They had all things in common

There is an LDS bookstore here in Edmonton. One of the services they provide is the compilation of “This is the Place” which they call an “LDS-owned business and professional services guide for Northern Alberta”. This, I assume, appeals to the type of person who is only willing to buy a bed, have a spinal adjustment or purchase a car from a fellow Mormon. The guide itself is free, but it appears that people pay to have their info included.

While this idea is already a touch creepy and insular, they go even further. They have a list of top ten reasons for using “This is the Place”. They are listed in the column below to the left. My editorial comments/translations on these “reasons” are to the right.

10. Because this directory fits right beside your ward or stake directory. It is like the yellow pages that goes with your church white pages.

9. Because we are a “peculiar” people, with specific needs and expectations.

8. Because it’s fun to see who is doing what! Did you know that someone in your ward offered that service?

7. Because it is like getting a referral from a friend.

6. Because “This is the Place” is thinner and less confusing than the phone book.

5. Because you are building the church community in this area by supporting the businesses in this book.

4. Because the people advertising their services in this directory are just like you—trying to be the best they can be.

3. Because it is a good thing to do business with your brother or sister. We are one big family.

2. “If there is anything…of good report, praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” 13 Article of Faith. Somebody has to give the “Good Report”.

1. Because You’re worth it!

10. note: I have never seen a ward directory of this size (slightly smaller than letter paper folded in half).

9. “Uh, yeah, I need a bed that can accommodate my LDS lifestyle….” or “I’m sorry I only let the temple worthy clean my teeth.”

8. Use us to fuel the rumor mill!

7. Or getting a referral from a for-profit business. Close enough.

6. Use us because you’re stupid.

5. I have no comment to share except to say: this is creepy.

4. As opposed to every other business owner in the world that is aiming for mediocrity

3. Please don’t succumb to the foolish notion that non-Latter-day Saints are also your spirit siblings. This is false.

2. If you need a citation for the Articles of Faith, should you really even be able to read the directory?

1. I can make neither heads nor tails of this one. Does it even sequitor?

Alternatives to the cliche "recipe for disaster" that I came up with until admitting to myself that I was really just avoiding writing the paper

rubric for catastrophe

schematic for cataclysm

blueprint for devastation

formula for calamity

prescription for contretemps

contrivance for apocalypse

agenda for emergency

prospectus for holocaust

design for scourge

Mormon myth made flesh

Growing up in a well-to-do suburb of Salt Lake City means several things for your Mormation. For instance, stories about being the only kid at a high school who was a member honestly make no sense to me. I may have intellecutal knowledge about that but definitely no experiential knowledge (to crib Talmage). Another thing that the geographic situation means is that few, if any, of testimony meeting offerings are heterodox. We get a lot of reasonable testimonies, a few people who just want to share stories, and so on, but we really lack the hardhitting false doctrine. (Note, this is because it's a combo of well-to-do, read educated, people and an area with a high percentage of Mormons. When my sister was living in Springville, she had the joy of learning that the Church's veracity varied on such matters as where the meetings were held. Seriously. After the wardhouse's renovations, the first meeting was a fast and testimony. Several people commented on how nice it was to be back in their chapel where they could feel the spirit again.)

My ward here is typically pretty bland when it comes to testimonies. However, yesterday we had a real treat. This guy got up and started with "This month has been the hardest one I've had in a really, really long time." This statement always frustrates me because I'm a gossiphound and really want to know what made it so bad. No, honestly such a blanket statement could mean a host of things: from all my family were killed in a drug bust to I didn't get the job I really wanted. It's vague and not in the good nouvelle vague kind of way.

So, he then goes on to say, "Then my friend shared with me a quote. I think it comes from the scriptures. It goes, 'I never said it would be easy, I only said it'd be worth it.'" I've heard jokes about this, but I didn't know it could actually happen. Granted, he's a convert (a Jew nonetheless) and may not be overfamiliar with LDS scripture. However, it doesn't even sound Biblical. I don't know why this story can't die. Plus, he said that it's really helped him to put things in perspective.

Let's back up. You're purporting to believe that your life, however terrible it may be, is equal in difficulty to the Savior's Atonement? Woah there, Messiah complex. That's a bit over the top isn't it? And besides, if you did want to compare yourself to Christ (a dicey proposition at best), why not use an actual quote, like say "let this cup pass from me, nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt"? It's not only more doctrinally sound, but it's actually from the Bible.

Barring that, we could rely on Joseph's lament and proclaim "all these things shall give thee experience and shall be for thy good". Now, the last time I was falsely imprisioned, treated roughly and being forced to hear about people who have given up everything to follow my testimony being driven forth from the homes once again, this scripture really spoke to me. As you can probably tell, I don't like it when people liken this scripture to themselves either. There seems a bit of hubris involved in making your trials out to be as bad as cruxificion or 19th Century frontier jails.

Hopefully someone will take the time to draw aside this well-meaning convert and explain to him the foolishness of his ways. I'd do it, but I don't think I could do it in a manner that would really welcome him with open arms into full fellowship in the gospel. I'm definitely not the kind of friend our leaders tell the new members they need. Or maybe I am, and we just need a different type of convert.

Blessed are the worthy, for they shall be middle management

This summer, I had the opportunity to read a couple of disturbing documents. The most appalling, though, was "For What Purpose?" by Alvin Dyer. This was given to a group of missionaries in Norway in the early 1960s. It's the source of a lot of anti-African American belief that still, sadly, floats around Mormon circles. For instance, he teaches that blacks refused the Priesthood in the pre-existence and whites accepted it. The other non-white races were less fervent either way and thus have a slightly better chance. This "doctrine" really pisses me off because it flies in the face of the LDS theology of a nonpartial God. It's predestination repacked with the little addition: they might be saveable, but they'll have a hard row to hoe in order to get there. I refuse to believe that God makes it that difficult for his children to be saved. And the notion of choice-ness without a strong dose of commesurate responsibility is a very sketchy thing indeed.

Thankfully, this document is no longer widely circulated and, from what I understand, the Church refuses to copy it. This isn't an instance, as some would suggest, of whitewashing, but rather of the Church being aware that Elder Dyer (he was an assistant to the Twelve and later Apostle--but not a member of the Twelve) had some opinions that he presented as doctrine and are false. There's no need to promulgate these horrific lies.

Elder Dyer also takes a crazily literal take on the Noah story. He spends a couple pages explaining the curse on Ham and how Japeth is the father of Europeans et alia and Shem of the Middle Easterners. Granted, I'm no literalist and am often bothered when people do take the Bible as inerrant (especially in a theology that admits errors in it!), but even still, this was way beyond your typical biblicism into a realm of pseudo-anthropology only matched by the more intense employees of FARMS.

But, these theories and opinions were not the most galling to me. I had heard these all before. What took the proverbial cake was his discussion of why there are multiple resurrections. Here, Elder Dyer taps into his background as a business executive to explain it this way: If you were to start a new business, who would you hire first? Your plebs or your managers? Obviously, the managers. So the first resurrection is for the managers to get things rolling and then the next level and so on. Essentially, the whole point of being good in this model is so you can run the orientation for the Telestial beings.

I really hate managerialism, particularly in my church, and this is a prime example. I want to be good for a multitude of reasons (fear of punishment, attaining godhood, feeling better about myself), but I have never, ever thought "I want to be good so that I can be a mid-level executive." I guess for people who think in business models this might be a useful analogy. Frankly, it loses all meaning to me in knowing that there (in the spirit world), there's going to be quite a different take on capitalism (essentially, it doesn't exist). Contributions will be equal according to the skills and abilities of the contributors. So, if someone lacks the knack for leadership but is awesome at making the clothes we'll be wearing, his contribution is just as valid. Unless, we have T&T* Industries there. Maybe that's what Dyer's after. A model in which the good get served for every need by the lower kingdoms leaving them free to "manage" as they see fit.

At any rate, I disagree. It angers and saddens me to see such things not only can be but actually are believed. It's one of those situations in which I wonder, do we really belong to the same church at all?

*Telestial & Terrestrial

Patron Mutant of Linguists

So, there is a mutant (of the X-Men variety) named Cypher. He was killed off when first introduced but has later been brought back in a slightly different setting. I haven't read any of his comics, but it's pretty obvious why he got killed off in the first place. He has one of the lamest mutant powers EVER. According the Marvel Directory:

Cypher was a mutant with a superhuman facility for translating languages, spoken or written, human or alien in origin.

How, exactly does that help in battles? Especially when coupled with the knowledge that "Cypher possessed the normal human strength of a young man of his age, height, and build who engaged in regular physical exercise." I mean, the following were the best I could come up with (if you imagine them in a British accent, they just get better. Sadly, Doug Ramsey is from Upstate New York.):

"You seem to have shot flames from your hands at me. In retort, I will now insult you in Classical Latin."

"Well, you may be able to fly and lift large boulders, but I can read Tocharian B!"

"Yes, Magneto, you may have just wiped all the computers in a 20 mile radius of all their programs. But the joke's on you! I can just reprogram them with my super-C++ skills."

I would feel like I've got the seriously short end of the genetic stick if I were him. Don't you think the other mutants would pick on him? I guess it's somewhat explained that he didn't know that the others living in Xavier's mansion were mutants. Really? I mean, how do you miss something like that? Didn't the freakish acts of strength, odd abilities and general superhumanity of the atmosphere give it away?

Cypher, we are told, is a Mormon (see My first thought upon learning this was: Is crime fighting one of those situations in which it is ok to remove garments? I then it came to me that the real questions to ask are, Does he even wear garments, i.e. Can you be an active Latter-day Saint and a superhuman crime fighter? What are the theological implications of such divisions in the children of God? Discuss.

Apparently, he gained his faith when he was reincarnated as Ultimate Cypher. Now, here's where it gets really bizarre. Said reanimation is based on Ken Jennings. Yeah, the Jeopardy guy and poster boy for Mormon geeks and geeks of other faiths. I think that's the real definition of celebrity: you get a superhero (regardless of his lameness) created based on your life. The fact that he is from Upstate New York and has a knack for languages has led him to be compared to another boy from that area known as a translator (I think it goes without saying who I mean here).

And here's where we have a perfect example of some well-intentioned members/comic fans doing a bit too much likening the scriptures and finding types. All we need now is for someone to point out chiasmus in Cypher's monologues and really seal the deal.

Costly apparel

While a student at a certain church-owned university in Utah County, my friends and I would frequently come up with funny slogans with the idea of putting said humourous statements on t-shirts. We had a lengthy list, but very few actually made it from the concept to the production phase (a notable exception was a member of the Uncalled 4's performance art/civil disobedience in regards to the uni's aggressive pro-shaving policy). One of our ideas was to make up fake courses for the religion department to teach (e.g. REL C 114: Swallowing Camels (Prerequisite REL C 112: Straining at Gnats) or REL C 350: Law Hedge Building). The other night, while in institute class the following idea came to me:

What about extending this idea and creating a type of scriptural "motto" (or anti-motto) for various departments. So of these were probably previously discussed at informal Uncalled 4 meetings, but I do think some are new.

School of Business: Fitting Camels Through Needles

Psychology: Our Thoughts Will Condemn Us

Law: All the Arts and Cunning (Alma 10.15 )

Education: Trust No Man to Be Your Teacher (Mosiah 23:14)

Graduate Studies: When They Are Learned, They Think They Are Wise

Geology: Seven Thousand Years of Earth's Continuance (D&C 77:6)

Family History: Endless Genealogies

Astronomy: Worlds Without Number

Dance: Lifting Up Unto Exceeding Rudeness (1 Nephi 18:9)

Economics: Filthy Lucre

Political Science: Rendering Unto Caesar

Linguistics: Nothing Will Be Restrained From Them,(see Genesis 11)

Philosophy: Vain Imaginations

Food Sciences: That Which Goeth Into the Mouth ( Matt. 15:11)

Clearly, these aren't complete. I welcome suggestions, improvements and so on. The only one I really want to make a shirt out of, though is Linguistics. Now, there's an allusion it'd really take a scriptorian to catch (so, did you know that "scriptorian" is a Mormon word? The OED doesn't have it and Onelook comes back saying NO dictionaries contain it. I guess we are peculiar people after all).

Nerd Kingdom

One of the other cyncial and none too enthused students here refers to our little section of libraryland as Nerd Kingdom. Let me just say that, were we to hold some sort of ceremony in which the nerdiest of us got the title Despot, I would win hands down. In the course of one day, I uttered the following things, and not in any sort of joking manner:

"What chat client do they use?" (asked of a friend recently hired to do chat reference for another university)

"My favorite library system would have to be pre-merger Dynix. Oh, and I really hate Sirsi." (when the person who came up with the term Nerd Kingdom was joking about being asked in an interview what her favourite library system is.)

"You should have used Cutter numbers." (Response upon hearing that a fellow student's summer job in cataloguing had run into a tight spot by not expanding Library of Congress Classification widely enough.)

Yes, I am feeling like both a total loser and really, really grateful to be in a situation in which others at least know what I'm talking about, regardless of their opinions on my eagerness to discuss these items. I'd really be hating myself if I had not, just this semester heard profs say:

"Making eye contact is like giving someone the gift of your company."

"You can choose any of the topics from this list or something else. Like, if you're intensely interested in lighting that could be an option." (she was serious. it's for a 10-12 page paper.)

"One of the most exciting changes in technology from last year is the pic mute button for the projector. Now, I can mute the picture....with abandon!"

I get to nerd it up for at least eight more months. I really should soak it in while I get the chance. That, or just give in and go get the PhD so such quirks can really flourish. But that's a lot of work just to be able to idly discuss library trivia. I'll just keep on doing what I've always done: tell these sorts of stories to people who have no idea what I'm talking about and expecting them to find as much humor in them as I do.

Thoughts on returning to E-town

So, as I drove in my rented Toyota Yaris towards the little basement cell I call home here in Wild Rose Country, I had various thoughts, which can be broken down as follows:

1. "Oh, prairies. Eight more months of flat!" (Edmonton International is about 30 km from downtown and so you get some prime grassland viewin' on the way in).

2. "Wow, the architecture isn't any better than I remember it."

3. "There's the raw sewage smell that really makes the City of Champions feel like home."

4. "Huh, the area of town I live in is a bit dodgy after all." (I don't often get to see the boarded up butcher shops and still open peep shows-cum-adult supercenters that line the streets near my house).

5. "This apartment is smaller and much darker than I recalled." (this was momentary only).

And running through out all of these was the constant refrain: Eight More Months! Eight More Months!

I think I'll make it.