Tag Archives: temple marriage

Tormented Middle-Aged Mormon Dad Recalibrates in a California River

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Fillerup, Michael.  Beyond the River.  Salt Lake City:  Signature Books, 1995.

Forty-one year old Jon Reeves, burdened with  family and financial obligations, church callings. and too many unfulfilled dreams, is in the throes of a mid-life crisis, something Mormons in good standing aren’t necessarily supposed to have.  Instead of writing the Great American Novel, he’s toiling away at educational grants in the basement of the high school where he used to teach–not to mention that fact that his teenaged daughter is questioning her faith, his son is being traumatized by a bully, and his youngest lives with a life-threatening illness.  Jon, in his words has been so “snarly” to his wife, Natalie, lately that his “absence will be a reprieve.”  An impromptu solo trip to the Sacramento Valley river of his youth incites a flood of memories:  the brilliant and tragic high school girl who compelled him to be a writer, his struggles  football, his humbling mission to Mexico, his domineering father, his time at BYU where he meets and marries Natalie, who seems to know exactly what she wants from life.  At the river, Jon wrestles the demons from his past, yells at God, and  finds the courage to return to his life and make it better than it is.

Key Quotes: Jon Reeves to his Bishop:   “‘Why would I want to become like God?  Myriads of beings and so many kids they’d have to wear name tags for me to keep them straight.  I can’t even handle the three I have.  Kingdoms, dominions, world without number . . . It sounds like a great big administrative headache'” (172).

“What’s their point!  All of this fasting and praying and handshaking and right-hand-raising and scripture searching, tithe-paying, pew sitting, head-nodding, yes Bishop Finley, no Bishop Finley . . . We do all these things, but it doesn’t do any good–doesn’t do me any good” (144).

What Makes it Marginal: An ease and openness with metaphysical doubt; Jon, a member of the bishopric, confesses his problems with deep Mormon doctrine to the bishop; scenes of temptation and nearly succumbing to temptation; many moments of questioning and doubt; as a full-time missionary, Jon draws a quasi-erotic rendering of a young investigator in his journal; Jon strips off his temple garments in a stifling mountain cabin with a twinge of guilt.

What  Makes it Mormonal: Family members take their church callings seriously, the intimacy and ease of the conversations with God, conventional faith-affirming missionary moments.

My Two Cents: Told mostly in internal monologue and taking a tone of near desperation, Michael Fillerup may have written the first Mormon complaint novel that comes from a place of belief. Honest and frank about how strict adherence to a faith can, at times, hinder more help, and in spite the cliché of finding oneself by losing oneself (and in nature–another easy trope), I found it affecting.

Swarthy Bostonian Converts, Makes Disfellowshipped Orem RM’s Life Even More Complex

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Bigelow, Christopher Kimball. Kindred Spirits.  Provo, Utah:  Zarahemla, 2007.

Returned missionary and ex-patriate Utahan, Eliza Spainhower unwittingly meets a potential mate when she leaves “pass-along cards” for proselytizing  cards on a Boston subway car. As fervent a Mormon as she is, Eliza’s been disfellowshipped from full membership due to a recent sexual indiscretion that she’s still trying to repent from. This new man (“a dark Easterner” ) Eric–a non-Mormon who she thinks could be converted–is making the path back difficult, however, and Eliza will test the limits of her own repentance process as she tries to simultaneously convert Eric and become intimately involved in his complex life.

What makes it Marginal: A general irreverence or realistic/humanistic view of sacred rituals:  for example, Eliza laughs at the way her father looks in his baptismal clothes.  Realistic and sympathetic view of Wicca.  Descriptions of pre-marital sexual activity.  Respectful allusions to alternative/scholarly Mormon-themed journals like Sunstone and Dialogue. Eliza has a tarot reading.  Descriptions of non-doctrinal Mormon beliefs.

What makes it Mormonal: Mormon characters readily allude to spiritual experiences:  Eliza’s mother mentions seeing the spirit of dead son in a priesthood blessing circle. Eric admires Eliza’s parents lavish food storage: there is a missionary guided tour of Temple Square, a priesthood blessing, frank discussions of deep Mormon doctrine, and detailed scenes of Eric’s baptism, and a family sealing ceremony in the novel’s epilogue.  Eliza’s father and uncles are  named after Nephite military officers from the Book of Mormon

Key Quotes: “She told herself that she drank instant decaf simply for the good flavor, but she knew deep down that she was being a little passive-aggressive toward the church” (12).

“After that she never binged and purged again, but she sometimes wondered about Hanniah, trying to remember more about her.  Why had Hanniah chosen to take the devil’s side? Had Eliza almost followed on that path?  As a tempting spirit, had Hanniah been whispering evil ideas into Eliza’s head since she’d reached the age of accountability?” (106).

My two cents: The fact that Zarahemla publisher Bigelow self-published this title  might make it easy to dismiss, but Bigelow confidently channels Levi S. Peterson‘s earthy realism, making a relatively conventional redemption/conversion narrative feel original, in a large part due to Bigelow’s obvious fascination with non-doctrinal Mormon beliefs which he  at times bumps up against Wiccan beliefs and practices.

Two Virgins Have the Same Naughty Dreams

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Woodbury, Eugene. The Path of Dreams. Portland: ME: Peaks Island Press, 2007. Print.

While serving a Mormon mission in Japan, Elaine Cheiko Packard (Elly) has erotically charged dreams featuring a young man she spotted only once and briefly on a train platform. Now a returned missionary and a student at Brigham Young University in Provo, Elly runs into the “lover” from her dreams: fellow BYU-student Connor McKenzie, and it turns out the dreaming has been mutual. In fact, stateside, their respective dreams have grown even more intense, despite the fact that the two have barely spoken to each other. Even Connor’s reading of the classic Church-sanctioned repentance tome The Miracle of Forgiveness does not keep the dreams at bay. In Elly’s case, the dreams have her so certain she will marry Connor, that she procures birth control pills even before they’ve scheduled a first date. After four weeks of chaste and rather breathless meetings on campus and a Sunday dinner or two at Connor’s aunt’s, they marry in the Provo temple, move into the aunt’s basement and continue a simple life as married humanities students. Then they get mild intimations that respective dead ancestors had arranged this marriage all along.

What Makes it Marginal: Allusions to and mild descriptions of sexual relations (in the context of dreams and post-marital), wet dreams, relatively frank discussions of adolescent quasi-sexual activity, Elly frankly–and with some surprise and unfettered delight–informs her former roommate/missionary companion that sex is “fun.” Elly refers mentally one of Connor’s relatives as a “son of a bitch.”

What Makes it “Mormonal:” Two devout returned missionaries culminate the narrative with a hastily arranged temple marriage and then weeks later return to the temple to act as proxies in the sealing of dead relatives.

Key Quote: “”Nothing in his personal experience [. . .] could have provided him with the substance of his dreams. / Connor was still a virgin. Common enough among Mormons his age” (11).