To say that Hitler's Nazis killed eleven million people doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of how evil they were. Murder is bad and all, but in my view, there are many, many things worse than death, and the Nazis did most of them to people. I assume most people have learned at some point in detail about the atrocities of the Holocaust, yet it seems to me that in American popular culture we typically represent Nazis as one-dimensional stock villains who just want to take over the world for vague unspecified evil reasons. This glaring discrepancy is why Steven Spielberg could no longer use Nazis as Indiana Jones villains after making "Schindler's List", and in recent days has also caused me some discomfort as I'm revisiting an Indiana Jones fan fiction based on a rejected screenplay that I started over a decade ago. The truth is awkward. I don't believe all my suffering in the past decade, considerable though it is, would measure up to even a week in a Nazi concentration camp.
And of course, the Nazis' atrocities against the Jews should never ever ever be downplayed, but they do tend to get all the attention, with other persecuted groups who together constituted their other five million victims all but forgotten from our collective memory. This week an excellent op-ed appeared called "Why Nazi Atrocities Against Gay Men Must Never Be Forgotten". (Specifically men, yes, as the author briefly notes that "they viewed lesbianism as a temporary condition so they suffered less", and I in turn note an interesting parallel to what I've read about medieval views of homosexuality, in which female same-sex crimes were given much more leniency because women were stupid and emotional and less responsible for their actions. Yay for misogyny?) Ironically, given how little attention this subject has received, the first time I heard the word "homosexuals" (though I'd already been called "faggot" several times a day for a few years by that point) was in sixth grade when a teacher listed off groups of people that the Nazis persecuted.
Alan Keele likewise noted in his review "Mormons and Nazis", "While visiting in 2007 the Villa Wannsee, outside Berlin, site of the infamous planning meetings for the 'Final Solution to the Jewish Problem' presided over by Adolf Eichmann, I was intrigued – and, frankly, shocked – to learn from a display there that from within Germany proper – not counting places outside its borders like Poland with much larger Jewish populations – the Nazis actually murdered more homosexuals even than Jews.
"I am convinced that the sobering fact of the existence and extent of such homicidal Nazi homophobia, if more widely known and better understood among Mormons today, could have an important tempering effect on current thinking about how disciples of the Prince of Peace should speak about and behave toward members of the LGBT community, especially recalling how homophobia was falsely viewed in the Third Reich as a lofty moral position, the taking of a righteous religious stand against sinful monsters portrayed by Fascist hate-mongers as an imminent danger to society....
"This is by no means an abstract concern. I have witnessed several things, some quite recently, that both shocked and horrified me. In my High Priests’ meeting in early 1994, a retired Seminary and Institute teacher, a man I very much admire, a war hero seriously wounded during the Battle of the Bulge, worked himself into a rage over the fact that President Clinton had invited gays to march in his inaugural parade. Growing more angry by the moment, he opined that gays should not be allowed to take employment or find housing. When someone asked him how he expected them to live, he finally sputtered that all queers should probably be taken out and shot."
In fairness, taking them out and shooting them would be much nicer than what the Nazis actually did to them.
An older but very educational article that also came to my attention outlined "In Germany’s extermination program for black Africans, a template for the Holocaust". Besides showing how the "Final Solution" for Jews and others directly evolved from Germany's genocide against black Africans in what is now Namibia, it explores the intertwining with eugenics and the civil rights movement in the United States. The concept of exterminating "undesirable" types of people really was born in the United States from brilliant minds like Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, but it was mostly about not letting them reproduce, and Germany watched these developments with interest and decided to improve on them by adding unspeakable torture and mass murder. When the United States saw that, they were all like "Woah, guys, we're as racist as the next country, probably more so in fact, but too much is too much." It forced more than a little bit of soul-searching.
Tangent: The United States' history of forced sterilizations is not ancient history. The article notes that in North Carolina they "continued into the 1970s, long after Hitler fell", but I also remember less than seven years ago when doctors in California were exposed for sterilizing at least 148 women in prison between 2006 and 2010. I was immersed in right-wing Facebook pages and news sources at this time and I remember well that this was pretty much the only thing California ever did that they agreed with. Typical comments from self-proclaimed conservatives ran along the lines of "I don't see the problem here!" and "They should sterilize the men too!" A self-proclaimed conservative myself, it nonetheless made me sick. There are few times when it's okay to compare people to Hitler, but this was one of them.
Hitler said a few nasty things about black people in his book. But the Nazis themselves, unlike their predecessors in Namibia, never got around to an orchestrated campaign against black people because there weren't very many in Germany or nearby. They had a relatively low number of young mixed-race people in the Rhineland (descended from black French troops) whom they sterilized in 1937, and as horrible as that is, it remains one of the least of their atrocities. And when black American athlete Jesse Owens totally humiliated them in the 1936 Olympics, they were nonetheless PR-savvy enough to treat him better than the United States did. Though by no means oblivious to the Nazis' animosity toward him, he famously opined, "Hitler didn’t snub me; it was our president who snubbed me. The president didn’t even send a telegram." If the Nazis had won World War II, though - which was never much of a risk given Hitler's incompetence at military strategy, but if they had somehow, it wouldn't have been long before they swept over Africa and added a few tens of millions more mutilated corpses to their resume.
This actually has some relevance to my aforementioned fan fiction which, as per the screenplay it's based on, has Nazis as the villains and takes place in black Africa in 1937. Back in tenth grade or so I made a point of playing up the racism aspect that the screenplay completely ignores (and adding a bit of American racism as well, because they don't deserve to get off the hook either, though the protagonist himself is canonically established as way ahead of his time on racial equality). But revisiting it now, I still feel uncomfortable because that still doesn't come close to adequately conveying how evil Hitler and his ilk truly were. It's even putting a bit of a damper on my longtime love for the Indiana Jones franchise.
It bears repeating that if there is no God and no afterlife, Hitler and his Nazis won, and their victims lost in a very big, very permanent way.
This weekend was the General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and I'm tired of explaining what that is twice a year, so from now on I won't. As usual I will fixate on a few details instead of attempting to summarize the whole thing.
I didn't much care about the changes to the Young Men's program, which will have approximately zero effect on my life, nor would I have cared about the corresponding changes to the Young Women's program - except for my hope that they would dispense with the longstanding age-based class names, "Beehives", "Mia Maids", and "Laurels". From the time I was a teenager, I thought those names sounded stupid. But after learning their historical significance and the reasoning behind them, I just thought they sounded stupid. Really, just because a name made sense in Utah in 1950 doesn't mean we need to hold onto it forever. For zark's sake, the "Mia" in "Mia Maids" stands for "Mutual Improvement Association" which literally hasn't been a thing since before the current Young Women's parents were in Young Women. So I watched the women's session, or to be more precise, listened to the women's session while playing "Plants vs. Zombies", just to see if these stupid names would be relegated to the dustbin of history where they belong.
Yes, I could have just waited until after to find out, but I wanted the pleasure of witnessing this long overdue moment firsthand. And also feeling the Spirit and stuff. I was not disappointed. Although, now that the archaic term "Mutual" is being entirely jettisoned as well with respect to both the Young Men and Young Women programs, the Mutual dating app (which I wrote about at greater length here) may need to be renamed as well to retain its significance to future generations. I recommend "The App for the Assistance of Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Marrying and Procreating Within the Boundaries of the Lord's Divine Law of Chastity". It's not catchy, but every word is important.
My karmic reward for watching an extra session for such a petty reason came swiftly. President Nelson said some words and then he started talking about temples and I was like Wait, this is the way he starts talking before he announces new temples, but he does that at the end of the Sunday afternoon session, so surely he wouldn't oh who am I kidding, of course he would troll us like this just because he can and at that moment the WiFi freaked out and the audio inexplicably cut in to the late Elder Perry talking about the joy of keeping the commandments with soft inspirational music in the background, and I frantically refreshed the page while breaking a commandment or two in my frantic verbal outburst, and then President Nelson was back and he was blurry and his lips weren't synchronized with his voice but that was fine, at least I could hear him, but wait, was this a rerun of the temple announcements from April, because it sounded kind of similar, but no wait, it was fresh and he totally trolled us and I would have been pissed if I had missed that session or that fragment of the session.
What follows are my very professional and spiritual analyses of those temple announcements. With this batch compared to the last one, there seemed to be a bit of a shift back toward building temples where the number of members and stakes justifies it, as opposed to prioritizing convenience for members in far-flung locations even if they be few. But of course both elements are still at play.
Cobán, Guatemala - I expected this one, but not for a few more years since it's kind of out in the jungle, but then, with the way some recent announcements have gone, I expected the unexpected which means I expected everywhere and nowhere at once. Cobán, Reykjavik, Mars, it's all fair game for President Nelson, isn't it?
Bacolod, Philippines - It would seem that the Philippines has somewhat improved upon its historically abysmal activity and retention rates, with stake growth on the increase and five of its seven current or future temples announced in the last decade.
Bentonville, Arkansas - Arkansas is one of the states in the United States without a temple, and the Rogers area is one of the few areas in the United States more than two hundred miles away from one. So it's been on people's lists for years and gotten really annoying. Bentonville should be close enough to shut them up.
Freetown, Sierra Leone - How can the Church have a faith-promoting independent film based on a true story named after this city, but not a temple? It's about time that situation was rectified. By the way, notwithstanding its imdb rating, I recommend the film. "God's Army" it ain't but on the plus side, "The Singles Ward" it ain't either. And it's not a comedy but because it's set in West Africa it has a few moments that are actually funny without an insider knowledge of Provo culture that most people neither have nor desire.
McAllen, Texas - I'm surprised all the Saints in Texas didn't apostatize after they were told to stop bringing their guns to church. Miracles do happen in this day and age. It may serve several members in northeastern Mexico as well, but then again it may not, because owing to policies and politicians who will not be discussed here at this time, traveling across the border has become an absurdly arduous and time-consuming process. Even for Americans!
Orem, Utah - This, in case I've failed to mention it before, is the city where I was born. Unless I'm mistaken we moved before my first birthday; in any case, I don't remember it one bit, and since it's basically Provo I've never had the slightest desire to go back and see it ever. Still, yay for getting a temple in the city where I was born. Especially since getting one in the town where I grew up is about as likely as Mars.
Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea - This is one of those locations where a few years ago people were bragging about the dramatic growth of the Church, and then it just kind of fizzled out overnight. (See also: Madagascar.) Still, membership numbers more than warrant a temple even without taking into account their poverty and the long distances to their nearest ones in Australia and New Zealand.
Taylorsville, Utah - ANOTHER TEMPLE IN UTAH!!!!!!! HOW VERY EXCITING!!!!!!! I CAN BARELY CONTAIN MY EXCITEMENT FOR ANOTHER TEMPLE IN UTAH!!!!!!!1
Of course, I'm not one of those "uTaH dOeSn'T nEeD mOrE tEmPlEs" folks, because my intellect is capable of grasping the concept that buildings have a finite capacity and sometimes can get too full.
My favorite talk was by Elder Peter M. Johnson. An African-American from New York City, his voice has a cadence not quite like anything I've heard in General Conference before, and it riveted me to his every word so that I got more out of his talk than most. He could have read a phone book and I would have paid attention. This also would have given phone books a reason to exist. The missionaries seated near me who appeared to have fallen asleep might not agree, but to each their own. So, you know, go ahead and watch it if you haven't.
With only a few minutes remaining in the final session, I felt somewhat alarmed that nobody, as far as I could notice, had remembered to utter the words "this historic conference". But President Nelson slipped them into his talk and put me at ease. That man never lets me down.
In closing, I would like to change subjects completely and note the passing of actress Diahann Carroll. I read this little book of comics once that I could have sworn was written by Charles Schultz, but it had a multiracial cast and almost exclusively focused on race issues, but I can't find out anything about it now, but anyway in one comic this little black boy was like, "I'm very disappointed in this book 'Black Beauty'. I thought it was going to be about Diahann Carroll." And all these years later I still think that's one of the funniest things ever.
Dihann Carroll will be remembered as the first black woman to win a Tony award (back when the Tony awards had standards, no less) and the first black woman to star in a non-stereotypical television role (I guess we're not counting Lieutenant Uhura? idk, I'm just going by what Wikipedia says), but to me, she will mostly be remembered a. for the aforementioned comic, and b. for her guest role in "The Star Wars Holiday Special" as singing Wookiee porn. I don't know how else to describe it. Between her dialogue and Chewbacca's father's horrific reaction to it, one marvels that this scene was allowed on television in 1978 or ever. And then one realizes, oh, of course, by that point in the Special the censorship people reviewing it had slipped into a coma. As for why it, and the entire Special, was written and filmed in the first place, one can only hypothesize that the creators couldn't find real drugs and drank gasoline instead. Even so. She was the first black character with a speaking role in Star Wars (since James Earl Jones technically played a white guy), and still the only one with a singing role that I'm aware of, and that's worth remembering.
USU's campus has a spot above the parking terrace where you can go and look out over a good-sized chunk of town and, if you time it right, the setting sun. Recently I was in the vicinity while the sky was turning orange, so I headed up to look. This spot is also right behind freshman housing and has a fire pit where several happened to be congregated at this time. I avoided eye contact and charted a course well around them. My being there was not problematic in itself, as this area is as public as any other part of campus and I've seen people old enough to be my grandparents come to take pictures of the sunset, but I wanted to avoid any appearances of trying to crash their party or steal their s'mores. I also had my earbuds in as usual. So it took me a minute to notice them calling out to me. As it turns out, they wanted to be my friends and offer me a s'more.
I apologetically explained that my music was really loud. (I hope to permanently damage my hearing just enough to no longer pick up the million annoying little sounds that my brain refuses to filter out like a normal person's.) They said that was fine and what was I listening to? I said Nightwish. They asked what is that? I said it's a Finnish metal band. They said take out your earbuds and let's hear it. I obliged, grateful that I had told the truth. The song, "Nemo", is an epic yet melancholy piece, as one can infer from the title, which of course is Latin for "little orange fish". It so impressed one of the freshmen that she pulled out her own phone and Shazam'd it. And in that moment I knew that notwithstanding how much of my time and potential I may have wasted that day, right here and now I had enriched someone's life in a very tangible way. Because of me she now knows that Nightwish exists. I'm not worthless after all.
And karma was swift to repay me. One of the guys asked if I had heard of a Swedish metal band called Sabaton. I hadn't, and I procrastinated looking it up for a few days because I get nervous about the unknown and my taste in music is generally superior to other people's, but I got around to it the other day and I would just like to say holy crap. It's epic. So far as I can tell, all of their songs are about World War I and/or II, and somehow despite being generations removed from those events this genre is completely appropriate for conveying the power of unprecedented war machines and the terror of ordinary soldiers going through hell. Its unrelenting speed, volume and intensity conveys a sense of all that without getting bogged down in history lessons or graphic details. And I'll just stop right there before I start to sound like I'm trying to sound like a music reviewer who knows what he's talking about, when all I'm really trying to is that I like Sabaton and my life has been enriched by the introduction. Favorite track: "Bismarck".
This past Friday a friend and occasional reader of this blog, and his wife whom I met for the first time but who already knew about me because of my blog, hosted the inaugural meeting of the Logan Music Society, "a place to listen to, present, and chat about music old and new, from far and near". For this meeting everyone was invited to "play" a song that has changed them and explain why. And since this guy is an actual musician type person, I thought maybe "play" meant "perform", and that almost dissuaded me from showing up. I can't play music, I can't read music, I can't sing without Autotune and I know very little about the official terminology and stuff. I just like listening to it and I know what I like. I did finally decide to show up to be supportive, and everyone just played their chosen songs from their phones so that was all right.
I still hesitated to share one in front of the group because me no very good speech the English extemporaneously. That's why I write. But I went for it because, you know, facing your fears and stuff, and I don't think I sounded like a complete idiot. People liked the song and somebody asked for the artist's name and wrote it down and said she was really excited. Another enriched life. Even so, I want to take this opportunity to compensate for the shortcomings of my presentation by redoing it with my superior writing skills.
Three contenders ran through my mind prior to the meeting: "Unwell" by Matchbox Twenty, "Last Man Standing" by Hammerfall, and "Dante's Prayer" by Loreena McKennitt. I nixed "Unwell" because I thought it would benefit the group more to share something they were less likely to be familiar with. Then, noting the general tone of prior selections and apparent musical leanings of the people who actually knew stuff about music, I opted for the remaining option that I thought they would like more. Of course it would have been perfectly acceptable to express my individuality and break the prevailing tone with metal, but since I didn't have a preference either way I nixed "Last Man Standing" and of course that left "Dante's Prayer".
"Dante's Prayer" is the final track off Loreena McKennitt's 1997 album "The Book of Secrets". She does Celtic New Age-y stuff and my parents were really into that, so they bought the album pretty much when it came out. I was four years old. And I absolutely adored some of the songs and I absolutely adored Loreena McKennitt herself, looking so radiant on the album cover. I decided I would marry her someday. As it turns out, she's still single, but only because her fiance died in a boating accident around the same time I was having these thoughts, which makes me feel terrible. Anyway, despite that, there was one song on the album I didn't care for, and that was this one. I remember where I was the first time I heard it. I was taking a bath when this low melancholy moaning sound unlike anything I'd heard before came over the stereo system, and I thought it was weird and creepy and unpleasant.
Obviously I don't think that anymore. The sound, as it turns out, is a Russian Orthodox chant called "Hallelujah", and even though the Russian Orthodox Church is being a jerk right now I absolutely love what they have to offer her. The sound is still weird, yes, but in such a good way. To me it's a sound that seems to freeze time itself. It's a sound that says, gently but inescapably, "Stop whatever you're doing right this instant and listen to this and become introspective." And I find myself wishing that its time-freezing power was literal and would last forever, because the time it brings me to is the time I was four years old sitting in the bathtub. When I was four years old I didn't know that life was as happy and simple as it was ever going to get. I didn't appreciate that my problems were all but nonexistent, but they were about to multiply like cockroaches. What I wouldn't give to reclaim that innocence! The bathtub part is just incidental.
Nostalgia is a double-edged sword, as depressing as it is uplifting, and I find that same tonal ambivalence in "Hallelujah" and then in the rest of the song as it segues into piano, cello (I think), violin (I think), and Loreena McKennitt's goddess voice. Granted, this may owe more to my own lack of emotional intelligence than authorial intent, but the way art works is that my interpretation is as valid as anyone else's. The lyrics speak of hope, of faith, of seeking after God when he seems the most distant, of grasping at tender mercies and persevering through the long dark night of the soul - depression, faith crisis, loss, whatever. In my favorite passage, she sings,
"I did not believe because I could not see
Though you came to me in the night
When the dawn seemed forever lost
You showed me your love in the light of the stars"
Yet I cannot bring myself to call this a cheerful song when it sounds like something to be played at a funeral. In this very same passage, Loreena/Dante laments her/his own foolishness and shortcomings, and this continues as (s)he asks God to strengthen her/his "clay feet" and "feeble heart" and "take these crumpled hopes, etched with tears". Near the end of life, perhaps, looking back with no small amount of regret and lingering heartache over the past, but acknowledging God's hand throughout, and humbly pleading with Him to remain nearby through the final stretch. Loreena's voice fades away as she repeats, as she begs, "Please remember me." She is altogether silent when the music segues flawlessly back into "Hallelujah", closing out this hymn of unparalleled beauty that simultaneously preaches hope, acknowledges pain, and diminishes neither. As I put it more simply the other night, "It makes me cry for multiple reasons." That's how I feel about it now that I don't hate it anymore.
Graduating has put me in the mood for a trip down memory lane. These are... well, exactly what it says on the tin. A couple of fan films that still are and always will be dear to my heart. Both take place between "Revenge of the Sith" and "A New Hope" and follow Jedi trying to evade the Empire. Not the most original premise, and they may not have phenomenal acting or effects, but their good qualities and the obvious passion behind them continue to make them more entertaining than cringeworthy even now. I mean, that's just my opinion. I may be blinded by nostalgia and a toxic need for as much Star Wars as possible. But give them a chance.
I somehow stumbled upon the "Revelations" website by accident circa 2007, and was awestruck as I read through the behind-the-scenes words and pictures. Here a group of amateurs had made their own mini Star Wars movie with props and costumes and everything, and if that wasn't incredible enough, several volunteers around the world had taken several hours to fill it with CGI. The CGI showed its limitations even back then, but its inclusion at all was mind-blowing to me. The score by Chris Bouchard, which can still be downloaded here, is perhaps the best original music I've ever heard in a fan film. It's very vocal-heavy by Star Wars standards and has a sort of haunting, melancholy sound. Even the opening crawl fanfare is redone. When it was released shortly before "Revenge of the Sith", this film's ambition and scope drew media attention and favorable comparisons to the original Star Wars.
At one time a couple of high school friends and I seriously talked about making our own movie, and I emailed director/actor Shane Felux asking for tips. He gave me a lengthy and thoughtful response that I posted on my website without permission here. He's since more or less disappeared from the internet, along with the "Revelations" website that blew me away so long ago. An archived version can be found here. The saddest thing about it is that nobody seems to have ever seen or know where to find his subsequent sci-fi series "Trenches", and I'm really really curious about it.
I don't remember how I found this either, but it wasn't long after "Revelations". For a long time these were the only two fan films I knew existed, as it didn't occur to me that they were an actual genre, which at that stage of their evolution was probably for the best. This one doesn't have an original score, and the CG is even worse, and, yes, it mostly takes place in a forest, but the lightsaber choreography is better than anything in the original trilogy and some of the cinematography is brilliant. Though not Academy Awards material by any means, it holds up incredibly well considering that it's one of the first fan films ever made and was followed by a lot of inferior crap. A remastered version would with updated effects would be epic. And we're coming up on its twentieth anniversary, so... jussayin.
Okay, so, when I see things like this that are relatively not that old but pretty old in terms of how much the actors must have aged since then, I get all curious about where they are now. So on a whim I searched for one of the actresses, Michelle O'Keefe. And that's how I found out that a young actress named Michelle O'Keefe was murdered in February 2000, after "Knightquest" was filmed but before it was released. Um. I... don't... think she's the same Michelle O'Keefe. But I'm not entirely sure. They look kind of similar. I certainly hope that the filmmakers would have added a tribute to the credits if that were the case. Anyway, that put me off searching for any of the others. I assume Forrest G. Wood, the old guy, is dead anyway.
Brigham Young said, "Your endowment is, to receive all those ordinances in the house of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and hell." I wrote a bit more about it already on this page, but not a lot more and nothing that I shouldn't have. There are aspects of the ceremony that are not to be shared with anyone outside the temple and I respect that and nobody better freak out about this post. I'll do my best not to be too opaque, but without getting ridiculously long this beginning portion will probably make little sense to people not of my religion and I'm sorry about that. Suffice to say that this is an important ceremony considered essential to get into the highest level of heaven.
Any qualified adult member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can get endowed, but it's typically done before serving a mission or getting married. Since I didn't serve a mission, I was never going to do it unless I just went and did it without a special occasion in mind. At any given time after the age change in 2012 it seemed that virtually everyone in my ward was endowed and considered this ceremony synonymous with the temple. When people ask "Have you been to the temple?" they're asking if you've been endowed, not whether you do baptisms for the dead at the temple every week. I resented that more than a little bit. I felt like nobody cared about or indeed even remembered the sacred ordinance that I performed despite it being equally necessary and a prerequisite to endowments, and I felt like I was spiritually behind everyone else and it hurt. Did I overreact? Probably. Were my ward members and priesthood leaders a tad insensitive? Also probably.
I did do baptisms for the dead every week for a period, though, and there in the baptistry I felt appreciated. Technically I should have called ahead to make appointments, but the workers considered me to have a standing appointment and were always thrilled to see me. I made a decision to never turn around and leave when I saw how busy it was, and sometimes I had to wait upwards of an hour for massive groups of teenagers to go through, but it was worth it to leave feeling lightened like a coat that had gone through the wash and had all the dirt filtered out. I had at least one, maybe two experiences with the deceased people I was doing work for. So basically it was great. As time went on, though, I felt more awkward being in there with so many younger people. Most people who've gotten their own endowments don't do the baptisms that often. I stopped showing up and let my temple recommend expire for a couple years.
But I was in no hurry to progress. Despite knowing intellectually that I needed to do this at some point if I was serious about my faith, in practice I wasn't planning on it at all. I didn't want to wear temple garments almost 24/7 for the rest of my life, as endowed Latter-day Saints do to remember the covenants they made and receive spiritual protection, and I was afraid the ceremony would be freakishly weird and give me nightmares. Over the years, by accident, I probably heard and read a bit more about its various incarnations past and present than I was supposed to - more often than not from less than friendly perspectives - and I didn't like all of the things I heard and read. I knew that the vast majority of people who had the experience loved it, but some very much did not, and my trajectory seemed predestined for the latter group. So I addressed it like I do most of my problems: by trying to ignore it.
I still wouldn't have taken this step if not for the influence of the new senior missionary couple who got all excited when they learned that I hadn't. Long story short, they went through all the Temple Prep lessons with me and gave me stuff to read and I felt the Spirit making me comfortable with the idea. Mostly. I still occasionally worried. I had a few nightmares leading up to it. But then, I've had a lot of nightmares the last few months about all kinds of things. I don't know why. My crappy life hasn't been noticeably crappier than usual. The only one I enjoyed was the one where I was in a literal Jurassic Park movie getting chased by a T. rex. In that dream I experienced all the heart-rending terror of being moments away from those massive jaws and wet, putrid breath, and was forced to think for the first time about how those characters must have felt in the moments before they died, and how much it hurt before they lost consciousness. But even in the midst of feeling that, I recognized that it was totally awesome because I was being chased by a freaking T. rex. I'm not even joking when I call that a good nightmare.
Anyway, I had to do the usual worthiness interviews and I gained an appreciation for this concept of worthiness and perfection not being the same thing. I'm grateful, for instance, that the questions didn't include things like "Do you ever swear when the wi-fi stops working every day?" or "Do you still harbor hatred toward, to list a totally random hypothetical example, a parasite who owes you more than six thousand dollars but has paid back literally thirty cents in the last eight months?" I would not be temple worthy in this life time if I were required to rectify all of my massive personal defects. But I think I'm an okay person. The senior missionaries said the stake president told them he felt good about me going to the temple. That was good to hear. It would have been awkward if he'd said something like "I felt sick to my stomach the whole time, but I couldn't deny his recommend because he answered all the questions right."
I got endowed Tuesday evening. My verdict? At least three people now working in this area of the temple recognized me from the baptistry and were thrilled to see me, which made me feel good. In contrast, within seconds of putting on the temple garments for the first time, I could no longer feel them against my skin. I thought it would take at least a couple days to adjust. Most of the ceremony itself was almost disappointingly un-weird. The weirdest part was the clothes, but I had a thought at college graduation two days later, as I looked out at the robes and sashes and silly square hats with tassels, that this graduation clothing was every bit as weird as the temple clothing. All symbols are arbitrary, but the ones we grow up with seem normal while the ones we only know secondhand or later in life seem strange and exotic. We need to recognize this fact in order to avoid being stupid ethnocentric hypocrites. Here I am standing outside the temple with some people afterward.
Jen (in the picture), who helped prepare me for this by patiently addressing questions and concerns over the years, took me and whoever else was willing and able to dinner afterward. Audrey (also in the picture) made me cookies. Everyone else needs to step up their game. Kidding, kidding.
Speaking of graduation, that was also a thing that happened. I wrote previously about how I started school in 2011 and went through no small amount of suffering between then and now. If I had glimpsed, eight years ago on the threshold of adulthood, how much pain lay in store for me, I would have died on the spot. But here I am graduated and not dead, so yay for me. I know eight years isn't a record by any means, even among the small sample size in one of my English classes that I shared with three students in their early thirties, but it's a big freaking chunk of my life and it's a miracle I ever graduated at all. Under those circumstances, I suppose the commencement and convocation ceremonies would have been anticlimactic no matter what. But it would have been nice if I hadn't been too poor to get a cap and gown and actually participate, and if my sister hadn't absentmindedly scheduled her wedding for the same day.
That argument went down a couple months ago, and I told her straight up that while I would like to go to her wedding, if it came down to a choice between that and the ceremony I had earned and was entitled to, I would choose the latter. She moved her wedding later in the day so I could go to both and I let it go. But after actually going to my convocation and then skipping the luncheon and rushing off for the wedding, I got enraged all over again and spent the rest of the day very pissed off. A few people took a few seconds to ask how my graduation went, before wandering off to continue fawning over my sister and showering her with gifts and money. This was like the feeling of not being endowed while everyone else was, except much worse. It felt like the most important day of my life, the biggest achievement of my life, the event that should have been the glorious long-awaited culmination of everything I worked and suffered for, a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I'll never get to redo the right way, was hijacked by someone else with a more important accomplishment that made mine all but invisible. It hurt very much.
I'm not angry anymore, at least. I think I've processed that and moved on, so I won't rant about it for several more paragraphs like I originally assumed I would. But I think I'm entitled to be honest about the experience for posterity and not pretend it was awesome. I wish my sister much happiness. I barely know this guy and he's not at all the type I would have expected her to go for, but I guess he makes her happy so that's good.
There is one picture of me after graduation. As I wandered around greeting some of my friends who could afford caps and gowns and felt inclined to be a part of their ceremony, a high councillor's wife from church asked me to take a picture of their family because her daughter was graduating. She asked why I was there, and I mentioned why and then she made me be in a picture with her family too. I felt stupid standing there in a suit next to a bunch of people who didn't know me, and that's why I'm not sharing the picture here, but it was a very kind gesture and I appreciate it. I also appreciate that my other two sisters wanted to come but couldn't because they don't have their own vehicle(s) out here far from home. And I appreciate Uncle Russ and Aunt Amanda, who, the next day, straight-up asked if my graduation was a disappointment (yes) and got me pizza and ice cream and let me watch Star Wars at their house while hanging out with their adorable children who would have cried themselves to sleep if they didn't get to see me. At least the older four would have. The baby probably didn't care and probably cries herself to sleep anyway.
I want to give a shout-out to a couple people who left us this week.
First, of course, Peter Mayhew (74). I know very little about him and would feel pretentious trying to wax super eloquent about his passing, but because he brought to life one of the coolest Star Wars characters ever, he was all right by me. It seems like just yesterday that I discovered Chewbacca in a Millennium Falcon Lego set and noted with surprise that he had the same name as my cousin's cat. Mayhew liked to share the amusing anecdote of how he got the role just by standing up when George Lucas walked in, but he brought breadth to the role as well as height. His posture mattered, and the facial expressions he made with the limited mobility of the mask, and behind-the-scenes footage reveals that he actually spoke real contextually accurate dialogue before it was dubbed over with animal noises. Most people probably don't know what his voice sounded like or what he looked like, but he left his mark on the character and consequently on the world just the same. Dang it, now I feel pretentious.
Less known and tragically much younger, Rachel Held Evans (37) is also gone. She was a progressive evangelical pushing for greater inclusivity and intellectualism within the movement. I discovered her blog because of her posts on evolution, and they were very useful, and I quoted her on this page of mine but I'll repeat that quote here for the sake of convenience and flow. You're welcome.
"What we are searching for is a community of faith in which it is safe to ask tough questions, to think critically, and to be honest with ourselves. Unfortunately, a lot of young evangelicals grew up with the assumption that Christianity and evolution cannot mix, that we have to choose between our faith in Jesus and accepted science. I've watched in growing frustration as this false dichotomy has convinced my friends to leave the faith altogether when they examine the science and find it incompatible with a 6,000-year-old earth. Sensing that Christianity required abandoning their intellectual integrity, some of the best and brightest of the next generation made a choice they didn't have to make."
Though I belong to a different strain of Christianity, I hope to keep the spirit of her efforts alive in some capacity.
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C. Randall Nicholson
This is where I occasionally rant about life, the universe, and/or everything. I'm a white cisgender male and a Latter-day Saint, so you can hate me without guilt, but I'm also autistic, so you can't. Unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual.