A clean, well-lighted bathroom

I'm sure you've all heard the joke before. There are variations, but basically it lines us nationalities with their roles in either side of the afterlife. Like, in heaven, you've got British policemen, French cooks, Italin lovers, Swiss bankers and German mechanics. But in hell, the Germans head up the law enforcement, Italians run the banks, the French fix the cars, the British own all the restaurants and the Swiss are your only paramours. Now, I'm not sure what role they'll play in Hades, but I'm pretty certain that in heaven, the Mormons are the custodians.

I don't mean this as a slight, far from, in fact. I am impressed, consistently, with how seriously Mormons take to heart the aphorism about cleanliness and godliness being close neighbors. For instance, go to any college campus of 30,000 students in the world and you'll be routinely appalled by any of the bathrooms. You'll treat them as a dangerous zone to be entered only in dire emergency and to be evacuated as soon as possible. This is not that case at BYU, where (almost) every bathroom is spick and generally span. It's practically surreal. As is the lack of litter around the campus itself. Or the fact that the groundskeepers (most of them student employees) change the flowers that decorate the landscape once every month or so. It's no wonder that, when awarded a landscaping award, BYU was called the Disneyland of college campus. I'm sure the super peppy student body and their undying belief in fairy tales doesn't hurt (I mean, where else would you find an on-campus housing project that includes a bas relief of a wedding ring with the word June underneath it?)

As another example, consider your average meetinghouse. They're clean inside, right? Which wouldn't be saying much if they were used once weekly for a few hours of church. But they're not. These are places where people have meals, play basketball, entertain children by giving them food and otherwise gather at regular intervals in activities that can, and do, produce messes. But it's pretty rare to see crumbs or other detritus laying about. And now, remember that most of the cleaning of these buildings is left to the good graces of members, who volunteer to spruce the place up every week. That's a pretty intense commitment to a mote-free carpet, if you ask me.

I'm guessing there are several reasons why Mormons keep their buildings up so well. Part of it is surely the missionary/PR push of the church. We want our visitors to be impressed with how well we treat our edifices, so it pays (quite literally, I suppose, if said visitors become members who give a faithful tithe) to make things clean. We also stress the concept of stewardship, which plays out much more narrowly than it probably should, but impels us to take care of the physical structures around us. Mormons are also a people quite fixated on outward appearances and are overly literal at times. This, coupled with talk after talk on being clean metaphorically, means dust and grime are not only unpalatable, but perhaps morally questionable as well. Factor into all of this the (irritatingly) prevalent focus on homemaking as the highest calling of women and you've got a people ripe for obsessive cleaning.

It's a pretty good virtue to have, I think. And a terrible one, with its goal of perfection. But, if it means that I can have a clean bathroom to go to any given Sunday, I think I'm for it.

I guess I shouldn't keep eating Crisco straight from the can

Yesterday, someone said I reminded them of Paul Giamatti. I'm pretty sure this is not a compliment. Though, I have apparently, "chunked out" since I was a teenager, if we are to believe what someone whose opinion may or may not matter very much to me said after seeing some snaps of a younger, thinner alea.

In other news, I have discovered a company that will be receiving a chunk of my paycheck once I finally convince myself that I really do need a secret box. And since I'm buying that, I may as well go for the brainteaser globe puzzle and maybe even the teapot set. Only problem? So many options. Observe.

Whatever, I'm totally manly

My sister was in town for the holiday. As part of her trip, she planned to rely on my mother's expertise in all matters home-related and get some help making a quilt. She's planning to give said quilt to her boyfriend as a Christmas gift. Now, my sister's not particularly craft-involved, so this is a pretty big project to take on, especially since she's never made a quilt before nor does she own a sewing machine. But those are minor details, right?

At any rate, she was busily cutting out squares on the bar in our kitchen while I was sitting at the table, quietly working on my latest bobbin lace project (a candy cane that nearly drove me to the brink). My little brother (aged 18, but still younger than me, thus the little appellation) came in and looked over my sister's handiwork. Then he said, "Elise, that's a lot of work, isn't it? I'm so glad I'm not a girl..." At this point he glances over my direction and adds, "or [alea]."

They're small, therefore they are cute

If you're like me, you always sort of assumed that baby carrots were one of the best fruits of the work started by Gregor Mendel. That is to say they are a special breed of carrots, selectively bred to become compact and delicious and peel-free. Apparently, this is not the case. Why, they're nothing more than big carrots that have been peeled and cut down to size. I'll let this paradigm shift sink in for a few moments.

For the terminally curious, you can learn more about the history of baby carrots, which stretches all the way back to the mid-80s, by reading this article or this one.

Both of these articles mention that carrot consumption has increased in recent years, up by about 50% from the mid-1960s level of carrot eatin'. Now, here's my question: don't Americans just eat more over all now? I mean, has the percentage that carrots make up of the food consumed in one year's time gone up or just sheer volume?

In other, carrot-related tidbits, carrots are related to parsley. Oh, and every time you eat an orange carrot, you're tipping your hat to Dutch nationalism. Carrots, naturally occurring in all sorts of colors (white being the most common) were bred to be oranger and oranger by the House of Orange in 15th/16th Century Netherlands.

Yep, I spend a significant chunk of workday yesterday learning about baby carrots. Related to my duties? No. Informative? Certainly.

object and design of our existence

I love Graham Greene. This isn’t news to anyone who’s ever had more than a three minute conversation with me, since that’s about how long it takes me to find some way to work him in. In one of his books, Brighton Rock, the character Rose is being duped into marrying a gangster whose alibi for a murder she can disprove despite being unaware of this fact. As a believing Catholic, Rose’s decision is made harsher when it comes about that their marriage will not be sacramental. Ida Arnold tried to save Rose and is having a discussion with her when the following is said:

“I know things you don’t. I know the difference between Right and Wrong. They didn’t teach you that at school.”
Rose didn’t answer; the woman was right, the words meant nothing to her. Their taste was extinguished by stronger foods—Good and Evil. The woman could tell her nothing she didn’t know about these—she knew by tests as clear as mathematics that Pinkie was evil—what did it matter in that case if he was right or wrong?

Right now, I’m sort of gripped in a state that’s the mirror image of what Rose was dealing with, minus the gangsters, the murder, the marriage and the Catholicism, of course. So we only adhere philosophically, ok? But bear with me. There is something I am pursuing which I am told is not Right, at least by my faith community. However, I’m utterly unconvinced that it is Evil. So what do I do? The answer that makes the most sense is rely on revelation from God. But, all I seem to be getting from Him right now is the terrible silence born of asking a question I already know the answer to.

Is the price of being properly disposed worth the price of being temporarily (or perhaps, if the planets align, not-so-temporarily) happy? I don’t know how to answer this or any of the other thousands of phrasings of the idea that I’ve considered of late. On the one hand, being in line with the requirements of the earthly Kingdom of God means that I can take the sacrament, exercise my priesthood, someday go to the temple, and ask for the help of the Almighty with some assurance that He’ll respond. On the other hand, I may just have a shot at being satisfied with my life. As you can see, there’s positives and negatives to both sides here. In other words, I’ve done the cost-benefit analysis and I’m entirely unsure which route is superior. They both seem wonderful. They both seem terrible.

In the absence of a clearly better path, I’d normally retreat into my standard MO of just waiting until the decision was made for me. See, I agree with Joseph that we're designed to be happy (with the caveat that I'll probably not achieve the state in mortality, and we all know I'm bound for a torment of disappointment later on). I also, however, have historical proof that I'm a notoriously bad steward of myself and my happiness.

All this hemming and hawing would have been true this time last week. But, I had a meeting with my bishop this last weekend and I'm almost persuaded to go the way he thinks I should. So, I’ve decided to trust God a bit more and go with what he’s already told me time and time again. At least, that’s what I’m going to do if you were to ask me right now. But, I’m not fully convinced, so this resolve may erode. Or I may just run away to the Great Plains. I hear Omaha’s nice.

A truism

Given the presence of two or more Mormon intellectuals engaged in a discussion of matters Church-related, it is only a matter a time before one of them brings up Boyd K. Packer. And this mention will not be in a positive light.

I've been asked more than a few times what my issue with Packer is, usually after asserting that it's rather unclear if we belong to the same church at all. There are so many things. Like, how about when he said, in reference to the LDS edition of the scriptures: "As the generations roll on, this will be regarded, in the perspective of history, as the crowning achievement in the administration of President Spencer W. Kimball." Now, sure, nothing bad here, but this was said in 1982. For those keeping track, four years after the blacks were cleared for priesthood ordination. Call me crazy, but I'd class that revelation as a little more important. To me, this assertion is like claiming that Woodruff's crowning achievement is the cessation of the law of adoption and not, you know, the Manifesto.

But that's just sort of a shiny, surface example. I'm disheartened by the shadowy role he supposedly played in the September Six debacle, but I'd rather not listen to rumors and possibilities. If you really want to know why this man will push me to the brink of leaving the Church, should he ever come up to be sustained as President, read the following two talks:

Talk to the All-Church Coordinating Council

The Unwritten Order of Things

I could also point you in the direction of "To the One", but the ridiculous false doctrine and just plain lies taught in that talk deserves to die immediately. Therefore, I refuse to point anyone in its direction. Plus, the Church has gotten about as near to repudiating what it teaches as it will whilst the speaker lives.

In all fairness, he has calmed down remarkably over the last few years. His last conference address, on how we are all equally important in the work of the church could even be read as a softening of his Unwritten Order, which is a very good thing in my book. Who knows, should he outlive Hinckley & Monson, maybe I won't have to go underground while he's at the helm after all.

I just wanted to bear my testimony of alternating current

It's not every week that a girl passes out in sacrament meeting, right? Fortunately, she had the good taste to pass out right before the closing hymn, so we were able to wrap things up without too much fuss. The standard reading was that she was suffering from low blood sugar. I, however, prefer to think that she was carried away in the spirit. Not only because that's so 19th Century Mormonism but also because one brother's testimony was astounding powerful. I mean, we're talking, strong enough that I could understand why the father of King Lamoni fell as if dead. Seriously. I can only imagine what it would have felt like if I were in a state that didn't offend the spirit.

I figure the strangeness of the occurrence must have been what prompted the benedictor to go momentarily crazy. He must have been unsure of what to say, or at the very least, what he was saying. He inserted a "please bless the sister that fainted, that she can regain her strength." Fair enough. Nothing wrong there, but then there was an and. And the and was following "may know that Jesus is the Savior of the world." Wow, she fainted because she lacked testimony? Or something. Is this some doctrine I'm not familiar with?

As long as we're talking about crazy, we also had a guy bear testimony of cell phones (as far as I could gather, technology proves we're living in the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times, thus cell phones are true, or something). In Elders Quorum, we also were privileged to have explained to us just how much like an eager, all-loving puppy Jesus is. Now, I'm no expert, but that's blasphemy, right?

Endued from on high

Ever since primary, we are told that we should be excited for going to the temple. We aren't told what happens there or really much about it other than it's important and sacred and it helps us return to our Heavenly Father. We sing, "I love to see the temple, I'm going there someday." As teenagers, the temple gets lumped together with other righteous desires, either getting married or serving a mission. We go and do baptisms for the dead and thus learn about family history and the role of the ordinances performed in holy houses. Then, the temple's purpose shifts as bit as we become young single adults. It becomes a source of strength, a place to seek inspiration and a way to worship that ought to be frequently experienced. A temple is a refuge, is God's university, is the crowning representation of our worship. It should be clear that the temple is a good thing, and getting there is a righteous desire.

What about, though, those of us who are not married and did not serve missions? Surely the blessings of the endowment are open to us and the Church stands ready to swing wide the gates to all who are worthy to enter. I mean, God is no respecter of persons, right? I'm trying very, very hard to believe that in the face of a policy that frustrates me more than I have words for. I've heard it phrased differently, but it is essentially that members in their early twenties should not be cleared for endowment proper. Endowment connected with missions and marriages are cool, but wanting the temple on its own merits is out. Now, I currently have a bishop who does not adhere to this policy, which I am endless grateful for (of course, now when it's an actual option, I'm not worthy, but that's not the issue here).

What the hell is the rationale for this policy? And, can the Church and its leaders not see the damage it does? Usually, the reason given is that the Church does not want to endow members who are unready to make the covenants, who will treat it lightly or who are doing it for the wrong reasons (to see a sibling or friend sealed, e.g.). But the Church endows members like that all the time. They send off to the temple girls fresh out of high school who will be married at 18 or boys with mission calls that have never read the Book of Mormon. In rejecting those of us who are covered by this policy, they seem to be saying that we are spiritually immature, that we have made major mistakes in our life, that our offering of devotion just isn't good enough and that we have very little to offer the Kingdom. Even your righteous desires are misplaced, they tell us by their actions.

There are lots of times in my life where I could have said, "the Church is rejecting me." I felt an outsider as a young man not interested in playing basketball, like my quorums would do for a solid three months every year. After being kicked out of BYU and losing my four year scholarship because I was willing to admit that I had sinned, I felt like it'd be better to just cut my losses. Falling under Church discipline was a rough time, but I didn't just give up then. Getting my act back together and being told I still couldn't serve a mission stung. Becoming the pet project of Family Home Evening leaders when they thought I wasn't involved enough in the ward was an irritant. Having people question my testimony behind my back after sharing it one week made we wonder if my faith was good enough. Learning about the anti-intellectual sentiment and action of some leaders caused me to wonder if we belonged to the same Church at all. But, I stuck around through all of these. They weren't even that big of a deal, once I got over my initial pain. Being told by a number of bishops, however, that I was not in the proper age category to go to the temple was the strongest rejection I have ever experienced. These men, it seemed, were holding open the door to inactivity and getting irked that I was taking so long to pass through.

This policy needs to change, but sadly it will not any time soon, I imagine. Part of the problem is that those crafting it don't understand what it does to those of us affected by it. After all, it's been a long time since the First Presidency was endowed and, I'll grant, it's unfair of me to expect them to empathize with those of us who aren't. Also, it's a sadly self-fulfilling concern that it's based on. Someone who feels outside the care and love of the Church because they are not married or not serving a mission, etc, wants to be endowed and is told they can't be. And then, they drift into inactivity. Leaders can then lean back and think how good it was they didn't endow them, since they'd not be true to the covenants. Would letting them go through the temple have strengthen the tether between them and the Gospel? We are led to believe yes. So why deny them? And why not use the lengthy, involved interview process to weed out those who are going for the wrong reasons or aren't prepared?

I find it deeply, deeply troubling to see the number of people this policy hurts. It's even more bothersome that, with rare exception, these are the very people who I feel would most cherish the temple in their lives, who crave and need the spiritual strength we are promised by attending. If we are denied here, how, I wonder, can we be assured that God loves us, that this is our Church too and that we have something, anything to offer the Lord? I guess all we can do is stand and wait, hoping that all this is worth in the long run.