Monday, February 24, 2014

The First (and Probably Last) Time I'll Ever Write About Something in the Ensign

If you're a Mormon or have Mormon friends and have seen the internet at all in the past few weeks, you've probably heard something about the article in the Ensign, "The Lord's Standard of Morality," by Elder Tad R. Callister.  It was based on a devotional address given at BYU-Idaho (read it here).  After reading both things and reading lots of Opinions about both things, I'd like to add a few of my own thoughts while trying not to be redundant with what has already been said.*

Now, before I start, I should make a few things clear:  I have a testimony of the Law of Chastity as taught by the Mormon church.  It's a really good and important principle that is in place to save God's children from a lot of pain.  I also believe in dressing modestly, not only as a result of sacred promises I made to God that require me to cover a proportion of my body, but also for my own personal reasons (that have not a lot to do with men).  Aside from the modesty bit, a fair amount of what Elder Callister said is just fine, but I would like to talk about three things that I would have changed.

  1. The Title.  According to the Google dictionary, morality means "principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior."  This is a lot more than just sexual purity, but somehow the two have become synonymous in Mormon culture.**  You can be the most celibate, non-dirty-thought having person in the world, but if you're cheating on your taxes, screwing over people who trust you, and overall being a jerk, you're not living a morally-clean lifestyle.  The address should have just been called "The Lord's Standard of Sexual Purity."
  2. The Lack of Victim Acknowledgement.  Elder Callister spent a lot of time talking about sexual sin, but in that time, he failed to acknowledge that victims of rape and sexual assault/abuse/harassment are NOT guilty of sin.  This is, thankfully, stated in the church's For the Strength of Youth manual, but it should have been reiterated in his address, especially since it was given on a college campus, where such things are more common.
  3. The Approach to Repentance.  I was very glad there was a section about repentance and about the Atonement because those are some of the happiest things about the Gospel.  However, I hated the line "it is always better to remain clean than to sin and repent thereafter."  I get what Elder Callister is trying to say:  you shouldn't take a "sin now, repent later" approach to life, but it's not a stretch to interpret this as "people who never sinned are better than people who have sinned and repented."  This mindset could be really damaging to the self-esteem of the priesthood holder who is recovering from a porn addiction or the female convert who wasn't a virgin when she joined the church or anyone else who has screwed up in any way but was really glad that the Atonement was there when they needed it.  In short, this whole part could have been worded very differently.
Again, I love the Gospel, even though being a Mormon is weird and culturally uncomfortable a lot of the time (especially when White men over fifty try to talk to young people about sex).  One great thing about articles like this that profoundly illustrate the weirdness is that it gets people talking and allows the "different" voices to be heard, and this is what brings about change.



*In other words, I won't talk about modesty or rape culture or the definition of "self abuse."  Although I will say that I'm annoyed when people praise modesty for "leaving more to the imagination" (this was in the devotional address, but it got left out of the Ensign article, thankfully).  Doesn't that just mean that guys will be imagining my naked body no matter what I wear, in which case I should just be naked all the time so at least they'll be imagining it accurately?
**Maybe because lots of Mormons are afraid of the word "sex."

Friday, February 14, 2014

Perks

I have spent exactly one Valentine's day as a not-single person.  That was not even my best Valentine's day (actually, thinking about it now, that day was kind of stressful and not-great).  My favorite Valentine's day was last year.  I was in Farmington, CT, for a grad school interview, and I was staying in this wonderfully charming inn where, thanks to an unforeseen conflict of sexually-ambiguous names, I ended up with a room all to myself.  It was wonderfully romantic, just me, the freshly-fallen New England snow, a queen-sized bed with fresh sheets, and a flat screen TV that got all the channels.

As many of my friends will, like me, be flying solo this February 14th, I thought I would enumerate some of my favorite features of a Valentine's Day alone (and by "alone" I mean literally by myself, not just "single").
  1. Sweatpants.
  2. All of the neighbors have plans so the laundry room is ALL MINE.
  3. I can eat spicy Indian curries for dinner without fear of mood-killing gastrointestinal complications.
  4. I can have seconds of the spicy Indian curry without someone being like, "really?  you're going to eat all that?"
  5. In bed by 9:30 pm (although, I guess some couples spend their V-Days this way as well...wink, wink.)
  6. Did I already say sweatpants?
Maybe I didn't have as many perks as I thought.  I guess if you're not in a relationship or elementary school, Valentine's Day is kind of just another day.  I will say that I'm not anti-Valentine's Day, but I am anti-anti-Valentine's Day, in that I tend to steer clear of activities where the theme is "we're single so let's have a girl's night and talk about how boys suck and how love is stupid!"  Probably because I don't care all that much, and I'm actually a fan of people loving whom they love if they're happy about it.

Be happy, and Happy Valentine's Day.


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Jeremy Messersmith!

I used to pride myself on not being one of those women at concerts who, when the cute, guitar-wielding lead singer comes on stage, gets all awkward and swoony.  It turned out, however, that I just haven't been to very many concerts, because, last night, I did exactly that thing.*

Jeremy Messersmith's Heart Murmurs release show at the Brighton Music Hall was "legit" concert number two for me (Kate Nash was my first).  Don't feel bad if you haven't heard of Jeremy Messersmith...not many people have.  I don't mean that in a "I'm such a hipster" way, but rather in a "it's really sad that not more people have heard this guy's music" kind of way.  The perk to him not being super well-known is that the venue was extremely not crowded.  So much so that I go to be SO FREAKING CLOSE to the stage!  I could touch it (I didn't, because germs, but I could have).  But since I was so close, I had an excellent view of Jeremy (can I just call him Jeremy? is that okay?) and his band.

This is the best picture my phone has ever taken.
--I guess, if I'm being a real "reviewer" here, I should mention that there was an opening act.  Her name was Tristen.  She was folk-rock-ish.  She had a great voice, and I liked a lot of her songs, though a few felt a little derivative, but they were derivative of things I liked, so it was okay.  There was one called "Into the Sun" that I really liked, but it also made me very sad because it was about old married people dying, and that's generally very sad.  But back to Jeremy Messersmith--

The band was really great.  They all looked like they were auditioning to be Jeremy Messersmith stunt doubles, except for the bassist, who was Mr. Clean bald and about a hand taller than everyone else.  Also, it seemed like they really liked each other and were having a great time making music together.  Musically, the concert was fantastic.  Everything was really tight and spot on and in tune, both vocally and instrumentally.  I was especially impressed by the drummer.  Normally my opinion of percussion is "it's there...it keeps the beat," but this was some amazing and creative drumming.

Here is the set-list (with notes, because I'm a dork who takes notes during shows):
  • "Tourniquet" - Such a strong opening.  It was like,"we're here and we will stop your profuse bleeding!" (because the song is called Tourniquet)
  • "Lazy Bones" - I was really happy that they played a lot of songs from The Reluctant Graveyard as that was the album that I know the best.
  • "It's Only Dancing" - I would purchase Heart Murmurs for this song alone.
  • "Knots" - Another one of my favorites from The Reluctant Graveyard
  • "Dillinger's Eyes" - This one was the most fun to watch.  The four guys onstage just looked like they were enjoying themselves so much and it was great.
  • "Bridges" - I don't remember this one very well.  It's probably because I made eye contact with Jeremy for a millisecond and my brain stopped functioning.  I was so close to the stage, guys.
  • "One Night Stand" - This one was hilarious, and it had a twist at the end that made it even better.
  • "Steve" - I couldn't tell if this song was supposed to be from the point of view of a man or a woman...but I think that was part of the beauty of it.
  • "Tatooine" - This is apparently one of his more popular songs, but I fell asleep during Star Wars and therefore didn't get the reference.
  • I don't know the name of this one--I'm going to say it was called "I don't trust that boy to break your heart" or possibly "et cetera."  But I may have almost cried during it because it was also kind of about old married people dying.
  • "A Girl, a Boy, and a Graveyard" - So before this concert, this song had some Associations (note the capital A).  But now my association is this:  "I heard this live and it was awesome."  Music therapy accomplished!
  • "Organ Donor" - Oh my gosh.  This was the first Jeremy Messersmith song I ever heard, and it is also my favorite Jeremy Messersmith song, because any song that can be that musically interesting and also about embalming deserves to be one's favorite.  I geeked out.  So much.  I will say it was weird without the strings (they whistled instead, which was impressive because I can't whistle well), but the percussion was great.
  • "Hitman" - The climax of this song may have cost me some of my cochlear hair cells, but it was worth it.  Also another stellar drum performance.
  • "Violet" - Audience participation!  We were divided into three groups to sing the bridge of this one.  The group I was in had a fun part, but sadly, it was not in a lady-friendly key (actually, very few of his songs are), so I couldn't belt it out as much as I wanted.
  • "Ghost" - This was a song that I liked in the moment but couldn't for the life of me tell you how it goes right now.  Must listen to it more.
  • "Someday, Someone" - This one was cute, unexpected F-word notwithstanding.
Such a wonderful concert.  I loved it so much.  But here's the best part:  I got to meet Jeremy Messermith afterwards!!  I would not have had the courage to do it had I not run into a friend and his friends who also decided to go meet him, but it was so cool.  I mean, I'm sure that artists are instructed to not be jerks to people in order to maintain good PR, but I think that Jeremy Messersmith was a legitimately nice human being.  He didn't just go through the motions of taking pictures and signing stuff, but he made real conversation with everyone who came to talk to him, even though, statistically, there were probably at least two sociopaths in attendance.  I got to stand next to him and take a picture (which I will not post because the person who took it didn't turn the flash off so it's terribly over-exposed, but it's on Facebook, if we're friends), and I told him about how my roommate and I learned "A Girl, a Boy, and a Graveyard" on the ukulele and he humored me by responding positively to that.**

Even though I've only been to two concerts, this one was probably my favorite, in respect to both the music and the experience.***  So, Jeremy Messersmith, should you be reading this for some crazy reason, thank you so much for coming to my city.  Come in the fall next time.

You can find information about Jeremy Messersmith (music, upcoming tour dates, &c.) at his website: jeremymessersmith.com



*But in an appropriate "I recognize that you're married; I just really love your music" kind of way.
**And last night, I lay awake for a good number of minutes thinking about how dumb that probably sounded.  At least I didn't say something really lame like "your [songs] will stand the test of time."
***I still love you, Kate Nash.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

"Mean Girls" and Mormonism

Sitting at church today I started thinking a lot about the movie "Mean Girls."  For those of you who haven't seen it, here's a link to the synopsis (and also, where have you been for the last ten years?).  It was Fast and Testimony meeting, and as people were bearing their testimonies, the following Regina George quote popped into my head:
"Can I just say that we don't have a clique problem at this school?"
This is a picture of Regina George.
This is not going to be a post about the clique problems in the Boston singles wards (although there definitely are clique problems in the Boston singles wards), but rather it's about a broader thing.  Regina George insisted that there were no cliques at the school because she was the head of the cliques.  She was at the top of the world and therefore she didn't see the issues that could only be seen from the bottom.  (This is also not going to be a post about church hierarchy and infrastructure, although it could be very easily.)

In every ward or branch or stake, there are the Regina Georges.  This is not to say that they're mean people, because often, they're very nice.  But they're the people who bear their testimonies as if the Gospel were so obvious; they're the ladies who comment in Relief Society about their awesomely strong relationships with their Heavenly Father; they're the friends who comment on Facebook every six months about how much they love fifteen old White men whom they've probably never met; they're the ones who hold 90% of the leadership positions in your ward or stake.  They're the people whom you look at and think, "has anything about the Gospel ever been difficult for you in your whole life?"

I had made some comments about this article a while back, because I totally agreed with all of it.  Church is really hard and makes me feel very isolated sometimes, and my Regina George thought allowed me to elaborate on why that is:
  • Someone who has never had negative experiences with church leaders might not understand why a member might have trouble trusting a bishop or stake president.
  • People who so easily and without question accept that God loves everybody might have trouble relating to someone who isn't sure that God cares about them all that much (and vice versa).
  • Members who deal with depression, anxiety, &c., might feel very skeptical about opening up to home or visiting teachers who seem to be so happy all the freaking time.
And now I know what you're going to say:  but Alex, nobody is perfect, everyone has struggles.  And what I want to say to that is, "then show us your struggles, for goodness' sake!!!"  I'm not saying that church has to turn into a giant Festival of Sadness where we talk about all of our feelings and then do trust falls, but it's a huge fallacy in Mormonism that we have to be cheerful scatterers of sunshine all the livelong day.  Imagine if all of the seemingly-perfect people in church stopped doing all of the things that made them seemingly-perfect.  They'd be just like the rest of us who happen to suck at hiding our imperfections.  Maybe then the people who feel like outsiders would feel comfortable starting a dialogue; maybe then they'd realize that everyone* is kind of an outsider.  Maybe then we'd be something slightly resembling Zion.

Maybe Zion is like that scene at the end of "Mean Girls" where everyone is kind of just chilling on the lawn and all of the cliques are dissembled and everyone seems to be cool with everyone else.



*or, at least 90% of everyone.  Some people are just annoyingly that perfect.