My last day as a Sunstone employee is Friday, December 10th. After calling myself a student for the past 10 years, I’ve decided it’s time to do more than just take the occasional night class. I don’t want to leave Sunstone, easily the best job a person could hope to have, but I feel like it’s the right thing to do for my family. It’s been a great, and altogether too-fast three years.
I leave with great thanks to the staff at Sunstone, a wonderful group of people to work with. I’ve also worked with many remarkable people in creating the magazine and in planning symposiums across the country. These are such bright minds, such thoughtful individuals, I’ve spent three years looking over my shoulder, waiting for someone to look at me, eyes narrowing, and realize I don’t belong. What’s a punk kid like me doing corresponding and working with brilliant authors and thinkers?
It will be nice, I have to confess, to not have such an official connection to an often misunderstood and even despised organization. (For starters, Dan Wotherspoon must be thrilled that he doesn’t have to worry about my online rants being mistakenly associated with Sunstone.) In case those in the bloggernacle haven’t noticed, I don’t take criticism of Sunstone well. I’m not sure why I insist on taking it so personally, but I do. Oh my, the apologies I owe to people like Louis Midgley, Nate Oman, John Fowles, or others who had the gall to criticize aspects of Sunstone or liberal Mormonism and had to put up with my snotty sarcasm or arrogance.
So in my last days as a Sunstone employee, I have one final plea to the bloggernacle and online community: Go easy on those of us of a Sunstone bent. I’m not good at talking about personal feelings or reflecting on emotions, so forgive my clumsiness. But we’re really no different than you. We’re doing the best we can with what we’ve got. I’ve always been amazed that so much attention seems to be given to Sunstone, to excommunicants, or to liberal Mormons in general. Everyday so many people quietly walk away from Mormonism that I’ve wondered why the fuss over such a small group of people.
The difference between someone like me and so many others who do leave is I’ve tried so desperately to hang on, in spite of all my issues. I know this isn’t generally seen as admirable, but you only struggle with those things that you love. If I didn’t love or care about Mormonism, it wouldn’t be hard at all to throw in the towel. It is, after all, an entirely voluntary organization. I don’t have to be here. It may not seem like it to someone for whom belief and activity comes easy, but I think the Sunstone desire to fight for ones faith ought to count for something.
It’s a terrible thing to feel rejected for who you are. And that’s the key: I feel like this is who I am, not just a choice I’ve made. I remember being five or six years old, down in my parent’s basement. Something happened to me – I don’t recall what, perhaps I’d lost at Atari – and I felt like I needed to pray. I knelt down and closed my eyes, and then I wondered if God was really there. After all, I hadn’t seen him and I only knew he was there because other people had told me he was there. I’m sure the thoughts weren’t very advanced, but somehow I made the connection, even at that young age: I’m trusting other people and I don’t know for myself. As kids are inclined to do, I was silly and made up my mind then and there that I wasn’t going to believe in God. “I don’t think he’s there,” I distinctly remember thinking. It didn’t last. I’m not sure what happened to make me decide God really was there, but I did.
Since then my life has been full of belief and faith struggles. I remember in high school, wondering if 2,000 years from now our beliefs will be considered mythical, just as we consider Egyptian beliefs and Greek beliefs fiction. They engaged in ceremony and practices meant to honor their Gods; we do the same. Is there any difference, I wondered? I’ve always struggled with the tiny number of Latter-day Saints, relative to the rest of the world. Why did I get to be born into the “one true church?” Isn’t it convenient that it’s everyone else who’s wrong, and I’m right; they’re the ones who need to change, I get to keep on keepin’ on.
Not only do I not know how to make such doubts go away, I don’t want them to go away. I don’t want to pretend like they don’t exist for me, like prayer and scripture study just make it all better. Believe me, I’ve been there, and while prayer and scripture study do make life better, they won’t drive the doubts from you. They are there, in the deepest parts of my soul – asking me to not have them is like asking a believer to stop believing.
Try giving us the benefit of the doubt. Do you really think its fun being marginalized, labeled with names, looked at with raised eyebrows? We’re not trying to rock the boat or make you feel uncomfortable or fight against the Church. We’re just trying to find out where we fit, to see if the Mormon tent really does have a place for us, even if it is just over in the corner somewhere. A lot of people are able to do this quietly and on their own. Some of us need to vocalize what we’re thinking. It gets repetitive and boring for those who have moved on, but it’s therapeutic for those who need it. Remember too, that we have our reasons for what we do. They may not always be good or right, but they’re there, and your reasons aren’t always good or right either.
Remember that it takes patience and a willingness to understand where a fellow like me comes from. Someone who is seen as a more traditional member can always weep, bear their testimony, and use phrases like “have more faith” (whatever that means) or other one-liners meant to respond to the beliefs of the Sunstoner. Of course I don’t have that luxury. If someone truly wants to know what I believe and why, it requires listening to my experience with Mormon history, with my understanding of revelation and its (apparent) rarity, with my view of other religions, and my overall interpretation of the Mormon world. It doesn’t mean I’m right or that I expect everyone to agree. But if people would only listen to learn and understand, instead of insisting on listening to respond, then maybe there could be less animosity and marginalization.
So that’s my plea. Hopefully with my lack of connection to Sunstone, Steve won’t graduate me from practically useless to completely worthless and replace me with a much better blogger J