It’s Hard to Go Back

the open sky

“What is the first word you associate with God’s love?”

Limitless

is what springs into my head before the speaker in sacrament meeting even begins to list a bunch of words that others use to limit God’s love. Whether they realize it or not, that’s what words do. They narrow from the infinite down to the finite, weaving together into sentences that, one hopes, specify intended meaning or effect.

I’m not going to go on about words in the context of art, which attempt to reach out and break free from limits, because that isn’t what we’re grasping at here. What I want to talk about right now is God, faith, and organized religion.

I have been brought up in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The faith of my parents and my parents’ parents has been centered on, or at the very least filtered through, this church headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah in the United States of America. I have had little in common with many of my acquaintances, friends, and family other than the church. This religion has painted every experience of my life, and that may be true until the day I die whether I want it to be so or not.

Right now, as I write this, I still do not know what role I want my childhood and young adulthood religion to play in my life. I just know that it is harder and harder for me to associate the organization with

God’s Love

Learning of God’s love is something that, for me, was never limited to the chapel despite it being the most explicit in instruction. The home, as we all wish was more often the case, was my first greatest spiritual school. As the first child, I benefited from time and attention during my earliest years that was later split further and further among siblings as each was born. This manifested very notably in lots of story time. My parents would either read from some Seussian picture book or tell me some story constructed from their experiences and imagination.

I still can recall many lines and the occasional image from the picture books, but the most important and lasting memory is the pattern I started to recognize, to internalize, within both the stories and my parents by virtue of their storytelling. It’s a pattern that I still see everywhere to this very moment, a pattern so ingrained within me that I believe it has become the core of who I am or at least who I hope to be.

That pattern is one of compassion. It is not judging a book by its cover. It is to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It is loving one another as Jesus loves you. It is that all are alike unto God, both the Star-Belly Sneetches who had bellies with stars and the Plain-Belly Sneetches who had none upon thars. It is that true love, ultimate love, God’s love, Christ’s love, or whatever you want to call it has no limits.

A limited love is hardly love at all. The limits put on love by discrimination, by selfishness, or by some other descendant of pride make even the relatively good words and actions of the limited lover ring hollow. Sometimes we try to ignore it, but eventually the fact that our love or the love of another is incomplete.

When we come to that realization, or a new realization of where we fall short in our love, it’s

Hard to Go Back

In fact, for me, it is nearly impossible for me to go back. I cannot even comprehend wanting to forget what I know and again live in ignorant bliss. The pain of leaving the dark cave and being blinded by the light is only the beginning. I have new knowledge. Knowledge is power. With power comes great responsibility, and so I cannot go back. To do so would be to turn away from the light and sit back in the cave. The only way I could bring myself to do so would be to truly rewrite my memories, but the agents of the machines have not yet approached me with an offer to place me once again clueless in the Matrix.

I did go back to church today, at least physically, after over two months of avoiding the high potential of coronavirus spread.

The church as an organization and membership both locally and more generally seems to be more concerned with pandering to those who might be offended by public health mandates than public health itself. The less cynical arguments I’ve heard for this is that personal freedom and choice must be respected, but shouldn’t both organizations and individuals be using their choices to protect the most vulnerable among us? Christ teaches that we are to care for the sick and the needy, right? This issue, that kept me physically distant from the church, has also kept me from feeling an emotional and spiritual closeness to the church.

Today, there were fewer than ten in a meeting of close to two hundred wearing masks, and try as I might I could not push away the feeling that this was a congregation that cared more about their personal comfort than the health and safety of those around them.

It did not feel like the actions of a love I learned from Sunday school teachers and Sesame Street, from Christ and from the creative arts, from prophets and parents.

That wasn’t the only thing that bothered me though. Over the course of the last two years, I learned more about the struggles of marginalized people than I had in the nearly quarter of a century I lived before. The cracks started to appear more and more frequently throughout my young, privileged worldview. The weakness of the systems that held me close, safe but silent, and the active harm that the very same systems caused to others came into focus.

I still know nowhere near enough. After all, the more I know the more I know that I don’t know. However, a flash of light through a crack in the wall is still enough to tell me that there is more light out there in the world than the small amount coming from my fire in the cave. From issues of bigotry and discrimination that permeate our society so deeply they justify police to murder to issues of our very economic and political structures themselves, I have had the fortunate misfortune of beginning to face the harsh light of reality.

It is in this light that I am discovering

How So Very Hard It Is to Go Back

I felt out of place at church today. Aside from a wonderful Christ-centered music number, the sense of God’s love or the spirit of God did not reach me.

This is all the more troubling because I feel a sense of that full, spiritual love at home, I feel it among most friends and certain family, and I can even feel it at work or play when I least expect it. Shouldn’t I be able to feel it where I felt it so reliably before, where I expect and hope for it with all my heart?

Let me be clear. What I am describing is not a sense that I am not welcome at my local church congregation though that also clearly inhibits love from being felt. This is not that. I’m not nearly socially aware enough to even pick up on most clues if it were the case.

I just cried. These tears contradicted the words of every church leader who ever said that those who leave the church or willingly oppose its current leaders want to leave, want to cause contention, want to follow the will of our own hearts rather than Christ.

Can you believe that? Those terrible things about non-believers that I have heard and continue to hear over pulpits in the church I loved, I don’t think I ever did believe them.

Even when I went to Japan for nearly two years to teach people about our church, I never felt like my goal was converting people. My goal was to share God’s love, and I was happy if they felt love outside the church as much as, if not more than, I did in it. I believed that I was right, but I also believed, as I still do, that God loves all.

I know that God will love me no matter what. I know that I can turn to Christ to improve and to know how to help others. I know plenty of things that strengthen my connection to the divine. My spirituality and happiness does not die outside of the church. It is not and was never about the church being true more than it was about God and love being real and true.

It’s started to feel like the church, like words or any other construct of mankind, has started to put limits on God and I more than to deliver on its promise to help us develop our relationship.

I had become comfortable in my little cage. I was nursed and strengthened, brought to maturity in a place of relative safety, but there’s

No Going Back

from the truth: I was in captivity.

I have already left the cage and taken flight, but I am crying because even when I try to go home it is clear that things are not the same. Not for me, not here, not anymore. When I sit in my old cage again, I dream only of the new places I will see when I leave, all the new friends I will make, all the new experiences, and God with me every moment along the way.

At church, on days like today, I feel like my life and love has been limited yet again. There’s still some good in the old place, and maybe from time to time I will go and take away some new wonderful thing, but God’s love is out there beyond the church, beyond the home, beyond myself, and even farther yet.

God’s Love Is Limitless

To That I Can Always Go Back

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