Thursday, September 08, 2011

A Lost Statistic And What I Miss and Don't Miss

I remember attending a Priesthood lesson not too long after I had returned from my mission. I remember very distinctly that it was taught by a friend of mine with whom I had gone to school (from elementary to high school). He had been home longer from his mission than I had (because I went when I was 21 and he went when he was 19, like most missionaries do).

I remember in his lesson he gave a statistic, which I have tried for some time to recall. As I was cleaning out my room in preparation for my niece and future nephew-in-law's arrival, I found a bunch of old scraps of paper, many dating from my post-mission days. Imagine my surprise when I actually found on one of these scrsps of paper the very statistic I had been trying to recall. (Yes, I save everything, but I am trying very hard of late to throw more stuff away. I am getting better.)

As for this statistic, I have no idea where my friend got it or learned it, nor do I know if it is or ever was accurate, but I do remember how it impacted me when I heard it just fresh off my mission.

The statistic was laid out in the following fashion during that Priesthood meeting 17 or so years ago: my friend said if a typical MTC (Missionary Training Center) district has 12 missionaries in it (mine had 10), statistics say that 2 of those missionaries will eventually apostatize from the Church or be excommunicated; 3 will become inactive; three will remain active, but will not be particularly stalwart as members; and the other four will remain very strong in the gospel and magnify their callings and be stalwart members of the Church.

I suppose for a district of ten (like I had), it would break down differently: maybe one excommunication and two inactives or only 3 stalwart members. I'm not sure how you would factor that in. Math was never my thing.

I do not even recall the original point of my friend's lesson (probably something along the lines of what we need to do to make sure we're one of the four who remains strong in the Church), but I do remember the effect it had on me.

At the time it was so hard to believe that anybody in my district would ever be excommunicated from the Church or leave the Church. We had just sacrificed two years of our lives to bear witness of the truthfulness of the gospel and help people convert to Mormonism to change their lives for the better. Why would any of us leave or do something that would merit excommunication?

I remember at the time (and this shows you where my mind and pridefulness were), I began to think about who of my fellow MTC district members would be most likely to follow a path to excommunication or apostasy. I remember mulling it over and thinking, "Well, I can see Elder So-and-So maybe following that path. Of other members of my district, I thought, "Elder or Sister So-and-So would never stray. I just can't see that happening."

I actually sat there pondering which missionaries I thought would eventually fall into which category, which wasn't even the point of the lesson, and I was missing the lesson as my mind executed this experiment in unrighteous judgment.

As for myself, I think I put myself in the category of "remains active, but is somewhat lukewarm in his membership." Never did I imagine that it would actually be me who turned out to be the excommunicated one.

I have no idea what has become of the majority of my MTC district. I have lost track of most of them. I am Facebook friends with two of them, and they both appear to still be active in the LDS Church. I'd be curious to know where they all are in their lives and in their testimonies.

But if the statistic is true, I represent the excommunicated missionary, and I find that so ironic considering what I felt at the time of the Priesthood lesson when this statistic was introduced to me. Granted, I feel like I still have a testimony, and I still actively attend an LDS ward, so I don't feel like an apostate, but I just thought it was interesting.

I even remember thinking at the time of my actual excommunication that even though I knew I would be excommunicated how bizarre it felt to me, someone who had devoted nearly 35 years of his life to the LDS Church and who had been a member his entire life, that I was actually being excommunicated. Granted, it was my own actions that led to excommunication; I just remember feeling that it was so surreal that I was losing my membership in a church I'd belonged to my entire life.

I don't regret the actions that led to my excommunication, nor do I even regret being excommunicated. It is what it is, and I have dealt with it fine. In many ways, my life is so much happier, and I did what I had to do to achieve wellness in my life, and I feel I have gotten just that, so I don't regret it. I just think it's interesting.

I was pondering what things I miss about being a fully fellowshipped member and what things I don't miss. I thought I would share some of them.

Things I don't miss:

I do not miss home teaching in the slightest. I never liked doing it, and it always felt like a burden to me. I'm glad I don't have to feel guilty about not doing it.

Which brings up another thing I don't miss: feeling guilty for never measuring up to what I always felt the Church expected me to be. As a member of the LDS Church, I always felt such a responsibility and accountability to be everything I was taught I should be, and I just never felt like it was within my reach. As someone who no longer feels bound to the covenants I made, life feels much more relaxing and stress-free, and I like that.

Along with the guilt, I don't miss the pressure and responsibility that come with being a member of the LDS Church. Being a Mormon can be very hard work, and it's hard to live up to the ideal. I'm glad I don't have to deal with that anymore. I can just be content being me.

I don't miss the facade I always felt like I put up at church. I feel I can genuinely go to church now and just be who I am, and I'm so okay with that. It's much more joyful now.

I don't miss paying tithing. I actually believe strongly in the blessings of tithing and saw many examples of it in my own life and saw and continue to see examples of it in the lives of those I am close to. I was mostly pretty good about paying a regular tithe, too (although I admit there were some instances when I wasn't doing as well financially when I slipped in the tithing department). As an excommunicated member, I am not allowed to pay tithing, and I find it's quite nice having the extra money, and it's also nice to not feel guilty for not paying it.

I actually don't miss giving public prayers. I like praying, but I prefer to pray privately. I never really enjoyed giving opening and closing prayers in church meetings.

I don't miss feeling obligated to accept callings I didn't really want. When the bishop calls you to do something, you feel like God Himself wants you to do it, and that's a lot of pressure, especially when the calling is something you're really not interested in accepting. I like that I no longer feel that angsty feeling of accepting a calling I don't want to accept.

I don't miss going to Priesthood. As an excommunicated member, I could go to Priesthood if I desired (and actually I had stopped attending Priesthood well before I was excommunicated), but I still don't miss it. I have tried going back a few times, but I never seem to get much out of it. It's just kind of nice not to have to deal with it anymore.

I don't miss wearing garments. Giving them up was an adjustment at first, and I did miss them initially, but now I like just sleeping in my underwear, and I love the variety of underwear I can wear now as a non-member.

I don't miss seeing the world just from inside the Mormon box. Being excommunicated has altered my perspective in a good way, and I am grateful for that.

Things I do miss:

I really miss giving talks. I quite enjoyed doing it, and I feel (and have been told) I am good at giving them. Any time I hear a speaker lament the fact that they were called to give a talk, I just shake my head and think how lucky they are. I think I still have a lot of valuable things I could contribute were I allowed to give a talk, and I wish I could.

I miss being able to bear my testimony in Sacrament Meeting. I still have one, and it would be nice to share it in a public forum.

I do miss serving in callings that I enjoyed. I really enjoyed teaching in Priesthood, for example, and I adored my calling as a Primary teacher. I always wanted to teach Sunday School or serve as ward chorister.

I miss commenting in class. Again, I feel like I have some valuable contributions to make. I wish I could.

I miss seeing my name in the ward directory or on class rolls. It feels so strange not to.

Occasionally, I do miss going to the temple. Temple-going was not always my favorite thing to do, but there were some things I did like about it, and I miss that. I also miss that I can't attend the temple to support family members of friends in marriages or taking out their endowments and such.

I miss taking the sacrament and sustaining people, mostly because it made me feel more like I still belonged to the "club."

Things I'm glad I can still do and that I feel grateful for:

I'm glad I can still sing in church, both individually on the stand and in the congregation singing hymns. I love music, and I feel it's a great way to both share my testimony and feel the spirit.

I'm grateful for the fellowship my fellow ward members and leaders give me. Many people know of my situation, but all have treated me just as they always have. I feel very welcome, and I still feel very much a part of the ward family. I still enjoy attending ward activities, too, when I am able.

I'm grateful that I can still listen to talks and lessons and testimonies and find applications for my life and feel closer to God and feel His spirit.

I'm grateful for the comfort I still have in continuing to attend meetings in a religious organization that I grew up in. It feels comfortable and right to me.

I'm grateful that my testimony is still fortified by my continuing to attend my LDS ward.

I'm grateful that I feel I can attend church on my own terms and no one else's; that I'm going out of want rather than out of duty, as I sometimes used to do; that I can take what feels useful to me and use it and discard what isn't currently useful to me. I'm also grateful I can skip an occasional Sunday once in a while and not feel guilty about it.

I'm grateful I can still read the scriptures and the Ensign and be inspired by them.

Excommunication is a weird thing. Like I said, I understand my own actions brought it about, and like I said, I have no regrets about. It's just an odd thing, I think.


Kim Nordyke said...

Thanks for sharing this. I love your candor.

Gay LDS Actor said...

Thanks, Kim.

Miguel said...

"I'm grateful that I feel I can attend church on my own terms and no one else's. That I'm going out of want rather than out of duty, as I sometimes used to do; that I can take what feels useful to me and use it and discard what isn't currently useful to me"

I love how you express yourself in this regard and that you feel that you're in a good place because and in spite of it all. Like I've always said, I have a high level of respect for people who genuinely seek the best and are comfortable doing what feels good for them, rather than because it is what's expected. Great post!

Gay LDS Actor said...

Thanks, Miguel. I sincerely appreciate your thoughts.

Crisco said...

I'm trying to take church on my own terms now. Right now that means, I'm limited in the types of callings I'd accept. I sometimes sleep without my shirt on. I skip on most extra meetings. I don't home teach. While I still pay tithing, I feel a lot of guilt over it, when I know there's debt to be paid off and stuff that needs fixed or repaired. My church decisions are always complicated because I have five sets of eyes watching me in the family. If I wanted to leave the church, that would be easier without a wife and kids.
Anyway, I really appreciated your post because I could tell in came from the heart.

Gay LDS Actor said...

Thanks for your comments, Crisco.

Really, that's all you can really do is take the church on terms that work for you. I always have said that as long as my situation works for me, I will continue to do it. Once, it doesn't, I will have to make other choices. Thus far, I am content with my current situation. It's not always easy, but it works for me.

I would imagine it would be hard to leave the church when you have a wife and kids who are probably hoping you stay.

I still think the church teaches truths that are valuable to me, and that's why I stay.

I remember when I debated about coming out and embracing my relationship with Jonah, I was so worried about disappointing my family members or causing them angst. Ultimately, though, I felt I had to do what was most beneficial for my spiritual and emotional welfare, and that meant being with Jonah, even if it meant excommunication.

I am certainly not encouraging you to leave the church. I think there is much good it provides. But I also say that we can't always please the people we love at the expense of our own happiness and welfare.

If you can find a balance, that's great. I suppose that is what I've done. I wish you the best in whatever paths you take in life.