At the October 2016 General Conference, Elder Ballard gave a talk. I slept joyfully through it, only to find it recommended to me by a close friend and mentor.
He (“Cade”) and I have spent many hours talking together. I speak more than he does, and he listens with an open heart. Late, late at night he’s asked me about my painful history and my painful present and what, if anything, he can do to help. We’ve sketched out plans for wellbeing, spirituality, happiness, holiness. We’ve even traded books and critiqued each others’ writing, which essentially makes us brothers.
So on Sunday morning, when my phone buzzed and it was him recommending a conference talk, I perked up. Cade knows I’ve been visiting other churches and considering what life might be like if I let the Mormonism slip away, or what it would be like to pick it up full force. This would be a recommendation pretty intimately tailored.
It was, and it wasn’t.
You may already know the talk‘s crucial phrase: “If you leave, where will you go?” The main thrust is that there are things in Mormonism that, if you leave, you will have to give up because they aren’t available anywhere else. What unnerved me about the talk was the implication that it was needed; that people leaving the church are just not thinking it through properly; that I, when I left the church, had just not thought it through properly.
The first time Ballard asked “Where will you go?” my mind shot to the terrible years of 18, 19, and 20, when this question consumed my life. Eventually, even though I hadn’t found an answer to the question, I went anyway. I had to go. I had hurt too much. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had become a life-threatening environment, and I had to choose between going, on the one hand, or a sad, lonely death on the other. The end of the gifts, and shit in my pants.
Had I stumbled onto this talk in the normal course of things, I would have dismissed it as just another example of general authorities being out of touch. They rarely speak to real and intricate experience; it’s not shocking when one of them oversimplifies the crap out of a principle.
But this talk had come to me highly recommended, and Cade is not out of touch. He understands intricacies, both generally and me-specific. And when I considered him as the source, rather than Ballard, I wasn’t able to dismiss it so easily. The late, late hours of listening have built enough trust between us that, even though I bristle at the question “Where would you go,” I’m willing to sit with the discomfort and look for the good he’s trying to draw to my attention. So I listened again, and I heard some things:
- I heard my hesitation to cut ties with the church.
- I heard myself confiding in Cade that in sacrament meeting, I feel my spiritual core being kindled.
- I heard our shared lament that it has ever been so terrible to be in a church of Christian disciples, and his keen sorrow that it was ever so terrible for me, personally.
These things have the depth and intricacy that’s missing from the talk itself. They don’t erase the bitter obtuseness of a 70-something stranger asking “Where will you go?” but they do push it into the background.
Possibly I only heard these extra layers of resonance because of my own experience and there’s no analog for anyone else. Possibly they wouldn’t have existed even for me if Cade hadn’t been involved. I wonder, though—what if they were there all along, and my distaste in and distrust for the general authorities made me less able to receive them from Ballard? What if they were there all along, and my trust and love for Cade made me more able to receive them?
What else might I be missing?