It was very difficult to want to go back to church after you-know-what restrictions eased. I liked having ten-minute sacrament meetings in people's homes. I didn't miss any of the extra stuff that, more often than not, I found less intellectually stimulating than an episode of Blue's Clues. And for a while I felt justified in not going to Sunday school or Elders' Quorum they were more confined and more crowded than sacrament meeting, and I knew everyone else there was regularly attending large social gatherings with no masks. But then I got fully vaccinated and went back to normal life in every way possible and didn't have that excuse anymore, so I went back to Elders' Quorum just in time to be punished with a lesson about marriage.
The teacher wrote "The Perfect Woman" on the board and solicited desirable traits to list under that heading. I take issue with his phrasing, but I'm sure he and everyone else there were aware that the perfect woman doesn't exist because perfect people don't exist and woman are a kind of people. I know what he meant was "The Ideal Woman". So people listed things and I just felt kind of defensive and prideful and thought, I'm not looking for a woman and you can't make me. But if I was, I'm sure I wouldn't want the same things y'all want, because Utah culture is a crap sandwich. You know the kind of women (and men, but that's irrelevant right now) who populate Deseret News comments sections? I'd want the opposite of that. I'm very picky. I never made a list as such, I just got crushes on a case-by-case basis and figured out what I like and what I don't like and got pickier every time my heart broke. The last one, the literal girl next door, set the bar so high that I haven't caught feelings since and doubt I ever will again. I can be as picky as I want because I'd much rather be alone than with someone who can't make me feel the way she did.
The one item I wanted to suggest for the list was talent and career ambition, but I didn't dare speak such heresy out loud. One guy said someone who thinks for herself and makes decisions without asking him about everything, and that was nice to hear and obviously made BYU professor Rodney Turner spin in his grave. The resident old guy said something about we have to remember "gender roles" even though "the world" talks about "equality". He stopped short of saying women shouldn't have careers, but he said there's just "something" they have men don't have that makes them better with children or whatever. He'd have to do better than that to convince me. He could have at least called the mysterious something a "je ne sais quois" and given it the illusion of greater sophistication. One guy agreed that even if his wife was making six or nine figures a year, he'd want her to stay at home at least part-time to raise their kids. If my wife was making six or nine figures a year, I wouldn't care what she did. I wouldn't ask and I wouldn't tell.
The last item on the list was "Beautiful", submitted by one of those brave people who points out that physical attractiveness is important even though we spend so much effort trying to convince ourselves that it isn't even though we all know that it is. That kind of honesty is refreshing, but people so often miss the follow-up: that beauty is a matter of perception, that it can and does change. If you love a woman's inside then her outside will also be beautiful to you. Simple. The first time I saw the literal girl next door, I thought she was plain, homely, awkward, and forgettable, and promptly forgot about her. A couple months later, she was still awkward but I had decided that she was God's greatest work of art and I was an idiot for ever having thought otherwise.
In conclusion, the teacher asked if we're deserving of this hypothetical perfect woman and if not, how to change that? I'm glad the lesson was actually going somewhere, because I had been thinking of a quote in the back of my mind: "As we visit with young adults all over the church often they will ask, 'Well what are the characteristics I should look for in a future spouse?' - As though they have some checklist of 'I need to find someone who has these three or four or five things.' And I rather forcefully say to them, 'You are so arrogant – to think that you are some catch and that you want someone else who has these five things for you. If you found somebody who had these three or four or five characteristics that you’re looking for what makes you think they’d want to marry you?'"
When I walked into the gym a couple weeks later for the combined fifth Sunday lesson and saw the word "FAMILY" written on the board, I knew the next hour would be less fun than a root canal, and almost walked right back out. But I thought, What kind of person will I be if I just avoid hearing anything that makes me uncomfortable? Maybe if I humble myself and suffer through it, God will teach me something.
The bishop started by telling us each to tell someone, preferably of the opposite sex, what the name of our first child will be. And he was, in fairness, being weird and awkward on purpose. But still, what kind of a question is that? How should I know what the name of my first child will be? Do I look like I've got a seer stone in my pocket? I've never given this subject a ton of thought and I've always assumed it's the sort of thing that will have to be discussed and negotiated when the time comes. I'm partial to Jessica, myself, but maybe my wife will be like, "Ew, no, a high school cheerleader named Jessica bullied me until I developed an eating disorder. I'd rather feed our daughter to a crocodile than name her Jessica." Also, my first child might not be a daughter. Also, it might be adopted and already have a name. So I thought that was a silly question.
His lesson had its positives. He acknowledged that "people experiencing same-sex attraction" exist and told people to chill out if they're in their late twenties and not married yet. Hooray. Much of it, though, took on a very us-vs-them tone, as if members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are the only .02% of people on the planet who believe in family values. He went through parts of the Family Proclamation, a document that he stressed was DOCTRINE, was SCRIPTURE, was from A LIVING PROPHET. Actually, Gordon B. Hinckley is a dead prophet, although he was a living prophet when he gave it, but then so is every prophet when he gives something so I don't know why that distinction is necessary. He said it was prophetic because when it came out in 1995 its teachings were just common sense and he couldn't see the point of it, but now they've become controversial. It was actually written after five years of a court battle over same-sex marriage in Hawaii. The Church was involved in this court battle and had, in fact, been concerned about the prospect of same-sex marriage since the mid-to-late 1970s when that was one of its reasons for opposing the Equal Rights Amendment to the US Constitution.
Anyway, I braced myself for some thoughtless remarks when he got to the part that says fathers are primarily responsible for providing and mothers are primarily responsible for nurturing, but the thoughtless remarks were worse than I would have ever anticipated. He was very blunt and adamant that God wants all women to be full-time homemakers with unpaid 96-hour work weeks. He straight-up told them to use their college education to be better mothers, not to have professional careers, full stop, no caveats, no nuance. He was also adamant that anyone who feels differently (like me) is following the "natural man" and the world's lies about women's equality. At least twice he referred to the people who feel differently "outside the Church", which came across to me as a conscious attempt to invalidate and put down the many people in the Church that he knows perfectly well also hold that view and constituted a sizable portion of his audience.
It pisses me off to think that my future wife may have been conditioned by lessons like this one to believe that her career ambitions are sinful, and to think that some women present for this lesson were thus conditioned. It's wrong and it's harmful. It will lead to depression, guilt, faith crises, and disaffection from the Church. Anecdotally, the twenty-something LDS women I know - not all of them raging liberals by any means - are far more open-minded on this topic. A majority of them see no reason why they shouldn't pursue careers and those who do want to be stay-at-home moms have no desire to force their preference on everyone else. Many of the latter will end up working anyway because modern economic realities have made it impossible for many families to survive on one income, the bishop's talk of sacrifice and frugality notwithstanding. I know for a fact that I wasn't the only person in the room who vigorously disagreed with what he said, and that his belittling of us did not persuade us to reorient our thinking. And women whose staying home is in the best interest of their particular families can make that decision for themselves without a man incorrectly insisting that it's the only option God will allow.
Since the bishop made it very clear that he wasn't open to discussion, and I wasn't in the mood to be called to repentance for not being sexist enough, I tattled on him instead of reaching out to him directly.
I'm sure the bishop is a wonderful man and that it's unfair to judge him by his most obvious shortcoming. Nonetheless, I am no longer capable of respecting or trusting him when I remember this lesson every time I see his face. (At least he's still better than my last bishop.) Will there be any sort of public retraction, correction, or apology? Of course not. That would shatter the illusion that our leaders are perfect, which we work hard to maintain even though we all claim to know that our leaders aren't perfect. I felt that my suffering through this lesson and being depressed for a few hours was worth it because I was able to speak out, to do something - but it would have been more worth it if I could know that I'd actually been able to help the women who also suffered through it. I wonder how many of them will leave the Church.
The Church posted this a few days later:
In essence, Dr. Erica Glenn explains that you can have a happy and fulfilling life even if you, like her, are not married. This should not be a controversial argument, but because Mormon culture is a crap sandwich, it was. On the one hand, people took issue with her not mentioning the Church's teachings on the importance of marriage that everyone in the Church has heard hundreds of times and that necessitated the existence of videos like this in the first place. On the other hand, people - specifically men - jumped to the conclusion that because Dr. Glenn is beautiful, the only possible reason for her not being married is that that she chose not to for selfish reasons, and therefore she's wrong. "She could get married tomorrow if she wanted to," said one sexist idiot who's never met her and apparently thinks she should settle for the first carbon-based life form that has a penis and thinks she's hot. Maybe, just maybe, the whole mindset of needing to get married for marriage's sake, and not because you've met someone you actually want to be with forever, is kind of toxic. But nobody asked me.
I tried not to worry much about teaching my class on Friday, since worrying doesn't help anything, and it was bound to get better eventually since this is what God told me to do for a living, and compared to an average day at the call center where I once worked, the most awful teaching experience would be like getting a full-body massage from Gal Gadot as the sun sets on the shore of Bora Bora, Tahiti. Incidentally, one of the managers and cofounders of that call center, who has since sold it, is now one of my classmates. He has no idea who I am because he spent most of his time in an office and had employees quitting every week. Anyway, teaching my class on Friday went much better, even though Zoom decided for inexplicable reasons to automatically mute me, the host, when I ended the breakout groups, and I didn't notice for at least three minutes. My students weren't answering my questions, so I couldn't tell the difference.
My luck has run out and I have two new roommates. I should only have one new roommate but they got another bed and moved in together. I haven't had a roommate since my old one got married and moved out in December, and then the guy who bought the contract for summer moved home instead when the you-know-what broke out, so I've been alone and it's been great. I've been so lonely that I wanted to die but I've never been so lonely that I wished I had a roommate when I didn't have a roommate. I can't complain too much about these guys, other than the usual unwelcome inconveniences of sharing my home with other humans and my exponentially increased chance of getting the you-know-what. When they're not on campus, they spend the majority of the time in their room playing computer games, and when I'm not on campus, I spend the majority of the time in the living room with the kitchen door closed so I can't hear them talking. After avoiding my previous roommate as much as possible, this time I made an effort to introduce myself and get to know them when they moved in, but they don't seem very talkative either so we don't talk much and that's fine with me.
Some new girls also moved in next door. I was quite determined this time not to meet them or talk to them, ever. They came over and introduced themselves.
Actually, one of them claims to be related to the owners of the place, and has taken great interest in reporting to them her discoveries that Logan Preferred Property Management has refused to provide wi-fi like it's supposed, provide two couches in each apartment like it's supposed to, and fix the washing machine like it's supposed to. So that's exciting and gives me a bit of schadenfreude. These girls are much louder than the previous ones, and almost every day I hear them yelling, singing, and/or laughing hysterically like teenagers. You would think I would find this annoying. I would think I would find this annoying. But somehow, it just amuses me. And they know they're loud and they're self-conscious and apologetic about it but they keep doing it and that amuses me too. I find it much less annoying than being able to hear my roommates talk to each other through their bedroom door. I have a double standard and I'm not proud of myself.
My ward boundaries were drastically altered three weeks or so ago, landing me and most of the Logan YSA 46th Ward in the Logan YSA 19th Ward instead. It was a godsend because I could no longer be temple worthy as a member of the Logan YSA 46th Ward. Now, instead of experiencing painful personal growth by learning how to sustain the two out of three bishopric members that I no longer like, respect, or trust, I just have a new bishopric and I really appreciate that. I actually go to my assigned ward now. Despite scores of new membership records being moved in over the last three weeks, the Logan YSA 19th Ward isn't getting larger, and today the bishop mentioned that several people were out sick. I'm sure that has nothing to do with at least thirty of them cramming into a ward member's living room with no masks for a "Come Follow Me" lesson (which I wouldn't know about because I didn't show up, take one look and flee). If it did, they would of course deserve whatever happens to them.
The police in Salt Lake City recently shot a thirteen-year-old autistic boy after his mother called them to help him with a mental health crisis. He survived but will probably have medical complications for the rest of his life, not to mention a buttload of trauma. Not to victim-blame or anything - nobody is to blame here but the officer(s) who pulled the trigger and would, in a civilized country, already be behind bars or at least hanging from a lamppost - but she should have called almost anyone else. Almost anyone who isn't a police officer could come up with a better strategy for helping a mentally ill or disabled person than "Yell at him, and then shoot him several times when he doesn't comply within two seconds." And this is why people want to defund the police and stop sending them to deal with situations that they have less than zero qualifications to deal with. But sure, let's pretend it's a communist conspiracy.
On a Facebook post discussing this atrocity and the prospect of organizing a protest, I yet again mentioned my own experience with the brainless bully sent by the Logan City Police Department, as an unnecessary second witness of law enforcement incompetence and the need to hold them accountable for their actions. Someone asked if I would be willing to do an interview with Utah Public Radio, and that terrified me but I said sure, and she told me to email this person, and I did, and I warned this person that telling my story in a radio segment of less than two minutes would require us to be very sparse on detail but I'll still give it a shot, and she said she wants to go for it, and I suggested a time and she didn't respond, and that was four days ago so it looks like she's forgotten about me and maybe that won't go anywhere. If it does of course I'll post about it here, though I won't likely listen to it myself because I hate my voice.
“If we cannot respond, as a police agency, to a 13-year-old child who has autism, without shooting him, I don’t know if we should be in this business.” - Chris Burbank, former Salt Lake Police Chief
"No shit." - Chris Nicholson, current 27-year-old child who has autism
So speaking of arguments, you know where I wish it was more acceptable to express disagreement? Church settings like Sunday School, institute classes, and Come Follow Me groups. Of course, there's no rule as such within my faith tradition against vocal disagreement, but there is a general attitude of let's all get along and not cause any "contention" that could drive away the Spirit. Sometimes this means that one person says something that everyone else in the room knows is insane bullcrap, but they all just kind of smile and nod and try to move on as quickly as possible. I was in an Elders' Quorum class once where a guy asserted that homosexuality used to be good because it prevented overpopulation, but now we don't have to worry about overpopulation because we can go to other planets, so now homosexuality is bad. The teacher just kind of smiled and nodded and tried to move on as quickly as possible. You have to pick your battles. I didn't like that guy until he gave me a candy bar and then I felt guilty for not liking him.
I experienced this myself when I filled in to teach a Sunday School lesson and a lady who was there for some reason despite being too old for a YSA ward made some comment, I don't remember precisely what, about the need to turn to God instead of the internet for knowledge. I personally get a little exasperated at people belittling "the internet" as if the source medium itself somehow invalidates the accumulated knowledge of humankind found therein. Yeah, it also enables the proliferation of lots of stupid made-up crap, but if you have a few brain cells and some common sense, you can usually tell what's what and find the internet a mind-blowingly useful tool for gathering information. So trying to constructively build off this lady's comment, I agreed and noted that the Holy Ghost can help us find sources and discern which are reliable. No, she insisted, we need to rely only on God, not manmade sources. The slightly manic look in her eyes advised me that pushing the issue would be futile. For the record, though, I think what she said was idiotic. I see little or no reason why God should tell you anything via direct personal revelation that you could find out yourself with a Google search.
Before the you-know-what canceled everything, I participated in and sometimes led a Come Follow Me group in the stake that I'm not even a part of anymore. And I enjoyed it but there are a few times I wish I could have critiqued what was being said. I could have, I suppose, but it would have ruined the illusory atmosphere of everyone agreeing with everything anyone in the group said because we're all part of the same church and that means we believe the same things. So I'm going to go on record with my disagreements here instead.
1. We were talking once about how death is just a step in the Plan of Salvation and not something to be sad about because we'll all be resurrected someday. The people in our group over sixty talked about how they weren't sad at all when their parents died at ripe old ages after living full lives. Everyone seemed to regard those examples as representative and sufficient proof of the point at hand. My parents (and grandparents for that matter) are still alive, so instead I thought of, but didn't mention, a friend of mine whose twenty-something brother was crushed to death in a workplace accident a couple years ago, leaving behind two very young children who probably won't even remember him. Everyone in this friend's ward tried to tell her it was okay because she'll be with him again someday. She found this so insensitive that she stopped going to church.
It's okay for death to be sad. Some deaths, in fact probably an overwhelming majority when the circumstances of most of the world's population is considered, are untimely, unpleasant and unfair. And knowing that you'll be with someone again at some unspecified future date doesn't mean you can't or shouldn't miss them here and now. Remember when Lazarus died in the Bible and, quote, "Jesus wept", close quote? Even though Jesus knew full well that Lazarus was going to be resurrected someday? And even though in this instance Jesus brought him back to life maybe five minutes later at most? He validated Lazarus' sister's mourning by mourning with her. He acknowledged that no matter who you are or what you know, death is meant to be sad.
2. The guy leading the discussion mentioned an incident here in Utah a few years ago where a teenage girl was shot in the head and left in a ditch by two teenage boys. She survived and made a remarkable recovery from her severe injuries. Most people regard this as an inspiring story. But this guy said that in court, when the boys asked for forgiveness, both the girl and her father were like "I hate you and I hope you're never happy again." How awful, the guy said, that now these boys have to live with that for the rest of their lives. What I said was nothing. What I wanted to say was "Are you -----ing me?"
Yes, we're supposed to forgive everyone, but that doesn't mean everyone deserves to be forgiven. If she had forgiven them, it would have made an inspiring and faith-promoting story precisely because they were scum and didn't deserve it. But because she didn't, I'm supposed to feel sorry for them? I'm supposed to feel bad that they have to live with the guilt of being attempted murderers? Maybe they could have avoided that by, I don't know, not shooting someone in the head? In fairness, I don't think they should have to live with that for long either because I think they should have been fed to wolves. But that's beside the point. Anyway, I know he didn't relate this story to be judgmental, but still I think it's out of line to bring up someone else's failure or refusal to forgive something that any normal person would find really really hard to forgive. It's not my concern or my problem. God will deal with everyone involved as He sees fit.
3. Any time someone says something like "I love science, but..." I brace for them to follow up with something stupid that makes a liar out of them. In this case, though, I was pleasantly surprised at first. The girl talking made a legitimate point about the built-in limits of scientific knowledge and the dangers of scientism (though she didn't use that term). And she made a legitimate point about the uncertainty principle limiting how much we can know about the universe whether in principle or practice. But then she went full-on god of the gaps. She said her faith is strengthened by how much we don't know, and scientists still can't explain dark matter so that proves God exists. She lamented that scientists refuse to let God be part of science or taught in schools even though they can't prove He doesn't exist. I'm paraphrasing from memory but that was basically it. I mentally decided that I would never try to date her.
One of the senior missionaries chimed in, "So we didn't evolve from pond scum?"
Everyone else: *chuckle at those silly scientists who are so dumb they think we evolved from pond scum*
Okay, first of all, we know a lot more than we used to and we're going to know a lot more in the future than we do now, exponentially more in fact, so basing her testimony even in part on what we don't know at this current moment in time is stupid. Maybe scientists will figure out dark matter and maybe they won't, but how awkward will she feel if they do? Does she assume dark matter is by its very nature inexplicable in terms of the physical world? Does she think it's just magic?
Henry Drummond explained why this way of thinking is stupid more eloquently than I could, so I'll just let him take it from here: "There are reverent minds who ceaselessly scan the fields of Nature and the books of Science in search of gaps - gaps which they will fill up with God. As if God lived in the gaps? What view of Nature or of Truth is theirs whose interest in Science is not in what it can explain but in what it cannot, whose quest is ignorance not knowledge, whose daily dread is that the cloud may lift, and who, as darkness melts from this field or from that, begin to tremble for the place of His abode? What needs altering in such finely jealous souls is at once their view of Nature and of God. Nature is God's writing, and can only tell the truth; God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all."
On top of that, she contradicted her own legitimate points. As she pointed out, science has limits and can't explain purely spiritual things or the meaning of life. Why, then, does she think it should incorporate God directly into its theories? To plug the gaps, right, but you can't have it both ways. As she pointed out, they can't prove He doesn't exist, and that's precisely why they avoid the question altogether. Science deals with things that can be falsified. It tests them over and over again until they're proven wrong. If the theory of evolution by natural selection is not true, that can be demonstrated (though of course, no matter how much creationists try to pretend, it has not been). If God's existence is not true, that cannot be demonstrated. If scientists searched every molecule of the observable universe (which they can't) and failed to find Him, they still couldn't be sure He wasn't hiding in another galaxy too distant to reach, or another plane of existence untouchable by our human senses and instruments altogether. Keeping God out of the laboratories and schools isn't an attack on religion, it's just the way legitimate science has to be done. If He didn't want that to be the case He wouldn't have gone the whole "faith" route.
Of course, my overall experience in this Come Follow Me group has been quite positive and I hope for it to resume in the near future, but that's not nearly as interesting to blog about.
As of Wednesday, I am "temporarily laid off" from my job for the foreseeable future. As of Friday, the governor of Utah has initiated a "Stay Safe, Stay Home" policy. So when I'm not going to the grocery store or taking yet another aimless walk by myself, I'm supposed to be at home alone, all day, every day, until at least the middle of April. I live alone. I love living alone and I haven't changed my mind about that and I will always prefer too much solitude over too little. However, I need balance like anyone else, and I needed the precious little social interaction I was getting. This really, really blows. If the damned virus kills me it will be an act of mercy.
With normal church meetings discontinued, members of my ward were doing the sacrament (communion) in groups of fewer than ten. Thanks to the governor's directive that's also over until at least the middle of April. Still, I'm grateful for the unparalleled experience I had with it last week. It concerns my neighbors C and T, the ones I swear I fully intended to write about just the one time and never again, but who have had a lingering impact despite avoiding me completely. So this is what, the fifth time? Sorry about that.
In the immediate wake of what they did to me, I was too broken, deflated and tired to even think of being angry at them. That changed over the following days as I slowly regained some will to live. As time went on and I availed myself of gossip from various mutual acquaintances, insights from other friends who read my initial post or listened to me spill my guts, and my own hindsight and introspection, I came to understand that one of them is quite literally insane as a result of brain damage incurred in a car accident that wasn't her fault, and that the other, her best friend, is naive and gullible and swallows everything she says without question. The insanity bit probably comes as no surprise to anyone who read the post. The surprise, rather, is how I could have been so stupid as to not realize it sooner. All I can say is that as long as people aren't harming anyone, I believe in their right to do their own thing without explanation or apology, and I don't believe in stigmatizing mental illness by jumping to blame it for everything bad somebody does. Obviously my open-mindedness bit me in the butt this time.
In this light, though, I was finally able to reconcile what I thought I knew before about my neighbors' character with their childish, ridiculous and deeply hurtful actions. One was simply not accountable, while the other was carried away by personal weakness that I can relate to, empathize with and even find kind of adorable. They were both victims as much as I. My heart softened toward them and I forgave them. Except when I didn't. Because every time I thought for more than a few seconds about that hemorrhoid in a police uniform coming into my apartment and bitching at me, the trauma resurfaced as fresh and raw as ever and my anger rose with it. So I went back and forth and experienced cognitive dissonance over this several times a day.
The whole thing, the mere fact that this thing happened that should have been a nightmare but was in fact real and irreversible, weighed on me almost constantly whether I was thinking about it or not, an ever-present burden subtly but unmistakably squeezing the joy out of my life. I broke through it for one day when I learned that I'd been accepted to graduate school and that my sister is pregnant. I can announce that now. My sister is pregnant. I don't know the baby's gender or whether it's still legal to force a certain gender on a baby, so I don't know yet if I'll be an uncle or an aunt, but it's thrilling nonetheless. The burden returned the next day though. Friends started telling me I should see a therapist which, yeah, they were right. But what does this have to do with the sacrament?
Any priesthood holder in my ward was authorized to administer the sacrament, but a handful in particular coordinated to do it in their homes and let fewer than ten people show up for it. I knew which group I wanted to join because I literally have two friends in this ward. I realize that's my own fault and the price I have to pay for not wanting to put myself out there more and answer the question "Where are you from?" eight billion more times, but it is what it is and I wanted to go where I knew Katie would go because she was friends with the guys doing it. The trouble is, I knew C and T would be there too for the same reason. And they wouldn't want me to be there and maybe they would complain to the one guy in particular whom they previously fled to when they were afraid of me for no reason - and he agrees with everyone else that they were being childish and ridiculous, but nonetheless he supported them in their own time of trauma and I'm grateful for that. But I figured if they said they weren't comfortable with me there, he would side with them and not let me come even though he knows I did very little wrong.
So yeah, I got pretty angry just thinking about that possibility before anything even happened, which just made me feel more defiant and determined to give him a piece of my mind if/when this scenario did happen. Eventually I realized that this was a bad attitude not conducive to what was supposed to be a sacred spiritual experience. I decided, out of respect for my neighbors' completely misguided but nonetheless real feelings, to not go and to just do the sacrament privately with my other neighbor and friend Steve instead. So when the guy asked if I was still planning on coming, I told him that.
Oh, but his roommate was out of town and he needed someone else to help with the blessing...
A few moments earlier I had felt compassion and legitimate concern for how my presence would affect C and T; now, however, I couldn't help laughing to myself for several minutes as I thought, They're really not going to like this. I wasn't sure why I was laughing. Not to be intentionally derisive, but all the stress I'd been through just made this development inexplicably hilarious.
As the time approached, though, I just felt nervous. I nervously showed up a few minutes early and nervously made some small talk with the guy. It was like my second time talking to him but he remembered things and asked me about graduate school and that was nice. Then the sources of my nervousness arrived. DUN DUN DUN!
T was super awkward. The entire time, she kept her eyes pointed in literally every direction except mine. C was her usual awkward. They greeted the other guy, and then she looked at me. I looked at her. It was very important to me to just act chill and not like I had something to be embarrassed or ashamed or scared about. It was the first time I made eye contact with her since before the incident, and she spoke to me for the first time since before the incident. Her face typically blank, her voice typically monotone, she said, "Hello."
I almost responded out loud before I remembered that the hemorrhoid in a police uniform warned me in no uncertain terms not to talk to her. So I just mouthed it. I mouthed, "Hi." To an unfamiliar observer it must have looked like I felt too embarrassed or ashamed or scared in her presence to speak.
My neighbors took a seat on the giant beanbag across from me and perpendicular to the other guy. As T found a dozen fascinating things to look at besides me, C chatted with the guy, but occasionally shifted her gaze to me as if to include me in the conversation. I felt fully included, for example, in her recommendation not to buy peanut butter in Germany. (Apparently it's bitter.) I also caught her looking at me a couple times when I wasn't looking at her until I looked at her because she was looking at me. That gave me a sense of satisfaction, a sense of Ha, you can't be upset at me for looking at you because I wasn't looking at you until after you looked at me first so that's on you, not me.
Looking into her eyes was quite an introspective experience. There have been times when she has this smile that lights up her face like a Christmas tree and leaves little doubt as to her mood, but the rest of the time it's anyone's guess. Her blank expression gave virtually no indication of sapience, no hint of any gears turning behind those eyes whatsoever. And yet I knew that wasn't the case. I knew she was thinking something, that a process was ongoing on her mind to which I had no access. And the best part? I knew my expression was the same way. I've learned from experience that I can be impossible to read, even for women who are supposed to be experts at that sort of thing but aren't. I knew she couldn't read me any more than I could her. Two blank stares, two inscrutable minds locked together. I can't explain why that's such a powerful concept for me but it just is.
As I sat across from this beautiful awkward woman who probably still hated me, though, my nervousness was displaced by inexplicable joy. What I wish I could have said with my eyes is this: "Calise, I am not upset with you. I forgive you. I love you. I am not a threat. You have nothing to fear. I'm so sorry for causing you to feel otherwise." And because the words were in my eyes, she would know they were true.
Katie arrived, and for better or worse she was the last of us, so we got started with a hymn. I requested "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty". That seemed agreeable to everyone, but Katie needed to know what page number was it on? "Um," I said, wracking my memory, "sevvventyyy... twooo?" For a moment of silence, everyone else looked it up. I didn't bother because I know all the words. When the silence became unbearable I asked, "Is it actually seventy-two?"
"Yes," Katie said, "good job."
"Wow," I said. Then I hastened to add, "I mean, of course I knew that."
It wasn't hilarious or anything, but C laughed. I don't mean laughed the way a normal person laughs. She made this little "Heh" noise that most people wouldn't bother to make unless they were being sarcastic. I've made her laugh like that before, and I've also made her actually giggle a few times, and I don't know the determining factor between those options but this unexpected bit of levity was nice regardless.
After that I had the privilege of helping administer the sacrament to my de facto enemies. It could have gone either way for them - it could have been a really uncomfortable experience to accept this sacred ordinance from someone they believe to be an evil stalker, or it could have been a cathartic experience to mutually humble ourselves and put aside the considerable tension between us for a few moments. I know it was the latter for me. I'm so grateful that I was able to do this one nice thing for them after they forbade me from doing almost anything nice for them. C used to like it when I did nice things for her. When I left her a bag of Tootsie rolls, she announced to the world that she "couldn't be happier". And then the hemorrhoid in a police uniform cited those Tootsie rolls as a reason why I'm a bad person. But I'm getting off-topic.
The point is, the joy I felt that evening lifted my burden entirely. Maybe I'm jinxing myself, but it's been gone for a week. I don't feel weighed down and I can think about what happened without experiencing PTSD. Of course, I would still very much like for them to both grow up and wise up and rectify this unfortunate situation. Especially now, when I'm stuck next door to them almost 24/7. Being able to at least text them again would make the soul-crushing boredom and isolation of the foreseeable future a bit more tolerable. But whatever. I really do feel better, I swear.
A "Come Follow Me" lesson followed the sacrament, but as soon as the latter was over, T said she wasn't feeling well and practically ran away. C stayed a few more minutes for the cookies Katie brought, and then before she left she thanked the other guy and me for administering the sacrament, looking from him to me to include us both in the statement.
I almost responded out loud before I remembered that the hemorrhoid in a police uniform had warned me in no uncertain terms not to talk to her. So I just nodded.
The word "therapist" caught my attention because I once attended a Sunday school lesson taught by a therapist and it was about depression and stuff and it was great. Based on that one experience I assumed this one would also talk about something more interesting and worthwhile than the advertised topic would seem to indicate.
I barely knew Sister Dymock but I was familiar with her husband, the stake president. Before President Dymock was a stake president, he was a mission president in Washington, and before that he was director of the Logan Institute of Religion. And I'm old enough to have known him back then. I first became acquainted with him when I emailed him to complain about my institute teachers bashing on evolution. I took two institute classes per semester back then, and something seemed to come up in every one, ranging from an offhand derisive comment that "We didn't evolve from slime off a rock" to a solid ten minutes of embarrassing pseudoscientific attempts to refute the theory. He told me I was correct that the Church had no position in evolution, that he had already told the teachers in a meeting over the summer not to say stuff like that, and that if I told him the offenders' names he would discreetly remind them and not mention me. And I thought that was pretty swell of him.
But after it happened a few more times - this occasion being the final straw - I decided that despite President Dymock's best intentions, we were clearly dealing with a systemic problem too large for him to handle on his own. So I called church headquarters in Salt Lake and tried to reach Elder Paul V. Johnson of the Seventy, Commissioner of Church Education (who recently made the news for the infamous "clarification" of BYU's Honor Code changes that he inexplicably sent two weeks after the fact). I left a message with his secretary and then the next time I called she said he had suggested I talk to this other guy whose name I forget, but he was in charge of seminaries and institutes for the world and I didn't understand the difference between that and Elder Johnson's position but now I realize that of course Church Education encompasses a bit more than seminaries and institutes.
This guy listened patiently to my story, taking notes, asking questions for clarification. He asked how I would handle the topic of evolution in church settings, praised me for being so polite and deferential, and asked if I had served a mission. This experience of being so listened to and validated by an adult (which I technically also was, but at age twenty, I felt like it even less than I do now) has been replicated few other times in my life, mostly by therapists and Bishop Paul Fjeldsted, who incidentally during this time was receiving my updates on my crusade against creationism with obvious support and amusement.
A few semesters later I was in President Dymock's own Mission Prep class. We got to the "Preach My Gospel" section on the Creation, and he pointed out how deliberately brief and vague it is. Then he said this: "You know the reason for conflicts between science and religion? Bad religion."
I think that's a slight oversimplification, but even so, I looked at him like
The next time one of those incidents occurred, I walked out of the class in question and never went back.
Anyway, his wife began her remarks by advising us to ask God to help us get what we needed out of them. Beside me, my friend said, "Help me to not hate men." I thought that was a bit harsh. I don't hate women. I just sort of see them as being like Klingons. Almost exclusively evil, but not quite, and I'm not going to discriminate and be like "No, Worf, you can't join my crew because you're a Klingon."
True to my expectations, Sister Dymock spent most of her devotional not talking about dating per se much at all. She talked instead about mental health. Of course the connection is obvious - if you're not mentally healthy enough, nobody on God's green Earth will want to date you - but it has so many other applications and is just a better topic in general and it should have been the title of the devotional but nobody asked me. She said it's important to be "well-differentiated" and I don't remember what that means but it's important. For maybe the last twenty minutes or so she did talk about dating specifically, and she called up her husband to stand with her and she talked about how they met and fell in love and stuff. This is always iffy territory because unless your love story is really freaking interesting, I'm happy for your happily ever after but I really couldn't care less how it happened.
The story itself was nothing special, but one line justified the entire price of admission. Brother Dymock said something to the effect of, "I would later find out that she was well-differentiated. But at the time, I just thought she was well-defined."
Cue riotous, shocked laughter that he dared to say such a thing in a church setting. My respect for him increased tenfold. It reminded me of a Sunday school class in my home branch several years ago. The branch president was sitting in and I don't think it had any relevance to the lesson but the teacher decided to ask him what first drew him to his wife. He thought about it seriously for a few seconds and then said with great confidence, "She was hot!" I'm sure that's not the kind of response the teacher was going for, but honesty is important.
Sister Dymock mentioned, as many others have, that according to no less an authority than Dallin H. Oaks' granddaughter, a date can be defined as "planned, paired off, and paid for". You know it's true because alliteration. As it happens, I had a date the very next day after this devotional. It had been planned well in advance and postponed a couple times. I paired off with a student at the Weber State University Department of Dental Hygiene to clean my teeth. Then I paid for it. See, this is a joke because what I just described perfectly fits the given definition but is nonetheless not what most people would consider a "date". In all complete seriousness, though, it was one of the best dates I've ever been on. She was very, very cute and nice and enjoyable to talk to. Real shame about her marital status but the definition doesn't say anything about that.
People like to quote that bit from then-Elder Oaks' 2006 devotional, and sometimes they quote other bits too, but nobody except me ever quotes the very best bit and I have no idea why. This was a game-changer for me. Quote:
"Now, brothers and sisters, if you are troubled about something we have just said, please listen very carefully to what I will say now. Perhaps you are a young man feeling pressured by what I have said about the need to start a pattern of dating that can lead to marriage, or you are a young woman troubled by what we have said about needing to get on with your life.
"If you feel you are a special case, so that the strong counsel I have given doesn’t apply to you, please don’t write me a letter. Why would I make this request? I have learned that the kind of direct counsel I have given results in a large number of letters from members who feel they are an exception, and they want me to confirm that the things I have said just don’t apply to them in their special circumstance.
"I will explain why I can’t offer much comfort in response to that kind of letter by telling you an experience I had with another person who was troubled by a general rule. I gave a talk in which I mentioned the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' (Ex. 20:13). Afterward a man came up to me in tears saying that what I had said showed there was no hope for him. 'What do you mean?' I asked him.
"He explained that he had been a machine gunner during the Korean War. During a frontal assault, his machine gun mowed down scores of enemy infantry. Their bodies were piled so high in front of his gun that he and his men had to push them away in order to maintain their field of fire. He had killed a hundred, he said, and now he must be going to hell because I had spoken of the Lord’s commandment 'Thou shalt not kill.'
"The explanation I gave that man is the same explanation I give to you if you feel you are an exception to what I have said. As a General Authority, I have the responsibility to preach general principles. When I do, I don’t try to define all the exceptions. There are exceptions to some rules. For example, we believe the commandment is not violated by killing pursuant to a lawful order in an armed conflict. But don’t ask me to give an opinion on your exception. I only teach the general rules. Whether an exception applies to you is your responsibility. You must work that out individually between you and the Lord.
"The Prophet Joseph Smith taught this same thing in another way. When he was asked how he governed such a diverse group of Saints, he said, 'I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.' In what I have just said, I am simply teaching correct principles and inviting each one of you to act upon these principles by governing yourself."
Close quote and proverbial mic drop.
Sister Dymock mentioned and tried to address a few questions and concerns that people have about dating. One of them was violence and rape. I have never heard anyone in a church setting be candid and honest enough to acknowledge that this concern exists. Alas, she didn't really address it, but how could she? Telling people (mostly but not exclusively men) not to be violent or rape is kind of pointless because everyone freaking knows that already and either cares or doesn't, and telling people (mostly but not exclusively women) how to protect themselves is victim-blaming. It's a lose-lose.
Another question people have, according to her, is how can you politely tell someone you're not interested?
"Call the police on him," I deadpanned.
Beside me, my friend laughed.
Sister Dymock didn't have any solid easy answer to that one either but she suggested as a general principle that you should try to leave the person better than you found them.
"Yeah, Calise," I deadpanned.
Beside me, my friend doubled over and spasmed as she fought to restrain her laughter. Beside her, her other friend started laughing too, though the look on her face suggested that she wasn't sure why. And this continued for so long that I started to think they must both be laughing at something else altogether until my friend gasped, "'Yeah, Calise!' I'm dying!"
Toward the end, Sister Dymock threw in a shoutout to LGBT people and their unique challenges, which was nice, though I doubt many bothered to show up in the first place.
The devotional was only tainted by trace amounts of the banal sort of advice one gets everywhere else. President Dymock drew on his mission president expertise and suggested that the "Preach My Gospel" manual has great guidelines for dating as well as missionary work: "Talk to everyone, get referrals..." Cue everyone else laughing and me rolling my eyes because it wasn't that funny and I'm an introvert, thank you very much. Okay, he's not perfect but I still love him.
Another piece of advice that stuck with me, which seems as good as any to end my post on, was Sister Dymock's suggestion that after we've been severely hurt we can pray for the courage to try again. I'm sure this is great advice for some people and some scenarios. But I'll be damned if I'm going to take it. That would be like asking God to help me stab myself thirty-seven times in the chest. Or worse. Actual footage of me after the last time I fell in love:
Hmmm, let me think, do I ever, ever, ever under any conceivable circumstances want to open myself up to the possibility of experiencing anything like that ever again?
Anyway, what I got out of this devotional is that I need to just focus on myself and my own improvement and relationship with God. That's really very liberating. Now I'll have no one to blame for my constant failures and setbacks but myself.
"Guys. Chris's blog is the stuff of legends. If you’re ever looking for a good read, check this out!"
- Amelia Whitlock
"I don't know how well you know Christopher Randall Nicholson, but... he's trolling. You should read his blog. It's delightful."
- David Young
About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender male and a Latter-day Saint, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic, so you can't. Unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.