I left the church but, as prophesied, I can't leave it alone. I watched General Conference for a few reasons - because I was curious how differently it would come across with my current perspective, because it's given me comfort and inspiration in the past and I was open-minded enough to see if it would still do so, because I have two nieces (so far) who will be raised in the church and I maintain an interest in the church's development for their sake if nothing else, because it gave some structure and purpose to my lonely weekend, and because I've written about every General Conference since I started blogging weekly on this platform and I might break that tradition but there's no need to do so yet. Here are my jaded, cynical, faithless observations and opinions.
Dallin H. Oaks talked about the monetary value of the church's humanitarian aid, which is being disclosed in unprecedented detail in obvious response to criticism about how little per capita the church gives in humanitarian aid. He gave a total of almost a billion dollars annually, which is almost one percent of the value of the Ensign Peak "rainy day" fund at the time whistleblowers leaked it in 2019. I'm not knowledgeable enough to criticize the church's financial priorities much, and unlike a lot of people I recognize that charitable donations are not the primary reason why religions exist, but I just wish members would recognize that context before jumping to the conclusion that almost a billion dollars is a lot of money. He talked about partnering with good people of other faiths, and the fact that God works through them because one church can't do everything alone. I liked that. I also liked that he didn't feel the need to remind everyone that marriage is between a man and a woman.
The For the Strengh of Youth pamphlet, which I critiqued slightly a few months ago, got an overhaul beyond what I ever would have anticipated. Dieter F. Uchtdorf discussed the new edition and totally threw all the previous editions under the bus. Since it first came out in 1965, it's been a list of do this, don't do that. Some of the this's and that's have changed in fifty-seven years but the overall approach has not. Now that's all been scrapped in favor of generic principles to guide the youth in making their own choices. For example, the sexist list of "immodest" clothes that girls shouldn't wear and the stupid injunction against multiple ear piercings have been replaced with, "The Lord’s standard is for you to honor the sacredness of your body, even when that means being different from the world. Let this truth and the Spirit be your guide as you make decisions - especially decisions that have lasting effects on your body. Be wise and faithful, and seek counsel from your parents and leaders." Based on my anecdotal observations, I think this is the church's way of capitulating to the reality that its young female members are wearing whatever they want and getting as many piercings as they want anyway.
As I anticipated, the bit about homosexuality has been revised: "I am attracted to people of my same sex. How do these standards apply to me? Feeling same-sex attraction is not a sin. If you have these feelings and do not pursue or act on them, you are living Heavenly Father’s sacred law of chastity. You are a beloved child of God and a disciple of Jesus Christ. Remember that the Savior understands everything you experience. Through your covenant connection with Him, you will find strength to obey God’s commandments and receive the blessings He promises. Trust Him and His gospel." This is a nicer way of saying that God expects you to be alone until you die or marry someone you aren't attracted to and will probably divorce, and that you're better off dead because God will make you straight in the next life. (Never mind that no human has ever said the words "I am attracted to people of my same sex.") I know or know of scores, maybe hundreds of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people who were miserable in the church and became happy after they left. That's why I stopped believing what the church teaches about them. Why didn't they "find strength to obey God's commandments and receive the blessings He promises?" Am I supposed to believe that every single one of them just didn't have enough faith? Even the ones who still attend church with their same-sex partners?
The pamphlet also includes this gem: "Is it wrong to have questions about the Church? How can I find answers? Having questions is not a sign of weakness or lack of faith. In fact, asking questions can help build faith. The Restoration of the gospel started when 14-year-old Joseph Smith asked questions with faith. Seek answers in the scriptures, in the words of God’s prophets, from your leaders and faithful parents, and from God Himself. If answers don’t come right away, trust that you will learn line upon line. Keep living by what you already know, and keep seeking for truth." I never heard this kind of stuff as a youth, but it's all over the freaking place now that the church is facing an unprecedented retention crisis (especially among the youth). I like that questions are framed as a positive thing, but also the constant emphasis on "questions" per se has really started to irk me. I didn't leave the church because of my questions, I left because of the answers. A big question I had was "Why did the church tell women not to have careers and then quietly stop telling women not to have careers?" And the answer was, "Because its past leaders were sexist and attributed their sexism to God, and its current leaders can't admit that its past leaders were ever wrong about anything because that would call their own reliability into question." The church promotes a circular assumption that the answers to the questions will always vindicate it and put it in a positive or at least tolerable light, and that simply wasn't the case for me.
Tracy Browning, the first black woman in a general presidency, became the first black woman to speak in General Conference. For those who say it doesn't matter, yes it does, for reasons I know you know, so shut up. She talked with a normal voice instead of a patronizing General Conference voice. I liked that. She hasn't been assimilated yet.
Russell M. Nelson spent much of his first talk condemning abuse. While he didn't directly allude to the recent Associated Press articles and child rape scandal that obviously motivated his remarks, it was nice to see the prophet kind of respond in some capacity instead of continuing to hide behind anonymous PR employees. It really annoyed me that the First Presidency delegated this issue to them while taking the time to write a letter about changing the name of tithing settlement to tithing declaration. He immediately went on to talk about truth and how we need to be careful about who we trust, which seemed to be a way of calling into question the integrity of Pulitzer-winning journalist Michael Rezendes in a way that won't get him sued for slander.
Kristin M. Yee's talk resonated with me the most, as she spoke about the difficulty of forgiving people who never apologize or accept responsibility for wronging you, a category that might, hypothetically, include ex-neighbors, police officers, so-called healthcare workers, deadbeat parasites, and/or elementary school administrators, hypothetically. In the absence of justice, my resentment feels like the closest thing I have. Giving it up feels like pretending that what happened was okay. I know I need to reorient my thinking for my own mental health. It kind of helps and kind of just pisses me off when I remember that many, many people have been abused and discriminated against far worse than me and never received any justice. This planet needs to burn.
Ulisses Soares spoke about the equality of men and women that doesn't yet reflect lived experience within the church, throwing in the obligatory patriarchal language to obfuscate the church's drastic evolution on this topic in the last fifty years. In all seriousness, I think he's a great guy who means what he says, I'm just annoyed at how the church teaches different things and then pretends it's always taught the same things. D. Todd Christofferson spoke about belonging and inclusion and diversity, which again doesn't yet reflect lived experience within the church but I guess that's why he needed to speak about it. The church would have less work to do in this regard if it had started rooting out racism in 1830 instead of 2020.
Gérald Caussé spoke about our need to use resources wisely and be good stewards of the Earth. Though not unprecedented, this kind of environmental message is almost unheard of within the church. It hasn't been a priority at all and it directly contradicts the political views of a majority of its American members. He said that left His creation incomplete and gave us the opportunity to contribute with art and music and I don't remember but I'm going to assume he said writing too. This came dangerously close to contradicting the political views of a majority of the church's American members, namely that artists and musicians and writers should have majored in something useful and don't deserve to afford to be alive. But this concept of being co-creators with God is a really great one. It first occurred to me in 2013 when I got chills from a slideshow of stars and nebulae set to the David Arkenstone track "Stepping Stars." God had left space silent and David Arkenstone had filled the silence with the sort of thing that we all somehow know space should sound like. That particular video is gone but this one is close enough.
Jeffrey R. Holland spoke about why Latter-day Saints don't (usually) use the cross as a symbol. He made the interesting claim that because the earliest Christians didn't use the cross as a symbol, this is an evidence that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a restoration of the original Christian church. Actually, Latter-day Saints in the nineteenth century often wore or decorated with crosses. They became less popular in the twentieth century and were made officially taboo by David O. McKay in the late 1950s, in part because he felt they were "purely Catholic." Holland expressed empathy for several of the various struggles that people face, including the struggles of LGBTQ people that are caused by the church.
David A. Bednar gave a talk that came across to me as a thinly-veiled passive-aggressive condemnation of the increasing number of members who don't wear their temple garments every day, mostly because he shared a parable about a guy who wasn't wearing garments and he said the word "garments" over and over. I thought the church was lightening up about that sort of thing.
Russell M. Nelson spoke again. I don't buy the narrative that the world is the worst it's ever been. I recently read a history of the 1970s, and talk about a decade that I'm grateful I didn't live through. I don't buy the teaching that the 0.2% of people in the world with access to temple ordinances in mortality have a degree of access to God's power that no one else does. That would make God a respecter of persons. And then I didn't pay much attention to the last session so I'll skip ahead to his final talk where of course he announced 18 new temples. I used to get so excited about new temple announcements because they meant that the church was growing and expanding throughout the world. Nowadays most of them mean nothing of the sort. Nelson keeps announcing them for areas where active membership isn't even large enough to staff them, let alone use them in appreciable numbers. The church will be scrambling to find a lot of senior missionary couples in the near future. At this point it feels like he's just showing off. He didn't announce 18 new temples because the church needs 18 new temples, he announced 18 new temples so the church can boast that it now has 300 temples operating or in planning stages. Never mind that its annual membership growth has slowed from 2.19% to 0.85% in the last decade. But at least none of them were in Utah.
General observations: A higher percentage than usual of women (which isn't saying much) spoke and prayed, obviously in reaction to criticisms about the low percentage of women who speak and pray in General Conference. Bonnie H. Cordon was announced with her proper title of "President," not "Sister," which is such a small thing that shouldn't have taken until 2022 to implement but here it is and it's good. Most speakers continued the disturbing trend of quoting and fawning over our beloved prophet President Russell M. Nelson to a degree that I never observed with his two most recent predecessors. Neil L. Andersen was the most egregious. This prophet worship, coupled with the reality of how many things past prophets have gotten wrong that we're supposed to just not care about, was a big part of why I left.
So this happened, really, I swear.
It was a nice surprise. I haven't made any money off my writing since 2014 when I worked for the USU campus newspaper and made, if memory serves me, five dollars per article. I suppose I could be trying harder to actually publish stuff that isn't blog posts. But I just want to say that everyone is more than welcome to follow this person's example. If you're considering it, do it fast before I offend you and change your mind.
I was going through the stash of old papers that I've hoarded for nostalgic reasons, weeding out the ones that I can now bring myself to part with, when I found this comic that I drew for a class in 2018. I posted it on my blog once, but I couldn't get the scanner to not cut off the edges, so I just took a picture of it that was probably impossible to read on a mobile device. This time I got a better scan with a better scanner and decided to crop each individual panel, and on top of that to offer the commentary that both people who read it the first time have undoubtedly craved since then. Through the miracle of modern technology, these scans bring out every wrinkle and smudge on the paper in high definition. (Believe it or not, in person it actually looks white.) The context of this comic was that it had to be about some aspect of American culture because the class was about American culture. (Mostly it was about racism.) So I made it about American political polarization and mud-slinging because that really ground my gears. (It still does.)
I got in arguments about politics at the school lunch table, mostly over whether or not I was racist, and when my parents got over their concern about me being kidnapped by strangers from the internet and let me get a Facebook account in 2009, I made a photo album entitled "Obama Sucks!" I really and truly believed he was an anti-Christ trying to destroy the United States and take away all of our rights. If he were president today, I would probably be "Meh" toward him like I am toward Biden. At least both of them can go five minutes without lying or globally humiliating this country.
The class in question was Honors U.S. Institutions, which (spoiler alert) initiated the slow process of my political views becoming more nuanced. Nowadays it must be the "heterosexual cisgender white males suck" class. The girl behind me, who I think underwent a similar process even though I don't purport to know her thoughts and only purported to here as an attempt at humor, is the subject of my essay "Chasing Kelsey."
This was my initial reaction to this quote, but now I try to live by it. Until recently, I displayed it on my homepage, but after leaving the church I cancel cultured Oaks because of some less admirable things he's said - "It's wrong to criticize leaders of the church, even if the criticism is true," "I know that the history of the church is not to seek apologies or to give them," and a number of homophobic statements unequalled by any other LDS leader still living. Last November during a Q&A at the University of Virginia, he straight-up lied that BYU didn't practice conversion therapy on gay men during his tenure as president, which is so impossible to rationalize that the church's apologists haven't even tried. So he's not someone I want to promote as a spiritual leader. Nonetheless, I appreciate the glimpses of political nuance that I've gotten from him (he's obviously conservative but not a fan of Trump or what he stands for) and I still like this particular quote. I had an extra incentive to cite it in this comic because my professor was new to Utah and I wanted to convert him.
Saskia and I were both admins of a Facebook group called "The Awesome Mormons' Secret Society of Awesomeness" that furnished an embarrassing percentage of my social life in college. Someone pointed the irony that the admins tended to be liberal while the group membership tended to be conservative. Someone, probably Saskia, said it was good and then clarified, "That we are liberal, not that all these conservatives are here." I said, "I take it I'm not welcome then?" And then Saskia said this and blew my freaking mind. The group is dead and most of the admins have left the church by now.
My first real exposure to Donald Trump was a Bloom County storyline where he gets hit on the head with an anchor and has his brain transplanted into Bill the Cat. That was also my first exposure to Bill the Cat, so it gave me a weird first impression. Bloom County's portrayal of Trump wasn't altogether flattering, but I figured whatever, maybe it's just making fun of him because he's rich, so that didn't give me much of an opinion on him one way or another. And then suddenly in mid-2015 I heard that he believed vaccines caused autism, and that was a wake-up call. And by the end of that year I thought his misogyny was so self-evident that I didn't understand why his "Grab 'em by the pussy" recording came as a shock to anyone. In fairness, when I attended one of Utah's Republican caucuses in 2016 the entire discussion revolved around stopping Trump from becoming the nominee, but of course as soon as that failed Utah decided that having principles was overrated. Yeah, I'm more liberal now, but my objection to Trump has always and will always have far less to do with politics than with the fact that he's an absolute garbage excuse for a human being and I'm sick of people kissing his ass and trying to gaslight me that he's the Second Coming of Christ.
The narration is poorly phrased. The "impossible concept" here is not being mindlessly devoted to one of two political parties. I still get this crap from strangers on the internet who assume I'll be traumatized by them insulting Biden after I've insulted Trump. And yes, even though George Washington owned enslaved people, he had some good ideas.
I stand by the first sentence in my speech bubble one thousand percent. A lot of people in this country are going to burn in hell for deliberately preventing us from solving this problem that the rest of the developed world has solved. For God's sake, America, stop pretending it's normal for your children to live in fear of being gunned down at school. The second sentence, I'm not sure about. It's complicated. The issue, notwithstanding how liberals constantly misrepresent it, is not one of just refusing service to people based on their sexual orientation - which I unequivocally oppose - but of refusing to participate in a practice (same-sex marriage) that the business owners believe are wrong. Nowadays I think such beliefs are wrong and harmful and I'm not sad to see them rushing to extinction, but the constitution protects people's right to not only hold beliefs that others find offensive, but to act on them within reason. Liberals now argue that this protection doesn't cover people when they're providing goods and services to the public, and I can see the appeal of that reasoning, but I don't think it's supported by the constitution. Not that I claim to be an expert. Also, yes, Germany conducted its 2017 election like adults.
I now have the answers to my questions posed here. They are "It was inevitable as soon as we ignored George Washington's warning and created political parties in the first place" and "We don't," respectively.
Here it is, folks, the most holier-than-thou thing I've ever written or drawn. The ZB on my shirt stands for Zaphod Beeblebrox. Get it? Nowadays, "snowflake" seems to have declined in favor of "woke." I've seen two people in my life claim to be "woke" and at least two hundred people derisively accuse other people of trying to be "woke." Not by coincidence, the latter group is much, much, much more annoying.
Okay, so both of my blog's regular readers could tell you that despite my best efforts to live by the Oaks quote and be eclectic in my political views, if I were to draw this comic today and be honest with myself, I would be standing further to the left, that is to say my left, which is the reader's right. As much as I try to be critical of both sides and blame both sides for the dumpster fire that is the United States of America - and both sides are to blame - I am forced over and over again to conclude that one side is a much bigger problem than the other. One side is a haven for bigotry, ignorance, conspiracy theories, censorship, and a uniquely American brand of narcissism. One side is constantly an obstacle to social, scientific, and environmental progress. One side simply denies the existence of obvious crises (e.g. climate change, systemic racism, a global pandemic) that it doesn't want to have to deal with, and openly mocks the other side for acknowledging reality (e.g. by calling it "woke"). And I've just been reading Peter Carroll's history of the 1970s, It Seemed Like Nothing Happened, and I'm equal parts fascinated and consumed with rage at how little has changed in fifty years.
I mean, just last night I saw Deseret News readers bitching because California is going to provide free school lunches for all students. Yes, geniuses, we know that "nothing is free." We know that taxpayers are going to pay for it, just like they've been paying for the kids to be forced to go to school in the first place for a very long time. If you're so damn concerned about taxes, maybe instead of complaining about children getting food, support police reform so that cities don't have to keep settling for millions of dollars because cops can't figure out how to stop abusing and murdering Black people. Just a thought. Also, speaking of cops, more children at school are shot dead in this country than cops in the line of duty, and since you're hell-bent on not letting that problem be solved, the least we could do is not make them pay for their own food. Anyway, this is the sort of thing that makes me want to scream to the heavens, "Why, why, why are Republicans so ------- stupid?" But I'm trying to be fair and balanced, I swear.
Oh yeah, and as a bonus just because I happened to find it in the same stash of papers, here's my preliminary sketch of the layout of the comic, with some marginal notes related to other aspects of my life at the time. It's garbage now, but future historians will be all over it.
Hayden Nelson, the officer of the Logan City Police Department who abused me on January 14, 2020 (aka the worst day of my life), is being sued along with a dozen other officers for abusing someone else more egregiously that same year, and the city of Logan for sweeping it under the rug. I learned about this lawsuit from Cache Valley Transparency, a first amendment auditing YouTube channel that LCPD has been illegally trying to squelch with bogus privacy complaints and stalking charges. I expect it will be thrown out soon thanks to the legal doctrine of qualified immunity that exists for the sole purpose of enabling cops and other government officials to violate people's constitutional rights with impunity, but I'd love to be wrong. At least it validates my perception of what happened to me. The incident described in the lawsuit is far worse than mine, yet the disgusting incompetence and maliciousness of the officers involved is identical, and the subsequent cover-up by the police department is also very familiar. I've reached out to the district court to ask if I can get involved somehow and testify about the kind of people Hayden Nelson and the department leaders are, I've reached out to the department leaders to mock them (again), and I've reached out to city attorney Craig Carlston to politely explain that these words he's quoted as saying are a load of crap:
"I know that the police department, and all the officers, take these things very seriously. My experience with the police department is they've been really diligent about complying with the constitution and state code, and they care deeply about those things."
A couple years before my experience, I had come to recognize that police brutality specifically against black men was a problem. Before then, of course I heard about the endless string of murders by law enforcement but as a card-carrying conservative I was required to believe that racism magically disappeared in the 1960s, so I had to assume that most of the victims brought it on themselves by not cooperating. However, when confronted by more information, I changed my mind, because honest adults do that sometimes. And I still didn't get mad about it. I just saw it as a terrible fact of life that I couldn't do anything about. And in fairness, it's true that my subsequent attempts to do something about it have had no discernible effect on anything except the number of my Facebook friends. But I feel guilty for not getting angry about it until it affected me personally. I guess I've just got to forgive myself and move on. I'm determined not to let the issues drop even if everyone else who jumped on the George Floyd bandwagon loses interest.
There are really two issues here with substantial overlap: police abuse, which affects all races to some degree, and systemic racism, which encompasses far more than police abuse. I want to eradicate both. I recognize the intersectionality in my own situation, that even as Hayden Nelson bullied and discriminated against me for being autistic and "weird," things almost certainly went better for me than they would have if I had darker skin. I feel a special love for Elijah McClain, one of the most Christlike individuals in the world, who was murdered by three police officers and two paramedics for "looking sketchy." (Okay, so the actual charge is manslaughter, but I can't grasp the fine legal distinction between murdering someone and merely assaulting them to death for no reason.) I made him my Facebook profile picture some time ago so people can't forget about him or the pending legal action against his murd- I mean manslaughterers. Now when I see his picture it really feels like I'm looking at myself. I hope that's not some kind of inappropriate appropriation or white savior thing. I want to live vicariously through him in some sense to keep him alive in some sense, but not in a weird way.
Today is Juneteenth, commemorating the end of slavery in the US, kind of. White people in the South used all kinds of legal loopholes to keep black people in conditions that were slavery in all but name. Still, it was an important day. And now thanks to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, it's a federal holiday and a state holiday in every state. Time will tell whether this is an empty symbolic gesture or whether the awareness generated by it translates into a reduction of racism in the United States. So far, it's certainly exposed a lot of racists here in Utah, and I assume elsewhere as well since these Utahans usually just parrot whatever the other Trump worshipers are saying. You might think that celebrating the end of slavery was something we could all agree on. You would be wrong. This holiday, according to them, is a fake holiday, a made-up holiday (as opposed to the naturally occuring holidays that are woven into the fabric of the universe), PC culture, and/or wokeism, or it's bad because we have too many holidays already or because we don't have a holiday for some other group that they've never cared about in their lives (and 9 times out of 10 we actually do have such a holiday), or they've never heard of it and would rather boast about their ignorance than fix it, or they don't see why black people can't just let go and stop focusing on the past and focus on the time white people declared their independence from England instead. Yeah, these people who think they're Christians are going to be really surprised when Jesus incinerates them.
I didn't know about Juneteenth until a few years ago either. But as soon as I learned, I had no objections to it because I'm not that much of a monster. I'm happy to celebrate it now. USU did some great events over the last few days that I would write about in detail if I'd gotten more sleep. As soon as I sign off here I'm headed to the final one, an interfaith devotional with the Bonner family and some other cool people.
I got accepted into graduate school and accepted the graduate instructor position in February 2020, so I had no idea my first year of teaching would be entirely over Zoom and Canvas. Prior to that, I think it was some time during the orientation week when we met virtually with high-ranking people in the English department and they assured us that they were all here to support us and Brian McCuskey said something to the effect of, "This is hard. We know this is really hard." At graduation last week, one of the speakers talked about the pandemic and how it had made us resilient and hopefully able to handle whatever happens to us in the future. And I thought to myself, Yeah, I guess the pandemic has left a lifelong scar on my psyche.
In some ways it didn't seem that hard for me. I didn't have much of a social life to begin with; in February, I was already so lonely that I played stupid and let an MLM scammer talk to me. I didn't lose anyone close to me from the pandemic; my grandmother died during that time, but for unrelated reasons. I didn't have children, I didn't own a business, I was only unemployed for a month, I had reliable internet access, and I had access to the vaccine as soon as I was authorized to get it. The worst part, I think, was living in a state full of robots who wouldn't stop repeating "99.9% survival rate" as if everyone who didn't die was just fine, throwing temper tantrums about perceived violations of their God-given right to breathe on strangers, and doing absolutely pathetic mental gymnastics to lie to themselves and others that their prophet didn't ask them in plain English to get vaccinated. Of course I suffered, but not as much as billions of other people did, so why should I imagine that anyone is interested in hearing about it? The only thing is, it went on for so damn long. The trauma was not immediate and obvious like the trauma from being threatened and yelled at by officer Hayden Nelson in January 2020, but day after week after month after year it accumulated until this graduation speaker made me take notice of it.
It's left a scar on my entire nation and the entire world too. I wouldn't want to overstate its severity, since we went through a much worse pandemic a hundred years ago and a huge economic depression and a couple of world wars and we turned out f- er, we managed, but its impact will be felt for a long time. Trauma doesn't go away; one just grows around it. And it's not evenly distributed by a long shot. A lot of inequities were laid bare by the disproportionate impacts of the pandemic on certain countries and on certain groups within this country, as was the political right wing's contempt for scientists, doctors, teachers, and expendable old people. But I think many of the long-term effects will be positive. We've become more adaptable and learned more efficient ways to do things with technology. Donald Trump lost re-election in large part thanks to his mishandling of the pandemic, which cost God knows how many preventable deaths. The movements against systemic racism and police brutality got an astronomical boost from all the people who were bored and stuck at home and couldn't ignore the latest story of a police officer murdering a black person. Also, I used to not remember the difference between an epidemic and a pandemic, but I'll never have that problem again.
It will be interesting to see what happens when the young children who have fallen behind in education and social development come of age. Again, there are huge socioeconomic and racial disparities in the severity of these problems, but if they've all fallen behind to an extent, I can hope that they won't be penalized in the long run for being unable to reach an entirely artificial educational standard and that they won't bully or shun each other for being socially awkward. Like the speaker said, I think they and all of us have become more resilient for whatever fresh hells await us in the future - and await us they do, because if I've learned one thing from studying history, it's that the "good old days" are BS and this world has always been a dumpster fire.
The other night I had the great privilege of hearing Dallas Jenkins, creator of The Chosen, which I now remember I said a long time ago I would review on this blog at some point and then I didn't, do a Q&A session with Mormon Studies Chair Patrick Mason at USU. He was, as always, charming and funny and spiritually supercharged. He talked about giving his career to God after one of the biggest failures of his life, and how God has guided him since then. It's very clear from his stories and from the most recent results of his career that this guidance is powerful and frequent. I thought to ask myself on this occasion, what does "the gift of the Holy Ghost" include that he doesn't already have? I was taught that my church has exclusive access to this gift, which is bestowed at baptism; that the Holy Ghost can and does speak to people outside the church, but only we can have it as our constant companion. And in fairness, I don't know of any other religion that places nearly such an emphasis on personal two-way communication with God as we do. Evangelical Christianity, which Dallas calls his spiritual home, places far more emphasis on the authority of the Bible and even asserts that feelings are an unreliable guide to truth. Yet I would wager that he has a stronger and deeper relationship with God than the overwhelming majority of Latter-day Saints. And he's one of the people that Brad Wilcox thinks is only "playing church" because he doesn't "have God's permission."
He talked about how focusing on Jesus can bring down religious barriers, and how people of different denominations can disagree even about significant things, refuse to compromise on their own beliefs, and still be friends and collaborators. I wish his fanbase would get the memo. Last I checked, evangelicals in the The Chosen group on Facebook were constantly posting about how Latter-day Saints and/or Catholics aren't really Christians, and it was very annoying. I got more defensive of the Catholics because life is too short to care what idiots say about my church. I would call out Catholic-bashers and conclude with "Sincerely, not a Catholic." I also mentioned more than once that this holier-than-thou gatekeeping bullcrap just makes Christians in general look bad to everyone else, and is a contributing factor to the modern secular world's lack of respect for them. That didn't fix the problem, but it made some people really mad because they knew it was true. Anyway - focusing on Jesus. There can never be too much focus on Jesus. I came away from the event convinced as ever by this godly man that whatever else I may or may not believe at any given time, I believe in Jesus.
Dallas talked about some things from a writing perspective that of course interested me as a writer even though I've heard him talk about them before. For example, he portrays even Jesus' enemies as nuanced and complicated people, which is both realistic and good storytelling. We see why some of the Jewish leaders opposed Jesus. As Dallas puts it, Shmuel didn't just wake up one morning, twirl his mustache, and ask himself how he could make Jesus' life difficult. Judas, who's introduced in the last episode of Season Two, seems to just be a regular decent guy, as he must have been at one point. This show skillfully avoids the dogmatic us vs. them persecution complex approach that makes the first two God's Not Dead movies unwatchable (and makes my own church experience insufferable sometimes). Very few people do evil things just for the sake of being evil. Even Putin has realistic motivation for his evil deeds. I'm not saying lust for power is a good motivation, but it's a little different than waking up one morning, twirling his mustache, and asking himself how many war crimes he can commit just for fun. I thought about this principle again the following evening when I got Zoombombed for the first time.
Dr. Solimar Otero of Indiana University was giving the Fife Folklore Honor Lecture entitled "Stories of Our Lives - Material Culture, Memory, and Narrative on the Bóveda," and I tuned in because I was bored and lonely. I half paid attention and half read a book. Half an hour into the lecture, someone screenshared pornography, and I cycled through six thoughts in about six seconds.
1. Ew, gross.
2. This is the most embarrassing moment of someone's life.
3. Ew, gross.
4. Wait, is my computer doing that somehow? If it is, I'll have to kill myself.
5. Ew, gross.
6. Wait, this is no accident.
My realization was immediately confirmed as someone started saying the n-word over and over and over again, and at least three people pasted it in the chat several dozen times each, rapid-fire. It was a blitzkrieg, a far more efficient invasion than Putin's. Someone said "If you make me the cohost, I can get rid of them," but for all I know he was one of them. It was very difficult to think under this barrage, but I tried to focus and come up with something to say that would make these Zoombombers understand that their lives were collectively more pathetic and less valuable than a mosquito's, and I failed to do so before the meeting closed. I couldn't just say any old rude or angry thing because that would play right into their hands. They wanted to get reactions out of people. And in the days since, I've grappled with the curious fact that this appears to be the entire extent of their motivation. The only reason I can think of for grown adults to ruin a complete stranger's Zoom lecture with pornography and racial slurs is that they just get a thrill out of being turds for the sake of being turds. They weren't well-written villains at all. And perhaps the greatest mystery of the universe, I thought to myself, is what Jesus saw in them that was worth dying for.
"Guys. Chris's blog is the stuff of legends. If you’re ever looking for a good read, check this out!"
- Amelia Whitlock
"I don't know how well you know Christopher Randall Nicholson, but... he's trolling. You should read his blog. It's delightful."
- David Young
About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, so you can't, unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.