Saturday, October 13, 2012

Halloween and Mormonism: an odd marriage

This year I was asked to plan the ward's annual Halloween party. Otherwise known as Trunk or Treat. My first thought upon being asked was, "Wow, how have I been in the church this long and never been asked to plan a party of any kind until now?" I mean, I'm pretty fun at a party if I do say so myself. I know what makes parties fun and what weighs them down and I have attended hundreds (possibly thousands) of parties. Many of which were church parties and I have been taking keen mental notes. I accepted the assignment with enthusiasm.

Part of my enthusiasm stemmed from the great sense of relief that comes when one is summoned to meet with the bishopric for an undisclosed purpose and discovers that they have not been tapped for some huge responsibility. I have spent the past few years happily under the radar of pain-in-the-ass church callings and I employ very specific tactics to be sure that I am always remembered more for my irreverence than my righteousness. There is a formula. Lets say you want to specifically avoid being called to be Relief Society President or Primary President. Rule #1 use a swear on your blog at least once per post. Rule #2 teach true doctrines in lessons that make people uncomfortable. My favorites are things like sexual intercourse with a spouse in the Celestial Kingdom and the role of polygamy as it relates to eternal families and the fact that the Mormon Pioneers basically bred a population of people with specific genetic personality characteristics. The possibility of astral projection is always a winner too. Rule #3 wear flip flops to church at least every few months. If you employ even two of these three rules you can most likely enjoy the full benefit of membership in the LDS church with almost no risk.

I love when people refer to me as a "rebel". I always ask, "What makes you think I'm a rebel? Is it my temple recommend? My happy traditional family? The full time honorable mission I served? The years of early morning seminary I voluntarily attended throughout my adolescence at 6am? Maybe it was when I was a virgin bride at age 26. Is it the hundreds of Sunday School Lessons or my excessive testimony bearing? I have never even tasted alcohol or coffee or tea. Tithing, Fasting, Family Home Evening, Book of Mormon sharing, church attending Staci. The rebel. It really is entertaining to corner people on the real reasons they perceive rebellion. It all comes down to a little bit of good natured feather ruffling. I consider it my calling. Someone has got to do it.

So back to my assignment to plan the Halloween party. I have only one really horrible experience with Halloween and only one really horrible experience on my mission and only one really horrible experience with planning a church party. All of these things happened simultaneously on the evening of October 31st 1998 in the town of Metz, France. The one night I would like to erase from my record.

The thing with Halloween is that it is weird. Really weird. Think about it. There is no religious merit in it at all. We dress in deceptive costumes and in disguise go door to door threatening people for candy. We decorate our houses with corpses and spiderwebs and all things scaryand off-putting. We celebrate gore and violence and death in the name of candy. Don't get me wrong. Its awesome. Its just weird. We do it because its tradition and it is fun and it is culturally significant to us because as Americans we all share this set of really similar experiences that involve adrenaline and sensory extremes which cement these memories permanently. Maybe it was the five pounds of candy and week long sugar high that did it for you or the terror you felt in a haunted house or the thrill of getting stuff for free or the sensation of dressing up as something other than you. Halloween has covered everyone's sensory trigger somewhere. Add to that the fact that it comes right as the weather breaks and the temperature changes (particularly pleasant to those in Arizona) and that it is the big kickoff to the Holiday Season which is guaranteed to end in a windfall of gifts and cheer and a big New Years party. Once you've had a hit of Halloween it is irresistible.

Now take that Halloween nostalgia and mix it with a big dose of homesickness and serve it up to ten retarded American missionaries in a small far flung French branch of the LDS church. Add to the equation that Halloween hadn't caught on in France but was heard of and alluring. No one would dare go trick or treating or wear a costume but people were asking about it and there were stores that were beginning to display spooky themed window displays. Halloween was cutting edge and scandalous to the French. We were seasoned Halloween pros. We were beaten down with the task of converting the French to Mormonism (think about it) and we were constantly looking for ways to bridge the gap between the mainstream population and the Gospel Message. Someone suggested that the branch throw a Halloween soiree and we were finally so freaking qualified to do something well in the mission field. We were going to throw the most awesome Halloween party ever. We were going to advertise it to the entire town and get everyone in Metz to come step foot in the LDS church and see how fun we are! After that all I remember is a blur of genius Halloween ideas and the discovery that half of our district were basically special effects experts who excelled in realism as it relates to blood and guts. We commandeered the entire basement of the church for a spook alley (Festive!) and covered the walls in black plastic trash bags. Then someone spread a few fall colored leaves on the floor which led naturally to the decision to haul in enough dead leaves to cover all of the floors entirely. Each set of missionaries was in charge of a section. My comp and I were the big opening scene. She was a witch who would also guide groups through and I was a decapitated head in a basket still screaming underneath a guillotine. (Yeah, thats right folks. A guillotine. In France.) We even rigged the fake body with strings that I could pull to make the headless corpse twitch. One set of Elders did a brilliant hanging where he was the head and the fake body hung limply from a noose. another set did gross out stunts involving slimy textures and insect infestation. they were hiding in corners to jump out at people as ghosts. The grand finale had a hunchback midget dancing on the piano and warning people "Don't go in there!". Then guests were ushered in to view a mad surgeon running a chainsaw over an Elder who appeared to be gutted and eating his own innards consisting of lasagna.

It. Was. Awesome. You know, by American standards. Meaning those of us who have been conditioned to be insensitive to graphic violent imagery. Those of us who were born and raised thinking nudity and sex is supremely offensive but seeing people shot to death and bleeding out is totally okay for prime time TV. The French show porn on Prime Time. Full frontal nudity is found on billboards and public sunbathing spots and we American missionaries would avert our eyes and blush and try to think of something righteous and pure like Jack-o-lanterns or the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man Or Attractive Marriage Minded Vampires.

The problem was that The missionaries were the backbone of the church there and generally speaking did an excellent job. Local church leaders would ask us how to do things because we were the ones who knew first hand what the Church was capable of. No one checked us. We checked each other and had always done it well. We were smart, spiritual, obedient and effective missionaries. We were lifers who could spot false doctrine from a mile away and crank out quotes from prophets or scriptures from memory. We were showing the women how to quilt and can bean dip and telling the men how to conduct meetings and give priesthood blessings. We led the music and showed them how to do effective Family Home Evening lessons and walked them through sharing time and singing time and debated whether or not it was more offensive to God to break the Sabbath by buying fresh bread on Sunday morning (gasp!) or using day old bread to represent the body of Christ  (French gasp!) We would win the debate and then roll our eyes each week as we partook of warm baguette in Sacrament meeting.

My point is, We do some things because of our faith and we do other things because of our culture and Halloween was a moment when our judgement was blurred by fond childhood memories. We wanted to share something great. We wanted to give them the gift of Halloween because we loved them.

I will never forget the moment right before we officially opened the spook alley and people were streaming in. I had never seen so many people headed happily into a French LDS Church. A few were even wearing costumes! We were giddy. Everyone was there. Our promoting efforts had been totally successful. Then we let the first group through the door. Everyone wanted in at once.

Since my severed head was the first gruesome sight, I got to see their delight turn to absolute horror. before we had two groups through I had seen grown men cry and old ladies run screaming from the building, frantically tearing through black plastic to find the exits. I don't think any children made it past two rooms. We had to take a break and regroup so that one of us could be available to console people as they exited in terror. Then we had to regroup again because no one was even getting to the chainsaw and those guys were in there eating the lasagna bored while the bloody basket under the guillotine was going empty to  provide more grief counseling. Our priorities were obviously messed up. Clearly we should have opened with the Chainsaw and finished with the Sisters as we were the only ones who seemed to soothe them (probably by proving that my head was in fact still attached).

I have never been so ashamed. The members were shocked and confused and the non-members were like "Oh, this is how Les Mormons roulle. This is one seriously screwed up religion. Now I know." What we accomplished was exactly the opposite of missionary work. We probably unravelled a decade of dedicated missionary efforts in ten minutes. And the worst part was that by the time it was so painfully obvious to all of us what we had just done, we were so committed that we couldn't even stop the damage. there were crowds of people still waiting excitedly out front to see the spook alley. We toned it down and then again and by the end we were all just there in our bloody clothes speaking in soothing voices and just narrating a general spook ally description. Kids were still crying and running. We had to hide the angry faced pumpkins because they were freaking people out. Missionary FAIL.

We walked home without our black missionary tags on and the next day we spent ten solid hours shoveling dead leaves out of the church and trying to clean up the aftermath. Hide the evidence. Pretend it didn't happen. Pull trash bags off of the wall and fill with marinara soaked foliage and haul them upstairs. What next? We didn't know. It is France. No one has a truck. The garbage man wouldn't take all of this. we decided to spread the leaves back out where we got them; from the sidewalks and the yards. "Don't mind us. We're just cleaning up by spreading dirt and debris all over town for no apparent reason. This bag of bloody trash is brought to you by the Mormons. Please join us on Sunday for our worship services."

I am scarred.

So this memory was the second thing I thought of when I was asked to throw the ward Halloween party this year. I have thought this thing out to the last detail and I vow to throw a Halloween party that first and foremost: Does no damage. Second: is fun and third: is my shot at Church Halloween party redemption.

So today I was making the flyer for the event at my brother Christopher's house and I told this story to Cheryl and the kids while Christopher was in the office. I should tell you that Christopher is the single funniest person I have ever known and possibly one of the smartest. My fondness for him might have a tad to do with the fact that he is the only other human on the planet who really gets me because we share a lot of genetic material. I know what Christopher thinks is funny and vice versa and I'm pretty sure that when genome sequencing becomes available to the masses we will high five each other as we compare the data. I was sure that the telling of this Halloween story would draw him out to participate in the hilarity because this kind of story is right up his alley. He didn't come out. I wondered if he was crazy busy with a business deal and so stressed out that he couldn't come out and chat but even that was not normal Christopher behavior. I just unloaded the whole thing on the Hawses and we briefly talked about politics (shocking) and laughed about the eccentricities of the LDS culture. Finally Christopher came out and invited me to get started on the flyer. He told me that he had mocked up a few ideas and I was impressed with his efficiency.

He showed me this:

Then he scrolled down and suggested this:

 And it quickly devolved into this:

 And we absolutely couldn't resist this:
If any of this offends you, its okay. We were never meant to be friends.

There are actually more but at this point the whole thing jumps the rails and just gets ridiculous and random. We made some tweaks and I am totally prepared to present these flyers to the bishopric tomorrow with a straight face just to see how they react.

A little off topic here but I want to take a second to marvel at the wonderful world we live in. A world where one can access a free photo of a man tarred and feathered in less than ten seconds. Are there no limits? We got to where we were naming the most obscure bizarre photographs and timing ourselves to see how long it took to get a match. I can firmly state that every possible image is digitally available. If you don't find it on your first search, you just whip out photoshop. bam.

Happy Halloween!

And....everyone is invited to the Stone Creek Ward's Trunk or Treat on October 20th from 5-8 at the building on Gary Rd. just north of Hunt Hwy. San Tan Valley, AZ. You will have a lovely time. My salvation is riding on it.


Sinéad Poznanski said...

Guillaume just informed me that "vous allez morir" is really bad grammar. So the dancing miget was probably what they were really offended at

Angie said...

My sister in law just sent me a link to your blog. I just about died laughing at this post. The flyers at the end were the icing on the cake. Brilliantly and irreverently hilarious. Thanks for a great start to my Sunday!

Barnie said...


PS - has anyone ever told you before how much Officer Kramer looks like Robin Williams?

Maryann said...

Staci I am laughing so hard my kids are trying to take away my phone to get me to stop! I needed to read this today!! I sometimes take things too know me! I think I'll start swearing in print so I can get out of my calling...

Lauren said...

I wish I had known about the flip flops about a year ago. Maybe it isn't too late for others out there!

Kramer Boys

Kramer Boys