Thursday, October 6, 2011

Party at My House

How I was possessed by a demons and performed much violence on my mission without even being in the room

It's about time I told this story again.  I actually was invited to attend Priesthood Session of Conference last Sunday...and during one of the talks Elder So and So remarked that for every missionary, their mission president had been selected for them by inspiration.  I had to laugh at that.  You'll see why if you can stomach reading through this mini novel.

Once upon a time in Sweden, I was patiently waiting out every day and every night whilst eating, drinking and breathing nothing but religion.  It was the most horrifically boring 6 months of my life. I had some adventures here and there worthy of note, and overall I'm still grateful for the experience, but nothing ever compensated for the sheer boredom of having to live a life without one shred of even momentary solitude.   Once, I was invited to take part in a priesthood blessing for an elder who was suffering from allergies.  The Mission President was giving the blessing, and I think I should taken the fact that he kept telling these allergies to "get thee hence" as a very bad sign of things to come.

So I'm 7 months in, almost a third of the way there, and it's companion trading day.  This is the day you lose your old comp, and gain another, and if you're lucky you actually get to be alone a few hours as your new companion travels to your location.  Unfortunately for me, Sister Hendersen, a dear old member who made it her business to know the whole routine and keep innocent elder's from having any kind of fun at all,  insisted that I stay over at her place during the interim.  I sat on her couch waiting for my new companion's call.  It should have been at most maybe three hours, but three hours turned into five, and then six or seven, and then finally we called up the mission office to report my new companion being missing in action.  I was told he'd missed his flight, and that he'd be arriving the next day.  In the meantime, I was to go stay the night at the next city over, with the missionaries stationed there.  Now this was odd, as if my companion really had missed his flight, it would only be another hour before the next, and there were several of these flights every day.   Something was not adding up, but oh well, you do what you have to in the service of the Lord, right?

So Elder Fiatt arrived (name changed to protect his guilt), and didn't really explain his lateness any more than
a bad day at the airport.  But in the meantime, he began to receive phonecalls from a young girl late into the evening.  The plot thickened.  Fiatt claimed she was just an earnest investigator whom he was helping to lead to the light, but there conversations went a little long and they didn't sound like they were discussing the high points of Alma 32 much.

So after several days in a row of this investigator calling, my companion finally fessed up.  She was not so much an investigator as she was a girlfriend.  And they'd been naked together.  In fact, as I was sitting in Sister Hendersen's home watching the clock, he had been buck naked performing something other than angelic ministrations with his priesthood if you get my meaning.  But it was important to note, he pointed out, that they didn't actually punctuate the naked wrestling with penetration because she was having her period.  Ding ding, saved by the bell.

Well, he had then headed straight for the mission office to confess to the Mission President.  Only President Wilbur (again names changed)  did not begin proceedings to send Fiatt home as Fiatt expected.  Instead after hearing about the escaped the President only took one long, deep and disgusted sigh.  And then he waved his arm at the elder.  "In the name of Jesus Christ, I command thee to get thee hence."  My companion had just been exorcised and the whole problem of his sexual hijinx solved in under thirty seconds.  Now that's priesthood power at its most convenient.

Now I liked Fiatt a lot.  He seemed a decent enough guy, one of the funnier companions I had.  True, he didn't always sweat the 6:30 am alarm, but overall we were making a game effort.  But when he told me this something in me was just so horrified.  I was dumbfounded.  The problems that lead to this missionary actually getting down and busy with a young investigator (she actually WAS an investigator after all, heh heh) being summed up as demonic possession was a deep and vicious lie.  I do not know how you earn a demonic possession while on your mission, but I do know this much--it involves far darker sinning than getting naked with people.  It was a horrible accusation to put on his character.

So confronted with this horror, what did I do?  Did I pray earnestly in my apartment?  Did I contact someone for counsel?  Did I search the scriptures for answers?   Nah, I went out and bought a 12 pack of beer.

This was the first time I'd ever drank.  And oh, it was a great and wonderful buzz.  And harmless too.  I thought that beer drinking was definately highly underrated by the general Mormon public.   Now the second time we got drunk, that was a bit more problematic, as I swore to the Lord I'd never drink another drop as cradled the toilet. you can guess, the missionary work suffered a bit from this point.    

Elder Fiatt wanted nothing more than to return to his investigator.  He wanted me to come with him.  He even said that she had some friends she could set me up with.  Wow, alchol consumption covered, why not knock another biggies out of the ball park?   It was seriously tempting.  But I couldn't just dissappear.  We might make the local news in Utah, and stressing my parents out like that was just something I wasn't able to do.

So I stayed behind as Fiatt returned to his previous location to further explore the relationship.
I was all alone for a day and a half, really nice days.   But a member finally spotted me out wondering around in my civvies and the gig was up.  President Wilbur was called.  The missionaries from the neighboring city were dispatched.  I was visited upon by them and they had the air of govenrment officials as they "rounded me up".   They came into the apartment and called up Wilbur.  I was in my bedroom and they handed me the phone.  They decided it was best to give me privacy and closed the door behind them.

"Oh elder, do you know what this means?" screamed Wilbur at me.  "EXCOMMUNICATION! Disgrace to your family!"

That was all I needed to hear.  I put down the phone, opened up my bedroom and jumped out.  I ran as fast as I could, heading to the bus station.  "Ladies here I come!" says I.  "If I'm getting exed, I'm gonna damn well earn it!"

But in a few minutes, I remembered that the reason I was not going to disappear was to spare the pain of my parents.  That was still a priority.  So I returned to my apartment.  The missionaries looked at me in astonishment as they were still in the living room, thinking I was still talking on the phone, and didn't have any understanding at all as to how I was coming in through the front door.  The president, god bless him, was still on the line.

I was handed the phone again, but this time my escorts remained firmly in the room.

"If you ever try to run away again, Elder Johnson, I will have you thrown in jail."

"After you excommunicate me you mean."

"Well, I was probably letting myself get carried away about excommunication.  But I will have you thrown in jail, you just try me."

And that was it, that was the full extent of our conversation.  No concern for my welfare, no asking me about anything that had happened.  What I was going through was apparently of no concern whatsoever.  Ah, but this was the man that God inspired to be my prez.  What a wonderful system!!!

Anyway, we take the train to the neighboring city, and all the while I'm thinking "JAIL?  He can't put me in jail.  Where does he get off threatening jail?"

We go to zone leader's apartment.  Here I am comforted, interviewed a little, and preached at.  One of the zone leaders tells me a long involved story, to which I do not hear a word.  "Jail? JAIL?  JAIL? Just try me?

I do not remember why I was left alone with poor Elder Newburg.  Newburg was about 5'4 to my 6'4 -- this is important.  But it was while I was with Newburg that I decided "Fuck it.  I'm going to Denmark."

I started to walk out with my suitcase and Newburg tried at first to grab me.  I looked at him and smiled.  "Don't I still have my agency, Elder Newburg?"  I implored.

He had to think this one over. "Yes, yes you do.  But if you leave now, you'll be excommunicated for sure."

"Hmmmph."  I said.  "Promises promises."

And then I left to jump on a ferry and boat over to Denmark.  Fuck that guy and fuck jail.  Come and get me, asshole.

Denmark was fun.  I had an uncle that lived there, that was my ace in the hole.  I dissappeared for a night, but I did call my parents to let them know that I was alive and safe.  I regret that I didn't take this opportunity to tour all of Europe, dropping postcards to the mission office at every stopover.  But I felt impelled to settle things up after my little rebellion.

After calling my parents a second time I was told a fascinating story.  The President told them that when i had left Elder Newburg, it wasn't just Elder Newburg in the room but about a dozen missionaries.  The president told my parents I was possessed by a demon, and that I had thrown the other missionaries up against the walls like rag dolls.  I had gone through them, he told my parents , like a bowling ball through ten pins.

Aha, my turn.  Now I'm the one who is possessed.  This is definately Wilbur's catch all.

So in the end, I decided to return to the office to have one last conversation with Wilbur.  I wanted explanations.  He gave me none.  Everyone still wanted me to stay on my mission.  My dad made it clear to me that it would be better that I return home in a coffin than return home early.  So I decided I'd give the pres one last chance to try and explain himself.  I took a plane back to Stockholm.

I was met at the airport by the entire office staff.  Ten elders nervously surrouned me, I guess expecting me to go into "Super Bionic Demon" mode again at a moment's notice.  The story of my raging demon fit was all over the mission now.  I often wondered what Newburg thought of that story, and how far he went to correct it.  If I'd known I was going to be accused of throwing missionaries against the wall, I'd at least maybe of thrown Newburg down on the floor and given him some of my older brother's famous red belly treatment.  You know..that's when you pull up the shirt and just slap that belly till it's pink.  Something to earn my rep at least.

Taken under gaurd to the mission home I was never talked to once by the President.  I was just expected to take on office duty, go out with the office elders into the field, like business as usual.  I was wondering what the hell was going on...and finally one of the office elders confided in me.

"We prayed about what was going to happen.  We prayed if you should go or stay, each one of us.  THe president and everyone else felt the Lord wanted you to stay.  I felt like you should go home."

Wow, a circle jerk of prayer on my behalf.  And my fate decided.

After hearing this I went into the President's office.  I conducted my own Priesthood Interview, and swiftly determined this man just wasn't worthy.  I asked to be sent home.

And sent home I was.

I know, I know, a novel.  But I'm almost done now.

The epilogue to my horror story was that when I got home, many of my ward members tried their best to salvage my membership.  One general authority came over and asked me about my story.  I told him exactly what happened, and he told me he was going to investigate.  He didn't want some wild cannon on the loose in Sweden.  Wow, I thought.  Justice?

A few days later he called me into the Church Office building.  He sat me down in Paul H Dunn's office ,which was unnocupied.  I hadn't heard about his problems yet, so I had no idea where Paul was.  But I sat in his office one day, all by myself, after having been handed a manila envelope full of papers to read.
I read through them, and was perplexed to discover that they were official church documentations of missionaries who had been possessed by demons.

I didn't read them all.  I was too devestated.  I walked into his office.

"So you believe him.  You believed President Wilbur.  Did you pray on it too?  It would be very nice and easy if it was all just about getting possessed by a bunch of demons, wouldn't it?  Come one, come all.  Party at my house! But Elder Hiawatha, it was not so.  I did a lot of un missionary like things over there.  But not once, not one time, did I ever lose grip on the wheel.  It was all my own doing "

And I left with no further conversation.  And that's my exit story.   To this day, when someone remarks about how their missions were the best days of their lives, I have to smile.  My best ones too, almost.  Making that stand, making that rebellion, was a beautiful awakening to life and a whole new plane of discovery and happiness.  Thank you President Wilbur.  Thank you, imaginary demons.  Thank you Elder Hiawathe and the LDS X-Files.  I will always be grateful for the extra push I got into the light.

Monday, July 25, 2011

One Hustler to rule them all


One summer when I was thirteen years old, my good buddy came back from a family vacation to New York and called me to announce he was going to let me in on the deal of the century.  Now this Mormon family vacation of course typically included the Palmyra visitations and the Church History tour.  Ironically, however, my friend took a little bit of a detour off the Joseph Smith carny and bought back an unprecedented souvenir from such family outings as these: an honest to God Hustler.  How he pulled it off at age 13 I'm still not sure, but his ingenuity was my good fortune, and he decided to let me have it for 20 bucks.
          He gave me a preview, and this particular issue featured a pair of Swedish blondes in a sauna.  I looked at those naughty Swedes apparently determined to peek at each other's kidneys and knew that this magazine had to be mine no matter what the cost.  20 bucks?  I threw the money down on the carpet.  The Hustler was all mine!
        It did not take very long though, for the novelty to wear off and the power of this magazine to begin to shake me to the core.  It was a thing of evil.   I took it out in my back yard and built a small fire.  I tried to burn it, but the effort was half hearted.   My friend heard of this desecration and came back to my home and repossessed it.  But he too could not shake the power of this magazine.   He gave it to some friends, and they too were swept up.   They threw it in a creek in the gully behind my friend's house, and apparently we were all free from this magazine forever.
     But no--my friend felt its call and he went down to the creek to search, and lo and behold, the magazine was found---wet, half burnt, but still very readable with some surprisingly good articles.  Eventually, though, he could not handle it and returned it to me.   I myself couldn't handle it anymore and buried it in my back yard.  Six months later, my friend came around and made me unbury it.   What happened to it after that I can't be sure.  My friend still has all of his fingers so...

        Despite what you may or may not think about porno being degrading to women, at the time there was nothing more beautiful and electric than exploring those women's bodies for the very first time.  For being so evil, it sure felt good.  In the end, there was one particularily nasty event that I must also recount involving this magazine's amazing powers.   This magazine made the rounds through just about everyone in the circle of friends.  Derek was one of those, and he was a thrify young man who proved the merits of the Boy Scout motto.  Anyone whose perused a Hustler knows the magazine has dozens of small advertisements printed on cardboard--so Derek would keep some of these in his wallet for improved portability.  Can't access your porno on a campout?  Bring along some of these handy cutouts and you can still enjoy a perusal anytime, any place.  Anyways, we were on a scout trip where he brought out his cut outs, and somebody else came into the tent and found them.   Well, they weren't mine and I said so, until finally Derek had to come clean.  But he couldn't just say he found them and leave it at that.  He had to tell the whole damn story.  "Jerry bought it in New York!  And he sold it to Kevin for 20 bucks!"

Man, the whole teacher's quorum was now in on it.  And I can't tell you about how that echoed in my head for months :  "20 bucks!  20 bucks!   20 bucks!"

It was a lot of  money to shell out for a 3.95 cover price.  :(   But those Swedes!

I'll never forget what one of the quorum members said on the way home.  "Man, it's one thing to look at that kind of stuff if you're just one of the rest of us.  But in leadership!  That's really unforgivable."
       Yep, he was talking about me, none other than the Teacher's Quorum President, and one of the youngest Teacher Quorum Presidents to date.  He was an older member who may have felt passed over, but his words struck home.  So add that to the already formidable guilt that seethed and surged around those Swedish sauna
buddies...  I can't believe that this is healthy for anyone.  I don't know what I expect here though.  Certainly hard core porno for teenagers isn't necessarily a good thing.  But I do know that the exacerbation of the guilt perpetuated and re perpetuated in meetings and interviews did a lot more harm than good.  I know that together with stories of how "making out" was equally sinful perpetuated to a deep fear of women, and left me not even kissing a girl until I was nineteen and in college.
         Would it have been so terrible of a father talking about the inevitable porno that would turn up...and saying that the feeling surrounding it were exciting, perhaps immoral but not anything that doesn't happen to just about all young men.   If it happened to me and my straight laced friends I am kinda assuming that it's pretty commonplace.   It's not the end of the world that you looked at it, were fascinated by it.  It doesn't make you an overall bad person.  Along with cautioning and guiding to better outlets of teenage sexual angst, they could have said that and saved a whole lot of emotional and pyschological carnage in that Evil Hustler's wake.

Monday, July 18, 2011

It doesn't matter if it's true -- evolution of a Mormon miracle

I had a friend over the other day who told me of a miracle that happened within his family.  His brother in law had been cured of hemophilia.  My first question was if there had ever been documented proof of a diagnosis of hemophilia; or that if it were possible it was misdiagnosed in the first place.  This apparently had never occurred to my friend.   A true miracle such as the healing of hemophilia is indeed compelling evidence for the existence of a supernatural force getting itself right in the middle of things.  The problem is though, too often in our haste to believe them, we don't ask any questions like "Where's the proof of the intial diagnosis?" or "Could it have been a mistake?."
       One day during a very violent internet argument about the power of prayer (started by my troublemaking nephew, bless him), my sister said she had powerful evidence of the power of prayer involving none other than myself!  Imagine my surprise to hear this...I asked her to be more specific, as she knows that I am an atheist and could hardly be more surprised about being somehow involved in an actual miracle.  She told the following story:

"Once my dad was in Denmark and had a very bad premoniton about my brother.  He just had a very bad feeling something was horribly wrong.  Being in Denmark, there was nothing else to do but pray.  He prayed all night long.  The next day, he found out that Kevin's life had been saved by the arrival of some missionaries in the knick of time. "

I had to think about this, but it soon came back to me.   Once, when I was struggling with depression, I made a cursive, bungled suicide attempt involving a plastic bag.  No sooner had I aborted the attempt out of fear, there was a knock on the door and sure enough, two elders were at the door.  But I had already aborted, let's be clear.   Later, in open discussion I told my dad about what had happened, and how odd the timing of the missionaries was, in a Twilight Zone way that yes, spoke of an odd coincidence but certainly did not promote any belief that the missionaries did me any good.

So my dad ran with it, apparently.  There are several deep and puzzling ironies to this miracle story, having nothing at all to do with the fact that the time frame of the events was nowhere near his travels to Denmark.  The first irony is that I attribute my depression and self hatred that led me to suicidal thoughts directly to my growing up being told I was meant for some higher purpose and failing my destiny miserably, thus highly involving the church in my condition.  ( I have often wondered how many others have struggled with a self hatred born from their LDS upbringing).  So the church apparently saved me...from the church.

The second irony is that upon hearing this story my sister never asked me once if it were actually true.  I was a direct witness to the story--even the very subject of the miracle itself, and yet there was no need to question my dad's spectacular claim even to gain the simplest, most easily afforded verification.  "Hey, Kev, did this actually happen?"   And there is a gaping plot-hole to this heroic tale that struck me right out of the blue.  If my dad had a premonition of this nature, even if it did happen in Denmark, his only option was not just to pray.  We do have a working international telephone system.    Why didn't Dad call me, or my other brothers and sisters in my proximity, to see about getting me some help?  This didn't strike my sister as odd?

The third irony is that the missionaries were not very interested in me, once they found out I was already a member.  They did not tell me they were prompted to come to this door, this was a day just like any other, and even though I even thought it might be nice to let them in and talk (I had just tried to kill myself), they quickly excused themselves to go onto greener pastures, apparently.  I could have used someone to talk to, and I think I showed some pretty obvious signs of this, but our faithful elders didn't clue in.  I don't blame them really.  I've been a clueless missionary myself, and it's hard to always be right about who needs help and who doesn't.

The final irony is that my sister fully believes that if this happened to me, exactly as my father told it, which she accepts piecemeal as the truth, that I wouldn't consider it evidence enough to rethink my religious approach.  Yeah, it still might logically be a coincidence, but if missionaries really did knock on the door the very minute I had a plastic bag over my head, and the only reason I pulled it off was their knocking, then yeah, I'm just about weak minded enough to buy that as a divine intervention.  That would be good enough for me right there.   Especially with the tie-in of my dad bringing it on with his premonition.  Yep, that would do it for me.  And yet she believes that I just forget about all this divine interventionism and threw it all away out of what--anger at God for the bad things that have happened in my life?   Like I'm as bad as Laman and Lemuel, who see an angel and still don't get it.  Wouldn't you be inclined to ask someone in this situation, "Hey bro, what about that actual miracle that happened to you?  How do you explain that?"   But she's never asked, not even once.

I don't blame her, not really.  I've made the same mistake myself, with one erstwhile Paul H. Dunn and his wonderful war stories.  I ate up the 11 man 300 yard dash that only he survived.  I ate up the Ted Williams wanting what we've got speech  and I considered these stories strong evidence of the truthfulness of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  You see, the reason we don't ask the simple, quick questions about holes in logic, probabilities and even just asking a direct participant for their side of the tale, is that really down deep -- it doesn't matter if it's true.  What matters are the feelings these stories cause--the emotional response alone.  The mind itself was really never meant to be in the picture.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Commanding God

I spent many a long morning and afternoon hiking up stairwells in the city of Falun, Sweden, for the better part of my three month assignment there.  My trainer was a no nonsense Elder who believed the only method to missionary work was "tracting", going out and knocking randomly on doors and making our pitch, that we knew something about Jesus Christ that the average citizen of Falun, Sweden did not.  Surprisingly to us, the vast majority of the citizens of Falun did not take our claim very seriously.  So for the most part, the only thing we got out of hiking up these huge stairwells for hours on end was the exercise. 
    But one afternoon, a grizzled middle aged man let us in.  He had a white, wild beard that had not been shaved for years, perhaps.  His pants were ripped on the left knee, because his beneath his knee was grossly swollen, perhaps with elephantitus or some other horrible disease, but he still managed to limp on it.  He led us into his kitchen area, and on his table were dozens of packages of cookies, filling the whole table, all of them opened and partially consumed.  He seemed to be quite intelligent, very interested in Mormonism, and even accepting of Joseph Smith as a visionary.  He explained that he was a member of some sort of Universalist Church that I had never heard of...and that one of the tenants of his belief was that it was possible to attain, through the most righteous of living of course, the ability to command God.  He mentioned that he believed that he himself had manifested this ability.
       It made me wonder, of course, how is it a man who could command an omnipotent God was content with the savage ailment of his foot.  I wanted so badly to explore this idea more--for instance, just what had he gotten God to do in his spare time.  But my companion was disgusted, and quickly made our farewells.

Here was a man who believed he could control God. Maybe he believed the cookies were being transformed into vegetables, at his own command, as they entered his stomach.    How his leg ailment wasn't instantly curable would be a most fascinating question, but I'm sure he had some explanation that still allowed his system of belief to flourish. 

Our beliefs systems will perpetuate, regardless of the presence of our own metaphorical swollen feet.  For Mormons, we may very well see that Lamanites aren't lining up their DNA as one would expect, or that Zarahemla and cities of millions of inhabitants complete with metal, Egyptian writing on tablets and loads and loads of human refuse are nowhere to be found, but we find our ways to explain it away.  The heart overrides the mind every time, and we end up eating the cookies and drinking the kool-aid till either Jesus really does show up or we die happily in our sugar addiction, feeling vindicated nonetheless.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Catastrophre of Evil

Did Joseph Smith really chat it up with Jesus and God way back when, in a Sacred Grove somewhere in Western New York?  For me, this was never a matter open for debate.  I was told what must have been a thousand times that he was indeed a genuine prophet, and that the gospel he restored was the one true church, the only one that could get you to "Right Heaven", as I shall call it, as opposed to "Wrong Heaven", which is what you believe in if you are anything else but a card carrying, garment wearing Latter Day Saint.    That "Right Heaven" should be your goal is also not a matter open to debate while growing up in Utah as an LDS Child of God.
    But I was always a little bit different myself.  At four years old, I asked my dad, "Hey, aren't we supposed to love the devil?"  Now this was simply a matter of logic.  I could remember distinctly Jesus saying "Love thy enemy" on the one hand, and being told over and over again our greatest enemy was the devil himself.  Though by my dad's look on his face, and the level of red in his face, it was clear that this was not a proper conclusion despite it's logical soundness.  And that's the thing with believing in good old Joseph Smith.   There's something that doesn't seem logically correct here, and it's a lot less to do with the man himself than the great and powerful system he set in place to perpetuate a following.
       See, I was told that what I had to do was get a testimony.  Ask God, they told me, and again not just once but thousands of times, and God will tell you what's what.  The problem here is that the existence of this God fellow is purely an assumption, a foregone conclusion.  Why wasn't the first thing I should have done in my youth be "Verify that this God guy exists."   It doesn't make any sense to ask what someone like God wants before I know that He really is something capable of wanting in the first place.
      But of course, since your parents know that God exists, it is not only their right to teach their children this, but their duty.  And hence came the justification for raising me up to believe not only that God exists, Joseph Smith was a prophet, but also repeated a thousand times was the sure premise that the only way I would not discover this for myself to be the truth was through a catastrophe of evil.
     This is what I will focus my blog on, off and on with other random observations about my life--but this is the key thing I want to hit on.  There is no one that I have ever encountered that offers up much in the way of  explanations to why polygamy is ever a righteous endeavor, or how Laminites popping into white skins is a beautiful event, or how God requiring Abraham to kill his infant son was not horrifically, inherently sadistic.  They just ride the God wave.  "God helped me play the piano in that musical number in front of church, and therefore the Book of Mormon is also true, and none of those questions matter."  Well it's great that you can make those kind of questions stop mattering.  It's a nice talent, and I don't really judge your for being able to do so.  But the consequence of rattling into your children's heads that by having these questions matter,and matter a lot, they are giving in to wickedness and sin at it's highest levels, that  the devil has them  by the hand, is just another big question to pile into the list:  How is indoctrination right?  We Mormons aren't quite as bat shit crazy as the folks in "Jesus Camp" but we're not so very far behind either.  Why is to question in itself a wretched sin?  It's a convenient defense, don't you think?