THIFB-Chris-Walking

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 CESLet​ter​.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.

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Diana
Diana

You wrote this three years ago. I am now where you were then. Tell me, is this going to get any eas­i­er?

John Krok

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!

Eric Nelson

This is great, Scott.