I often contemplate on selfishness, and no, I do not mean the context of the word that implies greed and negative action. I am simply addressing that it is easy in our world to wonder how much responsibility we have to other people. Their desires. Their feelings. Their emotions. Ignoring these things simply makes you a perpetual jerk, but prioritizing these things will never allow you to embrace who you really are. You will always be living for someone else. This is not always an easy thing, when those needs and desires conflict with each other. As I have pondered and lamenting your leaving, I have returned to this often. I told you to be true to yourself. I told you that this was the most important thing you could do. I have returned to that discussion often, upon thinking about how the only way you could be true to yourself, was to leave. It felt foreign, selfish, and thoughtless for quite a long time. Until I remembered, I too have fractured those bonds, out of a driving need to find my own authenticity. Sometimes loosing faith in everything, is how you find faith in yourself. In order to make sense of these stories, you need to understand one thing. According to Mormon theology, I am lost.
Fishers of Men
“Yes, Elder Trane.”
“Why do you always sign up to go to baptisms?”
“What do you mean? Do you not like doing baptisms?”
“No, it is not that at all, but most of the other Elders, divide their time. They do an endowment session one day, and a baptism session the next. I just have noticed that we only ever do the one.”
“I’m hungry to get into the field and start baptizing the masses, elder. Just getting in some practice.”
And the shorter missionary that I had been assigned to as a companion upon our entry into the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah seemed satisfied with that response. I breathed an invisible sigh of relief. There were still a couple of weeks left here before reporting to Kansas City, and Elder Trane was already suspicious.
I had spent my first six years endowed with the Holy Power of God as first a Deacon, then at fourteen, a Teacher, then finally, at sixteen, a Priest. I had actually been a full Warlock, to continue my metaphor, calling upon the Lord to bless the Sunday Sacrament for two years. Other new deacons now prepared and passed the communion. But at eighteen, everything changed again. A Mormon boy graduated from Aaron Power to Moses Power. Or, in Dungeons & Dragons terms, he leveled up.
When you graduate high school, you also graduate Seminary (the high school equivalent to Catholic Catechism), and a special course begins: a course to prepare you for entering the Holy Temple. Which, nobody has talked to you about, or allowed questions of, your entire life. It is the greatest hallowed mystery of growing up within Mormonism. Once again, I was blessed by men with heavy hands pressing down on my head, and I was made an Elder, the lowest rank of the Melchizedek Priesthood. A higher form of spiritual magic, if you will. One year remained to learn about this most sacred of places, before entering for my own endowments.
A Mormon Temple functions for three specific functions: the performing of Eternal marriages and sealings, baptisms for the dead, and the endowments for the dead. As Mormon Youth, we had been participants in baptisms for the dead since turning twelve. But we didn’t need a special class to get baptized for dead people. We just aged right into it, and went on happy youth trips.
Being baptized for a dead person was really no different than being baptized yourself as an eight year old. In fact, the ritual is almost exactly the same, except that your name is replaced with the name of another, followed by the phrase, who is dead, and you are baptized for a lot of them at once. Sometimes as many as eighty or a hundred in a session. You learn to hold your nose and take quick breaths between dunkings. That was really as profound as the Temple got, but the first endowment session, was on a whole other level, and it is meant to be life altering. The most pure vision a person can have of Celestial Glory while still on this Earth.
In terms of an active participant in furthering Heavenly Father’s Plan, I had completed my training as a Warlock with the power to turn water and bread into wine and flesh. I had graduated into the spiritual realm of the dead. And I became a Necromancer.
Talk about leveling up.
“Still, we ought to take advantage of the opportunity to do a few endowments before we take off in a couple of weeks. There is no Temple in Kansas City.”
I clenched my teeth together for my face to stay stone. No chance for a smile to escape. Or be seen.
Visions of people from my youth. Scoutmasters. Bishops. Teachers. My parents. Everybody in regalia of white and green. Visions of the the eyes of Satan. I shook my head, as if I had been lost in a drifting happy thought and was coming back to the conversation.
“I don’t know about you, Elder Trane, but I am much more nervous about making sure I have baptisms down before we start doing it for real. I mean we don’t really go back into the other place until we get married right? That is at least a couple of years down the road right? Seems like practicing these makes a lot more sense. At least if you plan on being any good at this missionary thing.”
“Oh I bet I end up with more baptisms than you Clark?”
“I am not going to argue that, I am not a teacher. I get nervous every time we have discussion practice in class. You are way better at it than I am. That’s why I need the practice. Race ya!” And I bolted ahead in my black suit, leather bottomed shoes, and flapping tie. I looked innocent, just like the rest of them. Like a Norman Rockwell painting of Mormon Utopia. But my heart was heaving with relief.
I waited, bent at the hips with my hands on my knees to catch my breath, the few seconds for Elder Trane to make it to the top of the long concrete walkway leading to the Provo Temple. I was grateful for the moment to have my head down. To regain my breath. And to hide the visions.
Visions of the Garden of Eden. The Apple of Knowledge. Satan the Deceiver. Eyes. Close camera focus on the eyes of a psycho from a horror film. Crazy, dangerous eyes.
“If you break from any of these Covenants, you will eternally be…. in…. my….. power.”
It was supposed to be this great joining. Like gaining access to a fraternity. Like becoming a Freemason. It was just regalia, costumes and practiced lines. There was no Blood Atonement. There were no bubbling cauldrons or threats of violence. It was just pageantry. And videos. I was horrified.
I never wanted to go back and do Endowments for the Dead. Baptisms for dead people are way less weird, relatively speaking. It is taught that you are simply giving a poor spirit (aka Ghost) in Spirit Prison (aka Purgatory) a choice to join the One True Church. (Only Mormons can go to Heaven, right. So what happens if people, in the entire history of the world, who never even knew about Joseph Smith, die before they were saved? No problem… all of those little ghosts will get to make a choice.
“I wonder if anybody famous will pop up on my list today?” Elder Trane said as I stood up from my nightmare. “I heard an Elder from Iowa was baptized for Anne Frank the other day! Can you imagine being able to be the person to give someone like her that gift?”
“Why wouldn’t they?” the missionary said shaking his head. “Why would you stand in the way of Salvation?”
I spent six weeks in the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah. Most Mormon missionaries who are reporting to English speaking missions only spend three. They have intensive classes on learning the discussions, and then away they go. On the job training. But when I entered the MTC in the summer of 1993, I was brought in as Telecenter missionary. As far as this writing, the Mormon church no longer operates the Telecenter, but in 1993, when I was there advertisements for particular videos were placed on TV with a Toll Free number. When you called you got missionaries like me on the phone. As a Telecenter missionary, it was part of your Call to Serve to work on the phones for free, sending videos sharing Our Heavenly Fathers’s Plan and the beauty of being able to be Together Forever around the world. And I spent extra time in the MTC to do it.
My time in the Missionary Training Center was vastly regimented, I tried to bring people to Mormonism over the phone, I went to classes to learn how to teach the six Mormon discussions, I baptized living people for dead souls, and I went to almost daily firesides and assemblies. The entire Mormon power structure is in Salt Lake City, it is like a new Catholic priest being called to be taught in the Vatican. We were subject to the direct words and speeches of the most dignified leaders of Mormonism. You were never meant to be removed from The Spirit, your time in the MTC was Holy. I were being prepared into a vessel.
After I had been in Provo for six weeks, I wrote my father a letter before leaving for Kansas City.
My time here at the MTC has made me see. There is no other way to heaven but through the Truth that I have been called to share with the world. You know this truth. You once taught it also, to our brothers and sisters in Scotland. Your mother, my Nona, knows it too, but The Deceiver has led her astray. If nothing else good comes from my time in Kansas City, called to serve there by God, then perhaps it will only be to bring my father and my beloved Grandparents back into the light of God’s Holy Love. That is my prayer.