2007-02-13 : Exorcism
"What are you thinking about?" I said. Let's say that I was looking at the ceiling; I don't remember what I was actually looking at.
"How did you know I just thought something?" she said. Subtext complicated: it's wicked cool that you know I just thought something, Vincent, and consistent with [private], and I like you. However I didn't sign up to have you in my head, necessarily. Maybe I don't mind, but maybe I do.
The little tricks we do to impress our lovers.
I gave it away - I told her that you can hear it in people's breathing when they think of something. "Hm," she said. Subtext: skeptical. After that she used it on me, though, so that's fair.
When I turned 18, God's representatives anointed me with consecrated oil, lay their hands on my head, and ordained me an Elder of the Melchizedek Priesthood. This gave me, among other authorities, the authority to cast out devils. All of my friends - wait, they weren't my friends, they were just my fellow Mormon teenage boys, not one of them was my friend - but they all received the same ordination, and none of them knew what it meant. Might as well give a pig a driver's license.
For ten years I'd been training. I was, of my peers, uniquely ready. I went away to college an exorcist.
Is it to my honor or does it show my naiveté that I didn't use my training to get girls in bed? (Answer: both.) Because it probably hasn't ever occurred to you that going to college an exorcist could get you some serious play. It didn't to me. It took hindsight for me to figure that one out.
In LDS cosmology, if you're Mormon baptized and confirmed, you have two constant companions. (The rest of us have one constant companion, and our consciences muddle through as best they can on their own.) You have a devil and you have the Holy Ghost. The devil is one of Lucifer's followers, a soul like us but forever disembodied. They outnumber us, so there are plenty to go around; we all have our own personal devil, assigned to us by name (in mockery of the church's Priesthood assignments). The Holy Ghost is - I don't really know who. You know, the Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost.
Hold on, this first:
It's a truism that every Mormon church you go to, is the same. Every Sunday service is the same. Every priesthood meeting, every Sunday School class, every Young Women's class, every frickin' Fast and Testimony Meeting - they're all taught from the same lesson manual, everywhere you go. The people of every ward are the same too.
We moved several times when I was a kid. Every time, a couple of months after we'd moved in, my parents would have some other family over. This'd be after the official visits and the assigned friends; this'd be my folks finding their own. Another family, young, educated, not super active in the ward, more politically left than most Mormons, more critical in their thinking, interested in the history of the church and the nuances of its theology. Us kids thrown together, good luck and play nice, while over the course of the evening the parents' talk gets deeper, more honest and more strange.
I once overheard someone's parent, in such circumstances, maybe my own parent, speculating that the Holy Ghost is, in fact, Heavenly Mother.
Hey, you! The appropriate response to that isn't a blank look. It's a scared look, with your hand covering your mouth. You're in the presence of terrible blasphemy or divine revelation, here.
Meanwhile, your devil and the Holy Ghost. When you're baptized Mormon, 8 years old unless you're a convert, the next Sunday they lay hands on your head, confirm you, and give you the gift of the Holy Ghost. From then on, if you follow Its promptings, the Holy Ghost will guide you in your daily decisions and lead you always closer to Christ. Your goal next is to receive the second baptism, the baptism by fire. There's no ceremony for the baptism by fire, and practically no remaining institutional acknowledgement of it, but without it your next step, your endowment in the temple, won't do you any good. (10 to 1 that you didn't know this, Brand, Dave. If you did, hey, you're the ones my parents would have sought out and connected with.)
The point is, here you are making your decisions and making sense of what you're learning, you're a kid in school, and two other people are trying to participate in your decision making too. One's good for you and the other's bad. How can you tell which is which? Here's how: the spirit of the devil is the spirit of contention, while the Holy Ghost speaks in a still, small voice. If you consider something with your heart - your mind's a fool, it has to be your heart - and it makes your heart feel angry, afraid, lost, in shadow, or confused, that's the spirit of the devil. If it makes your heart feel at peace, illuminated, calm, content, warm, closer to Christ, that's the spirit of the Holy Ghost.
When my mom was little, Mormon girls were taught in Sunday School that it was appropriate and good for them to pray to their Heavenly Mother.
When I was little, I was taught in Sunday School that we should never mention our Heavenly Mother, because She was so precious to our Heavenly Father that He didn't want to risk Her suffering human blasphemy.
When I was older, I figured out that speaking of Heavenly Mother in the singular was a polite lie. A polite abstraction, let's say; I suppose there's some wiggle room.
Nowadays, the lesson manuals refer to "Joseph Smith and his wife" and "Brigham Young and his wife" with a perfect poker face, admitting no abstraction. Nowadays, go up to an 18-year-old Elder and ask him how many wives Joseph Smith had, he won't know. And if you tell him? "30-some wives, and did you know that some of them were 14 years old, and did you know that several of them were already married to other men?" - well, his heart won't feel at peace, will it?
(Here is a real-life example: an LDS player reacts to Dogs in the Vineyard's treatment of polygamy.)
If you're going to be an exorcist, the first thing you need to learn, you absolutely need to learn, is to perceive the devil. Now you can't perceive the devil directly, usually; instead you have to see him by his effect on the people around you.
The best world ever is when you have a Priesthood relationship with someone. When you're a father and they're your child, when you're a missionary and they're an investigator, when you're a bishop and they're a member in your ward, when you're a home teacher and they're your assignment. Under those circumstances, the Holy Ghost can and will reveal their heart to you, as frankly and as simply as that. They're like, whatever, and the Holy Ghost is like, time for you to exorcize that demon, Vincent, and you're like, bam, done.
(When you see me, ask me what it's like to be a kid when your dad can know the thoughts and intents of your heart, and can exorcise bad feelings out of you with a gesture and some words. Ask me and buy me a beer; you're in for some long talking.)
But even without stewardship, like say if you're going away to college at 18, where you don't have any kind of Priesthood relationship with your classmates and dormmates at all - even without it, you're still an exorcist and you can still be of enormous service to them. Devils are at work in their lives making them miserable; your service can give their consciences strength and protection. You're limited, but you still have the authority of God in Christ's name to cast demons out, and that's sure not nothing.
So! Good. Learn to see when your friends' hearts are troubled. Learn to see when they're at peace. Listen to them, and listen deeper. Attend closely to your own heart; attend closely to theirs. Tell your friends the truth that you hear underneath what they're saying, tell them what your heart has for them, show them how to hope and trust and try. Protect them where they're vulnerable and stand for them where they're weak, without asking; they won't know anyway, but attend to their hearts and your heart will know what to do. You're their servant, and God's servant, and God's arm -
And how about I could shut up any time now? I went to college an exorcist, but in the best possible case that's the snake-handlin' man, no better, and in my case it was the anxious, joyless little prig. Holy CRAP was I glad when it ended. Also, here's a smart Metafilter user's post about Ask Culture vs. Guess Culture, and I was 30 before I figured out that normal people don't show their appreciation by feeling guilty.
(And also, here's a non-link to Ron's "goofy, sexy, sought after." When you see him, buy him a beer and ask HIM.)
However, and despite it all, it does turn out that people do breathe differently when they're thinking of something. If my religious upbringing gave me nothing but some tricks to impress my lover - hey! Life is good.
1. On 2007-02-13, Vincent said:
2. On 2007-02-13, Dave Younce said:
3. On 2007-02-13, Vincent said:
4. On 2007-02-13, Vincent said:
5. On 2007-02-13, Ben Lehman said:
6. On 2007-02-13, Emily said:
7. On 2007-02-13, Vincent said:
8. On 2007-02-13, Vincent said:
9. On 2007-02-13, Dave Younce said:
10. On 2007-02-13, Vincent said:
11. On 2007-02-13, Ron Edwards said:
12. On 2007-02-13, Brand Robins said:
13. On 2007-02-13, Brand Robins said:
14. On 2007-02-13, NinJ said:
15. On 2007-02-13, Vincent said:
16. On 2007-02-13, Ben Lehman said:
17. On 2007-02-13, Matt Kimball said:
18. On 2007-02-13, Vincent said:
19. On 2007-02-13, Vincent said:
20. On 2007-02-13, Matt Kimball said:
21. On 2007-02-13, Brand Robins said:
22. On 2007-02-13, Julie, aka jrs said:
23. On 2007-02-14, Judd said:
24. On 2007-02-14, Vincent said:
25. On 2007-02-14, Vincent said:
26. On 2007-02-14, Meguey said:
27. On 2007-02-14, Larry Lade said:
28. On 2007-02-14, Dave Younce said:
29. On 2007-02-14, NinJ said:
30. On 2007-02-14, Brand Robins said:
31. On 2007-02-14, Brand Robins said:
32. On 2007-02-14, Ron Edwards said:
33. On 2007-02-14, Clinton R. Nixon said:
34. On 2007-02-14, Porter said:
35. On 2007-02-14, Dave Younce said:
36. On 2007-02-14, Brand Robins said:
37. On 2007-02-14, Dave Younce said:
38. On 2007-02-14, Matt Kimball said:
39. On 2007-02-14, Dave Younce said:
40. On 2007-02-14, Ron Edwards said:
41. On 2007-02-14, craniac said:
42. On 2007-02-14, Ben Lehman said:
43. On 2007-02-14, Vincent said:
44. On 2007-02-14, email@example.com said:
45. On 2007-02-15, Porter said:
46. On 2007-02-15, Vincent said:
47. On 2007-02-15, Ben Lehman said:
48. On 2007-02-15, Vincent said:
49. On 2007-02-15, Julie, aka jrs said:
50. On 2007-02-15, Blankshield said:
51. On 2007-02-15, Ben Lehman said:
52. On 2007-02-15, Julia said:
53. On 2007-02-15, Brand Robins said:
54. On 2007-02-15, MikeRM said:
55. On 2007-02-15, Mark W said:
56. On 2007-02-15, Blankshield said:
57. On 2007-02-16, wundergeek said:
58. On 2007-02-16, NinJ said:
59. On 2007-02-16, Dave Younce said:
60. On 2007-02-18, misuba said:
61. On 2007-02-18, Meguey said:
62. On 2007-02-18, Brand Robins said:
63. On 2007-02-19, Sydney Freedberg said:
64. On 2007-02-19, Ian Burton-Oakes said:
65. On 2007-02-20, xenopulse said:
66. On 2007-02-21, NinJ said:
67. On 2007-02-21, ffilz said:
68. On 2007-02-21, MikeRM said:
69. On 2007-02-22, xenopulse said:
70. On 2007-02-22, NinJ said:
71. On 2007-02-23, xenopulse said:
72. On 2007-02-23, Dave Younce said:
73. On 2007-02-23, NinJ said:
74. On 2007-02-23, Vincent said:
75. On 2007-02-23, Dave Younce said:
76. On 2007-02-23, Sydney Freedberg said:
77. On 2007-02-23, NinJ said:
78. On 2007-02-23, Axel said:
79. On 2007-02-23, xenopulse said:
80. On 2007-02-23, Sydney Freedberg said:
81. On 2007-02-23, Axel said:
82. On 2007-02-25, Sydney Freedberg said:
83. On 2007-02-25, MikeRM said:
84. On 2007-02-25, MikeRM said:
85. On 2007-02-26, Avram said:
86. On 2007-02-26, NinJ said:
87. On 2007-02-26, Sydney Freedberg said:
88. On 2007-02-26, NinJ said:
89. On 2007-02-26, MikeRM said:
90. On 2007-02-27, Avram said:
91. On 2007-02-27, NinJ said:
92. On 2007-03-02, Larry L said:
93. On 2007-03-02, Sydney Freedberg said: