Baptism in Birmingham

Two magnolias

You enter the doors of the temple—the kingdom of God on Earth. You know you’re unworthy, for you just had a shot of espresso before you rode the bus to Birmingham, which is why your breath smells like peppermint. Don’t you know that your breath only smells like coffee and peppermint? You know they’ve heard of a peppermint mocha, right? Of course, none will claim to know what that even tastes like, and they will hurriedly let you know if you happen to catch them at a Starbucks (especially on a Sunday), they will say they’re getting a hot chocolate, even though Joseph Smith said no to hot drinks. What about soda that’s been left in the car too long?

You are with the group of other Mormon church members from the Fox Run and Pine Forest wards (whatever possessed them to call churches “wards” and youth groups “institutes”?) who are there to do baptisms for the dead. How aggrieved you became when you had to explain such a practice to the Gentiles (what the LDS call non-members) for the umpteenth time. “We do not dig up dead people and dunk them in water. We do it by proxy,” you would say, only to discover that most people don’t even know what the word proxy means.

You discovered that no one hardly knows anything about Mormons but polygamy, even though they stopped that practice over a hundred years ago, but it hangs on them like the wet white jumpsuit will hang on you after you’ve been dunked for the fifteenth time for people you don’t even know—names that may as well be out of a phone book. Even though you think you have possibly just saved fifteen people who didn’t get the chance to hear the Mormon gospel (“the plan of happiness”) in this life, you can’t help but think that you look like a fatty in this jumpsuit.

However, you know when you step into the warm water of the baptismal font after having been barefoot, watching the same thing happen over and over, your feet will feel like they’re on fire, for they are always like ice in this castle, which will lull you into a state of what feels like suspended animation. Something is hypnotizing about repetition.

You’re supposed to be thinking about God in here but instead, you’re thinking about what you want to eat when you leave and how praying over fast food never hurt anyone. You’re thinking about all your tithing money going into these buildings that not even all Mormons can enter because they’re usually breaking the law of chastity or tithing. You’re thinking that this seems like a boring way to spend eternity, but it’s still better than the alternative. You like that the Mormons have three heavens, but if you want to have sex in heaven, you have to do temple work. Of course, men can have more than one wife up there, and you find yourself admitting that that’s pretty clever—what is against the law here, the government can’t control up there.

What happens with widows who loved both husbands? You think this is why families can’t work in heaven. You just want to be an angel, like Cary Grant (except still a girl) in The Bishop’s Wife, but maybe human-turned-angels are gender-neutral. That’s what would happen if you went to the terrestrial or the telestial kingdom. Your sexuality is taken away.

But if you are honest with yourself, you know you don’t believe in this Church—you just ended up dating that boy who broke up with you because you wore a sleeveless blouse; by the time that happened, you were sucked in. They are nice to you, unlike the people who don’t care about your soul—who like you for you.

It is your turn now, and you are thinking about how you can’t wait till it’s all over and you can dry off, and then they put their hands on your head and confirm those same names as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

You want to believe in all this so much, but it’s not happening; however, you won’t leave it all for another seven years, because one day, you went to Utah, seeking a husband, where there is every cut of white meat imaginable—Scandinavian, British, German, and a blend of many others—only to find something else.

You found your way out.

All these people who are with you today, you won’t even know ten years from now. When they see you in town, some will be polite enough to smile and say hello, but others—those who you were closest to—will act like they don’t know you, except you won’t care, for your experience with it all will make a great book.

I could come down and tell you all this, but you won’t believe me. You will have to find all this out for yourself, and because of all this, you will never really go to church again, except on Christmas and Easter. You will be a Christian without a church, like a man without a country, but you will be just fine.

You will marry a man who will not expect more from you than even God Himself does. You will be free to just be.

You will have one child, not five—at least that’s how it is in the year 2020. You still have a few childbearing years left.

However, when you find out that your child has special needs, you will remember something that you learned from these people: that the devil cannot touch such children, for they are innocent forever.

You will remember many good things and will be grateful that you were once one but are now no longer—that you are better for having come into it, just as you are even better for having left it. 

 

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