Coming Clean

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.


  1. Margarine is funny. That’s funny J.

    Also, I hope you have dirtier things to come clean about than a choose your own adventure and hiding in the bathroom. Even if you are one of those goody-goody kind of Mormons.

  2. This is charming, J.

  3. Amri,
    One can already assume that JNS did those things. These are things unique to him.

  4. Dear ZLs,

    In case you haven’t figured it out by now, the identical reports that I sent in week after week claiming to have worked 120 hours, given away 50 copies of the Book of Mormon, and to have street contacted 75 people per week were fictitious.

    Dear Human Resources Department,

    Remember when I worked all day Saturday and Sunday installing an upgrade to the operating system? Remember when I ordered that pizza because I couldn’t leave the building, and you turned down my $14.00 request for meal reimbursement because I didn’t get it “pre-approved”? The company ha now paid for that pizza many times over. GOod luck finding out how.

  5. Thanks for all the comments, folks.

    By the way, I have one more secret. I’m actually a closet ultra-conservative who reads only Bruce R. McConkie and Joseph Fielding Smith penned publications.

  6. Thanks for the light-hearted bcc post.

  7. Ah, fictitious me. Now you have something to come clean about. (Try a subtler joke next time?)

  8. Dear BCC Co-Bloggers,
    It was me.

  9. I feel that Jesus calls us to look past this stuff.

    Ah, you’re one of those kind of Mormons, eh?

  10. Dear YW leaders,

    Remember that time you brought several dozen doughnuts for a mutual activity and when it came time to serve them, they had disappeared from where you had left them in the kitchen at church?

    I have no idea what happened to them.

  11. Dear Howard Dean, Democratic National Committee Chairperson,

    This has been bothering me for some time now, but for a short period of time in the late summer of 1972, my first at bat in voting in a national presidential election, my wife convinced me to put a Nixon-Agnew bumper sticker on our car. What can I say, we were both young, and I so wanted to impress her. However, I did straighten up in November, and voted correctly for Hubert Humphrey.

  12. J.

    You may be late, but you are clean.

    How does it feel?

  13. Dear Mission President,

    Well, uh, oh go ahead and read this.

  14. 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….[T]he 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…

    I am reminded of the cartoon on page 56 of the June 1996 issue of Sunstone.

  15. Dear Ward Members,

    Remember that time I said I never expected to be called to be bishop. It wasn’t true. As a little kid I thought I was a shoe-in for apostle too. In fact I used to lay in my bed at night afraid the sliver of light on the wall was the beginnings of an angel coming to appear to me.

    Dear Ward Members,

    I suspect the feelings of sorrow I also feel about my impending release as bishop are a form of Stockhold Syndrome.

  16. Dear Lawyer Dave and Secretary Becky:

    Remember how you always stressed that all us “gals” were required to help each other with work, and how I was always asking Becky whether she needed my help and she never once returned the favor? Remember how you still insisted I wasn’t being helpful enough?

    And do you remember the time when the computer went haywire and deleted all the e’s from a set of critical documents that Dave needed the next day, so that Becky had to spend the night slowly retyping them in her inefficient, snail’s pace way? Well, the computer didn’t go haywire. You were just too dumb to know that anybody could log on as Becky, access her documents, and with a few keystrokes search-and-replace all the e’s with “nothing.”

    So sorry I was too busy with my own work to volunteer to help Becky with that one.


  17. Dear LV ward.

    that mysterious large section of fence around the parking lot knocked down in 1987?

    That was me crashing my girlfiriends fathers car while doing donuts

    My bad

  18. Dear Missionary Companion #7,

    Remember when we were stuck in the apartment sick with the chicken pox, and you decided to send your girlfriend a one page letter everyday just consisting of one letter? Day one was an oversized I, day two was an L, and so on so it spelled out I LOVE YOU. It was really sweet and I probably ruined it because when you were not looking I sent out an additional letter with just an oversized R.

  19. TStevens,


  20. Tstevens just leveled up. He is now a lvl 15 commenter with awesome prank armor.

  21. anothernonymous says:

    Dear Sixth Grade Class:
    Remember the student class president election and how the two candidates kept on tying as we re-cast our ballots? Well, the reason the stalemate was broken was because I secretly cast two ballots the final round. Surprised the teacher never noticed there was an additional vote that time around.

  22. Dear Mom and Dad:
    You know that mystery dent that appeared in the family car when I was 16? Well, I know where it came from.

  23. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    Let’s kill two birds with one stone…

    Dear DW:
    Remember that time, when we were dating, that I impressed you with a bouquet of flowers early in the morning when I picked you up on our way to the Sunday morning session of General Conference?

    Dear Families of Those Interred at Royal Oak Cemetery:

  24. mapinguari says:

    Dear Mom:

    Remember the time I arrived home at about 1:30 a.m. even though my curfew was midnight? I told you that we’d hit a cat on the way home and had spent time trying to find its owner. My friend Mike was there, backing up my story. I even cried. A lot. Well, it was really 2:30 a.m. and there was no cat…I let Mike take the car to drive his girlfriend home. He wasn’t watching the clock because he was, um, preoccupied, and then he got lost driving back to the party to get me. That’s terrible, I know, but you believed every bit of it.

    While I’m at it, remember the time I took my snowboard to school and later that day the school called to say I missed classes? I told you I took the snowboard tso Matt could wax it and that I had attended all of my classes. That was absolutely true. What I never told you was that I skipped both seminary and school the next day, that I didn’t really have to work that night, and that the guys and I spent the entire day at Mt. Stevens. That was awesome.

    Love you.

  25. Kevin Barney says:

    Dear DeKalb High School,

    Remember that Driver’s Ed research assignment, where we were supposed to measure the average speed of cars traveling over a given stretch of road for a two-hour period of time? And how I just happened to choose a stretch of road leading from a 55 MPH zone into a 35, where the results of any such study would be entirely predictable (about 45)? And remember how lazy I was? Well, I didn’t sit out on that road for the whole two hours measuring cars’ speed. It’s called e-x-t-r-a-p-o-l-a-t-i-o-n. I know how bummed you must be to find this out now.

  26. Mark B. says:

    Dear kevinf

    I’m afraid that Howard Dean may wonder why you voted for Hubert Humphrey in 1972, since George McGovern was the Democratic nominee that year.

    Dear Utah Department of Motor Vehicles:

    Remember when I renewed my drivers license in the summer of 1974, and I had to have an eyetest and send the results with the application? You know that official looking Japanese seal and the name of the doctor conducting the exam? That was my name, written in kanji, more or less, and my own seal. I never went to have my eyes tested. I’m not even sure I could see back then.

    Dear NYC Parking Violations Bureau,

    You know all those tickets on a car with Pennsylvania plates on my block last summer? Well, it was my brother’s car that I was keeping for the summer. Let me know when you’ve destroyed the records, and I’ll send a check.

  27. Melinda says:

    Dear Seventh Grade Science Teacher:

    Remember that class project we had to do? I didn’t really collect leaves from 30 different types of trees. I collected leaves from about 10 trees, and then I tore some of them so they looked different. Then I randomly labeled the leaves I’d created with names of trees I got out of a book.

    Why did you give me a “B”? I should have failed.

  28. Phouchg says:

    Dear ex-wife:

    Before we separated we had a long discussion about the church. I said that even though we didn’t get along and it would be best that we divorce, I promised you that I would stay a faithful devout church member.

    The first Sunday after you went back to Utah, I skipped church. I never told you that I didn’t believe. Our entire brief marriage of 16 months I had huge doubts about the veracity of the mormon church’s truth claims. But I put on an act. I have come clean about my disaffection with the church online, but I never told you. You died of brain cancer 4 years after we divorced. And now you will never know.

    I’m sorry.

  29. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    …and then there was silence.

  30. #28 needs to be deleted. What the?????

  31. Phouchg says:

    #28 does not need to be deleted. I came clean.

  32. Phouchg, you did indeed. It’s a painful story.

  33. Steve Evans says:

    #28 does not need to be deleted.

  34. Peter LLC says:

    Sheesh, it was all fun and games until someone came clean. That’s why I lead a double life–it makes it easier on your family, friends and neighbors.

  35. Dear Crazy Apartment Manager,

    When I submitted that bill for the carpet cleaning from my BIL’s company, you were right. He never cleaned those carpets. I did and they were clean, cleaner than they were when I moved in (as noted in my move-in inspection). I lied, but it’s hard to feel bad about it since I am the only person in the history of the complex who actually got their entire deposit back.

  36. Mark B, busted. George McGovern, indeed. Too many years, too many candidates, but the bumper sticker was real.

  37. Mark IV says:

    Dear ward activities committee,

    It was thoughtful and kind of you to have big chocolate chip cookies to pass out to all the men last Sunday for Father’s day. It was also very concientious of you to get a count just before we were dismissed from sacrament meeting to go to Sunday school. And I really liked the way you involved the youth of the ward as they helped you pass out the cookies at each exit door.

    I’m wondering how close your count was. Because it is entirely possible that a man might have exited the chapel through one door, collected a cookie, then surreptitiously slipped back into the chapel and out another door, thereby collecting another cookie. He might have even done this several times. Just a thought.

  38. CS Eric says:

    Dear upstairs neighbor in Las Vegas who worked mids:

    Remember how you would come home from work in the middle of the night and turn your TV on really loud, and fall asleep that way? Remember how, after a couple of weeks of that, the power to your apartment mysteriously went off in the middle of the night, only to be turned back on at about the same time I went to work the next morning? I may have some information about that.

  39. StillConfused says:

    I was the one who put gelatin in the men’s toilets and saran wrap on said same item at youth conference.

  40. Dear Bishop(s),

    Remember that question about any unresolved issues in my life before you handed over the recommend? About that…

  41. JNS, I remember “butter-gate” well. Thanks for the additional insight into that little chapter of BYU history.

  42. Randall says:

    Dear Helaman Halls RA, I was the one who:

    –Melted straws into right angles and stuffed them in the squirt holes of urinals with gum covering the other holes. I got Shawn Bradley right in the knee cap, thus prompting him to leave school after his freshman year.

    –Filled album covers with shaving cream, slid the opening under doors and stomped on it.

    –“Pennied” all the doors on my floor.

    –Shot Play Doh spit wads at passers-by every day between 3-4 p.m.

    –Created a hot tub in the shower (with a wooden pallet covered with a tarp and placed in front of the shower opening (that broke loose and flooded the hallway).

  43. Steve Evans says:

    Randall, I’m calling BS on the last one.

  44. Randall says:

    Nope, all true.

    I wasn’t the ring-leader on the hot tub (that was the creepy guy who always had an erection in the communal showers), but did play a bit part. Fortunately, we contained the breech before it got to the rooms.

    Check the John Hall Annals for 90-91. (Yes, JH used to be a boy hall.)

  45. Steve Evans says:

    Randy, I was in DT at the same time, and let me tell you — there was no doubt in my mind that nefarious goings-on were, well, going on.

    But mostly we wanted to date the Helaman girls, because they too were associated with goings-on.

  46. Dear High School Janitor,

    Remember when you tracked down the terrible odor in the hallway to bunch of lunch-sized milk cartons sitting open in the bottom of a locker for an extended period of time? Well, I didn’t care to drink that milk and being scientifically minded, I wondered how many days of adding one open carton per day it would take before someone noticed. I am sorry for thinking that was funny.

  47. Randall says:

    Now I understand why all the HH girls dated DT boys. What, girls don’t like spit-wad wielding freshman?

  48. Dear Lloydies,

    Remember how the pageboys used to throw their leftover food and broken furniture into your courtyard, always claiming it was in retaliation? Yeah, sorry. We moles funnelated oranges at Page and evidently they didn’t realize the oranges came from the south, not the east.


  49. Dear College Admissions Dept.,

    Remember how I failed my entrance exam the first time around because I couldn’t remember how to do the “basic math” portion, having been out of High School for 6 years, and math never having been my strong point to begin with?

    Remember how I passed that section with flying colours the second time around, completed my Bus. Admin. diploma, graduated with distinction from the Faculty of Management at the University, and have been employed in the financial industry for the past 8 years?

    Well, I brought a calculator with me the second time around, one that could add/subtract/divide/multiply fractions. I didn’t see the big sign over the door that said “No Calculators Allowed” until I got up to leave. Sorry.

  50. MikeInWeHo says:

    This thread reminds me of the fascinating and disturbing phenomenon called PostSecret.

  51. Mike, those adjectives are appropriate.

  52. Mike, yeah, I see the comparison. Most of the confessions here are from named individuals, but otherwise it’s similar.

  53. Phouchg says:

    I don’t think things like PostSecret are disturbing. I think its great that there are places where people can unburden themselves anonymously.

  54. Phouchg, I appreciate the attractiveness of confession systems that allow people to unburden anonymously. Sometimes it seems like the catholics have a better system for confession than we do. Just zip in and talk through the wall to somebody, very convenient like a McDonald’s drive through. But the LDS system for confession is much better at helping people change their lives for the better.

  55. CW, my feeling is that’s a bit of an uncharitable reading of the Catholic approach. Confession there is certainly intended to involve repentance in the Mormon sense of the word. A Catholic might even answer that LDS folks have the worst of both worlds. Like Protestants, we don’t have anyone on hand to offer absolution, but like Catholics we nonetheless require confession to mortals.

  56. “CW, my feeling is that’s a bit of an uncharitable reading of the Catholic approach.”


  57. Phouchg says:

    As a past and future Catholic, I have found that confession is much more meaningful than going to a McDonald’s drive-thru.

    And my (admittedly limited experience) with Mormon confession and repentance was intrusive and humiliating. It did not invovle me, but somebody who was important to me in my life at that time and I could feel the profound hurt in her voice when she relayed to me how she was treated by her bishop and the people in her branch.

  58. Phouchg says:

    whoops – “branch president” instead of bishop

  59. Steve Evans says:

    Phouchg, I would suggest that your 2nd-hand retelling of the Mormon confession and repentance process is as relevant and accurate as the retelling CW offers of the Catholic version. In fact that’s more than a suggestion — I know that your description is false.

  60. I love Post Secret. Though I wish there was a PG version. I love knowing what makes people who they are and what sort of things they keep secret. Some of the secrets are so amazingly touching. Some secrets give me insight into myself or those I know and love.

    The whole project seems more like a note in a bottle than a confession. It’s like finding a dozen note-filled bottles every Sunday.

  61. Matt W. says:

    I’ve done Catholci confession as a Catholic and it was meningful to the extent that any structured theological symbol is meaningful. It is not, however, helpful in any context where I felt I was being counseled with or helped. But it may have been my age at the time more than my personal experience. The Sacrament of Confession is not counceling, where as in the LDS context, confession is much more consultative.

    Confession in the LDS context should not be confused with a disciplinary council, which is an intirely different thing. I am extremely grateful for the branch president who counseled with me when I first joined the church and went to confess my sins. His warmth and willingness to help without judgment will always be an example to me.

  62. Matt W. says:

    Dear BCC, remember that time I read only the last two comments and then posted something that was totally a threadjack. I do that all the time. Sorry about that.

  63. Mommie Dearest says:

    Just a caveat: A few years ago my high school age daughter and her artsy pals had what they called a Post Secret party and created a boat-load of postcards with made-up secrets which were then mailed the following day. Within a week we saw one of them posted online.

  64. Steve Evans says:

    So, you’re coming clean about faking coming clean?

  65. Mommie Dearest says:

    By proxy.

  66. Sorry JNS, I wouldn’t want to be uncharitable to our catholic friends. But alas I was looking a little more on the surface and not quite as deep, perhaps, as you were. Catholics don’t need an appointment, just show up at fixed times and go in the booth as soon as it is open. Whereas LDS people have to call an executive secretary and get an appointment, etc. That was the part I was comparing to McDonalds, IE you don’t need a reservation.

    I have no doubt the process is more fulfilling than a visit to McDonald’s.

  67. CW, no worries. As they say, the truth shall make ye fret.

  68. Dear BYU Art Department: My wife and I would like to suggest that, eventually, you get around to deep steam-cleaning the loveseat in the ceramics lab in B-66.

    Dear Deseret Towers: Remember that time in 1988 when the furniture from the lobby of V-Hall kept reappearing in the elevators just in time for the morning class rush? Sorry.

    Dear Deseret Towers: My wife would like to apologize for the time her teenaged brother stayed in her room all weekend and they passed him off as a freshman staying in “R” Hall.

    Dear DT residents: My wife would like to NOT apologize for popcorning you into your rooms, while you were sleeping, but she would like to apologize on behalf of her roommate, the one you affectionately called “Socks”, for her predilection to cavort in front of an open window wearing only … well, you know.

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