Monday, February 27, 2017

Return of the Missionary

When I began to write about my mission life, I had planned to space it out into several posts to encompass my time in England.  However, after writing five posts, and posting four of them, I have grown tired of this venture.  So, to spare the rest of you from future forced blog posts, I will quickly wind down the recollection of my mission.  I apologize for the dragged out mission story.

My mission was certainly filled with it's ups and downs.  No matter what rules I broke though, I had success in converting people to Mormonism.  It may not sound like much, but to baptize 16 individuals into the Church, was quite the accomplishment.  Looking back on this "success", I realize it had nothing to do with having the Holy Ghost confirm anything to anyone.  I laid out a simple, yet effective high pressured sales pitch, and was able to get several people to bite.  It's almost shameful to think about.

I served as a Trainer (where I trained a brand new missionary), District Leader and Zone Leader.  During my mission, I also met a sister missionary who I "fell" for and ultimately married after my mission.  This Sister was from Sweden and I had gone to the Temple while on my mission to pray and ask God if I should marry her.  Not surprisingly, God said yes I should.  How could I have gotten a different answer anyway?  I really wanted to, so of course I would obtain the answer I most desired.  Why was I so stupid?

Not that I regret my marriage to, let's call her Swede, because I did have children with her and I love them to death.  However, I should have never barked up that tree, but more on that later.  As my mission concluded, it was now time for me to go home and begin my life.  For the last two years I ate, breathed and slept missionary life.  But, before I could go back to reality, I had to first be released by my Stake President back home.  There, the Stake President interviewed me and read from my Mission President's assessment of my time on my mission.  It was also here that the Stake President asked me about Swede.  Apparently, it was well known among the others, including my Mission President, that I had intended to marry Swede, and he wanted to be sure we hadn't done anything inappropriate while on our missions.

After passing that interview, I was released, and now I could sleep in, go to movies, watch TV, get a job and otherwise be a normal human being.  But, first things first, I had to fly to Sweden to meet Swede and her family.  The plan was to fly out there and meet her family, then bring her back to the USA where we would get married.  My focus was all on this since I had already asked god and he confirmed this was what I was supposed to do.  Much to my parent's uneasiness, I went forward with this plan and married Swede in Nauvoo, Illinois.  We didn't have much time to make certain this was what we wanted.  Immigration laws being what they are, she only had 90 days on her visa to be here.  By getting married, we would press pause on that 90 day rule while we moved forward with the immigration process.  We were married in the Temple and doing everything right, but things would begin to get shaky early on.

Prior to my mission I had engaged in a sexual relationship with a girlfriend that I had hoped would wait for me while on my mission.  This is a common theme among Mormon missionaries.  However, a little over half way through my mission I received the dreaded "dear John" letter.  That's what missionaries referred to as the break up letter elders and sisters would get from their boyfriend or girlfriend "waiting" for them back home.  I got mine and moved on.  Well, this past girlfriend attended the same church building we did.  They weren't part of our congregation, but they used the building at different times than we did.  Being the honest person I am, I informed Swede about who this girl that she had seen give me a hug because she hadn't seen me since I left for my mission.

This upset Swede so much that she couldn't bare the thought of being in the same building as her and refused to go to church there.  This forced us to move, so that our geographical location would cause us to attend a different building.  Eventually even this wasn't enough, because I could always "run in" to this past girlfriend while living in the same city/county as her.  I was given an ultimatum one day by Swede, either we move out of state, or we move to Sweden.  I was willing to do anything to make this relationship work, so I pursued employment outside Indiana, and it worked.  We moved to Ohio and started a family there.

My kids always bring up things their mom tells them about why we got divorced.  I refuse to have this conversation with them though because they aren't old enough to understand everything.  I will, when they are older, be open and honest with them should they desire it.  Looking back on it all today, I made my mistakes, which I will write about later, but so did Swede.  I realize now she was unrealistic with her expectations of me, and should have never forced me away from my home just because some silly past girlfriend.  Our whole support base was in Indiana, and by moving away from there, we cut ourselves off from that support.  I understand she moved away from her family in Sweden, but the solution isn't to be away from both.

Of course, had things not happened the way they did, I may never have come to the realization Mormonism was not true.  I may have struggled even more emotionally trying to fit in to an organization that didn't fit me.  I was a square peg trying to fit into a round hole, and I could only try so many times to fit until I would finally just throw my hands in the air and give up.

Friday, February 24, 2017

It's All About the Numbers

These are called "Blue Planners".  These are just a few from when I was serving my Mormon mission in England.  Missionaries are to keep record of all their doings while serving a mission.  This is how we kept record on our mission.  It was very important to get "numbers" while serving in an area.  Your numbers gives a visual representation of the work you are doing, and is a way to keep missionaries accountable for their time.

At the end of each week, every missionary companionship would submit their numbers over the phone to their District Leader, and the District Leader would give the numbers to the Zone Leaders.  The Zone Leaders would then give the numbers to the AP's (Assistants to the President), who in turn handed the data over to the Mission President.  

If a companionship failed to produce some reasonable data, then the District Leader or the Zone Leaders may pay the companionship a visit to see what's going on.  Sometimes, a surprise visit would occur to ensure productivity.  I can recall standing on the High Street teaching people, when I would see our Zone Leaders walking up the street.  They were just popping in to "help" us out.  In fact, I had done this too while I was a Zone Leader.

The Mission was very numbers driven.  As I look back on it today, I can see how off this really is.  Of course, looking back on the entire Mormon church, I see it for what it really is.  A corporation.  It was like being a high pressured sales man, and reporting my work to show my worth. It's very  reminiscent of how the business world operates.  I guess that shouldn't surprise me.  Day in and day out, I did the work and I kept track of my contacts, lessons, baptisms, commitments, etc.  You can see at the bottom of the blue planners what we kept track of:

TPH -        Total Proselyting Hours
1-              first discussions taught
BOM Vis-Book of Mormon visits (when we gave out a book of mormon)
2-6 -          discussions 2-6 taught (there were six total discussions)
2-6 Mem - discussions 2-6 taught with a member present
Inv Vis -    Investigator Visits
Mem Vis - Member Visits
LA Vis -     Less Active Visits (Less actives were members of the church that didn't actively attend)
TFH -        Total Finding Hours (This is the time spent looking for people to teach)
PFH -        Don't remember
Mem Ref - Member referrals
Med Ref -  Media referrals
Inv Ref -    Investigator referrals
TI -            Total investigators (investigators are those being taught by the missionaries)
ATC -        Investigators attending church
LAC -        Less active's at church
TC -           Street teaching hours
CS -           Companionship study sessions (must begin and end with prayer and last an hour)
Bap Com - Baptism commitments 
Bap Ach -  Baptisms achieved

I began to see Investigators as a number to pad my self worth.  I wasn't truly disappointed when investigators decided to not go on with the discussions.  Well, I was disappointed, but not for the right reason.  I was supposed to make it seem as thought I was concerned for their eternal well being, but it was really because I wanted the stats.  Missionaries are notorious for baptizing investigators they know are not ready.  They know they really have no clue.  The missionary discussions are aimed to make a quick commitment and conversion.  It's not supposed to be a lengthy process.  In fact, the most common goal from initial contact to baptism was 2-3 weeks.  They don't have time to properly make a decision, because it's all fast paced.  I wasn't out there converting people to the Mormon church because their soul needed salvation.  In the end, it was all about the numbers.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Righteous Taxation

During my mission, we were encouraged to attend some non-mormon church services, so long as it didn’t take us away from our own duties.  While in Peckham, my companion and I decided to attend such a service.  I believe it was a pentecostal sect, but I can’t recall completely.  It’s really not important, because what stood out to me was the manner in which the preacher demanded monetary donations.

The preacher stood at the front of the congregation and began to shout how only the faithful to God will give tithes to the church.  He recited scripture and then shouted, “who has the faith to give God £10”!?  This was followed by parishioners walking up to give £10.  After that, the preacher went on to shout, “who here has the faith to give £20 to God”!?  Undoubtedly, others got up to donate.  Now it started to get serious, the preacher exclaimed, “It’s wonderful for those that gave £10 or £20 to God today, and they will certainly be blessed.  But God wishes to test your faith today, and asks who here has the faith to give £50”!?  The preacher would promise great blessings in store for those who donated of course, and more of the congregation would get up.  This was repeated until the preacher got up to £500.

I remember thinking to myself how ridiculous this was, and how could anyone fall for such a scam?  I left this service with this distaste in my mind about how this preacher was such a fake.  This is known as prosperity gospel.  In short, when you’re strongly encouraged to give money and promised God would give back many fold, you’re being sold prosperity.  I was so proud to be part of a church that didn’t act like this, and saw these things as a sign those churches were not of God.  

Little did I realize at the time, but that is exactly the method the Mormon church uses, just more subtly.  You see, when I was growing up in the church I was told wonderful stories of people that were blessed with money they hadn’t foreseen when they paid their tithing.  If the faithful Mormon got a raise at work or a promotion, it was because they had paid tithing. When a faithful Mormon found money on the street, it was because they had paid their tithing. All signs pointed to tithing being the cause.  A Mormon is taught from a very young age to pay their full tithing before anything else.  We are taught that God has given us everything, and so what is 10% compared to that?

"If paying tithing means that you can’t pay for water or electricity, pay tithing. If paying tithing means that you can’t pay your rent, pay tithing. Even if paying tithing means that you don’t have enough money to feed your family, pay tithing." (Aaron L. West, Sacred Transformations, December 2012)

When I was about 16 I lost my wallet one day during a trip to King’s Island Amusement Park, and was very distraught as I had cash in there.  About a week later, I opened up the mailbox to find my wallet!  It had been shipped back to me, and to my surprise, everything was still inside it.  I correlated this to me paying my tithing, and I shared this story during testimony meeting on numerous occasions.  I knew the church was true because it taught tithing, and I knew tithing was real because I got my wallet back.  I didn’t know anything about logical fallacies or testing hypotheses.  I just knew I got my wallet back, so God was blessing me.  Of course, I had forgotten about all the other times I lost my wallet and never saw it again.  In this way though, the church had successfully instilled this prosperity principle within me, and I didn’t even know it.

Mormons pay a lot of money to the Mormon church, and don’t even ask questions.  The principle of paying tithing was probably taught each and every Sunday.  No, it wasn’t done like the preacher in England, and in that way it lulled members into a false sense of duty to give to the church.  I’ve discussed tithing with my parents before, and whether I should give 10% of my gross income, or net.  My Dad says it should be gross, because it’s better we give too much, than too little.  I found this to be a very common theme amongst Mormons.  

The Mormon church does not disclose where the tithing money goes.  Undoubtedly a portion of it is used for buying churches and paying the utilities and such.  It probably goes towards supplies and even Mormon Temples.  Members aren’t told for sure, but they certainly don’t have any doubts that their money is going towards all the good and charitable things.  Because the church uses its members, at no cost because God asked them to, to maintain church buildings, it doesn’t have need to spend money on upkeep.  However, Mormons don’t pay just tithing to the Church.  They also pay something called fast offerings.

Once per month Mormons are to fast, which is to go without food for a certain period of time.  Mormons typically will skip both breakfast and lunch on this fast Sunday.  This is also the Sunday in which members are invited up to “bare” their testimonies (like I did when telling my wallet story).  The money that would have been spent on these two meals is to be given to the church, and that is a fast offering.  Fast offering money is used to provide food to those members who may not be able to afford food for their family.  The Bishop of the ward will meet with such members to make a determination if they ought to receive church assistance.  You better believe, a full tithing is one of the requirements to get church assistance. 

So, instead of allowing the needy family to use what they would give to the church to buy their own food, the church allows its members to buy the family food.  The church wins because they get the families money and get the credit for helping them out, when it really came from the generous membership.

Tithing and Fast Offerings are the primary donations given, and the one’s that are harped upon the most.  There are others though, and Mormons are encouraged to give to them also.  This includes the Temple Fund and Missionary Fund, which are fairly self explanatory.   At the end of the year, the Bishop will meet with members for what's called "tithing settlement".  There, the Bishop will determine if a member or family are full with payers.  He will go over the amount they've paid throughout the year and a decision will be made.  I have heard of instances in which the Bishop has outright questioned a member's full tithe due to the amount and compared to what he knows the person makes.  Again, you have to be a full tithe payer to go to the temple, and to not burn to death when Jesus comes again.

This is why tithing is often referred to as "fire insurance" among members.  Aside from this, all this giving is mainly done with the idea that they will be given back much more in the form of blessings from God.

“Mary Fielding Smith remained faithful to the end of her life. She paid tithing, even in her poverty. When someone inappropriately suggested she not contribute a tenth of the potatoes she had grown that year, she responded, ‘You ought to be ashamed of yourself. Would you deny me a blessing? … I pay my tithing, not only because it is a law of God, but because I expect a blessing by doing it.’” (Mary Fielding Smith, quoted by Joseph F. Smith, in Conference Report, Apr. 1900, 48)

This is the mind set of Mormons, and how the Church successfully gets its members to give so willingly.  This mega corporation that parades around as a church are truly masters of manipulation, and Mormons buy it hook, line and sinker.  

I have obviously stopped paying tithing, and wouldn’t you know it, I seem to still receive these promotions, raises and surprise money here and there.  Only I don’t have to give thousands of dollars every year to this organization.  I am taxed enough from the government, I don’t need taxed from any church also.  No thanks, I’ll decide what happens with my hard earned money.

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Mission, Episode IV

When I was transferred to Peckham I was placed with a companion from Denmark, and we were both in the MTC together so it was kind of cool.  I’m going to call this companion Mark, as in from DenMark, ha, get it?  Ok, because of my mishap there in Hastings, I was now a junior companion to Mark.  I was being watched now, and Mark was going to get me back on track.  He was such a strict companion too.  We were getting up on time and doing everything we were supposed to do.  We also lived in the same apartment as the Zone Leaders, so yeah that was fun.  

My first impression with Peckham was quite shocking.  I had never lived around such a variety of nationalities in my life.  Peckham was home to a large African, Middle Eastern and Spanish population.  The high street here where we proselytized was ridden was open markets of foods.  Included with these markets were fresh animal parts.  I remember walking by this middle eastern market, and I saw every part of a pig you can think of, inside and out.  It was kind of gross.  One of the Zone Leaders I lived with was Spanish, and he bought a dehydrated pig leg one day, and that thing was hung up in our kitchen, where we could then cut slices off of as needed or desired.  I guess this was a normal delicacy for the Spanish.  I was also introduced to SuperMalt, which was a non alcoholic malt beverage.  I absolutely fell in love with this drink.

In Peckham I ate my first “foo-foo”, which is an African dish.  Foo-foo consisted of a very starchy bread/potato substance, with a type of soup poured around it and topped with some meat.  The idea is to use your fingers and take pieces of this foo-foo and sop it up with the soup and eat.  It was actually pretty decent, and I loved the peanut soup foo-foo.  However, I was forced to eat some less desirable items in my foo-foo, like cow hooves and complete fish heads with eye balls of course.  I couldn’t very well turn these dishes down, since it was given to us by members of the local ward we attended and served.  

I remember this Jamaican we had dinner with one day, who served us a bed of rice with a complete fish on top.  Not a grilled or fried fish, but a fresh fish that had been boiled in water then heaped onto the bed of rice.  The damn thing was looking at me, but I was expected to eat it.  I would take my fork and rake it across the body of the fish to produce the meat I needed to eat with the rice.  I pushed through it and finished my plate.  The only problem was, the Jamaican took this as a sign I needed more food, so he quickly returned to the kitchen and brought me back a brand new helping of fresh fish and rice.  Yum!  

Let’s move on...

There I was in Peckham, dutifully serving God.  One day while on the high street I was approached by a guy who wanted to speak to me.  This guy extended his hand in a gesture to shake.  I responded with my own, and he proceeded to shake my hand.  This was no ordinary handshake though.  The guy performed one of the secret handshakes we learn and do only in the temple.  I immediately withdrew my hand and rebuked him in the name of Jesus Christ.  I can remember the way I felt about this guy.  Because he so lackadaisically performed one of our sacred tokens of the priesthood, I felt very concerned over his eternal welfare.  I felt sorry for what would undoubtedly happen to him in the next life.  He would certainly be destined to Outer Darkness.

Mark and I made a pretty good companionship, but we both had one serious weakness.  We both were big fans of Lord of the Rings.  At this time in our mission, Return of the King was being released.  This was the third movie in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and it was supposed to be epic.  We both had seen the first two movies prior to our missions, and this was just so excruciating to know we couldn’t watch the final chapter due to our missions.  So, we schemed together and decided we were going to sneak ourselves to a local cinema and watch the movie.  When I say sneak, I don’t mean literally sneaking into the movie without paying, but sneaking in the sense that we can’t be recognized by any members of the ward while we paid to enter the cinema.  The movie did not let us down, though we felt so bad about going that we spent a long time praying for forgiveness that night.  

This didn’t seem to stop us from converting people to Mormonism though, as we continued to have success.  I was then able to rationalize my escapades at the movies and I told myself God wasn’t so mad at me.  I correlated my success with baptisms to mean I was filled with the Holy Ghost.  Since I was filled with the Holy Ghost, I must be pleasing God still.  So I soon became numb to the fact I violated the Mission rules pretty significantly and continued on my way doing the Lord’s work.

I really enjoyed my time in Peckham, and I felt I was growing significantly spiritually, in spite of going to the cinema.  I continued to study the meats of the Gospel.  I now started to believe in evolution even.  After several conversations with my Mission President, I believed evolution did occur and that the first human of evolution’s natural selection process was Adam.  I also began to believe the Earth was as old as science says it is.  That there was death on the Earth before Adam.  Mormons believe there was no death on the Earth until Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit, so my understanding was a bit heretical.  I justified my belief by proclaiming that once evolution had produced Adam and Eve, God changed the Earth so that there was no death.  So, there was no death from the time Adam was made.  

After I spent about 3 months in Peckham, I was given my first promotion of the mission.  I was given the mantle of District Leader, and was assigned to an area called Croydon.  I was going to be a great District Leader and would instill into my missionaries some sweet knowledge of the Gospel I’ve been learning.  I would also meet my future ex wife there….

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Let's Make a (Mormon) Deal!

I wrote briefly about the Mormon afterlife in a previous post, but focused mainly on what Mormons believe happened before we were born.  I wish to spend this time clarifying what Mormons believe happens to us when we die.  

The Mormon afterlife can be somewhat complicated, so bare with me as I explain this.  As with anything in the Mormon belief system, their beliefs are Christian on steroids.  The first thing to understand with “Heaven” for Mormons, is they don’t exactly believe in a duality of options.  It’s not Heaven or Hell for a Mormon.  It’s this planet, that planet or that planet.  Or utter destruction too is an option.  Oh, and one of the planetary systems is further broken up into three sections.  You thought Donald Trump’s wall was bad?  “You know nothing John Snow.”

Let’s start at the bottom, or next to the bottom of your potential afterlife.  This planet is referred to as the “Telestial Kingdom”.  On this planet, you will find all those horrible people who committed all sorts of atrocities.  It embraces those who on earth willfully reject the gospel of Jesus Christ, and commit serious sins such as murder, adultery, lying, and loving to make a lie (but yet do not commit the unpardonable sin), and who do not repent in mortality.   So some bad people are going to be there.   Even to go to the Telestial Kingdom, you’ll first need to accept Jesus.  If you’re worried, don’t be, because you will still have a chance to accept Jesus even after death, thanks to the super awesome mormon temples.  Downside is neither God or Jesus visit this world.

“And the glory of the telestial is one, even as the glory of the stars is one; for as one star differs from another star in glory, even so differs one from another in glory in the telestial world”. (D&C 76:98)

So depending on a conglomerate of choices you make, there’s differing glories even in the Telestial Kingdom.  The beauty and glory of the Telestial Kingdom, even though it’s the least glorious post mortal planet, still surpasses our feeble understanding.  The Telestial Kingdom is likened to the “glory” of the stars.

The next step up from the telestial world is the terrestrial world.  The terrestrial glory is for those who lived honorable lives on the earth but "were blinded by the craftiness of men" and were "not valiant in the testimony of Jesus."  Also, those who did not receive a testimony of Jesus while on earth, but who could have done so except for their neglect.  Again, just like with the Telestial Kingdom, you must accept the Jesus at some point before being granted this glory.  God will not visit you here, but at least Jesus will.

“And again, we saw the terrestrial world, and behold and lo, these are they who are of the terrestrial, whose glory differs from that of the church of the Firstborn who have received the fulness of the Father, even as that of the moon differs from the sun in the firmament.  Behold, these are they who died without law; And also they who are the spirits of men kept in prison, whom the Son visited, and preached the gospel unto them, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh; Who received not the testimony of Jesus in the flesh, but afterwards received it. These are they who are honorable men of the earth, who were blinded by the craftiness of men.” (D&C 76:71-75)

Joseph Smith likened the “glory” of the Terrestrial Kingdom to the brightness of the Moon, as seen from the earth of course.  Sometimes I wonder about ol’ Joe’s understanding of astronomy, because the next Kingdom has been likened to the Sun; and we all know our sun is simply another star.

The Celestial Kingdom is the best.  Not just because my auto correct keeps trying to change “telestial” to it, but because the Celestial Kingdom is where you’ll find God.  Celestial glory comes to those "who received the testimony of Jesus, and believed on his name and were baptized by total immersion,…and who overcome by faith, and are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, which God sheds forth upon all those who are just and true”. Mormons believe this very Earth we live on will one day die and be resurrected just like Jesus.  When it does, this Earth will become a Celestial Kingdom.  Both God and Jesus live here, so you're in for a real treat.

But wait, there’s more!

Within the Celestial Kingdom, are three separations of “glory”.  How super awesome you were at being a Mormon will determine where at in the Celestial Kingdom you end up.  You have to accept Mormonism in this life though to go anywhere in this kingdom, unless it simply wasn't made available to you, then you can still accept it in the next life.  To get in the highest glory of the Celestial Kingdom, a Mormon must be married.  Not only do you need to be married, but you also have to have gone to the temple with your wife, where you can be married for all eternity.  Only Mormons have the power to tie your knot for all eternity.

Once there in the best part of the Celestial Kingdom, you can now start your progression to become a god!  Yay!  That is the end goal of all Mormons, to become gods and have a bunch of wives in the Celestial Kingdom.  Yes, you heard me right, WIVES.  Mormons still believe in the concept of polygamy.  Many Mormons today are married (sealed in the temple) to multiple wives.  This practice never ceased when the Mormon church disavowed polygamy in 1890.  Those who’s wife had died, or even divorced, then remarried, can in fact be “sealed” to more than one wife at the same time.  Remember, women are made for making babies and that’s it, and when the man is a god, he’s gonna need a lot of babies.

There is still one more possible end result for us in the next life, and that place is called Outer Darkness.  Outer Darkness is reserved for people who refuse to accept Jesus, even in the next life.  By doing so they choose to follow Satan, and as such make their beds with him in Outer Darkness.  Also, those that had once accepted the Mormon church and then turned their back, may also end up there.  The actual terminology is “denying the Holy Ghost”.  To deny the Holy Ghost means to have received the Holy Ghost and afterwards, deny him completely.  Many will say, those who leave the church are guilty of this unpardonable sin and are doomed to Outer Darkness.  Since they once had a testimony, then denied the testimony later.  

So there you have it.  The Mormon afterlife.  It’s not too complicated I hope.  Oh sure it’s a bit farfetched, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.  You can’t prove it doesn’t exist right?  After all, God personally told all this to Joseph Smith and he was a straight shooter.  On second thought, I hear Outer Darkness is really nice this time of year.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Temple, Part II

Masonic grip of entered apprentice.  Photo by signology

There I was, entering into the temple for the first time as full fledged temple recommend holder.  The first thing I had to do prior to going into the temple, was to buy a set of special underwear to put on for the first time.  This underwear I would wear each and every day for the rest of my life.  It’s been referred to as “magic underwear” by many, and Mormons are very offended when people use that term.  I don’t understand why though, because that is exactly what they’ve become.  Mormons share legendary tales of faithful members who have been physically protected while wearing their Mormon garments.  Some stories of members being burned everywhere on their body except where they were wearing the garments.  So excuse me while your underwear is considered “magic” by outsiders.  

Mormon Garments, photo courtesy Wikipedia
Mormons downplay the supernatural expectations that come from wearing their underwear nowadays.  They consider their underwear to serve as more of a reminder than anything else, but those stories are still told.  In any case, I bought a pair of Mormon underwear, better known as Garments.  They were pure white, and the bottoms nearly touch the knee cap, and the top was like any other under shirts I had ever worn.  The difference is the symbols that were stitched into the underwear.  On the top there was a V (Masonic symbol for compass) and an L (Masonic symbol for square) stitched in over the left and right chest area.  In the naval area was a horizontal line which represented “strength in the naval”.  Lastly, on the bottoms were another horizontal stitching which represented “every knee shall bow”.

With my new sweet underwear I had just acquired, I was all ready to begin my Endowment ceremony.  The first thing I did was head back into a dressing room and strip down completely naked.  I then put on a very thin and loose white moo moo sheet thing.  It was open on both sides of the body and I remember having to physically hold the front and back together while I walked, so as not to expose my twig and berries.

Mormon Temple attire
I entered into a small cubicle area behind a curtain, where a temple worker sat me down and began to administer what is called “the washing and anointing”.  Here, the worker took dabs of oil or water (I can’t remember) and touched various areas of my body underneath my sheet.  While doing so he recited certain words and then gave me a “new name”.  The “new name” represented what I would be called in Mormon Heaven.  This name is very important to a Mormon, but apparently not so memorable, as I have forgotten what mine was.  I do know it wasn’t specially revealed in that moment, as the temples use one female and male name for all who enter the temple on a given day; so my brother and Dad knew what my name was that day because they would be given (their dead person they were doing the work for rather) the same name.

Once this was complete, I was instructed to now put 
on my new Garments I had brought with me.  So I did,
and removed my sheet and now put on white dress pants, 
a white belt, a white dress shirt with a white tie and white
slippers with white socks.

I was then led into another room with two sections of chairs.  One section for women and the other for men.  I took with me another recent purchase, which were my “temple robes”.  This attire consisted of a white toga’esque robe, a white sash to be worn cross body, a pillsbury dough boy looking hat and a green apron with fig leaves stitched in.  The females wore a similar hat, but their's included a fancy veil to cover their faces at the certain point in the ceremony.  These items would come into play during my “Endowment”. 

One of the Mormon Temple Endowment rooms. Photo by Mormonnewsroom
Once seated, the ceremony began.  The ceremony consisted of a retelling of the story of Genesis, with a Mormon twist.  In this story, God commanded Jesus in the Pre-Earth existence to create the earth.  Jesus then commanded Michael (the Archangel) to go with him to create the Earth.  The story repeated this back and forth with each creation period mentioned in the Old Testament, until finally Man was created.  Now, in this tale, Michael became Adam, the first Man.  Later, in the Garden of Eden, Jesus sends Peter, James and John to test Adam.  Adam passed the test, which was not selling Peter, James and John the secret “tokens” of the priesthood.  Makes perfect sense, right?

During this presentation, we would be taught these secret tokens, which were associated with certain signs and handshakes.  We would perform the signs and the handshakes to ensure we understood.  At the conclusion of the ceremony we would have a prayer session, which included raising our hands in the air and saying, “oh God, hear the words of our mouth” repeated verbatim I think three times.

Payson, Utah Celestial Room.  Photo: Salt Lake Tribune
After this was complete, we would be escorted to a large curtain, or Veil between Earth and Heaven.  We would be presented to the “veil” in which a temple worker stood behind cut outs in the curtain.  This person represented Jesus and we then recited certain phrases while demonstrating the handshakes and signs we had just learned.  After the successful completion of these signs, and after revealing our Heavenly name we were then permitted to enter through the “veil” and sit in the “celestial room” in somber quietness. 

Later, when I was married in the temple, I would stand on the other side of this “veil” and receive my wife and learn her Heavenly name.  She would never know mine however, because it was supposed to be my responsibility to call her forth in Heaven by using her Heavenly name.

After a time in the Celestial room of the Temple, I was then directed to the changing room, where I would take off my robes and white clothing.  I changed back into the suit I wore into the Temple.  

I was now an endowed Mormon, and had all the blessings and promises to go along with it.  I was to wear my special Garments now for the rest of my life.  Later I would discover that all these symbolic gestures I had learned in the Temple were very reminiscent of Masonic rites and symbols.  Even the handshakes were the same.  As an outsider looking in, this temple ceremony was weird, to say the least.  But Mormons just accept it as they do everything else their church tells them.

Looking back on it now, no wonder the Mormon church wants to keep what happens in their Temples a secret, lest they appear "a strange and peculiar people".

Friday, February 10, 2017

Blind Leading the Blind

I often wonder some days what would happen if we took a large group of people and isolated them from the world and never taught their kids religion?  Would the kids grow up with some innate belief in a God?  It would be a very interesting social experiment, and would settle some arguments of some that say a belief in God is biological.  Perhaps something like this has been done before but I’ve never heard of it.  

I was an active member of the Mormon church until I was about 30 years old.  I did everything I was expected to do, and believed the church was the one True church on the Earth.  I didn’t get there though by myself.  It was my parents who told me the Mormon church was True, and as a kid, you take the opinions of your parents seriously.  In fact it was my parents who taught me what my feelings meant.

Mormons base the majority of decisions they make on the Holy Ghost.  They rely on the Holy Ghost to confirm “truth” to them on a daily basis.  It’s the Holy Ghost that informs a Mormon that their belief in their church is correct, or that the Book of Mormon is True.  However, what exactly this Holy Ghost is supposed feel like is somewhat vague.

“But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right” (Doctrine and Covenants Ch9 Vs8)

This is what I was taught growing up in the Mormon church.  The feeling you get when the Holy Ghost was telling you something is true is a “burning in your bosom”.  But what the hell is that?  Heartburn?  I never truly understood what I was suppose to feel.  Lucky for me, my parents and church leaders would come to the rescue and tell me, which turned out to be pretty much everything.

I would be told the Holy Ghost felt like a giddy feeling, butterflies, warm fuzzies and even an “it just makes sense” feeling.  I would ask my parents if X was the Holy Ghost, and so long as X was felt in conjunction with being pro Mormon, then it was indeed the Holy Ghost.  Clear as mud right?  That’s how I came to learn the Mormon church was True.  No revelation, no vision, no divine intervention.

How could I have ever determined otherwise?  It’s not like my parents were teaching me different ideologies and allowing me to decide.  I was only taught Mormonism.  I was  simply taught the church was True, and if I would ask God myself, he would tell me so.  I was told what my feelings meant and thereby I knew the church was also True, because that feeling I got was the Holy Ghost.  This cycle is repeated to anybody looking to discover whether the Mormon church is True.

When I began to serve my mission, this concept came full circle since I was now the one to tell others what their feelings meant.  As I would teach people about the Mormon church, I would ask them, “doesn’t it feel good to be able to live with your family for eternity”?  When they tell me yes, I would then ensure them that was the spirit confirming it’s real.  That was such a scam, of course they feel good about it, that doesn't mean it was spirit talking to them.  But by doing this, they would know the church was True since the spirit told them what I was teaching them was real.

I would say the majority of Mormons have never had much more than a simple “feeling” to cause them to believe their church is True.  The reason it has any impact is because they’ve been told those emotions are the Holy Ghost telling them it’s all True.  The problem with this is those feelings are just natural biological responses, and can be replicated at will.  You can get these feelings during a movie that triggers an emotional response.  I’ve given myself this feeling when asking God (before I stopped believing) if I could do something against church policy.  It’s highly untrustworthy, yet many Mormons happily give freely of their time and money for a simple feeling.  

The funny thing is, when you ask a Mormon why other religious people are convinced their religion is True for the same feeling; they say, “well, the Holy Ghost simply confirms truth, no matter where or who the truth comes from.”  Mormons are quick to dismiss their shaky history in preference to be more mainstream.  They will say other churches have truth, just not the whole truth and so when the Holy Ghost confirms to others those truths, then it’s no problem.  Except there is a problem with this.

“My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)—and which I should join.  I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.” (Joseph Smith History, Ch1 Vs 18-19)

Joseph Smith was told ALL the churches of his day were an “abomination”.  Does it sound likely the Holy Ghost would confirm truth to someone in another religion, thereby causing them to believe in their Non-Mormon church?  No, it doesn’t make since at all, yet all the Mormons will say so.  Now, I have heard one other excuse for why someone would feel a similar feeling for Non-Mormon beliefs, and that is because of the Devil.  Yes, Satan mimics the Holy Ghost to get people to join and believe other religions, because at the end of the day, he wants them to become miserable.  Mormons ignore the obvious question of, “well then how do you know what you felt wasn’t the Devil”?  

The Mormon church is True because the Book of Mormon is True.  The Book of Mormon is True because the Holy Ghost told them it was.  They know it was the Holy Ghost confirming the truth because the Mormon church tells them it was.  This is incredible.  The Mormon church could probably sell it’s members property on Mars, and they would willingly buy.  Hell, they already believe the Garden of Eden was in Independence, Missouri, and that one day the Prophet will command the membership to all journey to Independence, Missouri in preparation for the Second Coming of Jesus.  I wish I was making this shit up.

Mormons believe it though because they have been told their feelings were the Holy Ghost.  My own parents have said they will up and leave their home when the Prophet tells them to.  That is some scary stuff.  I was very successful on my mission because I was able to trick gullible people into thinking the church was True.  Of course I believed at the time it was True and I was actually offering these folks salvation, but I know better now.  I know now my feelings are not a good tool for making important decisions in life.  It’s not a good idea to solely trust our emotions.  By doing so, we run the risk of falling for a scam.  The Mormon church, regardless of what they are now, started as a scam.  The history of that church is clear, although it’s not the history I was taught growing up, it's the history they can't hide from anymore.

Now please excuse me, I need to go transfer $50,000 to a nice guy in Nigeria who’s gonna send me an unclaimed inheritance of $1,000,000.  Not to worry, I got excited when I read his email, and that's what the Holy Ghost feels like, so it's totally legit.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Blame Game

                                                                                                                                                               (Photo by Simpspin)

I was raised to be a Mormon from the very get go. My parents gave us no choice in the matter. It was my entire world. In fact I had no idea that my beliefs were so weird.  It was just part of my life and I didn't question it.  However, I had two brothers from my Dad's first marriage. These two did not stay with us full time. They mostly stayed with their mom, who was catholic. Much like my mom, she had converted to the Mormon church for my Dad, but apparently reneged on it after they separated. The details are hazy on that. One thing was for certain though, my brothers from another mother were not Mormon. They were raised Catholic. 

My brothers lived with us here and there, and I never really had much of a relationship with them since there was a reasonable age difference.  Not extraordinary, but enough difference as kids to create a hefty divide.  It wasn’t just the age difference though.  I was being raised Mormon and they Catholic.  An outsider may wonder why that would make any difference, so I’m going to explain. 

Mormons have a way of attributing their individual success with being good faithful followers. Unfortunately, there's probably more not so successful members than there are successful ones. But they just shrug it off to God challenging them. A workout for their spirit bullshit.  Dad was no stranger to this concept.  It took me being out of the church to finally notice it.  Now to his credit, he is not as bad as others, and is a genuinely nice guy.  He is so willing to help you out if you need, but doesn't prevent a "holier than thou" attitude at times.  I think even more so than my Dad, my Mom relishes in my Dad’s “spiritual” prowess.  Because women can’t have God Powers like the men, they find a lot of their self worth from the position their husband holds.  

Now I’m not going to sit here and claim all Mormons act this way.  Certainly there’s going to be exceptions to this, but I simply found this to be more common than not.  My sister is the same.  She brags about her husband having early morning meetings because he is part of the “executive” leadership.  It is so obvious once you’ve left the church.

Anyway, my Dad, being the “spiritual” giant that he is, always seemed to attribute his successes with his obedience to the Mormon church.  Needless to say, he would look at individual failure as a sign of spiritual ineptitude.  My Dad’s first kids, my half brothers, were no exception to this.  They had a rough upbringing, having to go back and forth between their Mom and our Dad.  Not to mention, they even lived in Germany for some time.  So, when my brothers would screw up, my Dad was quick to judge them, attributing their missteps with their Catholic upbringing.  I can recall my Dad specifically addressing this at times, saying he knows if they were just brought up in the Mormon church, they would not have had the kind of life they’ve chosen for themselves.  I thought it so enlightening at the time, and thanked my lucky stars I was being raised right.

Now, I’m not going to assume anything here, because one of my brothers and I have a great relationship now.  Since I’ve broken free from this mental bondage, We’ve been able to kindle this brotherhood.  It just seems to me that there’s other reasons at play for another person’s decisions in life.  I really feel that by loosely throwing blame at someone’s religious upbringing, it really serves to discredit the real cause.  Instead of looking at your own follies, you too readily blame it on others, thereby protecting yourself from self examination, and potentially an admittance of being wrong.

So I grew up with the mental picture of what it meant to be a Mormon.  It meant to be successful and to bask in the blessings showered down from on high.  God loved his church, and blessed his people.  Mormons had all the answers, and knew the secrets to the eternities.  By knowing such, we were mightier than the most powerful person on the earth.  By making the decisions to follow the Mormon teachings, we would be blessed with better lives, and we would have true happiness.  By not following the Mormon church, you were doomed.  It wasn’t good enough to be Catholic.  That church is an abomination, as taught in the Book of Mormon,

And he said unto me: Behold there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church, which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth.” (Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi ch 14, vs 10.)

"It is also to the Book of Mormon to which we turn for the plainest description of the Catholic Church as the great and abominable church." (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 130 (1958))

I was taught growing up the “whore of all the earth” was the Catholic Church.  This because it was originally the Catholics, and all Protestant faiths broke off from them.  Mormons see themselves different because they say it didn’t break apart from any church, that it was instead “restored”.   So, because they chose to be Catholic, God was punishing them, and the Devil was influencing them.   Satan had my brothers right where he wanted them, and they would never be truly happy unless they became Mormon.

I always thought my Dad was so correct, and even at times thought myself better than them, because I was on the true path back to God.  I don’t blame myself for this too much, because I’ve been able to see this attitude is common with Mormons.  Yes, on the outside they are accepting as their church will allow, but on the inside they are not.  Mormons secretly judge others, as they believe they are doing God’s work and are rewarded for such.   In reality though, this attitude was not healthy, and as much as the Mormon church teaches the importance of family, this attitude had the potential to put a wedge between family members.  I feel like that is exactly what happened.  

Aside from some real honest moments while enjoying beers together, my brother and I do not discuss this in great detail.  I just choose to enjoy our time together now, without the “holier than though” attitude.  There’s nothing wrong with my brother, there never was.  We just had different lives.  God wasn’t punishing him, and the Devil wasn’t influencing him.  I was an idiot to ever think so.  I don’t agree with his religious beliefs, and he doesn’t agree with mine, but this doesn’t matter when it comes to enjoying each others company.  If only I had figured that out sooner.

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Temple

                                                                                                                   (The Manaus, Brazil Temple Baptismal Font)

One of the most intriguing things about Mormons, are their Temples.  These building stand apart and can easily be seen and identified by Non-Mormons.  Most the intrigue stems from the secrecy that surrounds these buildings.  Mormons are taught from a very young age that the Temple is a very special place, not one we divulge information about loosely.

“I love to see the temple. I'm going there someday.  To feel the Holy Spirit, To listen and to pray. For the temple is a house of God, A place of love and beauty.  I'll prepare myself while I am young; This is my sacred duty.

I love to see the temple.  I'll go inside someday.  I'll cov'nant with my Father; I'll promise to obey.  For the temple is a holy place, Where we are sealed together. As a child of God, I've learned this truth: A fam'ly is forever.” (LDS Children’s Songbook, I Love to See the Temple)

We sung about these Temples in primary, and learned about them our entire lives growing up in the church.  There are special classes Mormons take prior to them actually attending the Temple proper.  My first experience with the Temple came when I was a small child, but I only remember so much about that experience since I was so young.

When young men and women turn 12, they are then eligible to go to the Temple as a group with their local leaders and do what’s called “baptisms for the dead”.  No, we did not baptize corpses, as much as that would make for some fantastic tales.  What our part as youth were, was physically being baptized approximately 10 times in a row.  Mormons baptize by total immersion into water.  Each time we were dunked, we were being baptized, in proxy, for a deceased person.  

Many Mormons are devout with genealogy, and during these trips, some of the names we were being baptized for, were family members of living Mormons that have submitted those names for our trip.  The church also keeps a large catalog of names of the deceased for any to perform temple work for, in case you didn’t bring your own.  Even Adolf Hitler has been baptized into the Mormon church posthumously. 

Mormons believe baptism is essential to enter into their Heaven (Celestial Kingdom).  As such, it’s imperative those people that have died without being baptized, must be physically baptized for them to accept the gospel in the next life and go to Heaven.  Which is why baptisms are performed for the dead in the Mormon Temples.

Other than these trips as a Mormon Youth, I wouldn't see the inside of a Temple until I was of age.  Not anyone can go inside these Temples.  Even as a young man, I could only go in one part of the Temple with a Temple recommend.  The rest of the Temple was off limits even to me.  When I got old enough, just before I left on my mission, I was to finally see inside the Temple.  With a fresh recommend from my Stake President, I headed to the Temple to receive my “Endowments”. 

“One ordinance received in the temple is called the endowment. The word endowment means “gift,” and the temple endowment truly is a gift from God. The ordinance consists of a series of instructions and includes covenants to live righteously and follow the requirements of the gospel. The endowment focuses on the Savior, His role in Heavenly Father's plan, and the personal commitment of each member to follow Him.” (, “Temples”)

The first time a Mormon goes to the temple for an endowment session, he or she does this ritual for themselves.  After they’ve done their own endowment, Mormons will return to the Temple and perform this ritual for the dead.  Much like with baptisms for the dead, endowments were also performed for the same deceased. 

Mormons are told to not divulge what happens in the Temple to anyone.  Hell, prior to the mid 90's, Mormons that went to the Temple would swear during the ceremony they would not leak the Temple rituals. They would make this promise verbally while physically gesturing disembowelment and slitting of their own throat, by moving their thumbs across their belly and throat.  This was serious shit here.  I was even taught I shouldn’t discuss the Temple ceremony to even fellow Mormons, unless we speak about it whilst inside the Temple.  That was the only place Mormons are supposed to discuss such “sacred” matters. 

I remember hearing so many stories about Mormons receiving visions or angelic visits in the Temple, and I was hoping I would be one such recipient.  I wasn’t.  During my mission, it was widely spread that James E. Talmage, the author of the book, “Jesus, the Christ” had been visited by Jesus in a room in the Temple where he was given the information for the book’s details.  What a statement to be made, and there were no shortages of fantastical Temple stories.

I was 19 years old, and preparing to serve a two year mission for my church.  My parents took me to the St. Louis Temple to receive my endowments.  Indianapolis did not have a Temple at the time, so we drove to St. Louis because it was a larger Temple and I was all about, “go big or go home”.  I had no clue what to expect as I entered these parts of the Temple for the first time.  Even in my Temple prep class, details of what would occur were not divulged.  I was finally at the Temple, and ready for whatever would be thrown at me, but I was not ready for what happened next.

Friday, February 3, 2017

The Mission, Episode III

                                                                   (Hastings Castle.  Photo credit: Kreepin Deth via Wikipedia)

Hastings was a real adventure for me.  Both myself and my companion were relatively new missionaries.  I had been on my mission now for 4.5 months.  He had about 3 months under his belt.  Hastings is the area in which I obtained my UK driver’s license.  I had to learn to drive a stick shift AND driving on the left side of the street, in the right side of the car.  I passed my test on the first try, and now I was a licensed driver in the United Kingdom.

I also started to break a few more mission rules.  Here, my companion and I watched movies with one of the members in the area.  I finally got to see Star Wars: Attack of the Clones.  I absolutely loved it.  I didn’t even feel the slightest guilt for watching it either.  Take that “Missionary Handbook”!

The Missionary Handbook was a small white pocket book we were required to have on us at all times.  Within the book, we were reminded of all the rules a missionary shall obey while on a mission.  I didn’t open it up often.  While my first companion and I got along just fine during our six weeks together in Hastings, the real fun didn’t begin until my second companion and I were assigned together.  I will call this companion Ben.  

Ben and I got along well, and we made the most of our time together.  We had fun, and didn’t allow the strict rules to impede upon our enjoyment.  We still did the work, and did the street teaching and even had baptisms.  But, like I said, we had fun too.  One thing we did that was strictly forbidden, was bought hamsters.  I know, rebels.  Ben’s hamster got out one day and it was never seen again.  I had to give mine to a non Mormon family in the area. 

We hung out with this family a lot.  I’ll call them the Smith’s.  We were actually slowly teaching them the church lessons and bringing the daughters to church on Sundays.  I say slowly, because we wouldn’t always teach them Mormon stuff.  We would sneak over there late at night after we had checked in with the District Leader (DL).  Every night at about 9:30pm, the District Leader calls each companionship under his span of control to ensure they were in, and also to get “numbers”.  Numbers were our stats.  How many people we talked to in a day, how many people we taught a proper discussion to, how many Books of Mormon we gave out in a day, how many baptism commitments we got, how many baptisms we did and finally, how many investigators did we bring to church.

The District Leader was another missionary who had been assigned this leadership role.  He had a companion too, and did the same work.  Then There was also a Zone Leader(ZL), which had the span of control over all the District Leaders and areas within a Zone.  These were alway male missionaries.  The female missionaries were never given the leadership roles because, well, they don't have the priesthood.  

To put a Mission's organizational structure into a little perspective, think of the United States.  The Mission President would be like the President, and each State is like a Zone on the mission.  The Zone Leader would be compared to the Governor, and within the Zone are Cities.  Those are the Districts, and the District Leader is like the Mayor.  Then the City, or the District is divided up into 4 or 5 areas which are each assigned to a companionship of missionaries.

So, after Ben and I spoke to the DL and ensured we were dutifully inside for the night, we would sneak back out.  Now this was somewhat tricky, as we lived in a walkout basement apartment underneath a member’s home.  We managed though, and would walk about town and on occasion over to the Smith’s.  I can remember one of these times, Ben and I had gotten separated in the Smith’s home.  He had gone upstairs with one of the daughters, Michelle, and I stayed downstairs with another, Haley.  Haley and I just sat there on the couch and watched TV.  To this day though, I still don’t know what Ben and Michelle did upstairs.  I would ask him, teasing of course, but he would never divulge that information.  Ben and I were having a good time, but then I really messed up.

Living in another country can cause some confusion when dealing with the difference in languages.  I understand English is spoken in England, but some of the words meant different things there.  I found myself to be a victim of this terrible truth while in Hastings.  You see, in my first area of Christchurch I had heard one of the member’s call her kid a “tart” when the child was being silly.  So, naturally I had assumed “tart” was like a fun or flirtatious way of calling someone silly.  There was a girl in the ward in Hastings that was kind of cute, and she was very into us missionaries.  One day as she was flirting with us, I found it a good opportunity to call her a tart.  She acted as though I had just told her she was a slut or something.  Which, later I learned by the Bishop of the ward, was exactly what I just called her.  Oops!

I was later told this girl had given a missionary a blowjob about a year ago or so, and she assumed I knew about it, which is why I would call her that name.  I had no clue, nor did I know what tart had actually meant.  It didn’t matter though, this incident made it’s way to the Mission President, and I was immediately moved to a new area.  I was really enjoying Hastings, and I would miss Ben and I’s late night walks and adventures.  I spent a total of about 4 months in Hastings before being sent to Peckham.  

Peckham was an urban location within London proper.  It was a culture pot of people, and I was in for a shock!