Hi. I’m your neighbor. Your friend. Your grandma, your uncle. I’m everyone you’ve ever known who has found it difficult to attend church, to believe, to measure up. I’m the one who doesn’t fit in, who feels different and alone. I’m the one who left, the empty chair, the apostate who wishes that label didn’t exist. Because in truth, I am always me. I laugh. I cry. I have adventures. I don’t believe exactly how or what you believe, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have value and values. It doesn’t mean I don’t want love.
I’m the one who had an impossible choice to make between a lifetime without love, a sham relationship and being ostracized by religious friends and neighbors, just because my sexuality didn’t conform. I’m the one who sat alone at church because my grandfather molested me as a child and I didn’t feel worthy of anyone’s friendship. I’m the one who came home early from a mission because of a pornography addiction I couldn’t overcome. I’m the one who loves alcohol more than God. I’m the broken one, the unworthy sinner, the person no one seems to want to understand.
I wish you could know how it feels to be me. I didn’t ask for my faith crisis. I didn’t ask for this struggle. It might seem so easy from the outside. It might look like the only thing separating me from the saint you think I should be is a simple choice. Well it isn’t that simple. And here’s something you might not believe: I’m just like you. I have dreams and hopes and fears. I have faith, but not in the same things you put your faith in. I’m just as deserving of God’s love as you are, even if I’m unsure about what is and isn’t true. Even if I’m not sure God is real.
People look at me with pity, contempt or sorrow. I don’t need any of those things. I’m okay. Sure, some days I cry and some days I get mad, but aren’t you the same? It feels sometimes like I’ve been written off, turned into a project or an example of what not to do. I don’t need your preaching, your judgment or your tears. I just want to be seen. Please look at my tattoos. Ask me about them. They’re meaningful to me. Please believe me when I say I’m happy, even though I don’t look the way it says I’m supposed to look in your book.
You may not agree with my decisions or my lifestyle. You may think I should be married before having sex, but I think the love I have for the person I’m with matters more than an empty vow. You may think I should be following words written millennia ago, but I’m choosing to follow my heart instead. Maybe that’s what they do in Babylon, but it’s better than the living death of self-suppression.
Why is it okay to push me away, exclude me or make me the “other” when your God teaches you to love everyone, even the man beaten by robbers and left to die by the side of the road? Please don’t put me in a box. I didn’t become someone else when I chose a different path. These cigarettes don’t define me. These scars tell a story. I’m a fighter, an explorer. I’m curious about life and existence. I don’t accept your answers, but that doesn’t mean I don’t value your faith. I’m glad it’s working for you. I want you to be happy. I want that more than anything. I’ll let you live your way. Will you let me live mine? Please. It seems only fair. I wouldn’t hurt a fly.
Don’t treat me like I’m already dead and gone, tossed into outer darkness or lost in Telestial shame. I’m right here, standing in front of you. Look into my eyes. Guess what they see? Every. Single. Thing you have ever felt was wrong with me. What good is heaven if we can’t even make our relationship work in the here and now?
I don’t want to read your book. I don’t want to wear your clothes. I don’t want to lengthen my stride or find joy in duty or doubt my doubts. I did those things. They weren’t for me. Does it have to cost me my family? Your doctrine, the truths you hold so rigidly dear, is ripping us in two. The Church that claims to bring people together is now a chasm neither of us is willing to cross. Forced to choose between an institution and a living, breathing human who is vibrant and alive, you pick the carcass. Dead words from dead or nearly dead prophets matter more than the hugs I used to give you.
I don’t need you to follow me on this journey or even to hear my reasons. Just trust that they’re good and real. Let me ask the same questions that led Joseph into a grove of trees. Let me find spiritual truth for myself, even if my answers differ from yours.
I worship a God who doesn’t divide the haves from the have nots, the wheat from the chaff and the sheep from the goats. Can we not learn to graze in the same field of peace? Black, white, purple, blue; why does it make so much difference to you? I’m a human with skin and bones and fear. I’ve got just as much right as you to find my own way in life.
Tear down the walls that hurt us. Teach lessons that open up minds. Live the good word of God without the harming and the shame. At the end of this life, when everything else is stripped away, you will be judged by how you treated me. I hope you decide long before then to see that your judgment keeps you from having a fulfilling relationship with me. I hope you realize long before then that faith begins and ends with loving the brother or sister who does things differently. Please find the courage to look past the labels and take the opportunity to get to know the real me. Reach out when you’re ready. I’ll be waiting patiently.
Gerry Baird is a software project manager with an MBA from Utah State University. He is the author of several religious/inspirational books including his latest title, “Soulness: Six spiritual practices that will set you free”, and is currently pursuing a degree in mental health counseling from Grand Canyon University. His passions include piano, kayaking, yoga, meditation, religious studies, and offering a nonjudgmental listening ear to the beautiful people he meets in real life and through social media. He blogs at The Awakened Mormon.