The referendum against Utah's recent tax reform ended on Tuesday, having collected an estimated 150-170,000 signatures out of the 116,000 that were required. It would have taken some time to verify the final count, and some would have been rejected, but we were pretty dang confident we had this in the bag. Then it became moot because the Legislature was so scared by this upswelling of resistance that they repealed the tax reform altogether. Now, instead of being put on the ballot in November, it's simply ceased to exist. Of course I hope Utah will still remember in November exactly which people voted for that train wreck in the first place, and I hope this will leave a lasting impression on anyone currently in or planning to enter politics. I have to admit the referendum would have most likely been a flop without the endorsement and enthusiastic participation of the Harmon's grocery store chain, where I would happily shop if they had a location in Logan, and the conservative think tank Sutherland Institute who encouraged people to sign by running radio ads telling them not to sign.
I finished submitting the supplementary materials for my graduate school application. The requirements use all this pompous academic language, of course, and it's intimidating and it makes me feel like I'm way out of my depth when I just want to write fun science fiction stories. Realistically, though, and I'm not trying to be cocky, but realistically, I'll be very surprised if I don't get in. I think the skill exhibited in my writing sample will speak for itself, and I also know the professors giving me recommendations will speak very highly of said skill, especially the one who urged me to consider graduate school and teaching in the first place. By my estimate I was the third best writer in his class the first time around and the second best the second, but of course that's kind of subjective and when I told Stormy she was probably the best she said "No, you definitely are." I think my biggest strength is that I fill a different niche than most. Nobody else in any of my writing classes over the years has focused on fun science fiction stories.
I recently lost a substantial chunk of one of my teeth, substantial enough for me to see the sensitive core with my naked eye and touch it with my naked finger, which I only did once. I assumed the remaining chunk would have to be pulled out and I was surprisingly quick to accept that. It's way in the back where nobody would notice, and I've already learned to chew without it, and I figured this life is mercifully short and I'll get it back when I'm resurrected so whatever happens to me in the meantime doesn't matter. I was far more concerned about the cost. I just got Medicaid but it doesn't cover anything dental because the US government has decided those things aren't super important. Imagine, then, my relief when the dentist said he can repair my tooth in half an hour and it will only cost $254.84 if I pay the same day. He might have to follow up with a root canal, but there's no sense worrying about that yet.
The situation with my neighbors... hasn't changed at all, but after the initial shock, I surprisingly don't much care. Their wrongness is their own loss. It will also make my memoir that much better.
This review of my site on Webwiki, the first one from somebody who isn't me, isn't new, but I just noticed it the other day and it made me happy.
Thank you, Jason. Now I'm all like
and I hope to continue putting out the same level of quality, but no promises.
I've had a few bits and pieces of writing on this site in the form of embedded word documents and downloads that don't really work on mobile devices and would be too tiny to read comfortably if they did. I don't think search engines can go through them either. Since these are mostly unfinished pieces of crap from my middle and high school years, moving them into the twenty-first century (which my middle and high school years were already part of, but I'm speaking metaphorically, in a self-deprecating remark about my own lack of technological prowess) hasn't been a priority, but in the last few days I've been finally doing it, transplanting the text from these documents into actual web pages.
The most horrifically painful thing about some of my early writing is the godawful attempts to straight-up copy Douglas Adams' one-of-a-kind writing style. In fairness, he left us much too soon and I would be doing a legitimate service to the world by providing more works in his vein if they were of equal quality and not just pathetic knockoffs. And I guess I don't regret the experiment because I believe that it had a lasting impact on the evolution of my actual genuine writing voice. I think I can see a bit of Douglas Adams in my writing voice, but just a bit, thank goodness.
Anyway, I was skimming through this unfinished sci-fi epic "The War" as I moved the text over - I had intended to read it all straight through, but that was too painful - and this little bit stopped me in my tracks. When I wrote it as a teenager in 2008 or 9, it was just a silly attempt at humor with virtually no real-life subtext intended, but anyone reading it today would be unable to avoid what TV Tropes calls Unfortunate Implications. It's - well, I'll just let it speak for itself.
[Beginning of excerpt. The setting is a party/dance with members of many alien races present.]
“All right,” Hok announced, leaping to the nearest hovering microphone on ridiculously long gangly legs. He was a short, skinny green man with a gargantuan head and pointy ears. “All right,” he repeated, “hang on to your kramblotches, because it’s pippiks’ choice!”
There was a slight groan from some of those assembled, elicited by the fact that there was only one pippik present, a suddenly rather confused-looking Troikot.
There is a simple pattern followed by many species throughout the universe, and that is this: male, female. The reason this is followed by many species is that it’s simple, it works, and if you believe in an all-powerful Hand guiding it somewhere along the line you can imagine Him wanting to keep it consistent. For those who like to keep it even simpler, the options of hermaphrodite and null were made available. However, the Universe being the humongous place it is, some species are bound to be dissatisfied with these perfectly reasonable choices, and choose to come up with their own fancy alternatives. Pippiks, then, are only one of thousands of relatively obscure genders to be found throughout said Universe. Kramblotches, on the other hand, are completely unrelated organs found in some species for the purpose of throwing at predators.
When it comes to interstellar travel, this also brings up the problem of gender pronouns. The language of a species with its own special genders will have developed its own special pronouns, of course, but usually any being from a normal male/female/hermaphrodite/null species will not want to bother memorizing all of the pronouns for the thousands of relatively obscure genders that exist. As a result, most choose to lump them all under the “it” category. Some find this offensive, but, others argue, they should have thought of that before their species decided to create its own genders anyway.
“Ask that cute farfel over there,” whispered a Queezik.
“I don’t swing that way,” the Troikot timidly whispered back.
Hok’s keen ears picked up their exchange and he grinned in spite of himself. He knew, of course, that there was only one pippik in the room, but he was trying as best he could to be fair and tolerant of everybody. Sexism, of course, was unseemly even by this society’s standards.
[End of excerpt]
So. Much. Cringe.
I've avoided talking about all the sex and gender controversy (except that one time, which I won't apologize for) because it's surprisingly complicated and I don't want to say ignorant things. I know that chromosomes are complicated and there are several - not percentage-wise, but numerically - demonstrable exceptions to the "XY = male, XX = female" dichotomy. Externally female bodies may have only one X chromosome, or even XY chromosomes and useless internal testes in place of ovaries, to cite a simple and surprisingly common example. I do think a lot of other people don't know as much about it as they think they do either, even when citing "science" as their authority. A couple months ago in the Mormons Building Bridges group someone posted an article about a study that had allegedly found that, marriage expert Mark Gungor's hilarious routine notwithstanding, there is no difference between men's brains and women's brains. And more recently in the same group someone posted an article about a study that had allegedly found that transgender children's brains matched the gender they identified as, not their biological sex.
I may be missing something obvious, but I can't help feeling like it's fundamentally impossible for both of those claims to be true. Of course it's not my place as a non-scientist to reject either or both of them without being able to explain why, but neither is it the place of other non-scientists to imbue either of them with more authority than it actually has. Scientific truth is not established overnight by one scientist or team of scientists. A study may be interesting but means very little unless and until its results are replicated in additional studies. This often never happens. There's also the issue of news outlets and other lay people misinterpreting studies to mean what they want them to mean - for example, this happened a few years ago:
Study from BYU: We found that religious people who use pornography are more likely than non-religious people who use pornography to describe themselves as "addicted" even if they show no signs of addiction.
Almost Everyone Else: This study from BYU found that pornography addiction is a myth created by religious guilt.
These people seemed to believe they were objectively reporting the study's results, when in reality they were doing something else: making crap up. In any case, I'm going to reserve judgment on most of these issues for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, it costs nothing to be kind.
I do still consider it plausible that the vast majority of alien races would fall into something recognizably analogous to the male/female dichotomy, just as the vast majority of advanced organisms on Earth do even with chromosomal arrangements that in many cases radically differ from ours. Sexual reproduction is weird and gross but it works because, by mixing and recombining parents' DNA, it drastically boosts the genetic diversity of the species, which in turn makes it far less vulnerable to being suddenly wiped out by disease, climate change or whatever. This obviously requires at least two parents. Three, four, or a dozen would create even more diversity, but the exponential difficulty of actually pulling it off in practice would more than nullify that benefit. Of course, there may be aliens out there who aren't even made from DNA as we understand it, but that's also too complicated for me to think about right now.
Ugh, I need to get the taste of that excerpt out of my mouth, so here's another from the same scene that I don't hate.
[Beginning of excerpt.]
“Let’s go find a seat,” said Bert. They turned around and nearly bumped into the nine-foot tall hairy mass behind them. It reacted slightly less than a tombstone, but the purple snake coiled around its neck reared up and hissed at them violently.
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” said Alicia, who had spilled soda all over her clothes in response. “Er, nice pet,” she said to the hairy creature, hoping to make light of it.
“How dare you speak that way of my fiancé?” demanded the snake.
[End of excerpt.]
It's a dumb joke, but I find it amusing. At least I was supportive of interracial marriage long after it was cool.
Why do I put these garbage writing samples, these "sins of my youth" as Hergé would call them, on the internet instead of burying them forever? First of all, because when I'm famous everyone will be fascinated to see how my writing has evolved. Joking but serious at the same time. Second, because despite how bad they are, they're actually not that bad. Oh sure, they're too painful for me to read, but they have their moments of brilliance and I can see in them the potential that my teachers saw and urged me to cultivate. They're better than some Legend of Zelda fan fiction I've read. Heck, they're better than some things I read from some of my undergraduate English classmates. Not singling anyone out but just being honest. And maybe some people who hold me to a lower standard than I do, who aren't personally embarrassed by the existence of this old writing, can actually enjoy it. I enjoy the Star Wars Holiday Special, which shouldn't be possible for a carbon-based life form, so it's not that far-fetched.
While I was skimming through "The War", I laughed out loud at a part where (spoiler alert) one character who's just learned English as a second language refers to puppy love as "dog lust". Maybe I'm just an idiot, but I think that's one of the funniest things I've ever written.
A recent article caught my attention, entitled "Feds take down the world's 'largest dark web child porn marketplace'." A more accurate headline would have been "Feds take down the world's 'largest known dark web child porn marketplace so far'", but nobody wants to hear that. The marketplace was jointly taken down by Germany, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States, with additional cooperation from fourteen other countries. This is a beautiful example of international brotherhood and also a beautiful example of what federal law enforcement can accomplish when it isn't busy trying to arrest people for smoking a plant. The main guy behind it, Jong Woo Son, is now serving a prison sentence of - eighteen months. I kid you not. That better be just the beginning of his problems, because even the judge who sentenced Brock Turner is looking at that and going "Seriously guys?" Personally, I think everyone with any degree of involvement should be shot and used as Halloween decorations, but nobody asked me.
I imagine that seeing all of this child pornography and tracking down the children and infants involved must be traumatic enough for the investigators. But on top of that, they knew about this marketplace for a couple years, even figured out Jong Woo Son's identity, but were forced to be patient and cautious, even to buy some of the porn themselves, in order to eventually take the whole thing down. That must have been hell. And I'm not gonna lie, it disturbs me very much to imagine God watching every second of this rampant child and infant abuse and doing nothing to stop it. But the alternative is even more disturbing. The alternative is that these children and infants just got very unlucky with their one shot at life, and nobody is ever ever going to make it up to them, and the bastards who did this to them will never get what's coming to them because nothing that mortal justice can do to them, let alone what it will actually do, is good enough. At least God offers a long-term solution.
I believe that God allows injustice in this life for at least three reasons. One, so we can learn to appreciate joy by contrasting it with suffering. Two, so we can develop our character by choosing how to react to our circumstances. Personally, I think anyone who applies either of these reasons to children and infants getting raped should be punched in the throat, but nobody asked me. The third and, I believe, only relevant reason in this case is that our freedom to make our own choices and decide what kind of people we want to be - indeed, the primary purpose of being alive in the first place - is too sacred for God to take away, even when those choices and those people are terrible. Jong Woo Son and his ilk have made their choices at the expense of countless innocents. But they won't live forever, and they won't avoid being held accountable for those choices.
"It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones." - Luke 17:2
Yet another recent headline, this one of a Pew poll, reports what everyone already knew: that the number of self-identified Christians in the United States of America is in rapid decline. The natural impulse is to blame "the wickedness of the world", but I think Christianity more or less has itself to blame for this. Now I believe that the vast majority of denominations and individual Christians are, on the balance, good, and this is not an attack on anyone in particular. But one can hardly blame young people for leaving in many cases when they realize that the Earth is more than six to ten thousand years old, that their gay friends and family members aren't evil, that the Republican Party platform isn't scripture, and/or that a god who sends a solid majority of his children to live in circumstances where they will never have the opportunity to avoid burning in hell forever is unworthy of worship. The historical atrocities and the scandals and hypocrisy of various preachers, priests and bishops probably don't help either.
"Fundamentalists are to Christianity what paint-by-numbers is to art." - Robin Tyler
And yet the "liberal" churches aren't doing better. If anything they're doing worse. It's a bizarre fact of life that while countless people are leaving Christianity over LGBTQ issues, every single denomination that has embraced same-sex marriage is plummeting. Some are on course for swift extinction. I would imagine this is more a case of correlation than causation. I would imagine it has more to do with the the denominations in question loosening, softening, and dumbing down their doctrine to the point where Jesus is just a guy who said we should be nice to people. And many, many people want to believe in that version of Jesus, but by and large they have little to no interest in organized religion. Why go to church for the same sermon you could get from an episode of "Barney"? So appealing to them is a doomed endeavor from the start.
"[I]t is a characteristic of our age that if people want any gods at all, they want them to be gods who do not demand much, comfortable gods, smooth gods who not only don’t rock the boat but don’t even row it, gods who pat us on the head, make us giggle, then tell us to run along and pick marigolds." - Jeffrey R. Holland
Of course the main reason I'm hearing about this poll is what it says about my denomination, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Those within the Church may or may not have noticed how all the bragging about how fast we're growing has quietly disappeared in the last few years. That's because it's not true anymore. It's also not true, as detractors assert until they're blue in the face, that we're shrinking. In fact this poll reports that we're holding steady at 2% of the American population. (Probably less than half of that percentage actually goes to church on a semi-regular basis, but whatever, we still love them.) So, yay? Other churches are shrinking but ours isn't. The bar for success has been set pretty dang low nowadays.
My church is certainly not devoid of real and perceived problems, and has also lost thousands of members (though not as many members as it's gained, which is where the detractors' basic algebra skills suffer a critical failure). But I believe it's managed to hold steady by making adjustments and compromises where it needs to, and standing firm where it needs to. It makes constant course corrections, as it's done throughout its history, to hew to the state of "optimal tension" described by Armand Mauss and others. For example, President Russell M. Nelson has made changes to reduce the amount of time that the Church takes members away from their homes and families, yet church standards and callings remain rather "strict" and "demanding" by the standards of most denominations, which ensures that participation actually has significance and makes lasting changes in people's lives.
"Let us here observe, that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation..." - Joseph Smith Jr.
The negative reputation of organized religion is not entirely undeserved. But the great strength of organized religion that gets overlooked, that individuals simply can't replicate, is its ability to unify and empower people to accomplish good in the world. Organizations like my church and the Catholic Church are able to leverage their collective faith into countless local and global humanitarian efforts that of course no normal person could ever hope to replicate. That's not to say secular charities aren't wonderful, obviously, but just to illustrate that as far as faith is concerned, working together has far more practical efficacy than being "spiritual but not religious" on one's own. Believers, when they aren't being pricks, also edify and strengthen each other when they unite. This sense of community is such a basic need for most people that those who leave religion, or even those who are openly hostile to religion, struggle to find a secular replacement for it. And even when believers are being pricks, like me, they can still teach us how to love, if we choose to learn, which I usually don't because it's hard.
"In the life of the true Church, there are constant opportunities for all to serve, especially to learn to serve people we would not normally choose to serve - or possibly even associate with - and thus opportunities to learn to love unconditionally. There is constant encouragement, even pressure, to be 'active': to have a 'calling' and thus to have to grapple with relationships and management, with other people's ideas and wishes, their feelings and failures; to attend classes and meetings and to have to listen to other people's sometimes misinformed or prejudiced notions and to have to make some constructive response; to have leaders and occasionally to be hurt by their weakness and blindness, even unrighteous dominion; and then to be made a leader and find that you, too, with all the best intentions, can be weak and blind and unrighteous. Church involvement teaches us compassion and patience as well as courage and discipline. It makes us responsible for the personal and marital, physical, and spiritual welfare of people we may not already love (or may even heartily dislike), and thus we learn to love them. It stretches and challenges us, though disappointed and exasperated, in ways we would not otherwise choose to be - and thus gives us a chance to be made better than we might choose to be, but ultimately need and want to be." - Eugene England
First, some unnecessary backstory. Pretty much everything I know about Tinder I learned from a classmate's essay in my Creative Nonfiction Writing course. Like all the creative writing courses, it was uncensored and unfiltered, but this was the only piece of writing I ever heard from a classmate that shocked me and made the professor be like "Um, that's kind of offensive." The questionable parts of the essay were her claims that she looked on Tinder for guys "who don't look like rapists" and that "Mormon men with beards look like they're part of the Taliban". I think I wrote in my comments, "What does a rapist look like?" But it was an informative essay nonetheless, and the only meaningful increase in my knowledge came a couple weeks ago when I was forced to take the first sick day of my life and spend it on the couch waiting to die. I somehow got to reading screenshots of funny, weird, and/or creepy Tinder profiles and messages, and that made me think about Mutual.
Mutual, from what I understood, was like Tinder but only for Latter-day Saints. It was named after the Young Men's Mutual Improvement Association and the Young Women's Mutual Improvement Association (formerly the Young Ladies' National Mutual Improvement Association, formerly the Young Ladies' Cooperative Retrenchment Association) because I presume the far superior name "Tinder Mercies" would have triggered an unwinnable lawsuit. I thought about this app because I was reading about all this scummy stuff on Tinder and I presumed that Mutual wouldn't have this scummy stuff. I'm sure it has some scummy people, but I presumed they had to behave themselves while on the app. And then I wondered if the app was free and then I figured it was probably free but with a Premium version required to actually make it useful, and I verified that and then, being very ill and bored, I downloaded it for reasons I still don't know. And I had another learning experience.
So of course you have to start out by making a profile. You have to have at least one picture, and that's where I hit my first snag. I couldn't find any non-group picture taken of me within the last year that I didn't hate, and even if I could have, I would have considered it misleading. I could concievably get a picture taken at just the right pose and angle and lighting to make me look moderately handsome, but I can't stay at that pose and angle and lighting all the time in real life. Nightmares flashed through my mind of women from the app meeting me in person and being disappointed by my mannerisms, voice, facial expressions, and outlook on life. So I ruled out that route right off. I used the picture of my dead dog (who wasn't dead at the time it was taken). I knew nobody would swipe on that and I didn't care because I just needed a picture so I could move on.
You have to set your profile somewhere on a scale between "Down for Dates" (because alliteration) and "Relationship Ready" (ditto). I couldn't be honest because "Just Browsing" isn't an option. I set msyself toward the former end of the scale but since I wasn't planning to get swiped, I didn't stress about the precise placement. You can say whether you've served a mission and if so, where. I said "Korea Pyongyang North" and got away with it. You can select some interests, hobbies and such, from a list and write a bit about yourself. There are a few prompts, but you can only use one. "Most embarrassing moment? Downloading this app." I should have tested to find out how much you can write but I didn't feel the need to duplicate information already available on the internet. So I just put an invitation to my website, but I didn't get a spike in traffic and I didn't expect one anyway so that was fine. And of course there are cool things you can only do with the Premium version, but I wouldn't have sprung for that even if I could afford it. That would be like paying Spotify every month with no guarantee that I would actually get to listen to music.
Then the app started bombarding me with other people's, specifically women's, profiles, and I immediately noticed what I regard as a tragic design flaw. Each profile just comes up as the woman's default picture, name, age and location. Sometimes she has more pictures you can scroll through. Then you can tap on it and bring up her common interests with you, DD vs. RR status, and whatever she chose to write about herself. And most of them didn't write much about themselves. A lot of them just listed their Instagram names in that space, so I went and followed their Instagrams where I could see several more pictures of them and, in one case, her boyfriend. Sometimes they had a little quip that attempted cuteness but gave little information. "I'm not gluten-free." Oh, good to know because that would have been a dealbreaker. Definitely more useful than your feelings on vaccines or Donald Trump. I admit that one made me smile, though, and I quote: "Just please don't murder me."
So the design flaw is this: I believe the Mutual app, whether by design or practice, encourages shallowness.
With so little to go off of, I was basically supposed to decide based on a woman's appearance whether I would bother messaging her. And yes, this is a natural human tendency, and like most humans I am more inclined to want to get to know humans who have certain physical traits that humans have evolved to find attractive in the opposite sex mostly for reasons of genetic fitness, but I feel very guilty about that. I don't want to be encouraged in it. Aziz Ansari in his book Modern Romance acknowledged that Tinder encourages shallowness, but decided that's fine because it's just like real life where people only gravitate to the people they find attractive anyway. Okay, but what if we harnessed the power of technology to make ourselves be better? What if we took the opportunity to look past the physical with greater ease by actually having access to a bunch of pertinent information right off the bat? For example, I would give virtually anyone a chance if she gave the right answers about vaccines and Donald Trump.
I've had the experience, as I'm sure many people have, of talking to someone that at first I regarded as rather plain-looking, only to find that she grows more and more beautiful with each moment of conversation, and before I know it three hours have gone by, and she asks me out, and I'm not sure at first if that's what's happened but I figure "Dinner and a movie, my treat" is pretty unambiguous, so the day approaches and then an hour before we're scheduled to go she texts and says she can't, she's sick, and I try to reschedule but her responses are kind of evasive and it occurs to me that this isn't a postponement but a cancelation, and I ask her directly if that's the case, and she says yes, I seem like a nice guy but she's just not interested, and as you can imagine I'm just a little teensy weensy itsy bitsy bit confused, so I calmly and politely inquire why she asked me out in the first place, and she says something to the effect of "I could tell that you liked me, but I figured you would be too shy to ask me out, so I thought I'd help you" and I feel like the next time she wants to "help" someone she should just, like, not, but after crying for a while I decide to forgive her but then - this is the strangest thing, I don't get it at all, but then her appearance changes again, like she has the same face as always, but now she looks like a literal gargoyle, and I don't get it at all because I'm not mad at her, I don't hate her, and there are plenty of people I do heartily dislike but they don't become "ugly" to me just because of that, so I know this isn't just some psychological perception thing on my part, and when I go with the missionaries to help teach her because she's going inactive I mention that bit to them in case it's relevant to her spirituality, only I try to be polite and call it "almost a physical change" even though there's no "almost" about it, and they seem to know what I'm talking about, and she always seems super awkward and uncomfortable being alive, too, which I never noticed before, and I don't know if she was like that before or I just didn't notice, but I confide in a close friend who happens to be her Relief Society president and shares some probably confidential information about her mental illnesses, and I understand that in her mind she really thought she was being helpful and with that reaffirmed I'm able to let it go completely. We've all been there, right? Right?
So I knew right away that I was in over my head. Unlike Tinder, instead of choosing the right, you swipe up to indicate your approval of someone's profile, and down to indicate that they aren't attractive enough for you. And I couldn't bring myself to swipe down on anyone. It seemed to me such an act of wanton cruelty toward a perfect stranger. If there had been something in any given profile to indicate that our personalities or political views or astrological signs weren't a good match, I could then have passed her by with a clear conscience knowing that it was no reflection on her. But there never was. The only real filter I could get was age. I decided a while ago that most 18-20 year olds aren't really adults and I don't want to deal with their crap, so I swiped down on those, but that still left so many more. And you can't just skip one and move on. You have to make a choice. You can go back to your own profile, you can close the app, you can turn off your phone, but as soon as you return to Mutual the same profile will be in your face demanding to know your verdict on her corporeal frame.
I kept the app for two weeks, up until the day I saw somebody from my stake. I haven't seen her since she left on a mission a couple years ago but now apparently she's back. I've never spoken to her and she's probably grateful for that. I didn't want to swipe her one way or another. But seeing her here now drove home the futility of having this guilt-trip of an app that I had no intention of using for its intended purpose and which I believe is fundamentally flawed in its execution. So I deleted it, but as I type this I realize that what I actually should have done is either a. swipe for an hour and take a shot of Dr. Pepper for every blonde, or b. make a fake profile, an attractive one, to see what caliber of messages it received and test my original hypothesis that Mutual dispenses with the unsavory elements of Tinder. But like I said, I didn't really think this through in the first place.
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.
The American Psychological Association recently made official its pre-existing opposition to hitting children, colloquially known as "spanking", as a form of discipline. This is a long overdue move considering that the adverse affects of spanking have been known for some time and this institution is kind of a big deal in the world of psychological stuff, but perhaps also a futile move because people will believe what they want to believe regardless. The more experts reach a consensus on something, the deeper the conspiracy runs, am I right? The science is settled on vaccines and evolution, but that hasn't stopped nobodies with no credentials from fabricating asinine debates that shouldn't exist. And the same is true here.
A few months ago, some Facebook page I forget and don't care the name of shared a story about a father who got arrested for hitting his daughter too hard. I said spanking should be illegal (which it is in at least thirty countries, but I meant in the United States) and posted the most recent study I was aware of. Exactly twenty parents responded to mock me with brilliant retorts like "You are completely wrong!" and "Pure baloney!" and "Sounds like you should have been spanked!" I mean, I don't know for a fact that they were all parents - unlike some of the creepy people I argue with, I have no desire to stalk people's profiles for things to use against them - but it seems more than likely, and my heart breaks for all children who have the misfortune of being born to or adopted by such imbeciles. It really is amazing how defensive so-called adults can get about what they think is their God-given right to hit children. You'd think I had threatened to take away their guns. I suppose that when their children develop mental health issues, they'll just blame vaccines.
The closest thing to an intelligent response - and I'm not saying it was an intelligent response, because it wasn't, but it was closer than any of the others, which isn't saying much at all - was some guy calmly explaining that he doesn't trust science because he thinks that scientists just choose what they want to believe and cherry-pick evidence to support it. First of all, it would be nice if we could stop everyone who claims to not trust science from reaping the benefits of it and see how quickly they change their tune. Second, this is a logical fallacy that does nothing to address the data. Third, it's absurdly hypocritical because what he accused scientists of doing is exactly what he and all proponents of spanking do. I mean, you can't make this stuff up. They start with their conclusion that hitting children is wholesome, beneficial and what have you, and once they've made up their minds no amount of actual facts matters. They cherry-pick the fact that they were spanked and they think they turned out fine. Frankly, the vast majority of people who say "I turned out fine" are the kind of people whom I would rather die than turn out like.
Another stupid and fallacious comment I saw recently: "If spanking doesn't work, why has the prison population skyrocketed since the 1970s?" Gee, I don't know. It couldn't possibly have anything at all to do with Richard Nixon's war on hippies and black people, I mean drugs. That would just be silly.
Also, something about how the APA is a "liberal" institution and can't be trusted because of their stance on transgenderism. Okay, sure, they're not infallible, and the labels and diagnoses we put on all these mental things are somewhat subjective and arbitrary and subject to change, but this is a slightly bigger deal than whether or not something is classified as a disorder. This is a decision based on the information that scientists have gathered by studying how spanked children and non-spanked children turn out over the course of their lifetimes. Unlike Andrew Wakefield, these are legitimate scientists doing legitimate studies. They don't make up their own facts. And frankly, it's just kind of a no-brainer that hitting someone much smaller than you doesn't tend to fill them with positive feelings or valuable life lessons, but that's none of my business.
Okay, so I should have waited longer before responding to these respondents, and taken the time to desensitize myself to these parents' soul-destroying level of stupidity, so that I wouldn't succumb to the temptation of telling them exactly what I thought of them. Barring that, I should have at least removed the phrase "take your heads out of your asses for a few minutes" from my explanation of why their asinine responses were deficient and made me lose brain cells. But I didn't. I'm working inconsistently and half-heartedly on being a nice person when I don't feel like it, but I'm still very deficient in that area and my motivation was kind of obliterated by the parasite who sucked more than five thousand dollars from me in two months and has paid back thirty cents in five months. If I had been mean to her in high school like everyone else, she wouldn't have asked me for anything in the first place, or if I had told her what she could go do instead of giving her any, she wouldn't have kept asking, right? Why would I want to ever be nice to anyone again? Um. Off-topic. Sorry.
Dear all parents of the United States and wherever else still has this problem,
You don't know everything. And that's okay. Nobody does and nobody expects you to. And for the most part, I would agree that your parenting tactics and whatever permanent psychological damage you inflict on your children are none of my business. Heck, you're even well within your rights to let them die from preventable diseases because you hate autistic people and worship one discredited doctor with one fraudulent study. Okay, that was sarcasm again. I can't help it. To reiterate the actual point: you don't know everything and that's not an accusation, just a fact.
However, if - and I realize I'm not referring to all of you here - you pretend that becoming a parent somehow magically downloads God's knowledge into your brain, that you're smarter than doctors and scientists in fields where you have approximately zero knowledge or experience, and that what you for some unclear and unhealthy reason desperately want to be true trumps actual observable facts, you shoot your credibility in the head and run it over with a steamroller. You broadcast to the world that you're a moron and proud of it. And your child(ren) suffer(s) the consequences.
Your opinions are not sacred because of your parenthood. They are not entitled to respect or deference just because they exist. They are not God's law just because your parents or grandparents held them too. They can be and sometimes are wrong. If you're an adult, you should be able to acknowledge this, change them, and move on with greater wisdom. You should be able to acknowledge and ignore your own confirmation bias instead of pretending that scientists and/or liberals are the only people who have it. Thinking is scary, yes, but you get used to it.
And while I'm at it, I'd like to apply this to politics as well. Several of my political opinions may be wrong, but I'm honest and willing to change them based on evidence. I don't hold one side of the spectrum to an impossible standard and ignore the other's deficiencies. If more Americans were honest like this, maybe our country wouldn't be in the proverbial toilet. I honestly believe that the two-party system is the biggest problem in our government today. George Washington, for all his white maleness and slave owning, warned us about it. Did we listen? No. That was stupid of us.
"In terms of physical abuse, I have never accepted the principle of “spare the rod and spoil the child.” I will be forever grateful for a father who never laid a hand in anger upon his children. Somehow he had the wonderful talent to let them know what was expected of them and to give them encouragement in achieving it. I am persuaded that violent fathers produce violent sons. I am satisfied that such punishment in most instances does more damage than good. Children don’t need beating. They need love and encouragement. They need fathers to whom they can look with respect rather than fear. Above all, they need example." - Gordon B. Hinckley
"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
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.