Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Separate Paths

Lucy didn't have any finals this morning (and I'm not allowed to take finals), so she came over to my place and suggested we go for a walk. The weather wasn't quite as nice as it was yesterday, but still pretty nice. (This afternoon it's turned gray and windy, which as you'll see in a moment is thematically appropriate.)


We walked east, toward Y Mountain, holding hands. "I've been thinking about our conversation last night," Lucy said. "I love you and I support you in whatever decisions you feel good about--you need to follow your path, not mine--but if your path takes you out of the church, I can't go with you."

I frowned. "I don't expect you to leave the church for me, Lucy."

"I know. But I mean I can't go with you on this journey you're about to embark on. You need to figure out school, who you are as a mutant, who you are as a person. I would love to be there with you, to figure it all out together, but if you need to leave the church in order to do it, I can't. You'll need to do it alone."

"What?" I stopped walking, forcing Lucy to stop and face me. "You're dumping me because I'm not Mormon anymore? Does leaving the church suddenly make me a bad person? I thought we were beyond that kind of black-and-white thinking."

Still holding my right hand, Lucy took my left hand as well. "Ben, stop reacting to what you think I'm saying and start listening to what I am saying. You're planning to move out of state. I've told you before that I won't move with you unless we're married. And I'm sorry, but I can't marry a non-member. Marriage is hard enough as it is. We would already be an interspecies couple, which I'm fine with, but you add interfaith on top of that and we'd be setting ourselves up to lose. I love you, Ben, but I can't marry you."

"Then I'll stay in Utah and we can keep dating while I figure things out. Maybe I can transfer to the U."

"And then what? I hold onto the hope that you'll come back to the church? You hold onto the hope that I'll leave or that I'll give in and marry you anyway? And meanwhile, I'm holding you back. There's nothing for you in Utah. You need to get out of here."

"But--" But I had no argument. Lucy was right. I would have come to the same conclusion eventually, but Lucy, always thinking ahead, got there first. I wrapped my arms around her and pulled her into me. We stood like that, hugging and crying, for I don't know how long.

Finally, we wiped away the tears and continued our walk. We still held hands--I wasn't ready to let go yet--but now we walked in silence. When we got back to my place, Lucy gave me a quick kiss and said, "You better not make me read your blog to keep up on your life. If I don't get regular updates, I'll fly out to Seattle and wring them from you personally."

I grinned. "Then I just might have to fall behind on sending you updates."

Monday, April 21, 2014

On The Same Page

This evening Lucy and I were at my place, making dinner. I was reaching up to get some pasta from the top shelf of the cupboard when Lucy said, "What are you wearing?"

I looked down at the t-shirt and jeans shorts I put on this morning to celebrate the beautiful weather. "Um. Clothes?"

"You aren't wearing garments," she said in a slightly accusing tone.

"Oh. Right." I had momentarily forgotten about yesterday's trip to Walmart. "I decided not to wear them anymore."

"What?" Her eyes widened. "Ben, why would you do that? It's not like being kicked out of BYU makes you unworthy."

I bit my lip. This was quickly becoming one of those moments where you realize you're not as much on the same page with someone as you thought you were. I sat down next to Lucy at the table and took her hand in mine. "It's not about worthiness, Lucy. I don't believe anymore. I'm not a Mormon. It doesn't make sense for me to wear Mormon temple garments."


She shook her head and pulled her hand out of mine. Her eyes were glistening. "That's not true. You're just going through a hard time and questioning some things. That's okay. But don't make any decisions you'll regret later."

"I've already made the decision, Lucy."

We talked some more and I think she finally understands where I'm at. Until tonight, she was convinced that I just needed to work through some doubts, and then everything would be okay and nothing would change. She gets now that that's not the case. We talked all through dinner and long afterwards. As the evening progressed, she seemed to get used to the idea and to accept me where I'm at. I was nervous about having this conversation, honestly--we've kind of skirted the issue until now--but now I'm really glad we did. As I've said before, coming out as a non-believer is almost scarier than coming out as a mutant. Being surrounded by good people who love me unconditionally makes it a lot easier.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Taking Off The Mask

This morning I went to church, out of habit more than anything. I sat next to Lucy, as usual, and we did our usual whispering to each other, making fun of silly things people say. Or at least I thought that's what we were doing. I don't think we're ever disrespectful of the meeting itself, but we laugh when people spend the first five minutes of their talk telling the story of how the bishop called and asked them to give a talk, or, since we're in a college singles' ward, when people come across like they care more about advertising themselves than whatever the topic of their talk is supposed to be. I was doing that kind of thing this morning, whispering to Lucy when I noticed something funny, and at first she smiled politely, but when I joked about something the first counselor said, she hissed at me, "Show some respect! It's Easter and Jan just passed away last week. You should be thinking about the resurrection, not Brother Morris's grammar."

"Sorry," I whispered, then scooted an inch away from her on the bench. I kept my mouth shut for the rest of the meeting. I tried to do as she suggested. I remember previous Easter Sundays, feeling touched by the thought of Jesus' sacrifice and the promise of eternal life, but today I just wasn't feeling it. As Lucy had mentioned, today I have more reason than before to be looking forward to the resurrection, but the more I listened to the speakers and tried to get into it, the more it felt... made up. It's like a bunch of grown-ups getting together to play make-believe, talking in all seriousness about our imaginary friend. When I took a step back and looked at the whole thing as if from an outsider's perspective, it all seemed kind of ridiculous. It's like in Scooby Doo, every time they think it's a ghost or a monster it ends up being some crotchety old man in an elaborate disguise. And yet every single time, they believe it's real until someone unmasks him. With everything science has shown us about this amazing world we live in, with all the mysteries revealed, we still believe in monsters and miracles and gods, despite zero tangible evidence to suggest their existence. Is the world we have not enough?


I apologize, I know what I'm saying is offensive to believers. And especially today, on Easter Sunday. I don't mean to disrespect you or your beliefs. I'm just saying it doesn't make sense to me anymore. It's like something clicked in my brain and suddenly I'm seeing the world through new lenses. It's like the first time I got glasses, when I was in fourth grade--I was shocked to see how crisp everything was, now that I could see clearly.

After sacrament meeting, Lucy went to Sunday school as usual, but I made up an excuse and slipped out. I got in my car and drove. I didn't even know where I was going at first, until I ended up at Target in Orem. Except it was closed. Easter. Duh. So with a sigh, I drove to Walmart--which my friend Galadriel likes to call "the bitch of all the Earth, the whore's ugly sister." It was surreal to walk inside a store on Sunday. I can honestly say I've never done that before. Especially here in Utah County, it's very strange to be in a store on Sunday because it's like an entirely different world. It's like the non-Mormons come crawling out of the woodwork--the Hispanics, the multiple piercings and tattoos, the gay couples. I even saw a group of mutants--one with pointed ears, another with purple skin, a third with webbed wings protruding proudly from her tanktop. I did see a few people I assumed were Mormon, dressed in white shirts and ties, grabbing a loaf of bread for the sacrament or a box of diapers. This made me self-conscious of the church clothes I was still wearing. What would people make of me? Would they assume I was getting my ox out of the mire, or that I'm a hypocrite who goes to church then makes other people work so I can shop? Whatever. I forced myself not to care what anyone thought.

I found the men's clothing section, and went to the underwear aisle. I picked out some boxer briefs in various colors, bought them, then drove home and changed. This might not mean anything to you if you aren't Mormon, but it was actually a very significant step for me. I haven't bought normal underwear in nearly six years, not since I went through the temple and started wearing temple garments. But today I'm done being a Mormon. I don't believe it anymore, so it's disingenuous of me to keep wearing the garments that are, among other things, a symbol of belief. Again, to my believing friends, I mean you no disrespect. If anything, I hope to show respect for your beliefs by not taking in vain something that is sacred to you.

It feels strange to be wearing normal underwear again. I feel practically naked. But at the same time, I feel more like me.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Honor, Revisited

Today was the first day of finals. I was supposed to have a final for my 20th-century American literature class. I didn't take it.

"I want you to understand that this decision has nothing to do with what you said about me," Brother Simmons told me yesterday. "You can think or say whatever you want about me. What you can't do is violate the Honor Code that you signed and expect to have a BYU diploma hanging on your wall."

"I haven't used my mutant ability in months, and when I did, I confessed it to my bishop." I had little hope that anything I could say--or was willing to say--would change Brother Simmons's mind, but I thought this worth mentioning.

"You know that's not the issue, Brother Christensen. Tell me this: Do you sustain Thomas S. Monson as a prophet, seer, and revelator?"

I sighed. It would be so easy to just say "yes." One word, and a week later I'd have my college degree. Just one word. But I couldn't. "No. I once believed he was a prophet, and I wish I still believed it, but I don't."

Brother Simmons nodded. "I understand. And I hope you understand, a degree from BYU is not just a certificate of academic achievement. It's also a symbol of spiritual achievement. It's a sign telling the world that you represent Brigham Young University, that you are the type of person this university produces. When you go out into the world with a BYU degree in hand, you go as a representative of Jesus Christ."

"What about Muslims or Jews or other non-members who attend BYU?"

"They also have to abide by the Honor Code."

"Which I've done!" I insisted. "I don't smoke, I don't drink, I don't have girls in my apartment after curfew, I even go to church every Sunday. I just don't believe in the church anymore. What's the difference between me and any other non-Mormon who goes to BYU?"

"The difference is that you had light and knowledge that they didn't, and you have rejected it."

I buried my face in my palms. "I can't choose what I believe. I just... do."

"I think," Brother Simmons said, putting a hand on my shoulder, "deep down, you still know the church is true. I understand where you're coming from--I'm sure it's difficult to resist the temptation of living a mutant lifestyle, so it's easier to believe there's no God. But I assure you, Brother Christensen, there is. And he never said it would be easy, but I promise you, it will be worth it."

I stood up, brushing his hand away. I was done. Take away my degree, tell me I'm violating the Honor Code because I don't believe what I used to, but I will not sit there and listen to you telling me what I do or do not know. "You understand nothing," I said on my way out the door. "If I wanted easy, we'd be having a very different conversation."

So that's that. I'm done. I'm no longer a BYU student, one week short of graduating. I considered taking my finals, just to say I did, but the official email I received later yesterday afternoon explained that my professors have been instructed not to let me participate in final exams. So where do I go from here? I don't know. I'll transfer to another school to finish my degree, if I can. Maybe go on to get a master's or a doctorate. I've heard horror stories about BYU not releasing transcripts of students kicked out for Honor Code issues, but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/zcameron/5874719413/
I've talked before about the Karl G. Maeser quote that the Honor Code Office claims as its motto:
Place me behind prison walls—walls of stone ever so high, ever so thick, reaching ever so far into the ground—there is a possibility that in some way or another I might be able to escape; but stand me on the floor and draw a chalk line around me and have me give my word of honor never to cross it. Can I get out of that circle? No, never! I’d die first.
It would have been so easy for me to tell Brother Simmons what he wanted to hear yesterday. There were no walls between me and that diploma; just a chalk line. One little step, and I'm on the other side. One simple lie. One word. I may have been expelled from BYU for violating the Honor Code, but I like to think Karl G. Maeser would recognize me as a man of honor.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Love One Another

Yes, Brother Simmons read my post last night, and yes, we talked about it today. But I don't want to talk about that right now. Right now I want to talk about Jan. It turns out Jan had one last lesson to teach me.

This evening Lucy and I attended an informal memorial service for Jan at Kiwanis Park in Provo. It wasn't her funeral. That will be held tomorrow morning at her family's ward chapel in Alabama. Greg let me know that for his part I'm welcome but that their dad knows who I am and has made it clear that he doesn't want me within fifty miles of the funeral. I considered going anyway--from what I know of Jan's dad, he doesn't deserve to be at her funeral--but finally I decided I don't want to make a scene. No matter how much of a jerk her dad is, I'm sure he loves her and I can't even imagine how terrible he must be feeling now. I don't want to make it worse. I can pay my respects to Jan in my own way. So that's what I did tonight.

First, let me get the crappy stuff out of the way: As you may have seen on the news, there were protesters at the memorial service. Protesters. At a memorial service. I can't even begin to understand these people. They were standing around the edges of the park, holding signs that said things like "The Wages of Sin is Death" and "God Hates Freaks." Lucy squeezed my hand when she saw me fuming as we passed the protesters. "Just ignore them," she said softly. I did, but it still makes me sick to think about it.

Okay, with that out of the way, we can get to the good stuff: There were probably a thousand people there at the park, gathered to celebrate Jan's life (compared to at most fifty protesters). People had come from every corner of Utah, from St. George to Logan. Some came from Idaho and Nevada and Arizona. I talked to one guy who flew in from New York after he read about Jan in the news and was touched by her story. For about two hours, people stood on a stage and talked about how Jan has touched their lives. Most were people she had healed, but some hadn't even met her--they were mutants who were inspired by her to come out of the closet and use their powers for good. It seemed like most of the people had some connection with the LDS church, ranging from active believers to angry apostates. But every one of them agreed on one thing: The world needs more people like Jan.


The service ended with everyone there joining hands and singing a Mormon hymn, "Love One Another." As we sang the simple words, "As I have loved you / Love one another," our voices drowning out the noise of the protesters behind us, my chest trembled. I couldn't even finish the song before I broke down in sobs. Lucy put her arms around me, and then suddenly random strangers were joining in, wrapping me in a group hug. The outpouring of love from people I've never met was almost as overwhelming as my grief for Jan.

I've heard people say that God is love. If that's true, then I believe in God.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Apology

I'm sorry I swore. As I've mentioned before, I'm really not one to swear. Take that as a sign of what a horrible week I've had.


I'm not sorry for what I said about Brother Simmons. I'm not taking the post down and I'm not taking back anything I've said. Even if it costs me my college degree, I don't care. All that matters to me is the truth. That's what Jan deserves. It's what I deserve. If I have to suffer the consequences of being honest, then so be it.

Lessons Learned

I'm blogging again because Brother Simmons at the Honor Code Office told me to. Yesterday at the daily check-in that we've been having since I was put on academic probation last week, I had to apologize for missing Monday's check-in because I'd been overwhelmed by Jan's death and not able to do much of anything at all. Brother Simmons already knew about Jan--he'd seen it in the news. "I'm really sorry for your loss," he said. "It's tragic to think what she could have done with her life if she hadn't thrown it away trying to push the mutant agenda."

My mouth dropped open. Was I actually hearing this? Putting the lives of others before your own is "trying to push the mutant agenda"? Really?

"Perhaps," he went on, "you can make the best of this tragic situation by learning from it and helping others do the same. Instead of using your blog to lead others away from the church, why don't you get back on there and tell people what you've learned from Jan's death?"


So here I am. I've spent the past day thinking about what I've learned from Jan's death, and this is what I've come up with:

  1. I learned that Jan was an amazing, selfless human being--even more than I realized when she was alive.
  2. I learned that life is short so we need to make the most of it now. If we wait for later, there might not be a later. Jan died younger than most but at least she made a positive impact on the world while she was here. I should do the same. 
  3. I learned that my belief in an afterlife is not as solid as it used to be. Maybe if I were sure that I'd see Jan again someday, I'd be able to handle this better, but I can't lie to myself, even if the lie might be comforting. The truth is, I have no idea what happens after death and I don't believe anyone really knows. Which sucks right now, but in the long run I think it will help me do better with #2. If there's an afterlife, then great, but in the meantime I need to make the most of the life I know I have. 
  4. I learned that sometimes really shitty things happen to really great people. But that's no reason not to do good. It's not about earning a reward; it's about doing good because you want to make the world a better place. 
And finally,

     5.  I learned that Brother Simmons at the Honor Code Office is a heartless prick.

I hope you're reading this, Brother Simmons. I assume this is what you had in mind?