Friday, January 18, 2013

Space Alien Has Question...

I have a question for you. How do you make room for yourself at church? I try, but the reward for the effort oftentimes seems quite meager. This isn't to say that members aren't kind and loving, but the gulf between me and them is wide, even as we sit next to each other on Sundays.

Part of the gulf is my lack of belief. I don't believe what I hear in church. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure that most of the people around me do believe it. I remember the Sunday when the Sunday School teacher unveiled a map showing the journey of Lehi's family down the Arabian Peninsula. A lot of class members picked right up on it. It took every bit of restraint in my body for me not to proclaim loudly that this didn't really happen. Really.

Another time a person mentioned in a class discussion that we needed to dethrone science, that if science contradicted religious doctrine, science must be part of satan's work. Nobody in the class spoke up, and I was twitching, uncontrollably, from all of my involuntary eye-rolling.

I know that other Mormons like me are out there. I know that my ward has some very smart people equipped with critical thinking skills. I know some of them read books by Gregory Prince, Michael Quinn, and Matthew Bowman. Yet, I long to hear a talk or a lesson that doesn't rely on guilt, obedience, blind faith, or modern revelation from the last General Conference to make its point. Occasionally, the sunlight peaks through, but the kind of spiritual nourishment I get in church is starving my soul.

Another part of the gulf is my excommunication. I've been in the ward for over a year. As the months roll on, more members are generally aware of my situation. I have not shared the specifics with most members, only to say that I'm excommunicated. Members seem to be okay with that. No one shuns me or turns away. But it's more than not being able to take the sacrament, pray, or teach. I'm not in the ward directory, and I haven't been given access to it. I don't have an official home teacher, even though I requested one. Excommunication isolates me institutionally. It makes the process of reconciliation extremely difficult.

Finally, my sexual orientation also widens the gulf. Because I am gay, I have grown into different notions of gender, conformity, power, sexual mores, and authority. I know firsthand what stigma is all about. I've experienced verbal and physical assaults that broke my heart and my bones. And I come back to a church that attempted to rob me of my spirit when it excommunicated me for apostasy. So, every Sunday among the smiling faces, the heartfelt testimonies, and the sincere handshakes, I confront what oppressed me, and that continual confrontation feels like a creek in a sandstone canyon, slowly eroding and wearing me down. I wonder when the wearing down is over, will I be a new me, or merely a diminished me?

I can think of several reasons why I continue to attend church. I'm not sure that these reasons are enough to sustain me. I love the people. I feel like I've returned home. When I hear their stories, I know these are my people, and I want to remain with them. I'm not convinced that I need to believe in the doctrines and theology they believe in. I know what they believe, and I also know I will never believe it. My own beliefs satisfy my need for belief. I continue because other members need to see and know people like me. It's okay to be an intellectual pointy-head. It's okay for me to be a flaming homosexual. I'm good at it. I also continue because I need this connection, even though it's a difficult one. It's also a very deep connection. Finally, I go because I sing in the choir, and they really do need me to sing tenor.

A couple of weeks ago, I told the bishop that I wondered why I was back and continued to attend church. He joked that he kind of wondered, too. I told him that it has been far more challenging for me than I had ever thought it would be. I feel like a space alien most Sundays.