Brown patches in the lawn. Garden weeds. Melted bubble gum strings draped across my black car bumper. The nagging sting of a sunburn on my shoulders. Children shrieking at the cold water erupting from a sprinkler placed strategically beneath a trampoline. Proof that life has moved on. Proof that a drastic and terrifying change in one’s fundamental self is no match for the inevitability of the passing time.
But in the thick of it, it’s hard to imagine ever smelling the near perfect fragrance of a freshly cut lawn again. When your life changes on this scale, it’s hard to remember that time is supposed heal all wounds.
It all accelerated so quickly. It was this time last year, sitting under an oak tree in the front yard, enjoying the cool summer evening, 300 and some odd pages into “No Man Knows My History,” lost in my own head.
Things stick. I remember learning about it in my undergraduate biology classes but don’t remember specifically how it works (I was not good at tests). Certain environmental conditions will trigger memories that you associate with those conditions. Every time I hear a Wilson Phillips song I think of a camping trip I took with my family 20 years ago. Every time I smell the exhaust from a diesel engine I think of walking the streets of Brazil, sweating through my short sleeve dress shirt, rocks in my shoes that snuck in through the gaping holes. And I suppose that from now on, the smells of summer will elicit memories of the beginning of this new chapter in my life’s book.
We were all in. On Bob’s Mormon Cred Scale, I scored an 85 which makes me a ‘Celestial Mormon’. Despite this admirable score, I have always lived on the ‘edgy’ side of Mormonism with the intention to be more approachable, and thus a better ambassador and missionary for the church. I do often wonder though if this perceived ‘edge’ about me feeds fuel to the fire of reasons I am sure I am accused of for leaving. “He watched R rated movies and they numbed his sensitivities toward the spirit.” “He was sarcastic and snarky which made him callous toward The Church.” “He drank Pepsi and probably left so he could experiment with harder stuff like.” And so on….
We officially announced our intentions to leave the church in January, haven’t been back since, and don’t plan on returning.
“So what’s that like?” This is the question that I would ask me if I weren’t me.
What’s it like? It’s probably a lot like spending most of your life on the International Space Station, returning home, and learning how to walk again. It’s probably like those videos of deaf people who receive a cochlear implant and get to hear for the first time or like losing 200 pounds and running a marathon for the first time. It is weird and strange and scary and exciting and fun and miserable.
But mostly just OK.
It’s been ok. I remember last summer, making decisions and plans with my recently disillusioned wife. We were going to stay in the church but not participate fully. We were done with the temple and all that goes along with it. We were probably going to baptize our children but only because it was an important family tradition; a rite of passage so to speak. We were going to attend our meetings and try to find callings in the ward that would work for us. We were going to become New Order or Alternative Mormons.
It seemed well thought out and sincere, but we quickly discovered that when you have one foot in and one foot out, the institution you thought would be pulling you in was actually prodding at you with the spikes of bigotry and xenophobia. You are welcome to come and sit and serve and pay, but don’t think, or at least don’t share your thoughts. We read stories of people within the church being excommunicated for expressing concern or disbelief in core tenets of the church that are quite frankly UNBELIEVABLE. We would sit in church services and become ill listening to the lessons and talks. I’ve never been to a Magic The Gathering convention but I think that is how I would feel at one.
So we left.
We left because we wanted to be honest with ourselves. We left because we wanted to be honest with our kids. We left because we were only staying for fear of the consequences from leaving. It was hard to leave. But it was harder to stay. In my head, I was exploring for the first time the possibility that this life is all we have. This is a terrifying thought for anyone experiencing it for the first time, but a sobering one as well. If this was it, I wasn’t spending another minute living for the sake of someone else.
Believing/practicing Mormons don’t usually understand this. They are not well equipped to empathize with what it is like to doubt or disbelieve. When counseling a doubter, they often offer up a solution tantamount to saying “You’re having a faith crisis? Have you tried NOT having a faith crisis?” It sounds an awful lot like telling a cancer patient to stop having cancer. And this has been the hardest part (for me at least). The Church created a culture that discredits and marginalizes defectors to the point that orthodox members cannot understand how anything could exist that would make you abandon your faith.
But if there is anyone out there listening, please trust me when I tell you that there most definitely are things out there. There are things you may think you know, but the real story has been sugar coated and propagandized into a story as clean and neat and perfect as only a fairy tale could be told. The reality is far from what you have been told and taught and you/we have been forbidden from looking for more information outside authorized church publications. But a peek behind the curtain reveals terrible and heartbreaking truths. It reveals reality.
I won’t go into details. I don’t want to turn off any perspective readers and risk being seen as a church critic. Although I am critical of the church internally, I don’t think mudslinging is the most effective method of sharing an important message. See the CESLetter.org if you ever become curious (I encourage you to become curious).
Now what? What becomes of my relationship to the church? Do I hope for change? Do I hope for more transparency? Do I wait for church leaders to give credence to my doubts? Do I hope family and friends awake to the same terrifying realization that their world view may not be as clean and neat as they have perceived? Do I hope for the demise of the church?
I don’t know.
I only know that the predicted misery, loneliness, and confusion that was supposed to accompany my ‘apostasy’ has only ever come to fruition inasmuch as:
- It has been miserable being around people who seem to be more hurt by my leaving the church than I am hurt by my own loss of faith. This didn’t happen to you nearly as much as it happened to me. I didn’t leave to hurt you and it is not your fault. It really has very little to do with you.
- Friends and family have been unwilling to meet me on the field of reasonable conversation and have left me alone with unable to genuinely express myself. They have quarantined me for fear of becoming contaminated. Losing your faith leaves you lonely enough without also losing your community.
- General church leadership has left me confused as to why the discovery of institutional improprieties leaves the discoverer guilty of apostasy rather than the institution itself. It’s confusing to me why the exploration of historical church sins makes me guilty of a despite to sin.
From here I move forward. I’m excited to build campfires with my kids and go wakeboarding with friends. Frosty Freeze raspberry milkshakes beckon me to abandon my diet and to throw in some onion rings just for fun. Bike rides around the neighborhood.
The season is young and I have so many new memories to make. Now that my weekends have exactly doubled in duration, I’ll have more time to make them.
You wrote this three years ago. I am now where you were then. Tell me, is this going to get any easier?
Why is it that we all seem to go through those same emotions. As I read your transitioning out of the church I knew exactly the feelings you felt. I hope there is light at the end of the tunnel. Thanks for posting your story. It helps!
This is great, Scott.