A Place of Healing – My Sunstone Experience

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I have thrown myself back into the world of Post Mormonism, and the whole thing has caught me off guard. A few months ago, I found myself coming to grips with being angry with the church all over again. I mean, it happens from time to time, but this time I got stuck in the mire.

This year started with a commitment to writing. My blog would feature anecdotes about my dissent, but only as a jumping off point to write about finding common ground between believers and non-believers. I restarted my dystopian manuscript, which is inspired by my life growing up in the Mormon Church and my experience leaving it. I began re-listening to post-Mormon podcasts, and started engaging in all the ExMormon social media groups– things I had previously moved on from. Throw in the church’s recent sexual abuse scandal and I’m unintentionally reliving my faith-crisis psychosis all over again.

My relationship with my husband, who still believes in the church, felt unsettled once more. We had found a comfortable place for some time now, but our differing believes felt like a wedge again.

This spring I heard about the Sunstone Kirtland symposium, and I wondered if it had anything to offer an Ex-Mormon Atheist. Looking for anything to quell my rekindled angst, I registered, albeit warily. If anything, I needed a break and some time away to clear my head. Plus I would get to meet the fabulous Lindsay Hansen Park, creator of the Year of Polygamy podcast and blog. Not sure how much Mormon I was getting myself into, I drove the four hours north to Kirtland, Ohio.

Alone and predictably awkward, I was determined to make the most of the experience. At breakfast, I met some Fundamentalist Mormons from Christ’s Church, and their young missionaries. I had a meaningful story-exchange with their mission president, who also left the mainstream LDS Church, but for many different reasons. Surprisingly, we had similarities in our disaffection too, like how the main LDS tradition has taken on a corporate bulldog persona, and how far the modern church has deviated from Joseph Smith’s original teachings.

Before the first presentations began, the symposium attendants introduced themselves. One by one, we shared what kind of Mormon we were, and what brought us to Sunstone. From fundamentalist Mormon to excommunicated but still faithful, fifty or so of us joined the meet and greet. Some were believing members of the LDS tradition, and interested in church history. Some were struggling with their testimony, who came seeking answers to reconcile their doubts with a new perspective. Some were like me, who have left the church but still find meaning and connection with other misfit Mormons. Members of the Community of Christ congregation, previously known as The Reorganized Latter Day Saints, hosted the symposium. They share a history of the Saints in Kirtland and own the temple there.

When the time came to introduce myself, I joked that I was having flashbacks of girls camp testimony meeting. I told the group I left the LDS tradition about four years ago, and that while I was digesting a lot of information about the church I just kept thinking, “This would make a great dystopia. It would practically write itself.” I told them my dream of writing a dystopia based on my disaffection with the church, and that I had a whole dystopic series in my head that went beyond Mormonism.

Afterward, a few people came up to introduce themselves and said they were excited to see what I come up with. I have to follow through, I suppose! At least for those people.

I enjoyed the various presentations on LDS temple worship. I used to attend the temple as often as I could, and although I usually liked the peaceful time inside, the time spent with my husband, and the satisfaction of doing something God wanted me to do, I was also left with feelings of inadequacy. Like there was some level of spirituality to be experienced there that I just couldn’t reach. One presenter, Margaret Toscano, (also known as the seventh member of the September Six for all you apostates out there), talked of discovering the divine feminine within the temple ceremony. If only I had been exposed to messages like that as a believer! I may have found a deeper connection with the temple ceremony when questioning the role of women in Heavenly Father’s plan. Women in the church yearn for the presence of Heavenly Mother. Her neglect represents the current attitudes towards all women in the church. We too are too important to acknowledge, apparently.

At lunch I was able to visit with another young mother, who still considers herself a believing member and is very involved at church. She expressed her deep struggle with the patriarchy, and her worry over raising five daughters in a church that consistently holds women up on a golden pedestal while teaching dis-empowering and often damaging things to girls.

Another woman I talked to had left the church over similar issues, among others. She told me it has been really difficult to reconcile her life as a stay-at-home mom, now that motherhood is no longer the only framework for her existence. Not that she doesn’t love her kids, but she now questions if this was the life she really wanted after all. I tried to reassure her. I had these same thoughts after I left the church — all our worth as a person is put into the motherhood basket. Now what? What is motherhood now?

I don’t know if it was helpful, but I told her I had to find new purpose in being a mom, and that it is easy for any parent to feel stuck in this stage of life because young kids suck the life out of you. As they get older, we will get more freedom to be an individual with many more passions, on top of of raising bad-ass children. Our purpose is no longer to raise children devoted to The Gospel, but to raise kind, smart, independent kids who will grow up to do amazing things and be anyone they want to be. These path’s aren’t exclusive, but it does take some of the pressure off as a parent. I have high expectations for my kids, but at least I’m not responsible for teaching them that strict adherence to “The Laws and Ordinances of the Gospel” is the only way to find true happiness.

So I’m meeting a lot of really cool people, and learning a lot. Seth Bryant gave a historical/architectural tour of the temple that was really interesting, and Tom Kimball, Kirtland Temple grounds handyman and temple-bell-ringer extraordinaire, recited a beautiful story of reconciling “his people” (The LDS tradition) with The Community of Christ in Kirtland. I wasn’t planning to attend the devotional service in the morning, but I was having such a good time that I changed my mind.

There in Northern Ohio, on a snowy spring weekend in April, we gathered together in the first temple built under the direction of Joseph Smith in 1833. Although our beliefs differed greatly, we connected over shared experiences in the Latter Day Saint tradition, and participated in communion together.  Truly there is “more than one way to Mormon”.

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Sitting at the white pulpits were two women: Jenn Bryant, the conducting Elder who presided over the meeting, and Lindsay Hansen Park. For the first time in four years, I took the sacrament. And as I listened to the voice of a woman bless the bread and water, I choked back the tears. It was beautiful. The female presence in this meeting was stark and palpable. Although I don’t believe in God anymore, my heart ached for the lack of divine feminine in the LDS tradition. She is barely whispered about and forever out of reach, yet her daughters are supposed to aspire to this disappointing and vague level of exaltation. Ladies, if you need your LDS tradition, but find a gaping hole in your role there (or need more sermons on Jesus instead of authority and obedience), check out the Community of Christ.

Lindsay Hansen Park offered her thoughts on healing within the differing branches of the Latter Day Saint movement. They have not always been on good terms, and there is till a lot of healing to be done. She talked about the pioneering spirit that runs in our blood, and I thought of my ancestors who faced the dangerous frontiers of the west to practice what they believed to be true. I thought of Eve in the garden, who faced an unknown, fallen world for the sake of gaining knowledge. I thought of the character in my dystopia, a pioneer in her own right, who dares to question the community that claims to protect her. And of myself, who is pioneering a way of life for myself outside of the church.

All of these pioneers have experienced deep wounds, but strive for reconciliation and healing in the journey forward. Lindsay quoted Pope Francis as saying that radical reconciliation takes two things: sacrifice and forgiveness. And maybe he’s right. I hope the day will come when I can let a lot of my anger towards the church go, and forgive them for the damage they have caused to me and many others.

I thought for the first time, if I were to ever find myself on a path back to the LDS church again, it would be through Sunstone. Maybe someday my self-given Ex-Mormon label will feel like it doesn’t fit anymore. I might try on “Secular Mormon” as a way of connecting with my past in a more positive way. Regardless, I now realize that I will always be rooted in the Mormonism, and I have to find a way to live with that in peace.

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2 thoughts on “A Place of Healing – My Sunstone Experience

  1. This was lovely and healing. Thank you for sharing this story. There is always a seat at the table for you just as you are.

    Like

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