It was very difficult to want to go back to church after you-know-what restrictions eased. I liked having ten-minute sacrament meetings in people's homes. I didn't miss any of the extra stuff that, more often than not, I found less intellectually stimulating than an episode of Blue's Clues. And for a while I felt justified in not going to Sunday school or Elders' Quorum they were more confined and more crowded than sacrament meeting, and I knew everyone else there was regularly attending large social gatherings with no masks. But then I got fully vaccinated and went back to normal life in every way possible and didn't have that excuse anymore, so I went back to Elders' Quorum just in time to be punished with a lesson about marriage.
The teacher wrote "The Perfect Woman" on the board and solicited desirable traits to list under that heading. I take issue with his phrasing, but I'm sure he and everyone else there were aware that the perfect woman doesn't exist because perfect people don't exist and woman are a kind of people. I know what he meant was "The Ideal Woman". So people listed things and I just felt kind of defensive and prideful and thought, I'm not looking for a woman and you can't make me. But if I was, I'm sure I wouldn't want the same things y'all want, because Utah culture is a crap sandwich. You know the kind of women (and men, but that's irrelevant right now) who populate Deseret News comments sections? I'd want the opposite of that. I'm very picky. I never made a list as such, I just got crushes on a case-by-case basis and figured out what I like and what I don't like and got pickier every time my heart broke. The last one, the literal girl next door, set the bar so high that I haven't caught feelings since and doubt I ever will again. I can be as picky as I want because I'd much rather be alone than with someone who can't make me feel the way she did.
The one item I wanted to suggest for the list was talent and career ambition, but I didn't dare speak such heresy out loud. One guy said someone who thinks for herself and makes decisions without asking him about everything, and that was nice to hear and obviously made BYU professor Rodney Turner spin in his grave. The resident old guy said something about we have to remember "gender roles" even though "the world" talks about "equality". He stopped short of saying women shouldn't have careers, but he said there's just "something" they have men don't have that makes them better with children or whatever. He'd have to do better than that to convince me. He could have at least called the mysterious something a "je ne sais quois" and given it the illusion of greater sophistication. One guy agreed that even if his wife was making six or nine figures a year, he'd want her to stay at home at least part-time to raise their kids. If my wife was making six or nine figures a year, I wouldn't care what she did. I wouldn't ask and I wouldn't tell.
The last item on the list was "Beautiful", submitted by one of those brave people who points out that physical attractiveness is important even though we spend so much effort trying to convince ourselves that it isn't even though we all know that it is. That kind of honesty is refreshing, but people so often miss the follow-up: that beauty is a matter of perception, that it can and does change. If you love a woman's inside then her outside will also be beautiful to you. Simple. The first time I saw the literal girl next door, I thought she was plain, homely, awkward, and forgettable, and promptly forgot about her. A couple months later, she was still awkward but I had decided that she was God's greatest work of art and I was an idiot for ever having thought otherwise.
In conclusion, the teacher asked if we're deserving of this hypothetical perfect woman and if not, how to change that? I'm glad the lesson was actually going somewhere, because I had been thinking of a quote in the back of my mind: "As we visit with young adults all over the church often they will ask, 'Well what are the characteristics I should look for in a future spouse?' - As though they have some checklist of 'I need to find someone who has these three or four or five things.' And I rather forcefully say to them, 'You are so arrogant – to think that you are some catch and that you want someone else who has these five things for you. If you found somebody who had these three or four or five characteristics that you’re looking for what makes you think they’d want to marry you?'"
When I walked into the gym a couple weeks later for the combined fifth Sunday lesson and saw the word "FAMILY" written on the board, I knew the next hour would be less fun than a root canal, and almost walked right back out. But I thought, What kind of person will I be if I just avoid hearing anything that makes me uncomfortable? Maybe if I humble myself and suffer through it, God will teach me something.
The bishop started by telling us each to tell someone, preferably of the opposite sex, what the name of our first child will be. And he was, in fairness, being weird and awkward on purpose. But still, what kind of a question is that? How should I know what the name of my first child will be? Do I look like I've got a seer stone in my pocket? I've never given this subject a ton of thought and I've always assumed it's the sort of thing that will have to be discussed and negotiated when the time comes. I'm partial to Jessica, myself, but maybe my wife will be like, "Ew, no, a high school cheerleader named Jessica bullied me until I developed an eating disorder. I'd rather feed our daughter to a crocodile than name her Jessica." Also, my first child might not be a daughter. Also, it might be adopted and already have a name. So I thought that was a silly question.
His lesson had its positives. He acknowledged that "people experiencing same-sex attraction" exist and told people to chill out if they're in their late twenties and not married yet. Hooray. Much of it, though, took on a very us-vs-them tone, as if members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are the only .02% of people on the planet who believe in family values. He went through parts of the Family Proclamation, a document that he stressed was DOCTRINE, was SCRIPTURE, was from A LIVING PROPHET. Actually, Gordon B. Hinckley is a dead prophet, although he was a living prophet when he gave it, but then so is every prophet when he gives something so I don't know why that distinction is necessary. He said it was prophetic because when it came out in 1995 its teachings were just common sense and he couldn't see the point of it, but now they've become controversial. It was actually written after five years of a court battle over same-sex marriage in Hawaii. The Church was involved in this court battle and had, in fact, been concerned about the prospect of same-sex marriage since the mid-to-late 1970s when that was one of its reasons for opposing the Equal Rights Amendment to the US Constitution.
Anyway, I braced myself for some thoughtless remarks when he got to the part that says fathers are primarily responsible for providing and mothers are primarily responsible for nurturing, but the thoughtless remarks were worse than I would have ever anticipated. He was very blunt and adamant that God wants all women to be full-time homemakers with unpaid 96-hour work weeks. He straight-up told them to use their college education to be better mothers, not to have professional careers, full stop, no caveats, no nuance. He was also adamant that anyone who feels differently (like me) is following the "natural man" and the world's lies about women's equality. At least twice he referred to the people who feel differently "outside the Church", which came across to me as a conscious attempt to invalidate and put down the many people in the Church that he knows perfectly well also hold that view and constituted a sizable portion of his audience.
It pisses me off to think that my future wife may have been conditioned by lessons like this one to believe that her career ambitions are sinful, and to think that some women present for this lesson were thus conditioned. It's wrong and it's harmful. It will lead to depression, guilt, faith crises, and disaffection from the Church. Anecdotally, the twenty-something LDS women I know - not all of them raging liberals by any means - are far more open-minded on this topic. A majority of them see no reason why they shouldn't pursue careers and those who do want to be stay-at-home moms have no desire to force their preference on everyone else. Many of the latter will end up working anyway because modern economic realities have made it impossible for many families to survive on one income, the bishop's talk of sacrifice and frugality notwithstanding. I know for a fact that I wasn't the only person in the room who vigorously disagreed with what he said, and that his belittling of us did not persuade us to reorient our thinking. And women whose staying home is in the best interest of their particular families can make that decision for themselves without a man incorrectly insisting that it's the only option God will allow.
Since the bishop made it very clear that he wasn't open to discussion, and I wasn't in the mood to be called to repentance for not being sexist enough, I tattled on him instead of reaching out to him directly.
I'm sure the bishop is a wonderful man and that it's unfair to judge him by his most obvious shortcoming. Nonetheless, I am no longer capable of respecting or trusting him when I remember this lesson every time I see his face. (At least he's still better than my last bishop.) Will there be any sort of public retraction, correction, or apology? Of course not. That would shatter the illusion that our leaders are perfect, which we work hard to maintain even though we all claim to know that our leaders aren't perfect. I felt that my suffering through this lesson and being depressed for a few hours was worth it because I was able to speak out, to do something - but it would have been more worth it if I could know that I'd actually been able to help the women who also suffered through it. I wonder how many of them will leave the Church.
The Church posted this a few days later:
In essence, Dr. Erica Glenn explains that you can have a happy and fulfilling life even if you, like her, are not married. This should not be a controversial argument, but because Mormon culture is a crap sandwich, it was. On the one hand, people took issue with her not mentioning the Church's teachings on the importance of marriage that everyone in the Church has heard hundreds of times and that necessitated the existence of videos like this in the first place. On the other hand, people - specifically men - jumped to the conclusion that because Dr. Glenn is beautiful, the only possible reason for her not being married is that that she chose not to for selfish reasons, and therefore she's wrong. "She could get married tomorrow if she wanted to," said one sexist idiot who's never met her and apparently thinks she should settle for the first carbon-based life form that has a penis and thinks she's hot. Maybe, just maybe, the whole mindset of needing to get married for marriage's sake, and not because you've met someone you actually want to be with forever, is kind of toxic. But nobody asked me.
Last year, Taylor Petrey published a book called Tabernacles of Clay: Sexuality and Gender in Mormonism and it became popular and got flattering reviews. I saw no critical reviews and no response from the Church's self-appointed apologetics organizations, but I recognized from the book's impact that they couldn't just ignore it like they did Moroni and the Swastika. I reached out to Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship - even before I lost respect for FAIR, Interpreter was the organization I trusted most to do an intellectually honest job - and said they ought to put someone on it. On August 23, Steve Densley responded that "a reviewer has been working on 'Tabernacles of Clay.' Apparently, he has found that there is so much to say about that book that we will likely be publishing a number of reviews that address the book in sections. It sounds like we should have the first part ready for publication within the next few weeks." So I waited a few weeks, then a few more weeks, then a few more weeks, and then I concluded that they had found it too difficult and given up.
On March 5 of this year, they published the first and so far only review from Gregory L. Smith. It's very long and has 504 footnotes. Brother Smith spends most of it documenting Dr. Petrey's misuse of sources in the first two chapters. "So serious are these problems that," he writes, "on one level, it is astonishing that this work would be published by a university press. Granted, the book’s ideological agenda and subject matter is popular in some quarters,4 and such works have their place — if they are honest with themselves and their readers about what they are.5 But what Tabernacles offers is not good history. Tabernacles of Clay is a good argument for the necessity of review by experts in both the theology and history of the Church of Jesus Christ when academic presses do 'Mormon' studies. Experts in queer and gender theory might find it compelling; anyone familiar with the religious sources ought to know better." He isn't wrong. Nonetheless, the sources themselves are so interesting that I still wanted to read the book with this caution in mind. So I did.
For this post I will focus only on part of his conclusion that I wanted to share because it stuck with me:
One can expect further pressures on LDS institutions and culture as they continue to swim within a broader environment that is still moving away from so-called traditional values. Resisting these trends, church leaders have expressed dim prospects for any considered change on teachings regarding same-sex marriage.22 At the same time, these teachings are producing an increasing strain on church members, especially younger members who have grown up in a world that is more open and accepting of nonnormative identities and relationships. When recently surveyed, 60 percent of regularly attending millennial Mormons (eighteen to twenty-six years old) and 53 percent of older millennial Mormons (twenty-seven to thirty-nine years old) believe that homosexuality should be accepted by society. Latter-day Saint support is growing rapidly in all age groups. In 2016, overall Mormon support for this statement was at 48 percent, double what it was just ten years before. Among Mormon millennials who have left the church, they cite “LGBT issues” as the third most important reason they disaffiliated. The generation gap is massive on this issue and has only grown, despite persistent LDS messaging from the top.23
No lies detected. I saw Lynne Thigpen portray a police chief on the game show "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?" before I was old enough to know what police were, so it never in my life would have occurred to me that women (or black people) shouldn't be police chiefs. For example.
The ban on female ordination is not, strictly speaking, analogous to the ban on ordination of males of African descent. Black men and women before 1978 were also denied the temple ordinances necessary for eternal families and exaltation, and were said to be under a curse because of things they did before they were born. (On the other hand, black men before 1978 could serve in Sunday school presidencies, which don't require priesthood, but women still can't. Figure that one out.) I actually agree with the logic that people don't have to be the same to be equal, and as long as everyone in the Church is eligible for the same eternal blessings, their role or position in the earthly organization doesn't matter. The President of the Church is no greater than someone who's given a useless made-up calling to make them feel included. So I consider priesthood ordination a far less important issue than whether women are treated as equal partners in marriage and whether they can pursue careers outside the home without men like my bishop calling them to repentance. I'm totally agnostic on whether it should happen at all.
Nonetheless, I have little patience anymore for the reasons people make up to explain why women aren't ordained, reasons that are usually patronizing to women, demeaning to men, or both. And if you go back a few decades, the reasons just become even more blatantly sexist and that should be quite a red flag about how made up they are altogether. Rodney Turner's 1972 book Woman and the Priesthood taught that, notwithstanding "[w]e believe men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam's transgression", women are punished for Eve's transgression to this day. Nowadays we've made the different-but-equal paradigm work by changing the definition of "preside" and disregarding the statements well into the 1970s (or in the temple until 2019) that unambiguously assigned men to a position of authority over their wives. Anyway, I'm not an activist for women's ordination but I do enjoy annoying people by pointing out the inadequacy of the reasons they make up to justify the lack thereof. Michael Otterson was honest enough to cite the one and only actual known reason: precedent.
And while I'm on the subject,
God may, in fact, have some legitimate reason for this division of labor. Even that wouldn't necessarily preclude it from changing in the future. I don't believe for a moment that women's anatomical or mental differences make them intrinsically, eternally, and divinely incompatible with priesthood ordination. I find the notion absurd. I don't predict, as such, a change to this policy within my lifetime, and yet I won't be the slightest bit surprised if it happens either. There have already been several adjustments to the scope and visibility of women's role in the Church within the last decade, largely in response to Ordain Women and other internal feminist movements (copied from my Brief History of Women in the Church of Jesus Christ):
October 6, 2012 - President Thomas S. Monson lowers the minimum age of missionary service for women from 21 to 19.
April 3, 2013 - The Church announces, "The role of sister training leader has been created as more female missionaries serve in missions around the world. Sister training leaders will be responsible for the training and welfare of female missionaries assigned to them and will be members of and participate in, the new mission leadership council."
April 6, 2013 - At the close of the Saturday morning session, Primary general presidency first counselor Jean A. Stevens becomes the first woman to pray in General Conference.
October 5, 2013 - For the first time, the priesthood session is broadcast on the Church's website as all other General Conference sessions have been for years. Having been denied tickets by spokeswoman Ruth Todd, members of Ordain Women wait in the standby line and are turned away at the door one by one.
April 5, 2014 - For this and subsequent General Conferences, the female auxiliary presidencies (Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary) are relocated to sit in the middle of the First Quorum of the Seventy in the Conference Center, a far more visible position directly behind the pulpit.
April 2014 - The annually updated General Authorities chart (which previously included only men) is expanded to also include General Officers, including the Relief Society general presidency, the Young Women general presidency, the Primary general presidency, the Sunday School general presidency, and the Young Men general presidency.
November 14, 2014 - A policy change allows divorced women and mothers of young children to have or retain jobs as seminary and institute teachers. A memo notes, "This change makes it possible for families to decide what best meets their needs as it relates to mothers working while raising children. This policy is consistent with other church departments."
August 18, 2015 - A woman is appointed to each of three formerly all-male leadership councils - Relief Society general president Linda K. Burton to the Priesthood and Family Executive Council, Young Women general president Bonnie L. Oscarson to the Missionary Executive Council, and Primary general president Rosemary M. Wixom to the Temple and Family History Executive Council.
December 20, 2018 - Updated missionary dress and grooming guidelines allow sister missionaries to wear slacks during most weekly activities, though they "should continue to wear dresses or skirts when attending the temple and during Sunday worship services, leadership and zone conferences, baptismal services, and missionary training center devotionals".
January 2, 2019 - The initiatory is changed so that women are no longer anointed to be queens and priestesses "unto your husband". The endowment ceremony is changed so that women no longer covenant to "hearken to the counsel of your husband as he hearkens to the counsel of the Father", and no longer veil their faces during the prayer circle. The ceremony now speaks of "Adam and Eve" instead of "Adam" throughout while Adam refers to "we" instead of "I". The husband-wife sealing is changed so that the woman "receives" her husband just as he "receives" her, but the husband now covenants to "preside with gentleness, meekness, and love unfeigned".
January 17, 2019 - The Church News begins announcing the call of "new mission presidents and companions [wives]" instead of just the mission presidents, though the wives had already been included in pictures and bios alongside their husbands.
January 24, 2019 - The First Presidency states in a letter, "Veiling an endowed woman's face prior to burial is optional. This may be done if the sister expressed such a desire while she was living. In cases where the wishes of the deceased sister on this matter are not known, her family should be consulted."
March 1, 2019 - One of a few policy changes allows mothers with dependent children to serve as temple ordinance workers. The First Presidency notes, "Members should review their circumstances and avoid placing undue burdens on themselves or their families as they consider these service opportunities."
October 2, 2019 - A policy change allows baptized women and children to serve as witnesses at baptisms, and endowed women to serve as witnesses at temple sealings.
January 2020 - The Church implements its new Children and Youth program for members aged 8-18 and cuts its 109-year-old relationship with the Boy Scouts of America. In the process it also ends the longstanding budget disparity between the Young Men and Young Women programs.
March 11, 2021 - The First Presidency creates the new position of international area organization adviser outside the United States and Canada, to be filled by women representing the Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary alongside area authority Seventies.
Would anyone be so naïve as to think that the changes will stop there? Would anyone be so silly as to insist that they know where the changes will stop? Why am I even asking these questions? Of course they would and they will.
Today is, appropriately, the anniversary of my most popular blog post last year. The bar for that is pretty low, but it still made me happy. So here it is again: Newly Discovered Ancient Document Sheds Light on the Origin of Our Species
I hadn't been to Institute for two semesters because although the organization was taking appropriate health precautions, I knew for a fact that most of my potential fellow students were out having large social gatherings with no masks on a regular basis. Now I'm vaccinated so it's fine. I even had prolonged exposure to a Covid-positive neighbor a week before my vaccination reached full efficacy and nothing happened, so after all this time I can finally relax and stop thinking about the potential life-ruining long-term side effects that an infection might have on my brain. I missed the first couple weeks of "Jesus Christ and the Everlasting Gospel" due to my visiting family. I've taken this class twice, as I've taken every class that interests me at all, but I still have great need to increase my relationship with and faith in Jesus Christ. It was a powerful experience the first two times but it wore off after a while.
I'd never even seen Rand Curtis before and didn't know what to expect. When I came in and saw on the screen "Lesson 4: The Creation", I got a bit queasy as I flashed back to past experiences with this topic in Institute classes. Listening to teachers who know nothing about evolution mock evolution while I sit there with the expertise to know it's real as surely as I know the sun shines has never been a pleasant experience. The last time was a few years ago, and the Institute faculty may have caught up with the last century of scientific discovery by now, but I just didn't know what to expect and it was kind of tense.
So he kind of started off with a painting of a primordial-looking Earth with Jesus flying above it looking pretty epic with his hands and feet angled toward it as if to say, "KAZAM!" He made us talk to our classmates and discuss what we think the creation of the Earth may have looked like. I told my partner that I accept the scientific account of the creation of the Earth, so I think it took a really long time and if you floated there and watched you wouldn't notice anything happening. (Granted, if you timed your observation just right you might see the hypothesized planet Theia crash into it and knock off the big chunk of debris that later became our moon, which would be almost but not quite as epic as Jesus saying "KAZAM!") I phrased my opinion as inoffensively as possible, as if accepting science were only one of many possible options. My partner kind of nodded and accepted that.
Brother Curtis then had a slide that showed a diagram of the Earth with its layers, and a timeline of its scientifically established history starting at the north pole and going around its circumference. I wondered, did he put that up there just to dispute it? But he reassured me very quickly. "Was the Earth created in six days?" he asked the class. I kind of went "Eh" as if to say "I don't believe so, but you can believe what you want." But he answered his own question like, "No! But a thousand years are as one day to God, so was the Earth created in six thousand years?" And I kind of went "Eh" again. But he answered his own question like, "No!" And he had a spiel about the ultimate compatibility of scientific and religious truth, and he spoke against checking your brain at the door of a religious classroom and suppressing secular knowledge or the questions it raises. Stuff I've read and written ad nauseam, but a welcome surprise anyway. He basically straight-up said that the Earth is 4.6 billion years old. That was more than I could have hoped for. I get so tired of people pretending that if the Church doesn't have a position on something, any view on the subject is equally valid regardless of basic facts and common sense.
Granted, I had another teacher, Kurt Reese, who said that the Earth isn't 6,000 years old and then said "If anyone here believes the Earth is 6,000 years old, I'm sorry... that you're bad at science." I guess that counts. But he wasn't teaching about the Creation per se - it was a church history class and we were talking about Joseph Fielding Smith's ridiculously fundamentalist readings of scripture, and he liked to joke around and tease like that in general. He would tease you for being from Colorado or being a Democrat even though one of the points he tried to hammer home is that you can, in fact, be a Democrat and still be worthy. He went so far as to imply that it's okay if you observe rampant poverty on your mission and come home feeling "pretty disgusted with capitalism". And he's a Republican himself, but not the evil kind. Where was I going with this? Anyway, his discussion of the age of the Earth was cool and all but not quite as impactful in that context. Maybe I was just desensitized to his heretical teachings by that point in the course.
Brother Curtis pointed out that on this little Earth history timeline, dinosaurs don't seem so ancient anymore, and human history was too brief to even show up. And then he said three incredible words - "Fifty million years." Not phrased as a question. Oh boy. The Earth itself is one thing, but this strikes at the very heart of some people's spiritual identity. Of course, it's the sort of perceived chronological discrepancy that some Latter-day Saints think they can just handwave away with suggestions like "wE dOn'T kNoW hOw LoNg AdAm AnD eVe WeRe In ThE gArDeN." Yeah, whatever. They're the only two people in the world, they can't have sex, literally nothing has been invented yet, and I'm supposed to seriously consider for one moment the possibility that they just chill in the Garden for, say, the entire time that dinosaurs are roaming around elsewhere? Nuh-uh. I give them three months before they eat the forbidden fruit as an attempt at suicide.
His next slide showed a bunch of skulls of our ancient evolutionary cousins and ancestors - either that, or just skulls of people who think Derek Chauvin should have been acquitted. He asked if we have room for these people in our view of the gospel. I discussed with my partner. Yes, we both did. Cool. But Brother Curtis overheard someone say "It doesn't matter how we got here, just that we're here" and called him out on it because that kind of intellectual apathy "won't make us like our heavenly parents." Brother Curtis was very big on intellect. Most religious teachers are in theory, but it's another thing to actually be so in practice and not the type of person who starts sentences with "I love science, but..." He did say he wasn't going to get into all the details of how he worked out science and religion together, which is fair, but I wish he hadn't just said "I find no physical evidence for a flood covering the entire planet a few thousand years ago. None" and left that for us to grapple with. I think the story of Noah is much easier to reconcile than most people give it credit for. I don't know why so many are locked into this false dichotomy that either the flood covered the entire planet or it never happened.
Speaking of heavenly parents, that was a big thing with him. He always said "heavenly parents" where most Saints would just say "Heavenly Father". I don't think he said "Heavenly Father" one time. In fact, in one of his slides he had written "Heavenly Father" and read it as "heavenly parents", which suggested to me that perhaps he, too, just recently had a feminist awakening. These small and simple vocabulary replacements are a huge step toward promoting true gender equality in the Church, showing women that they, too, have a significant eternal destiny and role model, and really leveraging one of the greatest doctrines that separates us from the mainstream Christian world and by all rights should be shouted from the rooftops, not treated as an open secret.
Since this was a ninety-minute night class, we then had another lesson, which was about commandments and stuff and not nearly as interesting because science, but still good. Yes, commandments can change; no, Jesus did not drink grape juice. Brother Curtis remained an engaging and effective teacher but tried a little too hard to relate. He shared that he still hasn't mastered the don't-looketh-upon-a-woman-to-lust-after-her thing. He said, "I'm old, but I'm not that old." TMI, my dude. But I'll let that slide. His whole perspective on things was such a breath of fresh air as I've grown so disillusioned with the rampant stupidity and willful ignorance that sometimes make me very embarrassed to be a believer. It's above and beyond what I've come to expect from an Institute class. He even expressed his gratitude for the LGBTQ community. The experience had me looking at him like
I hope my classmates don't complain and get him fired.
A couple of videos he shared which I'd seen before but were worth rewatching because space:
Trigger Warning: Airplanes
My recent trip to Indiana for my sister Melanie's wedding was my first time setting foot on an airplane in nearly three and a half years. For a time, I didn't know if I would ever set foot on an airplane again after reading about the incident of Aloha Airlines Flight 243 on April 28, 1988, when explosive decompression tore off a big chunk of the roof and ejected flight attendant Clarabelle Lansing to God knows where. I can only imagine a fraction of the mindless terror that consumed her final moments. Okay, I thought after reading that, if I ever set foot on an airplane again, I'm staying seated with my seatbelt on at all times, even if it's a twelve-hour flight. But then I proceeded to read about the incident of United Airlines Flight 811 on February 24, 1989, when explosive decompression ejected nine passengers along with the seats where they were sitting with their seatbelts on. At least one had the good fortune of going straight into the engine and not being afraid for very long. Before learning this information, my biggest fear was the airplane itself falling out of the sky. It had never in my worst imaginings occurred to me that being launched into the stratosphere on my own was a possibility. Silly me.
It's no good telling me that airplane disasters are very rare. I know it. They still happen, and if one happens to me, I'm not going to derive much comfort from reflecting on how unlikely it was and what an unlucky s.o.b. I am. It's no good telling me how much safer airplanes are than cars. I know it. I'd rather be in a car crash than a plane crash any day. I've been in three car crashes and nothing happened to me. If I were in a plane crash with no physical injury, I would still relive it in nightmares for the rest of my life. So if anything at all goes wrong on an airplane where I'm a passenger, I want to die, as fast as possible. But as is usually the case after I learn yet another piece of horrible information about the world I live in, I became desensitized to these incidents with time, and returned to my previous default state of fear. I can get on an airplane but I just hate every second of takeoff and every moment that it shakes or jolts or turns slightly. On my first flight I noted the loud noise of the wind around my window, and that it intensified when I pressed against the wall. I wondered what would happen if the window popped out. I assumed it would suck my head out and break my neck.
Prior to these flights, I finally renewed my state ID that expired in 2017. It was already expired by a few months during my last airplane trip, and security told me to renew it but let me through both ways anyway. Since then I've also used it to sign up for utilities, sign a voters' referendum against state Republicans' proposed hike in grocery taxes, and visit a friend in prison. White privilege? In any case, there wasn't much incentive to renew it. But I figured airport security might be less lenient this time.
Indiana was much nicer this time of year than in December. Very warm, much green. I took some pictures that I'm too lazy to retrieve from my phone for the three people who will read this post. Melanie had a nest of robins right outside her window, and they fledged the same day she got married. She and another sister lived there with my parents, and then I arrived, and then my paternal grandmother arrived, and then my sister and brother-in-law and niece arrived, and then my maternal grandparents and uncle and aunt and six cousins arrived. Nineteen people, fifty gigabytes a month of craptacular rural Wi-Fi. Shudder. I got bounced around through four different sleeping arrangements.
Funny Quotes from My Cousins
After I toasted a marshmallow for cousin Hannah, she said to her sister Lucy, "Christopher is a kind soul! You are - a murderer."
*Playing a card game called "You Gotta Be Kitten Me"*
Uncle Russ: Is it wrong to call my son a loser?
Cousin Jaden: I learned from the best, or should I say the worst.
Uncle Russ: Don't talk about your mother like that.
*Playing "Apples to Apples"; the word is "Scrumptious"*
Cousin Lucy: I'll tell you who's scrumptious - this person in my class named Mason.
*Sister Sarah and I look at each other as if to verify that we both just heard what we think we just heard*
Uncle Russ: I don't have enough guns.
Melanie got married in the Indianapolis Indiana Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I guess it's kind of a cheap temple compared to the one I'm used to, because I could hear traffic outside while in the sealing room. I thought temples were supposed to be soundproofed. What if a fire truck had gone by during the special moment? Everyone also noticed some kind of loud drip-drip-drip from the vicinity of one portion of the ceiling, but it stopped before the ceremony. The sealer gave good and inoffensive counsel. At my previous sister's wedding, the sealer told her and her husband how lucky they both were to be getting married at twenty-three before they got too settled into their single lifestyles, which I found rather insensitive. This guy would have been justified in similarly telling Melanie and her husband how lucky they both were to be getting married at twenty-one long before their brains are fully developed, but he didn't.
My previous sister had kissed her husband long and hard with tears streaming down her face, prompting the sealer to opine, "I think they just had their first family prayer." This kiss was as quick as the one by which Natalie Hinton made me a True Aggie. After that, of course, the guests were to greet the newlyweds as we filed out onto the temple grounds for photo ops, and for some reason everyone made me go first even though I was on the opposite side of the room. I wished someone else had set the precedent because I didn't know what to do. I hugged my sister, of course, but then I didn't know what to do with her husband because I'd exchanged fewer than twenty words with him in my life. I whispered, "Should I hug you or just shake your hand?" He whispered back - but unlike me, in a normal volume that everyone could hear - "You can hug me." Cue giggles.
One of the best-kept secrets on my website is the most comprehensive history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and black people ever compiled. The only reason it's a secret is that Google hates me. For the better part of a decade I've gathered more information than any normal person needs or wants to know. Unfortunately, because the Church for a majority of its history has been led and primarily composed of white people, a majority of the available sources are also from white people. I relish every opportunity to hear from black Latter-day Saints in their own words. Rarer still, and possibly even more interesting, are opportunities to hear from black people who were never members of the Church but had something to say about it. I want to draw attention here to four such interesting sources. In the full compilation, I try to let sources speak for themselves as much as possible and only interject historical context and/or bias when I think it's necessary. But here on my blog, where my standards of scholarly rigor drop from almost nonexistent to nonexistent, I'll indulge myself in a whitesplaining commentary on each one.
"Guys. Chris's blog is the stuff of legends. If you’re ever looking for a good read, check this out!"
- Amelia Whitlock
"I don't know how well you know Christopher Randall Nicholson, but... he's trolling. You should read his blog. It's delightful."
- David Young
About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender male and a Latter-day Saint, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic, 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.