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My final letter from the Mormon church finally arrived. Dated March 11, 2009, more than four months since I resigned (https://aseriesofsmallfailures.wordpress.com/2008/11/07/heres-my-letter/), it reads:
“This letter is to notify you that, in accordance with your request, your name has been removed from the membership records of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Should you desire to become a member of the Church in the future, the local bishop or branch president in your area will be happy to help you.”
Signed by Gregory Dodge, manager of member and statistical records for the Mormon Church, the letter is not what I expected. Emotionless, void of pomposity, matter of fact. It doesn’t beg or plead like the last letter, complete with the Jesus pamphlet inviting me to come back. This really felt like the form letter that it is.
Who is this Mr. Dodge? I imagine him sighing as he signs, pauses, and moves on to the next letter. I imagine his desk crowded with neat stacks of these form letters he must sign and send. I wonder what kind of statistical information he compiles in his office in the church headquarters in downtown Salt Lake City. What’s his office like? Does he have a view of the mountains or the temple? I hope by now, after years at this job (i think at least a decade) he isn’t in an interior windowless room. What is it like to receive thousands of letters from disaffected people whose hearts have been broken by an organization they devoted part of their lives to? Is he saddened? Or is he desensitized, like anyone who routinely passes homeless people on the street who has trained himself not to see them anymore?
I’ve had it relatively easy. I didn’t get visits or phone calls from ecclesiastical leaders. It was irritating to hear in the first letter that they didn’t honor my resignation, and that they expected me to talk to my bishop instead. I ignored that letter and waited. And waited. It just took longer than I anticipated. Four months and seven days, to be exact. Technically, since I resigned, it shouldn’t matter what they did then, how they responded, what they said, or how they said it. But to me, the whole point of this exercise was to make whatever effort necessary to make this split official. I wanted that letter.
My initial reaction was not the elation I felt when I mailed my resignation letter. As I opened it, my heart sank. I sat there and looked at Mr. Dodge’s form letter. I read it again. Then I noticed that they had addressed me as “Sister Mardesich.” I smirked, and felt a little better for a second. That salutation was a symbol of the disconnect. Was it an attempt at familiarity, or was it just an archaic formality? No one has called me Sister in a long time. But this was nothing to smirk about. It was a final decree, like a divorce. But as in a divorce, the piece of paper declaring it’s over doesn’t make it over. It’s up to me to make it really over.
I’ve had years to mourn this split. And I’ve been through all the stages of grief, with extra long paralyzing stays in the anger and depression phases. So why was I sad? Because of the rift my leaving has caused within my family? Because Proposition 8 has not been repealed? Because I’m not done with it yet?
I so want to be. I am done with the self-hatred, the anger and the grief. The negativity! So counterproductive.
My life as a Mormon was full of activity, service, study of Mormon scripture and literature, and love. But it was also full of judgment, fear, and self-recrimination. I’d like to take the good bits of my Mormon life and fuse them with my new life. Thanks to Facebook, I’ve reconnected with dozens of friends from that period of my life. And my being me — answering the basic question, “what are you doing?” on Twitter and Facebook has caused some discomfort. Last night I got into a Facebook chat with an old friend. This is exactly how it went:
So how long will you be venting your spleen against the church?
what spleen? i just said i did it
You don’t see the ad hominem attack nature of your comments?
but i assumed that people might be offended, hence the four agreements comment: “don’t take anything personally”
That’s entirely unfair.
You can’t make such comments and then ask to be shileded from other reactions.
i didn’t ask to be shielded.
i am saying to you, and anyone else, that it’s not about you.
i made this choice for myself
Don’t take it personally when you go after what is the essence of many of your closest friends lives??
It’s not about your choice, it is about the additional attack.
i am done going after it. i am simply done. there is no attack
the “i think they have been busy” was perhaps editorial
but all i said was that i got a letter, and it took four months.
not editorial and you damn well know it. an ad hominem dig.
You going to keep ’em up?
you might want to look at what you are reading into it
keep what up?
ok, never mind. my imagination.
i was just [enjoying a gift made by this friend] and thinking fondly of you.
i am sorry that you are upset by my actions. or my words
He stopped chatting then. I love this friend. But can you see what I’m dealing with here? This exchange was in response to a Facebook update i posted that said:
“i returned home to utah and found a letter from the Mormon church. It took four months for them to process my resignation. i think they have been busy”
My next facebook update was a reminder of one of the Four Agreements, Don Miguel De Ruiz’s code of behavior. Number one: be impeccable with your word. Number two, the one that I quoted: don’t take anything personally.
I knew some people would take this personally. Mormons love the martyr/victim role. They were victimized for their beliefs, chased from town after town as they moved west across the states and finally settled in what became Utah. It’s a role that comes naturally to many of them. I know it all too well. Dealing with my repressed abuse memories has helped me to let go of the victim role. Also, leaving the church helped a lot.
But really, how does my decision affect them? I’m not judging them. I’m simply making a choice about my life.
And it’s so much more than that. By letting go of the old, I’m making room for the new. For the first decade after i left, I shunned any form of spirituality. I distrusted organizations of any kind, especially religious ones. So I knew what I wasn’t, but I didn’t really know what I was. Or what I was becoming.
By letting go of the incessant scripture study (over and over and over–I read the Book of Mormon 6 times on my mission alone), I’ve been able to read and study new ideas. By not spending all my energy playing the piano in church or teaching sunday school, I’ve been able to serve in other ways (volunteering at the sundance film festival for two weeks, and at the Ann Wigmore Institute for three years).
I love what my life is becoming. It really seems like another lifetime that I was mormon. I am done resenting what I used to refer to as “wasted time” I spent in that religion. I am the sum of all my experiences, and mormonism was a big one. Time to move on.
Here’s a bittersweet song that captures some of the beauty and angst of my church divorce: