My most bizarre interfaith interaction

This is something that happened to me when I was about 11 years old, and it has stuck with me all these years because it was just so dang weird. As you can tell from the title, I do not mean to imply that this is at all typical of interactions between Mormons and (non-Mormon) Christians.

Back when I was 8 or 9, the movie Grease with Olivia Newton-John was the coolest thing! My favorite cousin — a devout Mormon about my age — loved the film. We all sang to the record together when our two families visited. I think that’s why my parents didn’t really have a problem with the film — it was a fave with other trusted Mormon family members. And — while we were very active Mormons, and pretty strict — we were far from the strictest Mormons in the ward. My parents were strict but flexible.

Anyway, when we moved to Minnesota, a Christian girl from my neighborhood quickly became my best friend. Her family was stricter than mine. She wore skirts to school and was forbidden from wearing jeans (specifically “double-seam pants”). I’ve never met anyone before or since who had that particular restriction.

Sadly, it wasn’t long before another Christian girl moved into the neighborhood. I’m not sure whether they went to the same church, but the new new girl was quickly BFF (to use an anachronism) with my best friend — whereas with me, we had kind of a tolerating-each-other standoff.

One day I had my two friends over for a slumber party. Yes, in those days, that was totally typical for Mormon kids. In those days, there wasn’t even a whisper of a hint that slumber parties were something good Mormon kids should avoid.

One of the components of an early-80’s slumber party was renting a VHS film. I don’t recall whether my friends came along with me to “Mr. Movies” where the film was selected, but the film for the evening was Grease. And we all watched it without the slightest indication that anything was amiss. We then spent the rest of the night playing board-games and dress-up, as was the custom of the time.

The next school day, my two friends walked up to me together during recess. They explained to me — with much gravity — that if ever I were to throw a party again where the film Grease would be shown, then I should tell them, so that their moms could come pick them up and take them home.

This was, sincerely, one of the weirdest things anyone has ever said to me in my life. Because of course I told them the film was Grease before I put it in and we all watched it. And how insulting of them to imply that — if they had objected to watching it (which they didn’t) — that I would have insisted on putting it in, and they would have had to call their respective mothers to be driven three blocks home, and I would have watched it alone.

But the coda of the story was even more bizarre!!

They then told me that next time I should show them a more wholesome movie, like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. This stuck with me because it was just so random. I mean, I had never seen this film (still haven’t), but I’d heard of it, and naturally I would have been fine with selecting that as the film of the evening — if they’d have suggested it.

It was very clear that they’d gone home and told their mothers that they’d watched Grease, and then they came to school and recited to me wholesale exactly whatever nonsense their mothers had said to them about it — without attempting to filter it through their own brains in the slightest.

Needless to say, one corner was soon cut from this friendship triangle. (I’ll give you one guess who it was…)

This whole story came back to me recently when I learned that — not only is the film Seven Brides for Seven Brothers a story of forcibly abducting women and holding them against their will — it actually has a catchy song about the joys of rape:

As questionable as the film Grease is, it absolutely floors me anew to realize that those strict Christian parents found the above to be more appropriate fare for their 11-year-old daughters!!!!

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?

Does this make sense to anyone else?

We recently had some visitors to our university from Eboo Patel’s InterFaith Youth Core. They are trying to encourage interfaith dialogue, of course, since that is what their movement is about. One of the handouts they gave us was this guest post from The Washington Post’s “On Faith” site called:Why evangelicals should reach out to Muslims (and Hindus, Buddhists and others). Thinking I’d give these representatives the benefit of the doubt, I read through it. Here are the parts that don’t make sense to me:

But alignment with one political party since the 1970s, and fighting a cultural war with no exit strategy, has taken its toll. As reported by Gabe Lyons and David Kinnaman in their book unChristian, most young adults in the US view the church as homophobic, hypocritical, and too political. Equally disturbing is research indicating people raised in the church are leaving at an accelerating rate.There are many reasons for this exodus, but I wonder if a significant one is the church’s failure to prepare young Christians for life in a pluralistic culture. The church often presents them with a false dichotomy. The fundamentalist say we should condemn those of other faiths. This is a recipe for either isolation or conflict. The liberals, on the other hand, invite us to put aside our theological differences in favor of an “all paths lead to God” approach. This results in denying the unique claims of Christianity.I believe the church needs a third alternative–one that avoids the arrogance and isolationism of the fundamentalists as well as the identity-erasing approach of the liberals. Young Christians must learn how to hold firmly to their Christian faith while living, cooperating, and even blessing those of other faiths. Interfaith cooperation is vital not because we believe all faiths are equal, but precisely because we do not.

How I, a secular humanist, interpret this: “I think all of those other religions are worse than mine, but I still want to work with them because, well, I’m better than they are and hope to eventually help them realize the error of their ways.” Is my interpretation off?

And what about interfaith dialog, generally? To me it seems like it might be a good idea, but it also requires that religions not be exclusive, which, of course, many are. So, rather than being a good idea, it seems more like a futile idea. And I say that as someone who fully embraces the idea of working with and seeing liberal religious groups as allies against the fundamentalists. But it just seems, well, silly to think that religious people can give up being… RIGHT!

I don’t care if you’re Mormon, Scilon or Marian … You skateboarders are *all* the same.

h/t and

Hi, I’m Aron and I’m *not* a Crip.

And I’m Josh, but as I explain in my clip (watch and wait for it), I’m definitely *not* a Scientologist.

Whatever, Josh and Aron. Check this out. I’m the coolest Franciscan on the planet.

Or at least, I’m not *this* fellow priest (NSFW).

Trifecta. Pax et bonum.