Wednesday was Independence Day. I spent it visiting friends in the LGBTQ(IATP) community in Provo, Utah, who in today's world, still don't have the same freedoms that us heterosexual men and women do. It was during this event, and subsequently Provo's Stadium of Fire, where I spent a lot of time contemplating Freedom, and what that means to me. 3 years ago from Wednesday, on Independence Day, I submitted my resignation for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was MY Independence Day! I was liberated - this was my first Independence Day. My 2nd Baptism.
Leaving the LDS Church was a soul-harrowing experience. I literally lost everything from the experience. I was literally homeless, living on a suitcase out of a hotel at one point. I spent 6 hours in jail amongst homeless people and Heroin addicts for crimes I didn't commit and were dismissed entirely later. For the first time in my life I was truly experiencing what my Savior Jesus Christ had experienced. In Mormonism I was so sheltered, and so filtered and controlled that I was oblivious to what losing everything could actually mean. And at the same time, I lost my faith in Jesus. I lost my faith in God. Entirely. I thought the experiences of old were simply just shadows on the wall of Plato's cave, and in today's knowledge in many ways they were. I KNEW NO OTHER GOD!
Fast-forward to today and I came across a new form of freedom I completely wasn't anticipating. I've been fortunate to have a very dear friend and mentor who grew up Christian, joined Mormonism, left Mormonism and rejoined Christianity, help me rediscover my own spirituality and faith in Jesus Christ. Let me explain what happened, and what this means to me!
This friend of mine had such a firm belief in Jesus Christ after leaving Mormonism to the point that every time I was around this friend I was enamored in trying to figure out why, and how they could come back to faith after an environment where faith was all-or-nothing, with so many rules and boundaries (perhaps I'll write more about that later). I remember this from the first time I met them.
A few months ago as this friend and I were talking it hit me an experience I had on my LDS mission in Thailand (yes I speak fluent Thai) that I've never shared with anyone but this person and my ex-wife before. I'm actually going to share it here, because in my new faith and belief system this is something I think NEEDS to be shared with the world! Why keep something so important so secret??? Here's what I wrote in my mission journal on November 6, 1998 (the experience was on June 11, 1997):
"I need to tell about a spiritual experience I had while I was in Thonburi. I'm still not sure what it was, because it wasn't a full manifestation. One night I was praying after a really spiritual day. I began to have a desire to know Christ more. I don't know how crazy this seems, or if it was my imagination, but afterwards, I asked with sincere faith to see Him. I remember this tremendous feeling of joy coming over my body, and then I saw some form, in the resemblance of Him. Now, I'm not so sure about it, because scripture from what I know now, does not quite support it, but I gain great joy whenever I think of that experience, and know that whatever it was, it was from God."
I pulled it out and read this to my friend, in tears as I recollected the experience, REALIZING THOSE SAME FEELINGS I EXPERIENCED BACK THEN WERE ALL FLOODING BACK TO ME! I realized THIS JESUS STILL EXISTED. SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCES STILL EXISTED!
In my journey out of Mormonism I couldn't figure out who God was. Science simply didn't support Him. It still doesn't. I couldn't figure out what spirituality was. I read Bart Ehrman, Spong, and others suggesting most of the Bible stories simply aren't literal nor historical, and they're still right, quite honestly. But I had completely lost my spirituality and this experience brought everything back to me helping me realize something I was missing that I had forgotten I missed.
You see I had a very close relationship, besides this experience, to Jesus as a Mormon. From a young age I prayed to God daily. I told God I loved him every single day. I had conversations with my God. I truly believed he was there, listening to me. I did all I could to learn more about him. For this Mormon it WASN'T all about Joseph Smith and temples and Priesthood, although I constantly found those as barriers to the relationship I wanted with MY God.
In addition to this I saw MY God speak to me in ways I just couldn't deny as I relied on him. I saw a boy get up and walk after being lame and receiving a blessing from me through faith in Jesus on my mission. I saw my life literally be saved because Jesus (Mormons call this the Holy Ghost - no, it was Jesus, and the same feelings, although more limited) spoke to me as my dad felt a prompting from God that he needed to pray for me while I was in Thailand. I saw healing after healing (I'm, quite literally and psychologically, a healer I've found) through my lifetime of giving blessings through Jesus. I saw miracle after miracle. Whatever it was, even if it was something like a "Hyperfrontal"-induced dimension as mentioned in the book, "Stealing Fire", they happened. And I gained a real, personal, 2-way communicative relationship with MY God.
But even then it was clouded with religion, "The Priesthood", and the way my church wanted me to have a relationship with my God. So when that went away I couldn't figure out what was left.
At least at the point I shared this experience with my friend I realized I was missing something I had forgotten about. But I didn't know how to find it. With that in mind I started seeking things that reminded me of that experience I had on my mission. THAT experience was Jesus Christ to me! I don't know if it was real. I don't know if it was just a figment of my imagination - perhaps it was - but I knew WHAT I FELT WAS REAL! And that feeling I craved. Oh, I craved it!
Then, MY Independence Day hit again. I actually didn't quite realize what was happening. This friend, through a series of circumstances, made an entrance back into my life (Mandino's "The Greatest Miracle in the World" comes to mind - this person is my ragpicker!). Just yesterday, 3 days after Independence Day, I was experiencing a negative energy I just couldn't explain. I wanted to cry. I couldn't figure out why.
The topic of Christianity came up again. My friend wanted to get Baptized to reshow a commitment to God. In traditional Christianity, as contrast to Mormonism, Baptism is an outward ordinance of physical devotion to God and happens any time an individual wants to outwardly show their personal commitment to their God. It's a big celebration, full of pomp and circumstance, and prayer and incredible rejoicing to Jesus.
I sort of wanted this too. I realized I was missing it and I didn't know what it was or how to get it or even if it was something real or why my friend really embraced these things in such a scientific and literal world. My friend is really smart and already gets those things, so why this strong belief and what did it mean to them?
My friend shared with me the video below. I already had a VERY open mind at the moment, so if you watch this, please approach it with an open mind, thinking back to the most spiritual experience you ever had (and don't worry if the experience is literal or not - that doesn't matter). Then, think of Jesus in this as THAT experience! It doesn't have to be literal. It CAN, but it doesn't HAVE to be (Spong, an Episcopalian minister, suggests Christians take the Bible way too literally). Now watch with that open heart, and feel, putting yourself in the place of the individual dancing with Christ:
All of the sudden I GOT IT! I KNEW this man, whatever he or it is that I had a very personal relationship with inside Mormonism, was! And HE found ME! I don't know how to describe it. It was greater than anything I ever experienced inside Mormonism. Even greater than my vision of seeing him in person, at least in my heart. It was like a big, warm hug in such a real way. Instead of just seeing him I FELT him!
That scene in the video of Jesus fighting for her, getting in and even fighting back her enemies and all the different forces that were fighting against her. Then getting her up, cleaning her off, doing a dance with her and just embracing her. Just loving her. Just holding her. That was something I never felt inside Mormonism! I felt a genuine, genuine love for Jesus, perhaps more than many Mormons, but never like this. This was like that embrace at the end. A huge, warm hug holding onto me saying, "I'm here."
I'm bawling as I write this, feeling it all over again.
Today I went back to a nondenominational Christian church for the second time. The first time I was still Mormon, tainted by the controls I was subject to there preventing me from full clarity of my God. This time I went back unfettered. And boy was it an amazing, incredible, and another life changing experience! The songs resonated like never before, something I never understood as a Mormon. The messages resonated in a very personal way I was finally allowed to apply MY OWN interpretation to in any way I chose. After all it was MY relationship with Jesus!
This was, once again, MY Independence Day. And it was my 3rd Baptism. And I'm oh, so grateful!
If you could only feel the feelings I'm feeling right now. I will never go back to anything that controls me and my relationship with MY God again! I know that HE is there, fighting for me, embracing me, and every decision I make moving forward is going to be through him.
For my Atheist and Agnostic friends who have also left Mormonism - Jesus doesn't NEED to be a literal, "magical" being. Jesus is something inside you. He's something symbolic of love. He's symbolic of FREEDOM. But most of all, the Jesus OUTSIDE of Mormonism is one YOU get to decide what he means! You can do that - you can have spirituality back. You don't have to believe in fairy tales either. But you CAN have that relationship with YOUR God back. Try it, and see what else comes!
What else can I achieve after THIS???!