Sunday in Outerblogness — Dark and Stormy Night Edition!

The intersection of Halloween, Hurricane Sandy and the upcoming Election Day made for one scary week in Outerblogness.

There were plenty of Halloween costumes, some cute and some sexy ones, and some that were just plain over the top!Add to that, there wereterrifying before and after hair-do’s and Halloween potlucks. Do you like scary music? Check out this version of the Primary Songbook. Even more alarming, do you really know who you’re sexting?

The devastation of Hurricane Sandy led some to reflect on condolence and others to reflect on preparedness. Some posted updates, others posted ideas forrelief, and there were opposingviews on themoralityof price gouging in the aftermath.

As for U.S. politics, it’s scary how polarized we’ve become. Also LDS conservatives may be frightened to learn that there arequitea few Mormons and Ex-Mormons who do not plan to vote for Romney. (Yikes!)

Then there’s that really scary subject, Mormon Culture. Folks are still blogging about the change in the missionary age requirement, and Runtu warned the sister missionaries to never “slap or poke an elder.” Steve is still waiting on a response, Mormon Coffee is still answering Mormons’ questions, Seth shared his thoughts on obedience, Invictus Pilgrim wrote about victimization, Foxy is thinking of reinventing herself, there was an identity crisis on Feminine Mormon Housewives, a scary chorister screw-up over on Mormon Mentality, some reflections on shunning and on Heavenly Father’s Plan on Ex-Mormon Mavens, an (always scary) talk assignment on Mormon Expressions, J. Seth wrote about an important UT fundraiser, and Flat Lander spent a frustrating evening trying to convince a terrified friend that the LDS Church isn’t going to kill him. (Double yikes!)

But it wasn’t all spookiness. Chanson reviewed Johnny Townsend’s new short story collection. Andrew S. reviewed Terryl Givens’Letter to a Doubter, Motley Vision reviewed Book of Mormon comicsand the works of Nephi Anderson, and Mormon Expositor reviewed an episode of The District.FAIR has put out a Book of Mormon verse by verse commentary and Kent Larsen is still working on his Mormon dictionary. Also, for those who are tired of the presidential election, here’s another place to cast your vote.

There were some joyfulcouples who celebrated theiranniversaries, thoughts on semantics, shout outs for NaBloPoMo, thoughts on Thanksgiving, and even a Christmas gift idea for the Mormon who has everything!

Also Chanson went to Paris this weekend and will hopefully write about it upon her return.

Happy blogging!

How Far We’ve Come — The ExMormon Foundation Conference 2012

I first attended the ExMormon Conference in 2001. Back then it was held in Las Vegas. The event included two powerful open mic sessions, a couple of afternoon presentations that I admit I’ve forgotten, and a fantastic talk by Richard Packham. After Richard’s remarks came an insanely irreverent “talent” show that featured a belly dancer, an actor who gave a convincing performance of Brigham Young and various skits of dubious quality. (I landed the minor role of a drunken Primary chorister.) Oh yes, that reminds me. There was drinking — plenty of drinking, thanks to an overflowing cash bar staffed by a tireless bartender. After the show, Brigham and the belly dancer left to party together in the casino, while the rest of us retired upstairs to the Hospitality Room for … you guessed it … more drinking.

When I think of the 2001 ExMormon Conference in Las Vegas, two things stand out in my memory. First, the embarrassing spectacle of middle-aged people getting drunk for the first time in their lives; and second, the painful and emotional confessionals that dominated the two open mic sessions. People who had recently left the LDS Church came to the podium with stories of rejection, severe depression, suicide attempts, extreme ecclesiastical abuse, and most of all,fear. While there were a few who claimed to have moved beyond, the vast majority of those who “testified” before the convention were still very much victims. They feared discipline from church authorities and shunning from their family and friends, so much so, that many refused to be filmed or to use their real names. It may have been the ExMormon Conference, but The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints still seemed to quietly preside. But then, every movement has its early days. I suppose these were ours.

So how did 2001 measure up with 2012?Well, for starters the conference had been moved to Salt Lake City, just minutes away from Temple Square. Also the mood was decidedly different.

Half an hour into the Friday night’s opening program, David Twede of Mormon Thinkstrolled up to the podium of the open mic session and announced that he was resigning from the LDS Church. He then read his highly amusing exit letter that offered no apologies or explanations. — Only a request for the latest “temple hottie,” Eve’s, phone number and the hope that the Brethren will discipline the next Mormon Think editor so that the website’s popularity might be propelled “into orbit around Kolob.” Then he held his laptop up for the audience to see and pressed “send.”

On Saturday there were some presentations I will never forget.

Tom Donofrio delved into the origins of the language in the Book of Mormon, citing sources ranging from Solomon Spaulding to Shakespeare to Jonathan Swift. (Guess what Gulliver’s first name was. – snort –Lemuel.)

Sue Emmett spoke about the encroaching influence of religious extremism on our government, a topic she’s been researching since the author and investigative reporter, Jeff Sharlet, spoke at the conference a couple of years ago. (See, we’re branching out beyond Mormonism now.)

Grant Palmer’s fantastic talk, “My Ah-ha Moments While Researching Mormon History,” drew heavily on his excellent book, An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins.However he also spoke about the lack of vitality in today’s LDS Church and its borderline desperate attempts to regain ground by changing its approach to history and scripture (as shown by the firing of Daniel C. Peterson); also its efforts to reinvigorate the flagging missionary program (as shown by the Brethren’s recent change in the minimum age requirement for full time missionaries.) In what was perhaps the most powerful analogy of this year’s conference, Palmer compared today’s LDS Church to “a helium balloon that’s been hanging in the corner of the room for the past three days.”

I unfortunately had to miss Lori Fazzino’s presentation. (That’s the trouble with having family in Utah.) She spoke about “Becoming Unsaved: The Road to Deconversion and Beyond.” I heard it was fantastic.

Finally “Wade Wilson” – otherwise known as Raptor Jesus – gave a hilarious and poignant account of his mission experience and the post-traumatic stress disorder that followed. Unlike 2001, “Wade” was the only person that I met at this year’s conference who used an alias. It wasn’t because he was afraid of being shunned by his family, however. He just didn’t want to hurt their feelings.

People who were there at the beginning of San Francisco’s Gay Rights Movement say the population of the city’s famous Castro district began as a party heavy crowd of closeted gay revelers who clung to their anonymity for fear of being shunned by their loved ones. Today the Castro is a family friendly community of openly gay and lesbian citizens and activists.

Perhaps that’s the direction the ExMormon Movement will take. At any rate, at the ExMormon Foundation Conference 2012 the LDS Church hung in the corner of the room like a three day old helium balloon. Meanwhile, the ExMormons stepped forward to preside with confidence, good humor and much hope for the future. But there were no skits or belly dancers. And, Bo, who tended Friday and Saturday night’s cash bar, found himself with long stretches of time on his hands.


Two Short Reads That Are Packed With Information

Need a good summer read? I picked up a couple at the Sunstone Conference that are both timely and on topic for the broader LDS Community. Here’s what I wrote about them on Amazon:

Could I Vote For A Mormon For President?An Election-Year Guide to Mitt Romney’s Religion

Ryan T. Cragunand Rick Phillips

Wallace Stegner wrote, “It is almost impossible to write fiction about the Mormons, for the reasons that Mormon institutions and Mormon society are so peculiar that they call for constant explanation”

As a writer and former member of the LDS Church, I understand Stegner’s dilemma. In spite of their existence for over 150 years, the Mormons remain a mystery to many. Nevertheless, America is poised to elect one as its president. That is why “Could I Vote For A Mormon For President?” by Ryan T. Cragun and Rick Phillips is such an invaluable work.

Written with wit and clarity, this short and timely book covers all of the basics. The authors who are both professors of sociology and former Mormons tackle topics such as polygamy, the Mormon temple ceremony, whether or not the Mormons are Christians, the Mormon view of the afterlife, and the church’s stand on feminism, homosexuality, and race relations.

Cragun and Phillips’ observations are direct, at times humorous, and fair to both Mormons and their critics.

For example, on the topic of polygamy: “There’s really no other way to say it: Joseph Smith was a horny guy.”

On whether or not the Mormon underwear is weird: “We don’t think so. From an anthropological perspective, many religions prescribe ritual or symbolic clothing for their members.”

On the church’s view of women: “…men are the ultimate authority in Mormon families, and that’s the way God wants it. Men might be enjoined to be benevolent rulers of the household, but they rule nonetheless.”

On LDS approved sexuality: “No premarital hanky-panky and no masturbation of any kind is ever allowed. The church does not recognize the validity of gay marriage…hence gay people cannot have orgasms…(unless a sham-marriage spouse somehow manages to get them off).”

In the end, the authors portray the Mormon Church as an unusual, authoritarian, and staunchly conservative institution that is ideologically aligned with the right wing of the Republican Party. Could you vote for a Mormon for president? Read this book and draw your own conclusion.

The Collapse of Belief:What To Do When Your World Comes Crashing Down

Kurt Hanks and Barbara Hanks

This slim and efficient volume is a must read for anybody who has let go of a cherished relationship. Using interesting analogies and clever illustrations, the authors effectively explain the thought processes involved in going from believer to non-believer. With a slight emphasis on the loss of religious belief, the book also addresses other types of loss, such as death and divorce, as well as the trauma that comes from giving up unhealthy work environments, toxic relationships, and faulty assumptions or “world views.” It is hard to imagine that there is anyone who would not benefit from this readable and engaging work. It is especially relevant today in our polarized, religiously-infused political climate. I highly recommend this book.

–Don’t let the brevity of my review ofThe Collapse of Beliefdissuade you. It’s a great read, and the illustrations alone are worth the cover price.

They’re both great reads. Enjoy!

My Utah Show and Tell

Every writer must remind herself to show not tell. Dont waste 500 words telling your reader that your character is a nincompoop. Instead show it. Have him mistake the London Underground for a political movement, or fill an entire evening with praises to his patroness, Lady Catherine DeBourgh, or sketch his favorite animal, the liger. And so on.

In a Mormon context that might mean that instead of standing in testimony meeting and telling the ward about your Christian tolerance for your friends and relations who left the LDS Church, you instead show your tolerance by actually mixing with the above friends and relations. I had the opportunity to mix with many such believing Mormons at the recent Sunstone Symposium in Salt Lake City. The Mormons at Sunstone didnt need to boast that they tolerated their ex-Mormon friends; by including us they showed it.

Then theres my former BYU roommate and best friend of over 30 years. She is an active, believing Mormon who knows that Ive left the church and am sometimes critical of it. Nevertheless, Ive been invited to every graduation, missionary farewell and wedding reception. (No actual weddings, of course. But I cant fault her there. Its not her call.) Last week she and her husband loaned us their condo in the church owned high-rise next to City Creek Center.

Her actions show her tolerance. But they also show something about the strength and confidence of her faith.

When we were in Salt Lake City we also visited Marks family. As usual, my mother-in-law arranged a family dinner on Sunday. Everyone was there except Marks one believing sister, her husband, and their youngest child. This was no surprise. For some years now my sister-in-law and her husband have gone out of their way to shield their daughter from evil influences. Among these evil influences are her Uncle Mark and I, some of her cousins, and one of her siblings.

Then on Monday our daughter and her boyfriend, who live in Berlin, flew into Salt Lake for a couple of days. We spent our time visiting almost all of the family. Marks believing sister, brother-in-law and niece were again indisposed. Since our daughter moved to Europe in 2007, she has visited Salt Lake 3 times. On none of those occasions was she permitted to see her cousin.

–I should mention that while we were staying at her condo, my best friends son was staying at our place in San Francisco, a household complete with a coffee pot, well stocked wine refrigerator, and a library of non-church-approved books. (Including my own.) If this bothered my girlfriend, she didnt show it.

Thursday morning our daughter and boyfriend flew to Minnesota to attend a wedding. Once again, she missed seeing her cousin. That afternoon Marks uncle and aunt drove into town from their home near Denver. We were anxious to see them, as our last meeting was in December 2001. Marks uncle is a retired physicist who quit the LDS Church in his 20s while attending graduate school. His wife has never been Mormon.

We arrived at Marks folks home at 6PM, greeted his uncle and aunt, and sat around the family room making small talk. Then the most amazing thing happened. My believing sister-in-law and beautiful niece walked in the front door. Ive no idea what inspired this appearance. The cynical voice in my head told me that my mother-in-law had guilted her into coming. There I went again, relying on telling not showing. What showed was that they were there.

Unfortunately, any change of heart my sister-in-law may have had was quickly reversed. Almost immediately after the blessing on the food, Marks uncle asked me what I was doing with my time.

Ive written a book, I replied. Also I volunteer at a garden.

He nodded his head vigorously. Really? Tell me about that.

The garden?

NO! Your book!

Um, well, its just a little book. . .

Mark, my biggest fan, reached for the copy of The Girls From Fourth Ward he had given his mother and handed it to his uncle.

Mormon girls committing murder to get into BYU? Thats marvelous! Uncle boomed.

From there things quickly unwound. But not in the bombastically loud and hilarious way they did in the Archie Bunker household. It was more in the manner of a painfully awkward scene in a Zoe Heller novel, or an exchange in the drawing room at Rosings Park.

My sister-in-law weighed in on my accomplishment by noting the brevity of my author bio, reminding me that I wasnt exactly Stephen King, sarcastically speculating on the millions in royalties I would earn, and gently conveying how sad she was that I didnt have more of a life.

And so the evening went on, shifting from pleasantries to meanness then back to pleasantries.

As believing Mormons I am sure that Marks sister and brother-in-law tell people that they know the LDS Church is true. But thats just telling. When they shun and belittle family in order to keep their daughter active in the faith, they show a far less confident attitude toward their church and its claims.

At Sunstone believers and non-believers eagerly browsed the Mormon Alumni Association book table. Nobody seemed threatened, and there were no snide remarks. Likewise, when I told my best friend that Id finally published my book, she hugged and congratulated me. I dont know if shell read it or not. But if she does, I doubt it will shatter her faith. If she doesnt, it wont be for fear that it might.

As for our niece, she showed no signs of damage from her exposure to us. She spoke proudly about her recent internship at The New Era, and well she should. Her original poem is to be published in an upcoming edition of that magazine.

Will my husbands sister and brother-in-law see this and loosen their grip on her? Hard to say. Cognitive dissonance can be a mighty thick blindfold. Or as Groucho Marx put it, Who are you going to believe? Me or your lying eyes?

Sunday in Outerblogness: Uncorrelated Edition!

When chanson asked me to fill in for her this week, I was glad to give the hardest working Ex-Mormon blogger a well-deserved weekend off. Especially since she just got through naming Joanna Brooks the X-Mormon of the Year! What I didnt anticipate was how much I would enjoy spending a week on Outerblogness, where members from all sides of the broader Mormon community have one thing in common: they can take on the tough issues without worrying about checking with the LDS Church Correlation Committee, consulting with their bishops, or offending someone in Testimony Meeting.


Take the topic of Mormonism and race, for example. To some it inspired rage, to some a defense of the faith, to others an examination of their sheltered environment, and, to President Paternoster, the scolding of an entire continent. Then we moved on to politics, where Mormon candidates, Romney in particular, invited confusion, satire, and uncomfortable encounters. Gender and same-sex attraction came up as well, in the form of a plea for tolerance, a heartbreaking story, andan examination of Mormon theology.


Speaking of theology, LDS history and doctrine took center stage this week in discussions over whatJesus would really do, the true definition of a Christ-centeredfaith,interpretations of the Book of Mormon, Alma 32,and the teachings of Abraham, and when to tell the kids the whole story. Also, what exactly is a Mormon anyway? Or an Ex-Mormon, for that matter? And heaven help an intelligent Mormon!


Of course we sisters weighed in as well. Sulli reflected on decision-making, Heather on turning twelve, and Starfoxy on the role of women. Molly mused over healthy messages to women and girls, and Jennifer recalled some less than healthy messages. And we remembered the forgotten wives of Joseph Smith, as well as a couple of birth days.


Last but not least, there were some good reads, an art contest, blogging opportunities, pictures worthmanythousands of words, suspicious scooters,fantasies, theories about LDS retention rates, General Conference predictions, interesting quotes, thoughts onorgan donation, gorgeous poetry, a filmdebutand a long anticipatedmall opening.


And in closing, I would be remiss if I did not stand and express my gratitude for the wonderful writers that make up Outerblogness!