Behind the Curtain

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“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”

It’s the famous line from The Wizard of Oz. Keep your eyes fixed on the machine. Look what you’re a part of! A marvelous work and a wonder is about to come forth!

Starting to sound familiar? I remember being at a youth conference listening to an endowed member of the church talk to a silent, eager audience of teenage Mormons about the temple. He was vague, but offered more information than I had ever heard before. It was like the preview to a psychological thriller that gets you just emotionally involved enough to ensure you spend $13 to see it. I remember thinking, “I believe, but I want to KNOW! And I will know when I go through the temple, because that’s where faithful members commune with angels, see the savior in the Celestial Room, and (as a reward for their faithfulness) receive a sure witness that the sacrifices they make as members of the church are worthwhile.”

It made sense. Why else did you have to wait so long to go in? Or be so pure? Something big happens there… right?

So the big day arrives. My extended family is present. My parents told me that no question is off-limits when we’re in the Celestial Room. Cool. Finally all of my doubts can be put to rest.

It’s beautiful. It reminds me of a country club the way it is full of old white people who just show a card, get in, and act cordial with one another. Washing and anointing, and then endowment. I am not going to go into any detail about the ceremony because that is irrelevant to my point. The ceremonies didn’t especially freak me out or disturb me. I wasn’t focused on it. I was solely waiting for what was going to happen when I pass through the veil.

I was pulled through the veil. I find myself in a dazzling, white room with high ceilings, cushioned chairs and mirrors. It is clearly designed to elicit the intended response: Peace. And it was peaceful. It was conducive to meditation and prayer. But there was no witness. There were no angels. There was no voice from the heavens, visitation, confirmation or apparition. My family members crowded around me and asked me if I had any questions. But obviously I couldn’t ask the one question I had because I was now part of the club. I was now part-owner in the secret of the temple: That there is no secret, and we all keep our mouths shut and let unendowed members think whatever they want about what goes on within these walls. I don’t know what they think they feel. But I was underwhelmed, and I seriously doubt they were experiencing more than I was.

But I look back on that sense of wonder and mysticism from before I had “seen behind the curtain.” It was exhilarating and addictive. The prospect of a witness of truth grabbed me and didn’t let go. There was only one cure for that addiction. For me, “seeing behind the curtain” means being able to quickly be a well-adjusted ex-Mormon. Allow me to explain:

From a young age Mormons are taught we are children of god, families are forever and I want to get married in the temple some day. It is indoctrinated from before they can spell or count to 100. Eventually they are captivated by the promise of the temple, eternal progression and even godhood. Those are enticing premises. To lose your faith as a teenager, it would have taken a lot longer for me to become a well-adjusted, functioning adult. Questions would always linger because the indoctrination runs deep. Some of the teachings of the church just “feel” so right that they are hard to shake. But the more you see behind the curtain, the more you see the wheels of the machine powering the corporation forward, the easier it is to alienate yourself from the teachings that the machine propagates.

This is why I have said before, the best Mormons eventually make the best ex-Mormons.

 

The North Shore Mormon Sangria Speakeasy

Very rarely when a longtime member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints disaffects does it happen quickly. Perhaps on occasion a learned morsel of truth has so aggressively resonated in contradiction with a member’s moral compass that they could walk away without looking back. Given the church’s radical, controvercial and widely hidden past, it’s actually surprising this doesn’t happen more often in the Google era. What usually transpires is a long period of cognitive dissonance. Slowly worldviews and commonly accepted truths sneak into your brain that are impossible to reconcile with the indoctrination that you’ve cherished from your youth. It is extremely uncomfortable and guilt-inducing. It is 3 days of darkness in the destroyed city of Zarahemla before a voice is heard from the heavens saying “Be calm. I don’t actually exist.”

My journey was long. It started immediately after my mission in early 2007, and it finished in the middle of 2013 when I finally became comfortable calling myself an exMormon. There are a lot of offensive and hilarious stories that occurred in that span. Over time I hope to share most of them. It would be both helpful and therapeutic to share them chronologically, but this is one that I have wanted to get out in the world for a long time. So I give you, The North Shore Mormon Sangria Speakeasy.

Laie, Hawaii is a beach community on the Northernmost part of Oahu, and home to BYU-Hawaii, the Mormon temple, and the Polynesian Cultural Center, also owned by the LDS church. To the West is the the pot-smoking surfer communities of Pipeline, Sunset and Haleiwa. To the East is the meth town of Hauula. The relative location truly makes Laie an oasis for the believers, and perpetuated an LDS ideal that I was familiar with from childhood: isolation.

Uh oh. I’m getting off-topic and I’m NOT funny. I’ll address Mormon culture and isolation at a later date. I was a student at BYU-Hawaii. Now, I don’t want to sound like a cocky asshole, but the shoe fits, Cinderella. I was a rockstar at BYU-Hawaii. Between athletics, student government, church callings and being a really eligible bachelor among women bred to be concerned with their fertility window after the age of 20, I was known by almost everyone. But it is a competetive jungle out there. Another slightly less eligible bachelor will throw loyalty to the wind if it means taking you out of the game. Therefore if you violate BYU’s code of conduct called the Honor Code, you do so at substantial personal risk. An anonymous tip to the Bishop or Honor Code office can jeopardize your 4 year education. Popularity+delinquency=scrutiny. Add the competetive rat race to temple marraige, and I had a target on my back.

But I was careful. I liked sitting on the beach with my friends, watching the waves come in, playing guitar, drinking straight from the bottle, and occasionally passing around a blunt. It was our dirty little secret. Almost every member of student government was a closet partier. In fact, we were known to the faculty as the Student Leadership and Honor Department. And we played our roles very well, and enjoyed our jobs, so we certainly had inscentive to be discreet.

I thought our secret was tight, likeunto a dish, until one night at about 10 pm I get a text message from a friend of a friend that read: “Some of my friends have never tried drinking before and they are curious. We just want someone experienced we can trust to come with us so everything is ok.” Shit. My secret is out there. And about to be blown significanly more open. More than the need for secrecy I didn’t want to be misunderstood. I didn’t equate disobedience with disbelief. Partying was a “quirk” about me, and the anonymity allowed me to distance myself from a “sinner” identity. It let me justify my full participation in the church, and I couldn’t expect anyone to understand that. But my name was clearly out there in this small circle, so I figured I had better get out there and do some damage control. I hurried to the spot we had decided to meet, and greeted the girl that had invited me. Behind her was a gaggle of 19-year olds, and one that I instantly recognized. Molly was the gorgeous, well-liked girl I had asked to the upcoming school dance days earlier. “Shit” I repeated, this time out loud. “Don’t swear in front of me” she retorted. Does she not realize I am taking her on her first booze tour? To the best of my knowledge Molly was the physical embodiment and literal namesake of the “Molly Mormon”. If you are unfamiliar with the term, it is a slur used for a bland, narrow-minded Mormon girl who never does anything wrong. But it’s too late to back out, so I lead this indiscreet cheer team to my predetermined spot on the beach where I pour everyone a moderate serving of vodka or rum with a healthy portion of pineapple orange juice as a mixer. Then the shitshow began. They were lightweights, but they weren’t shy. I dragged girls out of the jungle and the ocean, all the while trying my best to be responsible as Molly Mormon laid me down, staddled me, and took her shirt off. Oh God. Why is this happening now? This poor virgin is only doing this because she is experiencing alcohol for the first time. The whole premise of me being there was to make sure everyone was ok, so the fear of God that I still maintained dictated that I got the fuck out of there. I carried girls home, I tucked girls safely into bed, and then I passed out on Molly’s couch.

The next morning I took Molly and her first hangover out to breakfast. We sat in a parking lot, eating pancakes in my car and I listened to her tell me we were still on for the dance, but she comes from a pioneer family, and therefore should know better, and it would never happen again. Ridiculous. Molly believed her polygamous pioneer ancestors were watching, and that guilt was going to take the wheel during her college years. It makes me angry all over again, writing about it for my first time since it happened years ago.

Molly has long since gotten married in the temple and had a child. Good for you, Molly. You made your bed. You can sleep in it. What I learned from this experience was that there was a market for a safe place to misbehave in Zion. There were 2 other guys living in my house, both of whom were in my student government club of misfit Mormons. One was in the Elder’s Quorum Presidency. The other was a pot dealer. We started testing the water with people we suspected might be on our team.

Here’s how you do that:

1. Identify a likely candidate based on Facebook pictures. Party attendance, association with known perpetrators, and immodest dress were all clues we factored in.

2. Extend a bold invitation in a sarcastic tone. Just say something like, “Do you want to come over for wine night tomorrow at our house?” But you say it in a joking tone so one of 2 things will happen. They will probably laugh and say “yeah, then you can come to my house for crack ha ha ha!” This is not the person you are looking for. On the other hand they might narrow their eyes, meet your gaze, wait for a second and in a low voice say “…seriously…?” This is probably your person. Sound sarcastic enough that they have to ask a few times, leaving you the option to back out and say you were joking in case you misjudged their genuine interest.

3. Follow-through. Have the friends you trust with you so the new member feels a sense of community and belonging that doesn’t have the strings attached that your FHE group did.

After we started opening our doors to the public it was amazing how much of a demand existed for the service we provided. A safe, non-jundgemntal place where nobody asked about your feelings about the church. It was totally irrelevant. I certainly didn’t want anyone asking about mine because I was having so much fun ignoring them. By the time we had enough people in our “community” that was bound to silence by the overshadow of mutually assured destruction (of our ecclesiastical endoresments of higher education), we no longer needed established “wine nights.” We had an open door policy, with the understanding that if you bring someone into our house, they are your responsibility. It could have been expensive stocking liquor for an entire college town, so I always kept a few vats of sangria on hand. It was cheap, plentiful, and even new drinkers liked it. The North Shore Mormon Sangria Speakeasy was born. And led to the eventual end of my education at Brigham Young University-Hawaii. But that is another story for another day.

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.Sangria40L