The Seven Year Gap: 2008-2014
According to Mormon theology, individuals are required to get married before they can enter into heaven. Although marriage did not appeal to me, I wanted to be obedient to God’s commandments.
I met Rashel at the university 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.
Furthermore, I had lost hope of finding a companion that fit my idea of a perfect mate: I was forbidden from being with a male and I could not find a Christian female who was passionate about moviemaking. To me, it seemed like Rashel was as good as it was gonna get. Therefore, after a short courtship, we were engaged.
Rashel and I "falling in love" at Yellowstone National Park
Rashel and I dancing in front of Yellowstone's Old Faithful as it erupts. Old faithful is a world famous geyser that 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.
The first time I heard about YouTube was in 2007. Instantly, I understood the value of the platform and began preparing videos to be uploaded. To me, this was an answer to my prayers.
My whole life I wanted to make movies as a career but was forbidden because Hollywood and its immorality had control of the entertainment industry. But YouTube was advertised as a place where people outside of Hollywood could have a voice. YouTube was a place where I could speak without being compelled to compromise my standards. However, Rashel did not share my optimism about the platform.
When I first met Rashel, she acted as though she loved the camera. This is one reason I was attracted to her. Much later (when it was too late) I realized that was not her true nature. Rashel was a private person.
In my story, 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 silent.
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.
I chose Rashel over my love of moviemaking. 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 refused to sacrifice my movies for my fiancé, it proved that I was not, really, in love with her. It suggests that my true love is elsewhere. But if that's true, how could I ever marry anyone?
This decision proved to be the crossroad of my life. Had I chosen YouTube, I believe the timing of my entry and the quality of my work would have elevated me to national fame. Because of changing politics, I would have, eventually, married a better suitor. Today, I would be rich and influential.
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 considered to be the official representative of God by 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 on Church property, inside a Mormon temple. This is because of a separation that exists between Church and State:
For a marriage to be successful, the husband and wife must obey certain rules (for example, laws of fidelity). However, these rules are not enforced by the State. By getting married inside a temple, the man and women are promising to obey the laws of the Church, even though they are not legally obligated by State standards. In exchange for obeying these religious laws, God promises to keep the marriage together.
Therefore, in accordance with our religion, Rashel and I planned on getting married in a new Mormon temple that was built in Rexburg, Idaho. Due to the convenient timing of our wedding, Rashel and I were scheduled to be the first man and woman ever married in that temple. The reason the prophet was coming to our city was to open the building for religious use. This was to be a week of great celebration.
The Rexburg, Idaho Mormon Temple. I helped build this temple and was suppose to be the first man married inside.
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 Mormon 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 with this. But as the months passed, I slowly lost the ability to compromise with Rashel. In time, she had taken complete control of everything I read and watched.
As the months progressed, Rashel's censorship regulations grew to become so strict, I was not allowed to view anything, at all, that was not school or work related. I could not watch movies, listen to the radio, read the newspaper, or watch television without Rashel retaliating in some awful way.
To Rashel, 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 (2008-2014).
A small adult joke, like this one from Shrek, was enough to put this movie on Rashel's list of films I was not allowed to watch. The movie Tangled was banned because the lead voice was Mandy Moore's, who was in other films that Rashel believed were inappropriate. These were the media standards I had to live by.
Prior to the marriage, I agreed not to start a YouTube channel. However, Rashel agreed that I could continue to film as a hobby. But as Rashel's preference for privacy became more transparent, my ability to film decreased.
Often, she would say. "You do not have permission to film me." Although I respected her request, she also forbid me from filming myself and other people, which didn't make sense to me. But the consequence of disobeying her was some awful form of retaliation.
At the start of our marriage, it was as though our lives, together, were divided into two separate parts: my property and her property. But as she monopolized our relationship, my freedom to film weakened until it was dead. For this reason, I don't have many videos or documents from this time period, and I refer to this chapter of my story as "The Seven Year Gap."
Because my friends and family, occasionally, used foul language, uploaded questionable photos, and discussed inappropriate topics online, Rashel cut off my social media presence. In time, all contact with the outside world was filtered through Rashel. Meanwhile, my friends thought that I had abandoned them. They thought I didn't care. Virtually all former relationships I had with all of the people in my past were destroyed. This is a loss I have never recovered from.
To make the situation worse, Rashel felt that she was not obligated under the same media restrictions that I was. As the female in the marriage, she believed her responsibility was to be the gatekeeper of the home. She argued that she had to view the media to know what to censor. Because of this difference in our media diets, Rashel and I were moving in two different directions.
As a child, I was told that I was different. I adopted movies and TV shows as a way to relate to other people in society. But when Rashel censored me from the media, my ability to communicate with people withered. I became awkward. I felt alone.
The media is everywhere. Magazines are in the checkout stand at the grocery store. Movies are advertised on freeway billboards. In time I realized that the censorship of the media was the censorship of the world. Slowly, I was becoming an alien to my own people.
As my depression grew, I no longer wanted to leave the house. My perception of realty was based on what Rashel told me, and her perception of reality was not accurate. Below is a picture I drew during this lonely time in my life. I call it The Seven Year Gap.
The Seven Year Gap (2008). Jonny Lekrib. Colored Pencil.
In my absence, the world began changing rapidly. 2008 was the year the housing market crashed. It was the year YouTube became popular. It was the year the first African American was elected as President of the United States.
2008 was also the year the LGBT community had it's breakthrough: This was the year of Proposition 8...
For the past few years, Californians had been debating the legality of same-sex marriage. The purpose of Prop 8 was to make gay marriage illegal, once and for all. But the reason the proposition is so important is because it inspired a wave of media makers to talk about the issue in public..
Proposition 8 was a California ballot proposition created by opponents of same-sex marriage. Although the proposition passed, making same-sex marriage illegal, it was later ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
Homosexuality is the most censored issue of all time. But in 2008, for the first time in history, everyone was talking about it. The gay issue was in movies, on radio stations, in newspaper articles, and on television shows. And as the conversation grew, a shift in public opinion was taking place.
But I had no idea because I was censored from the media. It seems that as I lost my ability to speak, the LGBT community gained theirs.
Writing a novel
Due to feelings of loneliness and alienation, 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 all the notable fiction and non-fiction characters from earth (Shakespeare, Long John Silver, Zeus, Einstein, etc.).
All characters are stereo-typically segregated into themed territories (western land, haunted land, fantasy land, etc.). Each land is divided by boundaries that the characters are not allowed to cross. However, Blitz wreaks havoc as he plays matchmaker and romantically pairs couples from different territories.
An unfinished map of Ataraxa. Land names were placeholders.
The cover of my novel Ataraxa.
Toward the conclusion of the book, Blitz realizes he is in a virtual reality simulation, and the girl that he has fallen in love with, is a fictional computer simulation. Therefore, just as he had been pairing mates who do not belong together, the creators of the game caused him to fall in love with someone he does not belong with: A person of fact fell in love with a person of fiction.
The purpose of the book was to ask the reader why certain boundaries exist: racial, sexual, biological. But the heart of the book discussed the boundary that separates fact and fiction.
A career in teaching
My bachelor’s degree is in history education. I have always been fascinated at the way history merges fact with fiction. I’m in awe of the way a narrative can change normal men into legends and mortals into gods. In particular, I love ancient societies: the Egyptians, Babylonians and Israelites; the Aztecs, Mayans, and Olmecs.
My minor is in journalism education. Journalism is much like history but with an emphasis on the present instead of the past. What the historian and the journalist share in common is their quest for truth. That said, my college education was primarily about learning how to distinguish fact from fiction.
Becoming a teacher
After graduating college, 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
For a short time, I taught religion. Although public schools do not offer religious courses, certain denomination, such as Mormons, offer special programs that allow high school students to leave campus during school hours and attend Christian classes on church property. This is called seminary. In Utah, where over 50% of the students were Christian, seminary is commonplace. But on school property, religion was invisible.
One day, as part of my lesson, 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!
The main restrictions on religion are those that apply to teachers. As a representative of the state, I was not allowed to endorse a religions denomination. Teachers cannot pray in class. We must be careful how we teaching science and history when the subjects matter intersects with religious content.
But students 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.
As the school year progressed, I saw students demonstrating their right to free speech in many ways. For example, that year, the students started a club for LGBTQ individuals. But it seemed like the more free students were to speak about social issues, the more silent they were to talk about religion. Christianity was becoming censored.
Those who don't do...
My career in teaching was short lived because I was bothered by the saying, "Those who don't do, teach."
I felt like even though I had the knowledge and certificates needed to teach in public schools, I did not have any professional experience. I had never written a book based on a historical event. I had never made a real movie or worked for a newsroom.
For this reason (among others), I quit teaching, temporarily, so I could gain professional experience in my field.
This is an advertisement made by the students of my journalism class.
In 2012, I was accepted into a graduate program at Brigham Young University (BYU) in Utah. For the next three years I took graduate courses in mass communications.
Mass communications is the academic field that studies all forms of communication that occur on a massive level. As appose to interpersonal communication (which emphasizes one-on-one, face time discussions), mass communications focuses on the way people communicate through movies, television, newspaper, books, and so on. Mass communication is the study of the media and the influence it has on society.
In the beginning, my area of interest was media ecology (how the medium can influences the message). In time, I transitioned to studying Hollywood, specifically, and the way movies influence behavior and perceptions of morality.
At right is a downloadable sample of the type of work I did as a graduate student. In this paper, me and two colleges studied the influence Hollywood movies have on non-American cultures.
My educational breakthrough came when I discovered semiotics.
Semiotics is a methodological approach to studying signs and symbols (it's the science of interpreting meaning). Semiotics can be used to interpret stories with analogies, metaphors, or parables.
I love semiotics is because I could use it to understand my two favorite subjects: film and religion.
Brigham Young University Campus.
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.
Due to the nature of the field, it became difficult to respect my wife's demand for me to avoid all media. 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 was to analyze the film to show that Hollywood had secularized a Christian concept (the apocalypse). Instead, the study revealed 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 Washington D.C., but made the experience a 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 best interest.
Me recieving a journalism award in Washington D.C. for my semiotic study.
I was told that I had to be married to get into heaven, but why did marriage feel like Hell? And why was Rashel so upset with me all the time? 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.
For a while, I considered nonprofit organizational work as a career option. 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 the 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 teenage princess would influence people to donate money to charity.
My introduction to Selena Gomez came in 2013, when I saw an image of her on the Salvation Army's homepage. Selena was promoting charity through the Red Kettle Campaign. (The original image that I saw was violet colored. )
After learning who the woman 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's name for ten months.
However, this first encounter with her photograph marks the moment when things in my story start to get weird...
Selena Gomez has been involved with many charity organizations including UNICEF, for which she was the youngest ambassador ever chosen.
I'd like to think that my story, up to this point, is above average. Most people spend their lives watching TV, but I was forming a narrative.
But when 2014 began, things started getting weird. Little did I know, my life was about to completely change.
To continue to part two of my story, click here.