Friday, April 18, 2014

Honor, Revisited

Today was the first day of finals. I was supposed to have a final for my 20th-century American literature class. I didn't take it.

"I want you to understand that this decision has nothing to do with what you said about me," Brother Simmons told me yesterday. "You can think or say whatever you want about me. What you can't do is violate the Honor Code that you signed and expect to have a BYU diploma hanging on your wall."

"I haven't used my mutant ability in months, and when I did, I confessed it to my bishop." I had little hope that anything I could say--or was willing to say--would change Brother Simmons's mind, but I thought this worth mentioning.

"You know that's not the issue, Brother Christensen. Tell me this: Do you sustain Thomas S. Monson as a prophet, seer, and revelator?"

I sighed. It would be so easy to just say "yes." One word, and a week later I'd have my college degree. Just one word. But I couldn't. "No. I once believed he was a prophet, and I wish I still believed it, but I don't."

Brother Simmons nodded. "I understand. And I hope you understand, a degree from BYU is not just a certificate of academic achievement. It's also a symbol of spiritual achievement. It's a sign telling the world that you represent Brigham Young University, that you are the type of person this university produces. When you go out into the world with a BYU degree in hand, you go as a representative of Jesus Christ."

"What about Muslims or Jews or other non-members who attend BYU?"

"They also have to abide by the Honor Code."

"Which I've done!" I insisted. "I don't smoke, I don't drink, I don't have girls in my apartment after curfew, I even go to church every Sunday. I just don't believe in the church anymore. What's the difference between me and any other non-Mormon who goes to BYU?"

"The difference is that you had light and knowledge that they didn't, and you have rejected it."

I buried my face in my palms. "I can't choose what I believe. I just... do."

"I think," Brother Simmons said, putting a hand on my shoulder, "deep down, you still know the church is true. I understand where you're coming from--I'm sure it's difficult to resist the temptation of living a mutant lifestyle, so it's easier to believe there's no God. But I assure you, Brother Christensen, there is. And he never said it would be easy, but I promise you, it will be worth it."

I stood up, brushing his hand away. I was done. Take away my degree, tell me I'm violating the Honor Code because I don't believe what I used to, but I will not sit there and listen to you telling me what I do or do not know. "You understand nothing," I said on my way out the door. "If I wanted easy, we'd be having a very different conversation."

So that's that. I'm done. I'm no longer a BYU student, one week short of graduating. I considered taking my finals, just to say I did, but the official email I received later yesterday afternoon explained that my professors have been instructed not to let me participate in final exams. So where do I go from here? I don't know. I'll transfer to another school to finish my degree, if I can. Maybe go on to get a master's or a doctorate. I've heard horror stories about BYU not releasing transcripts of students kicked out for Honor Code issues, but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/zcameron/5874719413/
I've talked before about the Karl G. Maeser quote that the Honor Code Office claims as its motto:
Place me behind prison walls—walls of stone ever so high, ever so thick, reaching ever so far into the ground—there is a possibility that in some way or another I might be able to escape; but stand me on the floor and draw a chalk line around me and have me give my word of honor never to cross it. Can I get out of that circle? No, never! I’d die first.
It would have been so easy for me to tell Brother Simmons what he wanted to hear yesterday. There were no walls between me and that diploma; just a chalk line. One little step, and I'm on the other side. One simple lie. One word. I may have been expelled from BYU for violating the Honor Code, but I like to think Karl G. Maeser would recognize me as a man of honor.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Love One Another

Yes, Brother Simmons read my post last night, and yes, we talked about it today. But I don't want to talk about that right now. Right now I want to talk about Jan. It turns out Jan had one last lesson to teach me.

This evening Lucy and I attended an informal memorial service for Jan at Kiwanis Park in Provo. It wasn't her funeral. That will be held tomorrow morning at her family's ward chapel in Alabama. Greg let me know that for his part I'm welcome but that their dad knows who I am and has made it clear that he doesn't want me within fifty miles of the funeral. I considered going anyway--from what I know of Jan's dad, he doesn't deserve to be at her funeral--but finally I decided I don't want to make a scene. No matter how much of a jerk her dad is, I'm sure he loves her and I can't even imagine how terrible he must be feeling now. I don't want to make it worse. I can pay my respects to Jan in my own way. So that's what I did tonight.

First, let me get the crappy stuff out of the way: As you may have seen on the news, there were protesters at the memorial service. Protesters. At a memorial service. I can't even begin to understand these people. They were standing around the edges of the park, holding signs that said things like "The Wages of Sin is Death" and "God Hates Freaks." Lucy squeezed my hand when she saw me fuming as we passed the protesters. "Just ignore them," she said softly. I did, but it still makes me sick to think about it.

Okay, with that out of the way, we can get to the good stuff: There were probably a thousand people there at the park, gathered to celebrate Jan's life (compared to at most fifty protesters). People had come from every corner of Utah, from St. George to Logan. Some came from Idaho and Nevada and Arizona. I talked to one guy who flew in from New York after he read about Jan in the news and was touched by her story. For about two hours, people stood on a stage and talked about how Jan has touched their lives. Most were people she had healed, but some hadn't even met her--they were mutants who were inspired by her to come out of the closet and use their powers for good. It seemed like most of the people had some connection with the LDS church, ranging from active believers to angry apostates. But every one of them agreed on one thing: The world needs more people like Jan.


The service ended with everyone there joining hands and singing a Mormon hymn, "Love One Another." As we sang the simple words, "As I have loved you / Love one another," our voices drowning out the noise of the protesters behind us, my chest trembled. I couldn't even finish the song before I broke down in sobs. Lucy put her arms around me, and then suddenly random strangers were joining in, wrapping me in a group hug. The outpouring of love from people I've never met was almost as overwhelming as my grief for Jan.

I've heard people say that God is love. If that's true, then I believe in God.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Apology

I'm sorry I swore. As I've mentioned before, I'm really not one to swear. Take that as a sign of what a horrible week I've had.


I'm not sorry for what I said about Brother Simmons. I'm not taking the post down and I'm not taking back anything I've said. Even if it costs me my college degree, I don't care. All that matters to me is the truth. That's what Jan deserves. It's what I deserve. If I have to suffer the consequences of being honest, then so be it.

Lessons Learned

I'm blogging again because Brother Simmons at the Honor Code Office told me to. Yesterday at the daily check-in that we've been having since I was put on academic probation last week, I had to apologize for missing Monday's check-in because I'd been overwhelmed by Jan's death and not able to do much of anything at all. Brother Simmons already knew about Jan--he'd seen it in the news. "I'm really sorry for your loss," he said. "It's tragic to think what she could have done with her life if she hadn't thrown it away trying to push the mutant agenda."

My mouth dropped open. Was I actually hearing this? Putting the lives of others before your own is "trying to push the mutant agenda"? Really?

"Perhaps," he went on, "you can make the best of this tragic situation by learning from it and helping others do the same. Instead of using your blog to lead others away from the church, why don't you get back on there and tell people what you've learned from Jan's death?"


So here I am. I've spent the past day thinking about what I've learned from Jan's death, and this is what I've come up with:

  1. I learned that Jan was an amazing, selfless human being--even more than I realized when she was alive.
  2. I learned that life is short so we need to make the most of it now. If we wait for later, there might not be a later. Jan died younger than most but at least she made a positive impact on the world while she was here. I should do the same. 
  3. I learned that my belief in an afterlife is not as solid as it used to be. Maybe if I were sure that I'd see Jan again someday, I'd be able to handle this better, but I can't lie to myself, even if the lie might be comforting. The truth is, I have no idea what happens after death and I don't believe anyone really knows. Which sucks right now, but in the long run I think it will help me do better with #2. If there's an afterlife, then great, but in the meantime I need to make the most of the life I know I have. 
  4. I learned that sometimes really shitty things happen to really great people. But that's no reason not to do good. It's not about earning a reward; it's about doing good because you want to make the world a better place. 
And finally,

     5.  I learned that Brother Simmons at the Honor Code Office is a heartless prick.

I hope you're reading this, Brother Simmons. I assume this is what you had in mind? 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Update on Jan

Hi, everyone. This is "Lucy." Honestly, I'm not a fan of the blog name Ben gave me, but that's neither here nor there. I'm writing to give you all an update on Melanie Jensen, or as you know her, Jan. Unfortunately, she passed away yesterday afternoon. Apparently, all the healing she did in the past few months was just too much for her body. She had nothing left. I'm wiping away tears as I write this. Jan was such an extraordinary person and she touched so many lives, not least of all mine. I literally owe Jan my life. I wish I could have saved her like she saved me. At least she died while serving other people. I think she was happy with the choice she made, and I know that Heavenly Father will take her back into His loving arms and reward her for the good she did with her life.

Ben is not doing so well. He's really taking Jan's death hard. He was already dealing with a lot of pressure at school and struggling with his testimony, as you know, and I'm worried that this will be the thing that breaks him. I keep telling him to just take one day at a time. I know he'll be all right, and he'll see how this is all part of God's plan. But in the meantime, he can use any help he can get. Thank you to those of you who left kind comments in the past week--even though he hasn't been posting, he has seen your comments and he appreciates them. Most importantly, please pray for him. I really believe that your prayers will help him more than anything.

Monday, April 7, 2014

[Redacted]

Crap.

Crap, crap, crap.

I need to take a break from the blog for a bit. I don't know, I might have to take the whole thing down. I've worked too hard toward this degree to throw it all away two and a half weeks before graduating.


Sunday, April 6, 2014

Conference Weekend: Day 2

So. Conference is over. Marsha's cinnamon rolls were great, as usual. Which is a good thing, because I was feeling pretty crappy after fasting all day yesterday.

As far as the answers I was looking for? Results inconclusive. There were a bunch of talks that I liked, that made me want to be a better person. This weekend I saw an article about how LDS General Conference is like a bunch of TED talks, and I'd say that's a pretty accurate assessment. It's ten hours of motivational speakers, which is why everyone always feels so motivated after Conference. But the thing is, I want more. An ex-Mormon friend of mine once shared a graphic making fun of General Conference. It says "Come listen to a prophet, seer & revelator do none of those things." I don't particularly like the graphic because it's cynical and it's mean, but to be completely honest, it's true.


I remember growing up, twice a year I'd get excited for Conference, anxious for there to be some big revelation or prophecy. And what I got, every time, was motivational talks. If you read the Doctrine & Covenants, you'll see that Joseph Smith spoke directly for God all the time. Everything he did was revelation. And now, forgive me for being disrespectful, but we get stories about bringing dinner to little old ladies. Inspirational, yes, but revelation? No.

More than anything, I wish someone at Conference would speak directly to me. When I was a kid, the topic of mutants was never even mentioned. Now it's a regular thing, but nobody is talking to mutants. They're just talking about us. About how mutants are corrupting the moral fabric of society. How we're trying to change the definition of marriage. How it may not be popular to speak out against mutants, but it's the right thing to do. Nobody says, "Welcome, mutants! You are part of God's kingdom." Instead, we are constantly The Other.

It all leaves me feeling like I have no place in the church. Like I don't belong. And I'm starting to think that maybe that's my answer: When all is said and done, I don't belong in the church.