Brothers and Sisters, meet Nick, the White Mormon.
At first glance, pedestrians and motorists encountering Nick at the entrance to the Salt Lake City temple can be forgiven if they think they're looking at a walking billboard for the Pillsbury Doughboy. Nick is dressed from head to toe in dazzling white, including white gloves and even white makeup that thoroughly covers his face, neck, and ears. He looks as if he's powdered from head to toe, like the victim of an explosion in a flour factory.
What is disturbing to most people about Nick are the actual clothes he's wearing. Nick is wearing a white suit with white shirt and white tie, and white socks with white shoes. In the breast pocket of the white suit is a white handkerchief . But over the suit he's wearing a set of white temple robes, and on his head is the unique white bowed cap familiar to all temple-going latter-day saints. All that plus the white gloves and face makeup combine for a startling sight.
Temple goers are accustomed to being visually accosted by anti-Mormon protesters and hecklers on the sidewalk in front of Temple Square. But Nick is no anti-Mormon, and mockery is the last thing on his mind. By positioning himself just outside the temple, arrayed completely in white, Nick is attempting to demonstrate his purity and devotion to God. Nick is not an Anti-Mormon; far from it. Nick is a sincere, believing latter-day saint, although admittedly somewhat different from you or me.
Some have assumed Nick is a bit off balance mentally, but I'm not qualified so I won't make that judgment. According to family members, however, Nick is Bi-Polar Schizophrenic and has lately gone off his medications. Neither his wife nor his parents have been able to dissuade Nick from his daily public lustrations, for Nick has heard the voice of God commanding him to stand thus on the corner for all to see. He is still unsure of the Lord's purpose in calling him to this public mission, but ever the faithful son, Nick obeys. He approaches no one, and does not speak unless spoken to (he almost never is). He does nothing but stand there obediently, for most of the day and always in the sun. Sometimes he sings Primary songs, such as "Families Can Be Together Forever".
The reason Nick's presence in the heart of Salt Lake City is so disturbing to so many is that to believing latter-days saints, the temple robes are sacred vestments that are not to be worn outside the temple, and certainly are never meant to be seen by the uninitiated. It's hard to think of anything that could be more of a shock to the sensibilities of the faithful than the sight of this man, literally white as a sheet all over, out of place and just outside their Holiest of Holies.
This was, of course, too much for Shawn McCraney to resist. McCraney is a former latter-day saint who now devotes his time to "saving" Mormons from what he believes is a false religion. To guys like McCraney, Nick The White Mormon is the ultimate manifestation of what can become of someone who takes Mormonism to its logical extreme, so Shawn brought Nick off the street and into his television studio for an interview.
To his credit, Shawn was clearly aware that Nick might be a somewhat troubled individual, so there was no smirking or sly winking as he interrogated his guest. McCraney was respectful throughout the interview, but he did ask leading questions, to which it appeared Nick did not give the hoped for answers implicating Mormonism as the cause of his delusions.
Nick relates his story in an urgent, sensible, and straightforward manner. He says he has studied the biographies of great men, and wanted to be as great as Jesus, if not greater. He felt the need to leave his mark on the world, and has apparently found his calling. For whatever reason, Nick is not currently able to attend temple services, so he says God has told him to get as close as he can and simply stand there in his temple robes.
Nick vacillates at times between having some idea of why he's doing this and at other times having no idea at all. People passing him usually avoid him completely, but sometimes when they do stop to ask why he's there he tells them he hopes they might be able to tell him, because he doesn't really know. At other times he declares his purpose is to bring about the immortality and eternal life of man.
Nick has a steadfast testimony of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the only true church, of the Book of Mormon as the word of God, as Joseph Smith as a true prophet. He believes LDS doctrine, as he testifies,"100 percent".
Concerning the temple robe, he says, "I believe it should be worn outside the temple. I believe it helps hold us to a higher standard, and I believe it helps us be more recognized as members of the church. It helps me live a more reverent and a more clean life." He doesn't know of any doctrine prohibiting the wearing of the temple clothing outside the temple; at least he doesn't remember hearing of any.
"I'm sure what my calling will be is to raise the bar", Nick says, "I'm going to raise the bar and there's going to be more required. You're really going to have to consecrate your life in a literal sense."
Nick's rambling justifications do sound at times like those typical of the bi-polar personality. "Just as Galileo and those people were ahead of their time", he says, "I feel like I may be ahead of my time and people will start catching up".
So what is the reaction of Mormondom to this childlike son of our Heavenly Father? Well, as you might imagine, they just want him gone. Most people can handle just about anything except embarrassment, and Nick is nothing if not an embarrassment -to them, to their religion, to their comfort. They want him off the street, but they can't have him arrested because he's not a threat to anyone. Neither can he be forcibly admitted to an institution or be coerced into taking medication. There's no law against dressing in white.
There's nobody in the world who would like to see Nick off the street and out of the public eye more than his own family. One family member hoped Nick's bishop might be able to assist in the situation, but when contacted was only warned to "tell him if he tries to come around here, we'll have him removed."
A call to the church office building garnered no sympathy, either. When a family member called there to ask if there was anything they could do together to resolve the situation, the response was a curt statement that the church was going to sue Nick.
So much for Godly understanding.
Perhaps Nick would never have ended up on the corner wearing temple clothes if the visitor's center authorities hadn't overstepped their bounds sometime earlier. Before God ever told Nick to put on face paint and temple robes, Nick showed up at the temple square Visitor's Center decked out in an all white suit and tie, a look which would not have been unusual for former church president David O. McKay, but for some reason caught the notice of the temple square cops. Standing at one point looking at a painting of Jesus, Nick noticed a white cloth covering Jesus' head. He pulled out his own pocket handkerchief and put it over his own head in emulation, then continued to stroll the grounds.
For some reason a guy wandering around the Visitor's Center in a white suit with a white handkerchief on his head freaked out church security and they asked him to leave. Nick insisted that he wasn't doing anything other than just being there trying to feel the spirit, but they continued to press him to leave. Nick wondered aloud if they would oust Jesus or a Muslim or a woman for wearing a head covering. Eventually the police were called, he was charged with trespassing, arrested, and taken to jail.
After this incident, Nick decided to respect the church's wishes and now stays well outside their jurisdiction, on the sidewalk some feet from church property at North Temple and Main. It was the day after his forcible ouster that the inspiration came to him that when he returned he should wear the complete temple outfit and cover his face with white makeup.
Maybe Church Security should have left well enough alone.
Look, I'm uncomfortable with the temple clothing being exposed to common view, but let's get over it, shall we? Pictures and videos of these clothes are all over the internet; anyone can see them any time, and millions have. The Big Love videos are all over YouTube, and there were reenactments of the ceremonies available in books and on video tape for years before that. Most people not only don't care, but can't understand what all the fuss is about.
All the frantic attempts we Mormons make to bottle this stuff up only makes us look ridiculous. There's nothing left to hide, and continuing to try to hide it makes us look foolish. You can find photo-shopped pictures of everyone from Mitt Romney to Osama Bin Ladin in Mormon temple garments, and it's offensive to those of us who hold these things sacred, but let's not become Islamic extremists about it. It is what it is, so let's let it go, grow up, and move on.
I suspect that what really bothers most of us is we don't like being ridiculed, but I'm also guessing it's a little late for that. Yes, I know the cap seems a bit odd for a religious habiliment in this day and age, but you can see any number of sillier looking headpieces on people standing around outside the Vatican.
A hundred and sixty-five years ago members of the church didn't attach so much importance to the robes themselves, but to the covenants made while wearing them. They didn't worry about others accidentally seeing them, either. They didn't hide them in closets, they hung them on clotheslines.
Besides, I don't think God gets anywhere near as bent out of shape as we do at the thought of these things being exposed to public view. So there's a guy standing outside the temple dressed in white. So what? Just yards away inside there are dozens of people dressed just like him -minus the gloves and face paint, of course. He thinks he's doing it for a holy and noble purpose, so why not just leave him alone?
Better yet, why don't you bring him a sandwich? Nick rarely takes any food with him on his day-long vigils, and he often forgets to eat before he leaves home, so he's losing a dangerous amount of weight as the days go by. If you want to know what Jesus would do about a guy like Nick, Jesus would feed him.
It's hard to fault Nick over his childlike love for everyone, for his readiness to forgive those who pelt him with water balloons and shout cruel threats. He is nothing if not sincere in his desire to do God's will, no matter how misguided the rest of us may think him.
In the waning days of ancient Israel, there were guys like Nick at the entrance to the temple that God put there specifically to be a testimony against those sanctimonious pharisees who took pride in the knowledge that they were serving the Lord, all the while turning up their noses at those lesser beings outside. Today there are also some in Salt Lake who enter the House of the Lord at the North Temple entrance and when they see Nick many of them are disgusted. They ignore him. They snub him. They resent him. They wish he'd just go away. Rarely does anybody hug him and tell him that they love him.
Shawn McCraney says he has long believed that there are few places in the LDS church for those members who are decidedly different, and I have to agree with him. We're embarrassed to have the eccentric among us. We are uncomfortable, for instance, with a member who may be a faithful believer, but who smells of tobacco. We would rather such people stay away from our meetings entirely than to have them slipping outside between meetings for a desperate smoke. It wouldn't befit the image; somebody might drive by and see them. A habitual smoker or even a coffee drinker has no more place among the saints than some fool dressed in his temple clothes trying in his own deluded way to be the best Mormon he can be.
Nick has posited one additional theory about why the Lord has placed him at the entrance to His holy temple in Salt Lake City. He says "I think I'm being commanded to stand at that spot, wearing what I'm wearing, being how I am, so that members can learn acceptance."
"Acceptance for all people," he continues, "We're all brothers and sisters; we're all children of the Heavenly Father and we're all equal. And I think this is what Heavenly Father is really trying to get across."
Doesn't sound that crazy to me.
UPDATE May 10, 2012:
I recently received the following letter from Nick's father, and he has given me permission to share it here:
I'm Nick's father, Cliff. I Googled my son's name today, and your blog came up. I had read thru it back in 09 when he was involved in standing at the entrance to the SL temple and appreciated your take on his situation at that time, and I reread it today.
I see that some "followers" so to speak, must have provided some information recently on your blog that was inappropriate, and you've taken the comments down, and prevented any additional posting. It's unfortunate that the freedom of expression integral to the internet can tend to encourage those who are irresponsible, and even worse.
FYI, Nick is still having difficulties, and still is not regularly taking medication as he should. I nearly had a program in place with the cooperation of the SL Prosecutor back in 09 that would have required Nick to do counseling and meds consistently for at least a year. That might have gotten him on the right track long enough to want to stay there. It's a long story that I've been dealing with since his teenage years.
I made a commitment long ago to do what I can to protect him, but the process of protecting him isn't always apparent. For instance; when he was standing at the temple, he lived with me in my downtown condo. Rather than have him walk back and forth, I gave him a ride, and checked on him as much as possible during the day. My reason was to keep him safe from harm given the attitudes of some folks with his clothing and appearance. While walking on a street on the Avenues he could have been accosted and beat up or worse. I was accused of "enabling" him by some...including some church authorities. Folks just don't understand that there's no way to "make" Nick do or not do what he's going to do. If he doesn't violate the legal system, and he's not a danger to himself or others, he has the right to be as "goofy" as he wants.
On the other hand...earlier this year I granted him permission to stay in my place in Huntington Beach, CA. We made certain agreements as to how he would care for the place, and what he would do. Two weeks ago I made a quick trip to CA to put him out due to his breaking of our agreements. I wanted him to come back to Utah, but he refused, called me every name in the book, and said if he couldn't stay there he'd live homeless in LA. He knew that my greatest fear was that he might someday end up that way. But in this case I felt that I couldn't and shouldn't relent...and so far it seems to have been the correct course of action.
Now, 2 weeks later...after some gyrations and "Homeless in Hollywood" experience...we have our normal loving relationship, and he's living with a friend in Long Beach. But who knows what tomorrow will bring. And I mean that very literally. With Nick, things can change dramatically in the course of a day.
The "real" Nick is one of the best guys a person would ever want to associate with, and I just hope that he can find a way to be that guy consistently. My youngest daughter is also bipolar. My daughter lives with me, takes her meds, does counseling, and is working hard to make a "regular" life for herself. I make it a habit to communicate with Nick at least once, and usually multiple times daily. I still work full time, so it does feel burdensome at times...but on the other hand...the loving relationship I have with all of my kids is worth every bit of the time, effort and energy. I have other kids who are just great "regular" folks...although a couple of them currently have some pretty serious issues that they've gotten themselves into and are dealing with. I find it amazing how different from one another they are, and how smart and talented they all are. They're all a joy...in their own individual ways.
Nick is truly a very talented person, and has earned in excess of 200K a year at times in sales. He has a need to succeed dramatically, and it often drives him to excess. For instance: When he was 15 he got into mountain bike racing, and became the best racer in the western states in the 16 to 18 year old category. They wouldn't let him race in his own age category, because there was just no competition. Then in the first race of the season after he turned 16, he got in a wreck, broke his collarbone, and it turned out that he couldn't race for the rest of the season. He was way ahead when he wrecked with 8 miles of rough terrain left, and he finished the race in second place. Unfortunately, he developed other less wholesome interests while out with injury...and never raced again. This was my first real inkling of his bipolar, although I had no clue. I just knew that such a dramatic shift seemed abnormal. It's sad that he didn't continue on with it, but this was actually just a mild forerunner to what his life has been thus far.
My hope for Nick is that he can find a way to be consistent in his choices in life...rather then bouncing back and forth. Even though I'm a "natural" food fan and not typically a proponent of meds, I think that for him, regular and consistent meds along with counseling may be the only solution. I fear that he will never go there.
My health is actually not all that great. My kidneys were damaged in Viet Nam and I was told they would be gone by 1975 or earlier. I managed to nurse them along thru diet and "good living", so to speak until 2 years ago, when they failed and I'm now on dialysis. Nick was the first person to anxiously tell me he wanted to donate a kidney if we matched. He hits me up about it all the time, and I'm getting on the "list" hopefully this month...but I'm not too anxious to take one from one of my kids. The good thing is that beyond by kidneys, my health is quite good. I'm committed to hopefully staying healthy enough long enough to see my kids find their way to a good life.
Anyway, I thought you might be interested in a little more info and a bit of an update on Nick. I also wanted to say that I've read some of your blogs, and found them very interesting and well done. Thanks for providing.