The experience of September 1993 and the distance since then can only be described as paradoxical. The journey from member to ex-member to member embodies opposites -- mutually exclusive positions and reversed relationships. Yet opposites are always intimately linked. Leaving and returning are related, departure and arrival constitute one journey.
Joseph Smith cited an inherent "opposition in all things" necessary to know both sides of life. He said, "by proving contraries, truth is made manifest" in the tension between opposites. So truth has two sides needing to be seen in order to emerge clearly or fully.
Truth is also multi-locational. He said "all truth is independant in that sphere in which God has placed it to act for itself" -- it's self-existent yet embedded in context. Rather than congregate in one place, truth is scattered across human experience, in the conservative and radical, orthodox and heretic, scholarly and social, feminist and patriarchal, post-modern and fundamentalist, secular and mystic.
Can we comprehend truth without seeing its opposing sides and its multiple locations? My search for truth took me through all of Mormonism's subcultures, and to other cultures beyond it. Joseph Campbell said we don't truly know our own tradition until we have moved beyond it, to see it from the outside.
My alienation from church was self-induced. It was something I chose. I drifted from religious community, my faith ebbed long before, swept aside by existential crisis and disillusionment. I found security in freedom, I felt no need for belonging. I was lapsed, no communion or congregation to lose.
My exploration of LDS history and theology seemed independent of a relationship with the Church. I viewed the church as if a relationship didn't exist. I was wrong. Our relationship was real.
It mattered. Excommunication itself was a relationship, a dramatic divorce.
We affect each other more than we realize. If we ignore this, our relationship will still construct itself. A relationship has two parties who shape it. Not every relationship is balanced or fair, but each can change, evolve, or end. Not every relationship is worth saving, but each deserves our attention.
Leaving and returning are two sides of one relationship. We belong, we leave, we find another place to belong. Departure and arrival alone are incomplete, a journey requires both.
Many people leave the church, rejecting membership as unimportant or relationship as unreal. I understand that undertaking. I empathize with that need to seek answers whereever it takes you. I know the stress of shattering paradigms. Yet leaving has a deeper purpose than freedom or alienation, it's a quest for larger truth, a bigger world, an expanded self.
I migrated from myself to new paradigms, new selves, leaving 1993 behind like an ancient dream. Along the way, I encountered wrenching dilemmas, blissful epiphanies and new dimensions of being.
Eventually, that journey led back to its origins, comimg full circle to comprehend the contrasts, and synthesize the self. Returning is rarely a recapitulation, it's an integration -- a different person returns home to a place that also evolved. Nothing stays the same.
I left Mormonism to find ministry, which led me back to ministry in Mormonism, where every member is a minister. I found trained ministry to be liberating; yet lay ministry is an even larger communion, a greater community in need of service with endless potential for doing good.
Today, I'm in the opposite place from where I was twenty years ago, yet doing the same thing I did then -- seeking truth and service by following my conscience. Those who approve or disapprove of me have traded places as well, either siding with my exit, or with my return. They have their own truth.
Meanwhile, one truth abides amid the approval and disapproval of others, one certainty endures -- the power of love -- with its faith, forgiveness, compassion, belonging, grace, and the freedom to choose these things over fear, disbelief, rejection, alienation and hatred.
This is the solid ground I found along the way, in the crux of all the paradoxes and opposites, moving from disillusionment to inspiration, rejection to return, from yesterday to today.