I was born of goodly Mormon parents. Sometimes, it takes getting drunk around them to realize just how good they are.
When I call myself the “Crossdressing Mormon Anarchist”, I’m only partially kidding around. Like any Jew who carries the card but only attends Synagogue during Yom Kippur, Mormonism is my heritage. It’s basically an ethnicity. They are my people. My parents, and grandparents on both sides of my family all served missions for the LDS Church. My great great grandfather is a famous Mormon pioneer; he was one of Brigham Young’s hit men. The foundational stories of my parent’s lives as individuals, and as a couple, are rooted in The Church. Mormonism runs thick in our blood, which means that as far as orthodoxy is concerned, things like alcohol, should never run in our blood.
One of the main tenets of Mormonism is the idea that via Temple marriage, families can be together forever – after death, in heaven. As a kid, that failed to make sense to me in several ways, but the foremost reason was that I really didn’t like my family that much. I regarded them as bunk mates assigned by the drill sergeant of life circumstance – and as soon as bootcamp ended, I’d leave and probably not give them a second thought. The Mormon Church attempting to incentivize righteous living with the reward of an eternal family felt like my mom trying to bribe me to clean my room by promising that she’d take me to have a root canal as a reward.
As adults, it was no secret that my brother and sister had left Mormonism by the wayside. My mother used to call me her “last hope” for having a kid that would carry on a legacy of “righteousness”. Many years ago, my own falling away became known to the family. This was ushered in one Christmas night as we were wrapping up a family party. My parents went home, my daughters returned to their mother’s house, leaving just the three of us kids together. Wine emerged from Camille’s cupboard. Glasses were poured, glasses were raised and we partook of the goodness of the grape together for the first time. Something shifted in a way that’s difficult to account for – it may suffice to say that we found ourselves three grown adults with things in common that only we could have. It’s like some kind of pretense disappeared and left us honest. I found new friendship in my brother and sister. From that day forward, I’ve enjoyed their companionship in a way that starts to give ironic legitimacy to the promises of the church.
You need to know right now that my mom prays for me every night. And Camille. And Mikey… not just that we’ll be happy and safe, but a particular kind of happy & safe: In my Mom’s experience, Orthodoxy in the church is akin to getting enough vitamin C. I’ll say this – that absolutely IS her experience, it is her reality. The Church, the community of people that are the church – have been really good to my parents, and they’ve been good to it. I would never want it to go away, for their sake… it defines and supports their lives – but that’s another story for another day. My sweet mother prays for us with the energy of a good mom whose sole desire is that her offspring thrive – thrive in the only way she knows how. She means really, really well. I seriously adore my Mother. Every week that Camille, Mike, and I do not engage with The Church, I imagine she must feel like a failure. How can she not? Her purpose in life is defined in terms of dedication to The Church.
I have dedicated my life to authenticity. There are many rewards that come from living authentically (again, another story for another day). One of the dark prices I pay for living authentically is the knowledge that I regularly disappoint my mother, break her heart, even.
During a recent trip with the whole family to visit Camille, her husband and her awesome little boys in Mesa:
Mike and I decided to let everyone take a rest. We took over the kitchen to prepare a feast for our family. In preparation, we hit the grocery store.
One of the things I love about shopping outside of Utah is the experience of being treated like a true grown up. The Kroger store was just like my beloved Smith’s at home, but had a very large isle of wine and liquor that echoed the candy isle in any Utah grocery store (we don’t drink our feelings away, but we eat them away like a motherfucker. Diabetes is our religion’s disease of choice). IT WAS GLORIOUS. Mike bought thin sliced pork chops, whiskey, and a 30 rack of beer. I stocked up on garlic, tomatoes, onions, basil, pasta, bread, and wine.
I adore the process of drinking, conversing, and cooking with, and for, people I care about. Mikey and I spread out and started chopping, cutting, simmering and searing a spread of ciabatta with balsamic vinegar & olive oil; marinara from scratch over penne; seasoned & breaded pork chops . We took our time. Meal prep included a first course of cold beers, followed by whiskey. As dinner neared completion, I opened the wine and had a couple of glasses. Four drinks just while cooking? Hell yes. We come from Viking stock and can handle our liquor. Let’s pour a fifth as we dish up and consider it an apéritif, shall we? Cheers!
I paused and took inventory:
whiskey shots: 1
glasses of wine: 2
crusty looks / lectures from parents: 0
There were my parents – enjoying time with us, loving us, without conditions – IN the conditions of us kids flagrantly behaving in ways that offend some of their deepest sensibilities, hopes, and dreams. This was a defining characteristic of Christ – he was criticized for breaking bread with sinners. Each week, my parents partake of bread and water (used to wine in the early days of the church, but any liquid will suffice for symbolism) that has been blessed in the following way:
O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it, that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him and keep his commandments which he has given them; that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.
They were, in the most literal, and possibly painfully personal sense, about to break bread with sinners. Not a single lecture nor word nor gesture nor any hint of disapproval. Just love. We had a wonderful dinner, told stories, and truly enjoyed one another’s company in a way that exceeded every lofty and empty idea of “family time” from my cold hearted childhood. I raised my glass of wine to my lips and partook of my own personal sacrament of gratitude and witness that my parents were, in that very moment, not just claiming Christianity, but DOING Christianity. This is what it looks like to take up the name of Christ and always remember Him, and this is what it’s like to have His spirit.
Mom, Dad, you’ll probably never read this, but if you do, I hope you can see that the quality of your character has not been lost on me for a second. I’m profoundly grateful. Not everyone has been blessed like I have with parents as exceptional as you. To everyone else – this is it. This is what it looks like. This is how it’s done.
much love –
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