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Soul Searching



Growing up a non-Mormon in Utah has its ups and downs. One day, you're one of the convivial gang, everyone getting along—say, feeling the euphoria of a winning score during a football team, for instance. The next, you're as lonely as the last Sumatran rhino because all your teammates begin leaving on their missions, and slowly but surely, distance themselves from people like me. I never understood that. It wasn't me who knocked up their high school sweethearts. I wasn't even there. I swear.

I remember another variant of the "I would be a good boy if not for my friends" salvation solution. One of my buddies invited his "friends" to his mission farewell, then proceeded to blame us for his wayward diversions. I'll leave it at that except to add that it was he who was the drug dealer, and none of us sitting there partook of the powdery drug he sold. I hear he made a great success of his life. Congrats.

That some of my old friends are now slobbering great-grandparents is of no consequence and doesn't soften the angst I still feel about some of them. Not only didn't I knock up their girlfriends, I didn't supply the booze or light their cigarettes, either. I was just the easy target—a non-Mormon Greek Orthodox kid. They didn't know or care about Greek (or, more correctly, Eastern) Orthodoxy. In their world, there was no other religion, anyway. They just saw me as something exotic. I was the Greek version of the black-haired members of the Sharks from West Side Story.

Meanwhile, I always held silent to the great little secret of my youth—that my great-great-grandfather was a member of the Mormon Battalion, and whose granddaughter, my grandmother, had, as I like to say, the wisdom to improve the gene pool and thus married a Greek immigrant from Crete. I loved my grandmother like no other. She was of true-blue Mormon pioneer stock, from the battalion to handcarts to settler. She was born in 1899 in a log cabin that still stands in Dry Fork, Utah. She died when I was 26 years old and, for that entire time, she lived just yards from our home, so I came to know the Relief Society sisters quite well.

Those women all knew my grandfather would find that time to grab a glass of wine and walk off. They were married 63 years, each respectful of the other's faith and practices. It didn't hurt that my grandmother liked to sneak a pinch of bourbon here and there. Meanwhile, my grandfather never lit a cigarette in front of the Relief Society ladies. He also did not swear, in Greek or English, around them. My grandparents' bind was their morning coffee—my grandmother, a rural Utah Mormon woman, was not shy about her coffee, because, after all, it gets very cold in Dry Fork, and that's just the way the day begins in rural Utah.

So, that was my growing up—my own little world of religious and ethnic teeter-totter. In all that time, it was the rare Latter-day Saint who asked me about the Greek Orthodox faith or didn't try to impose their own. To those rare ones—I'll never forget your kind friendships, and you're always in the highest regard. Yes, you, Steven, Sy, Sandra, Kent, Scott, Russ and others. The best of people, the best of humans.

But too many others couldn't resist—let me call them the do-gooder, Mike Lee and Chris Stewart types. No moral compass, just authority and fear running their clock. They'd always begin a digging query line with "Do you believe in Joseph Smith?" Uhhh, I don't know. "Well, then, you're not going to the Celestial Kingdom." The what? "The Celestial Kingdom, with the rest of your family." Huh? I go to church every Sunday. "It's not the true church. Your church isn't real." After you go through a few of those interrogations, you give up. They don't really end, though, for if Mormons like Lee and Stewart are good at one single thing, it's their belief that they are right in all things, even if they are wrong, because they cannot be wrong when what they believe is true. Get it?

I was taken aback this week when an old school friend, during a discussion about Biden and Trump, suddenly tossed a curve ball I hadn't heard in over 40 years: "Do you believe in Christ?" Huh? That's personal. Anyway, when did you start talking about Christ? "Trump is redeemed, and Biden will take this country to socialism hell." Biden lives more like Jesus than Trump ever will. "Hunter Biden is a crook." Trump's kids are worse. "The media lies about them." What has Trump ever done for you? "He stopped COVID. Biden is a fraud." That was it. Code alert. I've been on this road before. Biden is not a fraud, he's a Catholic.

There's a move afoot to drive open-minded Mormons to come to their senses and vote for Biden—a man who does not lie regularly, who loves his children so much he has pictures taken with them, whose wife wants to hold his hand, and who is not accused of bedding porn stars, snorting Adderall, hanging out with pervs, defrauding a cancer charity, thievery of all kinds, coddling America's enemies while enriching himself and so on. Some people believe undecided Mormon Republicans will recognize Trump as a criminal sinner and will vote for the decent soul, Joe Biden.

Good luck with that. But if they do, pass the sauce to those pious Greeks fawning for Trump. They've lost their baklava-loving minds.

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