Monday, February 21, 2011

Mormon Monday - Inside a Mormon Temple!

I'm thinking that if this blog is something I'm going to try to maintain over a long period of time, it would help to have some kind of schedule structure to give me cues on what to write about. I'm an ex-Mormon. People always seem curious about that part of my past and I have a lot of stories. Hence - Mormon Mondays!

I was 12. In Mormon culture, this meant I was old enough to do what they consider a very valuable temple service: Baptisms for the Dead. We'll get to what that means later...

My youth group was scheduled to go to the Oakland temple later that month. In order to get in you need to be a baptized member and pass an interview with the local bishop to receive a "recommend." To save time, the bishop decided to come to the church building during one of our weekly youth activities and pull us out one by one for the requisite questioning.

I had a 5 foot pet iguana named Sam that I was obsessed with. I don't remember why, but I had brought him to the youth group that night on a leash. Wearing a sweater and bow-tie. When It was my turn to be interviewed, Sam came into the bishop's office with me and settled in under his desk. Everything was good until the 4th question: "Do you live the law of chastity?" I was a painfully honest kid, and I suddenly felt deeply uncomfortable. I had never had sex, but I knew he was asking more than that. I started tearing up and shamefully confessed that I sometimes touched myself. Awkward silence. Sam decided this was the perfect time to crap on the rug. I was really crying now.

After a while the bishop asked if I had prayed for forgiveness - I sensed a ray of hope. I stammered out that I had! I was incredibly sorry! Looking back, I think we were both just as desperate to avoid the humiliation of my not passing the interview and everyone wondering why I wasn't allowed in the temple. He let me slide.

A few weeks later I got to join my friends for our first temple ordinance: Baptisms for the Dead. Mormons are crazy about genealogy, and for a reason: they believe that baptism is necessary to get to the VIP section of heaven - as opposed to the normal part that anyone can get to. If you die without being baptized, don't worry! You can have someone baptized in your name. Mormons research their family history to collect as many names as possible to submit to the temples for proxy baptisms by volunteers. It used to be that any name could be submitted by anyone to the temple, as long as they were dead, but after the public found out that Mormons were baptizing Holocaust victims (and the PR nightmare it caused!) they stipulated that you actually needed to be related to the people you were submitting.

Our group was let in a small side door after our recommends were checked and led to a waiting room with a big TV in the corner playing an endless loop of LDS commercials between showings of Johnny Lingo and the Eight Cow Woman. The temple workers separated us into groups of 5 and, when it was my group's turn, we were issued plain white zippered polyester jumpsuits. The baptismal font was huge! It was a giant bowl balanced on top of a full-sized sculpture of 12 oxen, representing the 12 tribes of Israel. I had to climb a flight of stairs to get in. My dad was performing the baptisms that night. He dunked me 20 times for 20 different dead women after reciting a short prayer from the teleprompter next to the font, protected from the highly chlorinated water with a sheet of Plexiglas.

Once everyone had cycled through we celebrated our good service with a trip to Fenton's for ice cream.

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