Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Frugal Education

          I am a rare specimen; I am a person that graduated from college without receiving financial assistance from my parents and without taking out student loans.  When my classmates were taking out loans to afford on-campus housing and meal plans, I was living in the sketchier area of town, wearing thrift-store clothing, and getting creative about locating free food on campus.  I attended Cornell University, where my frugality was outside the norm.  Most of my classmates were either from the upper middle class or the wealthy 1% and lacked the perspective of growing up without money.
          Even the students that didn’t have the money to cover their costs had no compunction about taking out loans to finance their lifestyle.  One of my friends, the daughter of a professor, was attending college for free as part of her father’s tuition benefit.  Even so, she graduated with more than $40,000 in loans; she didn’t want to live at home, her father didn’t want to pay for housing, and she spent her summers studying abroad instead of working.  When she told me about her loan situation, I stared at her in shock.  I couldn’t fathom spending money you didn’t have and taking out loans you didn’t need.  But this friend of mine was hardly outside the norm; I met many students who admitted that they didn’t mind taking out extra loans, if these loans ensured they had a fun college experience.  “Avoid unnecessary debt” was a mantra drummed into me from both my parents and my religious up-bringing.  
          I was very lucky; I was accepted to a university with the financial resources to provide a generous aid package.  Since my parents didn’t have a lot of money, my tuition was covered by grants.  Living costs were harder to cover; I had to work during the school year and during the summer.  I also had to take a couple semesters off to work as a full-time lab technician.  There were a lot of times, especially towards the end of the school year, when my bank account was hovering around $0.  I ate a lot of pasta and eggs, to the point that one of my roommates instituted a ban on eggs in the house out of concern for my health.  
          Sometimes I regret not having a more laid-back student experience.  I missed out on some valuable college experiences because I was always either working or studying.  But I was raised by parents that taught me to be frugal and to live within my means.  My parents are examples of hard-working people that fought their hardest to keep their heads above water, all while raising a large family on a very limited income.  Sometimes my parents had to get creative; for years, my parents raised cows, chickens, and pigs in order to feed the family.  And there were times when my parents had to rely on public assistance and church welfare.  But my parents never gave up.  No matter how dire the situation got, there was always the self-assurance that we were doing everything we could to make ends meet.  
          I am grateful to my parents for the lessons they have taught me.  Now, post-college, my husband and I are free of student loans, free of credit card debt, and we were able to afford a 20% down payment on our home.  I also had the privilege of studying at a wonderful university, one that taught me how to question and to think critically.  My college experience was one that I treasure, as my education taught me to push intellectual boundaries.  There were times when I had to struggle to make ends meet but in the end, I discovered my own strength and resourcefulness.  
          Thank you, Mom and Dad, for teaching me to always live within my means.  

Monday, June 25, 2012

A Missionary's Heart

          My older sister decided to serve a mission around the same time that I chose to leave the Mormon Church.  This fact caused a lot of tension in my household, as my father vacillated between picking fights with his apostate daughter and bragging about his dutiful BYU-educated daughter.  The spring of my senior year was not easy as I prepared to head off to college while my sister prepared to go on her mission in Brazil.  
          A few months after my sister left for her mission, she started e-mailing me.  This was in the fall of 2003 and from what I gathered, she had been granted special permission to communicate with me via e-mail.  Her primary form of communication, along with most of the other missionaries in her area, was via conventional snail mail.  In her e-mails, my sister talked a lot about her faith in the Mormon Church, with an occasional snippet of her everyday life.  From the rare glimpses of her life that she revealed, I gathered that she was living in unsanitary housing, complete with leaking roof and faulty plumbing, and subsisting on a diet of rice and beans.  She also asked me to keep the details of her housing situation a secret from our parents.  Every once in a while, she would write to my parents begging for money; her fair skin was peeling due to the harsh sun and she couldn’t afford to buy sunscreen.  
          I have always struggled to communicate with my sister; we are two very different people and I always felt that she judged me.  This communication barrier was only exacerbated by our differences in belief; the bulk of my sister’s e-mails were centered around bearing her testimony to me of the truth of the Gospel.  I tried to write like a good sister but I also struggled to contain my frustration.  I never was able to shake off the suspicion that my sister’s primary motivation in writing was to try and re-convert me to Mormonism.  E-mails with my sister were intermittent as she completed her mission.  She came back from Brazil eighteen months later a little thinner and a little tanner than before.  
          Not long after returning, my sister started getting sick; she was dizzy and couldn’t keep food down.  She ended up in the emergency room a couple of times, where the doctors assumed the problem was an ulcer.  But the ulcer medication didn’t work and my sister's condition kept deteriorating.  Eventually, after three or four months of unsuccessful treatments, the doctors discovered the real cause.  My sister had pericarditis, which is when the sac surrounding the heart (the pericardium) gets inflamed.  Her pericardium had been rubbing against the heart and fluid had started to build up, to the point that it was pressing against her stomach and restricting her heart’s function.  
          Words cannot describe my horror when I first saw my sister after coming home for Christmas break that year.  Her condition had worsened to the point that she could no longer get out of bed.  Always thin, she looked like a Holocaust victim; her wrists stuck out at odd angles and I could count each rib on her body.  For months she had been unable to keep solid food down and was now subsisting on a diet of Ensure.  Her blood pressure hovered around 70/40 as her heart struggled to pump blood to the rest of her body.  My sister’s surgery was scheduled for the day after Christmas; the surgeons were planning to go in, remove the excess fluid, and determine if the cause was congenital or not.  
          My sister’s surgery was a success.  The doctors have yet to discover the exact cause of her condition.  Their suspicion is that she picked up a virus while living in Brazil.  Now that I have learned more about the Mormon Church’s treatment of missionaries --- their disregard for missionaries’ physical and mental health, their scrimping on costs at the expense of missionaries’ well-being, their blatant ignorance of a country’s culture --- I find myself wondering just how badly my sister’s heart was damaged during her mission to Brazil.  

Note: If you are interested in reading more about the everyday life of Mormon missionaries, I highly recommend the book "Heaven Up Here" by John K Williams, which is a very honest and moving account of the author’s years as a Mormon missionary in Bolivia.  

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Don't Just Get Drunk

--- Get Mormon drunk!

Talk about a sugar hangover!  

Even the cat succumbed...

So toss back a (root) brewski and you'll be on your way to being Mormon drunk in no time --- that peculiar blend of sugar-induced religious fervor!  

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

My Grandmother, the (Illegal?) Immigrant

          My grandmother immigrated from Toronto when she was six years old along with the rest of her family.  She married my grandfather, a US citizen who worked in an auto-plant, when she was twenty.  Grandma then went on to live a full life, outlasting her husband and two of her children, before finally dying at the ripe old age of ninety.  She was a tough lady, having survived the Depression with her wit and humor intact.  When asked about the Depression, she would say that for breakfast they ate potatoes and tomatoes, for lunch they ate tomatoes and potatoes, and for dinner they had a choice of either potatoes and tomatoes or tomatoes and potatoes.  Grandma always had a sharp remark for empty platitudes and hated being the object of people’s pity.  
Potatoes and tomatoes?  Or tomatoes and potatoes?
          My sister, who studied genealogy in college, liked to interview my grandmother about our family history.  Sometimes Grandma was willing to collaborate, filling out the bare bones of our family tree with the details that make history come alive.  Other times she would get short-tempered, usually when my sister pointed out all the first-cousin marriages cluttering up our family tree.  

          Another point of contention was my grandmother’s immigration status.  Whenever my sister brought up the naturalization process, my grandmother would become un-characteristically quiet.  We never did find evidence of our grandmother becoming a US citizen, although she was married to one and collected Social Security.  I suppose, in those days, the rules weren’t quite as strict.  In any case, my grandmother was as much of a citizen as anyone else; she worked, raised a family, and paid her taxes, just like everyone else.  

Monday, June 18, 2012

Mormon Temple Ceremonies

          I was raised to believe that the temple ceremony would be the pinnacle of my existence as a Mormon girl.  The temple ceremonies were shrouded in secrecy; members were forbidden to reveal details of the ceremonies to others.  To do so would be to risk dire punishment.  Some of my peers whispered about the temple ceremonies being discussed online; my faithful mind shrank from the blasphemy of the idea.  
          As a girl, I imagined the endowment ceremony and sealing to be a metamorphic experience; I would go in as a caterpillar and emerge as a beautiful butterfly.  I thought the ceremonies would be full of holiness and light and awe, one that would forever transform me as a person.  My imagining of the temple ceremonies was wrapped up into a starry-eyed ideal and reinforced by the many times members talked about their temple experience as being “the most sacred day of my life”.  
          Even after I left the Church, I was reluctant to pry into the secrets of the temple.  Mormons view their ceremonies as sacred; I did not want to infringe upon the beliefs of others, even if those beliefs were no longer mine.  I dismissed the comments of non-Mormons about the temple ceremonies as propaganda, in spite of the fact that I had no idea of what the temple ceremonies were about.  My voice teacher, who had been disowned by his Catholic parents for being gay, made a comment about the temple ceremonies as being about “learning a secret handshake”.  I brushed off his comment, although the idea stuck in my mind and led me to start wondering about the ceremonies my family had been through.  
          My curiosity grew and grew, until one day, three years after I lost my belief in the Mormon Church, I finally caved in to my desire for knowledge.  With shaking hands and a jumpy demeanor, I went online and typed “Mormon temple ceremonies” into the search engine.  
          What I read stunned me.  Secret handshake?  Washing and anointing of the initiate’s body, who was only wearing a thin white sheet?  Blood atonements?  My understanding of my family and my religious up-bringing, which had been based on the idea that Mormonism is a simple religion free from ritual and ceremony, shifted and tore in the wake of this new knowledge.  My parents received their endowments in 1977, when members had to make a ritualistic cutting gesture across their throats as an indication of the penalties they would face if they ever talked about the ceremony.  The ceremony I read about seemed so different in tone from the church that I knew.  I couldn’t picture my parents --- the product of a long line of New England Puritans, complete with an aversion to rituals and pomp --- going through these ceremonies.  But the details made an odd sort of sense; my siblings’ jokes about fig leaf aprons took on a whole new perspective.
          Learning the details of the temple ceremonies altered how I view myself as a post-Mormon.  I may not be a Mormon but I was raised as one and my family still believes.  There were a lot of under-currents running through my childhood that I only had a dim understanding of.  For example, I never understood why my mother was so submissive to my father, to a degree that almost destroyed my family.  Now I know that my mother swore an oath in the temple to “observe and keep the law of your husband, and abide by his counsel in righteousness”.  Since my mother is a very religious woman, I have no doubt that she takes this vow very seriously.  I have struggled for years to understand why my mother is so submissive to a husband that is indifferent to his wife and children.  My struggles to over-come my mother’s example, to shape my own expectations of family and marriage, has been a long-running theme throughout my adult life.  
          There are still many aspects of my childhood that I don’t understand.  Someday I hope to arrive at an understanding of who I am and how I fit into my family and the world at large.  Until then, I will seek to learn as much as I can.

Note: If you would like more information on Mormon temple ceremonies, I recommend this resource

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Garments And Temple Ceremonies

          When I was thirteen, I spent a month living with my non-member aunt in Ottawa.   I showed up at the local Mormon meetinghouse alone on a Sunday morning, dressed in my finery, ready for church.
          Young Womens’ that day was taught by a newly-wed with curly-blonde hair and an earnest manner.  The lesson for the day was about temple ceremonies.  She kept talking about an “endowment ceremony” and “garments”.  I was confused, so I raised my hand.  
          “What do you mean by endowment ceremonies and garments?”  I asked.  
          “The endowment ceremony is when you make covenants with God in the temple.” she said.  “When you make these covenants, you agree to wear garments as a sign of your promises to God.”  
          I sat there, absorbing the information.  Then a lightbulb went off in my head.  I raised my hand again.  “I know what garments are!” I said, excited by this new knowledge.  “I see them hanging on the clothesline at home all the time!”  The teacher smiled at me.  The class had been rowdy, with a lot of restless girls; I think she was happy to see that her lesson had hit home with someone.  
          After church, the teacher offered me a ride home.  We walked out to her rusted station wagon, where she introduced me to her husband, a thin man with brown hair.  He asked me how the lesson was.  
          “I learned about the endowment ceremony today.”  I was embarrassed by the fact that I had never heard of endowments and garments, in spite of a lifetime of membership.  “I had never heard about them before; I guess I have a lot of learning to do.”  I felt very insecure about my status as a Mormon; how could I have not heard of garments and endowment ceremonies before?  
          “Oh, I am still learning about the endowment ceremonies.” he said, with a wry smile.  His smile held an unusual note, a touch of dissonance that was uncommon to the usual Mormon dialogue.
          Years later, when I discovered what happens during the endowment ceremonies, I would remember that smile and wonder.    

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Coffee Love Story

          I was raised to believe that drinking coffee was a sin.  No one in my family touched the black liquid; to bring coffee into my home would have been sufficient to spark a small war.  Having never been exposed to coffee, the very smell was enough to make me feel queasy.  Even after leaving the church, I stayed away from drinking coffee.  Sometimes, when I was cramming for exams and needed the caffeine, I would drink large cups of badly brewed coffee, which was sufficient to convince me that coffee wasn’t anything to get excited about.  If I needed the caffeine, I stuck with my standard Diet Coke.  
          And then I met a boy.  I was at a party when I struck up a conversation with a grad student in engineering.  He was funny and smart and we talked for hours as the party slowly died down around us.  He gave me his number and I resolved to call him again.  Which I did.  I called him, we talked, and we decided to meet for a coffee.  He picked me up after work and took me to his favorite coffee-shop.  
          This was not just any coffee shop.  This was a special coffee shop, with some of the highest standards in the industry.  The beans are ethically sourced and roasted locally by a master with years of experience.  The coffee is then prepared by baristas that have gone through months of rigorous training in order to pull a single shot.  The result is an espresso that is rich and earthy, with a beautiful caramel crema. 
          We talked for hours as I savored my coffee.  My horizons opened up, both by this new realization of the art of coffee as well as my conversation with a man who was raised by a single mother in India.  He told me about the trials of growing up in a highly orthodox Brahmin family while I told him about the trials of growing up in a highly conservative Mormon family.  We discovered a commonality in our experience that transcended cultural barriers.  Here was another person who had challenged his up-bringing and in so doing, had become more open-minded, more tolerant, more aware of humanity in all its glorious diversity.  I sensed I was on the verge of something spectacular.  
          Six years later and I find myself married to the same man that introduced me to good coffee.  There have been challenges of the sort that are inherent when two stubborn, strong-willed people from two very different cultures choose to get married.  But in-between these struggles have been a lot of good times.  We have shared a lot of laughter and had a lot of conversations that have challenged my view of the world around me.  I have a partner that makes me laugh, that reminds me to stop taking life so seriously, whose smile lights up the room.  More than that, I have a partner who understands the trials of walking a different path in life. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Is There A "Right" Or A "Wrong" Reason To Leave The Mormon Church?

          There is a perception among Mormons that people who choose to leave the Church do so because they are prideful, or because they want to sin, or because they were offended by other members, or because they have been deluded by Satan.  Since Mormons believe that the LDS Church is the “one true church” on Earth, by extension this means that they also believe that no one ever leaves simply because the Mormon Church isn’t true.  
          This places a heavy burden on the person who chooses to leave; they find themselves in a position of needing to defend their actions and “prove” that they are not sinful or delusional.  Over the years, I have had people ask me if I was on drugs or alcohol.  I have been treated like a simpleton; when I finally gathered up the courage to tell my bishop that I didn’t believe in the Mormon Church, he looked at me and said in a very slow, very loud voice --- “Did you know that Joseph Smith was a fourteen-year old boy when he was visited by God?”  This was coming from a man I had known for years, who had been my visiting teacher, whose daughters went to school with me.  He knew that I was a straight-A student that attended seminary faithfully.  But with a single admission of disbelief, all of his respect for me as a person was suddenly erased.  In his mind, I was a simpleton who had never been educated about the Church, in spite of all of my actions that indicated otherwise.  
          For a long time, I felt a sense of shame about my reasons for leaving.  I didn’t leave because I learned that Joseph Smith was a serial adulterer who used his status as leader to acquire countless wives in secret, the youngest of whom was only fourteen.  I didn’t leave because I discovered that the papyri that Joseph Smith had purportedly translated the Book Of Abraham from, when evaluated by proper Egyptologists, turned out to be just a run-of-the-mill funeral papyri.  I didn’t leave because I found out there were multiple versions of the First Vision, all of which varied in crucial details.  I didn’t leave because I discovered a smoking gun that “proved” the Mormon Church wasn’t true.  All of this knowledge came later, after I left.  My exit out of the Mormon Church was based on intuition and logic, rather than facts.  
          I left because I didn’t like the person I was becoming; my thought patterns were starting to settle into a rigid mold.  I was judging non-Mormons and inactive Mormons for being less worthy.  I judged and then I felt bad about judging.  Did I really want to spend a lifetime feeling bad about my actions as a person?  When I thought about the matter, I realized that converting some of my non-Mormon friends into Mormons would cause them to lose what was most precious about them.  I liked having friends that pushed boundaries, that challenged authority, that dared to dream of a different life.  As a Mormon girl, I was powerless to do any of that.  My life was already planned out for me; temple wedding to a Mormon boy, lots of children, a career as a home-maker, and a life of obedience to the authorities and to my husband.  The future that had been dictated for me filled me up with panic and dread.  I wanted to choose my life’s path but as a Mormon girl, choices were not an option available to me.  
          Most of all, I knew that there was no way of knowing if the Church was true.  I knew that the feelings subscribed to the Holy Ghost and considered as proof of the Church were flimsy evidence of truth at best.  Did I really want to go through life subscribing to a religion that made me uncomfortable, that made me more judgmental of others, on the off chance that it might be true?  So when the time came for me to ask “Do I believe this church is true?”, the answer was no.  
          Even after I left the Mormon Church, I was still plagued by doubts.  I had friends within the Church with the same frustrations, who had stuck with the Mormon Church in spite of their differences.  Were they better than I was, for staying in spite of their issues?  Were they stronger, more faithful?  I just couldn’t shake off the mind-set I had grown up with.  
          And so, for a few years after leaving, I went around saying “There is no God” with the same certainty that just a few years ago I had been saying “The Mormon Church is true”.  I was embarrassed by my reasons for leaving; a part of me wondered if I was simply weak and prideful.  I thought I had left the Church for the “wrong” reasons and so I felt compelled to bolster my insecurities with certainty.   
          But life moved on and I began to settle into my new identity as an post-Mormon.  I began to see the Mormon Church with the eye of an outsider, viewing my life’s experiences in a wider lens.  The issues inherent in the Mormon Church started to become clear.   I realized that I was, truly, genuinely, not a Mormon.  My identity as a post-Mormon girl began to feel as natural as breathing.  Bit by bit, my heart began to soften and heal.  
          This was when I realized I am an agnostic.  I don’t know if there is a higher power.  I can’t say “There is no God” with any more certainty than I can say “There is a God”.  And I have accepted this fact; I may never know the truth.  I am comfortable with who I am.  I take delight in the small joys of everyday life --- I love learning, my family, and my husband.  And for me, that is enough.  I will live my life with integrity and respect.  When I die, and if there is a higher power, I will say that I lived the best life I knew how.  
          My journey out of Mormonism was confused and circuitous.  But I am out and I am happy that I am out.  And I don’t think that there is a “right” or a “wrong” reason for leaving the Mormon Church.  If Mormonism works, then stay.  But if for some reason Mormonism doesn’t work, then leave.  Life is too short and too precious to waste doing something that you can’t believe, that doesn’t make you a better person.  

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Holy Ghost Or Instinct?

          My junior year of college I lived in a sketchy area; at least, what passes for sketchy in a sleepy university town.  My apartment was right next to a run-down building that housed a constant influx of people.  There was always some sort of a disturbance involving the police; my roommates and I called it the crack house.  
          One of the men that lived in the house liked to sit on the porch during the day and hit on every woman that walked by.  He hit on me a couple times and was very persistent; he physically blocked the sidewalk, preventing me from just walking past him.  He also did the same to my roommate Dana* and to the girlfriend of my roommate Steve*.  I thought of the guy as being a nuisance but not as a threat.  Nevertheless, I always crossed the street if I saw him sitting on the porch.  
          Then one evening I was walking home after a study session in the library.  I was pre-occupied about my test the next day, when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a dark shape rising toward me.  The shape was that of my neighbor, who had been sitting on his darkened porch.  His sudden appearance surprised me as he stood on the sidewalk in front of me, blocking my way.  He made a motion as if to grab my hand; there was a manic look on his face that terrified me.  
          My heart almost stopped at the sight of my neighbor coming out of nowhere.   Then I got angry; I didn’t want to deal with his behavior.  And so, in a very quick motion, I said “I am not interested in this.” and held up the back of my hand, creating a wall between my person and his.  I am rarely that forthright or that quick to action.  But I had seen this man’s behavior before and his actions on that dark night frightened me. 
          I then walked to my house as fast I could.  The short distance to my front door seemed interminable; I was aware of every step crunching on the gravel driveway, every dark shadow.  My hands were shaking as I fumbled for my keys, trying to get into the apartment as fast as I was able.  For several hours, I paced my empty apartment, all thoughts of my test forgotten.  Finally I went to sleep, hoping to forget about the matter. 
          I woke up the next morning, the incident still rattling around in my brain.  I was still shaken and annoyed that my neighbor had caused such turmoil.  I resolved to do something about the matter, even if for no other reason than to feel empowered.
          That evening I called the police to report the incident.  A police officer came to my apartment and I described my neighbor’s behavior.  Since there had been no physical contact, there was little the police officer could do.  He was patient with me but I could tell he thought my complaint was a waste of his time.  He took my complaint and then he left.  
          About an hour later, the police officer called me. 
          “I just wanted to warn you.” he said.  “There was an incident yesterday afternoon; there was an attempted sexual assault just a couple blocks from your home.  The police haven’t made any arrests yet but the prime suspect is your neighbor.”  
          My neighbor was arrested a few days later for the attempted sexual assault of a girl about my age.  My testimony of my neighbor’s behavior, along with my roommates’, helped the police garner enough evidence for the man to be called in for a police lineup, allowing the victim to identify my neighbor.  The attempted assault happened just hours before I encountered my neighbor on my way home; I get the chills just thinking about what could have happened that night.   
          There are two possible interpretations of this story --- the Mormon way and the post-Mormon way.  If I were a faithful Mormon, I would be telling the story one way --- I would describe how the Holy Ghost had protected me from this man.  I would say that the Holy Ghost had prompted me to quick action; I might even say that the Holy Ghost had created a stupor in my neighbor’s mind, preventing him from following me to my apartment.  If I were really sanctimonious, I might even think that the reason the other girl was assaulted and I wasn’t was due to the gift of the Holy Ghost.
          But I am not a Mormon.  And so, my telling of this story is a little different.  I had a creepy neighbor, one whose actions made me uncomfortable.  When he rose up out of that darkened porch to block my way on that winter evening, I reacted quickly because the situation was very scary.  I also had prior knowledge of my neighbor’s behavior, knowledge that the other girl did not.  All of my human instincts were warning me to get away as quickly as possible.  I listened to those instincts and removed myself from the situation in a decisive manner.  
          I was lucky; I think my quick action surprised my neighbor enough that I was able to get away from him.  And I like the second interpretation of my story better than the first interpretation.  The first version assumes a dependence on the good-will of a fickle Spirit.  The second version is one in which I followed my instincts and got myself out of a dangerous situation.  
*Names have been changed

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Every Member A Missionary

          The one inviolable tenet of Mormonism is the idea that the Mormon Church is the "one and only true Church" on Earth.  This fact is the driving force behind the aggressive proseletyzing efforts; Mormons believe that the Mormon Church is the only avenue to Heaven.  To bolster conversion rates, every young man is expected to serve a two-year proseletyzing mission.  The pressure to serve a mission is very intense; the young women of the church are instructed not to date men that haven't served missions.  

          In addition to full-time missions, members are expected to use their relationships with non-members in order to boost conversion.  The idea is that "every member is a missionary" and should be on the look-out to promote the Church.   To this effect, my peers and I availed ourselves of every possible opportunity to invite friends to youth activities.  Most of the time, our friends would come to the activities but say no to conversion.  A few of them were baptized; some remained in the church, others became inactive after a few months. My father was also very vigilant about trying to convert people; sooner or later he would try to give every non-member friend a Book of Mormon.  Most of the time, he ended up alienating potential friends with his excessive zeal.

          This attitude of members that every person needs to be Mormon is part kindness, part arrogance.  Kindness because members want non-members to be happy and think that they need Mormonism to attain happiness.  Arrogance because members believe that their way of life is superior to others.  At church, I felt uncomfortable by the attitude that non-members were lost and confused.  Our entire culture was built around the idea that we were the only people with the truth and that we needed to spread the truth to world at large.  

          By promoting this idea of "every member a missionary", relationships between members and non-members are fraught with the tension of potential conversion.  Some members are able to maintain respectful interfaith relationships.  Others aren't.  

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Coffee Roasting Demonstration

          Last year, I visited my parents’ house for Labor Day.  While I was there, a local coffee company held an AIDS benefit at their coffee-roasting facility.  Part of the benefit included a roasting demonstration, followed by a cupping.  I have always been curious about the process of coffee-roasting but in terms of logistics, I didn’t have my car with me and I wanted to spend some time with my mother.
          So my mother came with me.  I asked her a couple times if she was sure she wanted to come; she just looked at me and smiled a little, assuring me that she was happy to accompany me.  The day was bright and sunny, with just a hint of the on-coming fall chill.  There was a folk band playing in the background.  Inside the factory a woman with cropped bleach-blonde hair was holding a roasting demonstration.  My mother and I listened as she provided the background on the batch of beans she was about to roast.  The beans were from a micro-lot in the Huehuetenango region of Guatemala.  The roaster explained about the different environmental conditions that contribute to the flavor profiles of coffee.  Then she walked us through the roasting process, explaining the “first crack” and “second crack” stages.  I had always thought coffee-roasting was a multi-hour process; as it turns out, the process only takes about fifteen minutes.  The beans were tumbling around in the gas-powered roaster, making a merry crackling sound.  The roaster took out beans at different intervals to demonstrate the different stages of coffee roasting.  The beans were passed around the crowd.  When the beans reached my mother, I saw her pick them up and hold them in her hands, sniffing the light-brown beans with interest.  
          Afterwards the cupping began.  I sampled the different coffees; my favorite was one from Panama that was smooth and balanced.  I chatted with the baristas about different brewing methods.  They urged me to try a new method of brewing called the Clever, which produces a coffee that is an intermediate between the full body of French press and the clean taste of a drip coffee.  I also sampled some of the espressos.  Espresso tends to be too strong for my tastebuds but these samples were bright and fruity.  
          Meanwhile, my mother waved off the coffee samples, heading over to the brownies and lemonade that stood by the side.  She liked the brownies, which had been baked in the small shop next to the roasting factory.  After chatting with some of the locals, my mother and I left; we had plans to go to the farmers market.  We headed down to the farmer’s market and ate Thai food on the dock by the lake, as the boats went by.  
          We never did tell my father what we did that morning.  

Monday, June 4, 2012

A Child's Nirvana

          When I was nine, I discovered one of my brother’s CDs stashed away in the stereo cabinet.  The CD was Nirvana’s “Unplugged in New York”.  I had never heard rock music before; this new music was a revelation to me.  I had grown up on a strict diet of church music and classical; my father has spent almost forty years playing trumpet for a local opera company.  My dad brought my siblings and me along with him to rehearsals; the sound of the orchestra would lull me to sleep in the red velvet seats of the empty opera house.  I thought of classical music as being like the air we breathe; regular and predictable.  
          But this new music; I was enthralled.  I listened to that CD in private over and over again.  My favorite song was “Lake Of Fire” --- where do the bad folks go when they die? / That don’t go to heaven where the angels fly.  Kurt Cobain’s voice was raspy and intense, the deep bass rooting the song in earth-bound gravity.  The trill of the guitar was a direct homage to the wings of flying angels.  
          I suppose that preference was an indication of where I was going to end up someday --- burning in a lake of fire.  Or the song “Jesus Don’t Want Me For a Sunbeam”.  Which, at the time, I already thought Jesus didn’t want me for a Sunbeam.  I was a child who, even at the age of nine, felt insecure about my ability to be loved by God; all of my little nine-year old sins haunted me.  I was the youngest child, lost among her six older siblings.  My mother was overworked and exhausted; I grew up in a vacuum of parental oversight.  The barren landscape of my child-hood caused me to act out in ways that ended up filling me with guilt and remorse. 
          I told my dad about the band Nirvana one day on the way home from church.  My dad’s reply was that the music was sinful --- “One of the members of the Rolling Stones said that his job was to lead the youth into sin.” he said.  We were in the car; I was sitting in the backseat, my father in the driver’s seat.  His resolute back brooked no argument.  I didn’t care about what some stupid member of some stupid band had said; what did that have to do with my Nirvana?  I was stubborn and tried to argue back but my father is never one to brook dissension; for that moment, he had the last word.  
          I never gave up on rock music; I listened to the music in secret, never discussing my music preferences with my father.  Nirvana was the first but others followed.  As a good Mormon girl I stayed away from Marilyn Manson; there was a lot of talk in Church about the evils of his music.  But I explored others; eventually I discovered Jimi Hendrix. An entire world opened up; there was no turning away from Jimi Hendrix or the music that followed.  Stevie Ray Vaughan, Mississippi John Hurt, Don Edwards, Mark Knopfler, Metallica --- I was hooked by the range and depth of their emotions, by the flexibility and intensity of the music.  

Sunday, June 3, 2012


          My freshman year of high school, I was called to be the Mia Maid president.  Mia Maids are the 14 and 15 year-old girls within the Young Women’s organization; the third hour of church every week is devoted to Young Women’s.  One of my responsibilities as president was to try and get inactive Mia Maids to come back to church.  When I was given my calling, I was handed a list of names of the inactive girls in my age group; the bishop urged me to reach out to them.  
          One of those names was a girl named Hannah*.  Hannah and her mother had lived in Utah for a couple of years, during which time the two of them had been baptized.  Looking back, my hunch is that Hannah and her mother had been pressured into baptism by the overwhelming Mormon majority in their area; being a non-Mormon amidst Mormons is a very isolating experience.  After moving, their records had been transferred to our ward.  At this point, the two of them made it known that they did not wish to be contacted.  
          In spite of their no-contact request, as Mia Maids we became convinced that we were the exception to the rule.  We were the girls destined to bring Hannah back into the fold.  One of the Mia Maids went to the same school as Hannah and had a class with her; she volunteered to talk to her for us.  Our strategy was to plan some fun youth activities to invite her to.  A lot of time and energy went into planning out ways to get Hannah to come back to church.  
          And our attempt worked, to some extent.  Hannah came to some youth activities.  She even attended church a few times.  We let her plan an activity; she taught us hip-hop dancing.  Hannah was very gracious about all of the attention but today, I cringe when I think about what we must have put her through.  All Hannah and her mother wanted was to be left in peace.  In our arrogance, we decided that the “love-bombing” of a girl we barely knew somehow super-ceded Hannah’s wish for privacy.  We pretended to be Hannah’s friend when our sole intention was to bring her back to Mormonism.  
          Eventually Hannah stopped attending church; she was smart enough to see through the attention to the underlying motives.  I hope that we weren’t too annoying.  And if I ever see Hannah again, I will tell her that I understand what we put her through, having gone through it myself after leaving.  
*Name has been changed

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Postmormongirl Is Now On Open Salon!

Just to let everyone know, I am now cross-posting some of my posts to Open Salon, which is a forum affiliated with  I have also had the honor of my post "The Peculiar Heart-Break Of A Mormon Wedding" being selected for their Editor's Pick.  I can't even begin to express my gratitude towards my readers for all of their support and goodwill.

Thank you all so very much!