The events of September 1993, and the distance since, can only be described as paradoxical. Today was the 20th anniversary of an ex-communication, exile from communion, exit from community. Such estrangement is extreme, yet also strangely transitory, to be transcended as fully as it descended.
Contrary to the common image of victimization and stigma, my alienation was more self-induced than society-imposed. Every relationship has two sides, each with power to affect or reshape it, so renegotiation rests upon both. That doesn't mean every relationship is worth saving. It means we choose whether to have a relationship or not.
In 1993, I was already adrift from community. Long before, my faith had collapsed, swept aside by existential crisis, disillusionment. Everything seemed fallible, so I preferred the security of freedom. My identification with Mormon heritage ran deep, but my sense of religious community was nil. I was a lapsed Mormon, inactive in Church, I had no communion or congregation to lose. I was doing my own thing, and it was secular.
When I was excommunicated, I was not a victim (as I told the Press) nor an enemy (as I told the Church). I was a feminist doing scholarly work, trying to find authentic voice without feeling censored by self or society. I knew it was controversial to publish history and theology that ventured beyond current religious practice. Yet my pursuit of truth about Mormonism seemed independent of a relationship with the Church.
I soon learned how wrong I was about that. Excommunication itself created a relationship with the Church that was intimate, a simultaneous marriage and divorce. And my resulting exile and solitary path taught me that spiritual growth and knowledge are linked to other souls, the body of Christ. Our divine light tends to affect one another.
There were many epiphanies along the way between 1993 and 2013 as I moved through different ministries and interfaith work with different religions. The inner path of light led me back to lay church where every member is a minister, a seer, a revealer.
September 19, 1993 feels like three lifetimes ago. On that day, a different self was born, a public persona apart from the private person, and beyond my control. It was a symbolic self made by that moment, for a multitude of views, ranging from courageous to incorrigible. So the private me migrated from that time and place, through other selves, places, paradigms, leaving 1993 behind like an ancient dream.
Today, I drove to the Salt Lake, for clarity as I did countless times during the 1980s and 1990s. The Lake and its ancient shores were always a sure source of solace for a troubled soul. The biblical metaphor was ideal whether you were an orthodox saint or a heretic sinner -- a salt sea in the desert offered sanctuary to exiles from community, seekers in exodus-- a motif repeating itself endlessly, on individual and communal levels.
Yet an exodus embodies both a beginning and end, a transition from one place to another. Alpha and omega are connected.
Joseph Smith said, "truth is made manifest" in the tension of "proving contraries," or an inherent opposition constructing all things. To prefer one is to avoid the other, thus the whole. Wisdom recognizes opposites -- in people, organizations, and ourselves. As Thomas said, "When you make the two one, when you make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside, and the above like the below...then you enter the kingdom."
Recently, I've felt haunted by reports of many Church members in exit or exile, and a few in excommunication. Without knowing details, I know something of what these souls are passing through. I feel empathy and concern for their wellbeing. However, I also recognize in each story, a deeper pattern or purpose.
One heretic noted a striking synchronicity in his excommunication occurring on the exact 40th anniversary of his baptism -- his exit coinciding with his entry. An obvious paradox. Likewise, in 1993 as many liberals were leaving, other liberals were arriving. Again, in 2012 as I returned to membership in the church, many church members departed. We live in different phases of life at different times, but each is part of a larger whole.
I've encountered a curious symmetry within the opposite processes of my own life, coming and going, leaving and returning. My permission for re-admittance came the same week that my book (which caused my exit) came off the press, twenty years earlier. My apostolic approval for re-baptism came the same week that my apostolic disapproval had surfaced twenty years before. Likewise, the apostolic restitution of my church status came the same week I'd been excommunicated twenty years before. And my return to the holy temple came the same week I first entered the very same temple, 35 years earlier. The odds of these key steps occurring during the same week as their opposite, were nearly impossible.
What does it mean? We need both sides of experience, to know the whole.
In leaving, you experience the negative side of community, negative rites of passage--like misinterpretation, loss, alienation. In returning, you encounter the positive side of those same rites of passage, their opposite mode -- understanding, restitution, and inclusion. This has given me a wholeness of experience I lacked. I value the wholeness more than I value either the positive or negative side, since either alone is incomplete. A bigger truth emerges in the relationship of opposite realities.
Today, I'm in the opposite position from my position twenty years ago, yet I'm doing exactly the same thing -- following my conscience in the face of condemnation, accepting an arduous initiation into deeper wisdom and understanding. Those who approve or disapprove of me have changed places as well. I don't suggest they do as I do. I hope they follow their own conscience.
Meanwhile, one truth abides, whether amid positive or negative relations, the good or bad opinion of others, approval or disapproval of society. One certainty endures -- in the power of love, god's grace, divine embrace, and the will to hold fast this goodness, in the face of fear, hatred, harm, or rejection. This is the sure thing I found along the way, from disillusionment to inspiration, rejection to return, from yesterday to today.