The Seven Year Gap: 2008-2014
I met Rashel at college in 2007. She was a training to be a nurse. We had very different personalities. Under normal circumstances, we would not have been a good match. Under Christian circumstances, our marriage seemed appropriate cause we were both centered on God.
Below, Rashel and I danced in front of the Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone. Old faithful gets its name from the fact that it erupts on a predictable looping cycle. On the day of this picture, we were the only ones at the site. John Denver was playing on the loud speaker: "Annie's Song" became our song. This was the day I decided to marry her.
Rashel and I "falling in love" at Yellowstone National Park
I first heard of YouTube in 2007. Instantly, I understood the value of the platform and began preparing my. To me, this was an answer to my prayers. It was a way to be a moviemaker without going through Hollywood.
YouTube advertised itself as a place where people outside Hollywood could have a voice. On this platform, I could speak without being compelled to compromise my standards.
But Rashel did not share my optimism.
At the start of our relationship, Rashel acted as though she loved the camera. This was one reason I was attracted to her. Much later (when it was too late) I realized that was not her true nature.
Rashel's real name and face has been censored to respect her privacy. Censorship of this nature allows me to tell my story while respecting her wish to remain annonymous.
In January of 2008, after getting engaged but before the wedding, I was ready to launch my YouTube channel. But the night before my first upload, Rashel wanted me to prove my love for her. She said I had to choose between the wedding or the YouTube channel - between her or filmmaking.
My logic was this: A man's spouse should be the most important thing in his life. A man should be willing to sacrifice everything for his wife. If I chose movies over my fiancé, doesn't it prove that I'm not, really, in love with her? If I'm not willing to sacrifice moviemaking, how will I ever get married?
Had I chosen YouTube, my early timing on the platform might have guaranteed fame for life. But destiny had a different plan for me...
A Wedding and a Funeral
The role of a prophet
One thing that separates Mormons from other Christians is that Mormons believe God continues to speak, directly, to representatives on earth in modern times. These representatives are called prophets. Just as the people in the Bible were led by Noah, Moses and John the Baptist, Mormons are led by living prophets who continue to write scripture stories in our day.
The head prophet that led the Mormon Church in 2008 was President Gordon B. Hinckley, and he was scheduled to visit our university on the week that Rashel and I were to be married.
In 2008, Gordon B. Hinckley, was the official representative of God according to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was, in modern times, what Noah was in ancient times.
The role of the temple
Another difference between Mormons and other Christian denominations is that Mormons believe that, for a marriage to be authorized by God, the couple must get married inside a Mormon temple.
This is to emphasize the couple's obligated to follow Church laws. While the State doesn't enforce rules like fidelity, the Church does. Thus, in theory, for marriage to be real, a man and woman must get married in a temple, not a courthouse.
In accordance with these religious regulations, Rashel and I planned to be wed in the brand new Rexburg Idaho Temple (which I helped build). Our wedding date was scheduled after the open house, which would have made us the first couple married in that temple. With the prophet in attendance, this was supposed to be a great celebration.
The Rexburg Idaho Temple.
The death of the prophet
Several days before the wedding, the prophet died. Due to his death, the grand opening of the temple was postponed and Rashel and I had to relocate our wedding to a temple in Salt Lake City, Utah.
At that time, I had a bad feeling about what I was getting into. Death is not a good omen for a wedding. Nonetheless, on February 5th, 2008, Rashel and I were married.
The Mormon prophet dies days before the temple open.
Rashel and I were married on February 5th, 2008 in the Salt Lake City Temple.
Immediately after the wedding, Rashel began limiting my media consumption. She agreed with Bishop Frank's advice that Hollywood was immoral and insisted that we should only allow clean media into our home.
At first, I agreed. But as the months passed, I slowly lost the ability to compromise with Rashel. In time, she had taken complete control of everything I watched and read.
Eventually, Rashel's censorship prevented me from watching anything unless it was work or school related (and even then, I was strictly monitored). I couldn't watch TV or movies, listen to the radio, read the newspaper, use the internet. And if I did, Rashel found some god-awful way to retaliate so I never did it again. Life with Rashel became the stuff nightmares are made of.
To her, every media program had something that was immoral. After much heart ache, I gave up trying to defend Hollywood and began a media fast that lasted for seven years.
A small adult joke, like this one from Shrek, was enough to put this movie on Rashel's list of forbidden films. The movie Tangled was banned because the lead voice was Mandy Moore's, who was in other films that Rashel deemed were inappropriate. These were the media standards I had to live by.
Prior to our marriage, when I agreed to give up my YouTube channel, Rashel said I could continue making movies as a hobby. But after the wedding, she promptly crushed those ambitions.
She said I could only make movies if she was in them, but she was rarely in the mood to be on camera. And when she was it was as though she was trying to sabotage my film.
Art, itself, became a touchy subject after she made me change my minor because one of my textbooks showed the statue of David -- who was naked.
After she threw away one of my journals, I realized, I just couldn't document things anymore. For this reason, I call this chapter of my life "The Seven Year Gap"
Because friends and family, occasionally, used foul language, Rashel made me get rid of my social media accounts as well. In time, all contact with the outside world was filtered through her.
Rashel felt that she didn't have to obey the same media regulations because the role of the female is to be the gatekeeper of the home. She argued that she had to view the media to know what to censor. But because of this difference in our media diets, we were moving in two different directions. Rashel was becoming the monster she was trying to prevent me from becoming. And I was just becoming weird. I couldn't talk to people about the news or movies or politics because I didn't know what was going on. My perception of reality was based on what my wife told me, and her perception of the world was not accurate.
Eventually, I fell into a deep depression. I didn't want to leave the house cause I was afraid Rashel would embarrass me to further her control over my behavior.
Meanwhile, my friends thought I had abandoned them. They thought I didn't care. Virtually all former relationships I had with anyone in my past were destroyed.
The Seven Year Gap (2008). Colored Pencil. I drew this to reflect the loneliness I felt in marriage
Writing a novel
As a form of escapism, I began writing a novel and immersed myself in a fictional world of my own creation.
Ataraxa is about a boy named Blitz who awakens on an island inhabited by various characters from literature and history (Shakespeare, Long John Silver, Zeus, Einstein, etc.).
The characters are segregated into themed territories and are forbidden from crossing into other zones. However, Blitz wreaks havoc as he plays matchmaker and manipulates love affairs between people from different zones.
The cover of my novel Ataraxa.
At the conclusion of the story, Blitz discovers he's in a virtual reality program, and the girl he's fallen in love with is not real. Thus, just as he paired mates who don't belong together, he finds himself in an impossible relationship, for fact can never marry fiction.
The purpose of the book was to ask readers why certain boundaries exist: racial, sexual, biological. But the heart of the book examines the boundary that separates fact and fiction.
Becoming a teacher
I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history education and a minor in journalism education. I was also certified to teach art, advertising, mass media communications, and seminary (religion). After college, we moved to Utah and I began teaching junior high school.
I began teaching junior high school in Utah. I was certified to teach history, journalism, art, advertising, mass media communications, and seminary (religion).
A clip from the time I taught my students about Lewis and Clark.
Religion in public schools
One day, I asked my students what the rule was regarding religion in public schools. They unanimously answered that it is against the law to talk about religion... BUT IT’S NOT!
As representatives of the state, teachers can't endorse religion. Teachers can't pray in class and we have to be careful how we teach history when the subjects matter intersects with religious content. But, to censor religion altogether is to distort the past.
Students, on the other hand, have the right to say, almost, whatever they want. They can proselyte in the middle of class. They can pray, openly, during a test. They can lead Christian parades in the cafeteria during lunch.
In my short time as a teacher, I saw students demonstrate their right to free speech in many ways. But it seemed like the freer students were to talk about social issues that were taboo in the past, the less free they were to talk about religion in the present. When I was in high school, many groups were voiceless, but I never thought Christianity would be one them.
This is an advertisement made by my journalism students.
In 2012, I was accepted into the mass communications graduate program at Brigham Young University (BYU) in Utah.
In contrast to interpersonal communication, which emphasizes face to face interactions, mass communications focuses on the way people communicate through movies, television, newspaper, books, and so on. It's the study of the influence the media has on society.My emphasis was in semiotics.
Semiotics is the study of meaning. In the field of science, it's a methodological approach to studying signs and symbols. It can be used to interpret stories with analogies, metaphors, or parables to determine the writer's intentions.
I love semiotics is because I could use it to understand my two favorite subjects: film and religion.
Cultural Transformer on Sexual Behavior, Body Image, Violence, and Language: A study of the Affects of American Movies on International Individuals. By Jonny Lekrib, Sarah Lee, and John Oirya.
In graduate school, it became impossible to respect my wife's media regulations. Thus, in 2013, as part of an academic study, I watched my first movie in six years: Warm Bodies.
Warm Bodies (2013). A zombie version of Romeo and Juliet.
My goal in the study was to analyze the film to show that Hollywood had secularized a Christian concept (meaning they took religion out of the apocalypse).
Instead, the study suggested that Warm Bodies could be interpreted as a parable of Jesus Christ disguised as a story about a zombie Romeo and Juliet. (Instead of Christians eating the Eucharist, Christ is, literally, eating the brains of his followers.)
Zombie Messiah: Apocalypticism, Secularism, Semiotics, and Warm Bodies. A study by Jonny Lekrib
The results of the study surprised me. My whole life, I had been told that Hollywood was ignorant to Christianity. However, my analysis suggested that Hollywood was, in fact, paying attention to religion.
That year my study was awarded a prize by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (AEJMC), and I was given a grant to present the study at a conference in Washington D.C.
Rashel insisted on going with me to the Washington D.C. conference, but she made the experience a living nightmare. It was like she was trying to prevent me from enjoying something I worked hard for. In many ways, Rashel scared me. I did not always feel safe around my wife. I felt that she would not hesitate to crush me if the moment came when it was in her interest.
My church taught that I had to be married to get into heaven. But why did marriage feel like Hell?
Me receiving a journalism award in Washington D.C. for The Zombie Messiah.
For the past six years I had done everything she wanted. I gave up my friends, my passions, my life. I sacrificed everything for her. Why couldn’t I make her happy? At that time I wondered: What is the man’s responsibility in a marriage?
It was that summer, as the sun set over the nation's capitol, as I danced with Rashel near a fountain in front of the cracked Washington Monument that I realized, we might not make it.
At that time, I considered nonprofit work as a career path. Previous to this, I had volunteered for the Boys and Girls Club, The Ronald McDonald House, and The Salvation Army. In grad school, I was hired as an intern for Feed The World.
During the internship, I worked with a team to study how stories can be used to increase donations. My passion for this project led to my graduate thesis wherein I used semiotics to interpret pictures found on the websites of nonprofit organizations.
Feed the World is a nonprofit organization that helps communities become self reliant through sustainable farming.
My Graduate Thesis
For my graduate thesis, I analyzed ways that nonprofit organizations use pictures to influence viewers into donating money, even though it seems as though donators are getting nothing in return. The purpose of the study was to improve the way charities use visual images to increase revenue. Thesis provided below.
In December of 2013, while writing my graduate thesis, I came across an image on the Salvation Army's home page that confused me. The picture showed a young woman adorned in fancy jewelry. While other nonprofit organization home pages showed pictures of children in poor living conditions, the Salvation Army showed an image of a princess. But why?
The girl in question was Selena Gomez, a popular actor and musician, but because of my seven year media fast, I had no idea who she was. I had never heard her music or watched her television show. Therefore, I was perplexed as to how an image of a rich teenager would influence people to donate money to charity.
Selena promoting the Salvation Army charity through the Red Kettle Campaign.
After learning who the girl was, I gave a presentation to my graduate class on the influence that celebrities have to change public behavior. The focus of the presentation was on Selena Gomez, who used her fame to help people in need.
I gave the presentation on the last day of class before the Christmas break of 2013. I would not come across Selena again for ten months.
But this is where things start to get weird.
Selena Gomez was the youngest UNICEF ambassador ever.