Sunday, September 17, 2006

I Am Such A Moron

Im not sure I can remember at what point I realized that my family practiced a religion that was in the minority growing up in Indiana. I knew that my parents were from Utah, that my grandparents lived in Utah, and that most of my cousins lived in Utah. At some point in my childhood, I realized that Utah was a state synonymous with Mormonism, and that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was a religion that many people had preconceived notions of. What first made me aware of these differences were the simple things, things like how my parents did not drink coffee or alcohol. I might have been watching a sporting event on TV (it was of my own accord, my father has practically no interest in sports) and a beer commercial would come on, and I realized that the people they were trying to market this stuff to were not my parents. After a while I realized that most people in Indiana do drink beer.

My parents were both raised in Provo, Utah, quite possibly the most Mormon city in the world. Both of my grandfathers were professors of Provos Brigham Young University, which is considered to be the mecca of the Mormon youth post-secondary educational experience. Provo is also home to the Missionary Training Center, which is an astounding compound where young men and women spend the first two weeks or two to three months (depending on if they are headed on their missions to a place where a foreign language is spoken, and depending on the difficulty of the language they will be learning, they are required to stay for training for two to three months [the three month option did not exist when I went to the MTC, but now all missionaries who go to Japan are required to stay for three months]) of their missionary experiences, mostly sitting in a classroom studying and eating three square meals a day. My family moved out of Utah so that my dad could pursue his academic career, attending graduate school in North Carolina, and then accepting a job as a professor at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. So, I was to be a Mormon kid growing up in Indiana. Imagine how different it could be if it had been anywhere else.

I think that I can pinpoint the beginning of my awareness of the difference of the Mormon religion to when carnal desires first started to show up in myself and the people around me. It was at that point when boys first started liking girls, that day when the kids around me started to say four letter words, when jokes about sex became funny, and when the need for material possessions became apparent. Prior to about age 10 or 11, there were things that made me realize that my religion was different, but they were not very apparent on a personal level. I had a friend who lived down the street who I became friends with pretty soon after moving to Vine Street in West Lafayette. The Mormon Church does not believe in baptizing infants before they are accountable, and so children do not get baptized into the church until they are eight years old. When I turned eight years old, it was time for me to be baptized, and I invited my friend Dale from down the street to my baptism, because we were going to Dennys after the baptism. Dale was surprised that I hadnt been baptized as a baby, and was even more surprised to see that when my father baptized me, it was by totally submerging me in water, instead of the sprinkling that Dale had received. I realized that there were these sorts of differences, but they seemed to me to be formalities, and did not make me feel particularly like an outsider by any means.

The moment when I realized that my religion was different was when I realized that there was a difference between simply being associated with a religion (being a member of a church) and actually having the teachings of a religion make a difference in your life. Some time around junior high or high school, things started getting bad. I put this in quotation marks because in reality, things were only starting to get bad, and have continued to get worse the longer I live. When I say bad and worse keep in mind that I am referring to conscious decisions that people make in their lives that can hurt themselves and other people. So in my adolescent years, things noticeably started to get bad. People started to be actively mean to each other, people started to group off into cliques, people started to engage in potentially self-destructive behavior, and just as us kids started to get a grasp on our budding sexuality, it almost immediately turned into the subject of jokes, botched premature experimentation, and quests to steal pornography from so-and-sos dads collection. When these sorts of situations arose, it became more apparent to me that there were certain choices that would need to be made in life, and that while so many of these other kids had grown up going to church just like me, they seemed to be going against some principles that I assumed before to be basic Christian teachings. It became apparent that there was a difference between just going to church and actually leading a Christian life, and I then realized that the things that I saw in the people in the Mormon Church were actually not the norm. This is not to say that I was a perfect adolescent who never did things that were contrary to the teachings of Jesus or even of the Mormon church. I hung out with the "wrong" crowd; I got mixed up with the "wrong" stuff. I once went down by the football field with a bunch of other kids to look at this pornographic catalog that Jamie Pava (a kid who was from the wrong side of the tracks. Unlike most of the professors kids at West Lafayette Jr./Sr. High School, Jamie was from a working family. Once in the locker room during gym class, John Wallenburg said that Jamies sister had had an abortion. I asked how he knew that she had had an abortion, and John just said; Trust me, when someone has an abortion in this town, people find out.) had. To see the mail-order catalog of a sex shop for the first time is a moment so confusing that I think most people remember it quite well. In this catalog there were dildos and all sorts of other sex toys that I did not understand the purpose of. There were women dressed up in bondage gear, and people modeling strap-ons.

At this point in my life I liked heavy metal music, and I hated the preps. I liked to play the electric guitar that belonged to my dad. It was a Fender Mustang, and I played it through a Gorilla amplifier. I wanted to grow my hair long, and after many false starts, I finally really achieved that goal my senior year of high school. Despite these adolescent badnesses, deep down I was still a fundamental believer in church, and I could see that there was a special sort of goodness, and a special sort of feeling that came from doing what I knew was right.

I remember one thing that really always made me uncomfortable at school was that I was embarrassed to be in the Boy Scouts. I was a member of the Boy Scout troop that met at my church, because every Wednesday night, all of the youth would get together at church and do what I guess you would call a youth group. The girls would get together and do their things, and the boys would get together and have their Boy Scout meetings. I did not really mind the Boy Scout meetings, except that there were a few of the leaders who I didnt particularly respect, but most of them were pretty cool, and it was a fun time. I didnt ever really take it very seriously, and I never advanced past the rank of Second Class Scout, but I liked going on the camp-outs and going to the summer camps.

Well, at some point in time, I decided that being a Boy Scout didnt jive with the headbanger image that I was trying to pull off, and I decided that I would keep going as usual, but that I didnt really want anyone at school to know about it. There was a guy in my Scout Troop named Kevin Sallee, and he was not even a Mormon but he came to our Mormon Scout Troop (there were several boys like this) because Kevin was friends with a Mormon from school named Jared Harrington, and he was close to the whole Harrington family, who had kind of taken him in since he came from divorced family. He was a cool guy, and we got to be pretty good friends. He somehow became aware of the fact that I was kind of embarrassed about being a Boy Scout (it seems so stupid looking back on it now) and when we were at school, for kicks, he often threatened to do stuff like yell out Mikes a Boy Scout in the cafeteria and stuff like that. Kevin, on the other hand, loved being a Boy Scout and would even wear his scout shirt to school sometimes.

It was around this time that I realized that Mormons were people who were incredibly dedicated to their religion. At church, I always felt that the people who said things regarding the church really believed what they said. I realized that the church was made up of its people, and that it was a church based on the sincerity of the people. I realized that one of the major reasons why my family was so actively involved in the church was because the church was completely run by the people, on a volunteer basis. There is no paid clergy, and all of the sermons are prepared by the regular people themselves. Members of the church faithfully paid one tenth of their income in tithes. It was through the church that I came in contact with so many of my non-parental adult role models, because there were so many people who took time to befriend the youth. These were people who had genuine concern, people who sincerely wanted to make sure that we were doing the right things in our youth so that we could be happy in the long run.

As an adolescent, my relationship with my father was greatly influenced by our participation in church assignments together. We were asked to visit certain families from the church in our area, and there was one family that seemed to have their share of problems: sometimes financial problems, sometimes family problems, problems with their home, health problems. We had been visiting them for a couple of years, and at one point they told us that their daughter had run away with her boyfriend, and that they had not heard from her in quite a while. They were very worried about her, and they werent even sure that she was being taken care of, or where she was. They said that they were going to hold a day of prayer and fasting for her, and they said that they would be much appreciative if we would participate as well. In the Mormon Church, its pretty common to hold a fast, and go without food, usually not longer than a day. During that time you are fasting, you are supposed to accompany the fast with prayer and remembrance of whatever purpose you are fasting for. Fasting is supposed to make you more in tune with the promptings of the Holy Ghost, and I think that I can attest to the truth of that. Well, the proposed day of the fast finally came, and in the morning I forgot to not eat. I went to school like it was a regular day. When I got home, and it was time for dinner, my dad sat at the table with us, but he was not eating because he was observing the fast. I felt bad that I hadnt participated, but I was really proud of my dad, and that he had remembered to fast, and had probably been thinking about Becky (that was the name of the girl who ran away) all day long. A while after that, Becky came back home, abused and pregnant. She started to come back to church, and I knew that her family was so glad that they had what I think was their only child back with them. They were not mad at her for running away, they were overjoyed that she could still be with them. I only now really realize that it was through Christ that her wounds would heal, and her baby would have a home (Im not sure what exactly happened with the baby, but I think that it probably ended up in a loving home).

I didnt always do the totally right thing all of the time, and I know that some of my interactions did not represent accurately the things that I had been taught through my faith, and for that I feel a deep sense of sorrow, knowing that I could have done more, and I could have done it better. But with that sorrow comes the desire to improve, and I have been given countless chances to give it another try and do better throughout my life, and I am humbly aware that these second, third, fourth and fifth chances come from Jesus, and will keep coming regardless of any lack of faith on my part. I dont claim to have a perfect understanding of how it is that Jesus dying on the cross makes it possible for us to erase our mistakes, and I dont think it makes much sense that because of this an all-knowing God will forget my sins, as if they never even happened, but I guess thats where the miracle of it all lies. We dont have to completely understand it, we just have to try our best to feel the guidance of the Holy Ghost and then follow the guidance of that spirit. Through this miracle I have felt peace and joy which are only glimpses of the treasures that our heavenly father has in store for us, his children.

My parents werent as strict with me as some Mormon parents might have been with their kids, but they were strict enough when it was necessary (and it was always in a loving way), and I appreciate their willingness to let me see the things that this world has to offer, because they too are people who love the experiences that the world holds in store, and they trusted me enough to let me make so many of my own decisions, even though I did screw up sometimes as a result of that. Im not really sure how I feel about the concept of destiny, but I really do believe that God had a plan for me, and that he has set me up in certain ways so that I can fulfill some very specific purposes. Things that make me think that: Growing up in Indiana. Going to Purdue, then to IU. My dad just happening to have an electric guitar around the house. Going to a Japanese class once when I was 16 years old, which Im sure sealed my fate in getting sent to Japan on my mission, which has then led to all sorts of post-mission work and experiences as well. There are some real crazy chains of influence that have gone on, and will continue to go on, Im sure. I can only hope that I can prepare myself to be receptive to the things that I am supposed to do. I hope that the spirit of the Lord can be with me, I really do.

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