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Over the past few weeks it has become more and more apparent to me that, in a very real sense that will never go away, I am still a Mormon.

It’s been more than a decade since my de facto exodus from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and nine years since I formally resigned my membership. I am not likely to become a member ever again, and I disavow many of the church’s truth claims. I never, ever wonder if I made the wrong choice, or if the Church is Really Actually True After All.

But as I continue to struggle to find my way spiritually through the world, and to navigate my relationship with God (and it’s a big struggle, and one I hope to talk more about in the coming few days), I have realized that one of the many issues I have to work through, spiritually speaking, is how to integrate all of my pieces.

The reality for me is that, as attracted as I am to unidirectional zeal, I am never just going to be One Thing. I’m never going to be a Methodist, and nothing but a Methodist, through and through. (I mean, I don’t think I’m ever going to be a Methodist at all, but that’s just an example). Every time I try to be just one thing, I wind up only able to hold it together for a little while and then I disintegrate again. Because it’s always a lie. The truth is that, spiritually speaking, I contain multitudes.

I have a lot of pieces and I have to figure out how to integrate them.

Some of my pieces are bigger than others, and one of the biggest pieces is that I am a Mormon, regardless of my membership status in an organization or my belief in a given set of truth claims. I am still, in a real and deep sense, a Mormon. I was raised in a devout Mormon family, I went to primary, I was baptized and confirmed at age eight, I was ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood at age twelve, became a deacon, teacher and then priest, I was active as a youth, I passed and blessed the sacrament every week for years, I graduated from Seminary, I received a Patriarchal Blessing, I was ordained an elder in the Melchizedek Priesthood, I made covenants in the temple, I served a full-time mission for two years, I returned with honor, I went to Institute, I met a girl and married her in the temple, I read the Book of Mormon fifteen times in two different languages, I prayed, fasted, and sought the guidance of the Holy Ghost, I spoke in Sacrament Meeting, I taught Sunday School, I served as Ward Mission Leader, I blessed my firstborn child in front of the congregation. I can walk away from that in the sense of formal disaffiliation from an organization, and my beliefs can evolve over the years, but come on. How am I going to say that all of that didn’t form and shape who I am as a person? Of course it did. To claim otherwise would be absurd.

My ancestors crossed the goddamn plains. How am I going to say that I am not Mormon?

When I talk about integrating my pieces, I am not talking about combining religions into some sort of weird syncretism, so much as I am just talking about figuring out a way to hold those pieces loosely together and not neglecting them completely. Because I am all of these pieces and if I just pretend I am not, then I think I will never be satisfied and never know God the way God knows me, becaue God knows me in all of my multitudes.

Of course, this also means, on some level, dealing with the fact that I will never be a full-insider in any religious community. And that makes me sad, because it’s something I want, but it’s also something that I wind up never really wanting, because the shoe never really fits right.

And I worry that it means that real spiritual depth might be elusive. I have an intuition that commitment to a spiritual direction is the key to truly diving deep. I hope that’s not the case, but I am afraid it is, because I want spiritual depth, but I just can’t pursue it at the cost of neglecting who I am spiritually. (Like, I literally can’t–I have tried and I always fail.)

So then, what does being a Mormon mean to me? Because, like I said above, it certainly doesn’t mean re-affiliating with the Salt Lake City church. Mostly, I don’t know what it means in terms of the big picture. I don’t really know what it means to hold all of my pieces together, even loosely, and still try to find and know and experience God in the middle of that. And I don’t know what it means in terms of navigating Sunday mornings, which are always complicated for me, no matter what I do. But I do know a few things that it means:

-It means I’m allowed to listen to “Come, Come Ye Saints” and still get choked up about it. And I can claim it as mine.

-It means I’m allowed to find this crazy nineteenth century prairie vision of Zion incredibly compelling. And I can claim it as mine.

-It means I’m allowed to still believe that families can be together forever (whether or not that has anything to do with what a bunch of octogenarian men say about The Temple), on a gut, visceral level. And I can claim that as mine.

-It means I’m allowed to find the Book of Mormon’s imagery and symbols compelling and meaningful. And I can claim them as mine.

-It means I can identify with and align myself with the people on the fringes of Mormonism (in and out). There are some pretty great people out there doing some pretty great un-correlated things. And I can claim them as mine.

I am a Mormon. I have always been a Mormon. I will always be a Mormon. It’s time that I made peace with that.

Postscript: I guess it’s interesting that I am thinking through this right at the time when the Salt Lake City Church, under Russell M. Nelson’s leadership, is distancing itself from the name “Mormon.” As silly as I think that is, I think it is infinitely preferable to the SLC Church trying to claim the term for itself alone and zealously police it’s use. Mormonism is a lot bigger than one organization.

Second postscript: My good friend Katie wrote a great post recently on similar themes, except hers is way more poetic, generous and Christlike and way less navel-gazing than mine.

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Sometime in mid-2012, I turned to Jesus.

There wasn’t a day when I had a big spiritual experience, or made a conscious decision. So maybe some people will say I’m not really converted or not really born again. Maybe they’re right; I get nervous about it sometimes. But I do know that on January 1 of 2012 I still identified as a pagan, but on December 31 of 2012, I was a committed little-o orthodox Christian.

I hadn’t been much of a pagan in awhile, to tell you the truth. I was not particularly pious by then. I had pretty much totally stopped making offerings or praying or singing hymns to the gods at all. My paganism had sputtered out into just thinking pagany thoughts every now and then and reading pagan blogs. I was more into the Civil War, Southern literature and country music than I was into the theoi. And I tried to hold it all together into some sort of broad paganism that could include all of that stuff, but it didn’t ever really seem to fit right (Stonewall Jackson was a Presbyterian who talked about Providence all the time, Flannery O’Connor was deeply Catholic and it intensely informed all of her work, and Jesus is all over country music), and it was increasingly evident that the paganism was slipping away.

I also started getting more interested in pagany things that leaned a bit back Christianward. Tarot. Arthurian stuff. In fact, that was one of the first tipping points, really. I read Keith Baines’s rendition of Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur in the spring of 2012, grail quest and all, and it moved things in my heart. I was back to thinking about Druidry and Vedanta a bit (again, trying to hold it all together). I read Gareth Knight and underlined all the references to Jesus and the Trinity (there are a lot). I started looking into the Gnostic gospels. I picked up some books about esoteric Christianity. And within a really short amount of time, I was earnestly reading the Gospel of John and then the rest of the actual Bible.

At the same time, my kids were getting older and getting literate. My oldest (then six) was starting to get interested in the Bible and Bible stories. We always had tried to be multireligious (my paganism, my beautiful and sexy wife’s Christianity), but it was plain that the kids liked Jesus best.

Flashing back for a minute–the day I knew I was going to marry Katyjane was the day I came back from Chattacon with my buddy James and we went straight to a Young Single Adult broadcast at church. I looked around for a place to sit, and I sat down by my friend Daniel. But then, a few rows up, I saw Katyjane, sitting by herself. So I hopped back up and went up to sit next to her. And when I sat down, it felt so insanely right. I was in trouble. I knew I wanted to sit next to her in church for the rest of my life.

So going to church with Katyjane, and now with my kids, was important to me. Even if I was a pagan. But we hadn’t been going to church regularly since we moved to Chicago, and I kind of wanted to start again. Especially since my kids were showing interest (and pWning me with the Bible, which is a story I’ll tell in another post). So my mind was inclined in that direction.

As I said above, I was also listening to a lot of country music (I still am), and that also meant basically relentless exposure to Jesus. I could not help but think about Jesus Christ because the music I listened to mentioned him over and over again and it moved me. It was troubling, uncomfortable, and kind of exciting.

But again, there was no moment of clarity. No road to Damascus (unless the whole year was my road to Damascus). I mentally made peace with some sort of Green, liberal, vaguely Hinduish pagany kind of Christianity, but that was clearly just a threshold to walk through, since I spent basically zero time grappling with that. Instead I was just on a straight trajectory to orthodoxy. I picked C.S. Lewis back up and read Miracles, and was blown away by how much I had just glossed over things like the Incarnation when I was first grappling with Christianity as a post-Mormon.

That’s important: I left Mormonism mostly because I had an increasing sense that Mormonism and Biblical Christianity were not the same thing. But I really struggled with Christianity in the years after that because my notion of what Christianity is was really limited to the teachings of Jesus and the Atonement. I think I had an acceptable handle on those, but I understood them in such a radically different context that I just could not make the direct transition, and I didn’t realize the pieces I was missing. even when I read about them I just kind of glossed over them as secondary. No wonder I struggled.

But this time, coming to Christianity with fresh eyes after a couple of years of pagan detoxification, it was all just totally new, and totally amazing. I just found myself hungering for the Bible and for Jesus and the more I consumed, the hungrier I got. I still feel that way. Reading the Bible just makes me want to read the Bible more.

So Jesus just sort of gradually sucked me in.

By the end of the year, we had moved to Baltimore (that was unrelated, but not irrelavent), I was reading the Bible and praying every day for the first time in years, I was devouring N.T. Wright’s New Testament for Everyone, and I believed in Jesus Christ, my prophet, priest and king and my only savior. And then I spent 2013 continuing to grow. We were baptized. We joined a church. I kept reading the Bible. I prayed more. I put my trust in Jesus. I even read Augustine!

I have to eat a lot of crow to write this, and of of the reasons I have held off on spelling it all out is fear of being called out for wishy-washiness. “Oh, Kullervo’s found a different religion again. Must be a day that ends in -y.” I don’t have an answer for that either, other than to swear that this time it’s different. But of course I can say that all day. I can say that through all my pagan years, I always had a sneaking suspicion that I would eventually come back to Christianity, that like C.S. Lewis I had to learn to be a good pagan before I could learn to be a Christian, but I realize that’s easy to say and hard to believe. Maybe it doesn’t matter because it’s ultimately between me and Jesus anyway.

But I wanted to finally write it all out, mostly so that I can refer back to it in some other posts I want to write and not have to give a lot of background every time.

So there you have it. There’s a lot of different ways to look at that I guess. Country music and the Bible turned me to Jesus. A good Christian woman turned my heart to God. The Holy Grail and the blood of the Lamb called me straight from heaven itself. I finally dropped the pretense of exploring spirituality unbounded and settled down like I was always going to do anyway. However you want to look at it, that’s how it happened.

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When I was 13, I just had absolutely no idea what this song was about.

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I like being a lawyer, but lots of times I wish I was a preacher instead. Not a theologian or a religious academic, but a preacher. I’d run off to the mountains and preach Jesus Christ crucified and the Word of God with fire and forgiveness.

Don’t you know it.

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(thanks to my favoritest pagan for pointing it out to me)

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An old favorite of mine. Be patient with it and it will reward you. Also, turn it up.

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This looks like it will be absolutely everything I have been hoping it will be. I am incredibly stoked.

Incidentally, the music that’s playing at the beginning of the trailer is “Moving On” by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, from the soundtrack to The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. The cool thing is, I listened to that soundtrack while reading As I Lay Dying last year, because I thought it had just the perfect atmosphere for the book. Apparently someone else thought so too.

Also, true story: I have a Google Alert set up for “William Faulkner.”

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I have been thinking about that widget over on the sidebar that shows my most popular posts. The problem with it is that it’s based on what people have been looking at over the last 24-48 hours, which means it is representative really of what google searches bring people here, and not what my best writing is. So I think I am going to add a new widget that indexes what I think are my best pieces of writing.

I’ll put it up later today, but for now, here’s my tentative tracklist for the “Best of Byzantium” album.

Postmormon Sexual Ethics
Shout at The Devil: Satan, Heavy Metal, and the Great God Pan
Say A Prayer For Lefty, Too
One Way Or Another: The Bacchae
Why It Matters Whether Mormons Are Christian
Eating Is Sacred
My Own Goddess
Aura Salve

Any of my readers think there’s any really good posts I have overlooked?

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That’s me and my classmates graduating from Bob Goins’s Guitar 3rep class at the Old Town School of Folk Music last night. Given that we were absolute beginners eleven months ago, I feel like we’ve come pretty far. My guitar is covered up by the music stand, but it’s my 12-string that I love so much.

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