arrived at the enemy territory.
It was as if they knew somehow. They didn't swarm me right at once. I walked half the block before a handful of them dared to try it. They were on me before I knew what was happening, but brushed them off and shooed them a safe distance away from myself and though my hand-eye coordination is godawful, the racket is a fair amount bigger than the average mosquito and it didn't take long to ensure they were all dead. Whenever I hit one, I knew because it made a spark and a crackle noise. I would have preferred something more like a tiny little voice screaming "AAAAARGH IT BUUUUURNS!" as a tiny little fireball spiralled down to the sidewalk, but the spark and crackle were satisfying too. After the first wave, they seemed even more cautious, so I found myself lingering in the shadows of trees where they lurked in greater numbers. Maybe invading their territory and provoking them to attack was slightly more sinful than waiting for them to come to me. I think there's something about that in the Book of Mormon too. But I had to get my money's worth, didn't I?
This is how my killing spree felt (guess which one I am):
I mean, honestly, there are already so many obvious reasons I'm going to hell that this potential one seems absurd to worry about. I'm going to do it again and again and again and it's going to put a smile on my face every day that I have to work and if that makes me wrong, I don't want to be right.
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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.