I first heard of the Book of Mormon the Musical while I was a devout Mormon. A friend sent me the soundtrack. I thoroughly enjoyed the music, laughed out loud, and then I called that friend to correct the misinformation that I heard in some of the lyrics. I felt very righteous about doing so.
In 2012, after attending a Mormon school for six months, my mother bought my husband and me tickets for the first tour. While still extremely devout, my husband and I were very fed up with the ultra-strict nature of BYU, and we found the musical to be a great release. We laughed until we cried, many of the jokes soaring over the heads of the poor theatre patrons next to us, who looked at us like we were crazy. I was somewhat offended by “Joseph Smith American Moses,” where the story of Joseph Smith is horribly (and accidentally) butchered by some well-meaning characters, but otherwise I enjoyed myself. I went home still Mormon and still content.
When I left the Mormon church in 2014, I felt a great deal of emotion. This is fairly normal, as anyone who has left a beloved religion will tell you. There’s a sort of grieving process to any life change: denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance.
I found myself in each stage for several months. But the anger stage lasted a while; about a full year, really, maybe more. I was so mad. I felt betrayed and lied to, I felt tricked. To deal with this intense amount of emotion, I developed some weird coping skills: I lashed out verbally and in writing, I joined dramatic ex-Mormon message boards, I silently simmered, I got into strange political arguments, and my husband experienced some fairly intense and cuss word-laden rants about the LDS church.
I stayed in this stage for so long in part because (for various reasons I am not willing to divulge) every day I had to pretend I was Mormon. So every day I would put on my happy face, act like the Molly Mormon I wasn’t, and shove my rage deep inside of me. It became a part of me, this rage. It was a friend. The rage was comforting, the rage “got me,” the rage allowed me to be me.
And it was so unhealthy.
To be defined by rage is to let yourself be consumed, with difficulty finding where the rage ends and you begin.
Strangely enough, this silly and prolific and profound musical, The Book of Mormon the Musical, helped me find my way out of the rage.
I mean, seriously, have you listened to ‘Hello,’ the opening number? I challenge you to listen to this and not smile a little bit. Or a lot. It’s just… happy.
So goddamn happy. It makes me want to dance.
And what’s awesome about this? It’s so accurate. The happy, innocent, convicted faces: those are the faces I lived with. The upbeat attitude, bordering on cult-like drink-the-kool-aid insanity: oh yeah, that’s the Mormon church. ‘Hello’ is… honest, in a way that I never found the Church to be honest.
Want more honesty about the Mormon church? Listen to ‘Turn it off“. Here are the lyrics:
When you start to get confused because of thoughts in your head, Don’t feel those feelings! Hold them in instead. Turn it off, like a light switch just go click! It’s a cool little Mormon trick! We do it all the time. When you’re feeling certain feelings that just don’t feel right, treat those pesky feelings like a reading light and turn em off. Like a light switch just go bap! Really whats so hard about that? Turn it off!
Newsflash! If these lyrics ring true for you, you might be a part of a repressive cult. Okay, that’s a bit dramatic, but this rang SO TRUE for my experience in the Mormon church.
“Oh. You don’t believe some of this stuff. Well just try believing! You’re uncomfortable with some of our teachings? Pray to have understanding!”
Literally, the amount of times I was basically told to pretend to believe until I did believe…. it’s astounding. That shit is dangerous and manipulative and here was a WHOLE DAMN SONG explaining and mocking the concept. It felt good to mock and it felt good to laugh about it. Some of the anger dribbled away.
The whole musical does this: it captures the concept, then laughs, then it moves forward. Which allowed me to do the same.
Listen to “I Believe” and you’ll get a quick run down of LDS beliefs, both normal and strange as can be. I love this song. I belt this song randomly. My son will probably know the lyrics to this song before he knows “Old MacDonald” (sorry, son). In belting this song, I can acknowledge the crazy, bask in the mockery, and move on.
So to recap, the happy music gave light to my boiling rage monster. This allowed me to hear the music and feel understood while simultaneously mocking the thing that consumed so much energy. But here’s what really sealed the deal and provided the catharsis to release my anger….
[SPOILERS AHEAD. But it’s worth it. I mean, who goes to a musical to see the ending? No. You go to listen to music and laugh and feel a part of something. So just read on, okay?]
At the end of the musical, after this insane journey with the church, these two missionaries basically go and start their own church. And it’s an ABSURD church, mostly comprised of fan-fiction from Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, and the Book of Mormon. It’s a bizarre mismatch and obviously the doctrine is false and the followers are bizarre.
They’re happy. Like, really happy. And they are good people, with this silly and mostly harmless attempt at doing something good.
Which made me realize….
Who gives a shit if the Mormon church is ridiculous? Yeah, I’ve got some strange programming from them, and yeah, my lens of reality can be warped. But overall, the Mormon church is a bunch of good-hearted people with misguided attempts at doing something good.
Being angry at them affords me nothing. It was an important step in my grieving process, I will give it that, but to give it more is to hurt myself.
And that is how a silly musical about serious things helped my debilitating anger.