Brigham Young said, "Your endowment is, to receive all those ordinances in the house of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and hell." I wrote a bit more about it already on this page, but not a lot more and nothing that I shouldn't have. There are aspects of the ceremony that are not to be shared with anyone outside the temple and I respect that and nobody better freak out about this post. I'll do my best not to be too opaque, but without getting ridiculously long this beginning portion will probably make little sense to people not of my religion and I'm sorry about that. Suffice to say that this is an important ceremony considered essential to get into the highest level of heaven.
Any qualified adult member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can get endowed, but it's typically done before serving a mission or getting married. Since I didn't serve a mission, I was never going to do it unless I just went and did it without a special occasion in mind. At any given time after the age change in 2012 it seemed that virtually everyone in my ward was endowed and considered this ceremony synonymous with the temple. When people ask "Have you been to the temple?" they're asking if you've been endowed, not whether you do baptisms for the dead at the temple every week. I resented that more than a little bit. I felt like nobody cared about or indeed even remembered the sacred ordinance that I performed despite it being equally necessary and a prerequisite to endowments, and I felt like I was spiritually behind everyone else and it hurt. Did I overreact? Probably. Were my ward members and priesthood leaders a tad insensitive? Also probably.
I did do baptisms for the dead every week for a period, though, and there in the baptistry I felt appreciated. Technically I should have called ahead to make appointments, but the workers considered me to have a standing appointment and were always thrilled to see me. I made a decision to never turn around and leave when I saw how busy it was, and sometimes I had to wait upwards of an hour for massive groups of teenagers to go through, but it was worth it to leave feeling lightened like a coat that had gone through the wash and had all the dirt filtered out. I had at least one, maybe two experiences with the deceased people I was doing work for. So basically it was great. As time went on, though, I felt more awkward being in there with so many younger people. Most people who've gotten their own endowments don't do the baptisms that often. I stopped showing up and let my temple recommend expire for a couple years.
But I was in no hurry to progress. Despite knowing intellectually that I needed to do this at some point if I was serious about my faith, in practice I wasn't planning on it at all. I didn't want to wear temple garments almost 24/7 for the rest of my life, as endowed Latter-day Saints do to remember the covenants they made and receive spiritual protection, and I was afraid the ceremony would be freakishly weird and give me nightmares. Over the years, by accident, I probably heard and read a bit more about its various incarnations past and present than I was supposed to - more often than not from less than friendly perspectives - and I didn't like all of the things I heard and read. I knew that the vast majority of people who had the experience loved it, but some very much did not, and my trajectory seemed predestined for the latter group. So I addressed it like I do most of my problems: by trying to ignore it.
I still wouldn't have taken this step if not for the influence of the new senior missionary couple who got all excited when they learned that I hadn't. Long story short, they went through all the Temple Prep lessons with me and gave me stuff to read and I felt the Spirit making me comfortable with the idea. Mostly. I still occasionally worried. I had a few nightmares leading up to it. But then, I've had a lot of nightmares the last few months about all kinds of things. I don't know why. My crappy life hasn't been noticeably crappier than usual. The only one I enjoyed was the one where I was in a literal Jurassic Park movie getting chased by a T. rex. In that dream I experienced all the heart-rending terror of being moments away from those massive jaws and wet, putrid breath, and was forced to think for the first time about how those characters must have felt in the moments before they died, and how much it hurt before they lost consciousness. But even in the midst of feeling that, I recognized that it was totally awesome because I was being chased by a freaking T. rex. I'm not even joking when I call that a good nightmare.
Anyway, I had to do the usual worthiness interviews and I gained an appreciation for this concept of worthiness and perfection not being the same thing. I'm grateful, for instance, that the questions didn't include things like "Do you ever swear when the wi-fi stops working every day?" or "Do you still harbor hatred toward, to list a totally random hypothetical example, a parasite who owes you more than six thousand dollars but has paid back literally thirty cents in the last eight months?" I would not be temple worthy in this life time if I were required to rectify all of my massive personal defects. But I think I'm an okay person. The senior missionaries said the stake president told them he felt good about me going to the temple. That was good to hear. It would have been awkward if he'd said something like "I felt sick to my stomach the whole time, but I couldn't deny his recommend because he answered all the questions right."
I got endowed Tuesday evening. My verdict? At least three people now working in this area of the temple recognized me from the baptistry and were thrilled to see me, which made me feel good. In contrast, within seconds of putting on the temple garments for the first time, I could no longer feel them against my skin. I thought it would take at least a couple days to adjust. Most of the ceremony itself was almost disappointingly un-weird. The weirdest part was the clothes, but I had a thought at college graduation two days later, as I looked out at the robes and sashes and silly square hats with tassels, that this graduation clothing was every bit as weird as the temple clothing. All symbols are arbitrary, but the ones we grow up with seem normal while the ones we only know secondhand or later in life seem strange and exotic. We need to recognize this fact in order to avoid being stupid ethnocentric hypocrites. Here I am standing outside the temple with some people afterward.
Jen (in the picture), who helped prepare me for this by patiently addressing questions and concerns over the years, took me and whoever else was willing and able to dinner afterward. Audrey (also in the picture) made me cookies. Everyone else needs to step up their game. Kidding, kidding.
Speaking of graduation, that was also a thing that happened. I wrote previously about how I started school in 2011 and went through no small amount of suffering between then and now. If I had glimpsed, eight years ago on the threshold of adulthood, how much pain lay in store for me, I would have died on the spot. But here I am graduated and not dead, so yay for me. I know eight years isn't a record by any means, even among the small sample size in one of my English classes that I shared with three students in their early thirties, but it's a big freaking chunk of my life and it's a miracle I ever graduated at all. Under those circumstances, I suppose the commencement and convocation ceremonies would have been anticlimactic no matter what. But it would have been nice if I hadn't been too poor to get a cap and gown and actually participate, and if my sister hadn't absentmindedly scheduled her wedding for the same day.
That argument went down a couple months ago, and I told her straight up that while I would like to go to her wedding, if it came down to a choice between that and the ceremony I had earned and was entitled to, I would choose the latter. She moved her wedding later in the day so I could go to both and I let it go. But after actually going to my convocation and then skipping the luncheon and rushing off for the wedding, I got enraged all over again and spent the rest of the day very pissed off. A few people took a few seconds to ask how my graduation went, before wandering off to continue fawning over my sister and showering her with gifts and money. This was like the feeling of not being endowed while everyone else was, except much worse. It felt like the most important day of my life, the biggest achievement of my life, the event that should have been the glorious long-awaited culmination of everything I worked and suffered for, a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I'll never get to redo the right way, was hijacked by someone else with a more important accomplishment that made mine all but invisible. It hurt very much.
I'm not angry anymore, at least. I think I've processed that and moved on, so I won't rant about it for several more paragraphs like I originally assumed I would. But I think I'm entitled to be honest about the experience for posterity and not pretend it was awesome. I wish my sister much happiness. I barely know this guy and he's not at all the type I would have expected her to go for, but I guess he makes her happy so that's good.
There is one picture of me after graduation. As I wandered around greeting some of my friends who could afford caps and gowns and felt inclined to be a part of their ceremony, a high councillor's wife from church asked me to take a picture of their family because her daughter was graduating. She asked why I was there, and I mentioned why and then she made me be in a picture with her family too. I felt stupid standing there in a suit next to a bunch of people who didn't know me, and that's why I'm not sharing the picture here, but it was a very kind gesture and I appreciate it. I also appreciate that my other two sisters wanted to come but couldn't because they don't have their own vehicle(s) out here far from home. And I appreciate Uncle Russ and Aunt Amanda, who, the next day, straight-up asked if my graduation was a disappointment (yes) and got me pizza and ice cream and let me watch Star Wars at their house while hanging out with their adorable children who would have cried themselves to sleep if they didn't get to see me. At least the older four would have. The baby probably didn't care and probably cries herself to sleep anyway.
I want to give a shout-out to a couple people who left us this week.
First, of course, Peter Mayhew (74). I know very little about him and would feel pretentious trying to wax super eloquent about his passing, but because he brought to life one of the coolest Star Wars characters ever, he was all right by me. It seems like just yesterday that I discovered Chewbacca in a Millennium Falcon Lego set and noted with surprise that he had the same name as my cousin's cat. Mayhew liked to share the amusing anecdote of how he got the role just by standing up when George Lucas walked in, but he brought breadth to the role as well as height. His posture mattered, and the facial expressions he made with the limited mobility of the mask, and behind-the-scenes footage reveals that he actually spoke real contextually accurate dialogue before it was dubbed over with animal noises. Most people probably don't know what his voice sounded like or what he looked like, but he left his mark on the character and consequently on the world just the same. Dang it, now I feel pretentious.
Less known and tragically much younger, Rachel Held Evans (37) is also gone. She was a progressive evangelical pushing for greater inclusivity and intellectualism within the movement. I discovered her blog because of her posts on evolution, and they were very useful, and I quoted her on this page of mine but I'll repeat that quote here for the sake of convenience and flow. You're welcome.
"What we are searching for is a community of faith in which it is safe to ask tough questions, to think critically, and to be honest with ourselves. Unfortunately, a lot of young evangelicals grew up with the assumption that Christianity and evolution cannot mix, that we have to choose between our faith in Jesus and accepted science. I've watched in growing frustration as this false dichotomy has convinced my friends to leave the faith altogether when they examine the science and find it incompatible with a 6,000-year-old earth. Sensing that Christianity required abandoning their intellectual integrity, some of the best and brightest of the next generation made a choice they didn't have to make."
Though I belong to a different strain of Christianity, I hope to keep the spirit of her efforts alive in some capacity.
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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.