Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Mormon Stories Local Communities

By Mister Curie

As part of my visit to NYC to see the Book of Mormon musical, I also attended a Mormon  Stories conference.  The conference was an attempt to build a local community of support for liberal and non-traditional Mormons.  I enjoyed myself immensely.  In part due to the successful experience, John Dehlin is attempting to expand the effort by starting geographically organized facebook groups which will help to organize local support networks.  You can sign up for a group in your area by visiting the Mormon Stories local Communities page.  I have agreed to administer the facebook site for the Philadelphia, PA group.  So, if any of my readers are local to the Philadelphia area and would like to join the local support network, visit our facebook page and request to join: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_198752526826037

Monday, March 28, 2011

Modern Mormon Pageant

By Mister Curie

I went and saw the Book of Mormon on Broadway this past Friday, on Opening Weekend.  Ultimately the church newsroom got it about right when they said it will "attempt to entertain audiences for an evening." It was hilarious. I laughed nearly non-stop. It was a very entertaining evening. The musical does not pretend to try to "change people's lives forever" and I think there is very little to fear that the musical is going to ultimately push people away from Christ or even from Mormonism.

For individuals on the fence about whether or not to go see it, I think a good rule of thumb is to apply the "South Park" test.  To apply this test, watch the South Park episode, "All About the Mormons" and if you are offended, you should avoid the musical.  There is plenty to offend people if they "choose to be offended" (course language that resulted in requiring an "explicit language" warning printed on all the tickets, satire at the expense of sacred Mormon themes, potty humor/sexual humor). However, very little of the musical derived humor at the expense of Mormons in particular, unlike how I felt about their South Park episode which seemed to be mostly about mocking Mormon beliefs. Most of the humor is situational, internally derived in the play. You laugh at the characters and the caricatures because of their characters and situations, not because they are Mormon. The stage effects, choreography, and music are all amazing! I am still humming the catchy tunes.

Initially upon leaving the theater, I felt heart-warmed, satisfied, and thought it was a very funny musical.  I had been well entertained for the evening.  But the musical has really stuck with me and upon further reflection and discussion with others who also saw it, I find the musical to be a very complex production filled with multiple layers of story and insight.  While a non-Mormon audience will find one layer of humor and a Mormon audience will find another layer of humor with specific gems included just for them, I think there are further layers for those audiences in particular that frequent my blog, the gay Mormons and disaffected Mormons.

For the gay Mormons, there is a gay Mormon missionary supporting character who is struggling with his same gender attraction (there is also a real gay Mormon actor in the play, although he does not play the gay Mormon missionary character).  The gay Mormon missionary gets a prominant role in the song "Turn it Off!", a song about turning off uncomfortable feelings that don't fit into the church paradigm, like doubts, depression, and homosexual feelings.  The character provides a humerous critique at church policies on homosexuality.  I think the creators have identified homosexuality as one of those areas in particular where society is moving much more quickly than the church and there is beginning to be a lot of dissonance between church culture and American culture when it comes to homosexuality.  I think there is a message of self-acceptance and the dangers of denying one's true self in the subtext of the play.

For the disaffected Mormons, I think the play's theme and message is directed most specifically toward them, but maybe that is just because I fit so well into that demographic that the layer of the play that spoke most to me was the one directed at disaffected Mormons.  One of the plays main story arcs is the journey of the main character, Elder Price, from a deeply devouted missionary to disaffected Mormon when he discovers the church doesn't work in the world the way he thought it would to an individual with more complex beliefs who accepts that something doesn't have to be true to be do good in the world.  I felt that Elder Price's faith journey encapsulated Fowler's Stages of Faith and I really identified with his character during his faith crisis in the second act.  Ultimately, Elder Price ended his faith journey further ahead of where I currently am on my faith journey.

There are so many layers to the musical, I think I am going to have to go back to see it again.  Perhaps I was too quick in concluding that it wouldn't "change people's lives forever."  I may yet find in it an essential clue for coming to grips with Mormonism's past role and future place in my life.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Mormon Murder Musings

By Mister Curie

My intention in posting news links yesterday was not because I was trying to make a point about Mormonism, homosexuality, religion, etc.  I posted them because I am in shock at the news.  These are actual people that I have attended church with, talked to, and prayed with. I spent the day reflecting and sifting through ward gossip.

Neither individual, murderer or murdered, is a product of Mormonism.  John Thomas converted to the church a couple of years ago.  I was struck with the intensity of his passion for the church.  I first met John Thomas when he was an investigator with the missionaries.  I was walking home from work one evening and he street contacted me, asking me if I had ever heard of the Book of Mormon.  He shared his testimony of the Book of Mormon with me and how meeting the missionaries had changed his life and of his excitement to be baptized.  He had moved from one religion to another, searching for the truth, which he felt he had finally found.  I felt a bit inadequate after meeting him, as here was someone who was so excited about the Gospel that he was willing to share it with complete strangers, while I had a difficult time even sharing it with friends and coworkers.  After being baptized he was constantly trying to share the gospel  with his friends and complete strangers alike.

John Thomas gave off a little bit of a weird vibe, he seemed a little bit off.  His first testimony after being baptized was sincere and heart-felt, and filled with King James Bible phraseology.  But there wasn't anything in his conduct that ever made me think he was capable of murder.

John Thomas was good friends with Murray Seidman.  It was with the encouragement of John Thomas that Murray began to investigate the church.  They were often together and inseparable.  As new converts they were fellowshipped extensively by our ward.  I have a ward friend who had them both over for dinner shortly before the murder.  Murray also gave off a bit of a weird vibe, he was slow mentally, but seemed kind-hearted.  He had spent his young adulthood in a facility for mentally handicapped individuals, but was eventually able to get a job working in the laundry for a local hospital.  He worked there for 40 or so years before retiring.  He was not rich.  He had no assets that I know of (rented an apartment, no car, etc.) and was in retirement.

Sadly I did not know either of them in any more depth than the typical Mormon knows another ward member's life.  I was unaware, as the article points out, that they first met while Murray was working in the hospital laundry and John Thomas was a patient in the psych ward, before either were members of the church, as I understand it.  I didn't know that John Thomas was diagnosed with schizophrenia and needed to be medicated, which would explain some of the sense of oddness that things in his personal interactions were just a little off.

Just a few months ago, sometime that I believe was between the murder and the arrest, I ran into John Thomas again on the street.  It was dark and I was taking the garbage to the curb as the next day was trash day.  It was winter and being bundled up and in the dark, I didn't recognize him.  But he recognized me.  After walking past me, he turned around.  I suddenly felt a bit of adrenaline as a seeming stranger turned around and moved back toward me.  Then he said, "Hey! I go to church with you!"  Still not recognizing him, I asked his name.  "I'm John Thomas" he replied.  I suddenly felt at ease with the recognition of who it was.  We chatted briefly and somewhat awkwardly, then he moved to resume his journey, stating that he was going to a friend's house.

So it was with shock that I heard the news today from a ward friend that John Thomas was arrested for the murder of Murray Seidman.  And I was further shocked by the bizarre news of an Old Testament stoning for homosexuality.  Happily, as a society, we have largely moved to a higher morality than the stoning practiced in Old Testament times, and even the most religious among us fails to give serious heed to those biblical injunctions, regardless of how inerrant they view the bible.  I don't think this was a case of religion leading someone to believe they should murder.  This is a case of mental illness leading to a divorcement of mental capacities from rational thinking.  Another ward friend who was closer to John Thomas than I was, told me that John Thomas had decided to stop taking his medicine, believing he did not need it and that sincere prayer would be sufficient.  Apparently it was not.

I don't know that a rational motive can be established in this case, I think the actions were probably the result of a diseased mind.  The wealth motive rings hollow because Murray did not have any wealth or assets to speak of, but what wealth could a diseased mind conjure up?  The religious motives also do not reflect my experiences with the teachings of Mormonism or with current ethical interpretation of scriptural passages in any religious tradition, but what horrors can a diseased mind do with religion?

Schizophrenia and other mental illness often have a habit of latching on to extreme religious thoughts.  As a 1st year medical student, I remember visiting the psych ward and interviewing a schizophrenic patient with a small group of my classmates.  We sat down with the patient and asked his name.  "You know the bible?" he responded.  "The Beginning and the End. Alpha and Omega. That's me."

And so I  return  to the bizarre news that a Mormon  from my ward, who I knew as an odd but devout and sincere believer, has confessed to murdering another member of my ward by stoning to death for "unwanted homosexual advances".  I will probably never understand it because it is beyond understanding how the mind goes wrong in the diseased state and what horrors it can lead to. And yet I seek to understand and to find something more.  I understand the desire to find implications in the story for Mormonism, homosexuality, religion, etc. because I am seeking for them too.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

LGBT-related Modern Mormon Murder In My Local Ward

By Mister Curie

I am reeling from this news.

One Mormon in my ward killed another Mormon in my ward by stoning to death for supposed "homosexual advances", trying to follow the biblical injunction that homosexuals should be stoned. While I wasn't close with either, I had seen them both at church. I actually had spoken unknowingly with the murderer between the murder and arrest. Both were converts within the past 2 years or so.

I guess this is one explanation for why the ward has left us alone so much. There were much bigger issues than a couple of apostates leaving the church . . . WOW!

I don't know what to do with this information.  So I am posting a couple of links while I process through this.

EDIT: I have updated my blog with some personal reflections on the murders here.

Story that confirms the Mormon Connection: http://www.delcotimes.com/articles/2011 ... 746326.txt

Video story here: http://abclocal.go.com/wpvi/story?secti ... id=8020716