Utah Is An Interesting Place On Conference Weekend...
Last night I found myself with four close friends sitting at my buddy's house watching the Duke-North Carolina Final Four game. All 5 of us grew up in Utah as active members of the Mormon church; all 5 of us have since moved on and no longer consider ourselves to be members of that church.
I pulled up my Twitter feed at some point and was reminded that it is general conference weekend here in Utah. For those not familiar, the LDS church gathers twice per year and all their leaders give talks for two days straight. Back when I was still a member of the church, I used to have a love-hate relationship with this weekend. As a single dude in my 20s, we took advantage of the day and had dozens of friends over for a breakfast party. At night we always tried to figure out a way to squeeze in the men's only session while simultaneously watching the NCAA tournament.
Outside of Utah, I'm guessing few people even know that this event is taking place. In Utah, it becomes this weird random day where everyone walks around downtown in church clothes and pods of women take over every restaurant in town until about 8:15. After that, you can assure that every ice cream and frozen yogurt store will have a line of 20 men waiting out the door.
This year, in particular, I noticed that on my Tik Tok, Twitter and Instagram feeds, there seemed to be many people posting clips of the talks of the day and negatively commenting on them. I watched a few to see what the controversy was and I honestly couldn't even tell what had been said that was offensive. Instead, I saw these random internet ex-members desperately trying to be offended by what seemed to me to be an innocent sermon trying to improve others' lives.
Going back to last night with my friends, as the game approached a fantastic ending, the conversation with my friends turned to the church, which often happens with my friends because we all spent three decades in the church and even tho we have left, it will always be our heritage. What was particularly funny about our conversation this night is that we all were telling stories about having to defend the church recently.
One friend was on a business trip a few weeks ago and his business partner invited him to attend a Christian church with his pastor. They drove with the pastor and at one point, they passed an LDS church, so my friend said, "that's the church I used to go to!" After learning that he had since left the church, the pastor asked what a very interesting and not a good question to me was. He asked, "what was your least favorite part about that church before you left?" He was essentially looking to tear down immediately instead of finding common ground. My friend pushed back on that and when he told us the story, he commented, "that's what is wrong with Christians; they can't seem to find the good in anything that isn't what they believe."
Common ground... is what I wanted to comment on to these "creators" making their hate videos on Tik Tok. I didn't cause I spent the time enjoying the company of my friends instead, but this is where so many people get it wrong. This is why I am even writing this blog post. I get contacted weekly, if not daily, by somebody who is leaving the church. They want advice and want to know how I did it cause they can tell I am happy with my choice yet still love the heritage, which is the church I was raised in. I give them all the same advice… "If you will blame the church for everything that went wrong in your life, you better also give it credit for everything that went right."
You can appreciate the church for what it is. What it is for 75% of the members is the absolute best way for them to get as close to God and Christ as possible. For the other 25%, I believe there are many different ways to find God, which I personally left. I felt like, in my case, I had stopped progressing inside the church; that doesn't mean I didn't advance a lot in the church. That doesn't mean the church didn't help make me the amazing person I am today. It doesn't mean I wasn't supposed to be in the church for the 32 years I was. It also didn't mean I didn't need a whole team of coaches, therapists, and shamans to help me unpack some of the not-so-good things I picked up, but what a shame if I put on a pair of negative goggles and only looked for the negative in the church or any aspect of my life. I don't do that with other people and that's why people like being around me. I don't do that with books I read, talks I hear, or experiences. I don't do that with a church that taught me to love God, love my family, do my best always, and be a damn good human.
Some may say, "I do it so that the church can't hurt anyone else." And yes, when the church says something harmful, it is good to speak up. But this is very rare. I've done this a few times in defense of marginalized groups that I believe have been harmed by the church. When BYU Twitter denounced the Y being painted like a rainbow last year, I spoke up cause I was sad they still chose to take that stand on gay and lesbian issues. But 98% of what the church puts out leads people to some form of good. To sit around your tv for ten hours every six months just waiting and hoping for some negative comment that you can run with and try to use as a reason to justify your hatred of the church is a mental illness.
If you dated someone and they beat the shit out of you, tore you down, and made you miserable, would you go hang out with them every six months so that you could validate that what they did is still happening?
Everyone has to take their path through or out of the church. And it's not black and white. My journey is going on eight years now and I still catch myself enjoying humming church songs and occasionally feeling guilty for buying soda on a Sunday. This shit is in my blood. I do get the draw to watch General Conference once you've left. I'd much rather listen to better speakers like Tony Robbins and Erwin McManus, but that's just me. If you have left and you are drawn back, I'd ask you not to make the mistake of this pastor; stop looking for what you dislike. For every comment you hated, you could have found ten positive comments. Some of the talks were life-changing for me over the years.
Whatever we focus on, we feel. How am I so happy being out of the church?? Cause I continue to take all the positives it gave me and leave all the negatives behind. How do I have good feelings and a good relationship with every friend or ex-girlfriend I ever dated? Because I do that exact same thing.
Yesterday I wasn't in my basement tweeting vitriol into the ether, trying to get validated by random strangers on the internet. I was up in the mountains in a cabin with 25 other people living life. We danced, ate fantastic food, meditated, and shared our feelings and concerns. We were in nature. We found love and common themes to grow as people. This is God; this is where I find him. Just like others find him in the church. Where do you find God? What gives you peace? I can promise you it isn't found in anything negative.
I challenge anyone making content pointing out negativity to change your approach. You will be much happier and eventually, you will find what is driving you to make the mean tweets anyways. You will find peace with your life and the choices that lead you to today. God is love. I hope we all can find common ground and share that. In the meantime, if there was something you loved about the conference that positively impacted your life, please share it with me in the comments of this post!