Yesterday, Taryn and I received our April issue of Sunstone — which included an advertisement urging us to attend the MHA Conference on May 22-25, 2008. (I hope the MHA didn’t have to pay for that one?) In any case, the magazine asks for reader submissions for a future issue on the theme of “coming clean.” This is an intriguing idea, but why should I wait three and a half years until the December 2008 issue comes out to share my coming clean stories and to ask other Mormons to share theirs?
Dear Public Library: That choose-your-own adventure book that I never returned, and that I told you (six years later) I thought I had already returned? I lost it. It fell behind my dresser and I couldn’t find it. Then, years later, when I was moving my stuff to a different bedroom, I found the book wedged under the dresser. I had recently seen a sitcom on television in which a character was forced to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in overdue fines for a single never-returned book, and so I panicked. I threw the book in the garbage and then lied about it.
Dear Primary: I know you did your best for me, so I hate to tell you that my single most vivid memory of the years you were trying to help me grow up as my best self involves a Sunday when I skipped Primary altogether. During the opening exercises/singing time part of the day, I hid in the men’s bathroom. Someone finally came to get me shortly before we were scheduled to break for classes. When we did break, I ran for it. I hid in a little nook behind the door to the meetinghouse stage. Without daring to move, I sat and listened for about an hour as people searched for me. They never found me. I’m ashamed to admit this, but the illicit thrill of sitting alone in the dark when I should have been in class was my most formative Primary experience.
Dear BYU Administration: This I came clean about at the time, but the story is so good that I’m going to come clean again, a bit more publicly. When I was an undergrad, there was a week when a university Vice President appeared to lose his mind via email. One day, he sent a mass emailing to the entire university community announcing, “I like butter.” The next, he sent a follow-up clarifying that, “Actually, I prefer margarine.” A day or two later, he sent along a detailed message regarding the planned fumigation of the administration building to eliminate a rat problem, complete with the instruction that all student employees are expected to work right through the fumigation.
Of course, all three messages were hoaxes. Utah newspapers followed the story reasonably closely, publishing multiple accounts of how BYU’s computer network had been hacked. I don’t know the whole back story here, but I do know more than most. You see, I was the sender of the “margarine” email.
The messages were easy to send out. The mass-mailing server for BYU at the time was not password protected or secured in any other way, other than a requirement that mass mail come from one of a limited set of email addresses. But the mail servers at BYU also didn’t have any security features regarding sending messages; anyone could send a message from any BYU email address without a password or anything else. So the “butter” person simply opened up an email program, typed the message, and listed the Vice President’s email address in the “from” field.
When the butter messages were arriving, I was working on a programming project in a campus computer lab. Other students were speculating about how the fake message had been sent. I felt that I had a very good idea about how it was done. To illustrate my idea, I mocked up a fake message from the Vice President to the campus community. Then, I said, “And all you’d have to do now is press send, and it would go to everyone on campus.” As I said this, without thinking, I pushed send. The message went to everyone on campus.
And that is the story of how I inadvertently “hacked the BYU computer network.” I immediately confessed this to the Vice President in question. He was gracious about the matter and we moved on.
Can I come clean about one last thing? I often worry that my online writing about Mormonism, and particularly my participation in online discussion threads, may help reinforce the harmful and ill-defined notion that there are such things as competing “liberal” and “conservative” teams of Mormons. Of course Mormons differ from each other in countless ways, and we have tendencies, theological traditions, and ideological poles — just like any other community.
But we ought always to remember that we have far more in common with each other than we think. From an outsider’s perspective, does the believer who regards the Book of Mormon as divinely-inspired canonical fiction seem any less socially marginal than the believer who thinks of the book as ancient? Does the Mormon who drinks iced coffee but not the hot stuff seem any more normal than the coffee teetotaler?
More importantly, I feel that Jesus calls us to look past this stuff. If we are not one, we are not his. But I’ve sometimes fallen into the trap of thinking of others in our community as “that kind of Mormon.” I can’t say that I’ll stop this right away, but coming clean about it gives me hope that I’ll overcome.